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My Journey Through Agoraphobia - Part 3

This page added 29 November 2010
By Janesse - written December 2007

[see also: Part 1, Part 2]

Hi everyone,

Well it is that time of year again isn’t it? Love it or hate it, here it is again.

I think Christmas is a difficult time for many of us who suffer from agoraphobia, anxiety or depression.

Personally I find it difficult, in many ways.

My beloved mum passed away from breast cancer over 20 years ago now, and my dear old bugger of a dad passed away almost ten years ago. As I am an only child, that leaves just me, no other real family. Christmas always seems to remind me how alone I often feel.

Agoraphobia and depression can often make us feel alone and isolated anyway, and for me Christmas just compounds that feeling. Being such a family time, it does also remind me how much I miss my Mum and Dad, the grief still seems very real on Christmas Day for me. I also feel extremely sad for everyone who is alone. I can’t help but think of the people who are truly all alone and lonely. I guess because I feel like that a little bit too, my heart really hurts for them.

I have seen this first hand. Before my agoraphobia and before I was with my partner, I spent Christmas Day volunteering at a Christmas Lunch that was put on for people who were alone. It was a happy day in many ways but it was also sad to see how many people there are who are alone. I still wonder about some of the people I met that day and how they are.

The other issues are of course how you are going to be feeling, anxiety-wise or depression-wise on the day, and the days leading up to it and after it. I always worry about how I am going to cope, whatever arrangements have been made for the day.

For the last couple of years my partner has gone to his family’s house for Christmas Day. I have not been up to going there, with the drive and coping with the lunch when I have been so anxious. So I stay home alone. This is difficult sometimes but at least I know my partner is coming home at the end of the day, and that does make it easier. As I said my heart goes out to those who are truly all alone.

When I am at home alone I can usually hear family celebrations of neighbours. This does make me think that everyone else in the world is with their family except for me.

Again, this for me is not just about a Christmas issue; it is an agoraphobic issue, as I could go to my partner’s family house but because of my anxiety I can’t. We did have Christmas at our house a few times and while I do prefer that, there is still the issue of coping with your anxiety and depression on the day.

I also know from speaking to other people with agoraphobia, that having to have Christmas at your house all the time can sometimes be a nuisance for the family, so that you end up feeling guilty that everyone has had to come to you.

Another problem that agoraphobics face is how to shop for Christmas if we can’t go out, we can’t buy presents. These days of course with the internet there is internet shopping which makes things easier for agoraphobics.

I think it is not just the actual day of Christmas itself but also the whole Christmas holiday break that can make us feel more anxious or depressed. Our regular routine may be disrupted by the holidays and that can make us feel anxious. Also your therapist, family or friends that you may look to for help may go away for the holidays and that can make us feel more vulnerable to anxiety or depression as well.

So how do we cope with all of that? My best advice is to talk with your therapist about any concerns you have and they will help you put some coping strategies in place. As I have said many times here, I am not a doctor or a therapist but I have found some things that help me to cope and I am hoping they may be of help to you as well.

Planning in advance is a good idea. Give yourself plenty of time to do things and to organise things. Plan things and space them out so you give yourself time to recover from anything stressful such as shopping (that is of course if you can manage to get to the shops).

With things such as shopping for presents or food shopping, go really early in the morning as soon as the shops open. They are always less crowded then and you can shop in peace. I found my anxiety was always much less if I wasn’t trying to cope with a crowded car park or shop, as well as just the anxiety of going out.

Give yourself a break. If you are at the stage of your agoraphobia where going out over the Christmas period is just too much, then give yourself a break and shop online. There are so many shopping sites for presents and for food now you do have a lot of choice. Sure, you have to pay a delivery fee but that is worth it if you are going to be less stressed.

For a long time on Christmas Day I would not let myself be sad. I would say to myself there are so many other people worse off than you, how can you be sad? Now that may be very true, but what saying that to yourself does is it dismisses and ignores your own feelings of sadness, or loneliness. One of the biggest things I have learnt is that it is okay to feel sad or lonely.

What I used to do is try to jolly myself out of it but that never really worked. I would end up anxious because all those ignored feelings were bubbling up underneath the surface and had to come out somehow.

Now what I do is I acknowledge that yes I am feeling sad and lonely today but that is okay. I accept that it is ok for me to feel that way. So I try to sit with it for a little while, and then go about the rest of my day. It seems to work for me.

Then I make sure that I have something nice planned for me. Whether it is treating myself to a few nice chocolates, or reading a good book, or watching a favorite DVD. Or all three!

I really think it is important to do something really nice for yourself whatever that may be. Have it planned in advance so you can look forward to it.

The other think I think is important is to have some sort of back up plan. If you know some of your friends and family will be away, have other people that you can call if possible. If you find it hard to find people there is always Lifeline you can call. If you have a computer there are also chat rooms or forums that you can go on to talk to people if you feel the need. Use whatever support makes you feel more secure at this time.

If you have friends and family around at this time, enlist their support if you need it. Ask them over for a cuppa and chat, or talk to them on the phone if you can. It doesn’t have to be a long visit or phone conversation, just something to get you out of your own head even for 15 minutes can be good.

I know I seem to mention this every time I write but it is because I really believe in it! I am talking about meditation. It has made a huge difference in my anxiety levels. I cannot stress enough how beneficial it has been to me. In fact if you want to do something really nice for yourself buy a copy of Pauline McKinnon’s Stillness Meditation CD and start listening.

If you have a lot of time on your hands over the holidays and are worried how to fill in the time, again plan ahead. Have a little project or projects to do. Whether it is going through old photos and arranging them in new and pretty albums, revamping your closet, redoing a room, painting, redecorating, planting a herb garden or flowers, craft projects, etc.

Another issue that can arise for many of us is a sort of feeling of defeat that another whole year has gone by and we are still agoraphobic, or anxious, or that nothing has really changed.

I know I can feel that way. When I feel like that I have to remind myself that change has happened, that every step no matter how small, counts.

For those of you who are feeling stressed, anxious or dreading Christmas, please remember you are not alone. There are many of us out here feeling the same way.

The best Christmas present for you is this: be kind to yourself.

I wish everyone peace and safety over the holidays.

Love Janesse (ADAVIC Member from Sydney)  – December 2007

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