Slaying Fibro & Other Invisible Illnesses

Encouragement, Tips, and Ideas from One Slayer to Another

When Agoraphobia Attacks: My Story, Part Two

On the surface, agoraphobia seems exotic – like something you only hear about on television documentaries or in relation to a long-reclusive aging personality in gossip columns.

Don’t let it fool you. It loves the little guys like us, too.

If you haven’t read the first installment in this series, click here to catch up: When Anxiety and Panic Strike: My Story, Part One

Agoraphobia loves me.

When Agoraphobia Attacks: My Story Part TwoOne of my favorite movies is Beetlejuice. The concept that you call his name three times in quick succession to summon him always comes to mind when I say agoraphobia.

I don’t want to will it into appearing again. It’s that fear it will come back and consume me which keeps me moving toward health.

Agoraphobia hunted me down.

When I had my first panic attack, I thought I was dying. It’s a very common thought considering the rising pulse, chest pains, and inability to breathe – or at least you perceive it that way. As each attack varies, so do the reactions people have to them.

With each panic attack, I became more and more fearful.

If I had a panic attack at a crowded store, I would avoid crowds. Later I would avoid stores. If one came on when I was driving, I’d immediately be afraid to get behind the wheel again.

I didn’t drive for three months the first time agoraphobia snatched me into its claws.

With every move I made, it was there, lurking. All of my decisions became clouded around the idea that I wasn’t safe outside my home. Inside, I could suffer in silence without the stares of people avoiding the crying woman with shaking hands.

Life changed drastically.

I began dropping my responsibilities at church and in our homeschool group. No one knew why because I wasn’t about to tell them that I was afraid of life outside the safety of my home. I wanted to maintain the idea that I was an independent adult, not the person that I was becoming.

I stopped driving. I couldn’t cook, much less shop, for my family. My house was becoming my prison.

At the time, my husband worked from home. I was generally okay if he was there. When he wasn’t, my mother would have to come sit with me or I was in state of heightened panic until he returned.

Life was spinning out of control, and I was slipping into the role of a child to be taken care of.

Rescue meds were my best friend.

I speak in terms of anxiety and panic attacks as if they are completely separate. They can vary from person to person. In my case. I suffered from a heightened sense of anxiety that never went away. It took nearly six months to find a good medication to help me control it. Until then, I relied on rescue meds for the times that the panic attacks pushed me over the edge.

I remember sitting on the couch, my legs crossed like I sat in elementary school, with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders. This day is still vivid to me, even ten years later. I rocked, slowly, back and forth. I was unable to focus on the movie we were watching or the conversation my mother was trying to have with me. All I could see was the time on the DVD player.

I counted down the minutes.

Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes came and shortly after the switch was flipped and my panic started to subside. The world came back into focus, and I felt like I was going to live for another six hours.

When it was time for the anxiety medication to wear off, I started counting in reverse. Thirty minutes. Twenty minutes. Ten minutes until the monster came back to get me.

It was a terrible existence.

So many people misunderstood.

I’m thankful that my mother was a constant support. My (now) ex-husband tried his best, but my behavior didn’t make sense to him. He couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to control my anxiety and keep pushing forward through the fear. The stress of taking care of me took a toll on our marriage.

It took a toll on all of my relationships.

So many people from church urged me to pray. Yes, I was. Yes, I believe in the power of prayer. However, I also believe in the idea that sometimes things like this happen to people simply because of chemistry and health.

It wasn’t because I was weak. And it wasn’t because my faith was failing.

It just was.

Agoraphobia came for me again about five years after this. The second time I knew what to look for, so I saw the signs. I rallied my energy and went to battle, contacting my doctor and letting my family know how they could help me.

It was hard, but I won.

Today, life is good.

I’m so blessed to have made it through to the other side of this desert. I was lucky in a sense because I never turned to thoughts of self harm like many who battle this invisible demon.

If you are contemplating it, please reach out for help. This storm will pass.

I haven’t had a battle with it in five years, but I’m not going to get cocky about it. I’ll stay ever vigilant, knowing that I need to be aware that monsters do lurk under the bed  – if I don’t take care of myself.

As an indie author and invisible illness advocate, I spent a lot of time working at home. As part of my healthy ideal, I meet a friend once a week for a coffee/work date. I schedule errands on different days so that I leave the house regularly. When the weather is good, I step outside for a while or open the windows to let the outside in.

I live.

But there’s one thing to take away from this experience: If I ever do go back to that place, it will not be permanent. I will fight, and I will win.

Agoraphobia will not own me.

Next week, I’m going to share part three of my journey: being diagnosed with osteoarthritis.

Resources

If you or someone you know struggles with agoraphobia, know that there are resources that can help. For instance, try:

  • SupportGroups.com – Meet online with others who share your same “invisible” battles.
  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America – Learn coping techniques, find out ways to handle the fear, and locate other resources that may be local to you.
  • The Anxiety Coach – Read some good tips about being an active part of your healing process (and why retreating from the world only makes the problem worse.)
  • Anxiety Care UK – This site has some great information for your family and friends so they know how to support you.

Do you have a story to share? I’d love to hear about your journey and how I can support you. Tell me in the comments below.

You are not alone. We are part of a super team who fight our invisible illnesses every day. Spoonies stick together.

Always remember: You are loved.

About Stephanie Pitcher Fishman

Stephanie Pitcher Fishman is a writer of fiction and family stories who battles fibromyalgia and other invisible illnesses every day. She's the author of Finding Eliza, The Widow Teal, and many genealogy guides in the Quick & Easy Guides for Genealogists series. You can find her author page at www.stephaniefishman.com. She writes about her experiences with fibromyalgia at www.slayingfibro.com.

Taking care of yourself is not optional.

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Slaying your dragon (aka your pain) takes a lot out of you. Those of us with chronic illness really need time to heal and care of not just our bodies but our mind and soul as well. Let me help by giving you my best tips and ideas in my eBook Self Care 10 Ways (When You Just Feel Like Lying in Bed)for FREE.