“What happened, the first time you couldn’t leave the house?”
“I lived in a tower block,’ I said, ‘and I don’t think I’d ever used the stairs to get to my flat in about three years of being there. One day, the lifts had stopped working and I found myself having to use the stairs. It was terrifying. I only lived on the fourth floor but it took nearly half an hour to negotiate the stairs through the panic attacks, the inability to breath, the chest pains…”
“It probably wasn’t that long,” she said, “It probably just felt…”
“No,” I interrupted, “it was. Like I said, my routes were tightly regulated. I knew where I would be and when. I was 30 minutes late arriving, the only difference had been the inability to use the stairs properly.”
“Okay,” she said, “but you were fine once you got outside?”
“No, not really,” I sighed, “I was practically in tears for the entire walk. I’m paranoid enough at the best of times about being late for meetings. This did nothing for my demeanour.”
“But you managed to get out.”
“I was dreading getting home negotiating those stairs again. Luckily, the lifts had been fixed which made things a lot easier.”
“So the first time you couldn’t was…”
I thought for a moment, mulled over the time-frame, “Um, less than a week later, I guess.”
“I left the flat feeling… wrong.”
I sighed again. I do a lot of that. “My head was fuzzy,’ I said, “I couldn’t concentrate, my vision began to swirl… I was fine when I woke up, but the closer it came to leaving the house, the worse I felt.”
“What happened then?”
“I stepped out of my front door and called the lift.”
“Was it working?” she asked.
“Yes, it was fine, but when it arrived, the door opened and instead of a lift interior, it just felt like… I dunno… I wasn’t…oh god, this is going to sound ridiculous.”
I grimaced. “Well… have you seen, Ghostbusters?”
“Uh… yes… is this relevant?”
“It is. You know when Dana opens her fridge and instead of food, there’s a portal to another dimension with a huge building in the distance.”
“Ye-es…” she said, clearly confused.
“Sort of like that but without the buildings or demon dogs. Not literally, just the sudden unreality and feeling of stepping into an abyss.”
“No hallucinations, though?” An unsubtle question.
I rolled my eyes and said, “No, no, nothing like that, just that the familiar had become alien and incomprehensible.”
“I wish I did! By this time, I was acutely aware something was rotten and desperately needed to see a doctor. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a phone at the time – mobiles were a thing and I couldn’t afford a landline – so I had to wait for three days until someone dropped round.”
“Did you get to the doctor?”
“No, but I got a home visit.”
“This really was a long time ago!” she laughed
“So, he sent you to hospital?”
“No. He just said have lots of hot baths, take plenty of exercise, keep off the booze and go to see him in a week’s time. Which I couldn’t do and from then he took the opinion that if I couldn’t be bothered to go in, he wasn’t going to bother with getting to the bottom of it.”
“I was just left to cope. I mean, I was very lucky in that I had a lot of friends who checked up on me, did shopping and took me places if I could manage the stress, but 99% of the time, I was indoors.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t get help,” she said.
“It was a catch 22 thing. I wanted to see a different doctor but had to go to the new surgery in person to register which, of course, I couldn’t do.”
“So, you were stuck with a Doctor you couldn’t see and who didn’t care but couldn’t change your situation.”