When Boris Johnson announced England’s controversial “Freedom Day” to be the 19th July, I had a sudden surge of anxiety.
Pre-pandemic, basically a century ago, I was the most outgoing person in the world. A motive every weekend? I would “bust down, Thotiana”. 18 months later, I can’t think of anything worse than leaving the house.
What’s more, I’m not alone. FOGO – or fear of going out – is a term people are using to describe the struggle to adapt to the “new normal”. Little wonder that a 2021 YouGov poll found that over half of British workers want to work from home after the pandemic.
But as many do return to the office, to university and to socialising, what happens to those of us who are feeling left behind? And what is the impact of this on our mental health?
According to therapist Nia Charpentier, FOGO is a real phenomenon. “The past 18 months have tested us in ways we could never have expected, largely due to the pandemic and the various lockdowns, and all the uncertainty that has brought with it,” she says.
For Charpentier, the “constant media outpouring, rates of infection and the number of people who have sadly died from the virus” have added to a near constant level of fear that many are not used to. “When we go through a huge change or trauma, we have in a sense changed ourselves and this can feel unsettling.”
Obviously, FOGO is not a real diagnosis nor a clinical term, but Charpentier says it can be used to describe a multitude of things, such as loss of confidence in yourself or your abilities, or even agoraphobia. And she’s seeing these issues crop up more frequently in clinical practice.
“I have worked with clients who came looking for counselling because they had really withdrawn from everything and anxiety had started to become a problem for them,” she says. “I’ve seen lots of young people in the 18 to 25 bracket, often university students, suddenly back home with their parents. This, for some, gives them a sense that they are not moving forwards and even going backwards. This can really impact someone’s self-confidence.”
Rhiannon, 21, from London relates. “I’ve definitely become more reserved in social settings and not wanted to go out much,” she says, adding that moving back home with her parents and gaining weight have both negatively impacted her mental health. “Mentally, I feel worse than during the pandemic. While I watch everyone moving on with their lives and go back to ‘normal’, I still feel in a similar state to pandemic times, both mentally, physically and spiritually.”
Destiny, a 24-year-old TV producer from London, says the pandemic has made her more introverted. “I have no idea who I am and I have no sense of self,” she says. “When I go out, I’m ready to go home within an hour. I hate being in large crowds. I’ve had about three different hair colours, new piercings and tattoos. I’m just trying to find out who I am again because I feel like I’m going through a second puberty.”
Like Destiny, I too feel as though I have shrunken into myself and become more introverted. Will my“bust down, Thotiana” energy ever return?
“I think the important thing is not to expect everything to click back to how it was simply because lockdown restrictions are easing [in the UK],” Charpentier says. “When we go through something significant, like the pandemic, we need to give ourselves time to adjust and do things at our own pace.”
“Without support, something like anxiety can potentially get worse,” Charpentier concludes. “But there is lots out there. It’s important to reach out to your GP or a counsellor if you’re worried.”