So this is week…4 (I think?) of self-isolation. The days blend in together. I look through the news to see when this will all pass but there are no clear answers. Lately though I’ve read small hints about the world starting to open up again and part of me is relieved to see that one day we’ll go back to “normal” but there is another part…and I’m a little ashamed to say it out loud…there is a small part of me that maybe I won’t ever be able to go back to normal again.
I’ve dealt with agoraphobia off and on my whole life so staying in the house for a week at a time isn’t hard for me. I already hid from the mail man before this started. I pretend to be on the phone when I see my neighbors so I have a reason to not panic and have awkward small talk with them. And then it all lets up and suddenly it’s okay. I can go out and talk to people again. Not for long and if I have to be around people for more than a few hours I have to hide and recuperate for hours or even days afterward, but for the most part I look almost normal if you don’t look too close.
But this last month has been different. In some ways it’s wonderful therapy…I suddenly crave people and the idea of going out to lunch seems like heaven. In some ways this forced lock-down has given me time to take a deep breath and assess. The self-distancing and social isolation in some ways came easy. I’d been practicing for this my whole life, after all. And I found that I became something new for friends I’d always relied on when I was low. Those same friends and family were suddenly reaching out to me as they, sometimes for the first time, felt isolated and scared and numb. They suddenly recognized anxiety and depression…though situational and temporary…and they didn’t know how to deal with it. So I talk them through it as best I can. And they get better. And worse. And better.
I suspect many of us are like this…sudden experts in dealing with constant fear and sadness and numbness and isolation. Some of us even feel somehow better during this time. It makes sense though. With anxiety disorder you’re constantly afraid and feeling dread for something that isn’t real. Now with something real to focus on it can be a sort of relief. The rest of the world has joined us and the cognitive dissonance you feel for feeling so terrible when there’s no reason to feel terrible is gone. Some of us use this time to recover. Some see the rest of the world suddenly struggle and realize that this can bring empathy in some ways…both from the people who now see how exhausting it is to fear the unknown for so long, and from ourselves as we see that no one is immune to fear.
So I wait for the day when the world reopens and I have hope that it will be better, one day. But part of me worries. I worry that all this time at home has create a leash around me. I worry that my agoraphobia will be worse and the world will go on without me. Even now I want to go on a long drive just to see the world past my door but I can’t make myself. The fear is already there. I haven’t driven my car in a month. I don’t even know if it would start. I tell myself that it’s for the best because if I was in an accident I’d have to go to the hospital and be exposed to germs so I am doing the smart thing. But deep down I know that it’s more than that.
It feels stupid to write about this. About the fear of not being able to leave your house when you literally aren’t allowed to leave your house anyway, but still…it’s what’s going on in my head, and maybe it’s going on in yours too. There’s something to be said about not being alone…even in isolation.
I remind myself that I have always escaped my broken brain before. I have fought and I have won. And then lost. And then fought and won again. It’s a cycle. One that even those without mental illness can recognize. We are all fighting. And failing and thriving and barely surviving and then starting all over again. I remind myself that I have tools to help and that when the time comes I will begin the forever-work of being human. Just like you. Just like all of us.
We will get through this. This part and the next and the next. And we’ll take what we’ve learned and use it. And that’s how life continues.
PS. Every week of isolation I share one of my drawings that you can color or print or set on fire. This one feels particularly fitting.
Keep fighting. You are not alone.