The news headlines started to hit home.
“The U.S. has its first confirmed COVID-19 case.”
There were theories, speculations, numbers, and fear-mongering from every outlet. No one talked about anything else.
The school district emailed me, saying that students were going to take an early and extended spring break, just in case. That quickly turned into distance learning from home.
Businesses started shutting down. Offices were closed. Counseling sessions were either cancelled or done over the phone.
Just weeks before, I had taken my first step toward overcoming my agoraphobia relapse—and I was doing great! I was taking car rides with my eyes open and keeping control over my nervousness. I made it to every counseling session and every doctor’s appointment. I was socializing, despite my periods of shaking through it.
Then, life as we knew it starting changing.
The world outside of our homes was no longer considered safe. Stay in your houses. Stay away from others. Household members and essentials only. It all grew bigger and bigger, day after day. Worsening. Getting closer and closer—to my town, to my friends, to my family.
As someone who was struggling with agoraphobia and had been doing EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) treatments for C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder), this nightmare that had become our reality validated everything I was working so hard to overcome. I could no longer tell myself, “It’s just me. It’s all in my head. The world is safe enough to be out in. There isn’t tragedy around every corner.”
I began to have panic attacks that would leave me unable to speak. This added fuel to fear, because while I’m used to shaking and freezing, I’ve never before been unable to speak. I had an emergency stash of anxiety medication that I had refused to touch because I was going to “feel the fear and do it anyway.” Thank God I did, because I couldn’t fight this monster. I couldn’t fight every trigger button that was being pushed at once. I couldn’t fight the thoughts that had been validated by the entire world.
I had never in my life been triggered so badly, and I am used to triggers. My employment status changed over triggers. My sex life changed over triggers. My friendships changed over triggers. My ability to enjoy basic, everyday life changed over triggers. And now, my tiny goals were no longer considered “safe” goals.
At times, I felt relieved that I wasn’t the only one to experience these feelings; people finally understood what it was like to be me. But at other times, this broke my heart even further. My invisible monsters had taken form and become real.
The impact COVID has had on my mental health has been extremely trying. When people talked about the rise in depression and anxiety in people who had been able to do what I couldn’t, and the risk of suicide that would increase over this, I felt even smaller. No one realized how much harder my battle had gotten.
Every ounce of progress I had made was flushed down the toilet in an instant. I couldn’t focus unless I was medicated. I would stand outside and observe how nothing had changed in my immediate surroundings. My trees were still there, the birds were still singing, the space in front of my house was exactly as it had always been. Then the cars stopped driving by, the parking lots grew empty.
On top of my preexisting C-PTSD, isolation fed my social anxiety. I couldn’t talk to my best friends for more than a few minutes without having to walk away or hang up. My best friends—the people I used to talk and laugh with for hours at a time.
I sat on my bed the other day, observing life from my window. How beautiful and peaceful and normal it all seemed. I listened to my neighbor talk and laugh with her friends. And I felt the deepest longing to be back in a space where I could be a part of that world.
The pressure to go back to the counseling office is heavier than ever before. “We need to get you in here to do some EMDR therapy, girl.” But how? How can I go back into a world that I already didn’t feel safe in for so many years, after having that fear validated? After the amplification of my preexisting condition? After the defeat of losing all that progress?
I might be the only one who has been impacted in this way by the pandemic. And I might not. But this is a taste of what a COVID world has done to an agoraphobic with C-PTSD. The battle hadn’t just begun, but it has definitely gotten worse.
One positive that I can appreciate about this experience is that I am still here. I am still fighting my demons and the added demons the rest of us are fighting. I’m still spending my days dancing with grief and gratitude, and keeping my sights set on making the best of it. Even if some days, the best is waking up to another day, another chance to fight for my desire to enjoy life.