There’s something I haven’t revealed about myself on this blog before. I really want to come out with it now, but I’m not quite sure how to word it…
I guess I could say that I’ve suffered from severe agoraphobia.
Let me set the record straight on what agoraphobia actually is, because it’s a very misunderstood mental illness. Most of the time, people believe agoraphobia is a condition where a person cannot exit their house. Even I, before I had it, always thought of the heroine of the movie ‘Copy Cat’ whenever I thought of agoraphobia, but it really isn’t like that all of the time.
The literal meaning of the word is ‘fear of open spaces,’ but it translates into the actual mental illness a bit differently. It’s like this: People who are agoraphobic TYPICALLY (and I say that quite generously because there are some people who ARE literally just scared of open spaces) have a ‘safe spot,’ which is very often their home. If the person should attempt to vacate their safe spot, there is generally a radius outside of it in which they are free to travel without panic, and that’s IT. The safety radius could be up to the threshold of their front door, or it could be 30 miles from their house. Go past the oh-so-holy safe spot, and it’s pure panic, unending.
When I first became agoraphobic, I didn’t HAVE a safe spot. I had a SEMI-safe spot, but I didn’t have a true safe spot.
I panicked in my living room, bedroom, kitchen…and I had to take baths because I panicked in the shower. Hell, I panicked in my sleep; I woke up night after night, gasping for air. I almost did a sleep study to find out why I would stop breathing while I was sleeping, but soon realized that it wasn’t the case. This was in the Spring of 2008, and it all started with a stupid fucking vaccine.
Don’t freak out: I had had a panic disorder long before I got the vaccine, so I was predisposed to panic…it had just morphed into OCD while I was in college, which made it tolerable.
What had happened was I got a letter from my insurance company saying that all women who were younger than 26 were eligible for a free HPV vaccination. I remembered this one very tragic story I had heard about a woman my ex-roommate had known. If I remember correctly, the woman had just gone shopping at the grocery store in the middle of the day, and as she was walking to her car, she got pulled into the back of a van and got raped…and sadly, this horrible story doesn’t end there: It turns out that the rapist was infected with HPV, and passed it on to this woman. Well, it was one of the strains of HPV which causes cervical cancer, and she ended up dying from the cancer.
That put the fear of God into me, and I decided that I should probably take this free vaccine.
So, I went to the doctor’s office after making an appointment. You only visit a nurse or MA when you JUST need a vaccine (most of the time), and that’s what happened: I got my shot, and they sent me on my way.
Well, apparently, the protocol for administering vaccinations wasn’t being followed at my doctor’s office that day. I try my best not to be bitter about things I cannot change, but it’s exceedingly difficult in this situation, because if that mother fucking bitch had JUST FOLLOWED PROTOCOL, my life may’ve been COMPLETELY different.
The protocol for any kind of shot (for those of you who aren’t familiar with it) is to make a person wait 15-30 minutes after it is administered, because the person MIGHT BE ALLERGIC to what has been injected.
And SUPRISE! I fucking was.
The allergic reaction happened about three minutes after I went through the office door. I was driving home, when suddenly, it felt as if the world was closing in on me. It’s very difficult to explain the sensation, but it’s like you’re in an invisible box that’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller…and I HAD to get out. Panicking, which I hadn’t done in YEARS, I called my mother, who is a nurse, and told her what had happened between the desperate gasps for air I was swallowing and saying ‘I have to get out of here! I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE!’
Calmly, she explained that this was an allergic reaction, and that I needed to get Benedryl immediately. As we were speaking, I pulled into a left turn lane, which was packed with people in front of and behind me, with the lane to my right completely filled, and cars whizzing by in the left lane. If the previous sentence doesn’t sound like a reason to panic to you, imagine feeling like you are in an invisible box you need to get out of WHILE being in that situation. It was one of the single most terrifying experiences of my life.
I eventually made it to a store, and, paranoid as FUCK, found the Benedryl, ripped the package open, popped a pill or two, then paid for it. After making my way to the car, I sat there and smoked a cigarette (ahh, back when I used to smoke), and waited for this horrible feeling to subside.
And wa-la…it did. I drove back to my house and fell asleep on the couch with the cat, and when I woke up, I felt almost completely back to normal.
…So I thought.
Suddenly, I was panicking in stores, panicking while driving…panicking in my sleep, in my house…and the panic feeling was so scary, I would panic when I believed that there may be a situation I was entering that could cause me to panic. I became agoraphobic, and had to move in with somebody else because I couldn’t be alone…I was too scared.
…Hmm. I wonder if I could sue that doctor’s office.
But, then again, what’s the point? Even if I were to win, no amount of money could compensate for how much time I’ve lost.
I think the worst of it came in the summer of 2009, when I completely avoided anything that could trigger panic attacks, yet I still had them. 2010 was in no way fun, either.
I’m vehemently against being on anti-anxiety medication, as I am a staunch believer in cognitive behavioral therapy (I do have a degree in psychology), so I did try to get some help in 2010, but the therapist began to waste my time. He actually yelled at my once when he revisited the idea of medication, and I said something along the lines of feeling like he was violating my wishes in regards to that issue. I’m from New York; I’m used to people yelling, but it was relatively scary to get yelled at in the way he did it. It drove a rift between us on my end, and I no longer felt like I could maintain a good rapport with him, which was actually a very good thing. Having a rift allowed me to be more critical of his technique, and I soon realized that he had no idea how to implement CBT, and he was too lazy to actually go to the store or drive with me to teach me coping skills. The two last sessions I attended, he played movie trailers on Youtube and talked about nonsense for a half an hour before we discussed anything related to panic. I was officially done after that.
In the beginning of 2011, I moved to the town in which I currently reside, and I did a lot of research and found an anxiety specialist. This woman allowed me to do Skype sessions with her at first because I couldn’t drive to where she was; once she taught me the coping skills I needed to do so, she made me drive to her house, and stayed on the phone with me the whole time. She’s even driven with me. I also researched the herbs that are effective in treating anxiety, and I wound up on St. John’s Wort and Passion Flower, which are amazing. Should I find myself having depersonalization (which is FUUUCKING scary), I take two Passion Flower on the spot and I’m typically good within five minutes. There have been no side effects, and I’ve been on St. John’s Wort for about three years, Passion Flower for around two.
[By the way… Depersonalization: Feeling as if one is having an out-of-body experience or in a dream-like state. It can be a form of panic, and it feels like nothing is real or makes sense.]
Like I said, I do try not to be bitter. This whole ordeal has afforded me the opportunity to work out a lot of the issues I should have worked out in my early 20s, but I was so focused on school that I never made time for myself. Plus, being able to find the strength to complete my master’s while having severe panic is something I wasn’t sure I could do…but I did it. I had a lot of my freedom ripped away from me, and I’ve been trying to reclaim it. I’ve missed out on a lot of experiences because of my own fear, experiences that I feel like I really should have.
To be continued.