Agoraphobia (the fear of crowded places and leaving the house) can be a side effect of psychotropic medications (antidepressants, anxiety meds, antipsychotics, etc.) and during tapering and withdrawal. It wasn’t something I had before Paxil, but it really hit me after I hit “poop out” around the 5 year mark.
I used to plan big, elaborate trips when I was on Paxil all of the time, but when the time came to leave I would always find some excuse not to go and would cancel the whole trip. It was just easier to stay home. Plus whenever I would go somewhere, I would have an anxiety attack and then my brain would start thinking “I knew that I should have stayed home. I knew that this would happen. I have to get out of here right now.” It turns into a vicious cycle.
The only way to break the cycle is to force yourself to confront the fears and to pack a “tool box” of ways to deal with the anxiety once it hits. I used to have a horrible time when I would go to the movies, especially sci-fi or action movies and would end up leaving and missing half of the movie. Once a friend taught me to stop fearing the anxiety, it made all the difference in the world.
I would make a plan before I would go somewhere. I would tell myself “okay – if this movie upsets you or makes you anxious then you just go walk around the lobby for a few minutes until the feeling passes”. It worked ! Staying away from the situations that make you nervous just “feeds the monster” and validates the irrational fears (which is not what you need).
One of the most important tools in my tool box was the ability to stop and analyze what I was feeling at the moment and to be able to dissect the thoughts. For example: If I was in a crowded place and became anxious then my normal response would be to want to flee the situation as fast as I could. Once I stopped fearing the anxiety I was able to tell myself “this feeling is only temporary and you know that there really isn’t anything here that will harm you – take a break and walk around outside if you need to, but DO NOT RUN away from the situation”. It takes some practice to be able to do it, but it can be done.
Even if it is just going out and sitting on your front porch to read a book, it’s so very important to take that first step out the door (and take your tool box with you).
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