Baby Steps to Beat Agoraphobia
I had always been the kind of person to be busy all the time. I loved going places, eating out, going to the mall, just anywhere that I enjoyed. After my first panic attack in 2008 I became very fearful. I didnt know when and where the next one would strike.
Sometimes they would come while driving, sometimes they would come while I was at work, sometimes they would come while I was on my way to or from work. Not knowing when and where my next panic attack would strike caused me to be fearful of bascially living my life.
I ended up planning out “escape routes” when I HAD to drive somewhere. I made sure I knew where the closest Hospital was, just in case I had to drive there or call an ambulance. I made sure my phone was fully charged and my Husband knew where I was going. I rarely left the house by myself. When I did, I was so afraid.
Open space and unfamiliar places caused me to get anxious and dizzy all the time. I would get a sudden wave of dizziness, followed by heart palpitations, trembling and sweating and I would feel the need to flee where I was. Fight or flight would be in full effect. I was sufferimg from Agoraphobia.
Panic disorder with agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder in which a person has attacks of intense fear and anxiety. There is also a fear of being in places where it is hard to escape, or where help might not be available. Agoraphobia usually involves fear of crowds, bridges, or of being outside alone.
Dealing with Agoraphobia was definitely the most intense and scariest period in my life. Being on edge all the time, not being able to live the life I used live and forcing myself to rely on people to go places with and for me became exhausting. I knew I had to get back in control.
Beating Agoraphobia is something that I had to consciously work on and make small changes in the process. I realized that I was giving up on myself and the life that was out there waiting for me to live. I was missing out on precious moments with my Husband and my son and it was not fair to either of them. They both saw me go from vibrant and active to locking myself in my bathroom and laying down in my shower just balled up every day. It was my safe place every day after work. I would go there and sob for hours becuase I was so lost and confused. I began to realize that I was just existing and not living and I forced myself to find a way to get over this terrible thing.
For me, the first step towards freedom came in the form of acknowledgment. Instead of making up excuses as to why I didnt want to leave the house or be in the house by myself, I had to acknowledge that the reason was fear and anxiety.
Once I managed to acknowledge and accept my agoraphobia I moved on to the next step; leaving my house on a regular basis without panic attacks. Needless to say that was not as easy as acknowledging that I had agoraphobia. It was a grueling and exhausting experience.
To deal with the panic attacks I had over leaving the safety of my home, I acquired strength from the behavioral therapy methods that I knew work for me.
I started by making plans in advance. Nothing was spur of the moment. Everywhere I went, outside of my home, only happened because I planned for it. Knowing where and when I was going somewhere gave me time to prepare myself in advance and avoid all the crazy thoughts that went through my head.
The first thing that would always come to mind when I had to go somewhere is the thought that I’m going to pass out behind the wheel and die. That fear alone, made me never want to drive anywhere by myself. I feared for my life everytime I closed that car door, put the key in the ignition and reversed out of my parking spot.
A couple of years ago I avoided thinking about places I had to go to right up until the minute I had to actually do it. That was a bad idea. I finally realized that I had to give myself however much time I needed (and I plan for that time) whether that be calming myself down days ahead of time or 4 hours earlier in the morning. I learned avoidance made the panic attacks worse.
In 2010, I realized I had come so far with my anxiety. I had submitted my photos for a modeling contest through an online modeling website. I was 1 of 10,000 plus girls competing for 1 of 4 spots to become the face of a major cosmetic company in New York City. Being chosen as a Top 4 would mean I would have to go to NYC, stay there for 2 days and be apart of the photo shoot with 3 other girls, all strangers whom I had never met and were also competing for the Top Spot to be the Face of the cosmetic brand. Sure enough, I was chosen as one of the four finalists and I had to trek up to NYC by myself for 2 whole days.
As I boarded the train, I was extremely anxious; I will not lie. Once I arrived in NYC, I checked into my hotel and I just laid there in the bed, in awe of what I had just done. I was amazed at how far I had come by myself. The person who was scared to be home alone, scared to drive far at all, scared to live, traveled all the way from Washington DC to NYC by train. At that point, I knew I was well on my way to beating this nasty thing called Agoraphobia! It was by far one of the most emotional moments in my life.
Today I am proud to say that I have completely recovered from the darkest point in my life. Now, 4 years after my first panic attack, I am leaving my house regularly and I am doing it without thinking twice about it. What I realized is that you have to celebrate the little successes in your life. Be proud of yourself for having the strenght to go to work everyday despite all that you are going through. Be proud of yourself for walking to the corner to get your mail. You have to take those baby steps because if you don’t, you’ll never know how strong you actually are.
Below are some Facts on Agoraphobia:
With agoraphobia, you avoid places or situations because you do not feel safe in public places. The fear is worse when the place is crowded.
Symptoms of agoraphobia include:
Being afraid of spending time alone
Being afraid of places where escape might be hard
Being afraid of losing control in a public place
Depending on others
Feeling detached or separated from others
Feeling that the body is not real
Feeling that the environment is not real
Having an unusual temper or agitation
Staying in the house for long periods of time