Last week when I wrote, “10 Things That Helped Me Get Over Agoraphobia” I forgot to list one very important item. It’s something I use every day, and it’s been crucial in helping me get out of the house. Here is item # 11…
A few years ago I wanted to go back to college because I never finished my degree. With my kids moving on to their own lives, there was really nothing stopping me. We live close to the university, and I knew it was within my driving range. I could get to the campus all right, but something was holding me back.
UCSB sits on 1,022 beautiful acres. Classrooms are at the center of the campus, while parking is not. Students use bikes or skateboards. Everyone else hikes by foot. I couldn’t do it.
It took me several years to get comfortable enough (thanks to my Big White Van) to drive again locally. But how could I leave the safety zone of my Big White Van to cross a huge campus all by myself, while my home-away-from-home sat in a distant parking lot blocks away? Just thinking about it made me not want to do it. Or even try.
My life had limited itself to going places where parking was right next door to wherever I needed to be. I learned to circle parking lots endlessly until a closer space freed up. I would arrive hours ahead of time just to find parking that didn’t involve me walking. Not because I didn’t like to walk but because panic always followed in my footsteps across a wide open space. Many times, I would just give up. I’d find an excuse not to park, not to even try, and I’d turn the van around and just go home. I couldn’t do that if I went back to school – I’d have classes, and I’d have to park to get to them. I needed some help, but I couldn’t admit it.
When you’re in denial for a condition you’ve been wrestling with for years, you sometimes fail to see an answer right in front of you. Or maybe the real problem is the stigma that’s attached: as long as you don’t call attention to yourself, you figure nobody else will either. The only trouble with trying to avoid a stigma is that you also avoid getting better. I didn’t want to acknowledge that I had a disability. I looked fine on the outside. No wheelchair, no crutches, no cane. People would never know just by looking at me. I didn’t want to ask for help because in my mind my disability wasn’t as bad as others. I didn’t think I deserved the help. I thought I could just “tough it out.” But toughing it out for me always meant avoidance – turning the car around and just going home. Because to stay and to keep trying meant more pain that made my condition worse. I might have looked able-bodied and fine. Except I wasn’t.
It took a doctor to point that out to me. He suggested it was okay to ask for help – that help for me might mean parking as close as I could possibly park. To a classroom. A grocery store. An event. Anywhere or any reason that took me out of the house and allowed me to be in the world again while at the same time helping me feel safe. The more mobile I could become, the healthier I would get. So that doctor wrote a letter and helped me apply for a disabled parking permit.
It took awhile for me to use that little blue placard. I didn’t like announcing to the world that I was different, or having to explain my difference to anyone who asked. But it is a small price to pay for the sense of security I have every time I go anywhere. I never have to doubt now that I can go and do something. That blue placard has taken away a lot of my fear. And if it means that a stigma comes attached along with it, I’ll take it anyway.
It’s worth it.
(I did go back to college, and I graduated with Honors. I also gave my speech the other night to the members of the P.E.O. Sisterhood. And you know what? They asked me to become a member. Good things can happen when you leave the house.)