5 Things My Agoraphobia Isn't

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

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

1. Not Leaving the House… Ever

Yes, it can be days before I leave the house (don’t worry, my kids let me know it’s strange), but agoraphobics do leave the house, bedroom, tiny closet under the stairs, etc. We just have to do it under our circumstances with the right people, the right water bottle, the right temperature in the car to get there, and the right destination. Sometimes, this means no Wal-Mart ever. Sometimes, it 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 the front of my house where all of my neighbors can see, but on my back porch. It’s a calm space — one 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. My social life is comparable to that of people who have not been diagnosed with a mental illness. Only a few people who are not close to me know how much I actually struggle with this “normalization” though. When I go somewhere like this, I need to have my purse stocked full with all of the essentials: a water bottle (in case I start choking), a pack of crackers (in case I get hungry), at least $50 (in case I get stranded on the side of the road… hey, this one isn’t really that bad). These are all things I have deemed safe items. Things that make me feel more normal and like I am in control of the situation. Also, sometimes I do bail for what seems like no reason to the people who don’t 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, 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 am introverted.

5. Hating People

Most agoraphobics like to avoid big crowds. That doesn’t mean they hate people. It only means they are uncomfortable with the situation. For many, it’s the fear of going somewhere and making a fool of yourself in a big crowd. Are you going to panic, throw up, or fidget like you’re stealing something while checking out the best Christmas buys at the mall on Black Friday? Better not go. One thing I have always found conflicting about my agoraphobia and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is that I don’t like big crowds especially if I know I’m going to panic, but I also hate being alone. I don’t hate people — 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 going places under certain circumstances doesn’t make mine better than yours. There have been countless times when my husband has had to turn the car around and go home just because I can’t handle the grocery store.

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

Image via Thinkstock.

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