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My Journey through Agoraphobia - Part 8

This page added 2 April 2012
By Janesse – written March 2012

[see also: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7]

Part Eight

Hi Everyone,

Hope you all are having a good 2012 so far.

My progress is continuing steadily. There are times I wish it was happening faster, but I know for me slow and steady seems to be the way forward.

I had hoped that once I started to have success in being able to do some things, that everything would just come easily, that I would just be able to go out easily and agoraphobia would be gone forever.
Like I said though, for me, slow and steady seems to be the way.

I continue to be able to do some small things on my own, like go for a walk or go to the beach which is close to my house and drive around the very quiet streets where I live.

With my driving I am trying to go further but I am still very scared of driving in traffic. I haven’t driven at all for so many years that the traffic just in general scares me, even apart from my own anxiety in being away from home.

Maybe this update should be subtitled My Journey to the Fruit Shop! I shall explain why.

I mentioned last time that my long term relationship had come to an end and I had relied very much on my partner for everyday things like shopping etc.

I have a fruit shop in my local area that I could go to with my partner, and as I am a big fruit and vegetable girl, we would go once a week. This fruit shop has great quality produce at really cheap prices and I really hate not having fruit and veg in the house to eat.  Since my partner has left (and one of my best friends who lived close by moved interstate) it has been difficult for me to get fruit and vegetables.

As I try to practice my driving every day, one day I decided to see if I could get to a quiet street near the fruit shop. The fruit shop has a little car park, but I would have to drive across a major traffic hub to get to it, which I am not ready for yet. From this quiet street I could then walk and cross at major traffic lights to get to the fruit shop.

The first time I tried to do this, I parked the car, walked up to the lights and that big wall of fear got me.  I wasn’t panicking; it was just that feeling of fear… ‘no this is too much I cant do it.”  One of my fears was, that if I got stuck at the lights, I might panic and not be able to get back to the car across the road and get home to safety.

So I went back to the car and drove home, very disappointed.  I was so annoyed that I had given in to that wall of fear.

That day I went through it all in my mind and told myself, that if I got anxious, I knew what to do and that I could handle it.  I thought of all my other successes and how much this would mean to me if I could do it.

I did also tell myself that it was okay that I didn’t manage to do it this time. Even though I didn’t get to the fruit shop I did   manage to drive to the street and attempt it.  That was still something!

Previously when I attempted something new if I couldn’t do it I would come home, just cry and cry, feeling so disappointed in myself.  I would tell myself I would never be able to do it, and I would feel like I was never going to get better.

The fact that I was no longer telling myself that was a big shift for me.  While I was still disappointed, I praised myself for even trying.

That day I went through it all in my mind and told myself that if I got anxious I knew what to do and that I could handle it. I thought of all my other successes and how much this would mean to me if I could do it.

The next day I decided to try again, telling myself again that if I couldn’t do it, that if all I could do was drive to the street and park again, then that would still be enough for now.

So I set off feeling a little anxious but also a little excited and hopeful that I could do it.

And I did it!!

I again came up against that wall of fear at the traffic lights but this time I brought to mind (as I often do) Pauline McKinnon’s words.

I let go of gripping and holding to myself so tightly and softened myself and tried to let myself be easy.  It wasn’t easy trying to be easy but all my years of mediation has certainly helped with that.

I was still a little anxious, but I crossed the lights walked up the stairs and got to the fruit shop.  I kept thinking I am really doing this!

Rather than do a whole weekly shop I just got a few things and left.  I got to the lights again and had to wait and there was still a little anxiety but I was ok.  I got to the car and I think I almost floated home.  I was so happy!!

I have been back to the fruit shop a couple of times since.  I go first thing in the morning.  It is quieter then and for me I find that is the best time to attempt new things. I think my mind is clearer then.

The only thing is, I have to carry my bags of shopping down the stairs, wait at the lights and then walk down to my car.  Last time I had quite a few bags and nearly broke my arms trying to carry them that far.  Still I didn’t care; I was just so happy that I was doing this.

The sense of freedom I have felt in being able to do this is so enormous.  Doing this also makes me feel like a ‘normal’ person who can go and get things for herself.  I have always hated relying on other people to do everything for me and this makes me feel so much better.

As I said above, I wish that being able to do this meant that I could just do everything now and just be free from agoraphobia completely.

For me it isn’t that way just yet. But each new thing I attempt brings me one step closer to finally being free.

Sometimes it seems like it is an endless mountain I am climbing, I get to one small peak and there is another larger peak  waiting for me.  I just have to remind myself of how far I have come.

There was a time, a few years back, where I couldn’t even leave my house at all, even with someone.
And when I did, the anxiety that would overwhelm me felt impossible to deal with.  Even when I was at home I would have horrible panic attacks or live in fear of having a horrible panic attack.
Even when I go out now there still can be anxiety, but it is at a way lower level than previously and I am managing it much   better.

Now I know I sound like a broken record banging on always about meditation and in particular Pauline McKinnon’s stillness meditation practice, but my daily (twice daily now) meditations really helped me with my anxiety levels.

Pauline’s book, ‘In Stillness Conquer Fear’ has also been like my bible!  I carry the book with me in my bag wherever I go.
I never need to refer to it as her words are usually always in my head anyway!

I mention both of these things, as when I was unable to leave my house at all and crippled with anxiety, what I wanted to know most from other people who had recovered, or who were on their way to recovery, was how did they do it?

How did they bring the anxiety levels down, and how did they find the courage to venture out?

For me the practice of stillness meditation every day helped to reduce my anxiety levels and gave me a sense of peace and calm that carried on throughout my whole day.

As I am writing this, it occurs to me that, that sentence doesn’t even begin to describe what meditation has done for me! It actually has done so much more than that!  But in terms of anxiety it was one of the tools I used in my recovery.

Reading Pauline McKinnon’s story also gave me hope and gave me courage.  I have never met Pauline but I feel like her lovely voice and calm approach has been with me throughout my journey.

I have read many, many books on anxiety and agoraphobia but they often felt like textbooks, coldly impersonal.  Pauline shares her own personal journey with agoraphobia, and her recovery and it truly feels like she understands.

I hope to meet Pauline one day, give her a great big hug and share with her how much she has meant to me.  When I thought there was just no way out of agoraphobia that I was stuck and beyond help, I would read her book and find inspiration to keep going.

The other tool, you will need to begin recovery, is a good therapist.  Finding a therapist that you relate to is essential.
This unfortunately can be difficult. It was for me. Over the years I went to see quite a few before I found the wonderful therapist I have now.

For years I thought it must be me, I am seeing a therapist and just not getting better.  I saw some of them for about six months and still nothing was changing except me getting more and more despondent and feeling like I was just not able to be ‘cured’.

When I started seeing my current therapist she was so different.  I was so scared and so shut down but I felt like she understood.  It does take time to build trust with any therapist, but I also think you need to feel comfortable with the therapist fairly soon, and this is where finding one that suits you is the key.
With each part of my journey I share with you here, my message is always: You are not alone in this and please don’t ever give up the hope that you will get better.

I wish I could promise you that the journey will be direct and trouble free, and maybe for you it will be, BUT even if it turns out to be long and winding like mine has, it is worth every small and painful step you take to regain your freedom.

When I walk each morning and see the beautiful bay near my house, and submerge myself in its waters, I feel a joy that I thought was lost to me forever.  I now know that each step and even each tear was worthwhile.

Each morning, as lie in the water, I look to the sky, whether blue or grey, cloudy or clear and pray that each of you find your joy again.

Janesse (Sydney)

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