Times have certainly changed over the last thirty years, when it comes to living with anxiety, agoraphobia, or mental illness in general.
When I was growing up, psychological disorders were a rare topic of discussion around the dinner table.
Psychiatrists were for “crazy” people, and if you did have some issues, it was common practice to keep it to yourself.
This collective attitude of fear, shame, and ignorance combined with, practically non-existent, information and communication has not served our society well… especially for those who’ve suffered with such ailments.
As the generations move forward, however, we are learning from past mistakes.
I was diagnosed with Agoraphobia in 2005. I must admit, until that time, I wasn’t very familiar with these things. As my therapist went through the criteria, however, they matched my symptoms perfectly and I finally had a name for the new kind of crazy I’d been experiencing.
These are strange disorders, at a glance, and rare when compared to more familiar afflictions like Depression and Bipolar. I can’t blame society for being uneducated, but I was shocked when I had to spell Agoraphobia for the receptionist at my new therapist’s office, because she’d never heard of such a thing!
Like I said, we’re making great strides, but we still have a long way to go.
My home is my comfort zone, and within its walls I can function at an impressive capacity… constantly writing, caring for my family, and even acting as kindergarten teacher for my five-year old son (my girlfriend and I decided I’d homeschool him last summer). I feel helpful, productive, and happy.
When the symptoms of my anxiety disorders are in full effect, however, I experience an overwhelming sensation of impending doom and panic when I cross the threshold of my dwelling. In a matter of seconds, my psychological issues manifest themselves physically —that, “It’s all in your head,” nonsense no longer applies… Does it ever?
On an intellectual level, I do understand my feelings are irrational, but that knowledge does not help me. My heart quickens. I struggle to breathe. My vision and hearing become warped and distorted! Echoing sounds and bleeding colors make me dizzy and —I’m going to vomit! I’m sweating, and shaking so badly I can’t move my legs properly.
I can feel myself losing consciousness —rapidly! I’m definitely going to Fall if I don’t abandon my futile attempt to leave my home and venture out into the foreboding world. I have to get back inside, often crawling… crying.
I’ve written a lot about my mother during the last two years, reflecting on our life together. Thinking about how she lived has me convinced she suffered from very similar issues to me. My mom mysteriously stopped driving, when I was very young, never to get behind the wheel again. For the last ten years of my life, if my mom left the house, it was in the passenger seat or on foot.
She never had a job, while I was alive anyway, even when there was perfect opportunity and need. She had no friends, with the exception of her sister, and myself and she was awkward and withdrawn at family outings. Usually she would park herself somewhere, and that’s where she’d stay until it was time to go… as if she couldn’t move. This is my exact behavior, in similar situations.
—I always thought my mom told me everything, too much in fact! However, if she was disabled and dealing with symptoms from panic attacks or Agoraphobia, she certainly never discussed it with me. Was she ashamed, confused, scared, or perhaps I’m just wrong… but I don’t think so.
It breaks my heart to imagine her shouldering that burden alone.
If my theory is correct, given the times, my poor mom had no idea what was wrong with her. Because of this, it took me far too long to find out what was wrong with me. I’ve spent a substantial amount of my adult life, trying to figure this shit out. I’ve been reading, writing, talking, and listening, searching for answers so I can suffer less and live more.
Perhaps my mom would have done the same, if Breast Cancer didn’t demand her full attention for the last five years of her life.
If these disorders are hereditary, and there is evidence to suggest they can be, then it would appear they run in my family. My mother had no knowledge of these things, and I’ve had to search and fight for mine through painful and confusing decades.
My son is five years old, and I do not want to think he is genetically predisposed to mental illness, but… I have to acknowledge the possibility. If he does have to live with mental illness, I’m going to do everything in my power to make damn sure he can do it without the shame, guilt, confusion, and loneliness that his grandmother, and I, had to endure.
Nathan Daniels, author of Surviving the Fourth Cycle lives with psychological disorders including; Social Anxiety Disorder, Agoraphobia, Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression, Insomnia, and OCD.