When I was little my gran would quite often hand me the task of doing her grocery shopping. Despite the only supermarket in our small town being a mere two-minutes-walk away, she’d insist I had to do it for her. Alongside her yappy little dog I’d fulfil my mission with a smile on my face. As a child, when you’re given responsibility, not matter how small, it feels as though you’ve been granted access into a completely new world; you feel different, special. It’s as though you’re on a mission and for now you’ve set aside your childish whims and games. My gran would ask this of me often, so far as once or even twice a week, and never once did I stop and wonder ‘why isn’t she doing this herself?’
As the years rolled on I soon found out my gran had a mental-health issue called agoraphobia – a condition which saw its suffers plagued with a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or that help wouldn’t be available if things go wrong. This included going to outside, being in open spaces and, for my gran, going to the supermarket. I never understood it; I mean, I’d seen her nip to the shop at 6 am many a time so how was this different? But as I grew older, and my knowledge of mental illness became more complex and less child-like, I clicked that those 6 am trips to the small shop on the corner were achievable because the streets were completely vacant. I had nothing by sympathy for my gran in regard to this, but as sympathetic as I was I never truly understood the magnitude and affect agoraphobia can have on your life. That is, until very recently.
Every time my depression reappears its accompanied by its usual circus of symptoms: Anxiety, self-doubt, thoughts of self-harm and suicide…crippling paranoia and general sense of not-belonging. Only this time it brought with it a fresh wave of despair; a symptom I was familiar with but had never truly personally experienced until the last two weeks. For the first time in my life I’m terrified I am now displaying signs of agoraphobia.
Over the last week my mental health has swan-dived into a seemingly endless pit of misery. It’s seen me bed ridden and become anti-social; it has me teetering on the edge of hysterics constantly. It also caused a suicide-attempt. But the worst part of this recent low-period is this agoraphobia I’m now contending with.
At first I’d put this unwillingness to go out down to little more than fatigue and depression, but when I took a step back and noticed that it was taking me hours to psych myself up before I could walk out the door, I started to panic. Walking along the crowded high-street today seemed a more daunting task than wondering through the winding labyrinths of the Underworld. Ordering a coffee felt as though I was pleading for my life in a language I couldn’t speak. When I went to the bar to order food only an hour or so ago, I genuinely felt my heart thud against my chest with such force and velocity that I feared I was going to pass out. I was outside for two-and-a-half hours and, with the exception of an alcohol-supported evening, that’s the longest I’ve spent out with my flat in over ten days. The whole time I just wanted to go home; as I sipped my coffee, as I shopped around, as I bit into my sandwich…I just kept thinking about how great it will be being back in bed. How not having to face people or make small talk, even with my friend, would be simply divine. That isn’t me – this isn’t something that happens to me, or at least hasn’t before.
Earlier today a friend asked if I’d go for a birthday drink with her this evening. Although I have been advised to watch what I drink over the next week or so, for mental and physical reasons, I thoughtlessly agreed to meet her later. Now, after being outside for a few short-hours today, I can’t think of anything worse than leaving the comforting confines of my bedroom – I don’t want to go back outside.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that socialising is something that comes easy to me. Even during spells of thundering depression, I still manage to engage and spend time with friends. Sometimes I use alcohol as a crutch, as it takes the edge off, but even that doesn’t seem to be enough to convince me to follow-through on tonight’s plans. I don’t want to go outside, I don’t want to socialise. I’ve missed the gym six times this week – partly for reasons involving my need to recover, and to let my body heal, but also because the idea of stepping over the threshold of my front door is one I cannot stomach right now.
This is the newest addition to a long-living troupe of fears I’ve contended with most my life. If this is truly the beginning of my agoraphobia then I am terrified as what will happen next. I’ve never felt so trapped by open spaces before; I’ve never wanted to actively avoid people – ex-boyfriends and old high school teachers notwithstanding. I don’t to be this person.