After the introduction on what Emetophobia is, it is only appropriate that I also introduce the issue that impacts my life the most. I began suffering from Agoraphobia in earnest in February of this past year. I battle against it daily.
The word agoraphobia comes from the ancient Greek word “agora“, which means “place of assembly” or “marketplace”.
Fun Facts on Agoraphobia:
- Median onset age of Agoraphobia is 20 (my life is too ironic, I developed it a month before my 20th birthday).
- 0.8 percent of adults have agoraphobia without a history of panic disorder (I am not one of those people).
- Agoraphobia used to be placed under the umbrella of panic disorder, diagnosed as “Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia”, this has since been changed. Agoraphobia is a unique diagnosis.
- Early intervention is crucial with agoraphobia.
- CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and medication are the most common treatments for agoraphobia.
The Weird Side of Agoraphobia:
Agoraphobia has many different ways that it presents itself. Fears that are common in agoraphobia are crossing bridges, elevators, a fear of crowds, a fear of open spaces, and a fear of being alone. Most people associate agoraphobia as a fear of open spaces. Therefore, a lot of time when people hear that I am agoraphobic, they think that I just am afraid of big concert halls or wide open parks. However, I am on the severe scale when it comes to agoraphobia. The main issue behind agoraphobia is that the people who suffer from it have an intense fear of not being able to escape a situation.
How I (and others) are Diagnosed with Agoraphobia:
Agoraphobia almost always begins with recurring panic attacks. That is exactly how my issue started. I began having panic attacks in different places, school, the mall, my local grocery store, and even my counselors office. I started to fear having panic attacks, and therefore just started avoiding the places I had them (bad move, I will address that further in a later post). This is how agoraphobia starts to take hold.
In order to be officially diagnosed with agoraphobia, a person needs to experience extreme fear in at least two of the following situations:
- out of home alone
- in an open space
- on public transportation
- in a crowd
- in an enclosed space
Agoraphobia will also show itself in ways such as: heightened distress in non-threatening situations, avoiding a situation for fear of becoming “trapped” or experiencing a panic attack, and if the fear of these places causes extreme fear and anxiety that affects quality of life.
Causes of Agoraphobia:
Agoraphobia is also unique in that there is a lot of talk around how agoraphobia starts. Many researchers believe that agoraphobia shows up because of an issue in the area of the brain that regulates fear. Sometimes people develop agoraphobia from past trauma, and still others may develop it from a genetic trait, as anxiety is found to run in families. Finally, agoraphobia can develop simply from the build-up and stress from other anxiety disorders or phobias.
How Does Agoraphobia Manifest Itself?
Agoraphobia normally shows up in much the same way as other anxiety disorders. There are the general anxiety symptoms: shortness of breath, stomach upset, chest pain, sweating, shaking, flushing or feeling cold, dizziness, and heart palpitations. As previously stated, agoraphobia can also cause a person to avoid situations where they experience panic.
Unfortunately, there is an extreme version of Agoraphobia, which is the version that I struggle with. It is considered home-bound agoraphobia. This is where my issue with leaving my house comes in. I so fear having panic attacks outside of what I consider my “safe place”, that I can barely bear going anywhere. Some people will become so greatly afraid of their panic attacks that they panic if they are not in a specific room. There are stories of people who do not leave their house for years on end because of this condition.
Will I Ever Recover from Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is a treatable condition. When researching different opinions, the result varies. Medical News Today published an article that claimed that of those who receive treatment, one in three people will overcome their agoraphobia and never experience it again. Again, keeping in mind that early intervention is crucial. About half of people who undergo treatment will experience some improvement, but will still always experience some symptoms. As a whole, one in five people will never recover from agoraphobia.
Other sites are extremely optimistic about the prognosis for agoraphobia. If you look across the board, most medical articles on agoraphobia (as well as panic disorder) will state a middle of the road view. A person will most likely never fully recover from an anxiety disorder so severe, however, with hard work with a therapist, people can get to the point where they can live practically symptom free.
So, when it comes to me, I honestly don’t know if I will ever recover. I hope to one day be at the point where I only experience symptoms in times of extreme stress. However, that is not guaranteed. Part of my journey of coping with my anxiety has been coming to the point where I can accept that nothing is certain. That also means that I need to be okay with the worst case scenario. I could try a million different methods, throw my heart and soul into recovery, and it may just not happen.
Sometimes, if I am honest, agoraphobia is the most crushing part of my entire existence. I try so hard every day to overcome my fear, to do things out of the house with my husband, to visit my parents, and to gain my life back. Agoraphobia is extremely isolating. I have not been to my husbands parents house in almost a year. It is a place that I grew in and loved for five years of my life. I was over there several times a week. I miss it desperately. Now that I am married, I miss being able to casually go to my parents house and lounge on the couch with my siblings and childhood dog. Yet, I have to wake up every morning and just keep trying. Some days I do amazing. Some days I do the grocery shopping, some days I go to the mall with my husband and have a blast. Other days, I don’t leave the house. I am paralyzed with fear. But I have to keep trying. If ten years down the line I am in the same place I am now, I at least want to be able to say that I gave it my all.