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My journey through agoraphobia - Part 12

By Janesse (ADAVIC member from Sydney) - written March 2014

This page posted 25th March 2014

[see also: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11]

Part 12

I hope everyone is doing well. To those of you who are not doing so well, my thoughts go out to you and my wishes for more peaceful days.
I have had passed on to me through ADAVIC a couple of questions in regards to whether I have ever taken medication, so I thought I would answer that question.
The answer is no. I have never taken medication for my agoraphobia, anxiety and depression.
Medication is a complex issue. Before I discuss my journey without medication, I would like to make a couple of very important observations:
  • All mentions of medication in this article are based on my own thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Anyone who is considering medication should discuss this with a doctor.
  • I am neither for nor against medication. I hope to find what works best for you.
  • Judging people for their choices in life is never helpful. Offering support and alternative options is far more beneficial.

I have friends with agoraphobia who are on medication; I have friends with depression who take medication for short periods (under GP instruction). I also know people like me, who have never taken medication.
Much like other physical or mental conditions, there are many different ways of treating illness.  We are all different. Our bodies and minds may respond differently to different things. While there are common factors in all conditions, how people respond to treatment (conventional or alternative) can be different.
I chose not to take medication at the beginning of my agoraphobia for many different reasons. I think the primary reason was that I truly believed that for me, the solution lay within my own mind and heart. I felt that within my own emotions and thoughts laid a solution. I believed, and still do, that a therapist could help me unlock and unravel this. For me that has proven to be true.
There were some other factors at play as well. I previously had severe allergic reactions to some medications for physical conditions that were quite scary (and unpleasant!), and now get concerned when taking any form of new medications (including alternative medicines such as herbal or naturopathic). I thought that unless it was totally necessary, I wouldn’t go down that path.
Also, I have known of people having bad side effects to anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants while trying to find the right medication. Side effects including increased anxiety and panic, increased depression, restlessness, sleeplessness etc.
While that doesn’t happen to everyone and is often a very temporary thing, I didn’t like the sound of that. I was already experiencing all of those things and wanted less, not more. I was also scared that medication would  make my depression worse and tip me over the edge to suicide. That is how I felt. I am not a qualified medical   professional in any way. I am just sharing my own personal thoughts, beliefs and thinking process.
I was suffering and struggling a great deal with my agoraphobia, anxiety, and depression.  I desperately wanted a way out, but something always stopped me from going down the medication path. Call it instinct or stubbornness, I am not sure.
I also want to stress that I have always had therapy for my conditions, right from the very start.  Those of you who have been following my journey and have read my previous articles know that I had a very difficult time finding the right therapist for me.  During this painful time I despaired.  I thought I couldn’t be helped and that there was no hope for me at all.
Over time, I saw six different psychologists, each for more than three months, some for six months or more.   Finally, I found a wonderful therapist (psychotherapist) that I not only clicked with, but who also offered me an alternative to CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). CBT had not worked for me.
During all this time I read every book on anxiety and every self-help book every written! Some were helpful, some were not, but I was gaining knowledge and that is never a bad thing.
Then I came across the book “In Stillness Conquer Fear” by Pauline McKinnon. I can honestly say that finding the right therapist and Pauline’s book (and meditation CD) changed my life.
In the book, Pauline tells the story of her own journey with agoraphobia. It was the first book I had read where I felt there was a person who really understood what I was going through.  Pauline was introduced to stillness meditation by the late Dr Ainslie Meares and it unlocked her recovery process. She then went on to become a psychotherapist and teacher of stillness meditation. She now runs The Stillness Meditation Centre in Melbourne.
When I was much younger, I had practiced mediation in a very basic form and found it very beneficial to my overall wellbeing. However, I let the practice of doing it slips away from my life.  In any case, Pauline’s Stillness Meditation was different and a very specific type of meditation.
I started meditating every day. I have talked about this many times in these articles.
I keep talking about it because it worked for me, and truly changed my life in so many ways.
For me, the key to recovery was therapy and daily meditation. For me it took time. Would I have recovered more quickly had I taken medication? Possibly.  Possibly not.
As time went on in my illness I did at times reconsider the medication issue. But another strong factor that came into play for me was that I knew people that had been on anti-anxiety medication for some years and yet they still had anxiety and still couldn’t leave the house. If it wasn’t making them any better, then I couldn’t see the point in starting down that path.
When I first became ill with anxiety, depression and then agoraphobia I just kept thinking I would wake up one day it would all be gone and I would feel normal again. I wouldn’t have to do anything that it would just disappear as if by magic.
There is no magic, no instant way out. Whether it is medication or meditation, nothing is a magic cure.  There is a cure but it takes finding the right treatment path for you. What I do believe strongly is whether you are taking medication or not, you must have therapy.
Again it is important to find the right type of therapy and a therapist you feel comfortable with. As I mentioned, CBT did not work for me, but psychotherapy has. As a very brief explanation, CBT is a behavioral based treatment with a lot of changing the way you think.
Psychotherapy is more a talking based therapy, more emotion based, often dealing with the way you feel and with your deeper feelings and also how you feel about yourself, i.e. self-value or self-worth in order to change your behavior.   
Another point I would like to address in regard to medication is the “chemical imbalance in the brain” phrase.
The reason I would like to bring this up is I would just hate anyone who has been told they have a chemical imbalance in the brain to latch onto that phrase and believe they are not or will never be able to change because of this “chemical imbalance”.
Yes medication may be able to change the chemicals in the brain and make them more balanced but medication is not the only thing that is able to do that.  Therapy can do that, exercise can do that, diet can do that and of course meditation can do that.  (Actually it has been proven many times that meditation does in fact change your brain chemistry for the better, so that is not just my opinion that is fact!)  Therapy, meditation, and exercise changed me and my brain.
As I said at the beginning I am not anti-medication in any way, I just wanted to explain why in my journey I did not take medication and some of my views.
Recovery from agoraphobia is possible without medication. I am living proof of that.

Sending all of you who are struggling with agoraphobia, anxiety and depression heartfelt healing.

Love Janesse from Sydney


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