Paralyzed by Panic

Several years ago, my parents died within two weeks of one another, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Before the end of the next year, I was finding it more and more difficult to go shopping with my husband. Within a few years, I was leaving home only to go to work. I had agoraphobia, an irrational fear of going out into the world. If I did go out, to a grocery store, a drug store, anywhere, I had a panic attack, which, if you donít know what they are, make you feel like youíre going to die.

My entire life spun inward, into a smaller and smaller center. I made excuses to stay behind in the office whenever there was a seminar or meeting outside the workplace. I did my shopping by mail. My husband got the groceries. Needless to say, there were no trips, no dinners, no parties.

Finally, inevitably, there was a conference I couldnít get out of. I rode with three co-workers to the meeting, which was being held in a large hotel. In a big city. Downtown. My body was rigid during the entire hour-long trip. I probably said a dozen words altogether. Trembling, I made it through the parking garage and hotel lobby into the meeting room, where I could pretend I was at work.

Most people who have a phobia have had the experience of friends and relatives who donít take their fear seriously. On that day, my co-workers, two of whom were nurses, all of whom knew I had a problem, insisted I come with them to get something for lunch. Too proud to say no, I went, out into a crowded, noisy city street. By the time we reached the deli, just a block away, I was shaking again. My legs were buckling. My vision started to get black around the edges. I couldnít catch my breath. Donít faint, I repeated to myself, over and over. Theyíll call an ambulance if you faint. Youíll feel like an idiot.

To this day, I have no memory of going through the line in that delicatessen, of placing my order, or even eating lunch. By the time we got back to the conference, I was a limp, quivering, sweaty wreck.

That did it. I decided then and there that this demon wasnít going to rule my life. I wasnít going to let it  cripple a wonderful marriage, or cost me my job. It had already wounded my self-respect. By this time, the Internet was in full swing. Searching every legitimate source I could find, I learned everything I could about agoraphobia, panic attacks and how they were treated. Knowledge is the enemy of fear.
Something else had changed, too, during those intervening years. I had re-discovered my faith in God. Armed with that faith and the latest medical information, I started slowly. Because I love books, I forced myself to go once a week from work to the nearest small drugstore to buy a paperback. And let me tell you, I prayed to God for strength during every moment of that modest adventure. What could happen if He was with me? Nothing. I was safe.

And so, with Godís love and support, my husbandís patience, and a lot of determination, I enlarged my world in stages. It took three years, but I finally was able to go Christmas shopping my husband at the biggest, busiest mall in the area. And then, the final triumph. I flew by jet to a job interview in another state. By myself. Was it coincidence that the passenger in the seat next to me was a Christian woman on her way to a conference? What do you think?

As I stood there in the middle of the concourse at OíHare International Airport I said a prayer of profound thanks to God. With his help, I had done it. I had taken my life back!

This is important-- Not everyone can or should try to deal with a phobia like this on his or her own. Get professional help if you need it. Pray to God for strength and guidance. Take your life back. And donít forget to thank God for your success!