When Agoraphobia Left Me Alone and Housebound for Months

24
24

Agoraphobia has always lingered in the background of my life, trying hard to keep me down as part of my general anxiety disorder. For the most part, I have managed to avoid being completely destroyed by it. I have a hard time leaving the house unless it is something specific that I know I must do – like work or a doctor’s appointment. Grocery shopping or going to the bank all become optional and reserved for a good day. But there was a time when the darkness got hold of me, and I did not set foot outside my apartment for two months. I didn’t drive for four. I survived – but it took an almost unfathomable amount of strength, and some creativity, to escape.

I don’t know how it started. It’s not unusual for me to not leave my apartment for a week, but usually, I get out eventually. Even if it is just to take the trash to the dumpster myself instead of leaving it by the front door.  I always like big-box stores such as Costco, because I could survive months off one trip. I always maximize my “outings,” but one day I realized that I couldn’t leave. I wanted to, I needed to, but I couldn’t. I assumed it would pass, but each day I retreated further and further. Eventually, I didn’t even go in the living room. It became hard to even leave the bedroom. I could go days without eating, not because I had no food, but because I couldn’t get to the kitchen — I would freeze before I got out the door of my bedroom. I would be sweating and shaking and crying – all the while I knew it was completely absurd. Finally, I learned to crawl to the kitchen and drag as many things back with me as I could, for fear it might be days before I could manage to go back. In the back of my head, I knew I was going to die. I would run out of food, out of strength, out of time. I knew I was going to die, I just didn’t know when.

What I didn’t realize was that I was losing track of time. It was the end of summer. I didn’t have a job to go to and university hadn’t started back up yet. The first few weeks I just figured it would get better. But it didn’t. Soon I became so consumed by it that I didn’t even register for fall classes because I knew I couldn’t leave my apartment and drive half an hour to school. At that point, I couldn’t even walk to the front door, better yet open it. Just the thought of doing so would leave me dizzy and shaky. I couldn’t ask anyone for help because no one knewI had no support system. I was alone, I was trapped, and I was scared.

One night, after two months of not being able to set foot outside my apartment, I knew I had to do something. I grabbed a pen and some post it notes. I decided to harness my innate resilience to save my life. I decided on five things I was going to do that week – cook a meal, open a window, sit in the living room for at least one hour, vacuum and take the trash downstairs. Not all the way to the dumpster mind you – just from the second floor to the first. But that seemed impossible. The rules were simple. I folded up the five pieces of paper and each morning I would pick one at random and that would be my task for the day. The catch? If I didn’t feel up to it, I could put it back and pick another – but I had to do something. Which meant if the first thing I picked was going outside, putting it back only meant I would have to do it sometime in the next five days. I’m the kind of person who likes to get the hardest things out of the way, so I knew I wouldn’t procrastinate. I knew it would work if I would just find the strength to do it.

The first thing I ended up doing was spending an hour in my living room. I didn’t realize how long it had been since I was in there until I noticed the vacuum lines on the carpet from a month ago. I pulled out a DVD and forced myself to sit awkwardly on the couch, which felt foreign and strange, and watch a movie.

Each day I would repeat the process, and each Sunday I would make a new set of tasks for the week. Some were repetitive, like vacuuming, taking out the trash, and spending time in the living room or on the patio. I tried to build confidence and strength off those things, and hoped it would lead to “bigger” accomplishments. After two more months, I had lost 10 pounds from the nausea and fear that consumed me. But I was making progress, a tiny bit at a time, and I finally added the most dreaded task of all – driving.

I’ve been driving since I was 14. Everybody drives in the south. It is too hot to walk anywhere most of the year, and nothing is close enough even if you wanted to. But I knew I would have to break it up. So I made a plan for the next five days – this time in order. Go downstairs and sit in the car with it running. Drive around the apartment complex. Drive across the street to the grocery store. Drive down the interstate. Drive for 10 minutes. Drive all the way to school. Just sitting in my car felt very strange. The seasons had changed in the time since I last drove. The air conditioner was blasting as soon as I started the engine, because I hadn’t driven since summer time, and it was almost winter. It took forever to get the courage to put it in reverse and back out of my parking place.

By the time the week was over, I found myself standing on my university campus in tears. How had it gotten so bad? An entire semester had gone by and all I had done was eat crackers on the floor of my bedroom. I couldn’t believe it. It had only been months, but it felt like years. Like emerging from a nuclear fallout shelter. The weather had changed; the world had kept going without me. And there I stood transfixed by what I was seeing. Life had continued living, while I had been slowly dying.

I still have to force myself out of the apartment quite often. Make up a reason when I haven’t left in days. But it has been years since that fateful fall, and I know I can never again let it get that bad. I have to fight. I have to push myself when it hurts because if I don’t I will be swallowed up by this thing. I have to make myself take each terrifying step no matter how impossible it seems.

I’m helped dramatically by medication. But even with it, every day is a challenge – some more than others.

I know it could happen again, and I have no idea how I would handle it. But I’ve done it once – and that gives me just the tiniest bit of strength to know that if I have to, I can conquer it again. No matter how impossible it seems, I know I have to keep going — because the world isn’t going to wait for me.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

24
24

RELATED VIDEOS

TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

What It's Like to Have Both Agoraphobia and Social Anxiety

112
112

Agoraphobia is a condition I struggle with, but I don’t speak about it very often — I think because it’s difficult to explain. At times, it can be nearly impossible to separate agoraphobia from social anxiety. I wanted to look into it and determine whether I was confusing the two conditions and whether it was possible to experience both.

Agoraphobia is defined as a fear of leaving your home. Many people with agoraphobia are housebound, even room-bound. Truth be told, there are days when I don’t leave our bedroom. Agoraphobia refers to the fear of being in situations or places from which escape would be difficult in the event of a panic attack. We often fear crowds, cars and even elevators. For me, it has become such a nuisance that I even fear just going to the mailbox in front of our house. If I spend too much time in an elevator, I begin to panic. I feel like I can’t breathe.

Both agoraphobia and social anxiety are often referred to as a fear of public places; people with social anxiety most often fear places where public scrutiny can occur. The more articles I read, the more it all began to make sense. One article even mentioned agoraphobics could feel better with a trusted companion when they’re in public. I find this true for me but only with my husband. It’s not often that you struggle with both conditions.

I can’t even count how many events or appointments I have missed due to one or both of these conditions. Add to that issues with your weight and self-esteem, and it’s a nightmare. I am constantly dissecting every single flaw I have, and because I am so critical, I expect everyone else will be too. All I see when I look in the mirror is an overweight mess. In the last few months, I’ve even avoided having anyone come to our house because of how terrible I think I look. It’s a horrible feeling to be terrified in your own home.

It’s been more than a year since I drove myself anywhere. I was recently gifted with a vehicle, and I still haven’t driven it. We let it sit for three weeks, and when we went to start it, the battery was dead. I saw that as just another sign. My husband takes it on little trips to the store now so we don’t have that problem again, but what can I do about my dead battery? I’ve isolated myself for so long, rarely leaving the house. I don’t know how to fix this. Sitting here right now, I can’t remember the last time I went anywhere.

I keep telling myself the more I avoid any attempt at getting out, the harder it will be to do it once I have something important I must do.

I’ve been struggling for months, just barely holding myself together.

I hide behind sarcasm because I don’t want anyone to see the real truth. I feel a sense of responsibility to the people who have seen my posts on social media or read my book. I’ve told everyone for so long they can lead a full and happy life despite mental illness, that I’ve forgotten to practice what I preach. At this point, I’m merely existing, not living.

I need to make a change, and I feel I need to do it quickly. I turned 44 last month. It’s time to put my big girl pants on and get back in the game. If it means some therapy, perhaps I just have to accept that. As much as I hate the idea, maybe it would be the best thing for me. I’m stuck, that’s for sure, and the old me didn’t leave any bread crumbs leading back to who I once was.

So, I have to contend with not just your run-of-the-mill depression and anxiety, but agoraphobia and social anxiety coupled with a deep seeded hatred of my appearance and very low self-esteem. It almost feels too heavy to ever come out from underneath. My brain tells me it’s just too much — I can’t do it. My heart tells me that in 20 years I’m going to look back and wish I had done more while I could. I can’t live with that kind of regret — I already carry so much as it is.

I feel like I’m finally at the point where I can make a declaration. I am finally going to start living my life again. I’ll keep working with my doctor to find a depression medication that works, but in the meantime, I’ll be working on myself. Maybe I’ll do online therapy, just until I’m ready to get back in the saddle. Every day, my mantra will be, “Just do a little more today than you did yesterday.”

If you’re struggling with similar issues, reach out to me. Maybe we can help push each other to make positive changes. It just takes a moment in time to change your life. You just have to be prepared to accept whatever those changes may bring. I think I’m ready. Are you?

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via Aidan Meyer

112
112
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

A Poem About My Agoraphobia

49
49

My agoraphobia isn’t an excuse so I don’t have to work or go to school or a made-up illness so I can be lazy.

My agoraphobia is feeling a tightness in my chest when I step through my bedroom door into the hallway.

My agoraphobia is fidgeting and bouncing legs when I am at a family dinner.

My agoraphobia is having a panic attack at the thought of leaving my apartment for an appointment.

My agoraphobia is needed to have my safe person with me in order to feel safe enough to leave the house for a few hours.

My agoraphobia is missing out on spending time with my family because I can’t get myself to walk through that door.

My agoraphobia is feeling sick to my stomach when I am in my living room for an extended period of time.

My agoraphobia is lots of sweating when I am in public even if I am in a cold building.

My agoraphobia is trying to get home as fast as possible.

My agoraphobia is leaving maybe three to four days a month.

My agoraphobia going some days with eating little because I can’t leave my bedroom.

My agoraphobia is having a racing heartbeat when I hear loud noises outside of my apartment.

My agoraphobia is turning out of reality because I can’t cope emotionally with my anxiety.

My agoraphobia is real and I never planned on my anxiety getting this bad. I used to stay home because I am an introvert, and somewhere along the way I became afraid of the outside world. I try to take one more step outside, but it might take a long time. All I can do is take one more step towards my goal of being comfortable with leaving my house.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Lead image by Chris Christensen

49
49
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

3 Things That Got Me to a Place I Never Thought I'd Be With My Agoraphobia

14
14

a woman takes a selfie of her concert outfit in her car

Let’s throwback to the time we got kicked out of a Weird Al concert.

OK, so maybe “kicked out” is a tad melodramatic. Technically we didn’t get kicked out of the theater till the concert was over and the meet-and-greet for Weird Al was about to start. The meet-and-greet was only for a select few who paid for VIP badges. And we had no stinkin’ badges. So at the end of the concert where we were in the very back row, I decided I wanted to try going down to the front of the theater and looking up into the balcony.

As I’ve mentioned in previous writings, I live with agoraphobia, which can make it nearly impossible to enjoy theaters and stadiums without tremendous bouts of anxiety. Through the years, things have gotten a tiny bit better, and I’ve even been able to enjoy concerts and go to the theater without anxiety. This day was no exception.

I had no anxiety throughout the entire concert. So afterwards, I decided I’d be really brave and see if I could go down in front of the stage and look up at the balcony.

In the past, even if I’d been able to tolerate the venue, I’ve never been brave enough to go down front and look up.

And guess what? I did it. I went down to the front, turned around and looked up. It was a glorious, anxiety-free moment I never thought I’d have in my lifetime.

Then the voice of doom spoke out behind me: “OK, we are about to start the meet-and-greet, so if you don’t have a VIP badge, that mean you gots to go!”

In between wanting to correct his grammar, or give him my blog promo cards in an attempt to let us stay, or explain to him how big this moment was in my life, we decided to forgo all of those options and just head back to our hotel.

For the entire drive back to our hotel, I was basking in the glow of my victory. When I was a kid I never believed I’d one day be able to go into an auditorium/theater without a lick of anxiety and at the end of the show go down front and look up. So how did I get to this point of success? I have to say it took time, and it wasn’t always pleasant.

1. I think one of the biggest things that I did was starting to go to a very large church with a large auditorium when I moved back to the Midwest about five years ago. I do have to be honest and admit the first two or so times my husband Chad and I went, I was pretty anxious and had to sit in the back near the door, and I clung to Chad’s arm the whole time. But the more I went, the more comfortable I became.

2. After I became used to our church, I was able to gauge how big a space was and if I’d be able to handle it based on if it was roughly the same size. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of a panic, this can be hard to keep in mind, so I was glad when I had friends around me to remind me of this. It was because of this reminder I was able to go to the Grand Ole Opry and see Loretta Lynn perform. Highlight of my life!

3. I married a concert junkie! Seriously, Chad loves concerts and music. And because he also enjoys spending time with me, I’ve gone along to many a concert in our almost decade-long relationship. This has helped to desensitize me to venues and situations that would have caused anxiety for me in the past. It should be noted that for some of these concerts I did have anxiety, but the more I went, the less I had.

I hope if you live with agoraphobia like I do, you’ll find hope in this post. Also, please be aware that although this has been my experience, this may not work for you. Remember you are not alone!

Lead image via Thinkstock.

A version of this post originally appeared on Be Anxious About Nothing.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

14
14
TOPICS
, , , Contributor list
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

I Have Agoraphobia, but I'm Not Afraid to Leave My House

600
600

I’m not afraid to leave my house. Yet, after spending a lazy weekend at home in my pajamas, I can’t help but get a nagging feeling at the edge of my stomach trying to pull me back as I walk out the front door.

I’m not afraid to leave my house, but sometimes doing regular tasks, like walking down the street to the pharmacy and a little bit farther to the post office, can seem difficult. I know the measurable distance is small and I could easily run home in less than five minutes. However, the closer I get to my destination, the farther it seems to be, especially when I look back to see where I’ve come from. I know when I get there I will be OK, but the space between the two points seems like a wide gulf.

I’m not afraid to go for a walk. Yet, I worry when I start to feel dizzy and my heartbeat speeds up there won’t be anything in my environment to help me feel grounded. Things like a bench, someone’s front porch, a large rock or a solid concrete wall to lean on. I have to fight with every ounce of my being the blaring siren in my brain screaming at me to run and that I’m not safe.

Sometimes, I can breathe through it. Sometimes, I have to turn around and walk a little toward home until I start to feel OK before I can try to go farther and complete my route. Sometimes, I push myself and make it all the way through. Other times, I relent and go home.

I’m not afraid to go to the grocery store, mall or Wal-Mart. Yet. When I go to these places I know where the exits are in case I suddenly feel like I need to get out of there. I park close to the entrances as I worry about my car being stolen and feeling stranded far from home. When in stores with carts, I always take one, even if I don’t put anything in it. To others it may look like I don’t need it, but in fact it helps me stay in the store and grounds me when I feel a panic attack coming.

It is the most difficult when I get to a part of a store or the mall that seems far from escape because I can’t see a quick, clear pathway out anymore. This happens when my view is blocked by tall shelves or the exit with my car is on the other side of the mall. I find myself often re-routing to paths where there are wide aisles that lead directly to the front. Otherwise, I’ll take the stairs or elevators close to exits, even if it is not close to the store I need to go to. It might take me longer to get to the store, but I can usually get what I came there for without needing to go back to my car to calm down before trying again.

I’m not afraid to drive long distances, but I become increasingly uncomfortable when driving on long stretches of highway where there are no houses, exits, gas stations or convenience stores. This is especially true when there are few other cars on the road. I worry about needing help and being too far away to get it.

I’m afraid of situations when I feel trapped. What this means is don’t like enclosed situations, like being stuck in an elevator or locked in a room. I also don’t particularly like wide open spaces or huge big box stores. These are places where being in the middle can feel like being trapped because it seems like getting out would be difficult or take a long time.

This also makes things like traveling seem impossible. I fear other situations that are not inherently unsafe.

This is what agoraphobia looks like for me. It’s not about being afraid of the outside world. It is the fear of the anxiety and panic attacks that have occurred out in that world. This doesn’t mean that panic attacks don’t happen when you’re at home, but at least there you can feel in control of what is going on around you.

I was fortunate to have already been receiving cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for panic disorder when I began to develop agoraphobia. During the summer, it escalated to the point where I barely left the house and had difficulty even walking to the end of my street to rent a movie from the local corner store. With the help of medication and continued therapy, I was able to work through it and not become indefinitely house bound.  Unfortunately, for many people living with this condition, this is not the case.

When it comes to anxiety, agoraphobia seems to be one of the more misunderstood and stigmatized conditions. I often find myself at a loss for words to explain it, which makes understanding even more difficult. This is not helped by the few and inaccurate representations in movies, television and other forms of media. I wanted to share my experiences to contradict what is already out there, in order to create a more accurate picture of agoraphobia. I want to let others who are struggling know they are not alone.

Image via Thinkstock.

600
600
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

The Unexpected Neighbor I Met While Playing Pokemon Go

819
819

For years I have struggled with my mental health issues. I am diagnosed with panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and psychotic hallucinations. I am in a constant state of working on coping with these things so deeply rooted in my mind. My combined diagnoses has also lead to agoraphobia.

I take medicine, go to therapy, and attend a weekly anxiety group. I’ve noticed I will get looks from people in my anxiety group when I mention “The last time I left home was to come to this meeting last week.” I don’t mind the confused looks. I actually prefer for people not to understand.

pokemon sitting on a coffee cup

Last week this silly little game comes out. Pokemon Go. Surprisingly, my nerdy self has never played a Pokemon game in my life, even though I have been married to a Pokemaster for five years. I had played Ingress, an augmented reality game from Niantic, which they used to test data pools for Pokémon Go locations. (I hadn’t made much progress, given I am usually home.)

I decided to download it since I thought the augmented reality premise on a popular game was a neat concept. From my home, I managed to catch two Pokémon, but I knew if I wanted to advance, I would have to get out somewhere new. I figured I would wait until my anxiety group, therapist appointment, or my visit to the psychiatrist, and look around then.

I would still check on the app from my home. A few days ago, I noticed a lot of rustling leaves around my complex, which meant there were Pokémon to be had, but that would mean going outside. This is where something unusual happened. I put on my shoes, put my dog’s vest and leash on and went to catch me some Pokémon dammit!

pokemon sitting on feet While I was out there, I was only paying attention to where I needed to walk and where my dog was wandering. (I did kind of feel like I was walking a personal Poke-Terrier.) While walking, I noticed a woman whose actions mirrored mine: look down at the phone, look around your area, walk a few steps, look down again, change direction, and such. Without even thinking about how this person in my complex is a stranger to me, I shouted, “Excuse me, are you playing a game?”

“Yes! I’m playing Pokemon Go!” she responded kindly. 

Turns out we were both headed for the same rustling grass, so we walked together and talked while we both searched for our Pokemon.

This is where something truly beautiful happened. After a bit of Poke-talk, she starts to open up on a more personal level. We wound up learning that we are neighbors and even have the same first name. We talked a bit about our dogs and our husbands, but then she took a big step and started to mention her struggles with anxiety.

“Sometimes I’m not able to leave my place for a week” she told me. I tried to be open about my struggles with anxiety, panic, and agoraphobia, so I didn’t leave her hanging. I told her I also have that issue and I have been fighting for years.

There it was. Two women, typically scared to leave their homes, talking, playing a game, bonding outside. When I told her I had similar issues, I noticed the look on her face… I know the look because I had it when she shared her struggle with me. It’s that look of “Wow, so you understand!”

Two women who have seen each other more and more the past few days, happy to talk about Pokemon or any other little topic. Two women leaving their homes to go on Poke-walks, when usually they would be inside alone. Two women who realized something as silly as a Pokemon game has become a helpful tool in their dealing with anxieties and phobias. Two women who have started a friendship all because they happened to be playing Pokemon Go.

As I read articles and blog posts with stories similar to mine, I can’t help but smile. When I downloaded the game to my phone, I had never expected anything more than a silly distraction while I sat at home. But in the time I have been playing, I have been walking so much more.

Getting out into nature and increasing my movement has had a great effect on my mind and my sleeping. I have met people whose paths I would have never crossed. I have visited places I was always too afraid to check out before. I have started to feel less afraid. Even as I type this, I am thinking about how I cannot wait to go to my therapist and tell her all I was able to accomplish in a week. I am so grateful something that seemed so trivial has turned into another tool to help me with my fight against some of my mental issues.

819
819
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

7,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.