The following article was featured in the 2015 March/April issue of Metro Woman, a spotlight on Stephanie Appleby and her journey from a crippling mental illness to thriving health.
Stephanie Appleby has lived with agoraphobia and panic attacks for 14 years. Agorophobia is an anxiety disorder where the sufferer perceives the environment as dangerous or uncomfortable, often due to the environment’s vast openness or crowdedness. It came out of nowhere. She was literally fine one day and paralyzed with fear the next.
Not knowing what was happening to her, she literally spent years researching symptoms and trying to find ways to overcome her fear. Her efforts were complicated by the lack of adequate resources available on her condition as well as the disdain of many friends and family members, who could not comprehend what Stephanie was experiencing. Their withdrawal only made the situation worse. Alienated by most, her husband was her only rock to cling to in this vast ocean of isolation.
After years of debilitating fear and loneliness, she started to become angry. She questioned why this was happening to her, and raged at this illness that had impacted her entire life. Knowing she was not living, she made a decision that if leaving her home was going to kill her, then she could accept that death sentence — it was far better than the slow death of the past many years.
Church had always felt like a healthy nonjudgmental safe environment for her, so it was a good first step to take. Her next steps followed in rapid succession. Soon after attending church, she felt strong enough to call her physician. She was prescribed Lexapro, and after conquering the fear of taking a mind-altering medication, she began to feel significant improvement. She began attending therapy, and armed herself with knowledge regarding her condition.
MAJOR positive changes followed.
She is now able to live a normal, everyday life that most people take for granted. When asked what advice she would give others, Stephanie replied, “What I have learned through this process is sometimes it’s better not to look at the whole staircase, just the first step.” She promised herself that if she ever got well, she would help others like herself. She fulfilled that promise and is currently the events and marketing coordinator for NAMI (The National Alliance of Mental Illness) Southwest Missouri. Her role there allows her to be a voice and advocate for those suffering from mental illness. Her undeniable spirit would not let this illness win, and while she is still scarred from her battles, she is a firm believer that God often uses our deepest pain as the launching pad for our greatest calling.
Stephanie’s goal is for the stigma against mental illness to disappear so that others are not ashamed to come forward and seek help. She has lived with that stigma and the feelings of shame and isolation it brings. She works each day to help raise awareness and educate others about hope and recovery. She is proud to be affiliated with NAMI Southwest Missouri, and organization that offers 33 support groups, suicide prevention training, a mental health library, a call-in line, and other services to those affected by mental illness. NAMI is extremely active in the community and holds numbers events throughout the year to raise money for individuals suffering from mental illness. To hear more about Stephanie’s story and learn about NAMI SWMO, visit their Facebook page facebook.com/NamiSwmo or website www.namiswmo.com.