On why I spray spiders with Febreeze instead of being normal

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agoraphobia

[ag-er-uhfoh-bee-uh]

noun, Psychiatry.

an abnormal fear of being in crowds, public places, or open areas, sometimes accompanied by anxiety attacks.

Trigger Warning: Blueberry

The above crying kitten is an exact representation of me every time I must leave my house and/or exist around humans not in my immediate family – which, by the way, started with blueberries. My origin story – the story behind my fear of panic attacks, or agoraphobia, or Agorie (its pet name in my house) – is about blueberries. I’ll elaborate in a minute.

I avoid leaving the house as much as possible. I’m really not a recluse; I like people. I just have horribly overstimulating anxiety that is triggered by every aspect of the world outside my couchland. Let me just say, too – my family members, the humans who raised and shaped me, are all fairly resourceful humans. They can solve problems and exist in the world – put on khakis in the morning, earn a living, pour their wine without spilling. Me: I try to kill spiders by chasing them around with a bottle of Febreze. My house smells like lavender in the end, but the spider and his ever-growing family lives on.  When the apocalypse comes, though, you all know I will already be locked away in the basement, making music videos for songs by The Cranberries. So, the joke is on all of you functional members of society.

The Deets (Remember Lizzie McGuire?)

Right now, I am not in my house. I am writing at a coffee shop that is 11 miles from my house, and it is making me extremely anxious. I am also not in the most comfortable spot in this coffee shop. I hope one of these stupid hipsters (I am also a stupid hipster) puts away their Beats by Dre and exits their seats promptly so that I can steal a nook. I think I have magical antisocial powers because a dude just left. Hold on, I am going to sit in said cozy spot.

I am now slightly less anxious.

I like to think that Banana Peel Leggings is a safe space to apply zero sugarcoating on the not-so-glamorous aspects of my life. This post is about my agoraphobia, self-love in the face of severe anxiety, and laughing about parts of it because what else am I going to do?

I’ve been thinking about the term agoraphobia lately because I’ve noticed the internet is suddenly obsessed with jokes about it. About never wanting to leave the house; about wanting to wear PJs all day; about not wanting to talk to people after a long day. This is all very normal, apparently. It’s like trending agoraphobia. The socially acceptable version of severely anxious behaviors as we all try to ‘adult’.

I have all those same feelings, except add on the sensation of some intense skin crawling. I remember my skin crawling at age 6 when my class went on a field trip to see the Nutcracker in Boston. Everyone else was excited about sugarplums, and I wanted to throw up. I can usually remedy this pukey-feeling by wearing large sweatshirts (like a human thunder coat), finding cozy nooks anywhere I go (I used to love timeout nooks in preschool), and if I must go somewhere new, I try to bring people I trust. I have a lot of wonderful people in my life who help me with this, and for that I am grateful.

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Other than the bougie stuff, like feeling highly uncomfortable in my skin while writing at coffee shops, Agorie has affected my career, relationships – both platonic and romantic –and my health – both physical (autoimmune disorder for the win) and mental (so much self-doubt). So, it’s not exactly a laughing matter, and I say this especially for readers who might be suffering from the same affliction. For these folks: I see you, and if you need someone to have some real-talk with, talk to me!

For now, though, this blog is supposed to make you laugh. I’m a comedy writer because I’ve felt chronic sadness for most of my life & adding a layer of humor always adds a layer of hope. We can’t get lost in fear, anxiety, desperation when we start with hope. So, here are some funny examples of living with my agoraphobia. Enjoy, please.

Origin Story

It has been said that blueberries are a natural anxiety remedy. I have never known this to be true. Blueberries, in fact, are the source of my first panic attack. Allow me to explain.

I was seated with my family – my mom, dad, and Lars – at a restaurant. I was about 5 years old. We had finished eating dinner and it was time to consider dessert. As we glanced at the menu, a certain treat caught my mom’s eye: a slice of blueberry pie. For some reason unknown to me, which I have learned after years of reflection, it became clear that while my mom wanted to eat this piece of pie, she wanted me to be the one to order it. The pressure was on. I DIDN’T LIKE BLUEBERRY PIE. I was full of Ranch dressing and chicken fingers.

I was not only satiated but also not someone who ordered her own food. This was a point in my life, which continued for another decade, when I would ask my dad to role play when the server came to the table, a ruse where the server would ask if we wanted any appetizers and he would say, “Kelly, do you want a salad?” knowing full well that YES I wanted a salad but I wasn’t going to speak up about it. I was in no state to take the fall for this piece of the pie. At this point, I blacked out. All of a sudden, all I could see was the blur of her face, hovering over me, repeating, “DO YOU WANT BLUEBERRY PIE? WHAT ABOUT BLUEBERRY PIE? BLUEBERRY PIE? BLUEBERRY PIE?” It was pure terror.

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Three Hours of Art Camp, or Basically a Stay at the Overlook Hotel

Summer was always a confusing three months for me. The structure of a school day (which used to feel like a safe pillow box of love) was gone, but at the same time, I hated going to camp, which would ultimately give similar structure. I was never sent to overnight camp, but if this post were about fear of overnight camp, I wouldn’t seem like such a loser. So, thanks a lot, Mom & Dad. I was afraid of daytime camp. Like – Mom drops me off at 9am and picks me up at noon.

First, though, circa the summer of 1996, my mom signed us up for a full-day camp. I vocalized my fear, but mom convinced me that Lars could be my panic pillow if necessary. I still use Lars as my panic pillow, by the way, which I’m sure he appreciates. As soon as we arrived at camp, those sneaky counselors SEPARATED US INTO AGE GROUPS. I was in the 6/7 group and Lars was in the 8/9 group. Why they didn’t separate us into groups based on the mental health status of little sisters, I’LL NEVER KNOW.

I conceded to this camp’s fascist rule, and we settled into our age groups at around 9:15. By 11am, I had the pukey-feeling. Playing Monopoly, eating goldfish crackers, and making glitter crafts were making me TOO nervous. Because, like, this glitter is not the glitter from my school OR my house; I will not play games with these STRANGERS, and I guess the goldfish were fine. With the lack of proper glitter and proper Lars, I stomped my corduroy-overall-wearing-self over to my camp counselor, Kate. “KATE, YOU NEED TO CALL MY MOMMY.” I vividly remember making the 2-finger gesture for the phone – one finger on the ear, the other over my mouth. I was in shock and I needed to remind her what a phone call looked like.

Kate called my mom, they chatted, and together they decided I could join the Big Kids Group with Lars and do Big Kid Things.

This change was helpful. I spent most of the day grasping onto Lars for dear life. I’m sure that was his favorite part about camp. Still, mom had to switch me to the camp’s half-day schedule because, even with Lars, she was getting calls from my counselors several times per day about my traumatic experience of seeing a bee, Lars having to go to the bathroom so often, and/or using unfamiliar crayons. Needless to say, the summer of 1996 soured my mom’s aspiration of having 2 normal children.

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The Girl [Not] at the Rock Show

I once read that the reason adolescent (straight) girls find androgynous boys attractive is that they seem less threatening – because their slight frame and eyeliner subconsciously reminds them of another girl. This struck me because I was DEFINITELY one of those girls in high school, but that really did not make me any more normal around those delicately framed dudes. Also – it’s not like masculine dudes intimidated me. They made me feel nothing. They seemed about as appealing as a cork board. Moving on.

At 16, I was short, flamboyantly weird, and I wore the same skinny jeans & black hoodie for days on end. Weirdly, I didn’t have very many suitors. I had a crush on this guy with dark hair, tattoos, a baby face, and my favorite — he wore a rolled-up bandana like a headwrap. This, by the way, is the only way you can wear a bandana and not look like you are about to rev up your Harley and ride into a Kentucky sunset. He was in a punk band (because of course, he was) and had a rather large ego (because of course, he did), and he kind of liked me, too. So, by the rules of hetero relationships, I had to attend his shows.

He invited me to a Saturday show (I was square & would never go on a weeknight), and that was exciting, but also nerve-wracking. Oddly enough, my attendance to said Saturday show didn’t go very well, and I didn’t want to talk to him Monday morning. But, there he was anyway, at my locker like a jerk who couldn’t read my mind.

“Did you come to my show last weekend?” He asked (because texting as a main form of communication was not really a thing yet! Can you believe it?!).

“Blerg. Yes, of course, I did. I wouldn’t miss your show.” I responded, while not knowing what to do with my hands. Lean your elbow against the locker? Sure. Seems completely average.

“Where were you? How come I didn’t see you?” He questioned while flipping his bangs effortlessly to the side, covering his left eye completely.

“I’m very small.” That was just kind of a lie. It is a fact that I am small; I just didn’t totally answer the question.

LOOK, he didn’t see me because it was TOO LOUD and there were TOO MANY PEOPLE and because being agoraphobic is essentially being a grandma. I took my best friend with me to feel about 1% stronger than a grandma. We stayed close to the back where a quick escape was possible, and where he was ultimately unable to see me in the crowd (again, because I am small; I am no liar). We escaped the scene after about 10 minutes because LISTEN — his affections were not worth this INSANITY. If he wanted to hang out with me, he could knit with me in a quiet corner of a library. This is something my husband now does with me, so I won this round, bro.

I’m not necessarily afraid of crowds or loud noises in every situation. While I do love libraries and knitting quietly, it’s not that I need to be in quiet places – at least all the time. My Agorie (Gor-Gor) presents itself mostly as fear of having a panic attack. So, if I feel safe, I can leave the house comfortably.

I say this because I loved going to crappy punk band shows in high school. I would layer on the eyeliner David Bowie-style, pop on my completely worn-in checkered vans, and head over to whatever emo band was playing in Boston that weekend. That didn’t stir up any fears. It was the insecurity of this crush that made me feel really unsafe and panicky.

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Let’s Just End this Thing with a Few Lists

Okay, that was quite a lot of sharing and probably a lot for you to digest. Let’s wrap this up Buzzfeed style with some quick-witted lists and brief commentary from those close to me.

Things that Just Make Me Want to Puke Just Thinking about Them

  • Blueberries
  • Driving somewhere that is more than 20 minutes away
  • Talking to cashiers at the grocery store
  • The line at the grocery store
  • Arriving somewhere either late or on time
  • Chuck E Cheese
  • Having a typo in an already sent email
  • Seeing someone I know at the grocery store (I have a lot of grocery store fears)
  • Phones
  • a very cold room
  • a very hot room
  • HOT YOGA — how the fuck do you guys do that?

Some Weird Habits I Have that Probably Have to do with Anxiety

  • Knitting in libraries
  • Having at least 3 books with me everywhere I go
  • Having headphones with me everywhere I go (so I can exist in a separate universe if necessary)
  • Watching YouTube videos of people describing what they bought at Goodwill
  • Covering my face with scarves
  • Owning several couch-only comforters
  • Listening to Taylor Swift to help me write
  • Googling serial killers
  • I do a great impression of a dolphin

Quotes from Lars (bro) + Alyssa (girl bro) + J Ross (another girl bro) about my anxiety

  • Lars: “You would always lie with your butt in the air (leggings on the butt) and watch TV in 5-hour blocks. Timmy Pickles was your best friend. The tv was the best thing we had. Only breaks were for Oreos and cheese, which you made me fetch for you.”
  • Alyssa: “I always have to pet your bangs,” and “You wouldn’t be as funny if you weren’t so severely anxious.”
  • J Ross: “sometimes you just scream really loudly at not very scary things. It’s funny & also loud.”

Anyway, overall, I am truly okay with having anxiety. It’s all I know, so I don’t really have anything to compare it to. And like Alyssa said, my crippling anxiety has given me the gift of comedy, awkwardness, and a litany of stories. Cheers to that.
Xo Kelly

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