Agoraphobia Can Manifest Itself In Different Ways

agoraphobia definitionAgoraphobia has had many definitions over the years.  When I first learned the definition, it was “fear of open spaces”.  It then took on definitions to include distance & time away from home.  Most recently I heard the definition I agree with most, and that is “fear of being outside of your comfort zone”.

Yes, I know that definition is open to interpretation and is very broad.  However, as someone who has suffered from agoraphobia, I can say that the disorder itself is extremely specific to each person, and does manifest itself in many ways.

The agoraphobia that I experienced myself included panic attacks and complete avoidance from certain situations.  At its most extreme for me, it included being completely housebound for several months.

People that I have worked with have displayed many similar experiences as mine.  But there were also some differences.  Some people at their worst were able to go outside but stay within a short distance from the house.  Or they were able to travel, as long as they could get back within a specific period of time.  Each person built up parameters where they felt comfortable.  Under their conditions, this became their “comfort zone”.

However, keep in mind that even when the person is in their “comfort zone”, they are typically filled with constant fear.  There is always the “what if” futuristic thinking going on, and this causes a high level of fear that consumes their life.

Being recovered from agoraphobia myself, and from working with many other people with agoraphobia over the years, I can say with complete confidence that recovery is possible.  For myself, I have traveled to Asia and other vacation destinations (from the USA).  Even the people I have worked with have traveled extensively and unrestricted.

I had reached my worst with agoraphobia four years prior to me finding the treatment center where I officially started working on my recovery.  I had seen a psychiatrist and took medications; both did nothing to help me.  My doctor at that time was older and unfamiliar with the newer medications available back then.  And even worse yet, he knew nothing about what anxiety disorders were all about.  He did not understand me or my behavior at all.  After I stopped seeing my doctor and had gotten off medications, I felt completely hopeless.

Taking matters into my own hands and knowing that I had to work on my agoraphobia, I began to force myself to get outdoors.  To begin I literally just went a few steps from the front door, and only for a very short time to begin with.  As I felt more comfortable with the amount that I was able to do, I would add additional steps and stay a little longer.  What I was actually doing was becoming desensitized and practicing Exposure Therapy.  I didn’t know what those things were, I only knew I couldn’t live my life indoors.  I was desperate to get out and to live a life.  I just happened to get lucky with my approach, but it helped.

Certainly four years later when I officially started my recovery, there was still a lot of work to be done.  But over those four years on my own, I had many experiences; both good and bad.  And these experiences allowed me to be more open to possibilities that recovery offered in general.

As with all anxiety disorders including agoraphobia, recovery is learning to ignore the fear, manage your thoughts and become empowered.  It is not necessarily easy.  I never want to minimize the recovery process by referring to recovery as “three easy steps” or anything like that.  The most difficult part of recovery is actually feeling your fear, and learning to work through this pain.

On the other hand, there are no better feelings experienced than when breakthroughs happen during recovery.  When we actually stand up to our fears and we feel empowered, even if only temporarily at first, it is the best feeling you will ever have.  It is well worth the effort that is required.

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