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5 Things My Agoraphobia Isn't

We’ve likely all heard the word: agoraphobia. For most of us, it summons images of TLC specials aboutĀ people who live life fully from the comfort of their own homeā€¦ or even bedroom. While this isĀ agoraphobia at its worst, not everyone with agoraphobia will be locked in their home for years andĀ years. According to the Mayo Clinic, agoraphobia is a fear of places or situations that might cause panic,Ā helplessness, or embarrassment. If you have an anxiety disorder, like me, that sentence may have justĀ hit home.

Before I fully understood the range of agoraphobia, I felt like I was hit with a ton of bricks when myĀ therapist brought up the word. I wasn’t a ā€œshut in,ā€ how could she even mention that? Now that I haveĀ learned more about my anxiety disorder and what agoraphobia can be, I want to share what it isn’t forĀ me.

1. Not Leaving the Houseā€¦ Ever

Yes, it can be days before I leave the house (don’t worry, my kids let me know it’s strange), butĀ agoraphobics do leave the house, bedroom, tiny closet under the stairs, etc. We just have to do itĀ under our circumstances with the right people, the right water bottle, the right temperature in theĀ car to get there, and the right destination. Sometimes, this means no Wal-Mart ever. Sometimes, itĀ means not even leaving to hit the drive-thru.

2. Not Going Outside

When I’m having a panic attack, one of my safe places is outside. Not out in the open, not in theĀ front of my house where all of my neighbors can see, but on my back porch. It’s a calm space ā€” oneĀ where I feel like I can breathe. I also find my anxiety lessens the more time that I spend outside.

Yes, I am an agoraphobic, and yes, I still have a great tan from being outside.

3. Not Having a Social Life

Any of my friends will tell you I love to socialize: barbecues, concerts, even (gasp!) parties. MyĀ social life is comparable to that of people who have not been diagnosed with a mental illness. Only aĀ few people who are not close to me know how much I actually struggle withĀ this ā€œnormalizationā€Ā though. When I go somewhere like this, I need to have my purse stocked full with all of theĀ essentials: a water bottle (in case I start choking), a pack of crackers (in case I get hungry), at leastĀ $50 (in case I get stranded on the side of the roadā€¦ hey, this one isn’t really that bad). These are allĀ things I have deemed safe items. Things that make me feel more normal and like I am in controlĀ of the situation. Also, sometimes I do bail for what seems like no reason to the people who don’tĀ understand it. Sometimes, I do just want to stay in the house. Cookout at my house, anyone?

4. Being an Introvert

Yes, all of these thoughts are inside of my head, but I am by no means an introvert. I am loud,Ā friendly, and have an opinion on everything. Just because I don’t love to leave my house, I hate Wal-Mart, and I need a prescription medication to go to an unfamiliar location doesn’t mean I amĀ introverted.

5. Hating People

Most agoraphobics like to avoid big crowds. That doesn’t mean they hate people. It only meansĀ they are uncomfortable with the situation. For many, it’s the fear of going somewhere andĀ making a fool of yourself in a big crowd. Are you going to panic, throw up, or fidget like you’reĀ stealing something while checking out the best Christmas buys at the mall on Black Friday? BetterĀ not go. One thing I have always found conflicting about my agoraphobia and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)Ā is that I don’tĀ like big crowds especially if I know I’m going to panic, but I also hate being alone. I don’t hateĀ people ā€” I hate the idea of myself acting ridiculous in front of people.

Agoraphobia, like GAD, can mean different things to different people. Just because I enjoy goingĀ places under certain circumstances doesn’t make mine better than yours. There have beenĀ countless times when my husband has had to turn the car around and go home just because I can’tĀ handle the grocery store.

It’s also important for us all to remember that our agoraphobia won’t justĀ go away. We need to work on it, chip away at it and do what makes us most comfortable and happyĀ on a daily basis. I learned the hard way that you need to have a support system to have any chanceĀ at conquering this. An understanding family is great. Friends you can call up when you want to beĀ social but don’t want to leave the house are great. Online communities dedicated to similar peopleĀ coming together to fight this agoraphobia in a positive way are the best.

Image via Thinkstock.