Maria Rushe shares her experience of facing a new fear of leaving her comfort zone after lockdown. Can you relate?
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
I’ve said these words more than a few times over the past few weeks. Mainly, because I found myself absolutely bricking it over things that ‘once upon a normal’, wouldn’t have taken a fizz out of me.
I’ve found myself anxious and sweating and with all the fizzy fingers at just the thought of having to go into the town.
As someone who generally is not in any way worried about going places, or being out in public, this new found worry, worried me.
I’m the type of person who can happily spend a day wandering around London on my own. I won’t care if someone I’m meeting in a restaurant or coffee shop is 20 minutes late. I’m more than used to going to events on my own. It wouldn’t have cost me a thought to go to a new place before lockdown.
So how come, after going in to do the Big shop (not for the first time) a few weeks ago, I found myself in an absolute tizzy when I got back into the car? I’m talking palpitations, sweats and a frustration that had my shoulders up at my ears.
I was engulfed with a rage at myself, at how stupid I felt and how anxious I was over something that only a few weeks earlier, had been one of the banal, ordinary, boring even, activities of my previous normal.
And so for at least 6 weeks, I refused point blank to do the shopping. I’m lucky I have someone that could do it instead. We had been taking turns anyway, so he didn’t mind, but I simply could not face going back in. And because I didn’t have to, I didn’t.
Then, when the phases began to move, we went to a local park with the girls. I looked after the girls. Himself it turns out, had to look after me. Because I was so terrified of them going too close to people or doing something wrong, that I was on ‘fight or flight’ mode from the second we parked the car until we got back into it.
The following week, my best friend messaged about a coffee date. Yay and hurrah…
We were sitting outside a cafe, having a long overdue catch up, but we were at least an hour in before my shoulders lowered to where they’re supposed to be and I actually relaxed. A bit.
Sitting outside a cafe I’ve frequented for years, with my best friend of almost 20 years, waving and saying hi to people we knew as they passed… I was calm on the outside, but a trainwreck inside. I wasn’t calm and confident. I was buzzing on nervous energy and on high alert.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me!” I said to my parents a few days later.
And as usual, they had the answer.
“You’re afraid. We’re all so afraid.”
They’re wise, and usually right are my parents, but don’t tell them I said that.
So armed with the fact that if my Daddy and Mammy can be afraid of normal stuff too, I decided that if I was in fact afraid, I had to face it.
I sent a few messages that night and arranged a different coffee date or walk for each day that week. Having just one thing on my schedule (and yes, I wrote them into my diary which has been lying redundant since March 12th) made me face a different place each day.
I had coffee with a friend on a bench. I met a mate for a donut and cuppa on the square. I even had coffee and cake with a friend in the back of her husband’s van which has a table in it… A-TEAM, eat your heart out.
And as nervous as I was about each of these, making myself do it and speaking to familiar faces who I have missed so much, was the tonic that I needed. Even better, each and every one of them said that they were feeling the exact same. And my message had made THEM get up and get out of their own comfort zones.
I’m not a psychologist. I’m not a councillor. I’m a hot mess and like everyone, I’ve been affected by the changes of the past few months.
I am however, able to admit my weakness. I learned a few years ago that if I’m not feeling “right”, that saying it out loud leads to figuring it out.
I figured out that I needed to face my fear and make myself get up and go out. And I’m stubborn enough to make myself do it.
And considering that I have to go back to work in our gym at 6am tomorrow morning, I really had no choice but to get up and out.
Now, I still haven’t faced the big shop. And I still have to take a breath and plan where I’m going beforehand. And I still sigh with huge relief when I’m safe and back in my car. But I’m another step closer to being back to my old self. And we have to keep taking those small steps to get to where we want to go.
So if you can relate to ANY of this, I hope that you can get out and about. Go for that coffee. Meet that friend for lunch. Take the kids to the park. Go to the shop you’ve missed. Go back to the gym. Book that restaurant. Go get your hair done.
With care and planning and abiding to social distancing guidelines, we can stay safe and keep each other safe.
And soon, our “Once upon a normals”, will be “Happily Ever After Lockdown.”