I’ve been thinking about writing a post specifically about my life with agoraphobia for a while now. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been planning it out in my mind but just couldn’t really come up with a good way to describe agoraphobia from a personal point of view. I have a ton of medical and scientific definitions/descriptions, but how do I describe it personally? I can describe it, yes, because I live with it, but I just want to be able to make the reader truly understand what it is like.
Oh, well, I’ll stop worrying about specific words and just dive in.
I’ve had social anxiety my entire life. Really, I was born anxious! However, it wasn’t until my 8th grade year that I first presented with agoraphobic tendencies. I ditched school, a lot. You see, no one was home during the day and I was usually the last to leave in the morning ( I walked myself to school) so I knew if I didn’t leave and go to school no one would know I was home alone all day. It was glorious. I was alone, I was invisible, I did not have to interact with people, I did not have to feel the anxiety (worry, profound discomfort, embarrassment, fear, etc.), I didn’t have to feel these things because I simply stayed in the comfort of my own hide-out, my home. This lasted for I think 3 months before the school caught on to my forged notes and notified my mother. I had been ditching a couple days a week for several weeks, if I remember correctly. Once my mom found out and confronted me I straightened up and went to school as required for the rest of the year. It was difficult, I was miserable, but I knew what I had been doing wasn’t good, I knew it wasn’t healthy on many levels, I didn’t know the depth or totality of my problem (agoraphobia and social anxiety) but I knew I had to act like I was fine, I had to buck up and do what needed doing. So I did.
Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder. People with agoraphobia tend to avoid open, crowded, and public places and situations that make them feel trapped, helpless, or embarrassed.
The word agoraphobia comes from the Greek ‘agora’. Agoraphobia translated means “fear of the marketplace”.
For most agoraphobics the issue is coupled and fed by social anxiety (anxiety brought on by social interaction and situations).
Agoraphobia is often described in “phobia lists” as the fear of open spaces or fear of places hard to escape. Agoraphobics often find it difficult to leave their home (the idea of going out into the world, out in public, induces severe anxiety).
Many of the places agoraphobics experience the highest amount of anxiety are places like public transit, malls or similar places, theaters, and places where help would be hard to get if something bad happened (wilderness, etc.).
Many agoraphobics find they experience less anxiety ‘out in the world’ if they take with them a ‘security blanket’. I was surprised when I learned about this common coping mechanism for agoraphobia because I had naturally latched on to my ‘security blankets’ already. I find it very difficult to be out in the world without either my husband or my mother with me. I stick to them like glue when I’m out in public. This security blanket does not have to be a human being, many agoraphobics have pets or inanimate objects (a favorite blanket, jacket, trinket, toy, etc.) with them for coping tools.
Agoraphobia, like all anxiety disorders, tends to have its ups and downs. After the 8th grade, for many years I didn’t even know I had agoraphobia. I was a home-body, that’s for sure, but although if given the choice I’d rather stay home, I didn’t think I had any difficulty in leaving my home. I worked in customer service for over 15 years and although I hated it, I didn’t usually have any issue with social interaction that I’d describe as unhealthy. Yes, I had a lot of anxiety I dealt with, I called out of work more often than I should have. I even had a nervous breakdown once that was related to my social anxiety.
And then there was the fact that I couldn’t stick with college partially because of the classes required for my degree that weren’t available online. I just could no longer cope with classroom settings. And especially with group projects, presentations, and anything at all remotely social. there are many reasons not related to agoraphobia and social anxiety that kept me from getting a degree (financial mostly), but the anxiety was a big part.
And then things got worse.
My health declined to the point where I ended up having major heart surgery, a triple bypass. During my recovery I stayed at home a lot due to energy issues. For some reason the staying at home more led me to be more reluctant to leave home. I felt safe and comfortable there and convinced myself it was perfectly OK to do so. I worried a bit about my mental health when I even often resisted leaving home to go have fun with friends.
Things only got worse when immediately following my heart surgery recovery I began a year long journey consisting of four eye surgeries, with very restrictive recoveries in between each. So it was more staying at home, which was fine with me because I loved being home. I did have a job during the heart surgery time and eye surgeries. Obviously I missed a lot of work because of recovery times. I ended up leaving my job because I felt terrible about all the medical leave I had to take, and I had no idea how long this was going to continue for. Having to make the decision to leave my job triggered a depression and strong guilty anxiety which I’m sure fed my ever growing agoraphobia.
I used to have gorgeous eyes. They were big, hazel, with thick and long lashes I never needed mascara for. After my four eye surgeries on my right eye, I noticed the eye was smaller and sunken in which made my eyelid look droopy. I felt ugly. I felt like my once gorgeous eyes were forever ruined. Now, I’m not the kind of person to worry or care about what other people think about my appearance. But I have always had a kind of pride over my beautiful eyes. So I sunk into a deeper depression, and I felt overwhelming anxiety over being seen in public.
“People will judge me. They’ll stare at my droopy eye.” I don’t care! Why am I anxious over this stupid stuff!
This is why phobias are called irrational fears. Because they make no sense! They are overreactions to stupid meaningless things!
But we can’t help it. We don’t choose to react this way, to think and feel these things. But we try to cope with it, to control it and move on.
From here on out the agoraphobia won the higher ground and ran rampant. To this day (over 4 years since the heart surgery) I only leave my house if I have no choice (doctor appointments). Sometimes I am able and willing to leave if my mom invites me to join her for a day of shopping/running errands. I’m able to do that because, as I stated earlier, she is one of my two security blankets. Also, I still hang out with friends and go to parties sometimes, as long as my hubby is with me.
People often point out that I’m never not stuck to him like glue when we go to parties/gatherings, etc.. Agoraphobia is why.
I never got another job after I left the one for medical reasons. I’ve tried to get jobs since, but haven’t gotten picked up, yet. I’ve only applied at my hubby’s work…because he’s my security blanket and I’d be able to handle working there with him around.
I don’t qualify for disability… not that I’d want to have that label, anyway.
I had a fairly big agoraphobia flare up this past week. With all the holidays, I guess, and going places to celebrate (always with my hubby to hang on to) it just wore me down. the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve I was moody, grumpy, and anxious. We had planned for nearly a month to go to a party hosted by a friend for New Year’s Eve. A day or so before the party I became so overwhelmed with anxiety I decided I didn’t want to go to the party. I felt guilty, and I did want to hang out with my friends, I just couldn’t deal with the idea of leaving my home, being crowded around people. And then there was the fact that my hubby wanted to drink and since I can not drive due to vision impairment he was my driver and I’d be trapped there if I wanted to come home early and he was still too drunk to drive. And on top of that no matter what I’d be stuck there until after midnight anyway because it’s a New Year’s Eve party and the whole point is to ring in the new year!
This is what we mean by the ‘fear of being trapped’ part of agoraphobia…
I’m happy to report that I did make it to the party, but I had gone back and forth and was super anxious about it all the way up until I pushed myself out the door to go! And as soon as midnight struck and we all cheered and hugged I was bugging hubby to “let’s go home”.
You see, even though I love my friends and had an absolutely wonderful time at the party, my agoraphobia and social anxiety make me anxious and want to ‘escape’ even happy, joyful,fun experiences. Yes, I’ve gone to therapy for depression, social anxiety, and agoraphobia. It helped, but I convinced myself a some point that I no longer needed it. I’m fine! I’ve got my shit together! I’m functioning just fine….
Well, truthfully, the depression is gone, and the social anxiety is under control, but the agoraphobia aspect of all of this is raging full throttle.
I’m good, though. All’s good. I’ve got my Facebook, twitter…..agoraphobia isn’t as bad a condition as it used to be since social media has come into existence. LOL