The Story of an Agoraphobic
As I am writing this I am a 46 year-old recovering agoraphobic. Whew! I never thought I could say that, let alone write it. But three weeks after I first admitted it in therapy, I crossed the street eight times on my own. Some people would say “That is no big deal.” No, it’s not a big deal – it’s a MIRACLE! I wanted to shout, ‘Hello again world, I’m back. It’s me, Shirley B.!!!” Living is what I do now. Not as fully as I plan to, but it is so much more than just being. I am still struggling but that’s okay. It took some time to be where I was, and it will take some time to get to where I am going. I look forward to the future. I have plans. I hope this article helps someone suffering from agoraphobia, or helps someone to understand what agoraphobia is.
There isn’t much I can say about how I became agoraphobic. I just slipped a little day by day. When I noticed something was wrong, I didn’t know how to stop it, and I was ashamed to ask for help for fear that someone would know my secret. I was ashamed to yell or scream for help, so I slipped and slipped away, deeper into my shell, my well, my pain. I wanted to talk, but I was ashamed to say some of the things that were on my mind. I did not want to be judged. I hid in my home and inside myself. I really wanted to find a big rock and hide under it. I neglected my health and ceased to care for myself. I hurt so deeply in my heart and soul that I felt the pain would never end. I thought life was something for other people, not for me. My understanding of existence was just to be, nothing more than just to be.
My daughter Nadeen was always by my side on those rare occasions when I ventured outside, forced to leave my home when I needed medical attention. In the past my fear kept me at home with all sorts of physical pains and ailments, as horrific as the pain was, the pain of facing the outside world was greater. When I had two abscessed teeth and my jaw was swollen to twice its normal size I was in such excruciating pain that I had to go to the dentist So with my legs wobbling, my heart pounding, my hands sweating, and my throat choking, to the dentist I went. After examining my x-rays, the dentist said he wouldn’t be able to do anything with my teeth because they were so infected, he prescribed medication for the pain and infection and said that I must return in ten days, not in two years. I felt as though those ten days were a countdown to my own execution. Each day passed at lightning speed like a clock ticking away. The fear grew stronger and stronger. I had to walk around with my hand on my heart to keep it from jumping so hard, as if I were pledging allegiance, which I was – to my fears and phobia. I asked God to please give me strength to go back to the dentist. When the day came, I knew that my preparations would take me a little over four hours. I had to leave time, not just to bathe and dress, but to debate with myself about going.
When the dentist saw me, I was sweating profusely and trembling. He spoke with me for a few minutes, explaining what he was going to do, and said that I should relax. He also said that he felt I was depressed and maybe I should talk with someone about it. I don’t know how he knew, but he knew. I was being found out. My secret was not as safe as I thought it was. I thought about how three months earlier my medical doctor had also said that I seemed depressed. He thought that perhaps I should be on some antidepressants. Unfortunately, antidepressants were not the answer for me. I felt hopeless again until Dr. L. told me that people can be treated in many different ways, there were several options and not to lose hope. There were other forms of treatment.
I thought that I didn’t know where to begin not realising that wanting to change was a beginning itself, my first step toward recovery. I told my daughter that I needed help. She looked at me with love and tears in her eyes and said “Mom, I’m trying to help you in every way I know how. I don’t know what else I can do.” I told her that I needed a professional to show me how to help myself.
I was shaking so badly as I went to meet the doctor that Nadeen had to hold my arm, but I also felt hopeful. The doctor and I talked for quite awhile. I couldn’t believe that I was saying all the things that I was saying. I found myself asking her questions, such as: “Do you think I can be helped?” She said “yes.” I decided to ask the question that frightened me most of all. I asked if she thought I was crazy. The doctor bent toward me and said, “Shirley, you are not crazy, you are not crazy.” I smiled and sighed with relief.
As I write these words on paper, my heart fills with gratitude for all the people who have helped me towards my recovery. My first therapist, helped me lay the foundation for all of the therapy to follow. She had to actually teach me how to breathe properly, which is essential to relaxation. I know that after each session I had with this therapist, I walked away feeling stronger. At the end of our sessions she gave me a homework assignment. My final assignment was to make a list of all the accomplishments I had made since starting treatment. I started my list and before I knew it I had written nearly to the end of the page: going to the supermarket alone, riding a bus, going to therapy and returning home alone. I felt proud and strong, but at the same time I realised that I still had work to do.
I began my treatment with my new and current therapist. This therapists suggested that I come up with one thing that I would like to do. I had an idea of what that might be – writing an article about my treatment. My therapist thought it was a fantastic idea.
I wasn’t scared on the train that day (not very much anyway) as I thought about writing my article. I realised that I was smiling. Each week that followed I had at least two chapters written. I would start each session by reading the chapters I had written. My therapist said she could tell that my writing was helping me and she felt sure it would be of some help to others.
She said that perhaps we could get my story typed and distributed to some people – it might help. I was overjoyed. My therapists faith in me and in what I was doing was invaluable. If you are reading this, then my wish has become a reality. I hope this helps someone – anyone in some way.
I no longer hide inside that deep dark hiding place, but my struggle continues. There are more challenges to conquer. I will not hide any longer inthe shadow. I choose to walk toward my fears with the strength of the accomplishments I have made and with faith in my heart.
Often, but not always, comorbid with panic disorder, agoraphobia is characterised by a fear of having a panic attack in a place from which escape is difficult. Many sufferers refuse to leave their homes, often for years at a time. Others develop a fixed route, or territory, from which they cannot deviate, for example the route between home and work. It becomes impossible for these people to travel beyond what they consider to be their safety zones without suffering severe anxiety.