Dear Readers, I strongly suspect that one of the side effects of living through the pandemic has been a rise in agoraphobia (literally ‘fear of the market’, and usually expressed in terms of being afraid of crowds, wide-open spaces or even just leaving the house). In the past few days I have talked with several people whose loved ones are now terrified of going outside the front door. These were people who were previously adventurous and confident, but now experience panic attacks, dizziness, a feeling of being out of control, breathlessness, sweating and disorientation, even for a brief trip to the shops.
I’m no psychologist, but observing my poor Mum in her last years brought out a few common factors for me. Being housebound, or at least spending a long period of time indoors seems to shrink not only our physical but our mental worlds, to the point where we only truly feel safe inside four walls. Couple this with social isolation and you have a recipe for anxiety. Then, there are the added problems of hearing and sight deterioration which happens as we get older – if we are going out regularly we may adapt to these changes, but if we are confined and then suddenly broach the outside world, it can all feel too much. Next, there is a genuine fear of falling, made worse by feeling giddy and by having lost fitness over months of walking no further than the fridge or the end of the garden. And finally, there’s the fear of infection and of the possibility of getting sick, especially as so much of the world has gone back to ‘business as usual’.
Personally, I have long had a fear of being in situations that I couldn’t escape from, and that has definitely gotten worse. Just before Christmas, we went to see a play in the West End, and passed through Leicester Square tube station. It was absolutely rammed, to the point that I was afraid that there would be an uncontrollable crush as there wasn’t room for people to get off the escalators. I could feel myself beginning to panic in a way that I probably wouldn’t have done pre-pandemic -after all, I’ve lived in London all my life and being surrounded by people is nothing new. Fortunately nothing happened, but it’s a long time since I’ve been so afraid.
It feels to me as if there has been a great mental forgetting of the cost of Covid in human terms, but for many people, their bodies haven’t forgotten, and are bearing the fear and anxiety that it’s no longer acceptable to express openly. Personally, I hate that we have had no real, official reckoning with what happened, no acknowledgement of the history that we lived through, and of the price of it for so many of us. There can be no true moving into the future without weighing up and acknowledging what’s happened, the mistakes that were made, the things we learned, and what needs to be put in place for the future. For those still mourning a loved one, or suffering from Long Covid, or still sheltering, the pandemic has ongoing consequences. And for those who still don’t feel ‘normal’, who sometimes panic in open spaces, who hyperventilate in crowds, who still automatically do ‘the dance of social distancing’, I know how you feel. I would be intrigued to know how you’re doing, lovelies. Do you know people who are struggling? Are there things that you notice about yourself that have changed? Or is it just me?