Friday, 16 July 2010

When one is company, and two means anxiety.

This is a blog I originally wrote a few years ago, before my back surgery when I was solely dealing with mental health issues of depression and anxiety. I have resisted the temptation to edit it, and is reproduced exactly as it was first posted. 

Agoraphobia – Literal translation "Fear of the Marketplace."

It may come as somewhat of a shock to realise that there is a not an insubstantial number of suffers of what most people would recognise as a form of Agoraphobia. To mental health professionals, this catch all term is split into all manner of recognised conditions, Generalised Anxiety Behaviour, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder and many others. The differences are subtle and even specialists when diagnosing will disagree on the exact one. 

The most important point to remember though is that whatever it is called, from the perspective of the sufferer, it means just one thing, a debilitating and terrifying illness, and one which they find extremely hard to explain to non sufferers. The extreme fear and anxiety that this condition produces, is not based on anything that the outsider can make rational sense of. 

This inability to explain to loved ones and friends, simply further exacerbates the problem, and leads many sufferers to grow reclusive and withdrawn, thus building even higher walls to shield them from the outside world and leading to a further spiralling increase of their symptoms.

So, how does Agoraphobia affect the lives of sufferers? Well, it depends really on the nature and severity of the condition in the individual. It can vary between mild symptoms where the sufferer simply feels uncomfortable going into crowded situations, mild anxiety, but can tolerate it reasonably well, to an inability to cope with the outside world at all, to the extent that they cannot go beyond their front door, or in very severe cases, outside a particular room that they feel safe in, not being able to deal with simple things such as answering the telephone or opening letters. 

The root causes of Agoraphobia are still not well understood. It is believed it can be triggered by a traumatic event, may have a genetic basis, but like most mental health issues, it's more a case of nebulous vagaries than a definitive answer. 

That it exists is beyond doubt, but it is something that society is simply not geared to understand or deal with. It goes against all that is the norm in society, the base of any community, social interaction. Think to yourself if you will for a moment, how would you live your live if you had an inability to leave your house? From the obvious things such as shopping or going to work, to the less obvious things like going to visit a doctor to seek help for the issue, getting legal advice, and even claiming benefits.

Society can see those with physical symptoms, its easy to see someone in a wheelchair or with a missing limb and see that they have a disability, it is obvious that a person requiring dialysis is going to have needs above a beyond a healthy person, society accepts these things without question, but mental health is an area where a sufferer is more likely to receive derision than sympathy. How does a sufferer explain that despite no physical signs, they are as unable of going to their corner shop as a housebound invalid? That the pain of the phobia, the stress of the anxiety is so extreme that they will do anything they can to avoid that, to the extent of starving, than venturing out to get food.

Thankfully, for anyone who is suffering, it is not something that you need to sacrifice the rest of your life to. It can be conquered, although, like with most things in life, it isn't going to happen in the blink of an eye, it isn't easy, and it may not be permanent. 

Before you read the last point and think, well, why bother if it isn't permanent? Think of it like going on a diet. You diet to reduce your weight, and at the end you continue to eat sensibly to maintain. Recovering from agoraphobia is much like that, the first goal is to get it to the point that you can begin to live your life, then to remain vigilant for signs of things that may trigger a relapse. 

Recovery should be based on a many pronged approach. Medication can help, but it can only do so much, it needs to be combined with therapy to help break the vicious cycle. There are many drugs which can help combat anxiety, unlike the older drugs, most of the new ones are not going to leave you with an addiction to cure when you need to come off them. However, not all drugs are made equal, and some may actually cause you more anxiety than if you had not been taking them. 

The most important treatment though is receiving one on one and group therapy. If you are lucky enough to be able to receive this, then although it means facing your fears full on, the knowledge of the support will help you to get through this phase. 

Readers may have guessed that I have more than a passing acquaintance with this, I thought long and hard about writing this, after all, it isn't easy to share something like this with the world, but I hope that sharing this may help someone out there who is going through a world of fear and anxiety and can see no way out. 

To anyone out there who is suffering, don't feel like you are alone. You CAN beat this, and if nobody else will tell you this, then let me be the one, I believe in YOU.


  1. Excellent post; grasps the difficulty of dealing with hidden disabilities like agoraphobia wonderfully. I wish non-sufferers would make more of an effort to understand hidden illnesses :(

  2. Very good post Hermit. It all sounds too familiar. Effexor is one medication that made me even more anxious. x