When I was about 5 years old I had a horrible experience at a restaurant that made me agoraphobic. I remember the whole thing very clearly.
My dad called at night to say that he wanted tacos for dinner, and that my mom, grandma and I should meet him at his favourite taquería.
I told my mom that I had already had dinner, 3 madeleines and a glass of milk, and that I didn’t feel like going. But she said that my dad wanted us all to go, and that we never went out, so that I should make an effort to eat something there.
We arrived to a packed taquería and ordered a lot of food, and because I was such an obedient girl, I ate my whole weight in tacos.
I started to feel really sick, and I remembered I thought I could shake it off by singing, but after a few seconds I knew the feeling was not going away.
My grandma looked at me and asked if I was ok, and I told her I needed to go to the bathroom. She got up, grabbed my hand and we started heading there.
The place was so filled with people that I had to squeeze in between the chairs and tables. I was still singing in my head trying to be distracted, but it only seemed to worsen my sickness. Before I knew it, I puked just a few steps away from the door of the bathroom, in front of all those people, all those faces looking at me— I felt so humiliated, I cried all the way back home.
After that experience, I couldn’t bare to be in crowded places. Every time I felt surrounded by a large crowd, I would start feeling anxious about vomiting in public again, and then I would actually start feeling nauseated, so I’d have to leave.
I avoided being in large crowds for years, so that meant no restaurants, no movie theatres, no arenas. I was missing out on so much fun!, and my social life was probably a little deteriorated as a result.
It took me a long time to even try to attend crowded places, and even though my agoraphobia hasn’t really gone away, I don’t let it rule my social life anymore.
It started getting better by attending to those places more often, and exposing myself to the situations that I had been avoiding for so long.
The beginning was really hard, I actually used to carry a bag with me to restaurants thinking that maybe I was going to need it. The bag made me feel a little safer, but I never used it.
Eventually, the more I went to crowded places, the better I got at handling it. It’s been a combination of deep breathing, positive thinking and sometimes just saying to myself: Look, even if you puke right here, right now, it’s not going to be the end of the world. So every time the thought of puking comes, I let it happen, but I also let it go, I don’t hang on to it anymore.
Trying so desperately not to feel discomfort, nausea or dizziness only made it worse, I learned to accept that all those feelings might come, but they will also pass.
My anxiety felt like really big waves, the discomfort would come and go constantly, but with practice the waves started to feel smaller and slower, and now I feel calm almost all the time.
Now I can go to arenas, movie theatres, and restaurants without a bag inside my pants’ pocket, and that’s pretty awesome.
One of my biggest fears throughout my life has been talking to people, especially new people–about my feelings or things I’m thinking about. Even when it comes to casual conversation. I guess its a somewhat normal problem that everyone has. But I find it extremely hard to grasp the courage that comes along with trying to break into existing social circles that I hadn’t previously been a part of. I can feel like I’m always starting from square one, never really taking into account what feelings I thought I had overcome before.
Its strange, because at times, I feel like “this time, I’ve really overcome it.” But that feeling can be gone in an instant, when I’ve met a new person or have been thrown into a group of people I don’t know. I’ve never been sure why its been that way, but it has always bothered me because there’s so much I want to say in my head, but it would rarely get out. It’s a mixture of feeling like what I say doesn’t matter, or that no one will listen. Ironically, to start getting over this feeling - I had to do just that.
One thing I started noticing was that once someone else would start talking about their feelings or thoughts, I would get more comfortable about sharing mine. And one of the ways to do that, was to ask them questions - even something simple like, “how was your day”? Then I could gradually fill in how I felt, until I’d be comfortable enough to share more about myself. Now I do that pretty regularly, as a way to brush away the feelings of fear in the back of my mind when they come up.