From Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul

Slaying My Dragon

Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.

James Baldwin

“I want to lighten your load,” he said as he dug out all the loose change and assorted foul and unidentifiable junk from the bottom of my pocketbook. His eyes lit up, scanning the oodles of quarters and nickels that had taken up residence in the black hole of my bag. “We can use this at the casino,” he said.

I let the words echo in my brain. The casino. Other people would think of it as a nice day trip. But me? This was the sign that dreams come true, that miracles happen, that love can cure anything.

Even agoraphobia.

I hadn’t left my house in two and a half years. I had an overwhelming panic disorder that made me feel mostly like I was falling out of a plane in the middle of a hurricane with no parachute whenever I walked out my front door.

My world shrunk until I couldn’t even have friends over, or eat in front of anyone, or . . . any of the social activities that most people take for granted.

Prior to that, I was a very social person. I went to college, I was a professional actress, I threw great parties. There was no hint anywhere in my life that I would ever become afraid of the world. But, lo and behold, it happened.

Over the course of a few months, I started having panic attacks whenever I was in a crowd. Bars, restaurants, parties, stores—I avoided all of them because whenever I tried, I failed. I would walk into a place, and everything would turn into a bad movie. Sounds would be amplified, people would be out of focus, the ground would move beneath me, my heart would beat so loudly that I was sure it was audible to everyone around me, and I’d feel drugged—like I’d just overdosed on cold medicine.

I thought, surely, there had to be a medical reason for this. Maybe it was low blood sugar, or a heart malfunction, or brain seizures. Anything other than what it really was—a mental illness.

I had to move back in with my parents, and along with relinquishing my independence, I also gave up my self-esteem and all of my dreams for a successful life of career and marriage and adventure. If you told me then that I would find my recovery in the form of a blind date, I’d have said you were crazier than I was.

But here I am today to tell you that’s exactly what happened.

Through the years of panic, I gave up on relationships. How could I ever meet anyone if I was trapped in my house? But, as the old cliché goes, you always find what you need when you stop looking.

I had worked for a wedding band, and my ex-boss wanted me to meet the band’s new saxophone player, Anthony. I told him to forget it. I wasn’t ready to have my heart broken when I found out that no man would be able to deal with dating a woman who couldn’t leave her parents’ home. He was persistent, though, and gave Anthony my e-mail address.

My screen name was “Violetfairy,” since I love all things fairy-related.

His e-mails intrigued me. He sent me poems and song lyrics and riddles, knowing all along about my agoraphobia. I wrote back, even though I’d only seen a photo of the back of his head.

I finally gave him my phone number and, after several marathon phone calls, had the bizarre inclination to invite him over one night at midnight. Even though he had to wake up to teach in the morning, he came.

Somewhere in the course of that night, we both fell in love.

The next day, he brought a beautiful book of fairy prints with descriptions of how to “lure” them. He watched nervously as I read the page marked “Augustine, The Violetfairy,” which said she could be lured with lilacs.

That’s when I noticed he’d pressed a fresh lilac into the page.

Just a month later, I found myself in his car, headed out of state for a day trip to a casino. A casino, of all places! Hundreds of people, the sounds of clanking and ringing machines, excitement, tension . . . and I stood right in the midst of it all, enjoying every second.

How in the world did this happen? It was a feat that three medications and four psychologists couldn’t accomplish. This man had helped me find my life again.

My panic didn’t disappear when he showed up. In fact, I still have panic attacks now. But when we’re out in a crowd now and he notices that I’m getting anxious, he’ll sing me ridiculous German lullabies, or pull me in close for a slow dance in the middle of the grocery store, or piggyback me outside and sit with me in the car until we’re both ready to give it another try.

He helped me learn that my panic didn’t make me worthless, and it didn’t make me unattractive, meek, boring, crazy or any of the other things I had convinced myself I was. Suddenly, I was me again. I was a funny, exciting, smart, sexy woman—who happened to have a panic disorder.

I’m very proud to say that, despite the fact that we lost a whole lot of money in the casino that day, we walked out feeling like millionaires. And for one day, I forgot to panic.

That lilac sure did work. He lured me back into the world, where I’ve learned everywhere feels like home when you’re with a man who leaves construction paper hearts under your pillow and stomps “I love you, Violetfairy” in snowy lawns at sunrise while you’re fast asleep.

Jenna Glatzer

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