Agoraphobia isn't a black and white thing. It wasn't a sudden change, but gradual. When a psych first attached the term to me at age 16, it wasn't 'that bad', but it had been creeping on for a while.
At first, I think it started with being afraid to go to certain places, but at the time I just put it down to being part of other general anxiety or social anxiety issues. Over time that list became bigger, and eventually I only went to 'safe' places. That list, in contrast, shrank. The last place I could go on a regular basis, except for my appointments, was the supermarket. I haven't even been there since... January 2013.
For the last couple of years, my limit has pretty much been: going to appointments, going for drives without getting out of the car, and sitting on the back porch in my armchair. These days I have trouble even getting past the second, more open half of the backyard to the safety of the garage. If the car's parked out the front, there's not a hope in hell of me getting there.
But now even those few abilities are being jeopardized.
Firstly, I was subject to a... disturbing incident the other week, which has threatened my ability to feel safe in the car.
We were out on a bit of a scenic drive to distract me for a while, and on the way home, mum stopped in at the shops to quickly pick up a few things. So I sat in the car, which is usually fine except for a few situations.
I was sat there with my head in my hand, trying to hide, smoking with the windows up because even rolling them down is too hard these days. A man approaches, and stands facing the driver's door of the car next to me. I assume he's fiddling with his keys, or trying to steal it, but as more seconds pass and he remains standing there, my anxiety levels are sky-rocketing.
I've got my phone open, actually with the phone open, ready to tap and call mum at any second. The next thing I know, he's facing toward the front of the cars, and I hear water.
This man is peeing next to me.
I was totally panicking, but what the hell was I supposed to do? He turned and walked off, making some gross throat-clearing sound. Mum got back to the car seconds later, and we drove off, the obvious puddle left behind.
It's really shaken me, more than I thought it would. It took me nearly two weeks until I mentioned it to mum, at which point I broke down crying. It just made me feel dirty and ashamed and gross and icky. Now I can't even feel safe in the car by myself any more. Each time I've been alone in the car since then, I go into a complete panic. It's like the safety that the car provides doesn't even matter any more.
Secondly, I'm also starting to feel more an more anxious in my own backyard and on the porch, which is problematic as I spend the bulk of my waking hours out there in my armchair.
It's mostly of a night I've noticed the increased anxiety, when it's dark and I'm alone. I haven't been sleeping well lately, and wake up every 2-3 hours most nights. A lot of times, I get up and go outside for a quick smoke to help get me back to sleep before my head starts running.
But recently, I don't even feel comfortable in my armchair after dark. It gets me more stressed out than I'd have been had I stayed inside. Every little noise plays on my mind, and if I hear a car pull up or people's voices or someone driving down the laneway, my heart races and I can't stay outside. Even my early mornings have become difficult. 5AM, going back inside to sit on the couch until it starts to get a bit lighter outside. It all sounds so irrational, but it terrifies me.
The worst part is that no one really cares, has ever cared. For years now, like every aspect of my mental health, the agoraphobia just keeps getting worse and worse. From the initial psych through to the MHN, no one's had any suggestions on how to help or has even really talked to me about it. Maybe they just don't know how to. Maybe it's not that important. But it's killing me and I don't know what to do any more.
I just don't know what to do. Everything just seems to be getting worse. It is getting worse. And with agoraphobia, there's never been any offers of help beyond "just go out and realise there's actually nothing to be afraid of".
Is it not 'bad enough', because I still get out in the car, because I still make it to my appointments each week, because I can sit on the back porch and breathe fresh air? How long will that even last? I feel like I'm on the fast track to losing even that.
"It's like your Basic Freedoms are becoming less and less." - Mum
And she is so right.