I have been nowhere. Sometimes I fall into severe bouts of agoraphobia, and to be honest, it’s fairly sad and gross. I’m not ashamed to talk about it, but just as a warning, it’s not a pretty picture. I have a hard time writing about things when they’re actively happening to me because my brain is scrambled and I don’t like when people worry about me. It makes me uncomfortable. So I wait and then the episode passes and I can talk again. And this time I want to talk about what it’s like to become trapped in your own home.
The episode has passed and I can go outside again. School started last week, which provided a serious motivation to break through the barrier of my agoraphobia. I had to work up to it. My therapist calls it successive approximation: doing small steps in preparation for the real thing. It worked. I was able to shower, get out the door, and get up to school without having a massive panic attack. That in an of itself is a powerful moment for an agoraphobe. I talked about this last time but agoraphobia is in large part an avoidance of locations or situations that can lead to panic attacks. I happen to suffer from panic disorder which is where all of this stems from, I think. So I get panic attacks, and they’re bad. I want to die. I feel like I’m dying. I feel like my head is exploding and all the veins in my body are going to burst. I feel like my chest is tightening and my heart is beating too much. It’s hard to breathe. I can’t catch my breath. Only shallow breaths will work. Oh god I’m going to die. This is it. This is how I go. Am I dressed ok for when they find me? Fuck now I’m crying. I hate crying. I don’t want to be crying. I still can’t breathe. Ok. What do I do? Talk to someone. Go on the Discord server. Get someone to help you focus. They talk about identifying things in the room, sensations, counting things, gently moving my mind away from the panic and into the reality of the moment. I do these things. I feel momentarily better. My limbs unlock. I slowly get to my feet and head towards the bedroom where calm awaits: Xanax. I take two because this is a bad one. I go back to the computer when my friend continues to talk me through until I can take a deep breath and I stop crying and the Xanax is clearly kicking in. Then I’m exhausted.
Panic attacks are terrifying. I hope you don’t suffer from them, but if you do, I’m right there with you homie/homette. And there’s still a lot of misunderstanding about them, as with most mental illness.
So essentially I spent the summer in my apartment. Between the beginning of July and the end of August I don’t think I left the building more than a handful of times. Maybe I did but not many more. My therapist switched to Skype sessions with me because there was no way I was getting out of the apartment, let alone to midtown. I still need to have a blood draw prescribed in June. I missed a lot of events and socializing, and I regret that. But I was stuck. Literally. Paralyzed by fear and depression. Between the two of them I just gave up and stayed home. I would stop showering for days on end. That was the first clue that I was depressed. Sylvia Plath wrote something that resonates with me in The Bell Jar:
“It seemed silly to wash one day when I would only have to wash again the next.
It made me tired just to think of it.”
This about sums up my experience. The routine of everything became very exhausting. Why bother. It was embarrassing but I felt like I had no choice. Nothing was gonna fix it except an imposed routine, like school. So I had to wait until September before I felt mildly functional again. I’ve made it to every class (I’m taking Gen. Chemistry and Calculus I) AND I’ve been social with people. Plus I got out to see my psychiatrist finally, and today I’m going to see my therapist in person for the first time in FOREVER. Oh the joys of mental illness.
I spent so much of the summer working on this Discord server that I co-run with my friend. It’s a peer-led mental health support server for people 18+. Right now we have about 450 members, and about 60-70 are usually active at any given time. I have a great team of moderators and listeners (volunteer support) that have supported the server tremendously and myself personally. They walked me through a lot of the summer, accepting me in all my unwashed glory. Nobody cared that I was the agoraphobe, they just wanted to help. If you’re interested in the server, just send me a message here or on Twitter or Facebook and I can send you a link.
I think having a chatroom is such a boon for someone with issues like I have, which often prevent me from socializing in person. I can have meaningful interactions with people without getting out of my pajamas. I can build a relationship with someone without leaving the couch. It’s incredible. And they know things about me, things I don’t share with just anyone. It’s liberating.
Hopefully some of this made sense. I’m very tired. I do intend to write more now though, so, I’m back! Thanks for reading.