When you are your own prisoner, unable to accomplish the most simple, everyday tasks, there comes a point when you reach a quiet acceptance.
Although logic is screaming at you to take a shower, to eat a solid meal, or to get outside in the sunlight, none of these are reasonable options in the mind of an agoraphobic.
You become adamant about avoiding anything outside of your ever-diminishing comfort zone. This highly limited way of life became all I knew for three years.
The DSM-IV defines agoraphobia as “a fear of situations where help and escape are difficult to obtain.” As with all diseases, however, the reality of the condition is not easily contained in diagnostic terms.
People often ask me what it’s like to be completely isolated by irrational fears. “Didn’t you get bored….lonely….crazy?”
While I was certainly crazy, I did not get bored or lonely. The nagging fear was my constant companion and kept me far from bored. When you’re agoraphobic, you do exactly what your ever-limited world allows you to do. I cooked in the kitchen until I became scared of the kitchen. I read books until I became scared of books. I slept until I became scared of sleeping. Eventually I didn’t leave my bedroom except when absolutely necessary. The floors became littered with dishes of untouched food, the windows were dusty and the shades were permanently drawn.
While trapped in this way of life, you become acquainted with a voice in your head that badgers endlessly. “The food is poisoned.” “Someone’s hiding in your closet.” “If you fall asleep, something terrible will happen.” “Are you sure you locked the door? Better go check for the fifth time.” For all that I hated this voice, I needed it. I believed that it kept me in line, kept me safe. My days were spent pacing and checking, wringing my hands and pulling my hair.
So, no – I was never bored or lonely. I was a nineteen year old basket case crawling on my knees to check under my bed, armed with a hammer and scissors.[quote]I read books until I became scared of books. I slept until I became scared of sleeping. Eventually I didn’t leave my bedroom except when absolutely necessary. The floors became littered with dishes of untouched food, the windows were dusty and the shades permanently drawn.[/quote]Along with a decent amount of sanity, I lost many good friends. While my peers were off earning their college degrees, having their first legal drinks, and attending house parties; I was confined to my bedroom, calling them only when I was stable enough to carry on a conversation. Many friends did not understand and grew tired of my behavior. They wondered why I couldn’t just “snap out of it,” as if I hadn’t tried every option. In my growing detachment from reality, these friends were easily replaced by characters from television programs. I would laugh with delight at their two dimensional faces as they cracked jokes on my computer screen inches from my face.
And then, somehow, someday, I stepped outside and did not feel the aching to return to the safety of my bedroom. It had been at least a week since I had been awoken by my heart pounding in my chest and the urge to check the safety of my surroundings. I began to smile again. Maybe it was finally reaching the proper combination of therapy and medication, maybe it was something about the stale air in my bedroom or maybe it was that I was finally done, rid, complete, finished with this chapter of my life. Maybe deep down, deeper down than the nagging voice, deeper down than the source of my problems, I knew that my future really was full of hope and possibility; that after three years, it was about time I started treating myself well.
No matter what the source, something gradually clicked in my mind, and I began to see clearly once more: I am worth more than this wretched self-loathing and fear. I do deserve happiness, and damn right, I will I have it.
I’ve been comfortably setting foot outside for over six months now. There is a certain restlessness in this recovery, a ceaseless need to carpe that diem. I want to make up for lost time, to punch the owner of the voice in my head that tells me of all the horrible things that can happen outside the safety of my bedroom. So while the voice is still there, while my recovery is still ongoing, I silence it away and push myself out the door to greet the sunshine.