As an agoraphobic I thought an explanation would be easy to verbalise for the use of this website, but looking further into medical definitions it has made me realise the varying degrees that agoraphobics endure.
For example: I was totally housebound by it and have been for almost a year it is accompanied by other fears and phobias mainly obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and severe panic attacks.
In the early days I could be in a shop if I was with my children, panic attacks could and often would rise up in me and I would be forced to make a very quick exit. This either meant leaving the shopping in the basket on the shop floor or thrusting the basket into the children’s arms and telling them I would meet them back at the car. When they returned to the car they would find a gibbering wreck in a locked car.
Sometimes I could be walking but feel suddenly as if I was falling even though I wasn’t, other times I felt that I desperately needed the toilet and the fear of not being near one would cause me considerable distress. These occurrences would happen anywhere, a crowded shopping centre or an empty meadow while walking the dogs. There aren’t any patterns. This means I could never have really be prepared. The first sign of an occurrence would be the physical symptoms such as feeling dizzy, faint, tingling or numbness of the limbs, shortness of breath, and the feeling like I was having a heart attack. Now I know those were symptoms of panic attacks. The more these episodes occurred the more I withdrew from the “causes” until in the end I couldn’t face going out in the open.
There was a period where I felt I could be safe in the car, the car became like a safety bubble and meant I could visit someone if I could quickly scurry in when I arrived, but gradually my confidence deteriorated after a spell in hospital I was totally housebound.
For some agoraphobics their symptoms may be completely different, they may be able to go out if accompanied, maybe even go out in their gardens, go for a walk in open spaces, or feel safe with certain people or in certain places. There just doesn’t seem to be a set definition. Other illnesses or occurrences may have caused the onset of the condition. Perhaps, for example, it can precede a stressful situation such as a death in the family, after a horrendous situation such as sexual assault or rape; it could also follow other mental health illnesses such as eating disorders and low self-esteem.