Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl, she knew how to smile and please and every opportunity she would cease! She made her way up the career ladder but then someone badder would pull her down toward the floor, though she dusted herself off and went back for more…. da da dada da bah da dada da … oh stop me before I start to merengue! Apologies – No these are not the lyrics this is my song but just as Barry Manilow sets out a scene full of vibrant images; a beautiful young dancer, her lover, her demise, so was my life rich in colour, activity and passion – or so I thought.
I have never experienced so much growth in my life than right now and I am truly honest when I tell you that it is mainly due to the fact that I am agoraphobic. I never set out to be this way and if you were my family member I would probably try and pretend that I do not have this but I do. Last April a mental health team visited me at home, made sure I took my medication, taught me CBT and ensured I was not a harm to myself. My life was a blurry mess of sedation and pain. It was all so confusing, the mental health team did not want to know abut my gynae problems, the GP did not know what the mental health team would do with me, my next gynaecologist appointment was months away and my endocrinologist was confusing me. Life was a series of nothings. I began to cry uncontrollably on public transport, I couldn’t breathe in busy places, I could not go shopping, a busy road would terrify me, even the library my favourite place was too much.
In 2011 I developed anxiety and panic attacks after my first surgery. I had managed to conceal my fear and terror before I went in but on the anaesthetist’s couch I began to hyperventilate. When I awoke I was still terrified and screamed for my friend who had accompanied me, later I was pushed over the edge by my nemesis who sent me ill wishes by text message and I collapsed into a crying, hyperventilated mess on the floor before passing out.
I did not realise what effect the surgery would have on me or how a chain of events was now set in motion. The first ‘attack’I ever had in public was shortly after the first and I became disoriented at university, the noise became deafening, my palms were clammy and my breaths were short. I burst into tears. A security guard who knew me approached me and told me that maybe I should go home and rest. I took the train straight to my GP as I could not stop crying. She wrote me off for two weeks and gave me Tamazepam as I was not sleeping and had deadlines approaching. Next she gave me diazepam, next she wrote me a letter postponing my deadlines, next I was told to consider leaving my studies.
Looking back I cannot believe what happened myself. The worst I had ever been was when I went to uni to hand in a paper I had actually finished on time. I made sure the trains were quiet, I took long routes and avoided crowded places, I made it to the library in good time to print out a cover page, I stapled the pages together, I walked toward the uni building …. I woke up out of a daze at the bus stop. Why was I at the bus stop? I began to cry, I had no idea why I was sitting there or how I had gotten there. I looked at the time, it meant nothing to me. I started to panic – what was going on? Then I remembered. I was here to hand in my paper. I looked back at the clock and realised I had missed my deadline. I had been sitting there for over an hour.
I did not have full blown agoraphobia straight away I just avoided going outside for fear I would become disorientated and begin to panic. My mental health slipped several times during the years and this contributed to me not leaving the house. I do not think I ever thought it would lead to this.
A battle began inside me, the old me and this pathetic me. I realise now it was the death of my Ego.
Each day I aim to move forward by understanding more of my past. Years ago I lived in a very fake world and that fakeness imprinted itself onto me until it began to feel real. I had a Fiance, a career in beauty in which I was extremely good at, people around me and a plan for the future to someday marry and have children. All of this however was fake. My Fiance did not love me, the career I spent so long working hard to progress in was closing its doors to me, the people around me only tolerated me, they too did not love me and my future was thwarted by my infertility.
On the outside my life looked Amazing. It is one of those ‘on paper’ dreams; Man, Money, Friends & Family. It was like a game. I would get up in the morning make myself look ‘beautiful’, go off to my ‘dream job’, come home and have a glass of wine with my ‘girlfriends’ and then cook for my ‘Man’ – life was picture perfect. I was Lola, I was a showgirl and I was empty inside.
I used to think that I loved my life but I only loved certain aspects of my life and that was the passion and enthusiasm I had for it improving. The reality of my adult life just as my childhood was extremely dull.
I became an excellent showgirl from young. I was excluded from group games, picked last and was the girl no one wanted to chase. I grew up in a small town with the same people until aged eleven so we ALL went to the same birthday parties or on church excursions so I was always a member of the group albeit not a popular one. No matter what as I said I felt happy and accepted life as it was. At that age I did not fully understand what it meant so I devised ways of entertaining myself mainly by reading. By the time I moved away I was adept at being quiet and helpful, pleasant and smiley. By the time I had my own business and had been in a relationship for a decade my showgirl routine was now an inflated ego with my life an ‘on paper’ dream.
I won’t lie; I let people think my life was better than it was because I wanted it to be. No one asked me outright if I was happy. Deep down I knew I wasn’t loved, that nothing was real and that I was unhappy and devastatingly worried about my amenorrhea.
I know now that the showgirl routine is harmful to me. I used to hold my head up high and pretend but now I can no longer do it. When I first began to speak of my pain, my heartache and my problems I found that no one wanted to hear. I needed friends but did not have any. I had pretended that relationships were more than they were and now I faced the tragic realisation alone that I had believed my own lie.
It took me two years to really understand. Through this period I went out less and less but no one knew the truth. Even though my family knew I had locked myself away I was still doing my showgirl routine by social network. In September 2014 my iPhone was stolen and it was the end of everything. I spent weeks in total darkness refusing to leave my room. Once again sedated, once again my mental health fragmented. In December I decided I wanted to change myself. The iPhone was gone, personas and showgirl gone, fake friends – also gone.
In January myself and my partner decided to move in together. With him I have no need to cover my flaws. We both know that I am undergoing a massive shift in perspective and that I would rather be alone than be surrounded by the wrong people. He listens to me, he does not judge me or my agoraphobia. He helps me in anyway he can. Since January I have not had a major panic or anxiety attack. I now can go into a shopping mall or board a busy train.
I no longer pretend that I have a busy social life or feel guilt or shame at being alone. It will take time to overcome the hurt I set myself up for, it will take time to understand why I believed my lies or why I was so desperate for a life that did not make me happy. It would be easy for me to slip back into the showgirl again and pretend that I do not have a mental health issue and that life without children is ok with me but I will not do it. I refuse to be anything but myself. I was desperate for love and friendship and they only existed in my own head. My life is far from over so I will go forward on my own terms and find people who will give back as much as I give.
As for leaving the house I work on this daily and I feel I am getting closer to wanting to go out for a run. I have not run for two years and would love to get fit and do something on my own again.
I know that I may be leaving you with questions about agoraphobia so feel free to ask away. I do not feel like I have anything at all, I choose not to go outside much that is all, I no longer desire and enjoy things I used to like going to the theatre or wandering around London for no reason. As I said before my anxiety is at a record low so I could go out if I chose to and I am working on ways to be more active. The mind is a fragile thing and I respect my feelings more than ever before. I spent years suppressing my feelings and ended up so unhappy. Agoraphobia is helping me build up my defences, helping me to understand who I was and who I really am. I need this time more than I have ever needed respite before. I am not hiding from the world, I am learning, discovering and becoming a better, stronger person than I was.
Love & Light