For your psychology course at university you are tasked with participating in a psychology experiment. When you arrive to your destination you find it’s a huge rectangular conservatory with solid walls two meters high. On top of the walls are windows that go all the way up to the ceiling and the ceiling is domed glass. Its inside is bursting with plants. There is a door in the centre of each end wall.
You are escorted to a door marked “entrance” by a technician when you arrive. He tells you that your task is simple: You are to walk barefoot and in shorts through the conservatory to the exit door at the other end along the winding path, open it and leave, closing the door behind you. When you exit, another technician will meet you.
Then he says: “The exit technician will interview you about your experience. Our interest is in your emotions as you walk through the conservatory because there are twenty rattle snakes in there amongst the plants so be careful where you step. But I assure you: You are completely safe. They are unrestrained but no one has ever been bitten and we’ve done this test hundreds of times.”
What do you think it would be like to do that? How do you think you would feel? That scenario is what I came up with yesterday as a way to help friends understand what it feels like for me to go outside.
I decided to walk the long way to Granville Island yesterday. For the first half-hour my body moved forward slowly and steadily. My steps were slow and strategic; Ii felt like walking through water. My entire body felt stiff; every movement felt forced. I focused constantly on not grinding my teeth and I clamped my hands together in front of me so that they can’t flail to my sides when I’m startled noises and sudden movements. Every ten minutes I stopped to rest and calm myself.
After about half an hour I acclimatize and the incredible tension eases if I get away from high streets and strangers. But I remain mute. I cannot talk unless I am with a friend except to say single syllables.
All this is why I’m moving. I believe that if I move to the edge of a small town where I can emerge into quiet and calm that I will far more comfortably adjust to the outside world — unlike here where my route is infested with rattlers (unpredictable strangers).