Saying, “I have agoraphobia” feels like defeat. So I tell my friends and family that I have developing agoraphobia. Which is half true because I can still leave the house, right? My front door isn’t a hurdle and I work 40 hours a week at the call center. Does that mean that I don’t have agoraphobia? No, it doesn’t. I do, in fact, have agoraphobia.
I know because I haven’t driven outside of the city limits in nine months while everyone around me has made multiple trips out of town. The people I know are amazed when I make plans for a vacation or a weekend getaway. I’m the only one who knows that they’ll never come to fruition. Yet, I continue to make plans and promises to be at graduations and birthday celebrations because I hope that my agoraphobia will disappear—even just for a day—so that I don’t disappoint my loved ones any longer. But I’ve come to realize that agoraphobia doesn’t work in that way. I’ve missed countless opportunities and been left behind while others make enjoyable memories. I try not to get upset about it because I know that one day I won’t have agoraphobia.
When I was sixteen, I went to France with my school. I didn’t contact anyone back home for nine days. I fearlessly walked the streets of Paris, fell in love with macarons and the Eiffel Tower, window hopped on the roof of a hotel, and never once was afraid of being too far from home. For me, agoraphobia is triggered when I make the relation between where I’m at and where my home is located. If it feels too far or if I don’t recognize anything in my rearview mirror then anxiety takes the wheel. Tingles of panic course through my body and my mind threatens to melt into nothingness. I’m afraid of going mad, I’m afraid something bad will happen while I’m away, and I’m afraid of the lack of control that pairs with anxiety. It was just seven years ago that I was a fearless teenager with the world at my fingertips. If I had it once, I can have it again.
The ironic part of my agoraphobia is that I’m a traveler at heart. I love exploring new cities and cultures. Where I’m from we have cornfields and cows. There’s beauty in it if you look hard enough, but I truly love the mountains, ocean cliffs, and forests. I’d love to see a sky full of stars in the desert. And one day I will. I’m confident because today I drove 35 minutes outside of town. I left my driveway with my crystals, cigarettes, agoraphobia self-help manual, note cards with encouraging phrases, and a rock that says: “face your fear.” I was 9.8 miles away from my destination when I had to stop in one of those U-turn midsections where cops tend to hide out. I wanted to turn around and go home. I sat there for a few minutes trying to decide whether I would continue making progress or call it a day. But it’s illegal to make a U-turn in that spot. Not that laws matter when a phobia and anxiety have taken hold of your brain. I’ve thought about doing a lot of illegal things for the sake of relieving anxiety. Making U-turns are illegal and driving 90 mph on the interstate to get home as fast as you can is as well. But instead of breaking laws, I chose to break boundaries. I broke through the invisible duct tape that has kept me in this town for the past nine months. I got out by myself, and I couldn’t be more proud. It feels silly that all my friends congratulated me on such a simple act. In reality, though, it was a huge victory.
My therapist calls this is exposure therapy. You have to expose yourself to your fear in order to get “comfortable” with the feelings of anxiety that arise. In a couple of days I’ll make the same drive, but this time I want to take the time to grab a coffee while I’m there. Then I’ll drive home again. Next week I’ll try to drive even further and I’ll continue this until the thought of leaving home isn’t as scary. I’ll do this until I make it to Canada and Switzerland. I’ll do this for the rest of my life because I have to. Because I refuse to let fear win. I refuse to let fear keep me from leaving my house. I have hope and I have help.
I accept that right now agoraphobia is part of my present, but one day, it will be part of my past.