Yesterday, I was browsing Facebook and came across a post from a fellow Real Life Ghost Stories Podcast fan in their FB group. She’d set up a Zoom conversation for fans with the podcast hosts, Emma and Dan, at what would be 2pm my local time. That was roughly an hour from when I saw the post.
You can believe I was excited and immediately said that yes, I would attend. But one hour is both not a lot of time, and a loooong time, when it comes to anxiety and agoraphobia. It’s not enough time to mentally plan and prepare yourself for every possibility, and it’s definitely long enough to realize you NEED to plan and thus talk yourself out of attending. There will be other chances, you tell yourself. You don’t really know the other fans. You’re very new to the podcast. You have a tendency to over-ramble and make an ass of yourself when you’re nervous. And so on.
The host of this particular event (Carly) had some computer troubles and it took maybe 10-15 mins after 2pm to post the Zoom link. Those last few minutes were the final break for me, and I decided I was too anxious (read: terrified) to dial in. When my agoraphobia is at its worst, I can’t make outgoing phone calls to anyone but Jason and (sometimes) my mom. I knew it had been getting bad, and I knew that my decision in this particular case – to dial in despite anxiety, or to pass by the opportunity – was going to make or break the next phase of the disorder. Jason was in the room with me, and I told him what was going on. I didn’t frame it in terms of agoraphobia, but I’m sure he knew. And he just said, “Do it.” When I began to protest, he said, “Doooooo it!” It’s a particular funny voice he uses, and it made me smile enough to take a deep breath, put in the Zoom dial code, and hit Join before I could think any further.
I did it. And omg was it ever nerve-racking, especially in the beginning when it was literally just me, Carly, and the podcasters. But then we were all swapping stories – scary stories, wedding stories, cat tales – and a half-dozen other people joined the call, and I met so many interesting folks: a marathon runner with a pacemaker; an older woman with tattooed eyebrows; a man who always has bare feet, even with shoes, because he tattooed bears on both his feet (ha!); and more. I’ve never spoken with any of these guys before, but it felt as natural as a Zoom conversation can be. Everyone was so nice and accepting of each other, some more talkative and some more quiet, a small enough group that it didn’t feel overwhelming but large enough to bring all sorts of perspectives to the conversation. We were on Zoom for about 1.5 hours and already there are promises that we’ll do something like this again. And I know that next time, my agoraphobia won’t have nearly so much chance keeping me (virtually) at home.
There’s always a moment, a precipice, when I teeter on fighting against this disorder or falling back into my comfort zone. Go to that writers’ dinner celebration, or go to the bookstore and get yourself a treat there instead. Fly up to NYC to see your favorite singer perform, or stay home out of self-consciousness. Drive to a new-to-you place, alone, to celebrate with friends, or tell yourself it’s okay to miss the event because it’s your birthday and you’d rather not drive. And always, ALWAYS, when I land on the side of doing, of going outside my comfort zone, of confronting the harder thing when it’s so easy to convince myself I’d be happier if I didn’t – this is when I win. This is when the happiest memories are made. These are the moments that give my life joy. It doesn’t make it any easier to fight the next time, but each time I win the battle, it’s another point of proof: I’ve never once regretted Doing the Thing, and I’ve always regretted declining.
Yesterday, I won. Even after nearly six weeks of lockdown and the snaking tendrils of agoraphobia that get bigger and longer and stronger every day that I don’t leave my house, I won. It may not seem like much to someone else – all I had to do was enter a code into a Zoom screen and say hello to strangers – but for me, it was a battle. As my favorite singer sang – my favorite singer who I regret to say that I never got to see perform – No one knows the battles we survive. Tattooed onto my skin, to help me remember. It may not seem like much to someone else, but for me, it was a tiny story of triumph.