This weekend has been just what we needed. It was all a bit spur of the moment, but sometimes that’s when the best plans come together. It has been months since I last saw one of my nearest and dearest since she moved further south for her partners career, which makes the times we do get to catch up extra special. Even rarer still are the opportunities where both her and her partner can make the trip and especially with their lovely (not-so-little anymore) collie Rusty.
Although it was extremely pleasant doing something different and seeing friends, getting out into nature with some lovely fresh air, it didn’t come without its stresses. I had to fight really hard mentally to steer off impending panic attacks on the way to and from our walk around Sutton park and to the restaurant. I’ve been plodding along with life lately, trying my best to keep these panic attacks at bay, but after this weekend it’s made me realise that perhaps this is something I need to pursue with some advice from my GP.
I’ve recently been diagnosed with a condition that I feel in all honesty I’ve been battling with bout’s of for the majority of my life and I’ve found as of late that I have really become a bit of a recluse again, but as it turns out all of the panic attacks I have been dealing with on public transport which have been coming thick and fast lately, are as a result of having a panic disorder which has since further developed into Agoraphobia.
So what is Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or that help wouldn’t be available if things go wrong.
Many people assume agoraphobia is simply a fear of open spaces, but it’s actually a more complex condition. Someone with agoraphobia may be scared of:
- Leaving home alone
- Crowds or waiting in line
- Enclosed spaces, such as movie theaters, elevators or small stores
- Open spaces, such as parking lots, bridges or malls
- Using public transportation, such as a bus, plane or train
These situations cause anxiety because you fear you won’t be able to escape or find help if you start to feel panicked or have other disabling symptoms.
- Fear or anxiety almost always results from exposure to the situation.
- You avoid the situation, you need a companion to go with you, or you endure the situation but are extremely distressed.
- You experience significant distress or problems with social situations, work or other areas in your life because of the fear, anxiety or avoidance.
- Your phobia and avoidance usually lasts six months or longer.
If someone with agoraphobia finds themselves in a stressful situation, they’ll usually experience the symptoms of a panic attack, such as:
- Rapid heartbeat (heart palpitations)
- Rapid breathing (hyperventilating)
- Chest pain or pressure
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Feeling shaky, numb or tingling
- Excessive sweating
- Sudden flushing or chills
- Feeling sick (nausea)
- Upset stomach / stomach cramps
- Feeling a loss of control
They’ll avoid situations that cause anxiety and may only leave the house with a friend or partner. They’ll order groceries online rather than going to the supermarket. This change in behaviour is known as avoidance.
What causes agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia usually develops as a complication of panic disorder, an anxiety disorder involving panic attacks and moments of intense fear. It can arise by associating panic attacks with the places or situations where they occurred and then avoiding them.
(For me this is certainly the case, I have a track record of having repeated panic attacks on public transport whilst travelling alone. Which I and my family now believe stems from an assault that occurred to me around the age of 15 on public transport – which I believe may also have been aggravated by numerous incidents whilst travelling home from work alone occurring more recently. This fear has since spread to crowded lecture theaters, cinemas, crowded malls and supermarket shopping alone).
There’s no sure way to prevent agoraphobia. However, anxiety tends to increase the more you avoid situations that you fear. If you start to have mild fears about going places that are safe, try to practice going to those places over and over again before your fear becomes overwhelming. If this is too hard to do on your own, ask a family member or friend to go with you, or seek professional help.
If you experience anxiety going places or have panic attacks, get treatment as soon as possible. Get help early to keep symptoms from getting worse. Anxiety, like many other mental health conditions, can be harder to treat if you wait.
I feel that this is my second severe brush with agoraphobia. Nearly 2 years ago now was the first time I went through a severe bought where it got to the extent where I couldn’t get into work on certain days because of the severe symptoms occurring on my route to work. I tried and tried and tried, I forced myself back on the buses, I got taxis there instead, I listened to hypnosis tracks, I practiced breathing techniques and all sorts but in the end the more severe it got. I then got prescribed beta blockers by my GP which helped wonderfully for me at the time.
Agoraphobia can greatly limit your life’s activities. If your agoraphobia is severe, you may not even be able to leave your home. Without treatment, some people become housebound for years. You may not be able to visit with family and friends, go to school or work, run errands, or take part in other normal daily activities. You may become dependent on others for help.
This is my main fear, as I already feel that I am beginning to loose even more control lately, me and my partner love to travel to different locations and yet without a car of our own I often find myself being more inclined to stay home rather than go through the stress of exploring outside of our home. This weekend however was a reminder that is is important for our relationship that although we love our home comforts it’s also important to break up the routine and explore a little. I want to get myself back to feeling more in control again. I don’t want to limit our lifestyle anymore.
For now I think it is time to get some medical intervention and advice from my GP once more. I’m proud of myself immensely for despite this condition being something I have to battle with daily, I’ve not as of yet let it stop me from living my life fully. I am holding down a full time job, I am still seeing friends and family and getting house chores done, it might not always be easy but I am fighting it. But it is also important to know when you need that little bit of help and right now that is what I am in need of.
Until next time,