Agoraphobia and Panic: Personal Loss and Recovery

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Agoraphobia and Panic Attacks in large crowds
Photo credit: Franck Vervial via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Agoraphobia and Panic Attacks in large crowds

I’m nondescript. I possess no special characteristics that set me apart from the crowd. That’s me, abbreviated.  However, I suffer from a silent illness that only my closest friends and family know I have – panic disorder and agoraphobia. (definition and article on WebMD)

I have battled panic attacks and agoraphobia most of my life and as I’ve gotten older, the frequency and severity has worsened.  My authentic friends (and family) were (and still are) profoundly supportive.  I did, however, lose a friend over it.  That still hurts.

Don’t Panic: Some friends just walk away

We would go to the gym together, and parsad mask over headks, and try new restaurants.  However, as my anxiety grew worse, I had panic attacks just sitting in a car.  Unable to comprehend the depth the issue, she cut me out of her life.

When, she called to see if I wanted to go to the movies, I suggested she come to my place, instead.  I offered to rent a movie on VUDU (her choice) – and order from our favorite Asian delivery place – my treat.  She never showed up.  I never heard from her again.

I didn’t even get to say goodbye when we moved from Minnesota to Florida.  Other than being unable to get into her car that day, I don’t know what I did to deserve being ostracized.

Reaching out in desperation

With uncharacteristic desperation, I posted this frantic plea to my Facebook Notes a few years ago:

“At first, I only became anxious about meeting new people and once had an anxiety attack during a job interview.  It was so severe that the interviewer offered to call an ambulance.  It gradually grew serious enough that interstate driving became impossible.  Now, I can’t drive at all.

In fact, I find it difficult to climb into a car.  Inexplicably, the simple thought causes significant anxiety.   Other than a single fender-bender 15 years ago, I’ve never been in an accident. I wasn’t even driving. After that accident, I continued to drive, including 100’s of miles in one day.

I have had years of therapy and medication isn’t working. I’ve tried visualization.  At every attempt, I get so far and then I get tunnel-vision and have a panic attack without even being in the car.  I wear headphones with soothing music, sit in the back, close my eyes – but I am still overcome by panic attacks.

The panic attacks grow increasingly worse.  I feel engulfed by depression and isolation. Normally, I’m adventurous.  I fantasize about shark cage diving on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.  I am not a timid person, so I don’t know why this is happening to me now.

You know that feeling that you get in your stomach when you are falling suddenly?  You feel like your stomach jumps from your guts to your kneecaps and all you can do is huddle in a ball till it passes?  That’s the way it feels.  Or, at least, that’s the way falling feels like to me.  Maybe it’s just that I have panic attacks when I fall and the experience is unique to me.

My responses to the panic attacks have also changed.  Previously, I laughed them off. Now, I have a sudden urge to cry helplessly and tremble afterwards.

I’ve never publicly spoken so candidly. I’ve mentioned it in passing a few times and minimized it in friendly conversation.  However, the problem grows substantially more serious.  Has anyone else experienced this?  How do you cope?  I’m truly starting to feel hopelessly despondent.”

Social Stigmas of Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia

Stop the Stigma - It's not a mental health problem. It's a mental illness.
Stop the Stigma – It’s not a mental health problem. It’s a mental illness.

If I suffered an obvious physical ailment, I wouldn’t have been as reluctant to share that.  However, mental illnesses like agoraphobia and panic disorder carry voluminous stigmas.  On a personal level, a person accused me of using anxiety as an excuse for not wanting to take care of necessary out-of-the-house chores, like grocery shopping.  I am not lazy; possibly experiencing a public panic episode terrifies me.

Because anxiety and agoraphobia make leaving the house for work essentially impossible, I draw social security.  I usually keep that little secret to myself because people have made disparaging remarks about “taking advantage of the system.”  Stoics suggest I pull myself up by the bootstraps and the religious community has even suggested that I don’t lean on Jesus enough.  It’s also cost me a friendship.

Frankly, those painful comments just compel me to further retreat from the world. I condemn myself enough without facing judgement from people who espouse a decided bias against real, debilitating (but invisible) disabilities.

I don’t enjoy being cooped up in the house because I fear leaving the house alone.  Guilt will not flip an off-switch. I don’t manifest agoraphobia to annoy others.  The torment I suffer from panic disorder overshadows the annoyance some people feel.

Current State of Mind

Currently, I’m able to ride in a car (but only in the backseat).  Going out alone is impossible, but I am able to leave the house with someone I know well and trust.  We don’t go out much, but we are able to entertain at home.  Baby steps, right?

I believe being around family, more sunshine than I was able to get in Minnesota, and getting away from a big city has helped.  Improvement in agoraphobia symptoms has been slow going.  I do feel anxious if people want to hug (even family – except David and my kids).  I swallow it back and do it anyway because I’m always glad I did.  Being from the South, everyone wants to hug – and besides, it feels good.

Shape Up or Ship Out

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Happily married to the love of my life. It's just us, our 5 cats, and our beautiful woods. I'm loving living back in the Florida panhandle being close to family. I love cooking, living a healthy lifestyle, taking care of our cozy home, and trying new things.

We enjoy hosting parties and my husband and I are both avid gamers. You can find me on PS4 as SunshineFlaGirl. We also play tabletop RPGs and eurogames.

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Alicia Taylor

Happily married to the love of my life. It's just us, our 5 cats, and our beautiful woods. I'm loving living back in the Florida panhandle being close to family. I love cooking, living a healthy lifestyle, taking care of our cozy home, and trying new things.

We enjoy hosting parties and my husband and I are both avid gamers. You can find me on PS4 as SunshineFlaGirl. We also play tabletop RPGs and eurogames.

57 Comments

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  • Jess Benoit

    May 10, 2016 - 4:03 pm

    I would have never ever have known you dealt with this. I follow your blog & social media accounts and you seem like such a bubbly outgoing person. It’s a great thing, this interweb. I also suffer from major panic attacks and will not drive or leave the house by myself. I don’t have a problem riding in a car but I do have a problem w/ where we are headed to. I have dealt with this all of my life, starting out as what was thought of as a severely shy child. Parents had a hard time going out to eat w/ me since I would sit with my head down so people wouldn’t look at me and I would barely eat. They would have to sit me in a way that I wasn’t facing many people. As a teen, the nurse knew me by name because I was always there w/ an attack. I was even put on stomach meds because it messed me up. Major panic attacks have sent me to the ER many times and the last time I swore I was developing asthma because it was different from the rest. I even made them do X-rays to make sure I was OK. Of course I was. When the Dr asked what was going on in my life, I replied that I was a SAHM and homeschool 3 kids. He just gave me *that* look, like “there’s your problem! Just learn some breathing techniques, lay in bed, and you’ll be fine.” -_- No, it’s not that simple & I am not on meds. I have found some all-natural ones through Amazon recently and they help take the edge off. But it doesn’t help me go out the door to even check my mail by myself. Thankfully, I have a supportive hubs, although I know it’s not fair to him at all to have to take care of me and everything outside of the home like he has to. *HUGS*

    • Alicia Taylor

      May 10, 2016 - 4:11 pm

      The online image we project isn’t always who we are. In general, though, I am a bubbly, fun person when I am in my own element. When I step outside of that element… that’s when I have problems. I only have friends that I know well come visit and I get “over-peopled” quickly. I also know the pain of not being taken seriously by doctors. I have a son with autism. He’s an adult, now. When he was a kid, autism wasn’t a household word. I knew something was wrong, but no doctor would listen. I think that’s a different blog post, though! I have tried the natural remedies. I find that working out helps me during the day, but I still get panicky when I have to leave the house. I do love eating out with David, but have to sit with my back not facing other people. It’s difficult, at times.

  • Nicole Escat

    March 16, 2016 - 7:00 pm

    Sometimes friends are not for a long time. I know that feeling.

  • Elizabeth O.

    March 16, 2016 - 3:33 am

    I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you, I hope you never have to experience all of those things. I am happy, however, that you have people who understand and support you. That’s where most of our strength comes from anyway.

  • Jamie

    March 15, 2016 - 5:22 pm

    I wish mental health issues received the same compassion from people that other health issues do. Your past friend is definitely the one missing out by leaving the friendship!

  • Julie Syl Kalungi

    March 15, 2016 - 4:12 pm

    So sorry to hear that you are gong through a tough time. I once watched a documentary and felt for the people. I am glad your loved ones are supportive. Tanks for sharing and inspiring others suffering the same.

  • Adriana Lopez

    March 15, 2016 - 3:51 pm

    We don;t realize but mental health and illnesses are a reality in this country. Thanks for sharing.

  • Shaylee

    March 15, 2016 - 3:03 pm

    I have anxiety as well and also lost some friends because of it. Some people just can’t deal with it or don’t know how to which I understand. It can be really hard being with my in my times of panic!

    • Alicia Taylor

      March 15, 2016 - 4:10 pm

      Yes – there is nothing like feeling alone when you need someone

  • Carol Cassara

    March 15, 2016 - 2:58 pm

    I get this. I had it once, but it finally did go away. It is pretty scary … and debilitating. Brave share today.

  • Janeane Davis

    March 2, 2016 - 3:02 pm

    I am not aware of anyone in my cirle that is from agoraphobia. It seems like like something that makes living a “normal life” hard and frightening.

  • Liz Mays

    March 1, 2016 - 10:44 pm

    I’m glad it has improved a bit for you, and I hope it continues to do so!

  • Angela B.

    March 1, 2016 - 7:52 pm

    I am glad you let me hug you. I love your hugs and would happily take all I can get. I am also glad that you feel comfortable enough to share your struggles. That has to be one of those things you poke in your “big steps” category. It is hard to live a life in fear of others judgements without growing bitter. I can say that one from experience. Luckily I was blessed with a counselor that was able to assist my anger. But I still find myself saying away fr anywhere where I feel the judgemental tone in the atmosphere (sometimes not even ment). Now I don’t go as many places and when I do most conversation is only because of the Southern rules of etiquette require it. I tease that I understand how you could not want to go out around people…but as I get older I realize that there just isn’t as many people I care to be around and the quite of the house is not as bad as the nastiness that others impose. I can no longer fight the world. I can no longer stand up to the heartache. All I care about anymore is peace in my own life. I am so glad that being back home brings you some of that and I can only hope that you continue on the path of finding more and more. Keep happy Sissy! You deserve it…in anyway that you find it. If someone else don’t like it just know that it is their loss.

    • Alicia Taylor

      March 1, 2016 - 7:56 pm

      Thank you, Re. I know the struggles with judgemental attitudes all too well. I do love seeing you and getting your hugs, too. I am happy. I find I am much happier without some of those people in my life, anyway.

  • Katie

    March 1, 2016 - 7:10 pm

    Hang it there and continue fighting! I suffer from mental illnesses (bipolar type 2 and 2 different types of anxiety disorders) and it’s not an easy thing to manage and it’s hard for others who don’t deal with this type of stuff to understand what we go through when it comes to fighting these illnesses. Thank you for sharing! <3

    • Alicia Taylor

      March 1, 2016 - 7:54 pm

      Thank you for sharing, Katie. It is tough living life with these issues.

  • Kimberly

    March 1, 2016 - 3:34 pm

    Thank you for sharing your very personal story. As a former mental health counselor with over a decade of experience, I know the havoc that mental health issues can wreak on a person and family. I’m glad that you are taking baby steps with signs of improvement. Have you tried medication? I know that’s a very personal question but I’ve seen it do so much good. When I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2008 and had to stop working as a therapist, I also lost several friends—people I thought were close friends. I realize now that they just couldn’t deal with my new limitations which made it their issue, not mine. Every day I try to do the best I can with what I’ve been given. I wish the same for you.
    Sending you virtual hugs <3

    • Alicia Taylor

      March 1, 2016 - 4:18 pm

      Yep – I’ve tried medication. Like I had mentioned, none of it was working, so I quit taking it. My ex-husband is a mental health therapist, too – and is also disabled. He has Arthrogyposis and has been wheel-chair bound his whole life. Sorry this happened to you. It’s a very painful situation.

  • KatyRose

    March 1, 2016 - 9:06 am

    Thanks for sharing this story. I think it is so important to remember, that even with friends we are really close to, we may have no idea the battle they are suffering through. – Katy

    • Alicia Taylor

      March 1, 2016 - 10:55 am

      Friends are hard to come by. We should take care of those relationships. I shared it with my closest friends. Thankfully, the woman that did this wasn’t a close friends. I that we had the capacity to become that – but turned out, she was more of a fairweather running buddy than a friend.

  • Milena

    March 1, 2016 - 8:57 am

    I think talking about can be quite healing for you. Thanks for sharing my sister has a friend that hasn’t left her house in years.

  • Rosey

    March 1, 2016 - 4:40 am

    I’m sorry to hear it. I really hope the move and the support help you get back on solid footing.

  • Carol Bryant

    February 29, 2016 - 11:14 pm

    This is very honest and open of you to share. I admire that you put yourself out there and this will help a lot of folks. You should also come over to Community.BlogPaws.com – we love pets there, too!

  • Amanda Loe

    February 29, 2016 - 10:28 pm

    I also suffer from anxiety attacks although mine aren’t as severe as yours, it’s great to have friends and family around who understand what you are going through and just be there. I’m sorry that “friend” thought it was too much for her, but real friends understand.

    • Alicia Taylor

      February 29, 2016 - 10:29 pm

      I agree – and I am blessed to have a great support network here.

  • Claudia Krusch

    February 29, 2016 - 9:47 pm

    I can’t imagine how sad this must be. Thank you for being brave and sharing your story. It will help others who have a similar condition!

  • A Geek Daddy

    February 29, 2016 - 9:19 pm

    That cover picture is a remarkable association with anxiety. I appreciated learning your perspective on this issue.

    • Alicia Taylor

      February 29, 2016 - 10:29 pm

      I have actually had my vision do that in the midst of a crowd. It feels like everything is moving fast and I am standing still.

  • Laura Funk

    February 29, 2016 - 8:58 pm

    Way to share your story. I could not imagine having that panic

  • Ashley @irishred02

    February 29, 2016 - 6:24 pm

    I’m sorry you are still suffering but baby steps are better than nothing!

    • Alicia Taylor

      February 29, 2016 - 7:32 pm

      Baby steps means lifestyle change – which tends to be longer lasting than full jumps ahead. So, I am hoping to continue to see improvement.

  • Tamara

    February 29, 2016 - 5:35 pm

    Have you heard of Stigma Fighters? It’s a non profit organization and they publish essays on their blogs and in their books about such situations.
    I have PTSD and have gotten near panic in public situations. It’s incredibly debilitating.

    • Alicia Taylor

      February 29, 2016 - 5:40 pm

      PTSD was one of the first things they diagnosed me with before finally settling on Agoraphobia. I haven’t heard of them. I’ll see if can find some more information.

  • Bri

    February 29, 2016 - 5:31 pm

    I never had this condition, but large crowds use to cause me to feel uncertain and afraid. It is great that you are making steps to progression.

    • Alicia Taylor

      February 29, 2016 - 5:41 pm

      It’s not just crowds. It can just be having to walk past a person I don’t know. It has gotten better, somewhat. Thank you

  • Gloria @ Homemade & Yummy

    February 29, 2016 - 3:11 pm

    That must be terrible. I have heard about this condition, but personally don’t know anyone who has it….but perhaps like you not many people would know.

    • Alicia Taylor

      February 29, 2016 - 5:41 pm

      Most of us never leave our house, so finding us is tricky 🙂

  • David Taylor

    February 29, 2016 - 2:51 pm

    Sweet love, I wish you did not have to deal with the difficulties of this illness and those who for one reason or another lack empathy. Nevertheless, I am glad for every moment we have together, I consider you a capable and desirable companion, and I am thankful we have family and friends who recognize the value of having a relationship with you.

    • Alicia Taylor

      February 29, 2016 - 5:42 pm

      I love you and adore you for so many reasons – one of which is your patience and understanding.

  • Lois Alter Mark

    February 29, 2016 - 2:37 pm

    I can’t imagine how challenging this must be. Thank you for sharing your story. It will help many people who feel the same way.

    • Alicia Taylor

      February 29, 2016 - 5:42 pm

      I hope so. I didn’t really offer any workarounds – it was really more of a vent. But if someone benefits, I’m glad I shared.

  • Heather Lawrence

    February 29, 2016 - 2:14 pm

    {{hugs}}I am so sorry your friend did that too you. Just reading about what you deal is such an eye opener. My middle daughter has exhibited signs of being anxious and she worries which makes me wonder if we need to seek some outside help early. I can’t imagine how difficult this has been to share but thank you for doing it. It’s hard to understand what someone is going through if you don’t know.

    • Alicia Taylor

      February 29, 2016 - 5:44 pm

      Mine started when I was a teenager. My sister still jokes about me being afraid to look under the kitchen sink – and my husband remembers me having issues with driving then. Help wasn’t really available when I was a kid. If you are concerned, definitely seek help.

  • Amanda Williamson

    February 29, 2016 - 1:55 pm

    I’m so sorry that you have and are going through this. I do understand what your talking about, I too have some Mental disorders that keep me drom doing what I want to do! It has gotten so much worse in the last few months. I feel horible that this has caused me to not even check inn with my very best friend !! I feel that I’ve lost myslef and evryday trying to find my way back. We can only take it step by step.

    • Alicia Taylor

      February 29, 2016 - 5:45 pm

      Know that it’s not you that I am talking about. I know that you deal with the same issues I do – and I didn’t leave you behind in MN without being able to say goodbye. I do hope to see you again, though. I really miss our time together.

      • amanda williamson

        February 29, 2016 - 9:38 pm

        No that’s not it at all I was just sympathizing with you. I don’t think that I was the person that got left behind Minnesota. I was just saying tha,t I myself am going through a lot of the same stuff and its causing problems in my relationships with my friends. Including my very best friend which is you. 🙂

  • robin masshole mommy

    February 29, 2016 - 1:52 pm

    I panic in crowds. I have actually passed out a few times if I didn’t get out of there fast enough.

    • Alicia Taylor

      February 29, 2016 - 5:45 pm

      I’ve never passed out, but there have been times David had to drag me because I was rooted in place.

  • Pat Mallette

    February 29, 2016 - 1:12 pm

    I am glad that you still suffer the hugs of those who love and admire you — and you are right when you say that it feels good. Thank you for sharing what must have been difficult to write.

    • Alicia Taylor

      February 29, 2016 - 5:46 pm

      Thank you so much, Pat. I got hugs from the Nygards last night – that’s another family that I don’t feel anxious around.

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