I’ve been debating with myself for months to write this, and debating even longer to actually publish it. This is probably one of the most personal things I’ve ever written, and I honestly have no idea how well this is going to go over. I guess my intention, is just to make people aware of what this illness actually like, how common it actually is and moreso how difficult is to explain to someone if you’re unfortunate enough to be afflicted by it.
I would normally write about how awesome I am, or attempt to be witty and funny about my life’s happenings.
But today, I am going to get seriouspost on y’all.
I’m going to write about my Agoraphobia. Now before I get into it, I should state that thankfully, the worst of it in my case has been over for years, and hit me in college. For the most part, I can leave the house comfortably, travel to familiar places, and generally have a good time and be my fabulous self.
When people think of Agoraphobia, they immediately remember that time they read Wikipedia and say, “oh, a fear of open spaces.”
This is factually incorrect.
The actual definition is described as, “a condition which develops when a person begins to avoid spaces or situations associated with anxiety.” Meaning, it is a fear of having a panic attack somewhere that you can’t “escape from”…the best example I can think of is being stuck in traffic. If I were to have a panic attack while stuck in traffic – I’d be trapped there for God knows how long, making it even worse. So because of that worry, I avoid long car rides like the plague.
However, the longer someone has Agoraphobia, it tends to get worse. Yay.
Sometimes, even when I’m headed out to my favourite bar, it just hits me out of nowhere, causing me to pause for a few minutes and breathe it away. If I can’t, I stay home. It almost always stops when I decide to not go out. I’m not afraid of anything happening, since I’ll be in a familiar place surrounded by people I know, so there’s no reason for me to be anxious…but that doesn’t stop it from showing up and ruining my night. If I have ever made plans and then bailed last minute, there’s a pretty big chance that’s why. But More often than not, I can calm myself down and head out.
I wasn’t always able to do this, it took YEARS to get where I am now, and it was really fucking hard. I’ve missed out on countless things because of it, but if I sat around and felt sorry for myself, well…that wouldn’t exactly be beneficial. So I just accepted that I couldn’t do certain things and left it at that. Depending on who you talk to, that might be totally unacceptable, especially if whoever you talk to has no idea what Agoraphobia is, or just lumps it in with having a panic attack.
NOW, TIME FOR A BUNCH OF BACK STORY!
When I was at my worst point, I couldn’t leave my dorm room. I was so worried I would have a panic attack in class or any place I had to go, that I just wouldn’t leave at all. I’m fully aware of how ridiculous that sounds, and I was fully aware of it then, too. Sadly, nothing could be done about it. Nothing a therapist could tell me would be new to me – I knew what was wrong, I knew what the symptoms were…I decided that it was caused by moving to the city, and that such a huge change would just need time to adjust to so I would just deal with it.
I was lucky enough to have the most wonderful and supportive boyfriend through college and shortly after, who I honestly don’t think I would have improved nearly as much without. I had my own way of doing things, and found ways to work around my anxiety, and he was caring and helpful the whole way. We broke up in 2007 when he moved to Vancouver to be an awesome furniture designer, but I still consider him one of my best friends and will always love the crap out of him. Thanks, Kyle. You rule. <3
By the time Kyle had moved, I had relocated from the ghetto outskirts of Toronto (Rexdale WHAT), and moved right the hell downtown. If I was going to beat this things, I had to just jump in and get through it. Easier said than done. I sadly found out that working full time turned me into a nervous mess every weekday morning, regardless of how well rested I was. Why was I nervous? Who knows. I liked my job, I was good at it, I was familiar with the way there…but despite all of these things, Some mornings I would wake up, have a shower, eat breakfast, and suddenly – BAM. My chest would tighten up, I would start sweating, my heart would begin to race, my stomach would do everything I didn’t want it to…and I just couldn’t leave the house. I’d call in sick, go back to bed,and hate myself.
This has obviously cost me a few jobs, and led to me presently doing freelance from home. I don’t mind it, really, but as most people who work from home will admit, it’s a bit harder to get going with your work day when you don’t need to change our of your pajamas. Unfortunately, however, the longer I go without going out, the higher the chance is I’ll be anxious about it when I DO go out. Double edged sword, or something. It’s horribly frustrating.
AND THAT’S ALL THE BACK STORY!
If you don’t know how to calm yourself down, panic attacks can be literally crippling. I’ve seen people end up curling into a ball and crying, hyperventilating, not knowing how to stop, worrying they might be dying. Personally, I went to the emergency room twice last year because I was having chest pains, which were amplified immensely by panic attacks and I didn’t know what the hell was happening. It was terrifying.
The odd time I actually do end up having a panic attack when I’m out – I usually just try to hide it. I will rarely actually tell people it’s happening, unless it comes to the point where I need to leave. I will normally just find a less crowded space, and chill by myself until it’s gone. People have mistaken this for me being rude – I promise it’s not that. I’m naturally a very bubbly and talkative person – if you see me not making eye contact and being anti-social, it’s because I feel anxious.
I also wanted to touch on the medication front. There are 2736245162 different kind of medication people who suffer from anxiety are given. Since high school, I’ve tested out Celexa, Paxil (ugh) Zoloft, Prozac (fuck no) and after a hiatus and my miserable college ordeal, Effexor. The only one that caused any kind of positive change was the last one, and I’ve been taking it for far longer than I should be. Most people who take medication often feel as if there were more negative effects…no sex drive, no extreme emotions whatsoever and they felt like zombies, anxiety got WORSE…thankfully, none of these happened to me. The only change, was that I wasn’t a constant anxious mess. So I figured I was one of the lucky ones, and stayed on it.
Shortly after high school I was given a prescription for Ativan, which is a wonderful little sedative that was used if I felt an attack coming on. I stopped taking them in 2005 because I felt I didn’t need them.
Oh, premature confidence. You so dumb.
I had my worst panic attack to date about a month or so ago, out of nowhere, at an event I was BEYOND excited to take part in. I actually cried when it happened, either out of frustration that it was happening or just the severity of it, but that was something new to me as far as panic attacks went.
Now that things are starting to off-and-on become situationally worse (more often than not I’m fine, which is obviously a good thing), I’m getting a new prescription of Ativan for a few reasons. The main one being, I don’t want to be tied to an MOAI anymore, and now that I understand so much more about myself, what triggers panic attacks, and now that I have enough experience coaxing myself down from them I would like to not have to take something every day that isn’t working anymore. The hard part about this, with the withdrawal.
Here’s a list of symptoms I found…I’ve bolded the ones I get if I try to stop taking it cold turkey:
1. Crying spells
2. Worsened mood
3. Low energy (fatigue, lethargy, malaise)
4. Trouble concentrating
5. Insomnia or trouble sleeping
6. Change in appetite
7. Suicidal thoughts
8. Suicide attempts
9. Anxious, nervous, tense
10. Panic attacks (racing heart, breathless)
11. Chest pain
12. Trembling, jittery,or shaking
14. Agitation (restlessness, hyperactivity)
18. Homicidal thoughts or urges
19. Confusion or cognitive difficulties
20. Memory problems or forgetfulness
21. Elevated mood (feeling high)
22. Mood swings
23. Manic-like reactions
24. Auditory hallucinations
25. Visual hallucinations
26. Feeling detached or unreal
27. Excessive or intense dreaming
29. Flu-like aches and pains
33. Runny nose
34. Sore eyes
38. Abdominal pain or cramps
39. Stomach bloating
41. Spinning, swaying, lightheaded
42. Hung over or waterlogged feeling
43. Unsteady gait, poor coordination
44. Motion sickness
47. Numbness, burning, or tingling
48. Electric zap-like sensations in the brain
49. Electric shock-like sensations in the body
50. Abnormal visual sensations
51. Ringing or other noises in the ears
52. Abnormal smells or tastes
53. Drooling or excessive saliva
54. Slurred speech
55. Blurred vision
56. Muscle cramps, stiffness, twitches
57. Feeling of restless legs
58. Uncontrollable twitching of mouth
Soooo yeah. it’s pretty awful and I want it out of my system ASAP. I was a total bitch to my boyfriend a few years ago when I missed a few days for some reason or another and I felt horrible about it because I couldn’t help it due to the withdrawal (sorry Davey).
Thankfully I have a new family doctor who will be slowly tapering me off it until I don’t need to take it at all anymore. It’s going to take several months,and I don’t know how it’s going to make me feel, but in the end it will be worth it.
If you’re still lost, and genuinely want to know what the hell I’m talking about, ask me. Please, I’m serious. I’ve met more people than I can remember who suffer from both Agoraphobia and General Anxiety, and more people than I care to admit who assume they understand it when they end up not knowing what the fuck.
I really hope people reading this come out with a better understanding of it, rather than just brushing it off or thinking I’m crazy. Because believe me, people have called me crazy and worse because of my panic attacks, and I don’t know whether I’m offended, or I just feel sorry for them for being so ignorant.
In my almost 30 years being alive, having Agoraphobia has cost me jobs, countless social events, friends, and relationships. The latter two may have been due to ignorance of the issue on both our parts, but anyone remotely recent in my life has thankfully had the maturity and open mindedness to learn rather than run. I have never demanded things be done a certain way because of my anxiety, and honestly feel bad when people feel that they need to change things to accommodate me. I’m not disabled or unable to function on my own, and it’s horribly insulting when people ignorantly assume that because I have anxiety or take medication that I am someone to be avoided. Anxiety doesn’t mean someone is crazy. Anxiety means someone is overly anxious. Nothing else. You’d be surprised at how common it is, and how even more common it is that people don’t admit to having it because they’re afraid of others’ reactions.
I’ve improved bounds since my lowest point, and I’m really fucking proud of that fact. I’m not embarrassed about it anymore…it’s just a thing I have to deal with occasionally, just like everyone has their own thing. I also have people in my life who not only can relate, but are supportive, understanding and just awesome as hell. The effect a good support system can provide is nothing short of profound, and I completely love each and every one of you who read this and have either helped me in some way, or suffer from anxiety yourself. If I can get to where I was to where I am now, so can you.
I know that feel, bro. It won’t be forever. <3