Agoraphobia isn’t the opposite of claustrophobia – but a lot of people think it is. In fact I used to think exactly that. I used to think exactly that even when I was suffering from agoraphobia. I was even offered the opportunity to join an agoraphobics group, but I said no because I wasn’t afraid of open spaces. I quite liked open spaces as long as no one else was anywhere near me. In fact if there was no other human being in sight, then that was OK as far as I was concerned. But that was all a very long time ago.
The translation of agoraphobia is ‘fear of the market place’, not, as many people think, fear of open spaces. The essence of the market place is people and human interaction. This is what is fearful. Places that agoraphobes typically avoid, or have problems with, are supermarkets, theatres, cinemas, crowds, parties. Places where a rapid exit might be difficult.
The fear is usually of showing oneself up in some way in the eyes of others. Typically agoraphobes worry about things like: vomiting (usually as a result of severe anxiety); fainting; having a panic attack; or suffering from a genuine health emergency like a heart attack. The concern is usually one of embarrassment – perhaps fainting and finding oneself on a supermarket floor gazing up into a circle of concerned faces who will insist on making a fuss and calling an ambulance.
Many agoraphobes manage to get by with a trusted helper who accompanies them when they need to go shopping or out socialising. This person is there to rescue them and take them home should anything bad, like a panic attack occur. But when that helper is not available life is very restricted.
If medical help is obtained the most likely result is medication with tranquillisers and anti-depressants. Neither of which actually solve the problem, they just enable a minimum level of functionality. The problem remains, like a monster in the wardrobe, waiting to show its scary face as soon as you turn off the lights, or look the other way. So you are trapped. The medication keeps the monster locked in the wardrobe, but doesn’t get rid of it. Stop the medication and the monster is free once more.
Life as an agoraphobe is no fun at all.
So if you are agoraphobic and reading this I want to reassure you about a few things:
- This is not a disease, but you can ‘heal’ it.
- There is nothing physically wrong with you.
- Your brain is as normal as anyone else’s.
- The cause is the way you think.
- The cure is changing the way you think.
Changing the way you think is not easy, but it is a lot easier than living the isolated, fearful, life of an agoraphobe.
When you think about the totality of the change you need to make, it seems an insurmountable task.
When you think about the single next step you need to …