Born and raised in upstate New York agoraphobia, anxiety and panic disorder have been part of my entire life. In addition I am an Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). The only way I have ever learned to deal with myself is to be busy, and when I am not busy I sleep.
“Agoraphobia was first described by a German neurologist in 1871 as a phobia of open areas of large space (Boyd & Crump, 1991, p. 1). Agoraphobia is the result of panic disorder that manifests into a secondary psychiatric disorder recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR)2 and the International Classification of Diseases, 10th revision (ICD-10).3 (Perna, Dacco, Menotti, & Caldirola, 2011, p. 1). This disorder has been described in many ways but according to these manuals simply put it is officially described as “Marked distress in or avoidance of characteristic situations such as crowds, public places, and traveling alone and away from home;” and “Experiencing symptoms of anxiety when confronted with the feared situation.”, respectively (Perna et al., 2011, p. 1)” (Ford 2015).
What all that does not say is that most of us will not leave our homes or property because of the misery our bodies put us through before, during and after the event. We avoid crowed areas, difficult situations (unless pushed to, or beyond) our limits and will do just about anything to avoid a panic attack.
“So what is it like to live with agoraphobia? No definition seems to portray the actual definition from an agoraphobic’s point of view. It does not mention the fear of leaving the safety of ones home, the fear of dyeing or of the thought of death, the sensations of breathlessness, chest pain, palpation’s and pounding heart sensations, sweating, nausea, inability to swallow, occasional vomiting, vertigo or dizziness, unsteadiness of the loss of strength in ones legs, the occasional sensation that nothing is real, having the shakes so violently you can not hold a glass of water, the sensation that everyone who may be in the vicinity looking at you if you are in public thinking that they know and are waiting for that moment when your going to loose it and run from the area with your hands in your hair as if to tear it out- – all at the same time. The embarrassment of knowing full well that there is nothing to fear but the inability to convince the body. The exhaustion of fighting the sensations and trying to live day to day all the while putting on a brave face so no one truly knows that your brain and thoughts are going a hundred miles per hour whilst calculating the distance to the door, how many people are between you and it, what if it closes and you can’t get out, what is plan B, how can I get out of here with my dignity intact, all while you are attempting to hold a simple conversation with a smile on your face. The inability to breathe as you look out the door to your yard remembering the day you mowed that yard, and lastly the fall out of a constant cortisol dump leaving one exhausted for days at a time and trying not to have to explain why you can’t drag your self out of bed for three days and your eyes feel so heavy that they feel like they are going to fall right out of their sockets. Why your body feels like you have been hit by a bus” (Ford, 2015).
“There is no blood spilled, no bruising, no limping, no cough or runny nose. There is no outward physical witness to the war inside. Since people can not see the turmoil, nor feel it empathy is in most cases non existent. “You just need to get out of the house for a while”, “its all in your head”, “pull it together”, “you’re just being lazy”, “it’s a convenient excuse to get out of things you do not want to do”, “you can control it if you really wanted to”, “everybody gets nervous, you’re exaggerating”, “you’re an intelligent person-why can’t you just stop all this nonsense?” (Ford, 2015).
“Admittedly to be on the outside of a family member or friend who suffers has got to be confusing and bewildering. In addition to not be able to concretely describe the sensations at times to another leaves the other person at a loss as to what to do to help if that is their goal. I witness disbelief, frustration, bewilderment, and helplessness on their part. To that end after a while they stop asking and we stop trying to explain” (Ford, 2015).
HSP’s have a genetic alteration that leads to this personality trait. We are the ones who call when you are thinking of us, or find that gift you have been looking for. We are the ones who warn you of things to come that you ignore so we can say we told you so later. We are the ones who also have the third sense, the one that notices things that the other 80% of the population does not about our environment, your environment. We can enter a room and know exactly what has been going on before we entered. We hear and feel you think. You think we are shy and introverted, and some of us are , just from the way we have been treated all our lives, others are extroverts (about 30% of the total 20% of the population this effects). Just know that if we are quiet, we are “reading” the air and vibrations in it. When overwhelmed we may not be the most pleasant people to be around either. For more information on HSP please read about it in a book by Elaine N. Aron, PhD called the Highly Sensitive Person: How to thrive when the world overwhelms you. 1996, Harmony Books, ISBN 978-0-553-06218-2.
Dye, L. (2012). Worrying and intelligence: Scientists find evolutionary link. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/worrying-intelligence-scientists-find-link/story?id=16158908
DuPont, R. L., Spencer, E. D., & DuPont, C. M. (2003). The Anxiety Cure. [Kindle]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/The-Anxiety-Cure-Eight-Step-Program/dp/0471464872
Perna, G., Dacco, S., Menotti, R., & Caldirola, D. (2011). Antianxiety medications for the treatment of complex agoraphobia: pharmacological interventions for a behavioral condition. Neuropsychiatric Disease and treatment, 7, 621–637. http://dx.doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S12979