Agoraphobia - Please Help
I've struggled with anxiety and depression on and off for years, and for a while things really seemed to be getting better. Unfortunately, over the past two years, something new has happened. I notice that I have developed agoraphobia. I haven't always been this way, and it's really affecting my life and making me feel miserable.
There is one very obvious trigger that has affected me. I have not been abused, but I have had some uncomfortable encounters recently. I used to take lunch breaks from my workplace to go to the gym, which was walking distance. On my way over to the gym, I would frequently get approached by men who hit on me and made inappropriate comments or licked their lips at me. Although nobody touched me, it really made me uncomfortable, especially since it happened often. At the gym, I've also had a few people follow me and watch me, making me feel uncomfortable. One time in particular, after buying some lunch, someone actually chased me. I do not live in a bad area, but I seem to catch bad moments recently. It scares me and makes me so anxious and nervous.
Since then, I typically stay in for my lunch breaks. I have purchased expensive upgrade parking so I can park in a garage attached to my building and not have to park outside, where people can approach me. I quit my gym membership, so I have avoided a lot of those situations. I usually bring my own lunch, so that helps too.
Now I have developed trouble running errands, such as going to the grocery store. I try to avoid busy days, like the weekends, because it makes me feel more comfortable. I literally feel like people are looking at me all the time, standing too close to me, and I feel like shopping carts are coming at me from all angles to trap me in. I used to open up about this to others and just made a joke about how I hate the grocery store and feel trapped by all the carts, but in reality, it's really hurting me and crippling me. Deep inside, it's no joke, but I get embarrassed to share this with others. Sometimes I DO receive inappropriate looks, but often times it's just me being paranoid. I do feel that people often accidentally touch me, which I hate, but I want to learn to just be annoyed with it rather than panicking about it and letting it affect me so much.
I feel that the more I try to ease myself into busy areas, the WORSE I get. I feel a million times better when I avoid super busy places. I try to find the best times to go places, best days, etc. I really enjoy shopping, but now I prefer shopping online because I feel more comfortable that way, but now I've been having problems with the post office and what not, so it's such a pain.
I used to take Prozac for my anxiety, but it was making me feel pretty tired to the point that it was hard to function. I did really well with it at first, but my side effects seemed to get worse. I have a Xanax prescription and only take it as needed. It's a low dosage. I have tried taking my Xanax when going to the store and it does help some, but not a cure or anything. I also don't want to become dependent on it. I haven't seen a counselor or therapist recently, but I would be open to this. I used to see one in the past. The first therapist did not help me much, but the second (who was actually in training and a recent graduate) was great and very helpful.
Can any of you offer any assistance/advice on what might be good for me to try? Have any of you dealt with agoraphobia and battled it? I would greatly appreciate any help! Right now I do okay, so I want to prevent it from getting worse. Sometimes when things are bad, I will literally hide in a corner and try to get away from everything while I have a panic attack, but other times I can manage to go out and feel half-way decent. I do fine when at work, although I have plenty of times I am not comfortable, but I keep things in control. With friends, I do fine. I do fine with people I know and trust. I generally feel safe while out with a group as well.
I'm a young woman and I do like to dress cute, but I do not do anything to draw attention to myself. My typical outfit is a dress shirt and slacks for work. I wouldn't consider this to be a flashy outfit or anything that would cause inappropriate comments. I'm a very positive and sweet person, but I feel that my personality has become much more shy and I avoid looking at people now. I am just not as friendly and outgoing as I can be! This past year has been a stressful one, so I know this does not help. I am hoping things slow down some. My mother in law recently passed away after a battle with cancer, so this was a hard time. Just wanted to share some background info. that might help!
Re: Agoraphobia - Please Help
I have a problem with agoraphobia. I first had this problem when I was 16. Finally by age 17, I started Prozac. For a year of my teen life, I wouldn't leave the house. I would only eat toast and drink orange juice. I didn't want to eat at my family dinner table because I would sit there and my mind would race, and I'd panic. My dad didn't understand at the time, so he'd yell at me. So I avoided eating. I'd eat the toast and drink the juice to keep my blood sugar up. I weighed about 95 pounds. I'd sit in my room and watch happy movies to take my mind off of the panic. I'd make my mom sit with me, too. When my parents were at work, I'd want to hide in the closet, I was so scared of the world around me.
I started Prozac, like I said, which I was terrified to take, but after a couple months, I felt great! I never thought I would leave my room again. I remember staring out the window at all of the cars driving by and just cry. I longed so badly to go outside. Then the Prozac worked, I started venturing out slowly to the movie store (this was in the early 90's when we didn't have internet and computers). I met my first boyfriend at age 18 and forgot all about my anxiety. I was in love! Who had time to panic!
Years later, my anxiety came and went. I lost/quit jobs because of it. I went off and on the Prozac. I never kept insurance long enough to go to therapy, so I just kept falling off the wagon.
This brings me to current time. Last year I developed agoraphobia again. Lots of stress in my life. Tried Prozac again and I ended up in the hospital. It made me feel really wired. I thought I was on drugs and couldn't come down. This really discouraged me from wanting to try new meds. But I did. I tried several others and one made me lethargic/weird feeling (paranoid) and the other made my heart race to where they took me off of it (even when I took klonopin to calm me). Now I'm suppose to start Zoloft, which I have been putting off for three months.
You are not alone. Every situation is so different when it comes to panic, it's so hard to tell someone what to do, you know? For example, with me, I started freaking out at work. Luckily I worked with a laid back boss and my husband worked with me, too. I'd panic three times a day, even taking klonopin. I'd go sit in the stairwell for 30 minutes and just cry, wait for my klonopin to kick in and then get back to work. I'd eventually not be able to work. I never go out with friends and I avoid busy stores or stores with strange lighting. I remember freaking out at Ikea and getting out of there is a maze - it's terrifying.
I manage to get by when I have to. But I'm really fearful of work. My husband and I just moved and I need to get a job. I turned down a REALLY good job because it was too far away from home. Too far away from my comfort zone. Now I wish I hadn't. This causes more stress, having no money, etc etc etc. You understand.
As far as what to do.... stopping drinking helped me. I used to self medicate. I didn't get wasted, but I'd have 4 or 5 beers a day to numb myself up to where I could sleep. The alcohol made me worse after the buzz wore off. Getting good rest is really helpful. Being too tired made me feel like something was medically wrong, so getting plenty of rest helps me. Getting out of bed helps. I'd lay in bed all day some days because I as dizzy or didn't want to face the day of anxiety. I'd want to sleep it away and ignore it all. But getting out of bed, eating a nice breakfast, really helps start the day. And last, making yourself get out of the house is really important. When I do leave, even though it's the toughest thing in the world to do at the time - when I do leave and "get through my panic", I want to stay out all day and keep going! I get excited that I'm out of the house! Even if it's just walking around the block or down the street. Or even sitting outside in the sun. The worst thing that I can do, for myself, is stay in my room all day. It definitely makes me worse.
As far as your being paranoid with people looking at you, I think that's normal. When I'm fearful and out of the house, I sometimes hate to deal with people and talk to them. And men gawk (no offense, men). It's natural. You're young. But also, when I am anxious, I feel like everyone is looking at me and they "know" I am freaking out. I've been in a grocery store line where my husband went to grab something else, and disappeared. When he wasn't there, I about fainted. I couldn't see him and dealing with the cashier was the WORST thing in the world to me for some reason, that I about ran out of the store and left everything there. The cashier was staring at me and I felt helpless. My body had a mind of it's own. Trembling, shaking, hot flashes.... etc etc. As SOON as my husband got back in line, I was fine. I can't explain the rationality. And no matter how much I tell myself it's panic, I still feel like I'm going to die when I panic.
Talk to your doctor. I take klonopin when needed, and like you, I dont take a lot, because I don't want to rely on it. I take about a quarter a day (of the lowest dose - 0.5mg). Sometimes when I have to go out to the dentist/doctor/store, I may take half. I also had a counselor that was TERRIBLE, but keep trying. Counseling really does help when you find the right one.
Have you tried an SSRI?
Sorry to rant on and on - just wanted to let you know that you are not alone. And one day at a time is all you can do. And each day I make it through is glorious! God knows each hour is such an effort! Seriously!
Re: Agoraphobia - Please Help
Thank you so much for your help! It's comforting to hear others are going through similar things. I also feel like so many stores are like a maze! I've had my times when I had to drop whatever I had at the store and just LEAVE because I felt so panicked. I think at times I must look like a suspicious shoplifter because I tend to walk away from people and keep walking off when anyone approaches me!
I think I'll continue to try to avoid crazy busy stores for now and ease into things. One step at a time!
I did just stop taking Prozac. I posted on another board about possible issues with it, but it's so hard to tell if it was actually Prozac or just ME and my stress and worrying. Being panicked and anxious is extremely draining. I was just SO TIRED on Prozac that I felt like I was drunk all the time. I still feel that way and am like this on and off, and have been even before Prozac, so I think it's just related to how I feel. I might consider going back on it to see how that works. I was warned about possible long term side effects, so I will take some time to think about everything first.
Luckily I feel somewhat safe in my workplace. It's outside of the building that I start to panic. When I get back inside, I feel like I'm back in my safe zone. I am very fortunate that I feel safe in my area so it doesn't affect my job. I have had moments where I did get panicked though and had to go find a private spot to have a good cry, but this does not happen often. I just hate the surrounding area of the workplace. It's very crowded b/c it's an area that many tourists visit.
I don't drink on a daily basis, so this is a good thing! I have cut back on drinking too, just because I was trying to watch my calories a bit more. I drink a couple times a month, up to a maximum of once per week. When I'm taking Prozac, I get drunk a lot faster and have a higher chance of not remembering things, so I be really careful with this and have cut back. I also get awful hangovers at times and never really had that problem before.
Again, thanks for all of your advice! It is very helpful! The good thing is that I don't ever trap myself in one room, but I'm seeking help now to avoid that from happening in the future. Things have gotten worse, but they still are not severe, so I want to prevent that from happening :) I also plan to go to a new church with a group of friends very soon. I think it will be good! I hope I feel comfortable there and enjoy it!
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