Work?!? Do I work? Hmm, where do I start with this question?
I do work. I need to work. It’s good for my mind and for my creative juices. Despite what I’ve been told sometimes, “you need to work” – I have actually been told just that on several occasions – I do work. I don’t really think it’s ever been ill intentioned. A few individuals just have made the comment to me without really giving it too much thought. But before this turns into a rant about them and what they might have or have had to say, I want to start with me.
I have tons of skeletons in my closet, that like most, I definitely regret. I have secrets that I am sure no one cares about, but that I am still unwilling to share. This secret, though, the one I am writing about today, I have kept all to myself until now without even knowing it.
It slipped through the cracks going unnoticed for a long time until it reared its ugly full-blown head a couple of years ago. This was something that needed tending to in my life and I was almost completely unaware of it. Until I was finally given a name for my condition and I was correctly clinically diagnosed, I didn’t know that what I was going though was actually something that others were experiencing too.
Agoraphobia. That was the name I was given. I am Agoraphobic. In a very basic definition, it is the fear of fear. Its range of symptoms covers so much that a lot of times it is very difficult to identify. I have actually heard, seen and read about a few individuals who have become homebound because they suffer from agoraphobia for long periods of time. That is not really what agoraphobia leads to, but it does happen.
As for me, it all started in middle school. I endured intense forms of panic during those years in my life. Panic is a quick rush of adrenaline pushed through your entire body – your heart is sinking further and further in, your hands are sweaty, you start to gasp for larger amounts of air, your vision becomes very narrow and in some cases you can start to focus on details that are irrelevant to the moment. Your mind starts to race with so many different thoughts coming and going at the speed of light. The thoughts of “what if” completely start to consume you. Long story short, it feels like you’re dying. And there I was sitting in a class room with no actual real reason to feel like this. There was no explanation. So, of course like any anxious person I panicked even more!
I was more than an anxious person, but never have I panicked the way I did in the sixth grade one night during my Christmas break.
I was laying there in bed with the TV on in the background. Then I had a thought. “One day I am going to die.” Just like that, with one thought, I turned my life on its head. I flooded myself with more intense thoughts than my 12 year old brain could handle. I went into a full-fledged panic attack that to this day still feels so real and vivid. No matter how much I prayed for it to stop, I couldn’t stop it. My fingers went numb as did my toes, and for the first time I experienced that detached feeling that some feel when dealing with anxiety, panic, and depression. My poor mother had a completely worried look on her face when she finally made it home from her graveyard shift that next morning. I had been in this state of panic on and off for more than 6 hours. My body and mind were tired and needed rest.
She kept trying to ask me “¿qué tienes mija?” and I could only respond, “No sé, tengo sueño ”. I just kept making a nodding motion with my head and closing my eyes. All my little body wanted was rest. She cuddled me until I feel asleep. I don’t remember much after that, but I was able to deal with future episodes from then on… or so I thought. I thought this is what is supposed to happen to people like me (whatever that meant?). I was able to move along with a “normal life.” I played all the sports that my middle school offered (kind of poorly, but good enough to join the teams, and loud enough to make the cheer leading squad). By high school I was still dealing with the ups and downs of my panic attacks.
I had them very secretly and was able to muster through most of them without anyone ever noticing, even during my outings with my wild and crazy friends. My then “love life” was also not so hard to deal with. I sort of had to tell them about my sudden (or what I thought were sudden) outbursts of panic. They were only able to see the exterior, but never the truth. And quite honestly, I was embarrassed of my truth. I didn’t know it was anxiety with a splash of very little to mild depression and panic. I didn’t want to tell my then boyfriend that I did not want to take the two hour bus ride to his house on the other side of the city because I was afraid of panicking on the bus for no reason. Instead I allowed the anxiety to prevail and him to become upset and mad. All of this was easy. I dealt with it and life moved on, until a few years ago.
Without going into any details, a couple of years ago an event took place in my life that was more than I could handle. My life felt as if someone had picked it up from a table and slammed it back down violently allowing pieces of me to fall scattered and disarrayed everywhere.
I didn’t know how to put it back together.
Depression hit me like a ton of bricks. Anxiety charted off the scales. It seemed as if nothing could help.
I slowly started to deteriorate. I cried and cried with no end in sight. I was pleased when I became mad because I was able to feel something other than sadness. Clarity wasn’t really existent. Everything was based on feelings and all I could feel was sadness. I hated the feeling of detachment. I sought treatment for my depression, not realizing once depression would subside a little, anxiety and panic would rear their ugly heads in full force. I was mentally weak and not prepared. Juan would try and stay awake to watch me fall asleep and then wake up later to follow me outside once he realized that I had woken up from my sleep due to a panic attack that I had experienced during my sleep.
I couldn’t do much of anything.
Everything and every waking moment were lived in fear… of panic attacks and anxiety. I started to have panic attacks while driving. I could no longer sit in the driver seat without my body physically reacting to it. My entire body would shake and I would break down and cry. While driving, Juan would try effortlessly to merge onto the freeway without me yelling in disapproval. Traveling to his parents’ house began to take over two hours as opposed to the 30 to 40 minutes it had taken before.
I became homebound for a very short time.
I then was unable to be physically alone. When Juan would wake up and get ready for work I would demand that he drop me off at my sister or aunt’s houses, both of whom live in my neighborhood. I didn’t allow my sister to travel more than three miles outside of my comfort zone (in the neighborhood around my house). Freeways and bridges were out of the question!
Everything became very specific. I was a ticking time bomb.
A little over two years ago, though, I found a clinic that was putting into practice a cognitive behavioral therapy that was then a clinical study. I had heard about it before, read about, and wanted to try it. Thanks to this program, my life is now full of exposures. I feel like I am making progress. Things are still hard, but not as hard as they were before, which is fine with me. I’ll take it!
Most of my exposures consist of me being alone, which is my biggest hurdle still. I have started to drive again, but I am still working on doing so alone. A couple of years ago I would have never been able to share my truth like this.
So, back to the topic of work. No, I do not pretend to be a princess that sits at home all day while someone else take cares of me. I actually envy everyone else who is able to get dressed and ready in the morning and drive off and go to work.
I hope to be able to do the same again, one day.