I have been thinking a lot about what to write about agoraphobia and my journey with it.
I have many, many things I would like to say about agoraphobia, too many to say in just one article. So over the next few months I would like to discuss different aspects of it and most of all share my experiences of agoraphobia with you.
My hope is to demystify the condition for those who don't understand it, bring awareness to the particular struggles that agoraphobics have to deal with every day and for the others to realise that they are not alone in their struggle with agoraphobia.
There seems to have been a lot written about anxiety disorders in general, but not a great deal about agoraphobia. Agoraphobia often seems to get lumped in with other anxiety disorders, though it may have things in common with them, it really is a totally separate disorder.
I think this is especially true when it comes to treating agoraphobia. Treatment for agoraphobia is often combined with treatment for panic attacks/panic disorder. I feel that the problem with this is that the agoraphobic does not only need treatment for panic attacks, but also for the deep-seated avoidance that has resulted from being afraid to go out. Some agoraphobics are too terrified to even get treatment. I also believe that most agoraphobics have other issues that also need to be dealt with that can also feed their fears. So in fact the problem can be multi-layered and needs a skilled and caring therapist to be able to treat it.
There are a lot of misconceptions about agoraphobia; what it is and how you become agoraphobic. As with depression, many people like to blame the sufferer or label them as lazy, unmotivated and unwilling to get help or try to get better. I would like tell you the truth about agoraphobia from the point of view of someone who has been living with it for over ten years, has tried a variety of treatments to recover from it and has faced many obstacles along the way. I am going to be honest and real with you about everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Agoraphobia is horrible. It has been the worst experience of my life. It has been hell, has nearly destroyed me and I have lost nearly ten years of my life to it.
It has affected and nearly ruined every aspect of my life; my relationships, my work, my finances and my health. I have lived not just in fear but often in absolute terror. It becomes debilitating to live this way. It is also often humiliating. As an intelligent woman I often cannot fathom how I can’t seem to get over my fears. A grown woman who can't leave the house because she is too scared? It seems ridiculous and worst of all it feels so shameful. I have cried oceans of tears because of the shame, the humiliation, and the burden I felt I had become. I felt like even though I had tried and tried, I would never get better, that there was something wrong with me because nothing seemed to be working. I have hated myself for not being able to "get over" this. I have dreaded day after day of being stuck in the house not being able to go out and feeling so scared, alone and isolated. At times my heart would become so heavy with the despair of it all and I would think about taking my own life, that is the reality of agoraphobia. Thankfully through finding a wonderful therapist, and having a good friend to talk to, I began to feel like that less and less.
I will discuss the various treatment options for agoraphobia in more detail in the next issue, but for now I will say that after trying various treatments I found that psychotherapy has been the treatment that has helped me.
I am so thankful that I found a wonderful therapist who I really believe has been a life saver for me. In the past while trying to find help, I had some bad experiences with therapy. My experience with my psychotherapist and her patience, kindness and caring attitude has been very healing for me.
I wish I could give you a magical cure. I wish I had all the answers that would help you recover. I wish I could tell you that the road to recovery is easy. I can't. But what I can do is share my story with you and hope that you can take something from it. A little piece of hope, or a recognition that someone else has felt like you do and gotten through it. I am still on the road to recovery and I still have a long journey ahead of me.
The road is bumpy and full of potholes that I can fall into. I often go the wrong way or get lost completely. But with the help of my therapist and a good friend that I can talk to I can manage to stay on the road, and it is worth every hard painful step. I have realised that I am worth every hard painful step it takes toward recovery. I hope that every other agoraphobic can also realise that they are worth it to.
Also, through ADAVIC (Anxiety Disorders Association of Victoria) I have discovered the wonderful work of Pauline McKinnon. Pauline's Stillness Meditation CD has been another factor in my road to recovery. Over the years I had tried various types of meditation but I can honestly say Pauline's method is the most helpful.
I meditate to her soothing voice every morning and have noticed the benefits it has brought. Every day I am calmer and more relaxed and feel a little bit more at peace.
In times of anxiety I often bring to mind Pauline's gentle voice from the meditation CD, I almost feel like she is with me, it is a lovely feeling. Her book about her recovery from agoraphobia 'In Stillness Conquer Fear" is also very much worth reading.
Well, that is at least some of my story. As I said I have many things I would like to discuss where agoraphobia is concerned and will get to all of them over the coming months.
Before I go I would also like to acknowledge the help that ADAVIC has given me over the past few years. Even though I live in Sydney I have always been able to call on ADAVIC for advice if needed. Sydney has nothing like ADAVIC at all.
If only I could convince the fabulous Anna to move to Sydney to head up a branch here!!!
Till next time,
Janesse (ADAVIC Member from Sydney)