The Year I Lived With Agoraphobia (And Other Things We Don’t Talk About)

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Sometimes we catch ourselves in a trap of our own making. Which is exactly how I came to be diagnosed with agoraphobia in the first place.

The year I lived with agoraphobia. (And other things we don't talk about.) Sometimes we catch ourselves in a trap of our own making. Which is exactly how I came to be diagnosed with agoraphobia in the first place.

The feeling you get.

Have you ever felt your chest get tight going over an interstate bridge? It’s followed by this onset of panic. You feel like you’re just not going to make off that bridge unless it’s over the side. Any second you could lose control of the car. And so you grip the wheel tighter. Your knuckles turn white. You’re gritting your teeth. Then, finally, finally, you’ve reached the other side.

Where am I going?

I was never one of those career driven people. Like many of us, I didn’t really figure out what I wanted to do with my life (job wise) until I was in my mid-30’s. At that point in my life, I already knew people entering their 40’s who still had no clue what direction they were headed in. So I didn’t really stress over it as much as some people do.

It’s funny because we’re expected to know what we want to do with our lives as soon as we graduate high school. Very few of us are that far sighted. Which is why so many of us change our major at least once, if not twice, in college. Many of my friends, in fact, aren’t even working in the same field as their college major. As for me, I graduated college with a BA in fine arts after 7 1/2 years (and my son along the way) and still had no idea what to do with my life.

The past three years or so have been a whirlwind for me. I’ve started over a few times. I’ve moved a lot. I took a brave leap and quit my day job to become a writer with zero savings. My only business plan was to “write more.” I got married and then divorced again – all in under a year. Most of my friends know me as being extremely gregarious. I’m occasionally overbearing. I ask too many questions. I treat strangers like family. So it’s a surprise to most people when they find out I was once diagnosed with agoraphobia.

How did I get there?

Well, like all stories, this story requires some backstory. The story, as it was told to me, begins around the time my brother was born.

I was 3 1/2 when my brother was born. My dad, who really enjoyed hunting at the time, had promised that he’d stay home to help my mom with my brother. Seeing as he was born in October, however, he sort of maybe took off on a hunting trip instead. So my mother “sent me away” to spend the weekend with my aunt. That way she only had one child to contend with and not two. (And believe me, as a once upon a time single mother, I completely understand.)

My parents also started spanking me sometime around this age. They’d planned on being progressive baby boomer parents who didn’t spank their children. However, I was apparently so “out of control” at this point that they didn’t know what else to do. So, as their parents had done to them, authoritarian punishment was dealt out for childhood infractions – often with a belt. (Which I was told was the better choice when compared to a switch or a paddle.)

Also somewhere within this time frame, I almost drowned at the beach. I also almost choked to death on a popcorn kernel. But then, again, who haven’t these things happened to?

Nonetheless, I was an incredibly shy child around strangers. And new kids. And very often in new places. Looking back I would definitely say I experienced a high level of anxiety when placed in new situations even as a young child.

I would scream and cry whenever my mother dropped me off at daycare. (This upon realizing having a second child meant she had to go back to work.) And I was bad. There was one day that she was forced to take me to work with her because I’d worked myself up from tears into dry heaves.

When I started school for the first time, and every year after throughout elementary school, that first week was always accompanied by a terrible stomach ache each morning.

I did not like the Easter bunny. Nor did I like Santa. These fictional characters were strangers to me. And to be forced into having my photo taken with them meant more tears – and the occasional cry/screaming that emitted by young children in terror.

While I can’t say with any certainty one way or the other if these events had a significant impact on my life, the fact that I remember them (prior to the discovery of the why) is telling. As were the eventual results, which included severe bouts of anxiety, depression, and eventually, agoraphobia.

When I was fourteen, I was the survivor of a much larger trauma. (#metoo) One that I never told my parents about. This of course led to its own unique outcomes and consequences. Destructive behavior. Cutting. Drinking. Behaviors that led to another similar incident when I was sixteen. Something I’ve since learned is way more common than many of us ever realized.

When did it happen?

Fast forward to just before the agoraphobia started. I’m married to my first husband. My son is in elementary school. I’ve been seeing a psychologist for depression and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder.)

The ironic thing about me seeking help for my depression and OCD is that it actually led to my agoraphobia. I had started talking to a mental health professional in an attempt to wrangle my obsessive compulsive behaviors and bring it back under control. I was also exhausted, sad. I slept a lot.

I was exhibiting obsessive compulsive behaviors both at work and at home. At work I was perfect folding shirts and jeans like a crazy person. At home I was also perfect folding shirts and jeans like a crazy person. I was cleaning obsessively and checking and rechecking that everything was always perfectly in place.

What therapy taught me, was that the OCD was my coping mechanism for my anxiety. When I got the OCD under control and stopped those behaviors, that’s when the panic attacks began. The one thing that had helped me cope was taken away. Yet I was still left with unanswered questions on how to heal the root cause of my depression and anxiety to begin with.

Modern medicine offered SSRI’s as the answer. In the end however, holistic therapy was the only thing that addressed the core problem.

It’s all in your head.

I had that first panic attack shortly afterwards while at work. I remember it so clearly. It was the start of the holiday season. Online sales had yet to entirely change the face of retail at this point. So holidays meant hoards of people, many of whom were impatient.

I working at Gap at the time. And as I was walking across the crowded hall of the mall from Baby Gap to Gap, it hit. It’d been so long since I’d had a panic attack that I didn’t really recognize it as one at first. From there however, my condition spiraled.

I could only avoid having panic attacks at work if I was intensely focused on a task, such as resetting a wall display.

Then it got worse. And it kept on getting worse. However, because the attacks would happen so quickly in succession, and last for so long, I didn’t recognize them as panic attacks. I thought maybe I had developed adult asthma.

I went to my regular doctor. He told me that what I was experiencing was all in my head. I didn’t believe him. My mind wouldn’t let me see those attacks for what they really were. Maybe that meant giving up control to view them that way. I don’t really know. What I do know, is that I was – and still am – quite stubborn.

Testing, testing. 1. 2. 3.

I had my doctor refer me to another physician to be tested for asthma. By the time the tests for asthma came back negative, I wasn’t able to work at all. I had started having panic attacks in the house. Room by room until only my office and bedroom were panic attack free.

Eventually, the only time I didn’t have a panic attack, was if I was in bed reading or watching television.

I couldn’t have a normal conversation. I had panic attacks during telephone calls. My panic attacks were so intense, and lasted so long, that I literally had to pause after every word when talking to catch my breath. It was like I’d run a mile and then tried to have a discussion. My heart still pacing. My lungs still gasping to find air.

My now ex-husband used to come home at lunch while I was in the shower upstairs. He’s sneak into the bathroom just to scare me. When I started locking the bathroom door, he’d jimmy the lock. So I started having panic attacks in the shower. This led to me taking showers in the downstairs basement – where it felt like I could breathe.

I finally accepted my condition as being in my head. I accepted that I was having panic attacks. And, I was diagnosed with agoraphobia. At this point my panic attacks were so debilitating, I was told, had I not been so stubborn, I would have been housebound.

So I started taking an SSRI drug to manage the agoraphobia. Even with a high dose of SSRI medication, I would still have panic attacks. They were what one might consider a “normal” panic attack at that point, accompanied by debilitating tension headaches. So I took benzodiazepines to manage what the SSRI’s couldn’t. (These days I take CBD oil for anxiety, stress and the resulting pain that manifests from these symptoms. Use coupon code: ref0716498 for $10 off.)

Life is all about changes.

I decided to quit my job. (I had the luxury to be able to do so at the time.) For eight months I was a stay at home mother and wife. I mostly learned how to cook – though I’m SO much better now. I read more books than most people do in two lifetimes.

One day, while shopping at Target, I started talking to a stranger in the sales aisle. That was the day I knew I had to do something else with my life. I needed to be a part of the world.

I decided to apply to sell my handmade soaps at our local farmers market on a Monday. I interviewed with market management on a Tuesday. Wednesday, I set up my soaps on top of the concrete tables to sell. I met amazing people. I learned so much. Not just about selling on the market, but about other people and life. I grew. And ever so gradually, I conquered my fears.

Soapmaking, and in turn, selling my handmade soaps on the market, more than anything else, was what really pushed me forward. It’s how I tackled the agoraphobia and anxiety once and for all. It’s how I began to slowly become the person I am today. More than anything, however, it’s how I started healing and finally learned how to be on my own and figure out what I really wanted for my life.

The things we don’t talk about.

Once my first husband and I split up after 9 1/2 years of marriage, I moved back home. Within a few days I’d stopped having panic attacks. They literally just stopped.

Six months later, and during the recession, I finally found a part time job. That job went full time. I learned how to take care of myself. And now, well, I’m here. Growing. Writing. Figuring out the growing and the writing in tandem along the way.

There are lots of things we don’t talk about. But I’m glad, that now, I finally am.

More to explore.

If you enjoyed reading about my journey into and back out of agoraphobia, then I hope you’ll also read my other related article, Online Dating in Your 40’s Is The Equivalent of Running Head First Into a Brick Wall.

If you’d like to receive notification of new articles from Soap Deli News blog, be sure to follow me across all of your favorite social media platforms. You can find me on G+PinterestFacebookTwitterBlog Lovin’, and Instagram. Or, alternately, you can also subscribe to Soap Deli News via email for future updates, DIY projects and recipes.

Why You Shouldn’t Wait Until Retirement to Indulge in Self Care

I may receive compensation from links on this site. See my disclosure policy.

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You hear people talk about self care a lot. And with good reason. Self care isn’t just making sure our basic needs are met. Self care is what recharges us. And while the definition of self care may vary from person to person, in the end it is the key to a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

Why You Shouldn't Wait Until Retirement to Indulge in Self Care. Self care isn't just making sure our basic needs are met. Self care is what recharges us. And while the definition of self care may vary from person to person, in the end it is the key to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. #selfcare #healthandwellness #healthylifestyle

Are you still putting yourself last?

How many times have you heard your parents say, “When I retire, I’ll have the time to do the things I love.” Or, “When I retire, I’ll spend more time outdoors on the hiking trail.” Or perhaps you’re already at that age that you’ve promised these things to yourself. You’ll travel more. You’ll make time for brunch with friends.

The problem with this way of thinking is that you are always planning for a future you. So when you finally arrive at that point in time where you had planned to make changes, those changes never happen.

What generally occurs, instead, is one of two things. You either A) find that you’ve neglected self care (which includes a healthy diet and exercise, fresh air and healthy stress management) and your health won’t allow you to do all those things you planned over the years. Or B) you’ve trained yourself to put other people above you for so long, that when you finally do have the time to focus on yourself, you aren’t able to break a lifetime of behavior in which you were always doing for others.

Do you have trouble saying no?

My mother has always been the type of person who has trouble saying no. “We need someone to be treasurer for ABWA. Can you do it? We really need someone.” “Sure.” “We need someone to organize the PTA fundraiser. No one volunteered this year. Can you help?” “Of course.” “We’d really love to have a Cub Scout troop for our church. Can you run that?” “Absolutely.” “No one signed up to host a Princess House party? Would you mind hosting one?” “I can make that happen.”

Growing up I remember my mother being involved in everything. From work to church to school she did just about everything that anyone asked of her. And as a baby boomer, I feel like she was raised to be that homemaker, parent and activist. At the same time, however, roles were changing. So she also worked full time. She didn’t ask for help. And she eventually ran herself into exhaustion and a nervous breakdown.

My mother retired around two years or so ago. Guess what? She still hasn’t found the time to keep up with her flower gardens. She’s volunteering now more than she did when she was working. And why not? How else do you fill that void that work left open if all you’ve ever done is work?

More recently my grandmother has been unable to take care of herself. So my mother is only home one or two days a week. The rest of the time she’s helping my grandmother with everything she needs as the family prepares to move her into assisted living.

All of those things my mother said she’d do once she retired? Well, she hasn’t done them yet.

You shouldn’t wait until retirement to indulge in self care because self care is not an indulgence. Self care is a must for a happy, healthy life. Self care is a must for managing stress so you don’t get overwhelmed. Self care is healthcare. (Also, learning how to say “no” is pretty empowering too.)

Why You Shouldn't Wait Until Retirement to Indulge in Self Care. Self care isn't just making sure our basic needs are met. Self care is what recharges us. And while the definition of self care may vary from person to person, in the end it is the key to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. #selfcare #healthandwellness #healthylifestyle

An introduction to Soulplant Apothecary.

Recently I had the opportunity to try, what I consider, self care products from a small company called Soulplant Apothecary. Based in Zagreb, Croatia, this little Etsy shop is owned by Kristijana. Kritijana not only works as a transformational life-coach, aromatherapist and herbalist, she also crafts personal care products that she believes can help people live more soulful lives.

The principles behind Soulplant Apothecary tie together plant love, skin care and soul healing. So it’s easy to use these handmade products to better connect with your inner self. A daily skin care routine not only helps to soothe your body, it can also help calm your mind. So take that extra few minutes each day to really focus on your skin care needs.

I love all of the products I tried from Soulplant Apothecary. My hope is that you will love them as much as I do. As well, be sure to utilize skin care as a daily reminder to take care of not just your physical health, but your emotional health as well.

Sacred Space Room & Body Mist from Soulplant Apothecary. This is a truly sacred blend of purifying essential oils and mindfully chosen floral waters. It helps dispense stagnant energy in your space and/or aura.

My favorite self care product from Soulplant Apothecary.

My favorite product from Soulplant Apothecary has to be Kristijana’s sacred space room + body mist. As a person who has struggled with anxiety throughout my life, I love that this essential oil mist helps to ground my energy and cleanse my space. Dubbed as a magic mist for soulful living, this mist been super helpful at helping me focus and concentrate on my writing and upcoming projects. Plus it smells amazing – something similar to sitting outdoors on a damp forest floor enveloped by woods and rich dirt.

In addition to the sacred space room + body mist, you can also shop for three other aromatherapeutic scents including happiness, divine feminine – and for him – divine masculine. Try your favorite scent to help you destress when you meditate. (Soulplant Apothecary’s sacred dust smudging blend is also lovely for this purpose.) Or cuddle up with that book you keep meaning to read. You deserve a break in your day to let the tension and stressors in your life go.

This hair love restore & heal hair serum from Soulplant Apothecary is a potent blend of more powerful plant oils, just to mention some of them: argan, macadamia and rare precious gem of nature - abyssinia oil. This composition is meant to protect hair from damage and to substitute commercial conditioners. Rich in fatty acids and vitamins, this elixir will add boost of glow and health to your hair.

My roommate’s favorite self care find.

Having survived an emotionally abusive marriage followed by breast cancer, my roommate Bambi springs for a haircut and color as a treat to herself when she has a little extra cash. She’s a fan of flat ironing her hair (when it’s not raining) to smooth out her naturally kinky, curly hair. Therefore it’s no surprise that her favorite product from Soul Apothecary is the hair love restore + heal hair serum.

Thoughtfully crafted with a blend of argan, macadamia and rare abyssinia oil, this plant based hair elixir protects hair from damage and gives hair a healthy shine. Out of the plethora of hair care products on the market today, Bambi rates this hair serum as THE absolute best hair care product she’s used for straightening her hair. For super damaged hair, consider Soul Apothecary’s strength + volume version of hair love.

FLOWER MANTRA | Exfoliating plant powder from Soulplant Apothecary. This is a gentle exfoliating powder, made of differently granulated plant powders, clays, and flowers. Include it in your daily skin care routine to help your skin glow and look fresh. It gently exfoliates skin, leaving it soft and clean.

In addition to these products, Soulplant Apothecary also carries a wonderful flower mantra exfoliating plant powder, nourishing face cream, ritual bath salts and yoni sacred feminine oil – to restore the connection with your feminine power center. (Which is a whole other kind of very special self care. *wink*) To learn more about Soulplant Apothecary or to browse all of the great products created by Kristijana, visit her Etsy shop here.

More self care rituals that are easy to adopt.

• Spend a few minutes, either at the beginning or the end of the day, to write in a journal. This will help you visualize the achievement of your goals and be more mindful.

• Take a mid-day walk at lunchtime to boost your energy levels.

• Turn off your ringer and take a break from your phone. No one should be tethered to a phone 24/7. Choose a time frame out of everyday to disconnect from all your digital devices and just sit outdoors, watch the clouds and take in the view.

• Pick a day to say no to social media each week. Instead, invite a friend or neighbor over for a cup of tea and engage in a real conversation about something other than the news.

• Reduce stress with simple activities such as spending time with a pet, painting a picture, making soap, planting a flower or even dancing – like no one is watching, of course!

What are some of your favorite ways to practice self care? I’d love to hear your tips for reducing stress, practicing mindfulness or simply how you take time out for yourself each day. Alternately, if you are currently struggling with where you are in life, I recommend reading my article titled, You Are Not a Failure (Tips to Change Your Perspective & Get Your Mojo Back.)

To receive updates from Soap Deli News blog, be sure to follow me across all of your favorite social media platforms. You can find and follow me on PinterestFacebookTwitterBlog Lovin’ and Instagram. Or, alternately, you can also subscribe to Soap Deli News via email for future updates, DIY projects and recipes.

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