Has Covid-19 Made Me Agoraphobic?

My friends make fun of me because I refuse to get take-out, I am my mother’s daughter and I’m always wary of where I eat and conscious of where I order my food – it is a trait that has been instilled in me from a very young age. So when the pandemic started it just heightened my natural instincts to disinfect and always be on guard while I mentally over dramatise the scenes around me. I was one of the few people who started wearing a mask in November (2019) because I was worried about getting Covid, just as I was when Ebola hit central Africa several years before – while I was in the UK, as irrational as that may have been. 

You would think a germaphobe like me was made for a pandemic – which to an extent I was but I am also someone who is very fearful of hospitals so that was an added anxiety. The thought of having to go to the hospital for any reason haunted me, I found myself pushing any upcoming appointments and being very careful so I didn’t have an accident of any kind – so there wasn’t really time for me to relax mentally which eventually got to me. I have asthma and I had bronchitis as a kid so the thought of getting Covid terrified me and as the death toll grew so did my anxiety. Having a routine became my security blanket – it helped keep my anxiety at bay, although thinking back I was actually spiralling and I just didn’t notice. On the days where my routine was broken, I could feel it – it affected my mood but it wasn’t until my husband pointed out to me that my behaviour was almost robotic that I started to pay attention.  

I knew I had to try to break this new habit and I knew I had to do something that was drastic so I booked an opticians appointment and went outside for the first time in 6 months

My neck got warm and my fingers became tingly as I ran through all my safety checks in my head, making sure I had my mask on properly, gloves on and hand sanitiser in my bag. I ran through my route to the optician as though I was heading into enemy territory. My heart began pounding as I took my first step outside, I suddenly felt feverish and struggled to breathe but I kept pushing and the further I got away from the safety net of my home the more panicked I became – even in writing this those feelings crept back, as though I was reliving it all over again. This was the first time I had left my house since this whole ordeal began. My first time near them – these ominous people that I would see walking past my house from my living room window, they were possible carriers to me and that scared me. 

Although I was scared, I knew I had to keep going.

I eventually made it into town and walked into my local Specsavers and to my delight, it was pretty empty and highly sanitised – a calmness and sense of relief fell on me.

I decided to call my sister on my way home as a way to help regulate my breathing and lessen my chances of experiencing anything close to the panic I felt when I left my house. Like any normal person I monitored myself in the weeks that followed to ensure I didn’t get Covid during my outing – there were nights where I would wake up suddenly to double-check the symptoms of Covid, just to make sure I didn’t have it before falling back to sleep, after my nightly NHS and WebMD search – I was comforted by the fact that I didn’t have any Covid symptoms. In the past, whenever I’ve had to deal with something hard I’ve held onto facts as a way to cope and the fact was I didn’t have any Covid symptoms and I had been isolating, so the odds of me getting Covid were slim – this became my mantra that kept me calm on the nights I couldn’t sleep.  

This onset panic would go through my mind every time I had to leave my house, even to go visit my in-laws who were part of our bubble – I knew I had to do something to tackle this so I began meditating again – it became my way of releasing my pent up anxieties. I would meditate every day and it began to help me relax – I was reconnecting with myself. Meditation has always been my saving grace, it has always enabled me to reduce my stress and woes helping me gain perspective which in turn helps me face my issues head on. I was later able to revert back to my old cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) exercises like journaling and honestly examining my behaviour and in doing so I was able to identify my issues and work out ways to change my thought patterns and eventually reach my goal of leaving my house without the feeling of dread. 

I feel ready to slowly reintroduce myself to the outside world, but I am still being smart because Covid is very much alive in Basingstoke and I will not lose the game right at the finish line. The roll out of the Covid vaccination gives me hope, that this pandemic will eventually end and we will go back to a somewhat normal reality. I know once I finally get the chance to take my full dose it will help alleviate some of my anxieties – before Covid I was an extrovert, your typical Gemini and I know with the added security of this vaccine it will help me get back to that person. 

This year has been catastrophic to say the least and all of my greatest fears that I usually internalised and fixated on become a reality – with the pandemic, human rights being called into question and living under a totalitarian leadership. I feel like an extra in the movie Idiocracy just watching the world leaders fail us and the public become more susceptible to moronic ideologies – with the constant QANON, Anti BLM rhetoric being splashed out by the media, makes me question the legitimacy of this reality.

Everyday is a struggle but through meditation, I am able to bring my consciousness back to a relaxed state – reminding myself to breathe and take a beat. I gave myself the goal of going outside firstly in places I felt comfortable, like the woodland near my in-law’s farm and eventually working my way to slightly more crowded places and I found the anxiety I initially felt deplete. I still struggle in larger crowds but I am now able to go for walks worry free during off peak times which is a huge step for me. I am going to continue to work on myself and I know I’ll eventually be able to stand in the middle of a crowd again without panicking. 

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