Adventures of an Agoraphobic: trying to have a life when you don't want to go outside

Aberaeron Harbour Dusk Blue
Aberaeron Harbour

I suffer from generalised anxiety disorder. This mainly manifests itself in the form of compulsive behaviour, hypochondria, and agoraphobia. I also have problems with panic attacks, although luckily it's been a while since I've had a full blown 'I'm going to die I can't breathe I'm just going to collapse on the floor, there's no-one to save me and I can't stop crying' panic attack. Touch wood.

I have agoraphobia and I work full time. I commute about 45 mins each way, every day (unless I go to/from my boyfriend's house, then it's just over an hour). I'm usually not alone, but sometimes I do have to commute by myself. A year ago, this would have been near impossible: I could barely manage 10 minutes on the train to get to my CBT appointments. I couldn't be left alone in a shop to just browse. During the couple of internships I did prior to my current job, I wouldn't move from my desk other than to go to the bathroom because I was too scared. I only felt safe at home.

To some extent, I still suffer from it. I still feel a nervous apprehension if I leave my home/office to go anywhere alone. If I have to get a train on my own, I find myself sat with my hands clenched in tight fists, my legs twitching (either that or strangely obsessed with Candy Crush, to the extent that I won't look up from my phone for anything). Sometimes I manage to read, but this is a very rare occurrence. I wake up pretty much every morning wishing that I didn't have to leave the house. I love my job, but have been known to waste away a day wishing that I wasn't there. It's not healthy.

So I'm trying to have a life.

This hasn't come easy; I was dragged into the working world kicking and screaming. I was desperate for a job, but also just wanted to stay at home and feel safe and cosy. But that's not realistic, really. Maybe one day I can work freelance/from home but then again, I suppose I'd be letting my agoraphobia win.

So yes, back to trying to have a life. If you ignore the fact that I'm quite lazy and introverted, I quite like to get out and do things...

Valentine's in Hebden Bridge (before the floods)

I like the smell of fresh air. Being outside, funnily enough, is quite calming (so long as I am not alone). Yes, I am lazy and I complain when it's cold, but if you push me enough to go for a walk, I will actually enjoy it.

I suppose this fear and anxiety extends to social activities too. I hope my friends don't see me as too antisocial due to the fact that I'm usually nowhere to be found, but I try my best to be there when I can. A night out is a no no; even coming round for food and board games will make me anxious. But I'm trying. I really enjoyed a night last month that consisted of a chippy tea and the 'Obama Llama' game. Being with my friends makes me happy, even though it also makes me nervous.

On top of this, I have a slight apprehension towards restaurants. Or anything that involves food/drink really. I try to go for meals out when I can, and when budget allows. Prior to the floods I was slowly working my way around the cafes of Hebden Bridge, spending quality time with my boyfriend whilst pushing myself into being outside of the house more. I want to savour the moments I spend in cafes/restaurants, not down my drink, wolf down my food, and pay the bill as quickly as possible.

I try to test myself. My one piece of advice that you should take from this rambly post of nonsense is this: take it step by step. Whenever I have to leave my office in order to go into the 'shopping' bit of the city, I plan it like this:

  • I need to go and buy 'X'
  • The nearest place that sells 'X' is 'shop'
  • (and so I walk to the closest place possible. This is usually not the ideal shop, but it's a start)
  • They don't have what I'm looking for, I'll try 'the next closest shop'
  • (this continues in a leapfrog style manner until I have what I want/need)
  • Well, I made it this far, is there anywhere else that I want to go while I'm here?
  • (I either look in shops that sell things that make me happy, probably makeup or books, or I swiftly walk back to work as quickly as possible)

This is probably not the most ideal of methods, mainly due to the fact that I often reward myself for 'doing well'. Usually I reward myself with food (if I keep doing this though, I'll be morbidly obese by Christmas) or a little something for myself. A classic example is going to buy a card for my Dad and coming back with new shoes. Not exactly cost effective, but definitely an effective way to get me out of the office at lunchtime. 

Sometimes my methods don't work out. Sometimes I whizz around the first shop, grab something, and get out of there as swiftly as possible. I often get anxious in the cinema, even though I love films. I hate with a passion going to the doctors, even though it's probably the best place for me if I panic/faint/vomit. I find it very difficult to 'enjoy the sights' when I'm out and about, ending up walking at a ridiculously fast pace. In the future, I need to stop and smell the roses. 

I suppose it's okay not to get it right every time. It's okay to have a bad day where I don't want to go outside or do something alone; sometimes it's not worth agitating myself too much. Most of the time I get it right though, and that's something that I should recognise.

It's about having faith in yourself. Agoraphobia won't defeat you unless you let it.

Dunham Massey
Dunham Massey

In the future I want to get out there, explore and see new places. Except that's a little bit ambitious considering that most forms of transport make me anxious. I'm not going to be backpacking in Asia any time soon. For now, I'm quite happy just discovering new places closer to home.

And that's the point of this post: I'm trying. I'm trying to get better. I'm trying to 'have a life' outside of my home. One day, I might laugh at the idea of being terrified of the prospect of getting a train that takes more than 45 minutes. But for now, I just have to live with it and fight my demons until I can beat them.

No comments