When We Went Inside
An agoraphobe’s advice on how to go out again
Since the stay-at-home orders began in the United States in mid-March, I’ve been asked the same question over and over: “What is this like for you, since you’re, you know, agoraphobic?”
Journalists ask The Question while interviewing me for stories about working from home or about creativity or about mental health. These are the only three things I am interviewed about, except when I am on a book tour or when the BBC World Service needs someone awake at 2 a.m. to say funny things about an unfolding American pop culture contretemps or sweet things about a newly dead comedian. I’m sober, so if I’m up that late, I’m probably not doing anything interesting.
Some people ask The Question in a joking way that I’ve come to recognize as a transparent cloak for their own fear. “You must love this whole thing, right?” asked one guy. He’s the middle-aged equivalent of a troubled teen boy, which is hardly uncommon. And I know he asked because he is scared, too. My short glib answer is, “Oh, this is my fucking Super Bowl.” But to answer bullshit with bullshit is generally not helpful.
I decided I’d write a thoughtful essay on agoraphobia, infused with aching lyricism and finely crafted metaphor. But honestly, after 10 weeks of this shit, I’m tired, and so are you. I decided to just tell you what happened to me, how I am now, and what I’ve learned along the way.
I will talk about me, and then I will talk about you.
I had my first panic attack at around eight years of age. I don’t remember it, but I am sure it was related to travel — planes, cars, and buses could be very scary places for some of the older people around me, and so they were for me, too. I despise motion sickness, which I have always been prone to. I can’t watch anything filmed with a shaky cam, which eliminates a great deal of self-consciously artsy indie cinema, as well as some major action sequences in blockbuster features.
I am not a therapist or a medical doctor, so let’s see what the brilliant folks at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic have to say about all this:
People who have agoraphobia feel anxious and stressed when they think about…