As a rule, I don’t tend to write about things when I’m in the midst of them. I write about my struggles after I’ve done some processing, some reflecting, and it isn’t too painful to share.
Which is all just to say, writing this today is going to hurt.
I have agoraphobia.
I am afraid to leave my house without someone accompanying me. I don’t visit my friends’ houses because it’s too panic-inducing to get there. I go to the same restaurant to hang out because nowhere else feels safe.
If I want to go somewhere new, my partner R has to go with me repeatedly to help me practice – sometimes dozens upon dozens of times – before I can work up the courage to go by myself.
I cancel on people constantly because I think I’ll be brave enough to see them, but then I break down an hour before when I realize that I’ll have to leave my apartment alone.
Since living in California, I’ve never once gone grocery shopping by myself. I’ve never once gone to the doctor by myself. And not once have I gone to a pharmacist by myself.
If I run out of food, or I’m sick, or I need medicine, I wait until someone can go with me – even if it’s at the expense of my own health or sanity.
I’ve turned down interviews with big publications, passed up the chance to meet phenomenal activists and writers, cancelled speaking engagements at big universities, and otherwise fucked up career opportunities because instead of pursuing them, I was in my bathroom vomiting because I was terrified of going outside.
No matter how badly I want to go to the birthday party, or how desperately I want to leave my apartment for some fresh air, or how terrific that event promises to be, I am trapped.
I am sitting by my window at the end of nearly every day, watching my social media light up with happy faces – wondering, worrying if I will ever know the kind of freedom that they know.
Freedom, like when you can walk out your door without it being a complete and utter fiasco.
Freedom, like when you aren’t suicidal just because you missed your train stop and you’re convinced you are in imminent danger because you’ve never been in this part of town before.
Freedom, like when your friend wants to spontaneously grab coffee and it doesn’t make you hyperventilate at the thought.
Freedom, like being able to go somewhere without the petrifying fear that your anxiety will creep up on you and no one will be there to help you when you snap.
For the longest time, I made excuses. I told myself I couldn’t leave because I’m “just an anxious person.” I told myself I just didn’t like being alone. I told myself moving to a new city is always scary. I told myself that I just didn’t like being around people.
Time and time again, I told myself there was a logical reason for why I hadn’t left my place in a week.
My friends asked me, “I always see you with your partner. Do you ever go anywhere by yourself?” No.
My friends asked me, “I haven’t seen you in a while. Is everything okay?” No.
My friends asked me, “I noticed all your selfies are in your apartment. Do you ever leave?” No.
Because I am afraid.
Do you know what it’s like to be afraid of yourself?
To be convinced that you aren’t safe if you’re left to your own devices, that at any moment the panic will take over and you’ll be rendered an inconsolable, chaotic mess?
Do you know the longing of wanting to go to the beach, just to remember what the tide feels like when it glides across your feet? To want nothing more than to stroll down to that new cafe, the one you’ve pictured in your mind a thousand times?
Wanting to meet your friends at the park, so you can lay in the grass and feel the sun on your back? Wishing you could join them at that queer club so you could dance the night away, sweaty and laughing and alive, surrounded by electric bodies and beautiful souls?
Talking yourself up, saying that you’re going to do it this time, that there’s no logical reason why you can’t – you RSVP with a “yes” while shaking your head “no” – knowing that it’s inevitable, that disappointment of being alone again, of missing out.
Too afraid to admit the truth, just to say, “I can’t.”
Too afraid to tell your friends, “I’m not as strong as you thought.“
And so everyone goes to the beach, to the cafe, to the park, to the club, while you are curled up beneath the covers, promising yourself “next time” but knowing that there will never, ever be a “next time” until you say those three little words:
I need help.
Just to go to graduate school, my partner had to accompany me across the city – two busses, an hour’s trek – three days a week to my classes. Still, I wouldn’t say it. I dropped out.
Just to get to the psychiatrist’s office, my partner had to go with me then, too – four stops on the train, a shuttle – and no matter how many times we practiced, I couldn’t do it alone. Still, I wouldn’t say it. I haven’t seen that doctor in months.
I ran out of groceries and I was too scared to ask someone to drive me. I ate whatever I could find in the back of the cupboard and sometimes I didn’t eat at all. Still, I wouldn’t say it. I ordered my groceries online.
Last week, I typed into a search bar, “I can’t leave my house alone,” knowing full well that it was going to tell me what I already knew.
I can tell myself until I’m blue in the face, until this lie feels close enough to the truth, until I run out of food again or run out of pills again, that everything is fine. I can tell myself that it’s the city, or it’s the bus, or it’s the people – I can tell myself a hundred thousand times that it isn’t me.
But it is me.
I’ve slowly started telling my friends. Now, I’m telling the world. In part because maybe, in holding myself publicly accountable, I’ll actually reach out and get the help that I need (I’m working on it, I promise).
But I’m writing about this, too, because I know somebody out there is going to Google “I can’t leave my house.”
And if that person is you, this is your sign.