FOGO (fear of going out) is real — and it’s crippling
COVID-19 has left me with major return anxiety
As soon as COVID-19 restrictions came in to place a few months ago I was all over them like a rash.
In fact, I was so over them that I removed my children from school prior to the state government closing schools down and I requested to work from home before my workplace was really offering that as an option.
I did this for two reasons: Because the microscopic beast that is COVID-19 completely terrified me and because my elderly mother lives with us and I was concerned for her health.
As my family and I got used to the new normal of self-isolating, we clambered our way over the hurdles of remote learning and working from home and adhered to all of the medical and government restrictions and advice stipulated.
We only ventured out of the home for essential items, and even then, I usually made my husband go alone. I figured it was better to have just one of us out in the potential germ war zone risking literal life (thanks, love).
But now as restrictions have relaxed, school is going back, which means students (my kids) and school staff (me) will leave the safe confines of home.
Yet, we're expected to pretend we aren't the sacrificial lambs being herded into what I am doing my best to pretend is not in fact an abattoir disguised as a classroom.
But despite what happens when we are back, one thing is for certain, right now there is a dark, grey cloud of unknown hanging over my head because I am struggling with 'return anxiety.'
Yes, return anxiety, the fear of going back into the world I used to know, and it's making what many may find straightforward completely overwhelming.
For months we have been asked to avoid leaving the house. We've been bombarded with messages telling us not to do it - even the little carrier message on our mobile phones told us to stay at home.
We were told by politicians, medical officers, doctors, celebrities on social media, to only go out for essential items, to social distance, to not touch your face, to enter here and exit there, to avoid crowded areas, to use sanitiser, how to wash your hands, to do this, definitely don't do that and to avoid joggers at all costs.
Well, I listened to this and I listened good.
So good that not only do I have anxiety about returning to the 'real world' but I have a fear of going out anywhere (FOGO) because that's the thing about COVID-19, it could be … anywhere.
Whenever I have made the (possibly foolish) gamble to leave my home and I hear someone sniff the tiniest sniffle or even clear their throat my ears spike up like a rabbit who has suspected imminent danger. Every sense is heightened, and my instinctual urge is to run away as fast as humanly possible.
In fact, these restrictions are now so embedded within my brain that sometimes I find myself stepping back so I am a metre and a half away from my own children.
We are now being told that we've flattened the curve, we deserve an early mark, we can start getting back to school, to work in some cases and with extra hand washing, social distancing between adults and common sense, that we will be safe.
But hang on a minute.
Yes, we have been making progress which is great. But that little spiky, red germy ball that is COVID-19 is still there, spreading from one McDonalds to another and now you want me to go back to school and back to work and believe in our heart of hearts that we will be okay?
Well it ain't a switch. Not for all of us.
You can't ask everyone to make something a new normal and then go and switch it back like it's a brand substitution on our online grocery order.
For many, like me, to leave the house, to 're-enter' the outside world is absolutely anxiety inducing.
Because surely we are going to see an increase in cases of the virus, the one that has no vaccine or cure, the one that has killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world and for some of us, like me, this knowledge is scary.
So, while there may be an abundance of hand sanitiser, the spreading out of desks and an increase of vigilance with most of us, I do fear for the other major implication of this pandemic: our FOGO, our 're-enter anxiety', our mental health?
Shona Hendley is a columnist with Rendezview.com.au
Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service: 1800 512 348; coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au
Lifeline: 13 11 14; lifeline.org.au
Originally published as FOGO (fear of going out) is real - and it's crippling