by Madeline Laughs
Darlene finally raised herself up on her elbows. She had real problems. Maybe it would help to make a list? She was good at making lists.
She swung her feet to the floor and walked over to her desk. She hit the On button to bring up her monitor and tapped the space bar. Last night’s chat window came into view and she saw the unanswered messages from Barney. He would just have to wait until she had her head a little straighter. Moving her cursor around the screen she opened a Word document and typed the number 1 with a period behind it. Then she sat there and waited for the list to form in her mind.
She knew she wasn’t stupid. Three years ago she had the world by the tail when she moved here. She had a brand new job, a long distance romance with the promise of marriage and a future that looked pretty darn good to her. Then it had happened.
The break up.
Her childhood sweetheart, the only man she had ever been with in her life, had found someone else to marry. And marry, he did! A week after shattering her beyond recognition he married another girl! It was like she had never existed!
Darlene had shut down completely for days. The phone rang and rang and her answering machine filled with messages. One morning she listened as the Human Resource Department from her job left the message that her services were no longer needed. She had been fired, and they did it on her answering machine! How much worse could her pathetic life become? A few days later the personal contents of her desk were delivered by messenger. She didn’t bother to answer the door. The unopened box of framed photos and cute trinkets that are standard fare for an office desk sat on her porch for weeks before she found the strength to bring it inside and unpack most of it straight into the garbage bin.
Her first foray into the open was to make a much needed trip to the supermarket. She had eaten everything in her apartment except the spice rack and her growing girth required food to keep her numb enough not to have to face reality. It was like walking through one of her nightmares. Every step that brought her closer to the car, the one with car payments that were eating up her savings, was like strolling across glass in her bare feet. The uneasy feeling that she was being watched made her turn her head back towards the apartment building about a dozen times. After that harrowing trip and having to actually speak to another human being as she paid for her groceries she realized that she would have to make some changes.
For the next week she spent hours online compiling lists and lists of services she could use without ever having to leave her home. She made arrangements to have her groceries delivered to her front door and charged them to her credit card. Her instructions were explicit that the bags were to be left right outside her door and the delivery person was to knock once and then be on their way. This procedure was to be followed to the letter, even if it was raining.
She increased the size of her cable television package and signed up for Netflix for movies. Then she cancelled her newspaper delivery because even stepping that far outside of her door to get the morning paper no longer appealed to her. She made a special plea to her mail carrier to bring mail up the steps to her front door. She then ordered a mail slot on the Internet and installed it herself with her landlord’s permission.
She feigned a recently diagnosed, debilitating immune deficiency disorder that only allowed limited contact with strangers and everyone bought her new lie. The landlord was especially understanding. He told her that he had another shut-in just like her and so he totally understood her circumstances. He said he would do whatever he could to make her comfortable and to make sure she had whatever she needed.
The first year was the hardest for her because she spent time learning from her mistakes as she organized and controlled every aspect of her new life. She taught herself how to trim her own hair and was meticulous in her hygiene for fear of getting sick and having to leave the house to see a doctor. After a few months she stopped caring about being clean, or even healthy. She stopped noticing the tight waist band of her blue jeans and switched to sweat pants without even making the connection that the reason for her wardrobe preference wasn’t about comfort, but about her growing midsection.
She stopped looking in the mirror, so her ravaged complexion from the junk food she now ordered to be delivered was not even a concern for her. Her face, her neck and her back were covered in nasty cystic pustules because her body was filled with sugar and starch with few green vegetables ever consumed unless she had to eat them. The odor of her own body was putrid some days, but she had also grown used to that.
About midway through the first year she knew she would have to find some kind of income. She scoured online job postings looking for something she could do from home. Most of these ended up being scams and the ones that required her to make an in-person interview were crossed off without even a consideration. Not only was she mentally incapable of making the trip, she could no longer drive herself there since they had repossessed her car the month before. Seeing the car payment as unnecessary when her plan was to never go outside again, she had stopped making the payments and taking calls from the bank that carried the note. Now she was truly stranded because public transportation would never be an option for her either.
One afternoon she found the perfect job! Purely by accident she had stumbled on a job site for people just like her. They described themselves as agoraphobic and the details of this affliction sounded just like she felt.
Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by anxiety in situations where it is perceived to be difficult or embarrassing to escape. These situations can include, but are not limited to, wide-open spaces, crowds, and uncontrollable social situations such as may be met in shopping malls, airports, and on bridges. Agoraphobia is defined as a subset of panic disorder, involving the fear of incurring a panic attack in those environments.The sufferer may go to great lengths to avoid those situations, in severe cases becoming unable to leave their home or safe haven.
Yes, this described her to a tee! She now had a whole new group of doppelgangers and the beauty was that none of them would ever want to meet her!
She applied for the one job that fit the skill she was best at, typing fast and accurately. She was awarded the position and offered a nice hourly wage after taking an online typing test. There were no in-person interviews and if she wished, she would never have to have human contact of any kind with her employers. In fact, they preferred that!
Her new job was one she could do blindfolded, literally. She was a medical transcriber for three of the major Thoracic Cardiac Surgeons in town. A transcribing machine had been sent over to her apartment and she had trained via the web on medical jargon and how to make the reports for the doctors and use the new machine. Every day mini cassette tapes were delivered through her mail slot by a messenger. She would plug in each cassette, put on her headphones and type a report of what the doctor had said to the recorder. Each time a tape would end she would edit her work and then load the next tape until she was done. Her neatly typed reports were saved in a file and then emailed to the doctor noted on the carrier’s envelope. She was detailed and thorough and the doctors all praised her work.
It was the one bright spot in her life until one day when she got lonely and found the Meetup group and Barney.
Her mind rolled through the freeze frames of her last three years. Tears rolled down her cheeks. The number 1 with the period behind it still glimmered on the screen in front of her, but she had no idea how to start this list.
- Agoraphobia:When Fear Of A Panic Attack Takes Over (casapalmera.com)
- What is Catastrophizing? – Cognitive Distortions (psychologytoday.com)
- Fear Not! For millions of sufferers of phobias, science is offering new treatments – and new hope (time.com)