So the past couple of weeks have been good ones, in my book. Therapy has slowly but surely become more of a helpful resource than a source of fear. I had my first hour-long full session in-office since the new year began and it felt good to open up. I've also really put myself out there socially, trying to encourage myself to engage in small friendly interactions with store clerks, librarians, customer service personnel for the cable company, etc. It's not always easy and it's definitely not effortless, but my worst fear is living like a hermit.
The past few months have been lonely because friends and family have tread lightly and provided space for me to heal, and I am forever grateful. But I do miss them terribly. It's too painful to be so isolated all of the time. By far one of the worst things about being agoraphobic is that folks don't understand what it is. A couple of weeks ago, I was conversing with a phone rep for one of my student loan companies. At the time, phone conversations were just a little more difficult to ensure than they are nowadays. I explained this to the representative on the other line and he actually took the time to ask what agoraphobia is, which was above and beyond the line of customer service duty. Kudos to him! But it's true - no one knows what it really means. I've even had to do some reading to really "get it." Agoraphobes are thought of as reclusive and not wanting to leave their houses. ALL I want to do is leave the house - I just get scared to for fear that I'll suffer a public, humiliating panic episode. The fear has lessened a lot, but I still struggle. I dream of the day when I can go back to making a Target run without putting too much premeditated thought into the process.
Another common misconception is that agoraphobes don't want to be around people or, on the opposite end, are scared to be alone. Neither is fully true. My biggest fear leaving home is that I will lose control and panic and others will witness the perceived weakness. I also get scared to be along for long periods because I miss the comfort of a hug or a kind word when things are feeling a bit low. But as a Myers-Briggs ESTJ by nature, I miss good company. I miss happy hours with friends or workplace camaraderie with colleagues. I miss hugs and physical affection, which is hard to obtain regularly when your life partner works second shift and you are too scared to join in on your friends' adventures.
Working from home has been the best thing for me in this season of life - I have been working freelance as a resume writer for some time now and started doing it on a very limited basis when I was in the worst stages of my breakdown. Helping provide monetarily for my family and myself is a HUGE self-esteem thing for me. God knew this and provided me with an opportunity to preserve some of my dignity at a time when I didn't know what the future held in regards to returning to the full-time position I was in from June until I got sick. But I miss the good stuff...the fun conversations, the professional development opportunities, access to good reads and other valuable resources, etc.
Now that freelancing is my only gig, I am thankful for the positive experience, the fact that I have a job directly related to my B.A. and somewhat related to my M.Ed., and to have found an unexpected outlet for my writing abilities and interest. I am also thankful to not have to deal with the other side of the coin that comes with working in an environment outside of the home - having to explain my disorder to others who may not know or understand. Being in control of my own destiny is exciting and I am grateful to have the flexibility of being my own boss. I can rest on a "bad day" and not have to be ashamed to explain to others why I am going home early.
In my experience over the past decade or so, the working public has used the term "mental health day" as a joking term used when one is weary, sick of work and wants to justify taking a day off. Folks suffering from actual mental and emotional illnesses legitimately need those days in addition to physical sickness days. Those "bad days" are just as bad as sick days are for folks that suffer from a cold or flu. And it's harder to explain or rationalize because the symptoms are invisible. I can't tell you how many people have told me since the signs pf my breakdown began to come on in November that they had no idea that I have GAD, panic disorder and agoraphobia because I held it together so well for so long. It makes me feel good to know I am a great actress (perhaps a future career possibility?) but it doesn't feel good or nice to hear that others think less of GAD's severity because it doesn't always come with a physical symptom, i.e. fever and a sinus infection. It also doesn't come with a cure-all antibiotic, which makes it all the more challenging to treat. And I have had plenty of irritable belly episodes, heart palpitations and episodes of depersonalization, so trust me the physical side is no picnic.
No matter how accepting others may be of anxiety disorders, I've come to learn that there is a lot of misunderstanding associated with them. Granted, it's light years ahead of what it used to be like in high school and college (I felt alone and scared many times in those days), but society has a long way to go in working to understand and empathize with sufferers. Anxiety disorders affect a surprisingly large number of the world's population and that's no small thing to ignore.
Sometimes love is all you need and it's the best medicine possible. I am thankful for all the doses of love that have come my way these past few months. So practice loving, understanding and compassion - you never know what your friend or loved one may be going through privately. And you don't know just how impactful a hug, kind word or continued check-in can be for someone.
Until next time <3