I want to tell you about what it feels like to know that you have beat something that literally kept you living in a closet when everyone else was out living life. I want to tell you how it feels to be able to take out the trash. I want you to hear me when I describe being able to shake someone’s hand without thinking that they’re conspiring against you. I want you to imagine the joy of having lunch with your mom in public without needing anti-anxiety medications.
Agoraphobia and panic disorder ran my life for over a year. I remember the day it started. I remember it very well. I was lying on my bed, talking on the phone with my mom. We were supposed to have lunch that day. All of a sudden, I felt this sweeping heaviness, like an energy form of Dread had blanketed me in cold weight. I fought it for several minutes; what was wrong with having lunch with my mom? We’d had lunch together many times in my adult life. Why was this so different? The feeling grew stronger and engulfed my entire being. It became a singular thought: “I can’t go out there today.”
Mom understood, although I’m sure she was confused. After we hung up, I lay there for many minutes, attempting to deconstruct this weirdness I was experiencing. It soon dissipated, and I went about my business, although sad that I had missed lunch with my mom.
That night, I was on the computer chatting with friends. Without any warning, I began hyperventilating and feeling as if my heart was going to burst through my chest. I was shaking so badly that I had to crawl into the bathroom to throw up. Tears flowed without provocation down my face. I felt hot, cold, hot, all within seconds. What the hell???
Imagine that happening up to 20 times a day.
When this became unbearable, I asked my mom to take me to the doctor. I was prescribed an anti-anxiety medication. This was on top of anti-depressants that I had already been taking for quite some time. (Nasty divorce, bad experience with biological family members, work stress, severe illness, chronic pain, etc.)
While the panic attacks began suddenly, the loss of my ability to leave the house happened slowly in comparison. After having to turn down lunch with mom, I was still able to go grocery shopping and out with friends. One night, I was driving back from the grocery store. I passed through a stoplight, and immediately thought, “I could easily have driven through a red light, ran someone over, and killed them. I could have driven up on a sidewalk and killed someone. I could have lost control of the vehicle and killed someone.” That was the last time I was able to go grocery shopping normally.
I would walk into a store, fill my cart, have a panic attack, and have to leave before the crying started. I’m sure the store I went to became used to me leaving cartloads of groceries behind as I ran, wailing, out the door. I would try to buy a lot of food, because I didn’t know when I would be able to shop next. My mom would bring me things a lot.
Trash piled up in my kitchen because I would be too afraid to bring it to the dumpster. I was adverse to the idea of even running into a neighbor, because they would be able to see through my exterior, into the fear and hot mess that I was inside. I would buy cans of SlimFast and Starbucks because they wouldn’t stink up the kitchen. I would triple-bag kitty litter.
When I was actually able to go get my mail (at 3 in the morning), the box would be empty with a note inside. The mailman thought that I had gone on vacation. I would sleep in my closet during the days, because nobody could see me there. Blinds were drawn, curtains were pulled over them, but still, I thought everyone could see me. I lived at night. I could be me at night, in my apartment, with just the cat to see what a horrible state I was in. I could talk with people over the Internet without them really knowing how I lived.
This went on for over a year.
It had to stop. I became really determined to beat this. I was too damned young to let this rule my life. My life!
I would push myself. Open the front door for an hour. Step outside at night for 10 minutes. Take out a load of trash. Walk to my car. Sit in the car. Drive to the end of the block and back. Wave hello to people.
I had an enormous supply of anti-anxiety medication, and I used it. There were probably hundreds of times where I tried to go do something and I wouldn’t be able to do it, BUT I TRIED!
I remember the day that I walked into a crowded shopping mall for the first time in 16 months. I was terrified. The whole world was watching me. I could feel their eyes on me. When I came out of that mall, having done nothing but just walk through it, I was elated. Overjoyed. Empowered. I called my parents immediately from the car. “You guys, I did it!!!”
I continued my struggle. I signed up at a gym a few months later. I signed up for classes at a local community college. I WANTED TO LIVE!!!
Years later, I am now in a wonderful nursing program. I have earned two Associate’s Degrees and am working on my Bachelor’s. I want to earn my Doctorate. I have friends, and I have my family who never gave up on me. Most importantly, I have Me again.
Every time that I start telling myself that I can’t do something, I look back at that time in my life in which I literally couldn’t do anything at all. I look at what I did to beat that.
I am proud of me.