The Happy Recluse
My Apartment, My World, Living with Agoraphobia
When I used to think of the word “agoraphobic” I would automatically have this bleak picture in my head of a person sitting alone, watching TV, cleaning the house and chatting to her/his pets. The life of an agoraphobe was mundane in my eyes. I didn’t think the people were bleak or mundane, but I thought their life was that way for them. After all, how much fun can one person have in his own apartment all the time?
Then, I suddenly became afraid to leave my apartment. While I was afraid to step outside, I had a lot of fun being trapped inside my apartment. I reinvented the word “agoraphobic.” I was 23 and living in a college town in upstate New York. There were plants and flowers growing near every window. My walls were covered with posters of bands, art and pictures of writers and scientists I admired. I had a spot on my wall for favorite photojournalism photos. I also had a spot for artwork made by friends and I owned a guitar, a clarinet, a keyboard and a drum.
Music was always being played. My boyfriend and I owned over a thousand CDs. Bad Religion, Joni Mitchell, The Dead Kennedy’s, Simon and Garfunkel, Rachmaninov, Bach, Sublime, Lou Reed, Desmond Dekkar, Otis Redding, Bjork and countless others would bring such joy to me and I never even had to go anywhere. I studied music in college and while I was stuck inside I taught myself how to play the guitar and the songs I liked. I also taught my boyfriend music theory, so he could understand the guitar better.
My apartment was filled with books about history, philosophy, religion, politics, anthropology, biology, anarchy, musicians, law, civil rights, physics, art, poets, fiction and more. I was always learning and thinking. I became an expert at just sitting and thinking. From my small apartment I was able to learn about the world. I was able to learn about anything I ever wanted to. My boyfriend and I would have hour-long conversations about everything from philosophy to baseball. I watched documentaries all the time. I needed to learn about life and would often end up watching a documentary about something followed by reading a book on the subject. When I watched documentaries, I took notes in my sketchbook so I could remember what I was learning. Just because I was afraid of life did not mean I wanted to be stupid. At the time, if all I could do was observe and learn, that is what I did. I learned about everything. I eventually learned how to leave the house.
I always had a sketchbook that I could fill up in a month. I would spend hours a day painting, drawing or writing. I started painting. My apartment was soon filled with paintings, brushes, empty canvases and cups of colored water that I would knock over constantly. Painting and drawing was my meditation. I could zone out for hours and never feel anxious when I was painting. It was an escape, even from my apartment.
May to October was dedicated to baseball. I was lucky enough to have a boyfriend and two friends who also loved the Yankees. We watched every game and the Yankees were kind enough to always make it to the post season when I was stuck in my apartment.
I am not saying that I was not affected hugely by my inability to leave my dwelling. It was awful, depressing and embarrassing. I had panic attacks all the time, even inside my apartment. I was anxious a lot of the time and I was also very sad, but when I wasn’t sad I was in heaven, a world I had created on my own filled with color, poetry, philosophy, music and joy. It was a world that inspired me to go out and live in it. I always thought that time was a curse, but I gained so much. I learned so much. I did so much. I can never be fully regretful about that part of my life because of what it gave me. I am lucky.
Pullout: “I learned so much. I did so much. I can never be fully regretful about that part of my life because of what it gave me. I am lucky.”