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I never realized how close the Montreal Olympic Stadium was from my place. I biked West, going to a friend’s home and I kind of « randomly » encounter this mythical place. It’s like knowing you live in the same town than a friend, but still being surprised to meet him on a street.
And sitting where all these athletes fought their fears, I couldn’t help but think about all the battles I won.
Truth is, I slowly recover.
When I was 23, I quit my job, quit university, and stayed put in my basement apartment for almost a year. At this moment, my social anxiety had reached a level so high that going out to the grocery store 300m away from home was a challenge. When you reach this point, you kind of loose the ability to evaluate distance.
Sheep in wolves clothing
If you don’t know what agoraphobia is, it’s a fear that makes you feel unable to leave the house. You feel like if you go out, something terrible will happen. Basically, it’s the fear of fear. Symptoms vary but mainly involve panic attacks.
Panic attacks so intense that you’re sure you are dying.
I had my first one driving my car home from school. I stayed at home this night, awake, thinking I was going crazy. With retrospect, I was probably just really exhausted, but it never look so easy at first sight.
Objectively, a panic attack is not dangerous at all. In fact, it’s just an adrenaline rush and your body getting ready to run for your life. It is a safe reaction from your body. Easy to say, hard to believe.
After this episode, I started to fear having panic attacks again and so I slowly avoided more and more places, until the day when the only place where I could feel safe was my basement apartment.
I stayed home and watched Lord of the Rings, the long versions, several times… and the six seasons of Sex and the City, more than once.
Wolves in sheepdog clothing
Every time I had to go out (because sometimes, you gotta eat, you know), my heartbeat would accelerate and I felt nauseous. My home was my basecamp and outside, it was war. I started to adopt safety behaviors.
Safety behaviours are things you do to protect yourself from having another panic attack. It can go from always having a bottle of water with you to never go out without a friend. The problem is that these actions only keep your fear alive.
What if you’re out and you realize you forgot to bring your bottle of water!? Immediate panic attack.
How I overcame agoraphobia
Oh darlings, I know how hard it is, and I won’t lie telling you it’s easy to beat agoraphobia, but once you start to win small battles, it is so rewarding.
In order to reduce and eventually stop your agoraphobia, it is mandatory to stop seeing panic attacks as a danger. To achieve it, I was in therapy for over a year. That’s a short time in therapy years, but that’s a pretty long time for a twenty-something. I’m pretty sure I personally contributed to the preservation of Quebec’s lakes with all the tears I cried.
Therapy gave me tools and knowledge about my situation, but nothing beats agoraphobia like going out.
At 27, I decided to quit my lethargy and backpack to Honduras because if I was going to die going out of my apartment, I’d rather do it somewhere hot.
Breaking news, I did not die.
Travel treated my anxiety disorder
The reason it took me more than 4 years to find my way out of agoraphobia was because I was sure that I needed to get rid of fear first, and then return to places that scared me. Truth is, there is no better place to get rid of a fear than the place scaring you.
Travelling to a not so touristy country where people don’t speak French nor English was the stupidest decision I made of my life, and it was also the best one.
Without any familiar landmarks, it was impossible for me to relate to past episodes. It sure took me courage to go on a 6-hour flight, but travelling has been surprisingly easier than I expected. I didn’t care about looking like a fool because I knew nobody. I didn’t care about being late because of a panic attack management episode, because I was on vacation. I wasn’t scared to be too far from home, because any hotel room could be my home, so home was everywhere.
In Honduras, I learned that I wasn’t physically sick.
Back home, it was easier to handle fear, and slowly, I recovered.
Since then, I visited 10 countries. That’s not much compared to other travel bloggers, but I’ve certainly gone further than the grocery store outside my apartment.
I struggle to find a way to end this post. First, I want to say to everyone who fights social anxiety and agoraphobia that you are BADASS! You are everyday warriors. I hope this post will give you hope.
Life does get better.
Big waves of love!
There are other agoraphobic travellers out there
On Anxiety and Travel, by Never Ending Footsteps
Travelling with Agoraphobia, by Girl about the globe
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