The Bridge to Agoraphobia

I have a friend that no one else can see. Instead of sharing secret hugs and smooches like my handsome invisible childhood boyfriend did, this invisible companion likes to tell me scary stories.

These stories aren’t about vengeful ghosts, killer clowns or 2 feet long centipedes. These spooky tales are about sunny neighborhood walks, grocery store trips and car rides longer than a mere 5 minutes. My friend scares me, and tells me all the embarrassing things that could go wrong. He/she/they plays a highlight reel for me on a dusty projector, shuffling through my worst and darkest moments on an IMAX sized screen. 3D, of course, so I’m adorned with dorky over-sized glasses that nauseate and make my head thump.

There I am stumbling in the dark towards the bathroom while the room violently spins around me. I fall. Hard. Landing in the form of a murder mystery body outline on the cold dingy floor.

Blink.

There I am in the passenger seat of the car, gripping the dashboard as I struggle to breathe. Orange blinking lights and men in yellow vests fill my vision; inordinately blurry with tears as the car creeps slowly down the street.

My friend tells me I am a trapped animal. Defenseless and small. That I’ll be stuck wherever I go, without access to a glowing exit or a burrow to retreat to. They whisper in my ear that I’ll feel sick and succumb to a variety of symptoms that will mimic the sensation of death. Yes. My friend convinces me I could and will die. I repeat this on loop in my head until my mouth goes dry: You have and will die of dysentery.

Despite knowing this friend isn’t always trustworthy and often lies, I foolishly and eagerly listen. Taking in every word and processing them as my new truth. The more projector sessions I attend, the more afraid I become. As time passes I notice that when I touch the front door knob, it glows red and scorches my hand.

Sometimes the fear grows so immense that I retreat for days, taking refuge in my small condo space. With only the company of a 15 lb cat, an overworked significant other and the voices that seep out of my TV. I watch the newly formed leaves dance through the blinds, as I contemplate never leaving or wearing pants again. The thought of fun, adventure and purpose fade; the terms becoming strange relics of the past.

Somehow, the fear of going nose blind eventually surpasses my fear of going outside. No one visits these days, but I grimace at the thought of some aristocrat catching a faint whiff of a few petrified cat droppings. I slip on my shoes and scoop them from the plastic turquoise litter box, bagging up Wilbur’s daily bounty. As I head for the door, that familiar feeling begins to take over. The feeling Friend warned me about.

My chest muscles tighten, the tension strangling my heart and lungs and throat.

My stomach flips with queasiness, bubbling with uncertainty and high fiber whole grains.

My breathing goes ragged, my inhalations becoming quick and impatient.

I feel that wave of unsteadiness, like my legs are suddenly made of beef flavored Ramen noodles. Dizzy and unsure.

My body contorts in warning, begging me not to leave my plush and comfy chair.

I grip the red door knob, the heat gnaws at the palm of my hand. Leaving raw pink skin that screams and sizzles and crackles.

I push the door open and step outside, my eyes wincing against the warm bright light. Unsteadily I move one foot in front of the other, wading through sinking sand and sticky swamps. Trudging through the muddy thickness until I make it to the looming green dumpster. I feel a fluttering in my chest, as I quickly toss the bag inside. I debate venturing further down the cracked sidewalks, but instead my compass needle points back towards where I came. I blindly follow, counting the steps until I’m back inside.

A wave of calm washes over me as my breathing begins to regulate. The door knob no longer glows red, but is crisp and black. Small pieces crumbling off and falling to the floor like charred snowflakes.

I do it all over again tomorrow.

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Exposure #6

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I didn’t leave the house at all yesterday. Tonight I went to the pharmacy, a 5 minute car ride away. I took a pic of the outside but since that’s not too interesting to look at, I’ll share this little Care Bear I got as a silly treat. I picked up my prescription and browsed for a bit, anxiety hovered around a 3 or 4. Rose a bit towards the end but I took some deep breaths and tried to pay attention to my surroundings. I’ve picked up two anti-anxiety prescriptions before at this pharmacy that I never got the courage to take. I’m constantly grappling with the idea of medications and how they could help me.
Sometimes it feels so nice to get out, even when it’s just to a pharmacy. I miss the world very much, and being more of an active participant in it.

Thumb Panic

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Here’s part of my thumb and some sidewalk outside of the bookstore; where I paced around in the cold to try to escape a panic attack. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, like I was about to suffocate. Felt so dizzy and nauseated. I can’t tolerate being around many people when I feel this way, so I always have to hide. The cold kind of helps ease things, but it didn’t vanish completely. I went home shortly after pacing around.

Exposure #5

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I decided to push myself today to go a bit farther away from home than I normally do. We went to a used bookstore that’s 12 mins away (yes, I checked). I don’t do well with car rides because I have a history of panicking while in the car. I have an issue with stoplights, I can feel my anxiety rise whenever we have to stop for a moment. The roads we took were bumpier than normal, so I started feeling a little car sick. Once inside of the bookstore, we looked around for like a minute. The anxiety kept rising, and I went to find the restroom so I could hide inside of a stall for a moment. I couldn’t get myself to calm down, so I asked to go back home. It’s hard to stick it out once I get to the point of nausea. :/ I feel a bit defeated afterwards.

Exposure #4

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The library is one of my safe places, but lately I’ve been backsliding to the point where I hardly go. I went today to drop off some books and pick up stuff I had on the hold shelf. They are closed for renovations (for a year) and set up a small space here in a shopping center for people to pick up requests. I feel a bit bummed to lose one of the few regular places I go to (for now). There is another library 15 minutes away but for now that feels so far. I struggled walking in there today, but was able to complete the task.

I miss having fun!

 

Exposure #3

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Rode in the car to the nearby pharmacy tonight, as a passenger of course. I have a lot of fear when it comes to car rides, I think because of the trapped feeling. My panic rises the most when I’m in the car and I feel some relief once I step outside. I think I fear the car because my first huge panic attacks happened while in heavier traffic. I panicked so much that I felt close to passing out and got hit with a vertigo attack. I thought I was dying. Even going 5 minutes down the road makes me feel anxious.

I can’t stay inside stores very long lately; I usually end up leaving as soon as I feel like I’m not breathing normally. Since I don’t get out much, everything is always super exciting to me! Like seeing Valentine’s Day stuff out. Christmas stuff was on clearance so I grabbed a couple things. I have to say, I really miss being able to just leisurely browse shops without fear.

Exposure #2

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Despite my best efforts to bundle up and dress warm, winter has been making exposure a bit more difficult these days. Perhaps I’m using it as an excuse to slip into avoidance patterns.

11F here today; I went for a little walk down the sidewalk near where I live, after I took the trash out. I used to walk around the block when it was warmer. Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m making excuses or if it actually feels too cold to stay outside for very long.

I haven’t been anywhere else this week, which is worrying me. Constantly obsessing over my progress. I’m very scared of the physical sensations that come along with panic.

Exposure #1

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My first outing after being home for a week straight; went to a shopping center about 5 minutes away from home.

I’ve been experiencing some set backs lately after a public panicky moment; I think it was because of the stress that comes along with holidays. It seems to bring mental illness more to the forefront; lots of feelings of guilt and comparison. Wishing I felt good enough to enjoy the holidays, without anxiety overwhelming everything. I felt sad that I didn’t feel capable of traveling home to see my family for the holidays.

Before I took this pic, I walked around a department store for 15 mins before it was about to close. I made it through the whole store but felt quite uncomfortable the whole time. I felt a little light headed and had labored breathing. I was tempted to leave before we made it through the whole store, but I stayed! I didn’t buy anything because I wanted to avoid the dreaded check out line.

My boyfriend wanted to go to the car wash afterwards but I had him drop me off at home first before he went. Any situation that makes me feel “stuck” really triggers me. Even if for a moment. Check out lines. Waiting rooms. Even if I pause too long while walking. I feel like I have to always be in motion to feel calm. Stillness makes the panic feelings rise.