Days 9 – 11, Flop And Flutter. And Flop Again.

I know I haven’t updated in a few days.  It’s not like I can say I was busy, either.  You guys already know I don’t really have that much going on.  I barely ever leave my house; what could I have so pressingly important?

Nothing.  I just needed a break.  I’ve spent many years avoiding dealing with my problems and then spent the last week talking about them here.  I just needed to go back to avoiding for a couple days.  This may sound like  I slipped up or went into some kind of depression, which isn’t the case.  I was already slipping up and no more depressed than usual.

I did go out once since I last wrote.  Sunday, I was really craving some Melting Pot.  So I told my fiance to shower and get ready, because we were going out to dinner.  He looked at me like I was an alien.  But, since there wasn’t any football on, he decided he was curious enough to just go with it.  He showered and I panicked.  I really wanted Melting Pot, but I didn’t want to go anywhere.  Maybe we could just buy a fondue set (wait, don’t we already have like four of them somewhere?  doesn’t everybody?).  Maybe I could just heat up some pizza and we can watch movies.

No, none of that would quench the lust I had for their spinach artichoke cheese appetizer and their mojo style oil.  I needed Melting Pot more than I needed to be panic free.  But, I’m not a fool.  The only way I’d survive the outing would be to be 100% prepared.  For everything I could think of.  After packing up three of my son’s backpacks – one for food for him, one for toys, and one for diapers and emergency items – I went and got myself dressed in something other than my usual drab of jeans and a spaghetti strap bra top.  I remembered that I used to like getting dressed up.  At first, it kind of made me sad.  Thankfully, though, Melting Pot brings out a very special and happy side of me, so it didn’t last long.

So, B was showered.  X was packed up and ready for nuclear attack.  I even had on a long skirt.  It was time to go.  We stood by the door and B stared at me, again like I was an alien.  I was waiting for him to grab the keys.  He asked me if I had seen what he was drinking before I told him to get ready.  I remembered seeing a yellow plastic cup from his bachelor days, but I didn’t happen to notice what was in it.  He’d also chugged the last of it right before showering.   Crap.  He was too tipsy to drive.  I felt the blood leave my face as I felt the happiness of Melting Pot leaving my grasp.

My exact, but censored for blog land, words were “F. that.  Give me the keys and get in the car.”  I had not endured panic and preparation, and god forbid – effort to have my mojo taken from me.  (Yes, I just made a fondue pun.)  I was going, and no one better stand in my way.  I was ready for all of it.  People staring at me, ordering at a restaurant, having X throw tantrums of epic proportions while the whole restaurant stared at me.  I still cared about all of that stuff, very deeply, but I couldn’t be bothered thinking about it.  I could smell and taste the spinach artichoke cheese fondue already.  I would stop at nothing.

And there we were.  We were the first customers there, which people with small children will tell you is prime time to go.  I used to go to Melting Pot every week, but stopped a few months ago as the agoraphobia got worse.  It was also putting a significant dent in my expendable budget.

The strangest thing happened when I walked in.  The two hostesses squealed when they saw me and came running up to meet X.  They told me they talked about us (me and Alli) all the time and thought they’d done something to make us stop coming there every week.  They were so glad they finally got to meet X, who they insisted was “much bigger than the pictures”.  They called me by my name and asked me if I wanted to sit in David’s section or Gary’s section.   Holy crap.  I remembered David and Gary.  Those were my guys!  They both know my drink (it’s a specialty drink of theirs with a few substitutes – usually only the staff drink it).  They both used to load me up with tons of extras and freebies.  They were both such nice guys.  I was stunned that I’d ever made any kind of impression on a restaurant across town.

It worked out that I sat in Gary’s section, because David was coming in thirty minutes later that day.  Gary strolled up to the table and kind of stage shouted “Annie!  Where have you been, girl?”.  He had my drink in hand.  I felt like the princess of Melting Pot.  Immediately, I was at ease.  David came over later to talk to us before his shift.  They brought a bunch of stuff out for X, including a balloon – how did they know he loves gravity defying objects?

I had his backpacks next to me in the booth and added a few things to his kiddie plate.  He was satisfied for a while.  And when he wasn’t satisfied anymore, I pulled out one toy.  When he wasn’t satisfied any more, I put it back and pulled out another.  I repeated this several times throughout the night.  Meanwhile, B had found his favorite wine in the whole world that is almost impossible to get in the states on their wine list.  Even in his favorite year!  So, I told him to get a bottle of it.  Again with the alien look!

I don’t even think I have to say it, but dinner was amazing.  It came time for dessert, and I looked over at X, who was flirting with a nine month old in the high chair next to him.  Tears came to my eyes when I realized we’d made it to dessert with ZERO tantrums.  People were staring at us and talking about us, but it was to notice how well behaved he was.  I was so proud of him and I really let him know.

Dessert – also amazing.  Paid the check, packed up all of my bags, said goodbye to Gary and David, and left.  Alli only lives about four blocks from the restaurant, so I dropped off my broccoli leftovers.  It’s her favorite food in the world.  Yes, you heard me right.  After driving to the restaurant and knowing I had to drive home, I also agreed to make a pit stop at Alli’s with my family in tow!  And then I drove us all home.  (For anyone wondering, I was not drunk.  I had the one drink Gary brought at around 4:15pm and didn’t leave the restaurant until 6:30pm after eating a four course meal.  Drunk driving is what killed my best friend and set into action my fear of driving, so I don’t mess around.)

It was a really great day.  It makes all the previous days’ failures not seem so bad when I make up for them on a binge like that.  Reflecting on the evening, it could not have been more perfect.  I can’t remember the last time B and I went out for an enjoyable evening together.  I certainly can’t remember doing so with X in tow.

And that wraps up my long, long update.  On a side note I’d like to ask anyone who works for Melting Pot if they put crack in the dishes there.  There’s no good reason to have the sort of intense cravings that both Alli and I get for their food.  It must be crack.

Day 8 – I Can Bore The Worst Of Agoraphobiacs

I’ve been struggling with writing an update today. Pretty much anything I write will sound exactly the same as the last four or so days. I am even boring myself with all that nonsense, so I can only imagine how you’re feeling!

I have been thinking about how I got so far gone in my phobias and panic issues. I keep wondering how I could have just plain missed it for so long. And the question I keep asking is how? How on earth did I miss it? How did I not catch it before it got out of control? And then I wonder, exactly what day, what incident broke the camel’s back?

Was it something I’ve already written about? Something I’ve forgotten? Was it a general collection of years of little things? But still, there had to be a single point when I crossed the line from being “above average anxious” to “refuses to leave the house”. I wonder if I would have done much different even if someone had warned me. In my younger years, I wasn’t much for thinking about consequences of my actions. At least not the consequences that only had an effect on me.

It’s getting more difficult to not be hard on myself for the things I have failed to accomplish since figuring out something was wrong and I want to fight it. Right now, I’m fighting like a girl. Time for a new strategy.

Day 7 – Agoraphobia’s Winning

I have a million reasons to not leave my house today.  My fiance will be working until well past my bedtime, so I gave him the car.  It’s cold and windy outside.  It’s raining off and on.  I have a lot to do around the house (but shockingly none of it is getting done – curious, isn’t it?).  I don’t have any spending money for the rest of the month.  I could keep going, but I’m actually not trying to bore my readers.

But now, a week into my realization that I have agoraphobia and it’s gotten out of control, I am finally, just now, seeing that there will always be a million reasons to not leave my house any given day.  I will always have an up to the minute list of at least ten reasons I “can’t” go out today.  I seem to have gotten lost again in my denial.  Like I’m saying “Yeah, sure I have agoraphobia.  I get that now.  But that’s not the reason I’m not leaving my house today.  The reasons for today are:”.   And it made a world of sense to me until I just put it into writing and saw the absurdity of it.

While I still feel a little silly for making the discovery so late into the problem, and then jumping right back into denial, I’m going to attempt to stay positive.  I will be a whole lot more aware of if something I’m feeling is real or a byproduct of denial.  I’m not saying I’ll get it right, or be disciplined enough to follow through all the time.  Awareness is a start.

I think everyone who reads this already knows that they aren’t reading the blog of a recovered agoraphobic.  You’re not even technically reading the blog of an agoraphobic in recovery.  You’re reading my blog, and all I’m doing is blindly taking baby steps in an effort to one day make it to the stop of the staircase.  I appreciate everyone who has joined me so far.

Cheers to you!

A Thoughtful Comment Leads To Panic?

I almost didn’t blog about this.  I thought letting anyone in on my sometimes ridiculously crazy thought process would be like broadcasting how pathetic I can be.  I decided to just get it out of inside my head.  Either to analyze later, or just for the sake of not holding on to it.

Yesterday I checked my comments and received this one:

Michael, on January 21st, 2008 at 10:11 pm Said: Edit Comment
I am of the opinion we quit doing something when we get less out of it than if we did not do it to start with, If it were me, I would ask myself, what am I getting out of this behavior that makes me keep doing it?

There must be something in it for you? Oherwise, why bother…? “

I suspect that if I were a reasonable woman, this is what I would have thought – “Here’s a nice guy who took his own time to read my blog and think of something to say that he thought might be helpful.”

A reasonable woman I am not, at least not initially.  I don’t think I’d even finished reading the comment before I hung my head a bit, feeling judged.  Deep breath.  I read the comment again.  Amazingly, I was able to stop the feelings of inadequacy and shame to at least find out who this guy was that I was so willing to hand over any sense of accomplishment I’d felt from starting this blog and getting it all out.  He has his own blog at

As I read his blog, I felt ashamed again.  It was different, though.  I read his blog, which he dedicates a large portion of towards helping other people through his own life experiences.  This time I was embarrassed and ashamed that I had suspected such a seemingly nice enough person of trying to be cruel to me, a total stranger.

Even with all of that evidence pointing to the fact that I had not taken his comment into any degree of rational perception, I was still torn.  Maybe I was pathetic enough for even a nice, helpful, seemingly genuine person to have no patience with.  Maybe I was the one who could make a monk on a vow of silence curse me.  And in the spirit of complete honesty, these types of thoughts sat with me for a good couple of minutes.

After that, though, I somehow came back into the real world.  Who did I think I was anyway?  Even in my weak moment, I somehow needed to feel special.  Special enough to make that monk curse.  But I realized I didn’t want to be that way.  And no one else was forcing me to feel that need.  So, for at least that moment, I let it go.

I also realized that poor Michael who had no idea being helpful would create a tailspin of crazy in my head, had asked a pretty valid question.  I am not used to writing for audience, so I suppose I haven’t really answered that question directly.  And to remind you without having to scroll up, the question was: “…what am I getting out of this behavior that makes me keep doing it?”

Of course I’m getting something out of this behavior.  I get a feeling of safety.  I can manage my panic attacks.  No panic stimulus = no panic attack.  I feel more in control of myself, so long as I’m within the safe confines of my home.  I don’t have to deal with uncomfortable public situations.  I don’t have to worry about whether I will get lost on the way home or crash my car.  I don’t have to worry that I’ll start sweating and choking in a full fledged panic flip out and have someone think the paramedics need to be called.  I don’t have to worry that my son will start screaming in the middle of the grocery store and people will stare at me like I’m the worst mother in the world.

So, there are a few of the major things I get from my behavior.  But is that it?  Case closed?  I’m not giving up that easily.  While I am benefitting from “playing it safe”, I realize that this is all naive thinking.  I realize that while I may feel better now, I won’t feel that way in the long run.  I don’t want to have to explain to my son why Mommy can’t come see him in his school play or piano recital or chess tournament or whatever he gets into.  I don’t want my son to think it’s OK to live this way.  I don’t want to depend so heavily on my fiance, and on the occasional day where I feel the need is great enough for me to go out.

I am benefitting, yes.  Absolutely.  It’s just that I’m realizing that I’m also sacrificing things I’m not really willing to sacrifice.

That’s kinda where I am right now.  Taking the baby steps to move from realizing the sacrifices to doing something about it, and eventually being free from it.

I wanted to apologize to Michael for assuming bad things about you because of my own insecurities.   I know you/he didn’t know I had done anything of the sort, but I feel that an apology is owed regardless.  I also wanted to thank Michael.  While your words weren’t exactly what I needed at that moment, my reaction to them was.


Day 6 – Agoraphobia In Action

Today could still go either way, but I remain hopeful and optimistic.  Sort of.

I mentioned yesterday that I really prefer to wake up about an hour before the rest of my family so that I can ease into my day instead of getting thrown into the buzz saw.  That way I’m able to quickly do my hair and face, get dressed, empty the dishwasher, start a load of wash, and make lunches – all in peace and without distraction.  When I don’t do this, it puts a general damper on the rest of my day.  It’s recoverable, but takes some effort.  I also mentioned that I’ve started sleeping more and more, making waking up before everyone increasingly more difficult.  Even last night, I moved my bedtime yet another hour earlier and still slept until the same time.  My son seems to be picking up on this, too.  He slept in again for the third day in a row.  And again, all of these things combined render me sans car for another day.  It also doesn’t help that emptying the dishwasher and thinking about dropping off my fiance at work induced a good old fashioned early morning panic flip out.  It was easy enough to curb, though, because all I had to do to stop the panic attack was to tell myself I didn’t have to drop him off.   And my peaceful emptying of the dishwasher ritual could commence.

The weather is supposed to get much colder and windier.  It doesn’t look great for playing outside in the next few days with my son.  I’ll have to come up with more creative ideas that don’t require playing outside or using my car.  While I’m at it, I’ll invent magic beans.

Alli might be coming over for a little while this morning.  She’ll be leaving for Austin at 1:00 this afternoon.  She has a new girlfriend who lives there.  I’m not too excited about this new girlfriend.  I almost even feel jealous.  Not because I have a thing for Alli, though in a different universe I bet I might.  It’s more that this new girl comes in and steals all of the time that Alli and I used to hang out with.  I went from seeing her three or so times a week to maybe seeing her once every two weeks.  My friendship with her is what kept me fairly well anchored in the world outside of my home.  So that’s what I’m jealous of and want back.

So begins Tuesday, Day 6 of documented agoraphobia.

An Evening To Myself

B is working late today and X went to sleep early. I so rarely have an evening all alone that I feel a little uncomfortable with it. Not to suggest I’m not enjoying it, but that it’s lost the familiarity it once had. There is something to be said for not considering anyone else’s needs or wants while holding the television remote.

As I predicted this afternoon, I never managed to gather the motivation or effort to get out today. The thick fog only increased, the temperature only decreased, and my lack of car didn’t help things in the rationalization process for staying in. I guess the difference between today and every other day I don’t leave the house is that I’m aware of what’s going on now and I am not going to beat myself up for not doing it. I’m just going to try harder tomorrow. If I use all my energy in telling myself how much I suck and how lazy I am, I don’t have any left for doing better tomorrow. At least that’s the current plausible theory I have. Why not test it out, just once? If it doesn’t work, I can go back to sleepless nights of reliving shame and guilt.

Taking one night off won’t kill me.

My Agoraphobia Isn’t Limited To My House

I’ve been thinking this morning while I simultaneously do some chores around the house and procrastinate others. It’s a skill. But what I was thinking about is how I got to be this way. The blog I wrote on My Panic Attack History and actually being able to visualize the general time line of events and progression really brought some things to my attention.

The first thing that pops out, is how on earth did I only figure out something was wrong less than a week ago? I may be a lot of things, but an idiot is not one of them. Denial must be way more powerful than I’ve ever given it credit.

Second thing that pops out is that I really don’t think what’s going on with me is limited to the standard definition of agoraphobia. It seems more like I’ve spent my lifetime avoiding things that have ever produced a negative experience. It is spilling into all areas of my life. The most obvious (now!) to me is that I panic almost every time I step foot outside my door. And of course that pesky, intense fear of driving. But it’s also affected my sleep, my sex drive, my inability to return phone calls (what’s up with that, I’d like to know – not to mention my occasional inability to answer the phone when it rings), my inability to relate to my fiance, my anxiety levels when my son isn’t on his best behavior, and the guilt and grief I feel about all of those things.

Just thinking about all of the areas of my life that have been tainted by my freaking out and my fear of freaking out makes me super angry. How dare it. How dare I let it.

I am left wondering where I learned this behavior. To wait for any negative experience and then completely retreat from everything having to do with it. Then I am left wondering how to break that habit for good so that I can stop missing out on my life.

Agoraphobia Day 5 – Monday

I usually like to wake up about an hour before the rest of my family gets up.  Since I started writing this blog, though, I’ve been needing more and more sleep.  Not suggesting the two are related, that’s just how long it’s been going on.  I continue going to bed earlier and earlier, but keep wanting to sleep later and later.  My son has started sleeping later, too, which I think I would appreciate if I weren’t so rigid in my routines.  Only having one car, it’s important that my son and I are up, dressed, and ready to take B to work by 8:00am if I want to have the car that day.  Well, to be more accurate, I don’t ever really want the car.  What I want, is to overcome this anxiety garbage and come and go like a normal person.  Logic tells me a car is required to accomplish this.

Today, however, I chose to sleep in with my son instead of take the car.  I’m finding decisions made within ten seconds of waking up are usually ones I come to regret shortly after.  The weather here today is terrible.  I went out on my balcony a few minutes before I wrote this to see the entire city covered in fog and drizzle.  It doesn’t look like the Texas I’ve come to know and love.  Chances are, even if I had the car today, I would refuse to drive because of the weather.  And I’d be stuck in the role of dropping off and picking up my fiance in weather I’m afraid to drive in.  I’ve had those days and they usually don’t go well.

Instead of beating myself up for a lazy start to my Monday, I think I’ll go ahead and wrap this post up.  It’s time to get out of my pajamas and put myself to work around the house.  There’s always something to clean when you have an almost two year old, right?

Relatively Anxiety Free Sunday

What a relief.  I actually have good reason to be pretty proud of myself today.  I told you earlier today about going to the “comfortable” bar with Alli.  I didn’t have much stress about it when I was writing, but had that feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Even as I stopped at the corner store, and made my way across town to the bar, I kept waiting for the panic to set in.  I walked in the bar, saw only familiar and friendly faces, and still waited for the panic to set in.  Nothing.

Finally about halfway into my first of two drinks, I unclenched a bit and was able to relax and have fun.  Sunday afternoons are pretty quiet and uneventful there, which is why I go at that time.  I stayed for just under two hours, and decided it was getting crowded enough to signal it was time to go home.  My friend who was bar tending today  refilled my glass with a third drink while I wasn’t looking.  This would normally make me stay for the drink out of guilt, and then force myself to “wait it off” for another hour before I was comfortable driving home.  But I remembered writing here in this blog before I left, and saying specifically to avoid such a situation.  I told her I love her to death and would love to spend more time with her, but that I really needed to go.  Guess what.  It wasn’t a big deal.  She didn’t feel slighted.  I’d spent enough time that she didn’t feel I was blowing her off.  I left at the perfect time.  The great majority of my outing was pleasant.

I drove home without incident or panic of any kind.  It was a good day.  Other people would consider it boring, but I feel pretty triumphant.

Lupus – A New Reason To Not Leave Home

I’m assuming that you have read the post I wrote called My Panic Attack History.  If you haven’t, that’s OK, but it will bring you up to speed on where I am now.  One of the things I left out of that post is the fact I was diagnosed with a type of Lupus that affects my skin.  It was February of 2007 and the little sores I was getting every now and then were getting out of hand.  I had very briefly decided to go back to seeing a psychiatrist who put me on xanax XR and some sleeping meds.  He also wanted to try a medication for people with bipolar.  He explained that he didn’t feel I had bipolar, but rather some of my symptoms mimicked bipolar and felt it was worth a shot.  I thought it was kinda silly, but I didn’t go to medical school in the Caribbean like he did.  I also felt anything was worth a shot.

The medication I was on, which the name escapes me right now, has a very small possibility of causing something called Steven Johnson’s Syndrome.  I was familiar with it only by name, because I’d taken a few continuing ed courses on rare skin conditions.  I couldn’t remember the difference between that one and any of the other ones I learned about back in the day.  The short layman’s definition of SJS is basically when your entire body gets covered in third degree burns.

Once I was on this medication for a few weeks, my face, chest, and shoulders broke out in sores that felt like they were always on fire.  I was completely covered in them.  Children in the waiting room were whispering to their parents saying “What’s wrong with that lady?”.  I had read up plenty on SJS once the sores started appearing, and while it sounded a little like what was going on with me, I was missing some key elements of the diagnosis.  Still, at the next psychiatrist’s appointment when he saw my face and chest, he insisted I go to the ER to find out what was going on.

Hours and hours later, I was released by a doctor who I suspect only recently quit breastfeeding.  He didn’t tell me what it was, but that it wasn’t SJS.  That was fine enough for me.  I’d been keeping my mother updated on what was going on, who in turn called my brother the Harvard doctor.  My brother and I are very close and care about each other very much, but we hardly ever talk.  We just don’t have a ton in common, and we’re both totally OK with that.  So when I saw his number pop up on caller ID, I knew my day was about to take a turn for the worse.

He told me I absolutely had to go back to the ER.  If it wasn’t SJS, I needed to know what it was.  And since the doctor hadn’t done any biopsies or tests of any sort, just a look and see,  it was critical to ask for a dermatologist.  I argued with him for a while.  Two doctors had both said it wasn’t SJS, so what was the problem?  Arguing with my brother is a pretty futile endeavor, which also may be part of why we don’t talk very much.  So I canceled my dinner plans and went back to the ER, arms folded over my chest like a two year old.

Another lifetime spent at the ER and I was lucky enough to get the attending dermatologist for the best hospital in San Diego.  She and her residents said it was definitely not SJS, but that they were concerned about the painful sores everywhere.  A biopsy was done and later I found out I have a type of lupus.  The same kind that girl from America’s Next Top Model had.

I was given some cortisone creams, but they didn’t work.  From there on, I stopped seeing the psychiatrist and the dermatologist.  And I stopped leaving the house unless I absolutely had to.

I don’t want to toot my own horn, except to say that I have always been a decently attractive woman.  I take a lot of pride in my appearance, even when nobody sees me because I’m at home all the time.  Add the sores on my face to the other history of anxiety, and things got a lot worse.

Today the sores are still there, or scars where the sores used to be.  But they’re not as bad.  They aren’t even really painful anymore.  I can’t use concealer on them, but I am able to direct attention to other areas of my face.  I still use my cortisone creams in vain, too.