THE TRIALS, TRIBULATIONS AND TRIUMPHS OF AN AGORAPHOBIC
My name is Nicole, I’m 25 years old, a wife, a mother and I suffer from severe anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia.
As Brittany wrote in her blog titled “Anxiety Control” she wrote about when you suffer from anxiety, writing about panic attacks or recalling times of high levels of anxiety heightens your levels of anxiety and can even induce a panic attack.
It’s from inspirational blogs, websites, forums and articles that gave me strength in the past when I’ve been struggling with my anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia.
Reading and listening to other people’s stories of how they refuse to quit and give up has inspired me for many years and will continue to do so.
I hope that if you’re reading this and suffer from severe anxiety, agoraphobia or depression that this could help you in some way.
Agoraphobia is a fear of places or situations that could lead to helplessness, panic or embarrassment. It is an anxiety disorder that develops after a traumatic experience or a panic attack.
Growing up I never wanted to go to sleepovers, shopping centers, restaurants, or go away on holidays. I was happy to just be at home.
I’m the youngest of 3 girls. My family love to travel. As I write this one of my sisters is currently travelling through South America. My sisters combined have been to Africa, Europe and North America and now both have been to South America. My mother also has the travel bug and spent her 20s travelling the world and the last few years my parents have been to Europe a few times as well. As for me, when I was younger I went as far north (in Australia) as Cairns and as far south as Melbourne. As I got older, I found the desire to stay home grow stronger and stronger to the point where I refused to go on holidays.
In 2008 my anxiety and agoraphobia became so severe I could not see a future. My anxiety and yet to be diagnosed agoraphobia had taken complete control over my life. I had no dreams, goals or aspirations and I couldn’t imagine ever leaving my parents house and living a life like those around me. I used my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (I developed Glandular fever late 2007) as an excuse to get me out of most social events including school.
I was running on empty.
It all came to a head one night where felt I couldn’t keep pretending I was okay.
I was suffering in silence.
I got in contact with my best friend Ben and told him, “I’m sorry I love you but I can’t keep fighting this battle I cannot win”.
He told me to stay where I was and to promise him I wouldn’t do anything and that he was on his way. He rode his pushbike from his parent’s house to my parent’s home and sat with me. I broke down and told him of how I struggled with “normal” activities like going to the shops, movies and would become consumed with severe anxiety. He listened and said something that immediately altered my train of thought, “Who will find you, if you do this.”
At that moment I stopped and realised, it would be my eldest sister. She would be the one to find me.
I hid my anxiety, panic attacks and depression from my family and friends. If I did take my life that night they would wonder ‘what could we have done?’, ‘we had no idea’.
These words are so commonly spoken after a suicide.
Those who know I’ve been suicidal in the past have said, “but you always seemed so happy”. That’s what is so frightening about depression and suicidal ideals; it can be easy to hide the pain, but only for so long.
The next day I spoke to my parents telling them how I felt, about my anxiety, panic attacks and how I was having suicidal thoughts. The following day I was at my GP for an assessment and was diagnosed as clinically with severe depression, suffering from severe anxiety and agoraphobia.
I then began seeing an incredible Psychiatrist and Psychologist to work through the diagnoses.
Agoraphobia is a debilitating disease. It takes hold of your thoughts, your physical being and is all consuming. I’d never heard of agoraphobia and began Google-ing, reading articles and forums of people suffering from the condition. I felt relief I was not alone or going crazy.
Each story was different however, there was little information out there and the forums were incredibly outdated but it gave me a glimmer of hope.
Slowly, I got better with my anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia and my depression. My depression was gone within a few months of regularly seeing my psychologist, psychiatrist and GP.
I’ve had times when my agoraphobia was almost non-existent.
I had bouts of severe anxiety and needed medication on me for emergencies but at one point went nearly 5 months without anti-anxiety medication and was finally out and about being social and living my life.
It seems when a traumatic event occurs in my life, my anxiety goes into overdrive and so to does the agoraphobia. I become a recluse, push people away by not seeing them, and avoid having them over or leaving my “safe haven”, my home.
I am metaphorically crawling back into my shell and shutting people out.
After dealing with this disease, I’m an expert in knowing when my anxiety and agoraphobia is elevating and getting worse and I know what steps I must take.
Step one is Speak Up and Say Something. This step is crucial.
Step two is to see a professional e.g. GP, psychologist, psychiatrist (this can also be step one).
Step three is to allow time for myself to recover mentally, emotionally and physically.
In September 2011 Ben passed away. I became depressed and suicidal. One night I simply couldn’t handle the pain of his loss and tried to take my life, thankfully my father was home and heard me.
He calmed me down and I went back to regularly seeing my psychologist, psychiatrist and GP.
Although I still feel there’s something missing in my life (Ben), I slowly overcame the depression once again.
In early 2012 I began dating my now husband. He has always accepted me exactly how I am –someone who suffers from anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia and OCD.
After months of dating I began for the first time dreaming of buying our own home, getting married and having a family.
He showed me how to live.
My husband and I bought our first home in 2013 (yes, I moved out of my parents house), got engaged in 2014, married in 2015 (went on an incredible honeymoon to Thredbo) and November that year I fell pregnant.
I was living my dreams, a life I couldn’t have even thought of a mere 5 years prior.
When I was pregnant with my daughter at around 7 weeks gestation I began noticing an increase in my anxiety levels, after a few days I was having severe panic attacks and ending up in hospital. After a few weeks of this I then suffered from anti-natal depression. After regular visits with my GP, Psychologist and Psychiatrist focusing on the anxiety, the depression decreased dramatically and so to did the panic attacks.
At 28 weeks I found out I had Gestational Diabetes, 32 Weeks I was diagnosed with the liver disorder ICP (Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy) and at 33 weeks I was told I also had Preeclampsia.
Our daughter was born 5 and a half weeks premature.
I can still remember the heartache of finding out I had ICP and then Preeclampsia but I still feel the heart shattering pain of seeing our daughter in her incubator hooked up to monitor and tubes.
Feeling that pain has made me a stronger woman and has taught me to fight, just like our daughter did.
As our daughter was born premature, we were told to keep her at home unless it was for visits to the pediatrician. It was not long after she had her first vaccinations that I realised I was beginning to feel heightened anxiousness again.
The anxiety got worse and more severe.
I began having panic attacks at home, a place which was once my “safe haven”. After a few weeks I had once again become depressed and housebound.
I told my husband and family once I noticed the signs and immediately booked in with my GP, Psychologist and Psychiatrist to again begin tackling the conditions.
I am gradually getting better and stronger each and every day however, some days my anxiety levels are higher than others. But I know I will get there, I can’t give up.
Some say you can overcome agoraphobia, or you can manage it with medication and meditation and others say it can linger for the rest of your life. My fate with it is still unknown.
I’ve gained control before and will again, it’s not going to happen over night but I know I will conquer this again for myself, and for my family. I don’t know what my future holds, perhaps I’ll have more relapses but I will never stop fighting this disease.
“I’m stepping, I’m shaking but not giving up” – Unknown
If you’re suffering from Depression or having Suicidal thoughts speak up and say something, it’s okay to not be okay!
Call your GP.
You are worth it.
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
Lifeline 13 11 14