“To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self…. And to venture in the highest is precisely to be conscious of one’s self.”
― Søren Kierkegaard
Living with agoraphobia is not an easy thing. Lately it has actually been getting on my nerves. Truly! Some days I am so frustrated I want to scream “Why Me?” at the top of my lungs. I watched my grandmother, who even though she was never diagnosed (or was but never spoke about it) stay home every single day, never going out by herself, never even down the stairs on her front yard. She left her apartment only with my Uncle, who took care of her for many years.
In my 20’s, when my panic disorder started, I said to myself “I am never going to be like my grandmother!” She too had panic and anxiety, and I remember spending days in her apartment spraying lavender around her room because we heard it helped calm the nerves.
What is agoraphobia?
Well, it is not the opposite of claustrophobia (the fear of closed spaces). Agoraphobia is, according to Wikipedia:
.”. an anxiety disorder characterized by anxiety in situations where the sufferer perceives certain environments as dangerous or uncomfortable, often due to the environment’s vast openness or crowdedness. These situations include, but are not limited to, wide-open spaces, as well as uncontrollable social situations such as the possibility of being met in shopping malls, airports, and on bridges. Agoraphobia is defined within the DSM-IV TR as a subset of panic disorder, involving the fear of incurring a panic attack in those environments. In the DSM-5, however, Agoraphobia is classified as being separate to panic disorder. The sufferer may go to great lengths to avoid those situations, in severe cases becoming unable to leave their home or safe haven.”
This mental illness is definitely tied to my recent panic attacks, yet I do not fear judgement anymore (at least I do not think so). What I do feel in something in my stomach which tells me not to go any further. The best way I can explain this is to imagine walking and all of a sudden an invisible force field pops up and you cannot get past it. If you watch the series Under The Dome you get a visual of how it feels to me. This is how the agoraphobia has developed over the past 4 years, and is at the point where I can walk about 2 to 3 blocks at the most depending on the day.
Planning is the key!
When I have to go somewhere, such as, the doctor, I start calling my friends who have offered to take me where I need to go. Usually my friend Diane takes me to my Dr’s appointments. I am so happy it is her, because she comes without judgement.. She is patient, and allows me to feel like she is in no rush, which eases my anxiety greatly. She is part of my awesomesauce team of women (and I have a few) who know and understand my needs.
I make sure I am ready with everything I need:
Ativan, phone, book, heavy purse (makes me feel grounded) and I must have an OUT! If at any time I feel I cannot stay, I give myself permission (before I leave home) to come back home if I do not feel well. This rarely happens, for the mere fact that I have the permission, I do not feel trapped in any situation.
Same goes for any outing. I accept invitations to friends houses, only if they understand and are willing to take me home if I do not feel well. If money is not a problem I make sure I have enough for a taxi also. Just in case.
A lot of thinking must go into my outings in order for me to feel safe. To the normal person, I may be eccentric, weird or crazy even. But, when I think about my late grandmother, I honestly can say I never judged her (maybe part of me already understood). I just felt sad that she couldn’t be independent.. Not even knowing what agoraphobia really was, I never questioned her actions until I started questioning myself.
The first time I try to leave the house in the morning is when I walk the dog. Sometimes, my kids will find me at the front door, holding Gibson on his leash, just standing there. I am often bobbing up and down on my feet, telling myself “You can do this!”. Poor Gibson, sometimes I open the door, and close it, never setting foot out. Sometimes I put the leash down and wait until I am calm enough, and there are some days when I make it out the door, but go down one set of stairs at a time, talking to myself like I was coach. “One more set of stairs and your down! Go!”
I have often blogged about accepting my limitations. I was telling my mother last night on the phone, that I feel like the people from Stephen King’s book (and now T.V. Series) Under The Dome. But my dome is mine alone and I am my keeper.
It is not something I can control 100% yet it is something I am always working on.
“Ahh..just do it!! Face your fears!”
“You’ve done this before, how come not now”
“Just go as far as you can, go go go! That is how I was cured”
I take all of the above statements with gratitude, but with a grain of salt. What works for you may not work for me and so on. Everyone must find their own way out (pun intended). First, I have faced my fears, maybe not at everyone’s expected pace, but I have. I know I can do it, yet again, in my time and speed, and NO I will not go too far, as that would be just harmful to me.
I listen to my body more than ever. and I know my inner world in full detail. I just have to take the time to really accept this is how I am “today” and work with what I have.
I mean, I did discover how much of an artist I am since I have been confined to my “safe haven”. Agoraphobia is not where I wanted to be at 47 years old, but it is where I am. Taking it as a blessing makes me want to scream sometimes “Are you serious?!!” Yet, I know in a few years from now, I will see how it changed my life for the better.
“I remember asking myself one night, while I was curled up in the same old corner of my same old couch in tears yet again over the same old repetition of sorrowful thoughts, ‘Is there ANYTHING about this scene you can change, Liz?’ And all I could think to do was stand up, while still sobbing, and try to balance on one foot in the middle of the living room. Just to prove that – while I couldn’t stop the tears or change my dismal interior dialogue – I was not yet totally out of control: at least I could cry hysterically while balanced on one foot.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love