Agoraphobia Made My Time in COVID Quarantine Easier But Not Better
Depression, panic attacks, and anxiety meant I was uniquely prepared for what COVID quarantine required, but that didn't make it any fun.
Content warning for discussion of anxiety, panic attacks, and the effects of agoraphobia.
I should go to the store. Well I'd like to go to the store. I don't absolutely positively have to go to the store right at this second that I am writing this. I have food. I'm not running out of supplies. There's no emergency requiring me to go shopping.
But it would be nice to go. The grocery delivery that I got last week wasn't able to bring everything that I needed. I would like to make some red beans and rice but I need celery, which they didn't have.
There's also weather to consider. As I type this it's Sunday afternoon. The forecast is for icy rain on Monday and Tuesday. If I don't go today I probably won't be able to go until Wednesday. Again: not a tragedy, but it'd still be nice to get it done.
And yet I can't.
I didn't realize at first that I was dealing with agoraphobia when I had it. To me agoraphobia was an extreme: You couldn't leave your house, period. No exceptions.
Sure I didn't like going out. I preferred not going out. But, prior to covid lockdown, I could go out.
I could make it to doctor's appointments. Mostly. It wasn't easy. It took a lot for me to make sure to shower and get dressed in a timely fashion. And then get into my car and actually go.
But that was the depression, I figured. Lack of motivation.
Also yeah, anxiety. But it didn't feel like anxiety about the outdoors per se. It was about doing things at all. I felt the same kind of anxiety inside my home. So just anxiety in general, nothing new and noteworthy.
And if I had to piggy back going to the store after doctor appointments or else not go at all: well again surely that's the motivation issue. It took so much energy to overcome the entropy and get out into the world that either I rode the wave and did two things while I was out or I didn't get it done at all.
And if after a doctor's appointment I got back into my car and felt too overwhelmed to go to the store, even to pick up a prescription, well that was the motivation issue again, right?
Over a year ago my therapist at the time asked if I knew that one meaning of "agoraphobia" was fear of the marketplace.
This felt apt. I felt scared at the store. What if something went wrong? What if someone got too close to me? What if someone was mean to me? What if I screwed up something like dropping an item?
What if I had a panic attack and there was nothing I could do?
Turns out that's the way it starts. Actually it's also where it can stop, so to speak. You don't have to be completely trapped inside your home to be agoraphobic. Yes, some people with agoraphobia sadly live with that extreme, but it's not a requirement for the diagnosis. Instead it's about that very thing I was feeling: panic about being in certain places and situations, which meant avoiding those exact things.
Thinking about the store, now, today when I am typing this, I feel that panic. My chest gets tight. I start imagining scenarios which might set me off: the store being crowded, the parking lot being crowded, people judging what I'm wearing, the mental exhaustion of being in such a large space, the debate on if I can allow myself to go to the store for just a handful of items or if I should be making a full shopping trip while I'm there.
If I make a quick trip can I go without guilt if I don't ask my parents if they need me to get something while I'm there? Do I have the physical and mental energy to get them anything at all?
What if I forget something? My memory's been especially shoddy these past few days. Even if I make a list I know in my gut I'll forget something I really need and then not realize until I get home and then the whole trip will be worthless.
And what about my car? The battery had to be replaced earlier this week and I haven't driven it yet. The last time I tried to drive was a Sunday, in a spur of the moment decision because a storm was coming in, and I turned the key and it wouldn't start and the battery didn't take a jump and my trunk wouldn't close and then my car was trapped for days because I couldn't move it out of the path of the snow plows and what if I go to try to drive my car now and I turn the key and it doesn't work again???
I don't go. I didn't. Not today. In the hours it's taken me to write this entry I've tried to psyche myself up to do it but I can't. I couldn't. I'd think about it and the fear would be there. It's too much. I can't handle it. I don't go.
So much for making red beans and rice on a Monday.
I'm working on it. I have a service dog and she helps. She helps a lot. She's trained to calm me down from panic attacks, and to create space for me when I need it to reduce the things which trigger my attacks in public. Since getting her I'm able to do more than I used to, no question.
But when you're starting from zero even two times more than that is still zero.
My current therapist says I need to set small, achievable goals. Due to the grand total of my various issues, this includes recognizing when I'm pushing myself too hard. Put in physical terms, if I had a broken leg my therapist would like me to understand that my first actions should be things like getting an x-ray, a cast, maybe using crutches.
This in contrast to my own version of step one which would be trying to run a marathon while pretending the whole time my leg was fine.
So, by the goals we have set at this moment in time, it's good that I've recognized the fear. It's good that I've identified the emotions and prioritized self-care instead of pushing myself past my current abilities. Mentally speaking I've admitted to myself my leg hurts and I'm not yet capable of walking on it.
But it's hard. It's hard not to call myself stupid, and lazy, and a slacker who just isn't trying.
It's hard to sit with the fact that I can't go buy some celery like a normal person.