Part 1. Mobility Anxiety.
This article from the Telegraph describes me.
I have had anxiety for as long as I can remember. Social anxiety and mobility anxiety were overwhelming as a child. This has developed in to an anxiety bordering on agoraphobia in recent years.
I’m not sure that Mobility Anxiety is a thing. If it isn’t, or its medical name is something different, this is my way of describing what happens to me.
Lets start at the beginning. As a baby I was seriously ill. When I was well enough to return home I am told that I couldn’t sit up properly. I was just over a year old but I was just like a newborn. This is where what I call my “mobility” anxiety stems from. My physical development was pushed back to age 0 but my intellectual development was about a year and a half old.
In the physical sense I had to learn everything again. I don’t remember any of this, but I was told that after my illness, when I was learning to walk, I refused to do so unless I was holding something. I think I had a fear of falling. Or this might be to do with the fact that my illness caused damage to the part of the brain which governs movement, balance and coordination. Anyway, I struggled, physically.
Even now I have moments where my brain tells my body “No, I am not going to do this”. Or is it my body telling my brain? I literally freeze on the spot. I remember one winter when it snowed for about a day and then for a week or so afterwards all the local roads and pavements were covered in ice. I was on my way to the train station to get to work. I had been tentatively making my way between the icy bits to safer ground, even if that safe ground was the road. The 5 minute walk lasted a lifetime. All I had to do next was negotiate the corner, cross the road and walk up to the steps to the platform. But the corner, for me, was impassable. All the impacted snow had turned to slippery ice, and all the people who had gone before me had made the ice even more impacted and slippery. I tried, I really did, but my fear of falling took over. I froze. I couldn’t move. Anywhere. Ahead of me was ice, behind me was ice that I really didn’t want to walk on again. I could see a patch of road that might be safe but couldn’t get to it. So I sat on the kerbside and cried. I couldn’t go home and I couldn’t get to work and I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. My solution to this dilemma was to phone for a taxi. I can’t remember now whether it took me back home or to work, I just remember how I felt.
That is just one of hundreds of instances of my freeze mentality. And do you know how I make it worse for myself? I tell myself that I am being silly. I tell myself that there are people far worse off than me. I can walk, some people have real disabilities or spend their lives in wheelchairs. They can manage, why can’t I? This is not helpful.
Other ways this impacts me are slightly more subtle but nevertheless unnerving. These things usually only happen when I’m not concentrating, not feeling well or am already feeling anxious for other reasons.
Stairs can be a problem. Especially in public areas. I often find I need to hold on to the handrail, but in public places this is not always possible because other people are in the way or I’m caught up in a crowd. Sometimes this feeling comes over me when I’m halfway up or down. Which throws me. Waterloo station steps, in London, the ones to the main entrance are a constant cause for concern. They are wide with curvy sides. There are lots of people milling around (moving in crowds is something I’ll come to later) and because of the design of the stairs they are best approached in the middle, going straight upwards where they narrow a little, arriving at the top to walk in to the station. Another symptom for me is that I forget. If I remember, I approach the curvy handrail and slowly, in my own time haul myself up. If I have forgotten that this is the best way I approach from the middle then suddenly remember that I need to be at the edge. There are other people happily walking up and down all around me, whilst I stand there, thinking and blocking everyone’s way. So now I have double anxiety, firstly I’m in a sort of frozen moment and secondly, that moment is hindering other people. Eventually I manage to find the handrail and climb the stairs whilst feeling like a fraud.
I have an issue around personal space. I think it’s to do with my fears and my awkwardness and they create a sort of self-perpetuating cycle. If I have to attend a public event, like the theatre, cinema or a meeting, I like to get there early. This way I can get to my seat without having to negotiate my way past too many people. I am worried about treading on peoples’ feet, so the fewer people already seated the better. If I can choose where to sit I will choose the end of a row, or in a restaurant I will choose a seat where I am not squashed in the corner. Easy access is the key. In cinemas I like to get there early because I am also spooked by the dark. If I suddenly go from daylight to darkness my eyes take ages to adjust and I start to panic. Being scared and not being able to see is not a good combination! If I am going on my own, no problem, I can do what I want, but if I am with someone then I have the added complication of either making them go for the adverts (when the lights are still on) or getting incredibly anxious of the dark and treading on people if we’re a little later than I would like to be. Did I mention that I am also a people pleaser? My brain tells me that it is good to do what other people want and bad to expect other people to do what I want. Which is just plain stupid!! Even though I know how pathetic this type of thinking is, I can’t stop it.
Thank you for reading this. It has been a little difficult for me to write as it has brought up so many emotions. When I’m ready, I’ll do a couple more blogs on social anxiety, which I know already is going to be hard, and my current situation, which is sitting indoors every day and only going outside if I really have to.
Till next time