I have been inside the house for 12 days, not counting a few escapes into the garden after careful and meticulous checking that there are no human life forms in the neighbouring gardens who may attempt to engage. I’m not crazy, it’s completely irrational, this, I know but the thought of people wanting to talk to me right now makes me feel nauseous and shaky. I feel like the whole neighbourhood is prised at their front doors just waiting for me to go outside so they can pounce. Just stepping onto the front garden path will set off some sort of alarm and they will come, all of them and they will stand and point and laugh whilst I vomit in front of them. I’m not crazy.

Last night I promised the children we could go to the cinema today, I knew if I didn’t promise I would make an excuse and not go but I won’t break a promise to them. I know that I have to leave the house. This morning I checked the listings, Ice Age or the BFG. I REALLY want to see the BFG, the children collectively chose Ice Age and I am already on edge, my BFG shaped safety net has fallen. I smile and tell them “excellent, good choice” and my heart sinks. I’ve been slinking around in some form of pyjamas or underpants or a combo of the two for almost two weeks and now I have to get dressed, my clothes look alien and I wonder how I managed to dress myself before. I stare at the pile of choices on the floor and stalk around them a few times as though working them out for the first time. I put on my dungarees because they are my ultimate favourite item of non-pyjama clothing but I am so nervous about going out that the heavy denim makes me sweat even more and I am forced to peel them off and select something lighter, I don’t want to select anything else, I don’t want to go out. I gently remind myself that yesterday I made a phone call, a phone call I didn’t think I could make but I did it. I tell myself “you got this, try the Japanese trousers”.

Into the bathroom now, I need to wash my face. You may not think that is a big deal but looming over the sink like some kind of vile mockery is the mirror. I don’t want to see my face, I don’t recognise it right now, it doesn’t fit. I spent so many of my years hating what I saw in the mirror, wishing I looked different, what a terrible waste. What I would give to have that familiar face back again, to have her smile back at me, reassuring, to say “I love you” as she used to do every morning. I wash my face and avoid the mirror, I’m not ready for that yet. I un-plait my hair and let the curls fall around my shoulders, this is really happening, I am getting ready to leave the house, I feel sick.

This is the moment the fear really sets in. This is the moment my subconscious starts whispering about the outside, reminding me what could happen if I leave the house. Everybody is putting their shoes on downstairs, everybody is excited and I want to run into the bedroom, close the door, take these clothes off and cry into my pillow. There are people outside. How can I get out of this? Why oh why did I even agree to it in the first place? What is wrong with me and why can’t I revert to previous settings?

I feel defeated as I cautiously tiptoe downstairs in the futile hope that everybody has forgotten we are going out. My feet look like they will be swallowed by the stair carpet and part of me wants them to. They haven’t forgotten, Elliot has his shoes waiting for me to put on his little feet, Phoebe is doing up her spotted sandals and my husband is smiling. He squeezes my shoulders and asks me if I am ok, I nod unconvincingly and we both know I am lying. It’s show time. It’s about 18 yards from doorstep to car, maybe if I run nobody will have time to notice I have left the house, the pavement, which I am sure is ready to swallow me up, will be too slow to react. The kids think it’s great, this running to the car malarkey, what an ace game, points for Mummy and in we get. Not a peep from the neighbours, the sun continued to shine and the floor didn’t open up beneath my feet but to be on the safe side I don’t open my window to let in some air until we are in motion.

We stop at the garage on the way for popcorn because we are too tight to pay cinema prices, my husband goes in to buy it. I sit in the car with the kids with my eyes closed so nobody on the outside can make eye contact with me and mistake it for an invitation to interact. We get to the cinema, there are people. I keep my head low and we race through to our seats, the seats I selected next to the wall with a barrier in front, nobody can sit next to me and nobody can walk past, perfect. I slink down into my seat and eat my nachos, the satisfying crunch is like a coping mechanism to the ever-filling theatre, concentrate on the crunch. We watch the film, it’s not great but the kids loved it and I enjoyed seeing them relish being out and enjoying themselves. Elliot even got up and had a little dance, he always makes me laugh, even in my darkest moments. I want to escape the people as soon as it is finished so we make another game of ‘let’s see how quick we can get the hell out of here’. When we park up at home we have that terrifying dash to the house, feeling worrisome of the non-existent curtain-twitchers waiting in the wings.

Well, we made it, I made it, I did it. I don’t know if I have ever felt so completely relieved to be home, to my sanctuary but I did it. I’m not crazy.

There are people out there and that’s ok.