I’m writing this article on my phone, in my night dress and back in bed at 12:35pm. I work part time in the afternoons so that my chronic insomnia doesn’t interfere. Well that and the rest of my work is from home. But the reason I’m still under the covers by midday has nothing to do with sleeping late and everything to do with seasonal agoraphobia.
For those who missed it in past articles, I’m bipolar. And during the fall, I go through a process that is nothing short of mental decay. Whatever I have built up over the other three seasons is put to the challenge as the goal posts shift. Forget building a future, how about we celebrate just leaving the house?
Every year I go through this, but I didn’t recognize the pattern clearly until recently. And this is the first I had built so much before hand. I have a new partner, a new job, an apartment we need me to help pay for, new friends who want to see me. I went from nearly being cared for entirely, to being the only one in the house who can drive. So I have to be involved in the upkeep of life and toilet paper, at least a little.
Plus the cats. I have fuzzy children that depend upon me. I can’t sink now. Not now bipolar, you can’t steal all this away from me now.
The truth is, it could.
I’m fighting it. I’m going to work, and in three weeks classes ends and all my other work is from home. Meanwhile my partner helps by walking me through the millions of things we need to do to care for our environment. I’m still picking up my friends to join us at our house. My partner still has appointments they need a ride for. I’m going through the motions but every action is now fueled by panic. I’m terrified that one day it won’t be enough.
But if I fail, we both fail. We depend on my income and my ability to get in a car. Does the pressure help? I think so. I might have given up by now. I’ve never made it through to the other end before without a total collapse. And this is clockwork for me. Fall equinox I go down the tube, Winter Solstice I start to recover. If I can make it to December 21st, I can start to rebuild.
Life, death, rebirth. It’s no wonder I’m particularly drawn to a spiritual practice that includes these ideas. So as an aside let me offer a rebuke to a famous atheist argument.
“Faith is a crutch.”
My friend, can you not see that I can not walk on my own? So many people in my position would drown. I’ve gone under in the past. I need to pray for the strength to endure. And I find it. You might be right, but how rude to point it out.
Sure I’m not out there running marathons. I’m still struggling to leave the house. And the closer my difficult class looms the more I dread it – the more I want to stick to the blankets despite promising to put them in the wash. But right now the only thing getting me through is the faith it will get better.
Not everyone has that spark of hope. So here is the PSA for you. Agoraphobia is a dangerous condition that can lead to someone being entirely housebound. I know because I’ve had a car battery go dead from not using it. Twice. It can be crippling, and it’s hard on loved ones.
If you encounter someone with agoraphobia please be patient with them. Try to coax them out of the house for simple things, like one on one coffee, and promise you will help keep them safe. Somehow convince them to seek professional help. Be gentle and encouraging. And remember, no one chooses to be afraid of leaving the house. It can’t really be reasoned with. But with intervention and practice it can be managed or even go into remission. I don’t know if it can be cured in patients without other illness. But remission is a wonderful thing.
And here is why this belongs in a geek blog. A lot of what looks like game addiction is agoraphobia in disguise. Before you write off your friend for being addicted to World of Warcraft, consider if the real reason she won’t go to the movies is that means having a bath, getting dressed, and actually leaving the house. Is she obsessed, or is she depressed, and masking it with games?
As for me, here’s waiting for the solstice and my brain chemistry to shift again, and yes, praying I make it through.
Melissa Devlin is a professional writer and teacher who resides in Alameda, California, with her partner and multiple furry babies. She can also be frequently heard laughing – and occasionally even talking – on the Ace of Geeks Podcast.