The World From the Perspective of an Agoraphobe
What Agoraphobia Feels Like
The world is terrifying.
Most people recognize the inherent risks and dangers of the world around us: car wrecks, muggings, scrapes and bruises. You may not dwell on them, but these are scenarios you are aware of; things you know could happen or have happened to yourself or others. They're thoughts that might have crossed your mind before, but they're not enough to disturb your day.
Maybe you're alone in your house one evening and you hear a noise that raises the hairs on the back of your neck. Maybe your immediate thought is that someone broke into your house. After a minute of holding your breath, you hear the sound again and realize it just the house settling—a familiar thing that simply caught you off guard.
Think of the way you felt in that instant when you imagined a stranger creeping about your house. Think of the cold that settled over you, the clamminess in the palms of your hands, the racing of your heart, and the quickening of your breath.
Now enhance that feeling by one hundred and imagine feeling it every minute of every hour of every day of your life.
That is what it's like existing in the same universe as an agoraphobe.
In severe cases, a person with agoraphobia considers their home to be the only safe environment. They may avoid leaving their home for days, months or even years.— Mental Health Foundation of Australia
Only about 0.8% of Americans actually have agoraphobia; that's an estimated 1.8 million people over the age of 18 who suffer from the anxiety disorder.
Mental disorders affect different people in different ways. So one person's experience with anxiety will never be the same as another's.
What It's Like to Be an Agoraphobe
Anxiety is a fear response. It's the portion of your brain that controls your fight, flight, or freeze instincts; reacting or overreacting when it doesn't need to. It's a chemical imbalance and can be extremely difficult to manage. In severe cases of agoraphobia, some people become hermits and never leave their homes.
Battling my agoraphobia is a constant and daily struggle. My medication helps but it's a bandaid solution, it doesn't solve the problem, only helps temper it slightly. While the pills I take can help balance out the chemicals in my brain, I still suffer from anxiety and even panic attacks on really bad days. When it comes down to it, I am the only one who can help me.
Imagine being too afraid to go outside. Not for any logical reason, just because outside there are people and people introduce unknown factors into your environment. How are you supposed to react when the variables around keep changing? How are you supposed to process the incredible amounts of information that your brain receives every waking minute of every day? How much worse is that made by the people around you?
Humans are loud, unpredictable, smelly, and tactile. To someone like me, to someone with a severe and debilitating anxiety disorder, it's too much information.
For me, the idea of going out in public is terrifying. Just the thought of going to the grocery store around the corner from my apartment is enough to make my palms sweat and my heart race. Being around others, even people I like and am friends with, is taxing because I am constantly on edge and trying to avoid being the center of attention. Even when no one is looking at me, it feels as if all eyes are on me. And if I feel like that with only a handful of my friends, imagine what it must feel like to be in a room with hundreds of strangers. Logically I know that no one is starring at me, but I always feel eyes on me, always feel like I'm being watched by the people around me. It's a pressure that results in a fear of screwing up and embarrassing myself, of looking like an idiot in front of others. Sometimes, I'm sure that those people can read all the bad things about me just by looking at me, as if all my sins and mistakes are written on my skin like an open book. And it triggers my anxiety.
People are too much for me. They are loud and presumptuous and touch without thinking. It's difficult to make people understand that being left alone is all I want.
My anxiety has left me with an occasional stutter. When I get caught on a word or letter, I am left more anxious and embarrassed than before. What must they think of me now? They probably think I'm stupid, stuttering and not being able to speak correctly. They probably think me weak and helpless and pathetic. They probably think me broken.
I am not broken.
I am bruised and I am tired and I am battered. But I am never broken.
Being agoraphobic is hard. It's hard and no one will truly understand, no matter how many metaphors I use.
I don't like going shopping. I don't like being near windows. I don't like people looking over my shoulder. I don't like sitting where I can't see the entire room with all its entrances and exits. I don't like talking to strangers online. I don't like crowds in large or small spaces. I don't like being around people.
The place I feel safest is the bedroom of my apartment, a space constructed especially for me, where I can block out the rest of the world and pretend it doesn't exist.
Because the world is terrifying. And I am agoraphobic.
People are too much for me. They are loud and presumptuous and touch without thinking. It's difficult to make people understand that being left alone is all I want.— Sage Pierly on being an agoraphobe
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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© 2019 Sage Pierly