The first door I remember belonged to my grandparents house in suburbia in the city I was born. I don’t remember my first entry obviously, but there is a photo of me having my first bath in the bathroom sink, a pale green fashionable in the 70s that had fallen out of vogue by the time I was old enough to look at that photo and be intrigued. I lived there with my mother and grandparents and my two aunties who were 2 and 5 years younger than my mother. I remember my time in that house as a carefree existence. I must have run in and out of that door hundreds of times without giving it a second thought.
Later there would be other doors. The door to the caravan we lived in by the sea. The old door of the house we rented before my brother was born. The door of my childhood home. I walked in and out of them never really sensing a barrier between me and the outside world at all. I barely even registered their existence.
When I was newly pregnant with my second daughter and she was barely bigger than a lentil, tucked away in my womb, I went for a walk. I wanted to go to the library – a place of comfort for me my whole life. Bookstores and libraries were like church for me, I could spend hours breathing in the calm that surrounded them. I was a child that drove my mother crazy with the state of my room, clothes and toys strewn everywhere, but my bookshelf was immaculate. I would carefully alphabetise the authors and arrange them by genre. I pushed my eldest daughter in a pram to the library, I was excited to introduce her to the written word. Her father accompanied us. It was summer and the midday sun beat down on us during the walk home. I felt a little light headed. My heart rate picked up. I felt ill. I thought I might throw up or pass out and we were still a good fifteen minutes from home.
It was an anxiety attack.
I didn’t know what was wrong just that I was suddenly ill. I had to lie down – right now. He went back with our daughter for the car, I lay in the shade of a struggling sapling on the grass by the footpath.
When I returned home I rapidly became much better. And I was terrified it would happen again. Better to stay at home than experience that kind of crippling experience in public. I was embarrassed and horrified. I still didn’t know what happened. I thought maybe heat stroke or morning sickness. I should take it easy. I should stay inside.
The door became a terrifying thing. Suddenly it was no longer a benign presence in the house, barely given another thought. Now it signified the very real difference between ‘safe’ and ‘unknown’. And I have always been a cautious person.
Agoraphobia took me under it’s wing like an old friend. It whispered fears into my ears and wound it’s fingers into my hair. It seeped into the marrow in my bones.
I was housebound. I left only a handful of times for antenatal appointments. I didn’t go see my family. I didn’t go to the shops. At my worst, I didn’t even go to the letterbox. I would watch as the postman dropped our mail into it and suggest my eldest daughter toddle down to it. I told myself she enjoyed her ‘big girl job’ while I stood at the threshold of the doorway, unable to cross the line to the outside.
When I finally reached out for help after my second daughter was born, when I could no longer pass off my fear as related to pregnancy, my counsellor came to the house and visited me bedside. At that point, at my very worst, I left the bed only to go to the bathroom. The day I made it to the couch she cheered. And I was so frustrated and confused because who gets praised just for making it to their own goddamn lounge room? That’s insanity. It’s depressing.
Slowly, I learned to MANAGE my fears. That is very different to overcoming. Managing means you learn ways to deal with it, not that you are no longer frightened.
Some days I could step out that door without giving it much of a thought. Some days it would loom before me like a threat. Some days the very act of turning the doorknob and stepping into the sunshine felt like rebellion.
Because I learnt how to manage it so well and I could hide it so effectively, I had virtually forgotten I suffered at all. Until one day a few months ago I found myself staring at my front door unable to step past it. Until I retreated back to my bedroom and refused to leave. Until my lover brought me flowers and begged me to leave the room to put them in a vase in an attempt to coax me out and when I cried and said I couldn’t he fetched a vase himself and put them by my bed so I would have something ‘beautiful to look at’.
Then I knew. It had never left, just gone into remission. And now here it was again, ruining my life.
But see, last time I just bowed down. Last time when the door would threaten me I would retreat. This time, I’m fucking angry. This time I am committed to getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. This time – no remission. I’ll cut it out myself. This time when the door stands in front of me, I will call it’s bluff.
Hand to handle.
Pull it open.
Just one step.