I don’t leave home very often. It’s been this way for more than a decade. Home is where I feel safest. Safe from what exactly? Well that’s a good question. I couldn’t really tell you what imminent threat I think I’d face out of my comfort zone, but my gut tells me whatever it is is looming like an omnipresent menace ready to snatch me up into a dizzying panic attack. It’s not an unfounded fear. There have been plenty of occasions that ended with me trapped in a public bathroom, vomiting and trembling with terror. I’d be left clutching at my aching chest, my heart throbbing with the tempo of a Neil Peart solo, as I fight the nightmarish feeling of depersonalization. It’s like an out of body experience, where I’m so detached from my own physicality that I’m hovering above it, watching myself lose my mind. This whole scene happens through a thick fog that disorients me and convinces me I’m about to lose all control of my bodily functions, and my capacity to make any decisions. My body’s instincts are to flee like a convict who’s realised there’s a hole in the prison gate, but my feet are stuck to the ground rendering me cornered in this hellish situation.
These panic attacks can happen anywhere, anytime. They mostly come when I’m in an unfamiliar situation, or a new place or in a situation that triggers my anxiety. But sometimes, they creep up on you in the middle of the night, and wake you from your sleep as though someone has fired a gun right alongside your head. That’s how my first panic attack came. I was 17 and laying in bed. I sat bolt upright in the dark with a terrible pain in my chest. I felt like I was dying. I threw the covers off and for some unknown reason, ran outside the house and collapsed to my knees on the wet lawn. Crying and petrified, I screamed into the night for help. I prayed to god to not let me die, there in my Elvis tee shirt and knickers in the garden. It was a desperation I had never known before. But I would come to know it well in the years that followed. They’ve happened in shopping centres, and on trains, and even in the more familiar settings of friends houses and places I knew well. Eventually, I became so paralyzed by the fear of a panic attack striking, that I couldn’t even leave my own home without significant trouble.
It would take days of planning and psyching myself up just to go grocery shopping. I couldn’t go alone, though. Everywhere I went, I needed a companion with me. A ‘safety person’ who could rush me out of a situation that became too overwhelming. I felt like a complete burden to the people around me because I depended on them so much. So mostly, I stayed at home where I wasn’t inconveniencing anyone. Sometimes, I wouldn’t leave the house at all for weeks at a time. This has been my default setting for the last 15 years. Of course it has waxed and waned over the years. Sometimes are better than others, and I can actually catch a train into the city to meet a friend for lunch and maintain the illusion that I’m okay. It’s these times that my inner monologue shouts with excitement “Hey! Look at me! I’m adulting!” but then there are times where it’s been so bad I’ve been confined to one room of the house, barely able to function. Thank Jeebus for the Interwebs and home delivery! Right now, I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m well enough to do my own shopping and go to the Outpatient program I attend at the Psychiatric Hospital, but that’s about it. The new antipsychotic medication I began last week is supposed to help with “reduced social withdrawal”, less “confused thoughts” and improved “motivation”. Here’s hoping I’ll see a bit of an improvement in the coming weeks.