An astronaut could go to the ISS, spend 6 months there and come home in that time. Twice.
If you position the start and finish right you could squeeze in 2 Christmases.
For those that enjoy a takeaway once a week you’d have consumed 57 of them.
You’d probably enjoy around 300 lengthier visits to the toilet in those days.
Two proper holidays.
Two birthdays to feel depressed about.
800 dog walks.
40 Kids birthday parties.
For me, as many of you know, 400 days is how long my social anxiety and agoraphobia have kept me indoors.
Like most strange-looking mental illness-related habits – starting out as someone who remained inside wasn’t easy. You miss the daily dross of life – visiting a cafe, being able to see a friend, going to the doctors, choosing tonight’s dinner at the supermarket – I stopped doing all of it.
But as the days wore on it became easier, although I realise it’s something others find hard to understand. The freedom we all enjoy is in every fibre of our daily lives. Every single day we are on an unconscious personal journey to get things done, progress, enjoy, be happy, fix, repair, learn, feel healthy and just generally exist.
An agoraphobic doesn’t see those events as necessary. As time passes by and you get more comfortable with life inside, you stop missing all the everyday ‘things’, the shame of isolation reduces and gradually you stop getting included too.
“Steph won’t come – she never comes out anymore. There’s no point inviting her.”.
They were right to give up on asking, because I know I’d have kept embarrassedly saying “Thanks, but no thanks.”.
In the end though, I found that my agoraphobia was feeding itself. I didn’t have many people left, but the few that were still around gradually drifted away. I started to believe that I didn’t belong outside because no one wanted to see me there, so it was easy to do what they expected.
Something changed that…
This week was hoooooot! 34 degrees in the shade here, and when you’ve spent over a year in the same room the sunshine is a reminder of happier times, laughter, pub gardens and fresh air.
I made the swift and sudden decision to go outside.
Yes, it’s absolutely huge for me, but I don’t want to get anyone over excited. This was ‘outside’ at home. I still don’t feel comfortable leaving the house in any way.
Even so, wow….the breeze feels good. So does the sticky hot sun and a melting ice lolly on my arms. Seeing my daughter sitting on my partners lap with her shades on, watching the drips of condensation on my can of Pepsi Max form a pool on the table and gradually evaporate in the heat. Closing my eyes and listening to birds squawking at each other while planes, trains and cars clattered around. Smelling sunblock and getting to smother my daughter in it while she wriggled and moaned incessantly.
Seeing her happiness that I was outside with her for the first time in her 5-year-old memory.
Mundane stuff, ain’t it? But I hadn’t seen, heard or felt any of it for 400 long days and it made it clear just how much I’ve missed.
What does that mean for the future?
Do I still regard myself as Agoraphobic? Unfortunately, yes I do. My desire to integrate with society hasn’t returned and my fear of other people and social situations is as strong and real as it ever was – maybe at its worst.
But again, wow. The feeling of a breeze so strong that it relieved me from the heat and twisted and twirled my hair into a tangled mess I had to frustratedly manage later, was surprisingly enchanting.
So, I’m doing a mini celebration over this event, because I got to feel those ‘things’ again. Things I’d forgotten. Smiles I’d never seen, sounds I’d lost in the fullness of time, moments I thought I’d never experience. I’d accepted it was all inaccessible to me, but it turns out I may have been a teeny, tiny bit wrong.
As I say, it hasn’t changed how I feel about seeing people. It’s still my greatest fear and I don’t think that’s something I’ll recover from without further support and ongoing physical rehabilitation. The likelihood of me every being part of the real world again is low as long as the wheelchair is my only means of mobilising. I hate it, and I’ve never had a chance or even thought about ways of developing a less negative relationship with it.
But that’s not important right now.
I went outside after 400 days, so instead of hitting 401, I’ve started again from 0. Will I do it again? Is ‘outside’ now part of my life? Can I see a way to accept that feeling that breeze, hearing those noises and seeing that smile should just be normal to me?
Finally, I can say this – I hope so.
I have developed a little obsession with Disney at the moment, and (unsurprisingly) my daughter is partly to blame.
Winnie the Pooh represents a story from my own childhood about a woodland home I’d have done anything to visit. Seeing Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet and Tigger (my personal favourite) wandering around eating ‘Hunny’ and having adventures would have been a dream come true for 6-year-old Steph.
And back then I wouldn’t have hesitated to go outside to see them and grab the opportunity be part of that world. Nothing would have stopped me. It makes me sad that today, knowing how utterly insane and unbelievable it would be to visit Hundred Acre Wood, my agoraphobia would never allow me to go.
But, as Winnie the Pooh himself would say…
“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.”.
Wise words from a cartoon bear!
So maybe he’d tell me to try, despite my weirdness. Maybe he’d welcome me to the woods and show me around with care, just like he looks after Eeyore – a cartoon character with an obviously acute level of depression. Winnie the Pooh would tell me my agoraphobia is ok, because I’ve also heard him say…
“The things that make me different are the things that make me, me.”.
So I’m happy to be 100% me, now with added sunshine.