For me, travelling to work each morning can be a major agoraphobic trigger. Be it a 10 minute walk, a 1 1/2 drive in rush hour traffic or a misery soaked tube train filled with stinky people and screaming babies, sometimes it’s fine and other times it’s extremely not fine. From time to time, for no reason, panic will just well up and take hold causing the trip to be long, drawn-out, boring and painful. I didn’t complete my drivers licence (in reality it still isn’t complete as the final test scares seven shades of shit out of me) and purchase my first car until I was 27. Up to that point I had struggled with public transport each day.
The change from ‘public transport nightmare’ to ‘happily alone in my little car surrounded by my safety supplies’ has lessened the number and severity of attacks to a more manageable level. I still go through phases when things are hard, but generally I can get to work in the mornings without a tear streaked, mascara covered face, relatively on time and having not stopped at every petrol station, McDonald’s and public toilet between west Auckland and the Domain. I guess I’ll post about the badness of my work day tube struggles in the future but right now I’m blabbering about one of the times driving to work didn’t go so well. When I didn’t manage to catch my panic before it totally took over.
Fucking with the schedule doesn’t go down well when you have agoraphobia. It was last Christmas and I’d left home early to get to our work Christmas breakfast. I started to feel twitchy and sore on the lead up to the on-ramp but hoped it would ease. Much self talk, rearrangement, silence and medication attempted. I made it on to the motorway proper but one exit along it all went wrong. To leave the packed-out road I manoeuvred all manner of questionable lane changes and nipping behind tricks so I could get off the travelator-like highway and find a toilet and safety. I got to a petrol station bathroom where I spent as long as possible trying to calm myself. When the level of anxiety about how long I had been in the bathroom got as high as the anxiety about not being in there (just over 10 minutes is about as long as I think it will take for someone to notice I’m still in there and think I’m dead or doing drugs or both) I left the loo and sat in my car, waiting. Waiting and crying.
The panic didn’t go down for 45 minutes or more (with a number of additional trips to the loo in-between, to be sure my body wasn’t still going crazy, and a lot of medication to stop the cramping/swirling/nausea) by which time I had missed the breakfast by a long way and all the fun of the Secret Santa which I had organised.
Rather than enjoying a nice morning, chatting with my work friends over a bacon and avocado bagel accompanied by fresh coffee, I ended up sobbing in my car on the phone to my boyfriend who was helping to make me feel calm and brave. Follow that with the guilt of being late and missing a work do and a $15 cold slightly soggy bagel which had lost it’s charm an hour before.
Having a little car all of my own to transport me safely to and from work has not been the blessed end of my phobias. No management technique works 100% of the time. The level of frustration and sadness I feel knowing however hard I fight to build a safe environment, to challenge my anxiety and to stay as brave as possible in the face of it, everything could turn to shit in 5 minutes flat, is extreme. Some days none of it will work, you might be left crying in a public toilet, bored, fed-up and angry at your mind for making such a fuss over what seems logically so easy. Not letting the utter hopelessness of that fact slaughter all the good ‘building up’ work you do is pretty vital to getting your agoraphobia somewhat under controlled. Because no situation can be controlled 100%, you have to expect fuck-ups, changes and reorganisation as par for the course.