Does recovery from agoraphobia mean you don’t have anxiety or panic attacks?
I decided it was high time to get my fitness back and lose the few kilos that have me feeling negative about myself and me continuously complaining. And the first week of my beach holiday in a fresh new year was no better time to start.
I turned on my recently downloaded app that was going to train me towards running 10kms – I want to complete a half marathon; I’ve been saying this for years.
Off I started. One minute jogging then two minutes walking, for eight rounds.
After a confident start, the old anxiety brain started to second guess what I was doing as I travelled further along a deserted beach.
“What if I need help?”
“There’s no one around…”
“If I have a heart attack, I’m too far away from help”
“I can’t do this, I’m not safe”
Body monitoring was complementing the anxious thinking too.
I noted my heart thumping away.
I noted the nausea.
I was waiting for a heart flutter – something that sometimes occurs in my body.
Knowing what my brain was doing, I tried to answer it back – I’ve done enough CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) to know I need to stop the negative self-talk.
“If I need help, help will come. I have my phone”
“There are people around in the distance and they will notice if you collapse”
“If you have a heart attack, people will come to you quickly.”
“You can do this. You are safe.”
“Your heart is thumping safely because you’re exercising”
“You’re feeling nauseous because you haven’t trained in a long time”
“There is no heart flutter”
And on the heart attack fears – the foundation of my original, undiagnosed panic attacks 25 years ago – I decided to get angry:
“You’re not going back to sitting around and not doing anything to save yourself from a possible heart attack. You are better off dying jogging (and living) than not living because of fear (agoraphobia).”
Please note: These words are not to upset anyone with agoraphobia. These are tough words that help me when I feel anxious and second-guess any activities. This is the thinking I needed to get better and keep committed to the hard work of recovery.
I stopped the app. Mum was behind me and I waited for her. I told her my anxiety was playing a little bit of havoc. “You can jog on the way back,” she said. Good point, I thought!
I started walking without the thought of jogging for a bit.
I remembered my first session with my psychiatrist. He had (very wisely) told me about one of his clients who’d recovered from agoraphobia. A few years later he stormed back into his office and yelled at him that he’d had a panic attack.
He made it very clear, Session 1 in 1997, recovery from agoraphobia wouldn’t mean 100% freedom from panic attacks or anxiety.
He, in fact, set clear expectations straight up: I would most likely have panic attacks and anxiety my entire life.
And, he was right. I do. But what I couldn’t comprehend at the time is that I’d learn how to manage both.
If you have agoraphobia and/or debilitating anxiety, you will be reading this feeling exactly how I did back when I first heard the above words. Scared. Deflated. Unable to imagine yourself ever being able to manage the fear that panic produces.
It’s not easy. It takes lots of practise. It takes accepting who you are. It takes strength. It’s exhausting.
But you can get there.
And it’s best to start your journey knowing and accepting that recovery isn’t a magic bullet and it means different things to different people.
I bow down to those who have had long-term, life altering anxiety and are completely free of it. I think it’s amazing if they found their “cure”.
But being dogmatic about roads to recovery is unfair and unhelpful to most who have constant battles with the health issue.
It was when I accepted my fate – the good, the bad and the difficult – that I truly started to manage my body, mind and life.
Recovery (for me) is not never having anxiety. Recovery is having anxiety and living freely and independently with it.
I still have issues about driving distance, but that doesn’t stop me from getting to places independently.
I still get anxious being in a theatre or at a concert, but if booking an aisle seat means I am less likely to feel panicky, then an aisle seat I book.
It’s all about perspective – what success and health is to YOU. What living a productive and full life is to YOU.
So, I did jog the return journey along the beach. I did feel a bit anxious, but I pushed on. I didn’t run away from the experience, and I returned the next day.
I managed my anxious feelings and thoughts.
That’s recovery for me.