I feel very passionate about helping people with Agoraphobia acquire the knowledge and skills to gain control of their symptoms. I do not believe there is enough help out there specifically directed at recovery from Agoraphobia.
As I have documented throughout this Web site I developed Agoraphobia as a secondary condition to Panic Disorder and things for me got as bad as it could get, I limited my life and activities so much to avoid my feelings of fear that over a space of time I became completely house bound.
For many years I was literally crippled by Agoraphobia, as the condition dominated every aspect of my life. It was a very dark and lonely time for me and it is a phase of my life that I never want to repeat.
Through sheer determination not to let this cycle continue throughout my whole life, I searched for the answers I needed knowing that I had to find the courage and dedication to begin my recovery. I eventually reversed the cycle and regained my quality of life.
I want to tell anyone suffering from this debilitating condition, never to lose hope that you too can reverse the cycle for yourself. I honestly believe that with the right support and the correct knowledge it is possible to reverse this process and place your symptoms in remission.
I am living proof that this can be done.
I want to start by educating on what Agoraphobia actually is as it is often misunderstood as a fear of going outside, but that is not the case.
Put very simply Agoraphobia is defined as a
"FEAR OF FEAR"
It is a phobia of the feeling of fear.
The best description for Agoraphobia is:
"Adverse behavioural outcome of repeated panic attacks and subsequent anxiety and preoccupation with these attacks that leads to an avoidance of situations where a panic attack could occur""Adverse behavioural outcome of repeated panic attacks and subsequent anxiety and preoccupation with these attacks that leads to an avoidance of situations where a panic attack could occur"
Behaviours that you put in place to guard yourself from a Panic Attack is what develops Agoraphobia.
Agoraphobia usually develops as a secondary condition Panic Disorder.
The usual cycle would be for someone to suffer Panic Attacks and react to them in a negative way and begin to focus on them and become preoccupied with having the next attacks or Panicky feelings. This kind of reaction would turn their Panic Attacks into an Anxiety Disorder such as Panic Disorder. Agoraphobia can develop as a result of having Panic Disorder as they begin to fear the fear that comes with the random Panic Attacks characteristic of Panic Disorder so much that they severely restrict their lives and avoid any person, place or situation that they fear the fear may come and put them at risk of having a Panic Attack where it would be difficult to control it or leave.
This fear of being stuck with your feelings in a place in which you can't control them or leave invisibly as you want to if they feel too bad are central to what is keeping Agoraphobia alive.
When you are Agoraphobic, you are literally terrified of the feeling of fear. This becomes even more terrifying if you feel you may be stuck somewhere that you cannot escape from if it starts to build.
Anticipation Anxiety of what might happen with your fear level when you think about a place or situation that you need to go into is absolutely crippling long before the event and often reaches such a catastrophic level of fear that it becomes easier and safer not to go and face the perceived fear or thoughts about what may happen as a result of that fear that you have built in your mind.
So you Avoid it, and do not go. Keeping your short term fear down and staying more comfortable as a result of your decision, right now at that moment. You feel relieved that you protected yourself from the Panic Attack, fear, shame, embarrassment and social exclusion that you believed was going to come as a result of you going.
You are doing a fantastic job at training your Amygdala to react fearfully to most situations, people or places in your life, none of which hold any real danger.
The trouble is that one situation or place, quickly becomes lots of situations or places until your life is so restricted that you do not go out at all.
You do anything you can to hide your Agoraphobia from others, as you do not want the shame and embarrassment of them knowing, so you become a master of excuses, either excuses why you cannot go at all to anything you have been invited to or by dreaming up plausible excuses while in situations to give yourself an escape route.
This can cause you to develop Depression due to the limitations that this condition puts on your life and social skills.
Agoraphobia is a very lonely and isolating condition. It caused me to become severely Depressed in the time I suffered from it.
Examples of types of situations that would usually be avoided or would be fearful to someone who was suffering from Agoraphobia would be:
- Your Friends or family- Yes typically a sufferer would avoid people they know as those people would notice that something was wrong, finding it easier to talk to strangers.
- Motorways or dual carriageways, bridges, large buildings that you don't know where the exits are
- Planes or Trains or travelling in someone else's car as a passenger
- Doctors, dentist , hairdressing and beauty appointments
- Meetings within the work place or pubic speaking
- Queues or any waiting where anticipation could build
The truth is you fear none of these places, you feel the fear feeling that may come when you get there so logically once the fear of the fear is removed you would be able to return to normal function.
Agoraphobia is massively perception based. You have a perception of what scares you, and you set your own parameters. You tell yourself where you are not safe. Whether that is a geographical distance from home or a situation or person, you are training yourself to panic outside of what you have told yourself is a safety zone for you.
The funny thing is though that even though I did have a safe zone, I was not safe from a panic attack within it. I could still suffer from an attack while at home, so have no idea why I still felt safer having an attack at home than elsewhere. The thinking I had was defiantly distorted.
The problem with Agoraphobia is that the more you keep up with the avoidance, the more you will strengthen and maintain the problem, the problem will never go away as long as you are training your Amygdala to react fearfully to the situations or places in which you have told yourself you are out of your save zone and will feel fear, and then avoid them or put behaviours in place as a way of protecting yourself.
The problem will persist as until you challenge your own perceptions, change the way you look at it, expose yourself to your fears and show yourself that this is just a habit of false fear, which is in no way dangerous.
So is it possible to place Agoraphobia symptoms in remission, regain your quality of life and maintain that level of recovery?
This is possible. I completely believe that it is possible. I was housebound and felt completely hopeless and locked in its grip, but I reversed the cycle from where I was. It absolutely can be done.
Firstly, it is important to grasp that this problem will persist for as long as you fear a Panic Attack enough to think that it is dangerous and if that each one you have will hurt you or put you at critical threat. It will also persist as long as you change the way that you behave normally and limit aspects of your life to avoid your feelings of Panic, thinking that this is the way to stay safe.
You will gain control back from your symptoms and free yourself from this cycle, by approaching and thinking about your Panic Attacks in a different way, then you need to learn how to manage your Panic Attacks and the effects they have on you, in the opposite way to what you are doing to deal with them now.
To make this fear go down in the long term, the short term fear must go up, be activated and be dealt with in a way in which your body and mind understand how to turn this fear response off at the root.
Until you go towards situations or places that you will feel this fear, you will never learn how to deal with it. You cannot learn to deal with the feeling of fear until you are feeling it, that is logical. By seeking support you may get to a point where you feel brave enough to re enter a situation that you have been avoiding, however it is IN that situation that you would learn to deal with your fear.
The doing it comes before the fear goes away.
This is the only way out of Agoraphobia and however hard and unachievable that thought seemed to me, I got to the point where I realised that nothing would ever be as bad as staying like I was at that moment for the rest of my life.
I had trained myself into it and as much support as I asked for from others ultimately, no one or nothing could really take this fear away for me, I was the only one who could do it myself.
You have to gradually expose yourself to what you fear, recondition your Amgdala showing it that this is not in fact a dangerous situation, whilst showing yourself that you do have the confidence to do this yourself.
This is the only way that you will start to become confident in your own ability to cope.
Then and only then will you begin to lose your fear.
Once your symptoms are in remission, then it is important to maintain your recovery, by using the correct diet, exercise, sleep pattern and keeping commitments into manageable levels, along with always making the correct choices within your lifestyle to keep that end goal firmly in mind and to keep your symptoms at bay.