I work from home (which is an amazing gift), so in an effort to get out every day and to enjoy the fall weather, I started going for walks outside instead of using the treadmill. Something I didn’t feel as safe doing when we lived in a more city-like environment where there was construction and commotion around every corner, but since we moved more into the country, I had been able to enjoy walking outside. Where I could appreciate nature. Where I was even beginning to feel safe. But then my fear response was triggered one day, ending my daily outdoor walks. And making me feel afraid to leave my house.
I decided to go for a walk one recent Sunday afternoon. The air was crisp and the sun was peeking through the trees. I put on my sunglasses, but I left my noise-canceling headphones at home. Something I rarely do, but I was feeling antsy and needing to get out of the house and simply forgot them.
Minutes into my walk, as I headed down a dead-end street near my house, I began to hear a dog barking loudly. I followed the sound to my left and saw a very large dog running toward me from a house on top of the hill. At first I walked faster, getting farther away from the safe street behind me. Then I stopped. Frozen in my tracks.
As soon as I stopped, the dog stopped too, but continued to stand there and bark at me. I didn’t know if there was an invisible fence, but the dog didn’t seem to have a collar. Which made me feel even more scared.
I turned around, so I was facing the dog, and walked backward a few steps farther down the street. I saw the garage was open, so I looked in to see if the dog’s owner was there. But I saw no one. As I walked a few steps more, still backward and facing the dog, another large dog came running from the side of the house toward me. Now there were two large dogs barking at me and running toward me. My heart was racing and my fear response had been triggered.
Fortunately, my pepper spray is attached to my house key, so I pulled it out with my finger on the trigger, ready to spray it if the dogs came closer than they already were. I yelled something loudly, hoping their owner would hear me and come get them.
I was beginning to panic. I felt fearful for my life.
Then I heard a man’s voice behind me. So I turned halfway around, keeping one eye on the dogs, and saw an elderly man walking toward me from one of the houses down the street. In an attempt to comfort me, he told me that the dogs wouldn’t leave the yard. That I could walk in front of the house without them getting to me.
I told him thank you and turned around to head back home, my walk now cut short due to the panic that was quickly taking my energy, but I knew I had to cross back in front of the dogs in order to get to my house. And then all of a sudden, I couldn’t move. I was halted. Stuck. As if I was stopped by an invisible fence.
After a moment, I began to force myself to move, but with each baby step I took toward the house with the dogs still barking at me, I felt myself become weaker and weaker. Then the panic took over, and I collapsed to my knees and began sobbing.
The kind neighbor was still standing behind me, and he approached me to tell me he would drive me down the street. Then he realized he didn’t have his keys and was going to walk back to his house to get them, but I told him he didn’t have to do that, realizing that getting into a car with a strange man could cause me even more panic. Thankful my wits were still about me.
I asked him if I could use his backyard to cut through to another street to get to my house. The tears still streaming down my face. The dogs still barking at me. He told me there was a creek in the back of his house, so I was unable to cut through, but that he would stand there to make sure I got across the dogs’ path safely.
Instead of walking in the street as I had done the first time, I walked close to the houses opposite where the dogs were barking, so at least there was some more distance between them and myself. I was shaking uncontrollably. Feeling my blood sugar dropping. Hoping I wouldn’t faint. Knowing my fear response was fully engaged.
I cried quite deeply when I got home. Upset that trying to walk outside near my house had caused me so much pain. Upset that I now couldn’t trust walking outside by myself without my husband. Upset that there was now one more thing I was unable to do. I did some yoga and smoked some medical marijuana to ease my pain.
The days that followed were beautiful outside. But I couldn’t bring myself to venture out. I didn’t even step one foot outside until the following Wednesday. When I caught a spider inside the house and had to step outside to set it free. But even then, I quickly went back in. Needing the safety of my home.
I’ve experienced periods of time, for as long as I can remember, where I was unable to leave my house, but I thought it was mostly from feeling too drained. Now I understand that when my fear response has been triggered, it takes me days to build up the courage to be able to leave my house again. To feel my life isn’t threatened. To feel safe.