One hundred thirty-six million Americans were fully vaccinated as of May 31st; according to “Our World in Data,” that’s 41.4% of us; so we are slowly opening back up. I watch as people begin to shop, dine and socialize again and in my head, hear, “Please notice that the seatbelt sign is off, and you are now free to roam around the cabin” (that’s airplane talk, seems I’ve taken one too many flights in my lifetime). I’m getting out there tentatively and still wear a facemask even though my husband and I have chosen to vaccinate fully, and our 15 yr old at this point is 1/2 vaxed. I’m anxious and gun shy. I do Shipt shopping for a couple of hours a day, a few days a week, to offset the cost of my smoothie bowl addiction. When I’m out there in the stores walking around shopping, I feel traces of the paranoia that had set in at the swell of the Covid 19 pandemic run through every fiber of my being. I’m sure a lot of people are still feeling uneasy. Pre vaccination, I was anxious and downright angry about antimaskers rubbing past me while I shopped, and sometimes I would comment to those who wore their masks only over their mouths, saying, “ Hey, you know that mask only works if you cover your mouth and nose.” I admit I was sometimes downright shitty and would glare at people who came too close without protecting the people around them like I was, and I would think, “what an asshole, what a selfish human being!” I would get upset because I was in the store working. Though I was sweating bullets due to 53-year-old menopausal hot flashes behind my mask, I still found it monumentally critical to protect others, myself, and prevent the spread of this crappy disease that some had the nerve to call a hoax. What became most apparent to me due to the pandemic and how people reacted to our new normal was that the narcissistic, entitled “give me liberty or give me death” monster is real. It took over the most unsuspecting of friends and family, tread on you like a pack of wild kids running over ants on a crowded playground, and got stronger the more you objected to it! It’s been hard not to judge through the Covid days.
Frankly, the last year and a bit have been exhausting. I got to a point where I didn’t have energy left to follow the news, CDC guidelines, my friends opinions and beliefs on social media, the trumped-up election commentary for or against it, look for a new job, worry about being separated 9000 miles from my two daughters, wonder when I would be able to hug them again, think about when we would be able to start paying ALL of our bills again, poor health I was experiencing and the body numbing feeling that my world was closing in on me; so I hit my wall. Mental health was a struggle well before all of this. I have battled an acute panic disorder, anxiety, and depression since I was 13. It came on as my hormones changed while going through puberty. The tween years is an expected time of onset for this kind of hereditary disorder. Covid was exceptionally challenging for me and has changed my thought pattern somewhat. Because everything had gotten so heavy and so hard in the world outside my home, I had taken to isolating and staying inside when I could. The CDC had suggested we stay home when possible, and I had no problem with it. Our 15 yr old was also home and doing school online; plus, we have our two dogs, who, by the way, were highly thankful for Covid isolation because they got to snuggle us every day.
I got too comfortable in my bubble, and Isolation for me over a long period is not good (it’s not really good for anyone). In my mid 20’s I suffered from Agoraphobia which, according to Wikipedia (for those of you who don’t know), “is an anxiety disorder characterized by symptoms of anxiety in situations where the person perceives their environment to be unsafe with no easy way to escape. These situations can include open spaces, public transit, shopping centers, or simply being outside their home. (in my case large crowd of people). Being in these situations may result in a panic attack. The symptoms occur nearly every time the situation is encountered and last for more than six months. Those affected will go to great lengths to avoid these situations. In severe cases, people may become completely unable to leave their homes.”
When I experienced Agoraphobia, I was one of the lead singers of a top 40 band that performed 5-6 nights a week in Naples. People would say, “wow, you must be having a blast!” But in reality, 50% of the time, it was terrifying. I would spend my mornings and afternoons in the safety of my home or rollerblading and running alone, and when I wasn’t doing that, I was sleeping; in fact, I became addicted to sleeping during the day (it’s an escape, it’s a thing). If our phone rang, I refused to pick it up. The thought of talking to anyone made me panic and feel nauseous. It was extremely hard for me to grocery shop at that time; it seemed like everyone in town knew me even if I didn’t know them, and they would stop and talk to me every few aisles. After a while, I started leaving my cart in the middle of the store and hiding in my car where I would go numb with panic, become disoriented, and have to call my then fiancé to save me in the parking lot because I couldn’t move my limbs to drive my car. I viewed the world in single slow frames because my visual tracking was off due to overstimulation in my brain. On one occasion, my husband Paul and I went car shopping at a huge open-air car market in NZ. It was shoulder to shoulder with people. Somehow I lost hold of Paul’s hand, and when we got separated, I went into fight or flight mode. I tried to hold it together, but as my anxiety began to surge, I started shaking uncontrollably and crying so hard I could barely see through the tears. My limbs began to lose feeling just as Paul found me, and when he grabbed my hand again, I furiously yelled at him, “why did you leave me like that? I was scared, and you just left me!” My poor husband, if he had no mental health issues before we married, I’m sure he does now; please pray for him.
The act of panicking and running into triggers became a vicious cycle. The more I isolated or felt abandoned, the more those triggers flicked on, causing my issues to accumulate like onion layers building up into a more complex series of disorders. Peeling back those layers to find some semblance of normal Jeri inside has taken years, long sessions with several kinds of therapists and doctors, and begrudgingly but very necessary, medication. It’s been hard, and even though I have long periods where everything is running smoothly, the fact remains that there are still a few fried circuits inside me that, if tapped the wrong way, set the cycle in motion again. So fast forward to today, I am finding it hard to move outside of my head and my house, to fight the urge to continue to isolate even though the reason to do so is diminishing. I don’t talk as much daily as I did pre isolation, and when I do, I verbally puke out any and every thought that hits my lips because I don’t know when I’m going to have the chance to do it again, and I can’t help myself.
We planted some Clusia hedges in front of our house during our home improvement stage of Covid isolation, and I have been excited about how lush and green our new landscaping looks as it grows. But I found myself looking at them this morning as I was pulling out of the driveway to go Shipt shop (which I make myself do, so I have to leave the house for something), and for a second, I caught myself thinking, “I can’t wait till those grow so tall no one can see our house. Then I will be able to step out on my patio and sit there in comfort, and no one will see me hiding behind the hedges.” It’s not an irrational thought; everyone wants privacy, but I am mindful of these thoughts of wanting to hide and putting them in check while taking baby steps to break out of my bubble and roam freely around the cabin in an attempt to get back to a life that feels free and somewhat normal.