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Ruth Durkin: Leaving lockdown? Now I can, I daren’t.

Lockdown is slowly being lifted, but a lot of people don’t feel ready to leave the house. Ruth talks about her experiences with agoraphobia, and about the small steps she’s taken to get back out.

Ruth's husband and son on a walk

Life since March 2020 has been unusual to say the least. Despite being allowed to go for walks and to the shops whilst social distancing, many people are feeling fed up and stuck at home or at worst; imprisoned.

I’ve been suffering from mental health problems for most of my life so in a way the enforced quarantine and isolation was bound to affect me. I’m also aware though that the mental health of so many other people is being affected due to these unprecedented times. People who’ve experienced anxiety and those who haven’t may be feeling worried and scared about going out now that we can. This can lead to agoraphobia, health anxiety or just feeling unfamiliar and apprehensive when venturing out after all this time.

At the end of March I became very unwell with unconfirmed Coronavirus (I haven’t had a test. If it wasn’t Covid-19 it was something else horrible). It was a scary time and some of it is a bit blurry in my recollection. Being overweight and having mild asthma made me susceptible to the virus.

My husband, myself and our toddler self-isolated in our flat. At first I was very unwell with a cough, breathlessness, fever and exhaustion. But after that we had a lovely few days in our little bubble. We watched Disney films, read, played games, took naps and cooked with food our friends left outside our door from the supermarket. We weren’t oblivious to the rest of the world though; our hearts went out to the families of Coronavirus victims.

After the fortnight was up, we were able to leave the flat whilst observing social distancing rules. My husband went back to work and my son and I felt a big void in his absence. I spoke to my Mum on the phone and she encouraged me to take my son outside for a walk now that I was allowed to do so. I felt sick with anxiety at the thought of it. My mind became flooded with images of horrific attacks happening to my son in the housing estate we live in. I have gone back and forth whether to share with you details of these intrusive thoughts because I worry that people would think I want those things to happen to him (when it fact it’s the complete opposite). If you’ve ever seen a horror film you can imagine the sort of thing (I am unable to watch horror). I wasn’t scared of coronavirus; my fear had spread to encompass the entire outside world.

This type of isolation has triggered agoraphobia in me before. My son was unwell when he was born and once he came out of Special Care Baby Unit I was advised to keep him inside the flat for 3 months to enable his immune system to strengthen. After the 3 months ended I felt unable to leave the flat so my husband took a week off work to help to ease me into getting out and about using graded exposure. We went on the bus for the first time, to the cinema, to a pub for lunch and my husband was very patient with me throughout. I think I only got through it because people kept telling me how important it was for my son to be going to baby groups and for me to meet other mums.

Fast forward back to this spring. After being back at work for four days my husband contracted coronavirus symptoms so we had to isolate for another 14 days. I was so relieved that I could legitimately hide for a bit longer. By the time this quarantine ended my panic and distress at leaving the flat had sky-rocketed. On the particular Sunday we had agreed to try to go outside I had a panic attack sat on my bed and begged my husband to let me and my son stay at home. In a gentle but determined way he got me out of the door crying and shaking. My son is walking with reins at the moment and I held onto them with a vice-like grip. Everybody we passed looked suspicious to me. We made it in a loop around our estate but I couldn’t wait to get back into the safety of the flat.

I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging about how much my husband helps me. I realise I’m very lucky. There were lots of times in my past when I needed and was unable to find the right support. If your situation is different to mine, why not ask a friend to help you if leaving the house feels strange? If they can’t assist you in person they could be on the phone and talk you through the process of getting out.  This would hopefully make it feel like you weren’t alone and that you were sharing the experience with someone.

The state of things today is that I’m able to leave the flat for a walk but only with my husband. I haven’t left the flat on my own since 13th March. The intrusive thoughts are still coming thick and fast and I’m very uneasy on our walks. But I’m hopeful that as I continue to take baby steps with my husband by my side that I might soon get back to ‘normal’ – whatever that is.

If you need help and support during this lockdown you can call us Monday to Friday, 9-5, and we can give you information about services and support: 0114 273 7009, or email [email protected]

Jo Eckersley

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