I’ve put off writing this a few times.
Perhaps it’s because it reeks of privilege and ego. Or perhaps because being honest about how we feel, especially when it comes to pain and mental illness, is frowned upon. After all, aren’t we all supposed to be happy and smile?
Questions assault me as I sit down to write this:
Who cares about an unknown writer?
Why bother everyone with your problems?
I think that I should just keep this stuff in, unless of course I want attention.
Then again, maybe owning up to how I feel can make me a better person.
I have the unconditional love of a partner who supports me at every turn. Yet, I don’t love myself. I see myself in the mirror and I cringe in horror. I hate my face, my body, my voice, my words––perhaps even down to the very essence of the self.
I realize it is popular to imagine that artists are awash in self-loathing, but there is something to be said about sinking into a vortex of emotional and mental refuse that drags you down like quicksand.
Great art comes from great pain: We’ve all heard this clever turn of phrase.
And maybe you’re wondering what a middling writer knows about the pursuit and labor of great art. That’s a fair question. I do know that seeing only the worst in yourself creates an internal world full of doubt and mistrust.
So what does this have to do with agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is “an extreme or irrational fear of entering open or crowded places, of leaving one’s own home, or of being in places from which escape is difficult.” As I sat drinking coffee on an objectively beautiful day, I realized how uncomfortable I was. Even though I was dressed comfortably and spending time with someone who loved me, I felt like I didn’t belong. I felt disgusting. It didn’t matter that my partner was supportive and complimented me; I still wanted to disappear.
How did this happen to me?
In that question, I suppose I realize there is a cascade of choices that led me here. It didn’t happen to me; it arose from the consequences of a series of choices. I moved from one place to the next, not bothering to form new social relationships and instead leaning into a virtual world that offered convenience and a comfortable distance from my work.
I’ve moved around most of my life. As an adolescent and a teenager, I went to a different school every year from kindergarten until I graduated high school. Once I was on my own, I lived in six states and eight cities more. With each subsequent move, the pool of close personal connections diminished. And once I was done with graduate school and moved from northern California to Portland, almost a decade’s worth of friendships were dissolved simply based on distance.
I would move twice more after Portland to Arizona before settling in Las Vegas. Whatever friendships I forged along the way were gone. I had a handful of close friends spread out across the country, but I rarely saw them.
The allure of social media made it seem like I could continue to maintain and perhaps grow those relationships, but it proved to only be a slow obsolescence of social interaction. What replaced it was the pursuit of connection most accurately described as screaming into a rainbow-colored void. You could search for people who had similar interests, but most people still formed meaningful relationships in the real world.
I had marooned myself on an island of my own creation.
When I spoke with those friends who survived the flurry of moves over the almost four decades of my life, I feigned joy. I pretended that this isolation was really a form of literary utopia––a fantasy-land where a writer was free to focus on writing without the niggling social responsibilities that impeded progress.
It was a fiction of course.
It continues to be a lie I tell myself with a self-assured smirk. I tell myself that I don’t like going out because I have food allergies or joint pain or some other subjective reason. However, the real reason is that each time I go out I feel uncomfortable and awful about myself, and that simply confirms my desire that staying in is the better choice.
Truthfully, it is easier than ever to work from home as a writer. So I lean into it and choose to rob myself of possible social relationships. I do myself greater harm in the pursuit of convenience by isolation. I’m thankful for the relationships I have maintained, and I mourn for those that were never given life.
Functionally Unhappy (Or How I Learned To Exist)
Unhappiness by way of over-analysis is not uncommon. I’m not special. The idea of a perfect life haunted me for years. I thought I needed to look a certain way and achieve certain things in order to be the kind of partner who would be worthy of love.
In theory, I understand why that idea is foolish.
The idea of a perfect life is a lie.
However, the pervasiveness of undermining myself and doubting what I have to offer is overwhelming. Despite doubting myself at every step, I stay productive. I write books; I publish books. I secure writing and editing contracts.
And despite the forward progression, I am functionally unhappy. I work through the self-doubt and pain. I internalize the hateful feelings instead of sharing them because that is my legacy. That is the toxicity of a learned behavior spreading throughout my being.
I don’t have any answers. I’m leaning into honesty to see what it yields. Perhaps by owning up to these ideas about myself, I can finally exorcise them. I do know that in doing this necessary thing and being honest, I am also being kind to myself, even if the ideas themselves are unpleasant.
So maybe I’m agoraphobic––maybe not. I really don’t know.
But I do know that without reaching out, I will continue to sink into an abyss.
If you or somebody you know is struggling, there is help available.