I have to say to begin with I am NOT a huge fan of Oprah Winfrey. Honestly I just don't like the woman but, tonight I find myself watching a show on her network called "Anxiety" and it's taken me back to my own battle with Anxiety, Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia. I thought maybe if I wrote out my own journey with these disorders it may help someone else.
I think I had my first panic attack or anxiety attack at the age of 10. It was a year after my father died and suddenly I was terrified if my mother went out she would never come back. It escalated to me not wanting to be anywhere but home. That included school and with friends. Sleepovers were now nightmares to me as well. I remember one time I was at a sleep over at a friend of a friends house. I called my mom atleast 100 times to come pick me up. She had no idea how to get where I was because I was in a town that was about 25 minutes away. I also tried to hide my fear from all the other girls at the party because I didnt want them to make fun of me so I said I was sick. While my mom was trying to get directions to pick me up, some adult said they would take me home. By the time I made it home I remember being very very tired. I now know it was from all the nerves I had gone through. It only worsened from there. I would have huge fights with my mom everytime she wanted to go out, to the point of hiding her car keys so she couldn't leave, I stopped showering, I did nothing but sit in front of the TV and eat. I gained lots of weight, I got left back in school in the 4th grade. My mom put me into therapy with a child psychologist who I saw once a week. of course school was a nightmare because the kids always made fun of me for never being there which only made me not want to be there even more. I was diagnosed with "Separation Anxiety" due to my fathers sudden death. I was in therapy for about 6 months and I felt a lot better and told my psychologist I was ready to end therapy which I did. School never got better because I had gotten left back and now I was in classes with kids I didn't know, the kids I had started school with were now a year ahead of me and still made fun of me, now, for getting left back. This is what we now call "bullying". I felt SO out of place. I skipped school more than I was there, my mother and myself were hauled into court many times by the truancy board and when I was 16 I finally quit and went to work.
As a teen I didn't have any anxiety issue's at all. I don't know why it suddenly went away but it did.. I was able to live a normal life again. I went to work, hung out with friends, went places etc. Nothing stopped me.
Then one day in 1992 I was driving on a major highway in New Jersey. It was raining and I was flying down the highway as I always did, still do. I have a lead foot, yeah , I'm workin on that...Anyhow, suddenly I felt my heart beating so fast I couldn't breath, my legs went numb, I couldn't feel them. I was hyperventilating and getting dizzy. All I wanted to was get back to my office. I thought I was having a heart attack. Nope, turned out, it was a panic attack. I was now 22 years old.. These attacks continued for the next year, getting progressively worse and happening more and more frequently. At the same time I was becoming physically sick. For 2 years I was just sliding down hill physically, the panic was getting worse, and the doctors couldn't figure it out except to tell me, "it was all in my head"..Finally in 1994 I was diagnosed with a severe long standing case of Lyme Disease and was told it probably also kicked off the panic disorder again..
Over the next 17 and a half years I suffered with Panic and Anxiety disorder which eventually led into Agoraphobia which is the fear of leaving ones own home. By 2002 I was a complete and total shut in, inside my home. A prisoner of my mind and body. I no longer drove and let my license expire, I no longer went to the stores, or anywhere for that matter. Anything that needed to be done outside of the home and inside, my husband did and he was holding down 3 jobs at the same time. When my mother passed away in 1999 it took 2 years and then I slid into a deep depression on top of everything else. I no longer did much of anything except lay on the couch watching TV, or playing on my laptop. I napped, ate and that was it. Went to bed and did the same thing over again the next day. So as you can see, Anxiety, Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia took over.. I allowed it to take over. I was in a dark place and had no idea how to get out.
When we moved to South Carolina in 2002 I was still in this dark place. It had gotten so that I was afraid to make any moves alone. I wouldn't even take a shower without my husband being home.. I lived like this for the next six years. I lost all self esteem, all self confidence and almost lost my husband. Who could have blamed him at that point? But, with the help of God we made it through.
Finally in the end of 2008 and the start of 2009 something clicked in my thinking and I was tired of living like I was. I had been the medication route, the therapy route, nothing helped. All they ever wanted to do was drug me up and send me home. THAT was not going to fix anything. Infact it only made things worse. I decided it was time I started TRYING which is something I hadn't done in years. I took my first step outside my front door one afternoon and let me tell you, that first step when dealing with these disorders is the HARDEST step you may ever take. It IS extremely frightening. For those who have never suffered with any of this you probably don't understand this at all but I know for those who have and do, you know EXACTLY what I am speaking of here. Once I took that first step I knew my work had begun and I had a very very long way to go but suddenly I had HOPE. And hope is what is needed with this or anything. That one step, small as it was,
was huge for me and it gave me a glimmer of a hope and the one spark helped me to move further.
Each day, I walked outside, going further each day. After a week I made it to the end of my driveway to my mailbox. Now before you think " Oh yeah she didn't have it that bad" let me explain. Those steps to my mailbox were far from easy. Each time I felt the overwhelming anxiety, I felt ALL the physical symptoms but I learned to let them "wash over me" like ocean water. As hard as they are to endure eventually the anxiety level does come down if you can force yourself to stand it long enough...
For the next almost, year, I worked everyday on all kinds of things, getting up and getting dressed every day, cleaning my house again little by little, walking outside, going to the store with my husband who was also my safe person. For those who suffer or have suffered with these disorders you know a whole lot about safe people and safe places. Eventually I started reminding myself everyday that in reality there is NO safe person and NO safe place... That YOU are your safe place and YOU are your safe person. I started to venture to small stores alone.. Still feeling all the physical symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks but once again "allowing it to wash over me like the ocean water"...
In October of 2009, between the support of my husband, and A LOT of metal work I was confident enough to go and get my drivers license again. Because I had let it expire for the last 10 years I needed to start all over. Had to take the written and driving test. I passed both and was once again a licensed driver. At first I didn't like driving alone so I wouldn't go anywhere without my husband but once again with A LOT of mental work I managed to move passed that and now today I am happy to say, I can pretty much go where ever I want, I drive alone all the time and actually find it relaxing just like I did many years ago. I also go food shopping alone..Doesn't matter.. I can now DO it.. .. As for the mental work, I will say the one thing and most important thing that worked for me was and still is, Self Positive Talk. Without that I would still be hold up in my home afraid to move. I know to some that may sound to simple but believe me, it's not. You are literally retraining your mind how to think. You are facing your fears. This is NOT easy by any means but it is, POSSIBLE... I will not say that there are not times when I still don't have some trouble, especially when I am not feeling well but, the difference now is, I can get through it and move on. I no longer fear having an attack. My thinking is, if I do well, then I do.. It is what it is.. I know it will pass and I don't care what others around me think.
Thats another huge hurdle for most patients. Worrying what others think. You MUST get past that because that puts a HUGE hamper on your progress. Anxiety, Panic, and Agoraphobia are as common as someone having diabetes. Most people have experienced one or all of these at some point in their life. I learned to accept that I have these disorders and I learned to live with them in a positive way. It's part of me but I decided to STOP letting it BE me..I have a life again and YOU can to. I am not saying that my methods will work for everyone. There are some who will need medication and or therapy together but positive self talk will ALWAYS help no matter what treatment road you're on. It will help you move forward that much faster but, if you're ready to do the work then you will succeed.
So that's my story and my battle with these disorders. If you and or anyone you know is currently suffering and would like to chat with me more please feel free to leave a comment here on my blog by clicking the comment link or you can email me at RobynandLou1998@aol.com
If my story helps even one person then it was completely worth me writing and opening myself up about something very personal.. I thank you for reading and wish you the best.