You may or may not know that I have agoraphobia. When I was younger I thought this best described my fear of crowds - but it’s not just that. It’s a fear of being in a space - usually in public - where I feel the potential for embarrassment or having no escape. This is why I study subway and metro maps meticulously before visiting a new city, and why I usually prefer to discover new places first with someone else before venturing on my own. It’s also why I spend the majority of my days off either at my apartment where I feel most safe or at a movie theater where I can escape into a new story. It’s why I spend an outrageous amount of money on uber instead of taking the train and walking to work. It’s why I don’t enjoy online dating, which typically leads to one of these possible scenarios.
This usually surprises people. I’m naturally an extrovert when it comes to secure settings - such as meeting friends of friends or any new work environment, or new co-workers. I also give the appearance of being fairly independent - the champion of going to movies and theme parks on my own.
But each day is a struggle. I wish more than anything that people would understand this - it’s not that I don’t want to go out and explore. I love seeing new places and meeting new people - I just can’t work up the courage a lot of times to face them. Today for example: I spent a good hour convincing myself to leave the apartment today. I needed to get some things from the store, and I tried to rationalize not getting them. Finally, I convinced myself to leave. I put on the most comfortable outfit, left without putting make up on, and was equipped with my Kindle and earbuds - my anxiety survival kit.
Then, about 15 minutes away from my stop on an hour-long journey, a man comes up to me - mind you, the train had plenty of people on it, and he passed quite a few of them to get to me. He showed me an address for a lawyer on a court document and asked where the address was. Still unfamiliar with the surrounding areas, I apologized and told him I had no clue. He started to get upset, which is when I noticed his black eye and popped blood vessel that seeped into the whites of his right eye. Thankfully, a nice gentleman sitting across from me offered to help, and I attempted to go back to my book. The first man, however, then started talking about the police... about the president... and about the downfall of the country. Then the gentleman who had helped him got a phone call, and his attention was back on me. He started calling me “Baby” and took out a deck of cards to try to explain how to play poker (...which I know how to play...). Mind you, I said nothing. He was intimidating and just kept staring, he wouldn’t look away and he sat too close. I was paralyzed. I clutched my backpack in front of me and started to look around to see if anyone could help. Everyone just looked away... so much for the human bond. I felt a panic attack starting and only by the grace of God did I avoid it when the man’s friend called him away to a different car. He said “Bye Baby” and my damn Hospitality brain told the bastard to have a good day.
And now, I’m fairly certain, I’m going to be even more disinclined to take public transport - even more disinclined to leave the apartment. And you can say that it was just one incident, to not let him win, to stay strong, to ignore the opinions of everyone else- and I believe you, and I tell myself the same thing - but this will just be added to the equation next time I have to fight myself to have a semblance of a life.