To whom it may concern,
My name is Tamra, I was born in California and have lived here all my life. I come from a large family and was loved and raised in as normal an environment as I can tell. That is to say, I was not abused or neglected.
I have had anxiety all my life. Truly, I’m pretty sure I was born anxious. This is not an exaggeration by any means. I constantly worried about what could happen; “what if…” was always on my mind. I consistently second guessed and doubted myself. I never had a positive thought about my abilities, looks, or anyone’s opinion of me. I always knew I was loathed and hated and not wanted around. My earliest memory of any of these kind of thoughts and ideas of myself was when I was five years old. I’m sure I had them earlier, I was just too young to remember. No one taught me to think or feel this way, I naturally did.
This anxiety was of the general variety, although as I grew it became more localized to social interactions. I did not like to be around people. I loathed school, church, shopping, parties, anything social at all. To be around people brought up worries that I was being judged, and judged negatively. I just knew people thought I was ugly, dumb, etc.. I also worried about making a fool of myself, what if I fell in front of everyone, what if I said something stupid and affirmed their belief in my low IQ. What if, what if, what if…
Since I was virtually born thinking I was ugly, dumb, worthless, and everything negative you can imagine, it didn’t take long for me to completely believe it all. I developed a soul-deep self loathing and hatred.
I come from a family thick with type 1 diabetics. There are six of us that I know of, my father, an aunt, one of my brothers, two cousins, and myself. Type 1 diabetes does have a hereditary link, but not always, and it is extremely rare for it to be so prominent in one family as it is in mine. I was diagnosed at age eight. I felt frightened, I knew what this disease is, I knew how dangerous it is, I knew I would forever have to take shots, prick my fingers, eat carefully, and would probably lose a leg, go blind, and die young. It was the mid 1980’s and these were the possibilities at that time. I was scared, devastated, and I acted out in anger. These feelings and behaviors never lessened, I never faced them or dealt with them, and everyone around me took my anger as a symptom of my constantly high blood sugars rather than for what it really was, a cry for help, and need to properly deal with my fear and devastation.
I spent the next few years rebelling against my diabetes with a passion. I did not watch what I ate unless my parents were literally right there with me. I did not check my blood sugars unless I was forced to. I was always running sky high blood sugars. Over those years I heard from a couple of different people words to the effect that a diabetic who doesn’t keep their blood sugars under control are committing a kind of slow suicide. This struck me, and not in a good way.
I strongly believe at that young age, being as self-loathing as I was I didn’t develop a suicidal nature but a self-harm nature. I hate myself, I’m worthless, especially now that I am a type 1 diabetic, I’m worthless damaged goods. It only makes sense that my rebellion, my refusal to care for my diabetes has always been my way of self-harming. This has always been my way of punishing myself for being such a worthless piece of shit.
My diagnosis of type 1 diabetes and the fact that I already had anxiety (undiagnosed) is what, when, and how I developed agoraphobia. At least this is my theory. After my diagnosis of diabetes I stopped wanting to go outside the house as much. It wasn’t super bad, I would go out to places I knew well, and especially if a family member was with me. But I rarely would offer to go out or want to go out of my own choice. Obviously it wasn’t very severe since no one in the family picked up on any issue. I do not remember having any fear of the outside, but I was still young and children are often unable to articulate their thoughts and feelings very well.
For three years I lived in rebellion of type 1 diabetes, pure hatred of myself, anxiety, and mild agoraphobia. Then, when I was 11 years old, on a cold February Sunday afternoon, my dad had a massive stroke right in front of my brother and I. I was literally petrified in terror. Dad died the next day. I knew it was complications of his type 1 that had caused his death. I was traumatized. So was my brother. The two type 1 diabetic children watched their type 1 diabetic father die of type 1 diabetes. The trauma had opposite effects on us, my brother became militaristic in his extreme tight control of his blood sugars. I, on the other hand, decided it was worthless to even try, I rebelled even more. I hated diabetes for killing my dad. I hate diabetes! I have diabetes. I hate that I have diabetes! I hate myself.
So the self-hatred and self-harm worsened.
My 8th grade year my agoraphobia got so bad that I was ditching entire days of school. It got to where I was ditching about two days a week. At this time I was living with my mom and my brother closest in age to me. My brother was in high school so we were going to different schools, and my mom worked more than full-time so it was easy for me to get away with missing so much school. That was, until the school notified my mother of what was going on. I got caught and so I started back at school without the ditching.
No one ever suspected I had anxiety. No one ever suspected I had agoraphobia. No one asked me any questions, they just reprimanded my bad behavior and expected me to straighten up. When I followed the rules, that was it, no more thought about it.
So I went untreated.
My high school years weren’t much better. I hung in there pretty well although I did have a lot of anxiety. I hated school, I hated being around people, I hated teachers picking me out in class to answer questions, I hated having to give speeches and reports in front of the class, I hated being stuck in classrooms all day, I hated being told what to do and how to live, I hated having to be responsible. I dealt with the anxiety by playing sick as often as I could. My sophomore year I learned how to ditch the occasional class. My junior year I graduated to not just ditching the occasional class but also ditching entire days again, just like back in junior high. My senior year of high school I ditched so often that I almost didn’t graduate due to poor attendance.
In the end I did graduate. But the anxiety and agoraphobia were still unnoticed by anyone, including myself.
Agoraphobia is not my only symptom of anxiety, I scratch my scalp uncontrollably, it doesn’t itch, it’s just a ‘nervous’ habit. I also pick at my skin which leaves me with lots of cuts and scabs. I bite my nails and the skin on the sides of my fingers until they bleed. I crack my knuckles, rub my hands, bounce my legs, drum my fingers. Sometimes when it’s really bad I rock back and forth. I fidget a lot, I clench my jaw (I have TMJ from it). I am not prone to panic attacks, but I have had a few in my time.
After high school the anxiety didn’t get any better. I tried many times to go to college but I couldn’t stick with it. I couldn’t stand the classroom environment, the crowds of people. Add to that the freedom that comes with college and adulthood that you didn’t have in high school and childhood. I was able to miss class as often as I wanted, I was able to drop out whenever I wanted; that is, whenever the anxiety got to be too much to handle. I took as many online courses as I could, but I wasn’t able to stick with all of those, either, because it’s not just people and the outside world that I can’t handle. I also can’t handle responsibility, apparently.
I went through part time minimum wage jobs like a person with a cold goes through tissue. As soon as the anxiety of responsibility mixed with the anxiety of social environments and the outside world got too much, I would up and quit, take some time to recoup and then find a new job.
My twenties were especially tough. I got married at 20 and moved in with my hubby, his brother, and their mom. It was a 960 square foot house with virtually no privacy or quiet. I hadn’t realized it until I moved in there that I really, really need alone time and peace and quiet in order to handle my anxieties. I hung in there as well as I could but within five years I had a nervous breakdown. Think about it, I was working at social jobs with social anxiety, I had agoraphobia so it’s not like I can escape anywhere outside the home, but my home life was noisy, crowded, and provided no comfort or privacy. I was bound to breakdown, I’m just surprised it wasn’t much sooner.
I came home from a long, hard, anxious day of work. The TV was on, the housemates were arguing, one with me. I needed to make an important phone call but the phone battery was dead, again. Hubby got home and dug into me about something. I started crying, arguing, I needed him to understand how I felt, what I was going through. Hubby wouldn’t let me get a word in edgewise. I exploded. I jumped on him and shook him, I was sobbing, “Just listen! Just listen to me!” I got off of him and I shoved everything off our dresser top, I threw a couple things across the room. Then I sat down and sobbed and hyperventilated. As I sat there heaving for breath I saw one of hubby’s swords and I wondered if I was strong enough to fall on it or shove it through my chest.
We got through that and things got better once we got our own place. One thing that came out of that nervous breakdown that was good, though, was that for the first time in my life I realized I have an anxiety issue.
Took long enough. But I didn’t think I needed help, I just needed to adjust a few things in my life.
It was in my thirties that I developed some really bad coping mechanisms, worse than I had already been using to cope. The economy was bad, finances were dire, everyone in our circle of friends was struggling. We would all get together every weekend and drink ourselves sick. I found that I have a few drinks of choice, vodka, Jager, IPAs, and sometimes rum. I have to stay away from tequila, though, it gets me real sick real fast. Drinking did what drinking does, it numbs the anxiety, it quiets the worry. We always smoked tons of hookah while we drank as well. Tobacco numbs the stress, too.
We did this for a few years. It was tons of fun. Myself and a couple friends went so far as to create a drinking card game tailored just for our group of friends. I named it Fuck Your Friends because that was the object of the game, to get your friends totally sloshed. It worked too well and eventually we had to shelve it because it was getting dangerous. Lot’s of people got so drunk they blacked out, threw up, or got out of hand. One night I got so drunk playing this game that I shattered a handle of vodka in my hand and cut it up.
Eventually these weekends tapered off. The economy improved, people were able to find jobs again, finances improved, and people matured. The reason I stopped wasn’t such a lucky one, though. I stopped because I landed in the hospital having triple-bypass heart surgery. My heart trouble wasn’t caused by the drinking and smoking, but it was made worse by it.
The initial heart disease was caused by my lifetime of not taking care of my type 1 diabetes. And also a smidgen of heredity on both sides of my family. Here I was 34 years old having triple-bypass surgery.
Another life trauma. This one self-inflicted. My self-harm was having a grand old time.
To add to the trauma of heart surgery, four months later I started on a year long journey of eye surgeries. Diabetic retinopathy, yet another self-harm party going on there. I endured four, count them, four eye surgeries in a nine month period of time. Also two laser treatments. Eye surgery is done while you are wake and aware, by the way. One of the surgeries the nerve block they use so you can’t feel the pain wore off before the surgery was done. Excruciating pain. MY blood pressure was through the roof from the pain. I writhed and struggled on the table.
You would think a person would be super angry about something like that. Angry at the doctor (in all honesty it was not his fault), angry at the facility, angry at anyone that can be blamed for the screw up. I wasn’t, I took it in stride, I chocked it up to me deserving it, because I did this to myself, because I’m a screw up.
Once all the surgeries were done and I was healed up the agoraphobia exploded. I was shut up in my home, all the shades drawn. I did not answer the door, I did not answer the phone. I was so depressed I did not get out of bed. I knew something was wrong, I knew I wasn’t well in the head, but I couldn’t access my feelings, I was numb.
Eventually I sought help, medical help. This is when I was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Soon after I was specifically diagnosed with agoraphobia and this was the first time in my entire life that a light bulb went off in my head. I was beginning to understand, certain things in my past and present were making so much more sense.
For a while things got better, a lot better. The medication eased my depression and therapy eased my anxiety and agoraphobia.
Then another sort of tragedy. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. This in itself wasn’t the tragedy, the tragedy was the weight gain. I’ve struggled with obesity since I hit puberty, but I had long since become comfortable with my weight. But then when my thyroid went to shit and I gained 30+ extra pounds (despite medication) of which I can’t lose no matter what I do, I plummeted into depression and even deeper self-hatred, insecurity, and horrid self-image.
I quit my depression meds and stopped going to therapy. It’s strange that at the same time I was struggling, my life was also getting better. I was dealing with the horror of being extra fat at the same time as getting a new really good job, and paying off all my debts, controlling my diabetes, and just everything in life being awesome, except the weight shit.
And now for current events. Life was wonderful, better than ever. Then on December 8th, 2018 my husband’s brother had a very sudden and totally unexpected massive heart attack and died. Everyone who knew him loved him and everyone who knew him was devastated. No one more than his wife, mother, and brother. I was devastated by my brother-in-law’s death and by my husband’s devastation.
My agoraphobia came back. My anxiety got worse. I started to have nausea and vomiting. I started to call in to work. Eventually I knew I needed help again. I started therapy again and I started depression meds again. Things stayed steady for several months.
Then more trauma. Hubby and I were in a car accident on the freeway. The car was totaled but we were only bumped and bruised. A week later I went to the emergency room thinking I was having a heart attack. Come to find out it was a really bad panic attack and I was diagnosed with post concussive syndrome. This caused my anxiety, depression, and agoraphobia to rage out of control.
A few weeks later I quit my awesome job because I couldn’t handle work anymore. I rarely leave my house, I can not handle any kind of responsibility, have both insomnia and hypersomnia (who knew you could have both at once?), and I am often dissociative. And what freaks me out the most is often I can’t differentiate between dreams and reality. My dreams are so vivid (nothing new there, they always have been)I sometimes think they are real, and my reality feels like a dream. I also have trouble with my memory sometimes.
And there you go, this is me.