Ellen Stockdale Wolfe: Confessions of an Agoraphobic

I will do almost anything to stay at home. Granted I have a few chronic illnesses that keep me in but it is mental illness that is the real challenge. Mental illnesses, plural, and phobias, to be more exact. Bipolar Disorder, Asperger’s, OCD, Emetophobia, Claustophobia, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Agoraphobia. And I do what mentally ill people do. I isolate.

Life can be lived through the ethernet. Luckily for me and many others. One can stay in the apartment for days. Today, however, I had to go out. My husband asked me to check the car. And there was shopping to be done and a trip to the post office required. Shit! Forgot to take major meds last night and was not in good shape yesterday either. Dreading going out! A one mile errand for me is like a trip to China. First off, take the missed meds. And make the preparations to go out, hiding money in case of a mugging, packing a phone, emergency meds and emergency numbers for my husband, etc., etc., etc.

Then comes the moment of truth, going out the door. Meet a neighbor and surprised that could handle her in my fragile state, and was, in fact, good with her. Not always the case. Helped a new neighbor and walked out the door into the street. A man coughing. He may vomit. Terrified of vomit and vomiting. I search out the streets and buses for people who look sick or sound sick, coughing, etc. The origin of this phobia– an alcoholic father who was often sick, but knowing that does not help matters. Make it past the coughing man and note his location to look for vomit on the way back.

Then there are all the unknown. This is New York City after all. Dirty, smelly, overstimulating, overcrowded, noisy New York City. People approaching you for good causes, bogus causes, begging, anything is possible. It is not like I am a newcomer here, having lived in New York City for six-plus decades and worked all over the city for three of those decades. Until I couldn’t any more.

Someone once asked me what was there to be afraid of? What could possibly go wrong? Oh, wrong question. I could easily rattle off twenty-five scenarios of disaster and then some. But this morning surprisingly and unusually, am happy to be outside. Greet my Indian newsstand lady friend and my friendly Hispanic super next door. All goes smoothly. The clerk in the post office ends on a kind note after my botched addresses had to be fixed. It actually, and can’t believe I am saying this, but, it actually feels good to be out. Give a beggar a dollar and talk to him. Feeling good outside is a rarity. Perhaps it is the missed medication. Secretly I still believe the medication takes away something good in me. Still suffer from the delusion that all ills come from the medication, though “know” I cannot function without it. Actually perhaps it is doubling up on the dose that helps. Perhaps I should be on a higher dose of the anti-psychotic. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

Trip over. Glad to be back home. Didn’t feel faint until back home. One of these days will venture out to shop for a new pair of jeans. One of these days…

(Click here for information on, and to purchase Ellen’s Bipolar/Asperger’s memoir.)

© Ellen Stockdale Wolfe 2013


4 thoughts on “Ellen Stockdale Wolfe: Confessions of an Agoraphobic

  1. It is wonderful that you got out, and that, in the end, there was something … satisfying about doing so. I have agoraphobic issues myself, and can relate to the terror of turning the door knob and stepping outside the safety of home. There are times when I think I’d be perfectly happy to never leave the house again … except to go outside in my backyard. I don’t think I could live in NYC unless I had a small, private outdoor spot. But, backyards are rare in certain parts of the city. I like to be outside — as long as there is no one around. I find that I enjoy my own company very much.

    I agree with you about the medications too … I take meds for anxiety and bipolar (and, sometimes anti-depressants); they really do change how you feel. Yes, they can make some of the “bad” go away, but I think they take a great deal of the “good” away too.

    Thanks for sharing your story … and here’s to another successful journey.

  2. I know pain all to well for most of my life I’ve live with metal, emotional and or physical. Yes are all sorts of labels for these dis-ease but I’m not going there. Today I am happy, to me that is the only thing and or moment that counts.

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