The start of a new year is always a time for renewed hope and a fresh start. It’s a significant date that many of us hold out for to make big changes to our life. When you have agoraphobia – anxiety and panic attacks that debilitate your life – I will bet your new year resolution will be all about recovery and getting your life back.
I was recently interviewed by Take 5 Magazine in Australia and appeared in their first issue for 2018 in an article “Our resolutions changed our life”. When I first chatted with the journalist, I didn’t actually know the angle of the story other than ‘people who had conquered their phobia’. When he told me it was about new year resolutions, he asked if I had made one at the time. Unsure, I dragged out my agoraphobia journal curious what, if anything, I’d written on a new year’s day. Sure enough, I had certainly detailed new year resolutions for agoraphobia recovery.
Agoraphobia Journal: New Year’s Resolutions (1 January 1996)
Yay, I made another year and boy am I glad to say not 1995 is over with!
I’m really proud of myself; I kept my wits about me last night and coped really well. I didn’t let any anxiety get out of hand, but I couldn’t totally let go of the fear. (Anxiety 2 out of 10).
My anxiety rose when noises work me early in the morning and that’s as bad as it got.
I did shed a few tears at midnight, partially because they showed the celebrations on TV and I thought about what I was missing, but also out of happiness (for surviving the year). I could feel new optimism entering my soul about the year ahead.
This morning I feel really good that I’ve made it past the worst of my time alone – I can do anything!
I also feel like I wanna go out. Surely being around people is better than being alone with no one to contact if I had an “attack”.
So for some goals for 1996. (We’ll see how far I get get.)
- Get mentally well
- Going out without fear
- Get work driving
- Move out (Mum’s home)
- Find out/get started with counselling
- Get car
Curious to see what I wrote the following year, I found nothing written. Twenty plus years on, I know the despair I would have felt that none of my resolutions were anywhere close to achieved. In fact, in many ways, I was further away from achieving all the goals.
In 1995, I had gone from a 23 yo who was functioning with undiagnosed anxiety and panic attacks. I started the year in a new relationship, socialising more than ever in my life, had a new job role and was feeling positive having recently returned to Melbourne after four months in London and Europe.
By May I’d had a nervous breakdown, was not coping with life. I was avoiding situations for fear of “something happening” and had resigned from my job.
By end of 1995, I was 6 months into agoraphobia – afraid to do just about anything for fear of dying or having a panic attack.
Life was terrifying. Every day was filled with panic. I would wake up and be scared of the day ahead. I’d lay on the lounge-room couch, alone during the day, scared to move for fear of a heart attack.
With my life having spiralled out of control in 12 months to functioning with anxiety to anything other than, and having survived a panic-filled few days (left at home alone whilst others enjoyed the new year holiday period away), I clearly had renewed hope for the year ahead on 1 January 1996.
But, for anyone reading this with agoraphobia or anxiety and panic disorder, recovery must be more than a pipe dream. Wishing it better doesn’t make it happen. It’s going to take a huge effort and commitment. It also takes breaking down the goal into an achievable, long term plan.
Although, this is the same for any substantial goal that will change your life.
This reality was not something I was ready for in 1996. So the best intentioned resolutions didn’t mean the paper they were written on. If nothing else, I didn’t have the tools or knowledge to implement any goal.
It wasn’t until May 1997 that I went to my GP, ready to get my life back, knowing I didn’t want my life to disappear in agoraphobia, and asked for a psychiatrist who specialised in anxiety.
Within a few months I was on medication, started walking around the block on my own (slowly increasing distance), and was asking friends and family for help to get out (café, movies, dinners).
It was another year before I returned to work and started driving independently.
It was 18 months before I would go out without fear or second-guessing myself.
It was 2.5 years before I moved out on my own.
It was 15 years before I considered myself fully recovered and mentally well. My wellness is something, 20 years later, I still work hard on.
And I have had times of epic failure. I’ve gone backwards in some years. I’ve been less independent at times.
But throughout the years, there’s been a commitment to never return to agoraphobia and go and see my doctor when times are tough.
I have the tools and the understanding of agoraphobia recovery and years of practise not fearing panic attacks and trusting I am safe.
For me, I needed the professional help. Pragmatic, unapologetic advice of the reality of the anxiety brain.
I truly think it is incredibly hard for anyone who loves you to do (help your recovery) – because they want to protect you from the pain you may feel. You need pragmatic words that the panic won’t hurt you, and a plan to slowly and gradually work on your recovery plan.
You need Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. You need Exposure Therapy. You may also need medication.
You also need acceptance for agoraphobia recovery. And I shout out to me dear friend who was talking about this word last night (New Year’s Eve 2017).
- You need to accept your best worded intentions won’t get you better without action.
- You need to accept help – preferably, professional.
- You need to accept the plan someone smarter than you lays.
- You need to accept it’s going to be extremely difficult.
- You need to accept it’s going involve feeling anxiety/panic.
- You need to accept fearing life is not living.
- You need to accept you are not defined by having anxiety.
- You need to accept you need to recover independently.
- You need to accept you will survive.
- You need to accept backward steps don’t define your recovery.
My wish for you is acceptance in 2018 towards agoraphobia recovery. The pain is oh so worth it, I promise, and just when you wonder when you won’t feel panic, you suddenly realise you’re living without it. But this takes time – be patient.
This blog is written from lived experience and should not replace professional advice. If you are going through a tough time, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue 1300 22 4636 if you live in Australia.