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Living With Agoraphobia - Personal Story

By Anonymous - Melbourne


I have been following with interest Janesse’s story on her journey with agoraphobia over the years and acknowledge how far she has come from being completely housebound and now able to drive and go out for walks.  From what I can tell, she loves the beach which she is now able to walk to on warm days.  For Janesse to be able to do this now must be very liberating – I envy her because I am no where near to be able to do any of those things, in fact the opposite.

My story is depressing but still I want to share it. My life since the age of 25 has felt like I am doing a jail term, when in fact, the irony of my predicament is that it should be the person who inflicted his pain on me doing the ‘time’, not ME.  I was raped at the age of 22 by someone I knew and someone who kept saying he loved me.  Being young and very naive I believed this person could change but that was not to be the case.  

For the next two years I experienced, on a constant basis, FEAR- ‘real fear’ – fear being inflicted on me in three ways.  I was continuously threatened physically, sexually and mentally.  I would say that the mental and psychological abuse was perhaps the worse.

Before I met this person (partner), I believe I had a pretty good life.  I had never been hit or abused by my parents and that goes for my siblings as well.  My family was well connected in our community, they were very sociable, loved going to parties, dinner dances, picnics and long drives to beaches and mountains with other families.

I didn’t like school very much so I was in the workforce by the age of 18 working full time.  When I wasn’t working, I remember Friday and Saturday nights I would hit the town with my friends – at first my parents were reluctant to let me go to nightclubs as they came from a strict European background, but they trusted me, and with their blessing they allowed me the chance to experience the nightlife that I was desperately looking forward to.   

From the age of 18 to 22 I enjoyed going out with my friends by dancing the night away at many clubs, parties and spending the summers at the beach.  I had great friends but unfortunately, most of them abandoned me soon after I got together with my sadistic partner; I don’t blame some of them because they didn’t want to be around him because he was controlling, aggressive and arrogant.

My partner and I bought a house in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne which I thought would be a good thing, a place of our own to live in – it was a beautiful house with a lovely garden full of rose bushes all around.  My partner was lazy to say the least and expected me to do everything, including the gardening.  By the time we had moved into our house I worked at a very high pressured job which was very stressful and having to go home and cook and clean was wearing me out, but I will still coping.  My partner was not good at holding jobs down; in the time that we were together he changed jobs three to four times.  He either got into trouble with his temper or just walked out… “Oh well he had little old me”, who was working full time and   making good money.  Speaking of money he controlled my money, he controlled how I spent it which was very little of it; I could not buy any clothes unless he said I could, something which was quite foreign to me since our relationship.

HELL, I was living with an aggressive, controlling and jealous man.  I could not look at another man without him thinking I was having an affair, which he constantly accused me of.   I now know that he had a mental illness which he covered up pretty well until it became quite obvious to me that my life was in danger.  He would snap and have fits of rage where at times he would attack me with a knife or other objects.  In his weird warped mind he thought he could control me this way and get me to do everything he wanted.   For a while it worked, I was so scared of him and I did everything he asked of me.  I could not question him.

There were a lot of times when I escaped our house, be it at day time or in the middle of the night and sought refuge at my parent’s house, but for some reason I found myself back with him a few days later because he used his charm to persuade me to return to him.  You are probably thinking why would I go back?  I ask myself the same thing to this day.  There are a lot of women who are in relationships as I write this because they have no other alternatives, either they are constricted by finances, have children and don’t have a supportive network.  My immediate family knew of my problems but I had not opened up to my colleagues and some friends.

Two years after we have moved in together I finally had the courage to make that final break from him; I could no longer live like a slave and be someone’s punching bag or worse, hear words coming out of his mouth not knowing what he meant which completely scared the living daylights out of me.

Finally, I was back in my family’s safe arms and it felt like I was free from this mad man who abused me for the previous two to three years.  Of course I went through a depressive time for a few weeks and still scared that he might just turn up at my parents house and cause trouble…that of course was in the back of my mind that he could still hurt me and my family if he wanted to.

As I felt I had my wings again I could fly and do what I bloody wanted, do things that he would not let me do whilst we were together, together with close friends (the ones I had left) started going on shopping sprees until I maxed out my card, but that was okay because I believed I deserved it and had the money to do it.  I thought things were fine with me and they ‘kind of’ were for a few months until I found myself going to pubs or restaurants and felt like I was closed in and suffocating.  I wasn’t sure what was going on with me.  There were times that I felt anxious and just wanted to flee the restaurant.  There were many times that my friends had to drive me home – I felt safe at home.

By this stage my work was suffering as driving to work was starting to become difficult. I hated getting stuck in traffic, especially stuck at traffic lights.  So what I decided to do is map out ways to get to work through back streets and I had spoken to my boss if I could start earlier and leave earlier to miss the traffic which worked for a while.  The job I had at that time as I said earlier was very high pressured and at least a couple of times a week I was expected to be at team meetings, something I could do before, but now all of a sudden I dreaded; I dreaded being stuck in a room with 8 – 10 other people and was making excuses to go to the ladies room.  My colleagues were supportive and understanding and in particular my boss, who could see I was heading for a meltdown; with rushing like a mad driver to and from work, missing meetings and being very anxious.  She pulled me up one day and said that she knew what I was going through as she had anxiety herself some years ago and she   believed that I should really think about resigning and taking a break from that particular job.  I disagreed with her and said “no I am okay, I can do this”…she respected my wishes and left me alone.

A few days later I went to my general practitioner to get another script for valium – yes my doctor put me straight on valium when I started experiencing anxiety.  On this particular visit he took one look at me and said “are you trying to kill yourself”?  I said, “What are you talking about?”  He said “look at yourself; you are so skinny bordering on anorexia”.  I said “but I have no appetite whatsoever”.  He just grabbed me and straight away he gave me a vitamin injection and also a script for vitamins to increase my appetite.

I went home and I felt dreadful about how things had panned out for me, remembering what my boss said a few days earlier and the doctor telling me if I am not careful I could become anorexic.  Thoughts were just rushing through my mind and I started to become quite anxious.  I spoke to my parents and said that I believe I should stop working for a while and perhaps remove the work pressure that was something less to worry about.  They agreed; they said don’t worry about work for now, try and heal yourself and we will take care of you.  I remember this was on an early Friday evening.  I rang my boss and told her that I had decided to resign immediately. She accepted my resignation and wished me well.

I went to lay down in my bedroom thinking “okay things will get better now” but once I put my head on the pillow the room started spinning and I was so scared I didn’t know what was happening to me.  I yelled out to my mother and she asked what was wrong and I said I don’t know; I started pacing around the house like a desperate person looking for answers.  I finally rang a colleague who lived nearby and she took me to St. Vincent’s Hospital – well that in itself was a nightmare.  I waited in casualty for about 6 hours, was around midnight before a psychiatrist came to see me and told me I was experiencing high anxiety and panic attacks.  She said that if I wanted to stay the night she would find me a bed, but I said no I wanted to go home.  As my colleague and I were walking out I suddenly felt this dread of fear come over me. I said to my colleague I am   going back in and going to ask them if I can stay the night as I felt safe there.  I did this and the next day, early in the morning my parents had been in touch with my GP who had organised for me to be hospitalised in a private hospital nearby our home.

I spent a week in a private hospital; I did not receive any psychological therapy, the purpose of this stay was to be looked after and get the rest that I desperately needed and try to increase my appetite.

I had taken close to a year off work and in that time I had seen several psychiatrists, who in my opinion did not help me in any way except put me on medication, not antidepressants, but benzodiazepine drugs.  I didn’t know much about anti-depressants or benzodiazepine medication and of course you think if the doctor is giving this to you it must good – how wrong was I?

After being unemployed for a year I decided to look for work again – by this time I was suffering from agoraphobia but felt  that if I could get a job close to home I would be able to manage that.  I was applying for positions like receptionists for small suburban companies thinking I won’t have much pressure; no luck there as after many interviews, everybody kept telling me I was over qualified.  I said it didn’t matter, but most employers believed I would be wasting my skills as a receptionist.  I was fed up by now and decided to go in the field that I was qualified in and of course by my second interview I had been offered a position.  Luckily enough the job was in the next suburb to my home.  I still found it difficult driving especially stopping at traffic lights, but I managed that for the next three and a half years until I had another meltdown, this time due to the pressure of the work; working overtime, working through lunch hours and expected to come in early and the list goes on.

My journey then changed.  I met a guy and we eventually moved in together in a home I had bought some years earlier.  He understood my anxiety and agoraphobia as he himself had some anxiety.  He knew I didn’t like long drives and the nightlife anymore due my issues, but he helped me get out again.  Sometimes I went out reluctantly and scared out of my wits, but I knew I had him to keep me safe and calm.  We went on long trips, and he was very patient with me when I needed to stop every so often to go to the toilet.  My partner had a huge extended family who were party animals.  I was getting very tired of having to go out every weekend to the various functions that a family member had organised and was getting rather anxious before an event.  

Unfortunately, our relationship ended on good terms three years later and again I found myself alone, this time literally on my own.  I wanted to move back home but surprisingly my mother said she believed I would be better off alone so I could become independent – in a way I think she was right.  

By this stage I had no job and was living alone and thought I had to find some sort of work to keep myself occupied.  Whilst picking up my mail from my letterbox I found a leaflet about a neighborhood house a few streets away from me advertising that they were looking for volunteers.  I rang them up and told them I was interested.  I managed to get to the neighborhood house by walking (didn’t have my car at that time).  I sat down and spoke to the coordinator and his secretary and basically told them my story and that I could probably manage a few days of voluntary work with them.  They welcomed me on board and that is what I continued to do for some years, until I branched out into doing work from home.

I am still working at home having a steady job, but it’s hard for anyone who has agoraphobia to find work that they can do at home.

During the last ten years I have had my ups and downs and believe me there have been more DOWNS then ups.  I managed to come off a benzodiazepine drug which took me nearly a year as I decided to do it slow which I was proud of, but unfortunately this brought back some old and new fears.  I had rang Reconnexion about my new fears and spoke to a lovely lady who had also weaned herself of Xanax and she said she experienced the same thing as me, so I felt that I was not alone.

I can literally go on forever about the many different challenges I have had to face in the last 20 plus years but I will leave it at this.  

The one thing I want to get across is that if you are ever faced with a situation where you are abused, seek help.  When I was raped, I did not seek help, I just wanted to forget about it.  When I left my sadistic partner I should have gone straight into therapy instead of taking time off work – yes take time off, but seek out a good therapist.

I still have hope that one day I will be able to enjoy my life and feel the freedom I once had without the anxiety lurking around.


Thank you for reading my story.

 

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