Just me and my computer.
That's not to say I never went out. I saw a couple of friends at their homes, and I made it to the shops every so often, always accompanied. I even made it to church. But gatherings of people, or parties? No way. I got halfway through a family birthday dinner at a local pizza place, and had to walk away before I broke down.
I blame my anxiety disorder for most of this. Apparently, I am so easily stressed, that when surrounded by people, I can easily descend into a panic attack. I shake, while my heart races, my head gets dizzy and I begin to hyperventilate. While I am not ashamed of my bipolar disorder, it is much harder for me to admit to my anxiety. I know it is triggered by irrational fears, and that bothers me. If only I had valid reasons for this panic! But as it is, I find myself sweating and shaking when confronted by such small things as groups of people and telephone calls.
Because I am bothered by my anxiety, I usually work hard to conceal it. The amount of panic attacks I've weathered in a bathroom stall, all the while trying to pretend to everyone else that I'm fine, is staggering. I'm also pretty good at working out where and when one might occur, so I avoid those occasions. No big parties where I don't know most of the people. No phone calls without a pad of paper where I can organise my thoughts. I know I will never be able to see my favourite bands in concert, as I would never be able to face the crowds and noise.
Sometimes I feel like I've become far too old for my age. I feel like an old woman, struggling to function in a world that is too fast and too noisy for her to take in without pain. I hate that feeling. Therefore, for the last two months, I have simply avoided every uncertain situation.
So when the idea of going to the local DoJ gathering popped into my head, I didn't initially think it a good idea at all. An hour of singing in a room packed full of large families, followed by an afternoon tea in a crowded tearoom? I knew what it was like, as years ago I used to attend regularly. And what about the people? Would they welcome me back? I stopped going abruptly, two and a half years ago. Would they remember me? Would they care? I didn't know.
For some reason though, I found myself wanting to go. I talked it over with Graham. Though he was worried about how it would play out, he willingly agreed to accompany me. I was still in contact with one family who attended regularly, so I rang them and checked to see if they would be there.
And, somehow, I found myself walking into the venue yesterday afternoon. Uncertainty started to well up inside me, and I slowly realised I was shaking. I walked past people, and recognised who they were. Two and a half years, and I still remembered all their names. Awkwardly, I tried to smile and wave, while uncertainty distilled into panic. I shouldn't have come. What had I been thinking?
Heads turned to see who had arrived, focusing on me... and smiles appeared. I found myself surrounded by people, all smiling, all asking how I was, and all seemingly pleased I was there. Eventually, we made our way into the auditorium, where I could take a much-needed seat. For all that I'd just had the best possible welcome, I found myself trembling, I think partly from relief.
I'd only planned to stay for part of the afternoon, and strategically exit before everyone began afternoon tea... but I found I was enjoying myself. It was nice to hear everyone singing praise songs, even nicer that I was surrounded by my friend's family. I even began to relax a little. And I was able to introduce, with great pride, my husband to all these people who had never met him. I felt as if, while I had left the gatherings two years ago broken and mentally sick, I was able to return stronger and far happier.
The last thing we did that afternoon before leaving was to speak to an old friend who we hadn't seen for a long time. As we said goodbye, he said he would be looking forward to seeing us next week. And you know what? Though I might not always be able to make it, I think I will go back. I felt so good, reconnecting with old friends, knowing that to do so I had beaten down my anxiety and won - that is awesome.
I am housebound today. But maybe I can begin to work towards controlling my anxiety. And then there will be no more need to hide at home in fear.