HOW MY LIFE STARTED TO CHANGE AROUND MY AGORAPHOBIA
I stopped going to school and missed my O’Levels. I would sit in my room most of the day, on good days venturing out with friends but never without panic attacks, which were now a daily occurrence. I would wake in the night with them – they were the worst as I felt I was in my “safest” place and therefore had nowhere to escape to.
I would have worse times and these were usually before my period, making me realise that hormones played a major part. I have always suffered monthly migraines with my periods and would actually welcome these as the anxiety was someone taken over by the intense pain.
My mum got me to join her apple picking in our village orchard and I did this (with panic) and this lead to me getting a job in an office in the next village and learning to drive (with panic). To get to sleep I would pick my legs with a needle to settle me – as concentrating on something so small seemed to do this. I was a “bundle of nerves”.
The years past and I was put on various meds, saw umpteen mental health specialists, tried every therapy under the sun but nothing seemed to rid me of the panic attacks. I lived in about a 10 mile or so radius from then on with peaks and troughs to my anxiety.
At 20, I did a very foolish thing. A friend offered me a joint and thinking it would calm me I tried it. There followed 24 hours of the worst panic attack EVER – wanting to peel my skin off, hallucinating, awful. This had a big impact on me and to this day I have not touched a drop of alcohol and will not take even Paracetamol for fear of change. The memory of the place in my mind that went to that night stayed with me and I feared its return.
MY LIFE AS AN ADULT AND MY FAMILY
At 32, and happily married, I had our son and during my pregnancy came off the beta-blokers and reduced to 10mg of the Anafranil so that I could safely feed him. After his birth (which was at home) I was very anxious and low and my meds were changed to Seroxat (which I was VERY reluctant to take at first but remain on to this day). They helped a bit at first and I felt more level.
I became a School Governor at this Primary School and was there helping at lot in the classroom and although never without my odd panic, began to enjoy life and motherhood.
Aged 40, I decided, together with my doctor, to try to come off the Seroxat gradually and was down to 10mg when my life took a cruel twist. I had a fibroid that had been growing for some years, and now in agony, I had to have an abdominal hysterectomy. When I came out of hospital I was laid up for several weeks recovering but, aside from the pain and weakness, I felt different. Like a light had gone out in me. My doctor advised me to increase my Seroxat, which I did with the usual horrible side effects of altering my drugs.
As the weeks past, I got worse, like a constant sobbing inside. When I could drive again I went to collect my nephews from their school and had a massive panic attack . I still do not know how I managed to get home and the panic did not subside when I got in the door. It continued until I had a breakdown. Even though I had battled with panic attacks, agoraphobia in varying degrees and anxiety for years I had never had true depression and the mixture of the two was beyond suffering. It was hell. I felt detached from reality (would often feel like I was in “Medieval times” – that’s the only way I can explain it), I felt dead to the core but wired with anxiety at the same time.
I started suffering severe separation anxiety if my husband or son were away from me. If I felt worse I would look at what I had eaten that day and so cut that from my diet – attaching how I felt with that – and so my diet has become very limited. I would not try anything new – even say soap, for fear it would affect me in a negative way.
I became OCD in that I would have to read whole pages if a word caught my eye. As my external world became smaller, so did my internal one. Everything became about controlling my anxiety as I saw it, even though I now release I was not controlling it, merely stoking it.
I kept trying to venture out but had lost all confidence that I would be able to “get down” the anxiety on my return home and eventually became housebound. That was 6 years ago. Those years have been very hard. Winter time being the worst. Long days stuck in doors with too much time to think. Worrying about every ailment to the point of hypochondria and fearing that I’d have to go to hospital and couldn't.
Come back to read part 3 of Sue's story in a few days. She tells us how difficult it is to manage her health problems when she is not able to leave the house.