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Too Big for Me

My Battle with Agoraphobia

I remember being very young, maybe about 8 years old, and I was reading through the Guinness Book of World Records. There was a photograph that caught my attention, and it was of the world's largest swimming pool.

This photograph did not evoke the awe that you would expect an eight year old to feel, instead it made me feel sick and dizzy. In that moment, I felt so small and vulnerable and slammed the book shut and found it incredibly difficult to look at that picture again.

Fast-forward around 12 years. I had just started a new job in the city centre and life was great.

However, about a month into my new found employment, I found myself getting severely breathless during my walk from the train station to the office. My heart would thump my ribcage, on this short walk, and I would find myself getting dizzy.

The dizzy spells got worse.

One morning, when I arrived at the office, the lift had broken down and I had to climb the few steps to the third floor.

The lift was out of service for a week and I got to a point when I had to stop halfway up the staircase as I felt myself blacking out.

I imagine you're reading this and imaging somebody who is overweight and potentially past middle age, but I was quite the contrary. I was 19, 5ft 4 and 9 stone. The fitness warnings I was experiencing made absolutely no sense.

I booked an appointment with my GP and they referred me for an ECG and took several blood tests. When the results for physical tests returned normal, they started looking towards mental possibilities, and I was diagnosed with anxiety.

It was around this time that my partner and I were due to move into a new home.

The doctor had prescribed me a mild anti-anxiety medication: fluoxetine. I took my medication and continued with life.

One morning, I alighted the train and set foot on the subterranean platform. I turned toward the escalator to find that they had broken down. I sighed, ignored my dizzy spells, and mentally prepared to climb what felt like Mt. Everest.

With each step, the climb grew more magnificent. The escalators swelled and the steps multiplied exponentially. Before I knew it, my toe clipped the next step and my feet disappeared from underneath me. Something possessed me to brush myself off and keep going.

The further I climbed the more my ears would ring, the blurrier my vision became, the tinglier my limbs felt.

Something carried me to level ground. I couldn't see, my vision had diminished entirely, There was a non-existent band playing kazoos in both of my ears. Through the din I faintly heard my partner.

"You're bleeding, oh my god, you're bleeding, we need to get you some first aid."

"No," I heard myself utter. "I have to get to work. I'm going to be late... I need to just... Sit down for a minute..."

I was suspended in deep water. Unable to hear, unable to see, fighting to stay afloat. I could feel nothing and everything all at the same time. My body was telling me to black out, but I couldn't.

I didn't make it to the office that day. I went home and slept.

The cut to my shin, where the teeth of the escalator steps had bitten me, was tiny and insignificant. But the bite marks on my mind were colossal.

I ignored my body's warning signs. I went to work the next day and joked about picking a fight with an escalator and losing.

I started making silly mistakes in my work, sending emails to the wrong clients, making typos in legal documents, submitting work to the wrong people. One day, I went to the printer to collect a document and it wasn't there. I went back to my desk to print it again and the document was on my desk. I had printed it, collected it, brought it back to my desk and had no recollection of doing so.

My mind had turned against me, he was tormenting me, tricking me and overpowering me.

That was it, I had to get help. I had to talk to someone. I had finally lost my mind. My doctor signed me off work for a few weeks, during which time I received an email from my boss requesting my resignation. They were a young business and didn't have time for employees to be sick. I had no fight left in me and replied with my written resignation.

I didn't work again for 9 months.

My partner and I moved into our home and I was anxious and depressed because I wasn't bringing any money in. I couldn't get any financial support from the state, as my partner's medium income was classed "suitable" to support the household. I was petrified he would leave me. He didn't, he supported me, he let me take all the time that I needed, and we are now engaged to be married.

When we moved into our home, agoraphobia moved in too. Whenever I breathed the outside air, I didn't feel free, I felt threatened. I felt like I was walking on a tightrope, and the further I got away from the safety of my home, the wider the abyss below me would stretch. Dizziness would cloud my mind and icy cold hands restricted my breaths. My stomach lurched and I could not handle being outdoors.

I developed travel sickness, which I had never experienced, not even as a child. The further away I got from my sanctuary, the worse the symptoms would become.

And so, I decided to not leave the house. And I didn't for nine months.

One evening, I was feeling positive and brave and I decided to take my bins to the wheelie bin at the bottom of the drive.

I opened the front door, clutched a bin bag firmly in each fist, took a deep breath and lifted my right foot to take the first step into the outside world.

At this moment, two young men walked along the public footpath past our house. I dropped the bags and ran back inside. Their laughter had pierced right through me, and the night air suffocated me again. My partner took the bins out that night, as he had always done.

Although it got to the stereotypical stage with me, agoraphobia, by definition is the fear of wide open spaces. Hence why the photograph of the world's largest swimming pool scared me. It is only now, that I am well, working a full-time job and supporting our household, that I can recognise it is a phobia I have always had, and when my mental health deteriorates (as it has done, and will again) it becomes more severe.

I hope that by reading this, you may not feel so alone, or you may now have the tools to help someone close to you.

Thank you for your time. 

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