I think we’re alone now. There doesn’t seem to be anyone around.
Because we’re all isolated in our homes.
An introvert’s dream, and a recovering agoraphobe’s nightmare, I’m very torn about social distancing by staying at home, as many have chosen to be in New York City. As we wait to see the ultimate outcome of coronavirus on our communities, I’m wondering if I can stay in my house for more than three days in a row without going insane.
Agoraphobia, which, for me, manifests as a general fear of the outdoors, crowds and public transportation, has been a problem of mine, off and on, since about 2004. Because I’m a writer, something you can easily do professionally from your home if you have the internet, it was easy to let days pass without going outside. I would lose myself in my writing, block out the world, and only leave the house when it was absolutely necessary—like to procure more food or hide in a movie theater for hours watching bad films, two things I stopped doing once grocery delivery and streaming services became more commonplace. Driving increasingly became more and more difficult, until my driving anxiety destroyed my interest in cars around 2010 after I moved to commuter-friendly Washington, D.C. Around 2011, my therapist made it clear, even if I could work from home, I needed to get out every three days or it would get to the point where I couldn’t go out without being filled with anxiety and dread. So I kept to the three-day rule ever since.
Today, I don’t fear the outside. Hell, I even take the subway to work every morning, a minor miracle for someone as anxiety-riddled as I am. I haven’t had an issue with leaving the house in years it seems, not since maybe 2015. But I still do a lot of the things I did to avoid going out—like having everything delivered, from furniture to hair gel to groceries. Staying home and avoiding people is easier than ever.
But in 2017, with the encouragement of friends, I started going out, a lot, and started this random-ass column, Antisocial, about my efforts to get out and conquer my fears related to my long fight with Bipolar Disorder, dressed up as a society column for people afraid of society. Part of what slowed my writing of it was because I finally had success. I was no longer neurotic about going out. I was actually going to things and having a good time and not being lost in my head. I was present and pleasant.
Along comes coronavirus though, threatening to derail three years of hard work and efforts to not be afraid.
I’m strangely calm about the disease currently running through our increasingly empty streets, even though everything seems to be a portent of doom. How will coronavirus affect the 2020 elections? Will all domestic travel eventually be shut down? How long will social distancing last? Will social distancing kill the handshake forever? Will social distancing kill the ballot box? When will it be safe for us all to be out and about again? Nobody knows.
Last week, I managed to stay in the house for three days in a row (I normally leave the house almost every day). On day three, I was dying for any kind of human contact or conversation. I was spam texting people and calling through my Rolodex. On day four, I did leave the house to hang out with my friend Sophia Chang, who was also nonplussed at the time about the drama unfolding all around us.
“Are we under-reacting?” we wondered as we sat in a near-empty Ludlow House on Saturday. With a government where no one appears to be at the wheel, what is right or wrong is hard to determine. So, of course, everyone self-corrected and just chose to stay away...except us, two women, possibly in denial about the end of the world.
This week I and the majority of my staff will work from home. Meaning, there is a good chance I will be stuck in the house from Sunday, when I wrote this column, until next weekend. I have plenty of food and supplies to last for a while. Yet, my worry is not about coronavirus or running out of supplies, but of what will happen around Thursday when I’m itching to go into an office or to a restaurant or to a cocktail party and there’s no place to go. Where I start to lose track and about what day it actually is, and start to get used to not taking care of my appearance. Where I start to get used to being in the house again. Where I start to get comfortable and it just seems like too much “trouble” to go out. Where the paranoia starts to kick in and coronavirus becomes the catchall excuse for why I shouldn’t do anything. Ever.
But maybe that won’t happen! Allegedly, it’s OK for me to take a walk in the empty streets or a stroll through an empty park as long as I wash my hands and don’t touch my face. Or is it?