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Staying Home When You Have a History of Agoraphobia

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I developed agoraphobia at the age of 18 after a series of traumatic events. Over the next couple of years, I clawed my way back to being able to leave the house. Eventually, I was able to live a “normal” life, but I could never become complacent.

For me, agoraphobia never truly goes away. Like with all mental health conditions, recovery is an ongoing process. I am almost 30 years old and my agoraphobia can still be triggered. If I am unable to leave the house due to a sickness bug, for example, a lot of my symptoms come back. When I try to leave the house after I’ve recovered, it’s extremely difficult.

Having a baby brought back some symptoms of agoraphobia. I didn’t want to leave the house with my daughter. I had no confidence in my ability to take care of her inside my house, let alone outside of it. What if she poops through her clothes and there’s nowhere to change her? What if she starts crying and I can’t stop her and everyone around me thinks I’m a rubbish mom?

Despite all of the convenient excuses to not leave the house a baby brings, I found the strength to go out. And most days we are out and about. I take her shopping, to cafes, swimming, baby groups, the library — you name it. Not only does it benefit her development, but it also benefits my mental health. The more I go out, the further away from agoraphobia I am.

But my world has come crashing down since the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of the baby groups have stopped. The leisure center and the library have closed. Cafes will only serve you if you take out. Even if I didn’t respect social distancing, there’s nowhere for me to go anyway. I’m an anxious person. The thought of my family become infected worries me. So the thought of going out really worries me. What if I catch it and pass it onto my husband and daughter? What if I infect a vulnerable person?

Going out for essential things has become difficult. If I got to pick up formula for my daughter or my prescription from the pharmacy, I can’t wait to get back home. The longing to shut all the doors and hide away is reminiscent of the feelings I had when I was agoraphobic.

But just like when I had my daughter, I will find the strength to beat this and not give in to my urges to shut myself away from the world. With advice from the government going against all the ways I typically cope, it’s difficult. Difficult, but not impossible.

Social Distancing Does Not Mean Never Leaving the House

The U.K. Government has provided guidance on social distancing. Along with leaving the house for essential things, it also stipulates that you can “go for a walk or exercise outdoors if you stay more than 2 metres from others.” I have been walking around my local area twice a day. The streets are pretty empty, but if I do see someone approaching I cross the road. I am doing the “Couch to 5K plan” and go running three times a week. I have been practicing social distancing whilst doing this. And I pick times to go out when I know most people will be at home, such as early in the morning or late in the evening.

I Can Take Advantage of My Garden

Lockdown has recently been announced in the U.K., so going out for walks multiple times a day isn’t possible. This threw me a little but I am adapting to the change. The weather in the U.K. is currently bright and sunny so it’s the perfect time to be in the garden.

Over the past few days, I have tidied the garden so my daughter can play outside. This afternoon we sat on the decking together and enjoyed the sunshine. I plan to order some seeds online so we can plant flowers together. Not only is it a good opportunity for some fresh air, but it also gives us something we can do together. We have had to give up a lot of our activities so finding new ones is important.

Social Distance Does Not Mean Lack of Social Connection

We are lucky to be living in a time filled with technology. Although we cannot see people face to face, there’s plenty of ways to stay connected. I’m part of Facebook groups that spread positivity to keep us going through these difficult times. I use messenger to stay in contact with friends and family. Yesterday, I video called my nephew who I miss very much.

Although we have to keep our physical distance, it’s OK to smile at strangers and say hi. When I was picking up supplies from the supermarket, I chatted with the cashier. She thanked me for being so kind to her as she had been putting up with threats and insults from customers all day.

Do not underestimate the power of small gestures. Simply sending a meme to a friend or smiling at someone in the street could make someone’s day. And honestly, it makes me feel good too. Even though I have limited opportunities to practice social skills, these small things mean I won’t become completely unskilled like when I had agoraphobia.

I Can Tell People How I Am Feeling

Sharing my anxieties with people is much healthier than keeping them in. And it gives them an opportunity to open up too.

It’s easy to feel lonely during this time. If we all keep our feelings hidden, we will feel even more alone. Being honest and vulnerable it necessary right now.

Mental Health Services are operating over the telephone now. I still have weekly appointments with my CBT therapist, just not face to face. Instead of putting on a brave face, I am making an effort to use our time to be truly brave and share my worries.

Making a Conscious Effort to See What Time at Home Brings Rather Than What It Takes Away

I am a pessimist. The glass is always half empty. It’s been all too easy for me to see staying at home in purely a negative light. And it’s no wonder. There’s a pandemic and the last time I hardly went out was during an episode of severe mental illness.

But my husband is working from home. He works far away so we don’t get to spend as much time together as we would like. Now we are together all of the time. If he wasn’t here, I’d be alone all day with a baby worrying about COVID-19.

I get to spend lots of time with my daughter. Going out every day was good, but a lot of our routine was filled with preparing for things. And every parent knows that leaving the house requires so much planning. Now we have that time to play and relax together.

I have time to spend on my hobbies. I’m listening to audiobooks and writing a lot. Having my husband at home and nothing to rush out of the house for, I have more time to myself. As a mother, I really need that time.

Remembering That It Won’t Last Forever

There will come a time when this is all a memory. I have a habit of thinking that bad times will never end. It truly feels like it will last forever, especially when I don’t know when the endpoint is. But remembering that it will end and things will be normal again is important. Another useful thing to remember is that I have endured worse. And I have got through it. So the evidence suggests that I can get through this. Sure, I’ll have blips in my mental health along the way. But that isn’t the same as relapse. And it certainly doesn’t mean I will become agoraphobic again.

And when I finally make it out of this, I will be so much more grateful for the things I took for granted.

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This post originally appeared on Medium.

Getty image via Liliia Kyrylenko

Originally published: March 25, 2020
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