Overcoming the Solitude of Agoraphobia: Jeina's Story

It all began in 1984 – this sudden and seemingly irreversible terror.  I’m not sure what caused it, nor could I, at the time, explain how I felt to myself or my family.  All I knew was that I was afraid to step outside of my house.

I had once been a “go everywhere” woman.  I took my children to amusement parks, attended teachers conferences and Sunday school.  Now, I was suddenly afraid to walk into a grocery store.  I would become overwhelmed by a feeling of panic and doom which I simply could not explain.  So, I lived quietly inside the walls of my little house, afraid to venture out into the world.

I made up excuses on a regular basis why I could not attend the Christmas play at my son’s kindergarten class, or why I could not go to my husbands family barbeque.

I began “self-medicating” with alcohol – probably my biggest mistake.  I would drink beer daily – excessively – simply to give myself the courage to leave my home. I was actually making my condition worse, but I did not realize that until many years later.  I affectionately referred to each drink as my “can of courage.”

I knew my lifestyle was affecting my family.  My son and daughter never told me how disappointed they were when I didn’t go with them to a special outing, but I could see the look of sadness in their eyes.  My husband would often invite me to “ride along” in the car, but I always had an excuse to remain quietly at home.

My husband tried everything to get me out of the house.  I think for a long time, he felt as though I didn’t want to be seen with him in public. We had many arguments about why I wouldn’t go anywhere with him.  I couldn’t explain why, because I didn’t know the answer myself.  But one thing we both learned:  trying to force someone to face their fears simply does not work!

My house had become my complete world.  I did nothing outside the confines of these walls; I gave birth to my third child at home.

I cannot count the events and occasions that I missed throughout the years.  Christmas programs, weddings, birthday parties, my daughter’s high school graduation and the like.  But I think the thing that caused the most distress for me was my father’s funeral.  Not that I didn’t try to attend. I was already feeling guilty for missing my mother’s service and had promised my father that I would attend his.  That was a promise I swore to myself and him that I’d keep.  Yet in the end, that promise was broken.

I tried so hard to force myself to walk out to the car and go to the church, but I just couldn’t do it.  I copied a verse from the Bible, handed it to my sister, and asked her to have the priest read it for me.  In my own way, I felt at least a part of me would be there.  Then, after everyone had left to attend my father’s funeral, I sat inside these walls and cried.  Even my “can of courage” couldn’t get me to attend that funeral.

Many terrible things happened in my life.  My grandnieces were placed with their grandparents, and I was told if I kept drinking, I wouldn’t be allowed to see them.  I had no choice but to quit!  The thought of never seeing those two little girls again was enough for me to give up the alcohol.  But, by giving up that “liquid medication,” I simply didn’t have the mental strength to leave my house.

I sincerely believe the turning point in my life was my fathers death. It was sudden.  It was totally unexpected, and I was crushed.  I was completely disappointed in myself for breaking my promise to him.  I swore I would do whatever I had to do to change my life, and at least visit his grave.

I was fully aware of my problem, although it did not have a “medical tag” on it. I knew that my condition had gotten worse throughout the years, and I fully understood that it would continue to worsen without treatment of some kind.  But how can someone go in for treatment when they are afraid to leave the house?  It is a “catch 22.”

After 17 long years of loneliness, I had simply had enough. My wonderful daughter made the appointment for me.  Then, she set up a code with the doctors office, so I couldn’t cancel the appointment – as she knew I would certainly try.

I worried constantly until the day of the appointment came.  I remember that morning clearly.  I paced frantically around my house, trying to come up with the perfect excuse to not go.  But when push came to shove, somehow, my children – now grown adults – got  me into the car.

I had written the Lord’s Prayer on a slip of paper, and tucked it into my pocket.  Just touching that slip of paper gave me a renewed sense of courage.  I would reach into my pocket and mentally remind myself that He was with me.

As we drove to town, my heart was racing, my hands were shaking, and I felt as though the world was caving in around me.  Somehow, I got to the doctor’s office.  It was by far the longest, most terrifying journey of my life – and yet it was only about 10 miles from home.

I sat in the examining room, with my daughter by my side for moral support, wringing my hands.  I really wasn’t sure what I was afraid of, but I was so scared I wanted to run all the way back home.  My daughter, who is also my best friend, kept saying, “It’s OK Mom… try to relax… you’ll be OK.”  I cannot say how much I love her.

Finally, the doctor came in.  After talking for a good hour, I began to feel a little calmer.  Truly, you must be comfortable with your physician when seeking help for life-altering phobias such as this.

Before the appointment had ended, a “medical tag” had been placed on me. I am agoraphobic, and suffer from panic attacks.  Finally, help was on the way!

There is no magic cure for agoraphobia. Yes, there are many wonderful medications.  But one must remember, medicine alone will do nothing.  We all must have the will to heal ourselves.

The doctor prescribed an anti-anxiety medication for me and made an appointment with a counselor.  Now, to be honest here, I did cancel that appointment twice, as my fear was just too great for me to deal with.  But finally, after hours of prayer, I did make and keep another appointment.

The counselor was a wonderful, very patient man.  We talked in detail about my condition, about medications, side effects, and various other aspects of agoraphobia.  He explained the things I needed to do to “help myself,” and I swore I would do all I could to walk the road to recovery.

I have never considered myself a strong woman; I always believed I was weak.  But leaning on the Lord, family, and friends has given me the strength I need to continue on in my recovery.

I began a strict regime of Paxil.  Now, I am not a “pill taker.”  I am one of those that will suffer endlessly with a headache, long before I reach for the aspirin.  But I was so determined to change my life, I trained myself to take that pill daily!  That is the only way medication will help.  And I must add, no drug is an instant fix.  It is simply an aid to recovery.

I worked hard daily to force myself to leave my home.  I started small by walking to my mailbox.  Each time, I would stay a little longer.  Now, I can stand at the mailbox and read the mail!  I took very short rides in the car – maybe a quarter mile at first – and adding a little more distance each time.  Some days, I just couldn’t muster the courage to get into the passenger seat, so I had to force myself.  These “baby steps” are crucial to the recovery process.

Since that first visit to the doctor, those months ago, I have attended my granddaughter’s birthday party, my niece’s baby shower, and I have been on more walks and drives than I can count.  I have to force myself to leave my house, and on some days, that really does seem impossible, yet I still manage.

I no longer panic when someone knocks on my front door.  Instead, I invite them in for a cup of coffee.  It is so wonderful to have a life again.

I have a long way to go, but as each day passes, I feel stronger and much more self-confident.  I anticipate changes, and embrace them, instead of hiding away in fear.

I recently started my own business, and am now working diligently on it.   It has not been an easy task for me, as public speaking is very difficult for someone with my condition.  Making a simply phone call to offer my business services can be a nearly impossible task!

More and more each day, women suffering from all forms of disabilities enter the work force in one way or another.  Home-based businesses are popping up everywhere, and many of them are owned and operated by women – some with disabilities, some without.

I know that, if this woman – who was once terrified of something as simple as going to the grocery store – can step into the world and start a profitable home business, then any woman can.  To me, this is pure proof of the capabilities of all persons suffering from agoraphobia.

I must add: if you are suffering, as I was, do not be afraid to ask for help. Depend on your family to help you.  Believe me, they are suffering right along with you.  Give them all of the information you can on your condition, so they can understand what you are going through.  Find a friend – a trusted friend that you can call anytime day or night – just to talk.  And above all, trust in God to guide you along your path in this life.  Keep with you some small reminder of His presence and love.

The road to recovery is a long, uphill climb.  But your family, your friends, and the Lord will all hold your hand and walk with you.  You truly are never alone!

My life is so blessed now.  In October of 2001, at the ripe old age of 39, I graduated from high school.  My father would be so very proud.  I have been sober now for nearly 2 years (Thank you Lord!).  My business is booming.  And most importantly, I am surrounded by family and friends who I love dearly.  Not only do they come to visit me, but I can go to visit them!

My next venture outdoors is long overdue.  I am taking flowers to a grave which I have never seen… my father’s.