Ten years ago, I published a page on Geocities – a site which is now defunct – but I wanted to repost that page today. As a sufferer of Agoraphobia with Panic Disorder, I am aware of the stigma that comes with the illness.
I am lucky that I work from home and have a husband who loves and supports me, for better or worse. Back when I first wrote this, I was not fortunate enough to have those things. I ask that all people who suffer from Agoraphobia try to keep your mind open to the fact that amazing things can happen in this world… even for us.
Agoraphobia is an illness which is not often spoken of. People who don’t suffer from Agoraphobia find it almost impossible to imagine what goes through the mind of somebody suffering from this illness. Each person’s individual experience during an attack may differ, but generally speaking, an attack is very real and can be quite terrifying.
I developed agoraphobia in mid 1996, after an incident changed my life completely. Before this incident, I was able to live my life to the fullest, with no restrictions.
Here is my story.
For the past 10 years, I have been a secretary, and have worked in many high rise buildings. Then one morning in January 1996, I was in an elevator inside my building which malfunctioned. At the time I was working on the 25th floor of my building, but this was to be a morning which would alter the rest of my life.
I got into the elevator from the ground floor and pressed the button to take me to the 25th floor. Everything seemed quite normal, until the elevator continued past the 25th floor without stopping until it got to the top floor. When it reached the top, it halted and the doors remained shut. At this time, I wasn’t panicked too much, and simply pressed the button for the 25th floor again and picked up the emergency telephone to report that I was stuck in the elevator.
Only seconds after lifting the telephone handset, the elevator suddenly dropped at an incredible speed, and I was screaming into the handset that I was going to die. Weightless, I went into shock almost immediately – when I left my house that morning for work, I had not anticipated what was happening to me – I was not ready to die.
The elevator came to sudden stop between 16th and 17th floors and the doors opened. The elevator started sinking again and I quickly ran out. As soon as I was out of the elevator, I felt myself go completely numb and I was sobbing uncontrollably. I could not move.
After that incident, a feeling of terror overwhelmed me each time I had to use an elevator . I kept telling myself that the feeling would eventually go away in time, but unfortunately it got worse. I eventually used up all of my sick leave and holiday leave as well, just to avoid the elevators.
I remember that morning when the elevator fell. When I was sitting at my desk looking out the window from the 25th floor, a strange feeling came over me and suddenly I had the urge to jump out of the window. It was not for the purpose of committing suicide, but for the sole purpose to escape from where I was. I could not breathe and felt trapped. I simply HAD to escape.
Since that day, I have only used an elevator ONCE, to try to prove to myself that as I hadn’t been inside an elevator for six months, I should be okay to return to work. But that wasn’t the case. Once again I panicked. That was the very last time I ever used an elevator.
Another thing I was unable to do after that incident was ride in a train. Initially, it wasn’t the train ride that would frighten me, but going through train tunnels was enough to trigger that awful feeling of needing to escape. And soon enough, the train ride itself was too much. It was completely closed in, with no fresh air, no contact between myself and the outside. It was like a feeling of suffocation.
So I knew I had a problem with elevators and trains, and avoided them. The next time I suffered an attack was when I was in a cinema. It was dark and closed in, and I was unable to stay for the movie. I couldn’t breathe. Then came shopping centres. Once I was fully inside a shopping centre, I felt unsafe. I would once again start to panic. I found that unless I was familiar with the layout of a shop, and knew exactly where the exit was and that the exit was nearby, I would become overwhelmed and go into a state of panic.
I have had many panic attacks since being trapped in the elevator, and each one is as terrifying as the next.
Since the end of 1996, I have been unable to leave my home without feeling like I am in harm’s way. I was travelling to my father’s house one weekend, and had to turn the car around when I was half way there and come home again, simply because I felt so uneasy and afraid. I knew that the one place I could be safe was in my home.
The only time I leave my house now, to this very day, is when I am accompanied by a friend, somebody whom I trust could give me the assurance I need, should I have another attack. If I am paying bills, or collecting my mail from the post office, or shopping for groceries, or even visiting my father – I am unable to control the fear inside me unless I’m with somebody I really trust.
I tried to find a place within Brisbane that I can go to, like a support group, where I can be with people who can associate with what I am going through, but unfortunately the resources aren’t there. So although I have my friends who try to understand what I am all about, I so often feel alone. I know that other people suffer from Agoraphobia, and hope one day to come in contact with somebody who can understand what I am feeling.
If suddenly I can’t breathe, or go into a trance, or start shaking, or start to panic for what seems to be no reason at all – when my heart starts racing, or I suddenly have to leave and get home – when the lights go out and I start to scream – it’s not because I’m insane. These are merely the signs of Agoraphobia.
It has been 20 years since the elevator accident in Brisbane, Australia. I am now profoundly Deaf, legally blind, diabetic, suffer from chronic pain in my spine from the elevator accident and from chronic asthma.
Agoraphobia with Panic Disorder is still dominant in my life.
Seven years ago, I met a hearing man who didn’t see me as broken. He saw me as just being me. He loved me anyway. Six years ago, he married me and has stood by my side every single day since we met.
I am now at a stage where I never leave my home. In order to receive assistance from a professional so that I can try to crush this debilitating illness, I first need a doctor’s referral. In order to receive that, I must attend the doctor’s office. As I am too terrified to leave the house to attend any appointment, the doctor’s appointment ends up cancelled and I am back to square one.
I some day hope to kick Agoraphobia’s ass into the ground, defeating and destroying it forever… I live in hope. Some day.
– Rosie xx