I have these now and again, unsurprisingly, but I’m not sure that people quite understand exactly what is happening.
Then, I’m not sure people really understand what Agoraphobia is erring on the black and white inside/outside description, you know:
“You’re agoraphobic? Isn’t that fear of open spaces?”
No. Not really.
“Are you stuck in doors all the time then?”
No. Not really
My favorite comment was a bit surreal.
“If you’re scared of being outside, why don’t you just go out with an umbrella. You can pretend it’s a ceiling.”
Yeah, you’re not really getting it, are you?
Okay, so what is there to get?
Well, okay, there are those along the spectrum who do have a problem with going outside, some people can’t even leave a single room. These are extremes. My particular variety isn’t that extreme, but actually quite typical.
I can go out. I don’t like it, but I do have a small area near my house that I can walk around. It’s not much more than about five or six minutes walk in any direction from my front door. Mercifully, this includes a Sainsbury’s and a Costa, so I can at least convince myself that I have something approaching a social life.
If I have to go to my doctors, which is about a further 4 minutes walk outside of my ‘zone’, I have to take a valium before I can go. It may be drug aided, but I can do this on my own.
If I go anywhere else, I have to be with my partner. With my partner, I can pretty much go anywhere, although where there’s likely to be a lot other people, it takes either a couple of weeks preparation or more valium. Usually both.
For a while, I was able to go out for a run. This extended my zone substantially and it grew larger as my running got better and faster. This is where the real weirdness kicked in. I’ll be the first to admit that it sounds like OCD, but according to my doctor, this is pretty much text book agoraphobia. I can’t walk along my running route. Neither can I run along my walking route.
My walking route, when I’m on my own, is set and cannot be deviated from. My walking route, when with my partner, can be changed, but it causes some distress. Even when I’m at the supermarket, there are safe routes through it and I have to go in via the same aisle or all hell breaks loose.
Every now and again, someone offers to take me somewhere and I have to turn them down. I tried once. Despite my apparently calm exterior, inside was a mass of panic. When I was taken home, I spent the rest of the afternoon being sick.
Panic attacks are not pretty.
There are a list of things that piss me off about having developed this stupid condition. Prior to it’s coming, I was a very garralous person, I worked in theatre, music, radio, art and was very people-centric. I would help people where ever I could, often at huge detriment to myself. Other people mattered and I did what I could to be part of a wider community and would do what I could to make that community amazing.
Community is something that has pretty much gone out of the window now and however ‘poor me’ or ‘give me attention now’ this may seem. I miss the community aspect of my life and I lament the loss of most of my friends.
The thing is, I do understand why I don’t see many people these days. Obviously, I don’t go out a lot, mostly because I can’t cope with being with crowds ( 4-5 people tops is about the limit of what I feel comfortable with). I do in understand that, with the best will in the world ‘out of sight is out of mind’. That’s just human nature.
However human that may be, it’s knock on effect is that it makes me feel less than human. Feeling less than human exacerbates the inability to empathise with the outside world which in turn makes me less abe to face the world outside of these 4 walls. At the risk of sounding like ‘cause of the week’, just the act of existing is a costant uphill struggle.
You might be thinking “Wow, sitting at home all day must be ace! I’d kill to be able to do that”. Well, I’m glad you have the choice. If that’s is your choice, go ahead. Revel in that.
My brain has conspired to take that choice away from me. I do not like being in doors all the time and the act of going to Costa every day is, for me, a massive triumph of will; being able to go shopping for food is as close as I get to a revolutionary act.
I haven’t worked for just over two years. My last job didn’t end well and although I have bee doing some work from home – edited a couple of books, had some stories and poems published, that sort of thing – actually going out to work is fraught with problems. Customer service jobs are right out of the question at the moment. I can’t deal with the onslaught of people.
I went for a job at my local high street branch of a well know retailer. It was naive of me really. The job was based within my safe zone, but I would have had do do a two week training course in Nottingham before starting. When I was told that, I got up from the interview, walked out and passed out in the toilet. I spent about 3 days recovering from the threat of having to be away from home and without my partner to calm me down and yes I know how ridiculous this sounds. I really do. I’m the first person to send myself up over this shit.
But this shit is real. It’s a tangible, physical and aggressive force. And right now, it’s much stronger than I am.
That doesn’t mean I don’t fight. Like I said, just getting out every day is a challenge and it is bloody exhausting. I try and engage people and get them to either come to the house or maybe go for a meal somewhere. Something quiet. But you know that ‘out of sight, out of mind’ thing?
But again. I understand why things have gone this way and I blame no one. Not even me. This wasn’t my choice. It wasn’t the choice of my erstwhile friends. It’s just what happened. We’re all at the whims of fate, after all.
Every now again, though. I do have a complete meltdown. Sometimes the monotony and <cue violins> sheer bloody loneliness can become overwhelming; crushing.
Right now, I’m desperate to go out, have a social life and have actual human contact with someone other than the staff at Costa and Sainsbury’s (although they’re all very nice people, it’s not a social life, exactly, is it?)
RIght now, I want all the people I’ve helped to help me – although that isn’t why I helped them in the first place, I wasn’t doing favours expecting them to be returned. It’d just be nice.
Right now, I want a life that isn’t bookended with fear. I want to do normal stuff with normal people. If not normal, then of my peer group. I could – but wont – ramble on about specific incidents and why they were too much, but that would get pretty tedious, pretty quickly. I could rattle on for days about how the welfare state refuses to help me – I’m officially not ill according to them. I can’t sign on because I cant get to the office, therefore I’m not a jobseeker; I can’t get sickness benefit for a slew of reasons, none of which make sense bearing in mind I’ve paid into the sytem for god knows how long… I don’t like being a kept man. It’s another thing that irks me.
There’s been a campaign recently suggesting that you talk to people who have mental health problems about there mental health problems rather than be embarrassed or trying to hide them. This is great if you can get back into work. Not really practical if you can’t.
Thing is, despite all this, I’m not exactly unhappy. I’m not suicidal; in myself, I feel absolutely fine. But occasionally, actually most of the time, I want more.
Occasionally, I want to feel less lonely and sometimes, I’d like to know that the people I am talking to are more than just pixels on a page. Social networking has it’s benefits, but human contact isn’t one of them. I feel like I’m living in a trial run for EM Forster’s “The Machine Stops”.
And that’s not good for anyone.
Bitching and whining over.
As you were.