There is no way to sugar-coat this: I have agoraphobia. No, this is not self-diagnosed. This was noticed in others, and subsequently in a therapist I was recommended to see for my general anxiety disorder when I refused to take medication.
Before I press on, lets go back to agoraphobia 101. It is a fear of being in places where it is hard to escape, or where help might not be available. It can be in a crowd, or wide open spaces, wherever you feel there is a danger. Agoraphobia sometimes occurs when a person has had a panic attack and begins to fear situations that might lead to another panic attack.
This is what happened to me. When I went through about 4 months of panic attacks (which included chest pains, dizziness, and a feeling that I couldn’t breath) , I was commuting to and fro in a town where all my close friends were at least an hour away. My social life was at a low point and most excursions were solo. So most panic attacks were thus happening when I was by myself.
I no longer wanted to be in a car alone. I associated the dreadful feelings of panic attacks with driving and couldn’t shake the idea that if I got behind the wheel it would happen again. To explain my thought process any further and utter fear of driving away from my home would sound totally irrational. Which is exactly what a phobia is (agora*phobia*), an irrational fear typically disproportional to the actual danger posed.
In theory, I have nothing to be afraid of. Besides my thyroid issues, and some back problems, I have a clean bill of health. Those chest pains I feel don’t mean i’m dying, just that I’m panicking.
Some days are better than others. A friend visited me once and we drove an hour to Nashville to a hockey game. About 20 minutes in, I started to panic and tried my hardest to remind myself that nothing was going to happen and she reassured me beforehand that we could always pull over. Despite that, by the time we arrived my legs were literally numb and I was walking around the parking lot thinking I was going to faint.
But I did it. And that's what i’ve had to remind myself over and over again. I do those drives when I have to, and as stupid as it may sound, I am immensely proud of myself when I can handle any drive over 30 minutes.
The largest hurdle is any attempt at a social life mostly because I let very few people know about my agoraphobia. Instead of being upfront and honest to friends why I can’t visit, I make up excuses. Ashamed that I am “weak” and unable to explain in an articulate matter why this is so hard for me.
Just two years ago I could handle 10 hour drives alone, daily commutes into the mountain, solo hikes...now its embarrassing to have to admit how much of a shut-in I’ve become. Its not something I want to be and I try, but some days I just don’t see any improvement. Other days it doesn’t make sense. Today I went on a 2 mile walk alone with no issues, but getting a text inviting me to have lunch just 15 minutes down the road makes my heart race (for all the wrong reasons).
I wish this was more motivational, and more helpful to others. Unfortunately I’m still figuring it out. I understand what causes my attacks, but not how to overcome them. It can just be terribly lonely sometimes and I wish I had let more people in on whats been going on sooner.
Things have been getting better thou now that i’ve moved into an area that forces me to get out of the house. Seriously, who wants to be inside when Colorado is your backyard?