Agoraphobia (ag-uh-ruh-FOE-be-uh) is a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.
Out of the many conditions that I find myself mired in, one of the most frustrating is agoraphobia. It prevents me from doing many things in life, and it creates a lot of awkward situations. Over time, I’ve gotten to know it, and constructed tidy boxes that I fit myself into, that let me live my small life. I know where my personal “potholes” are. Or in some cases, more like landmines. Small, simply because those boxes can be limiting.
I’m not sure why I felt compelled to write this. But I know that doing so today is leading me towards a cathartic aha moment. I can feel something snapping back into place, that was broken inside of me long ago. Why? I’m not sure exactly. I’ve been in personal therapy and physiotherapy, which is slowly wearing away at my stress levels, but also releasing new layers of hidden, vaulted up stress as I go.
Factually speaking, it’s affected me in a few different ways: mainly my ability to drive, take complex public transportation, and make plans with others.
Some background, for context… as a teenager, I was told that I wasn’t allowed to obtain my learner’s permit until I had achieved “straight A’s”, or at least something close to it. I wanted so desperately at the time to take driving lessons with my peers. At the time, I hadn’t considered the immense responsibility of driving, or rather, that my knack for finding distractions could result in serious consequences. So in the meantime, I took public transit. Back then, we didn’t have smartphones, so if I’d forgotten my book for reading, it was generally a long, boring, and nauseating bumpy ride with multiple transfers, sometimes followed by a mind-numbing walk home. An average person might not think of that experience as a big deal, but to me it was. To me, it was excruciating mental and physical torture.
There were also times I had to find my way to places unknown, which for my ADHD brain was quite intimidating. Attempting to navigate foreign territory (to me) could put me into a state of panic, and the prospect of being late due to my directional incompetence loomed incessantly. I can recall one time maybe five years ago when I took a chance and decided it would be worth seeing friends if I rode the streetcar. What a mistake. My smartphone had me exiting the streetcar in a wooded area restricted from cars, where you could transfer to other transit… which was fine, until I realized that the pathway to where I was headed? closed down! and I had no clue how to get around it. Using the blocked path, it was 400m to the restaurant and 2.2km to go around. I asked a bus driver what to do and he gave me a rather rude non-answer. At that point, I was starting to feel claustrophobic without a main road around me, so I got on the bus anyhow. Looking back now, I can see what really set me off. I have an anxiety trigger which is that if people are in a position to help me, and express indifference or unwillingness to help, especially if I’ve disclosed my anxiety issue, it sends me into a kindof overwhelmed fugue state where I cannot think straight. Anyhow. Ashamed, I called my friends in tears. Heart thudding in my ears, barely able to string coherent thoughts, let alone sentences… well, let’s just say I’m very thankful to have friends willing to meet me at the nearest intersection. Silver lining? Definitely a learning experience!
Eventually planning my own journey became more accessible, however, I learned rather quickly to avoid places more than a few minutes away from subway stops or main intersections. This meant that if I missed my transfer, I’d have somewhere to park myself that might be more interesting than a bench, and if I needed to ask directions, there would be people around. If I wanted to go somewhere farther afield, I only did so if friends came with me, or if they were willing to drive. These rules still apply to this day. In fact, despite working on it, I carry a lot of shame over missing on friend’s baby shower’s, birthdays or other events, simply because I didn’t have a ride there and it was quite out of the way. People chastise me for not making the effort, and tell me that I was an adult now… it shouldn’t be a problem… heck, I should be driving there myself. Life can be hard when that which you wish to heal from is unexpectedly reinforced every now and then.
When I was unemployed, this became an even bigger hurdle for me. At one point, I left the house barely once per week, and that was only if a friend or family member drove me, or at least drove me to the nearest train stop. I ventured out only when I had the mental energy, which I had to save up for days in advance, building myself up knowing that it would be torn down within a few hours. There were times that I turned even a free ride down, though that was mixed up with depression issues as well. Dark times I tell you.
Sadly, driving myself was not an option by then either. In college, I did have my learners permit for a brief time before I let it lapse. I went through all the in-class lessons, the in-car lessons… the extra in-car lessons… the extra extra in-car lessons… and still, I did not feel confident behind the wheel. I studied, but I had no vehicle to practice on outside of paid lessons and so I went into my test feeling like a fraud, and oh boy did it show. I definitely did not pass that test, and I had no idea how to fix it. I still don’t. At the time, I felt as if the examiner did his best to intimidate me. Now, I’m not so sure, but I do recall that there were some things that could have been handled in a gentler, more accommodating way.
Nowadays, I am willing to try again, however, I’m not able to pay for lessons and I’m certainly not willing to put the vehicle of friends or family at risk of falling prey to my SQUIRREL! syndrome.
The idea of creating financial distress for myself or others in having to replace a vehicle or worse, in causing bodily harm… well I find it all terrifying. I’m prone to fits distractibility and often find it impossible to concentrate. As well, I have only so much “focus” in me, and worry that if I tap it all out whilst driving, I won’t be much use afterwards.
It’s ok. I’m pushing forward, very slowly and in my own way. I’m poking holes in the potholes. and I am proud of how far I’ve come.
Thanks for reading