The race of my life
Posted Monday 19 March 2012
Three years ago, Amy's agoraphobia made it difficult to leave the house. Next month she'll be lining up in a crowd of thousands to run the London Marathon. Here, she blogs about how she found a way to manage her anxiety.
There’s nothing quite like coming home after a long, hard day merely to discover your flies are undone. If only I could hop into the DeLorean to take back the moment I innocently said goodbye to the whole office, unaware of my unzipped zip. Years ago I would have crumbled at that social blunder, but on this occasion I will let it be. For today is a good day.
I am still feeling positive after yesterday’s eighteen mile run, completed not for fun, or indeed frolics, but rather as part of my training for the London Marathon. To run that distance on what marked the three year anniversary since I took my first steps made me realise just how far I have come.
Back then I was so unwell I couldn’t walk down the street, not due to a problem with my legs, but with a disorder called agoraphobia. So what exactly is that? Next time someone sums it up as ‘the fear of open spaces’ I want to summon Stephen Fry to shake his head at their general ignorance and QI them with his knowledge.
My agoraphobia was the result of severe anxiety which intensified every time I left my home. During a panic attack my heart races, I become light-headed and I can’t breathe. I just can’t seem to take a breath. It feels like I am dying.
Take your biggest fear and double it, double it again, times it by ten. Imagine feeling that way every time you leave your house. This will give you an idea of day one of agoraphobia. Day two is harder. Day three is devastating.
A course of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) helped me understand I could train myself to manage my disorder. The therapy provided evidence that my anxiety would ease if I could endure it for long enough. This is extremely difficult but breaking down any challenge into smaller chunks makes it possible.
My anxiety is at its worst when surrounded by people, especially if I feel confined. So rather than forcing myself onto the tube, I started with short walks in a quiet nearby park. It seems so minor, but the little victories truly make the difference. The key to getting back out into the world is taking one step at a time and it is this simple theory which I am applying to my marathon training.
Exercise has also made a huge difference to my life. I only began running two years ago with the couch to 5k programme. At first I could barely keep going for half a mile. It took courage to go out in public and get breathless and light-headed, inducing the same symptoms of anxiety. At first I worried people were watching me but now I don’t care. The feeling of independence I get from running is just incredible.
It’s still my biggest fear to be in a crowded space that I cannot leave. Even now I feel anxious in a queue or on a busy street. But it is liberating to face my fear. And on April 22 I will stand penned in with 35,000 others about to run the most important race of my life.
It will be so hard to remain in that crowd for the long walk to the start line, but by the time I get there I will have already triumphed. From then I will take it one step at a time, motivated by my chance to cross the finish line. This time that crowd I always feared will be cheering and once I get my medal, so will I.
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