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You're Not Alone If Leaving Your House During COVID-19 Makes You Anxious

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When I first got diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I used to love going out. Not anywhere special, just to the grocery store a couple of times a week. But, after a while, I started getting a knot in my chest at the thought of going out, as if I was being tied down and docked to my home. I ignored it, continued going on these small jollies. Eventually, I began noticing people looking at me more and more. They were probably looking at something behind me, but that’s what it felt like and my panic would rise a little. I would always be jumpy, jittery, easy to startle or upset and my pulse rate would sky rocket. It took me months to realize what I was feeling was anxiety, and not symptoms from fibromyalgia or mental health diagnoses.

Then, lockdown happened.

In the UK, it was March 23; a date I remember, as I was due at a hospital appointment. This was unprecedented. So many people across the globe were experiencing the same situation, and felt lost, clueless and alone. All we knew was “stay home, stay safe.” Well, at least we listened, right? It took a while for the “face masks must be worn,” rule to come into place here, which just flared my anxiety more; so many people uncovered and unbothered. Even now with that rule in place, many people use the “exemption” rule as a means of avoiding wearing them. But hey, at least I could see if the ones not wearing masks were smiling at me or glaring, and lessen that particular social anxiety. Should just about even the scales out.

My anxiety did not take kindly to the global pandemic. It really did not like lockdown, rows over wearing masks and supply shortages. The more people argued over the necessity of masks, and the duration and exemptions of a lockdown, the closer I came to buying a remote cabin a propane tank and heading into the wilderness to become a reclusive author. My anxiety would’ve also settled for an underground bunker, but I didn’t really want to go that far yet. Instead, it can settle for me staying inside most of the time, a ban on visitors outside of my support bubble, and masks aplenty when I do make it outside. After the first few outings where I felt suffocated in my reusable mask I switched to a disposable — that was one problem solved, and suddenly I could breathe again!

Lockdown may have ended, and shielding (in the UK) may have been ended, but many of us chose to stay home anyway. I was thrilled at the thought of lockdown being over, until I tried to leave. It’s funny how you don’t notice something until it suddenly stares you in the face. I’d waited so long to be able to leave, that I hadn’t noticed my growing distrust in the world outside of my home. So, I spent a month or two being jealous of the freedoms everyone else was given, watching the enjoyment and laughter, whilst I found the supermarket a challenging task; score one for anxiety, as that particular blow did sting. It makes you feel inferior; as if you’re somehow at fault. But that’s as far from the truth as possible. Eventually that jealousy just becomes sadness. Anxiety is an annoying demon to carry around on your shoulder, and the weight of that can drag even the strongest person down, especially when confronted with things they’re desperately trying to have.

But, let’s be real for a second; going out right now is scary. We currently live in a terrifying world. People are getting sick, or hurt and are even dying. It’s a horrible place to be in. So, our anxiety is valid, it’s a part of us that needs love, hope and encouragement to heal it, and we should accept it for what it is and do what we can to work through it at the pace it needs. Don’t compare where you are to where someone else is, when you may not even be running in the same race. Just do what you need to at your speed until you know you are ready. The world will still be here. Even if it does look a little different.

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

Originally published: October 19, 2020
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