I’ve finally surpassed being able to drive further than just around my own block. It might sound ridiculous, but there it is.
I’ve spent (no exaggeration) at least six months of routinely trying to drive around my own block without panicking.
It’s not a large block, and it’s in my cute beach town neighborhood.
For the first few months I tried being a passenger in the car while someone else drove. Generally either my mom, boyfriend, therapist or exposure therapist would drive, and I would cling onto the “oh shit” bar for dear life, gritting my teeth, and in a state of fluctuating levels of pure terror.
Things shifted once I got behind the wheel. I initially thought that might be a source of more panic. I wondered what would happen if I suddenly started panicking so badly that I lost control of the car, or blacked out, or became incapable of driving whatsoever.
Clearly, none of those things happened, as they are all completely irrational.
Instead, I felt more in control. I felt free for the first time in ages, just driving around the block.
I still experienced varying levels of intense fear. That was to be expected. But the fear didn’t escalate anywhere near where it had been when I was being a passive passenger feeling like a caged animal.
I should also mention here, that I started this shortly after coming off of all of my medications (and a horrendous withdrawal from benzo’s) due to the fact that I am pregnant. So, all of my exposure therapy was unmedicated.
I’m pretty sure that coming off of my meds made things a bajillion times worse. It was around that time when I started feeling as though there were dementors following me every freaking where I went (if you don’t know what dementors are, go read Harry Potter).
“Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself… soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”
– Remus Lupin
For some reason the dementor analogy has been the only real way for me to put into words what it has felt like to try to do normal things after being terrified to go outside for so long. Getting around the corner of my block felt as though my soul was being sucked out through the top of my head, and as though nothing good would ever happen again. It felt as though I would never be happy again. It felt like death would be preferable (although I didn’t want to die).
After four months or so of routinely attempting to brave my way around the block in the car, I finally got in contact with an exposure therapist via an old psychiatrist of mine. Her name is Heidi, and she is amazing. She’s a recovered agoraphobic, and now frequently takes plane trips, drives herself everywhere, and now helps other people suffering from what she has overcome.
Meeting someone who had experienced being severely agoraphobic was in itself game changing. I think that people who suffer from agoraphobia get the shit end of the deal, especially since there aren’t many support groups for them, because if there were I doubt that anyone would show up. They’re all stuck inside their houses. (Note: I do know that there are many people who are agoraphobic who can still leave their house, and are not housebound completely. You can still be agoraphobic and not completely housebound.)
Heidi gave me my first glimpse of hope because, hey, look! There’s someone here who got over it! Hell yeah! Awesome.
Not only that, but it’s a very alienating thing to go through. The people in my life do their best to try to understand what I’m going through, and I am so grateful for that… but it’s certainly very nice to meet someone who actually knows how difficult it is, because they’ve been through it themselves.
It was awful because every time I made progress in getting any further, it was never enough because… I’m pregnant. I have to go to doctors appointments.
The first appointment I made it to, I signed a form saying that I consented to be taken to the appointment no matter how much I begged to turn the car around, and no matter what. My father flew out from Nebraska and physically held me down while I screamed and begged to turn the car around. But I’m so glad that I went. I was twenty weeks pregnant at the time, and was able to get my first ultrasound. I found out I was having a girl, and it was one of the happiest moments of my life.
After that I continued working my way around the block. I found that I was much more comfortable in larger vehicles, so I traded in my car that had been giving me hell and breaking down for the past two years (more on that car later), and got a used 4Runner that I love.
I drove around my block until I was bored. When I finally realized I was bored, I rejoiced. I’d spent months going around my block thinking, “I can’t wait until this is just a boring normal thing, and not a hellish grueling experience.”
And then it got boring.
And I drove around another block.
And another block.
And then those got kind of boring.
And then I went and got a latte.
And went grocery shopping.
And saw the ocean for the first time in seven months.
And the dementors weren’t there.
And I realized how grateful I was, because it’s the little things that count.
The joy of being able to buy a latte for myself, or pick out what I wanted to eat from the store, or admire the colors in flowers, or just… be. To be anywhere, and be able to feel calm and at peace in being there.
It’s still hard, but it doesn’t seem impossible anymore.
It’s still hard, but there is so much hope, and even when the fear comes up, it’s a mix of fear and excitement.
I can’t wait for the day I get on a plane, or get back to doing all the things I’ve dreamed of for so long, and to be able to share the world with my daughter. And I know that day will come, and it’s not too far off.