I’d like to de-mystify agoraphobia a bit by discussing the various manifestations of classic panic disorder. I think most civilians equate agoraphobia with hiding in the house, but that’s not true all the time or even at all for everyone who suffers from this mental illness. My personal experience as well as what I learned from mental health clients and peer support group members led me to rate agoraphobia by severity:
– Level 1. Housebound or mostly so.
– Level 2. Partially mobile.
– Level 3. Mobile with a wall.
Many people who suffer panic attacks when they venture beyond their safe perimeter have experienced all three levels at one time or another. I ran the gamut more than once during my 30 years with agoraphobia. The housebound stage is usually the result of extra stressors; the increase in fear level that drives someone into a corner is demoralizing. Being inside can feel safe, although terror-stricken people will resort to hiding in small spaces to reduce the fear level. A great day for someone at Level 1 is a trip all the way to the end of the block. The victim’s fight or flight system is on such a high stage of self-imposed alertness that unending anxiety is the result. Someone at this high level of anxiety feels that a panic attack is so nearby that one dare not rock the boat.
When agoraphobes are at Level 2 they are able to work and go to school, though with great difficulty. Going to and from is likely the most difficult of every day’s difficult tasks. Those periods of vulnerability bring out an agoraphobe’s talent for catastrophic thinking. Anything and everything can be a threat, but bridges, railroad crossings and long lines of streetlights are particularly troublesome for someone at this anxiety level. Work may be the easiest part of the day; a job that requires total focus on the work is good for the agoraphobe who wants to shut out anxious thoughts.
Many people with long-term agoraphobia spent a lot of time at Level 1. I did. When you are able to work and have relationships and feel free from heavy anxiety, you can become complacent. Eventually, though, being stuck at this level is heartbreaking because you are so near yet so far from complete freedom. You’re still a prisoner even if you have a good job and relationships.
So… the truth is out: No one is safe from agoraphobes because not all of them are locked up in their houses. Some of them are moving about you, working with you, touching you, and even…. Yes! Agoraphobes can appear to be nearly normal, if not more so.
Start increasing your functioning level by decreasing your fear level with the help of “Un-agoraphobic.”