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 was 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 PinterestFacebookTwitterBlog Lovin’, and Instagram. Or, alternately, you can also subscribe to Soap Deli News via email for future updates, DIY projects and recipes.

Online Dating in Your 40’s Is The Equivalent of Running Head First Into a Brick Wall

Follow me: Pinterest / Instagram / Facebook / Twitter / Email

I may receive compensation from links on this site. As an Amazon Associate I also earn from qualifying purchases. See my disclosure policy.

My boyfriend and I both tried online dating. This was prior to meeting one another through, well, online dating. Apparently he stuck around because he thought it was refreshing that I wasn’t fake. There was no pretense. Just me in my, sometimes overwhelming and slightly obnoxious, glory. Greg and I have been dating for around five months or so. I can’t give you an exact time frame. Something that Greg is always (teasingly) giving me flak for.

Online dating in your 40s is the equivalent of running head first into a brick wall. It leaves you dizzy and confused, wondering just what the F happened. Everyone has baggage. Some people though, they have something inherently wrong with them.

The other day I asked Greg what he liked about me. You know’ what really made me special to him. I often give Greg flak for being absent from social media. Plus, poor guy, Greg has like one friend here, having moved from Atlanta. So I wanted to be sure he wasn’t hanging around because he was lonely or some silly nonsense.

As Greg has only been living in Virginia since December, it’s completely plausible that he’s with me through my indecisiveness and hormones for purely selfish reasons. Although, he did let me slather him in sunless tanner, take photos and then write a tell all.

Tell me why you love me.

“So. Why is it EXACTLY that you’re with me?” I asked the other day.

His first response? “Well,” he said, “you have a dog.”

Okay. I get that. My dog is pretty awesome. (He’s a dachshund after all.) So I guess I can let that slide. I mean, quite honestly, I would NEVER date a guy who owned a cat. Not that I hate cats. I just think dudes that have cats are a little off. Allergies aside, there’s just something weird about them that doesn’t mesh well with my personality. So when I was swiping left during this whole online dating debacle, then left again, then left again… (Le sigh.) Anyone who owned cats was an automatic no. Of course, mostly everyone else was too.

“So what else? You can’t JUST be with me for my dog.”

(My dog on the other hand thinks he’s people, so he’s finding the whole first answer thing totally plausible. However, here I am thinking that his next answer better be something about me specifically or I’m walking right out that door.)

“I really like that you’re outgoing. It helps me out because I’m shy and don’t know what to talk about in a lot of situations.”

Whoa. Hold up. Let’s stop right there before you dig this hole any deeper. These answers weren’t exactly what I was going for. For someone who doesn’t forget birthdays or holidays, is generally romantic and occasionally passionate, I was expecting a much different answer. But hey. He likes Star Wars and he can cook. Which, according to my friends, are apparently two very desirable traits to have in a boyfriend. (Or anyone for that matter.)

So, just how did I get here? Well, that requires a little back story.

Into the (not so) way back.

My BFF Bambi (who is not a stripper but an educational director at the zoo – and yes, that is her real name) had been on OK Cupid after she and her second husband split. He was a nightmare, unfortunately. Both a drug addict and emotionally abusive, this guy actually treated Bambi worse after she developed breast cancer. Luckily the judge had enough sense to see this and ordered him removed from the home.

Prior to that, however, she had been staying with a friend for her own safety. All while she continued to pay the mortgage and all of the utilities on her house while her ex-husband lived in her home, rent free. Within that time frame that she stayed elsewhere, he not only stole from her, he also quit his job. He trashed her house and even went so far as to hook up with a fellow addict. A girl with an active felony arrest warrant for both for heroin and gun charges.

When Bambi’s ex, who quickly exhausted his own friend’s patience, finally moved back to Wisconsin to stay with his parents, it was one of her best days ever. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, her rebound was a two-faced liar and a possessive control freak. Which proves just how easy it is for any of us to fall back into that trap of emotional abuse. (Much like I did, myself.)

However, like me, Bambi is a fighter. She’s a scorpio and I’m a gemini. Together we’re tough as nails. But most of all, we are survivors.

Online dating in your 40’s is its own special version of hell.

As Bambi had been married for the past ten years, she was not in the know when it came to “modern day” online dating. So she asked me for suggestions. I gave her a few of my usual go to online dating sites and she signed up.

Then my own marriage, of just six short months, fell apart.

Bambi had been on a few dates prior to me moving in with her over Christmas weekend. My husband of six months and I split just a few week prior to that. I started therapy around the same time. So, as is the way of women, Bambi and I, both freshly single, found ourselves sharing too much wine one evening while simultaneously talking and laughing, discussing her dates and other general gossip that two best friends share.

This inevitably led to a discussion of online dating sites. Which were the best, which were the worst, and which ones had at least 3-5 people we knew. Bambi was particularly a fan of OK Cupid because of their detailed and EXHAUSTING list of personality and lifestyle questions. So, while in the midst being half drunk (okay we where schmammered) on wine, I signed up and we started answering question after question on my profile, together, laughing all the while.

While Bambi eventually met her now current boyfriend, it took me a while to catch up with her. Likewise, her online dating experience was not like my online dating experience. Because mine was a complete and total nightmare.

Let me tell you a little something about dating in your 40’s. Online dating in your 40s is the equivalent of deliberating running head first into a brick wall. It leaves you dizzy and confused, wondering just what the F happened. Everyone has baggage. However some people out there, well, they have something inherently wrong with them.

Don’t get me wrong. I am, or was, just as F’d up as the next person. I have my own baggage from some pretty messed up relationships that left me with me with my own set of PTSD symptoms. I mean my first husband contributed to me developing agoraphobia. He used to sneak into the bathroom while I was showering and scare the crap out of me – over and over – and even if I locked the door. So going into this whole online dating thing was like pulling out a bag of tricks and seeing which “me” was going to come out as a result.

Anxiety is a bitch. Online dating with anxiety is a bigger bitch. So I drank too much on first dates. And third dates. Basically, I relived the same cycle of madness from previous failed relationships until I found a holistic therapist that actually helped me. It wasn’t until Greg that I really started to pull my shit together. Everything before Greg, however, was a total mess. So I documented the hell out of my most interesting online dates in what I call “The Dating Files.”

Online dating in your 40s is the equivalent of running head first into a brick wall. It leaves you dizzy and confused, wondering just what the F happened. True stories of terrible online dates. #dating #onlinedating #disasters

The (online) dating files.

While Bambi and I were both able to navigate our way into healthy, happy relationships, there is some unfortunate drama that preceded those accomplishments. Here are a few of the worst.

Entry #1:

Sometimes swiping left works. Other times weirdos message you and you have no control over it. There was one guy with one of the worst dating profiles I’d ever seen. He told me that I would be perfect if I only smoked. He was non-mobile and a drug user, so, for me at least, I think the whole “non-smoker” thing worked in my favor.

Entry #2:

Another guy that I messaged a few times seemed normal, Not to mention successful. Just before we met for the first time however, he asked if I had a problem dating married men. I blocked him immediately afterwards.

Entry #3:

The first guy I went on an actual date with, after joining an online dating site, was an alcoholic musician. He claimed to have Lyme disease. Although he did lack the deteriorating health symptoms of undiagnosed Lyme. My guess is he actually has fibro. Buy hey, who am I? That being said, I understood the self-medicating thing to deal with pain. Unfortunately, I really think this guy just had a death wish. Not only did he love to drink and drive – because when did he not drink? He also never buckled up.

He wrote me the most beautiful song for Christmas about a week after we met. Regrettably this guy was not only a musician, he was also a narcissist. As if the alcoholism wasn’t bad enough (he’d crush beers in the morning to avoid DT’s) he made me cry three times over a four week period. The kicker with this guy was, on his online dating profile, he described himself as the perfect Southern gentleman.

There was also the story (and he LOVED telling stories about himself to anyone who would listen) about him drinking beer on his drives from Virginia to Tennessee. He’d occasionally take his elementary school aged daughter on these trips. To save time, and avoid stopping for pee breaks, he’d also have his daughter hold a soda bottle for him so he could pee while was driving. Yeah. No words.

The only good thing that came out of the few weeks I hung out with this dude was that Bambi was able to get her water heater, dishwasher and garbage disposal fixed. (Side note: Musicians, no matter how F’d up, are harder to ditch. My second husband included.)

Entry #4:

This next guy was an even bigger doozy than the last one. It started out with him telling me that I should talk to him on the phone because, back in my day, there no texting. Somehow, and it was probably the dry sense of humor, we did date ever so briefly. He was an even worse alcoholic than the first guy, with an unhealthy co-dependency on his younger brother.

We’d meet up for brunch on the weekend. What this actually meant was he was going to be wasted by 11:30am and he’d forget about eating entirely. He also forgot to shower. Or just didn’t care. He kept airline flight bottles of vodka in his car to drink on breaks. He was also waiting on a court date for his second DUI. And he’d scream at me just to turn around and beg me not to leave. If he thought I was mad the phone calls and texts were incessant.

I finally had to block him in the end. Sadly this was after having to give him a shower because he wasn’t physically capable and then help him locate his car the next morning.

Entry #5:

And then other guys still were simply just annoying because they were so indecisive. You can have a great white collar job, kick ass hobbies and be attractive, but if it takes a week and a half for you to plan a dinner date, I have to take a pass.

Final thoughts (and online dating advice.)

Someone once told me (see entry #4) that his Dad gave him this advice. “The quickest way to get over someone is to get back under someone else.” This is terrible advice. It’s also likely one of the reasons online dating can be so disastrous. This guy’s dad was not only emotionally and physically abusive, he also cheated on his wife on a regular basis. So you can see how unhealthy relationships lead to more unhealthy relationships in a cycle that never ends.

If you’re dipping your toes into the online dating pool and it feels like a trip through wonderland – raise your standards. Change your behaviors. Also, from personal experience, if you’re really angry about your last relationship, you won’t find happiness until you’re able to let that anger go. It’s a hard lesson. As is learning to change the thoughts and patterns of behavior that landed you in that mess to begin with.

Quite honestly, I met Greg because I started choosing guys who “weren’t my type.” And I almost missed out. Because, for me, it didn’t start out with that instant connection – that spark – that I was used to. Instead it was slow and steady. There was no rush to live life to the fullest like you’re speeding on coke because you could die at any moment. I had to step back, relearn and then move forward.

Finally, my therapist recommended the book, Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist: How to End the Drama and Get On with Life. If you find you’re also part of an unhealthy cycle, this book will help you see the other side of that so you can finally break free.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in my article titled, You Are Not a Failure.

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.