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What I Can't Tell My Friends About My Agoraphobia

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It’s a cruel thing to live with. More so because even those who seem to want to support and understand never quite understand the symptoms if there’s something they want you to do.

It’s agonizing. The fury at myself when I can’t make myself do even the fun things. My world gets so incredibly small incredibly quickly.

Imagine this: Your phone is ringing. It’s a number you don’t recognize. You stare at it, you pick the phone up and will yourself to answer. You start to shake and that panic starts to hit in earnest. They hang up, you drop the phone like it burns. You call yourself names in frustration. But you can’t hide that relief from yourself.

Now imagine it’s ringing, and it’s one of your dearest friends. Perhaps you were even expecting a call, knowing they were having a bad time or you were expecting them to contact you with some exciting news. You pick the phone up then freeze. Panic bubbles up through the core of you, that feeling that the oxygen around you has suddenly gone away, kicked in the stomach and gasping with it. Guilt and rage and frustration join the pure panic as you watch the phone like it’s going to bite you or worse. Then the messages… “Why won’t you answer? I tried to call you.” It goes on. Each message brings more panic, more guilt. More fear and more frustration. Why are they still calling? Why don’t they remember it terrifies you?

Same for being invited out. I have one friend who picks me up and takes me out about once a week. It takes every bit of my strength to go to the car and I lay back in the seat of the car with relief. I made it this far. The time goes fast as we chat together, but the oppressiveness of the surrounding light noise and people are constantly forcing me to control my panic. I get home and I’m exhausted and cranky and fearful, as if I used up every last bit of brave and now I am empty.

They say it’s OK, you can come to my place, it will be fun. You find yourself already panicking about an outing that is not even confirmed yet. You get upset. Why don’t they understand that this applies to them, too? I know they aren’t scary! It’s the doing it that terrifies me. If I can’t bring myself to go to the doctor (or now, realizing I have too much panic and anxiety to try to see the psych specialist after finally getting referral), why do they assume I will cope with that?

Of course they would be a comforting presence. Of course they will be mindful of me during the event. That’s just not the issue! It’s me. I’m the issue. I get smaller as my world does. But that’s cold comfort.

Please be kind, be mindful, and be open to the cues, both nonverbal and verbal, those with agoraphobia give you. It really helps, I promise.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: May 15, 2016
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