Long path

So I Walked Out…Agoraphobia

It’s been a remarkably odd two weeks. I don’t think I have ever gone this long. I can’t put my finger on why this stretch of walls, and ceilings and fluffy down duvets was all I could handle. I am not even sure what finally made me walk out the door. But, it happened, and with zero reservation. Today, after fourteen days of isolation from agoraphobia, I just walked out.

Agoraphobia is something I have dealt with on and off for 21 years. I know the years exactly because my first glimpse at the beast happened while I was pregnant with my daughter, she just turned 21 last week.

take the riskWhile pregnant, it was discovered that I have two heart valves that regurgitate. It may seem clear to some, but just in case you don’t have your heart anatomy hat on today; blood is only supposed to flow in one direction through the valves of your heart.

Apparently, with the increased blood volume of pregnancy this problem was exposed. First, there was the dizziness, later came the passing out, then the passing out while driving and hitting a poll.

If you pass out while driving, and find part of your car wrapped around a poll, it is likely that someone is going to ask you to stop driving. In this case it was, not surprisingly my doctor. He did not, thankfully, turn me into the department of motor vehicles.

That incident began a five month stay at home. Five months of leaving only when accompanied. Five months of awful television, and every book on pregnancy and early childhood I could find.

Something happens when you start your stay of “house arrest”. First, you are a bit frustrated, but you use the time to get things done. Then, you get bored. That is where the bad tv and piles of rented vhs tapes came in. Finally, your mind starts to wander.

As a news junkie, I found myself watching as many news programs as I could. This was all that could keep me from soap operas and game shows. What is no surprise to anyone is that the news is filled with overly emphasised, dramatic news, and some very real bad news. Filling a wandering and lonely mind with every bad thing that could happen should I leave the house made the forced exile seem like a really good idea.

When my husband would return from work and try to take me anywhere, I started having visions of cars careening off of ours and sending us into ditches. I was certain we would be carjacked, or perhaps a freedom fighter from a far away oppressed nation would decide that our grocery store was just the place he was going to sacrifice himself for the cause. It became much easier for everyone involved if I just stayed home.

After my beautiful 11 pound 1 ounce child was born, and I had an echocardiogram, I was cleared for take-off. Now I could go and do those things new moms with pretty strollers and smartly dressed babies always want to do. I could go to the park, the mall, gymboree, anywhere my heart (pardon the pun) desired.

I wasn’t going anywhere. No way. I was not going to risk my child’s life by taking her out into a world of gang violence, hostage situations, floods and car accidents.

Dr. Patel was an excellent psychiatrist and therapist. It did not take long before I met him and started working my way out of the rabbit hole of agoraphobia. Soon I could leave the house without feeling the panic of world destruction, the hyperventilating of a fear so great that I was afraid to hold my daughter because I was shaking so much.

Thank you Dr. Patel. It only took about a month, and I was out of the house again. Yes, I would still see cars in my side view mirror that I was certain had it in for me, but I was considerably better. So much so that I almost forgot after awhile I had ever had the agoraphobic experience.

Then the time came for me to go back to work. I took a job offer in retail that involved some buying and merchandising. I had to travel to downtown San Diego from my Oceanside home for my training. I was excited about the position, it sounded like fun.

The morning of my first day arrived and I put on my professional, employed woman costume and went for the door. I couldn’t even touch the doorknob.

I doubt, 21 years later that they are still waiting for me to show up, suffice it to say I did not go to work. I did not call. I went to bed.

Three weeks later I left the house again, back to see Dr.Patel. After a med adjustment and a few chats, I felt better and started looking for another job.

I interviewed at a software company, and the process was long. I now know that I met with everyone that worked at the company, and four weeks later I was offered a position working the help desk. This was not my dream career choice, I wanted to be a social worker, but my husband was back in school and we needed to pay the bills. I figured I would be there a little while as I searched for my passion.

15 years later, as Vice President of this software company, my position was “eliminated”. Positions held by those who are chronically ill are often eliminated I have discovered. Back to the house, contracting for 15 hours per week for the company that just eliminated me. I was also in the midst of accidentally starting a grassroots health advocacy movement. I say accidentally because I was really a reluctant activist. Had I not lost my job there would be no Chronically Awesome movement or foundation.

Back to not leaving the house.

This destroyed my marriage, and further degraded my already sinking health. After a year I found myself, my dogs and some suitcases some 50 miles north, in an apartment in Los Angeles.

That is where I am today. I work for my foundation and I work most of my 15 hours per week for the software company. My groceries are delivered to me and my boyfriend walks the dogs. I really have nowhere to go but to doctor appointments and occasional political functions.

If you have nowhere to go, what do you do? Easy: you stay at home, you have Google hangouts with friends, and you shriek every time the fire station next door leaves going full code.

I was at least leaving once a week to see my therapist, until I had a transportation issue. I could not get anywhere without my car, so even my therapy was now being done over the phone.

For 14 days I stayed at home. I worked, wrote, watched documentaries, and got more and more settled in to this rear end shaped impression in the center of my couch. I sat on the balcony twice.

Yesterday it rained. The rain brought out some nasty cold like symptoms in Brian, the resident dog walker. By morning, I was not sure what was going to happen, or how he was going to feel. All I know is that something kicked in, be it in my brain, or in that part of me that contains the “get up and go” hormone. All I know is this:

I got dressed, I brushed my hair, I grabbed the leash and two dogs, and I walked out.

Guess what else?

I didn’t die.