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Agoraphobia: What it Means for Me

Hello. I am Marie and I have agoraphobia.

I often wondered what it would be like to stand up in a crowded room and admit this to everyone. I think to be able to talk about it here is quite freeing. For a long time, I felt ashamed of not being able to leave my home. I felt as if I was a failure and lacking in some way. That I wasn’t a bona fide human being. That I couldn’t be trusted to carry out one of the most basic of functions: get dressed, open my front door, step out on to the path and walk to the gate, open it and walk out on to the street with the aim of carrying out and completing a task. I was a failure.

My journey has been long and arduous spanning 17 years. Seventeen years seems like a lifetime written down and in many cases it does feel as if a huge part of my life has been impacted by this condition.

We all know that mental health issues are seen as taboo. Something we don’t talk about because it is perceived as shameful and an embarrassment and reflects badly on you. Well this is how I felt 17 years ago when it started. I didn’t even know the condition had a name and I certainly didn’t know it was agoraphobia. I had heard of the word of course – very few of us haven’t, but had I really ever thought about what it meant? To be honest, no I had not because before I got it, or should I say, it got me, I wasn’t that bothered. Sure we hear all sorts of related terminology: panic attacks, anxiety attacks to name two, but somehow until it happens to you, it doesn’t register fully.

Seventeen years ago, without any warning I started to feel odd and strange. I felt funny walking along the road as if I wasn’t fully in charge of my body. My vision was slightly blurred and my legs felt weak and I had a tremor. That’s the only way I could describe it. It made me concerned enough to go to the doctor and explain that I felt something was wrong. I described the symptoms to him but all he did was write a prescription and advise me to take a few days off work. Those few days turned into several weeks and about the fourth week my GP said it was time I went back to work because I was costing the National Health Service (NHS) money. I wasn’t any better, I had no idea what was wrong with me, and there had been no diagnosis from the doctor.

I went back to work but continually had to take time off because my symptoms were getting worse and it was becoming increasingly difficult to leave home because I felt afraid and unsafe. At times I would literally freeze on the road, unable to move my feet forwards.

Eventually after 5 years of various tests and trips back and forth to the hospital I was diagnosed with chronic anxiety and agoraphobia. During that time, the agoraphobia got to the stage where I was a prisoner in my home. Every time I got ready to go out feelings of trepidation would flood my body. My body had a mind of its own – it would foil every plan I made to leave home to go to the shops for food, go to the GP or make plans to meet with friends.

During that time I became lonely, depressed and felt as if I was completely alone. Friends didn’t want to know. They would occasionally telephone, but I saw no one. I would have been so grateful to see a friendly face at my door, enquiring how I was, if they could help in any way or if they could get something from the shops for me as I couldn’t do it myself. But no there was no help and I realised that my mental health issue had not only become a problem for me, but it had alienated me from friends and to some extent family. Had I been afflicted with a broken leg, or measles or something tangible, I’m sure those illnesses would not have been seen as so threatening. Not being able to go out on my own, invisible as an indication of the problem I had, but not tangible enough to warrant empathy and understanding left me alone and floundering.

I have been fortunate to have received therapy from counselling services, which has helped greatly in the process of healing and moving forward with my life. I am now improved as I can get out more. Not as much as I would like. Each day brings new challenges, but “I rise” to quote Maya Angelou.

Healing does not happen overnight as many of you well know. From connecting with others here in the blogging world, it has not escaped my notice how many of us are in therapy for anxiety related issues. In the past I might have been reluctant to share my experience as I wouldโ€™ve been embarrassed or ashamed, but I see now that I need not be. And this is because of the many wonderful people I have met on WordPress who have bravely, and candidly shared their own remarkable stories here.

~ Marie Williams