What It’s Like To Have Anxiety and Agoraphobia: An Anonymous Story

I’ve decided to compile a series of blog posts on different mental health conditions. As you all know, positive mental health is something that I support 110% and I play an active role in trying to destigmatise these illnesses and help people to understand them more. However, I can’t help but notice that although we’re all working hard to “destigmatise” mental health issues, that some of them are being left out. It seems that only the more popular and talked about illnesses such as depression and anxiety are being discussed, and I don’t like that. Sure, it’s great for me because I suffer from anxiety, but what about the people who suffer from schizophrenia, manic disorder, and all those other illnesses? I feel like people are still afraid of these illnesses, and that’s why I’m going to try my best to have them explained from the point of view of somebody who has experienced the illness themselves. This way it’s humanized, and will be easier for people to understand and in some ways relate to. I want to destigmatise mental health issues, and I want to do it the right way. There is no mental illness that deserves to be left out.

I decided to write this post for all the people like me and the people who fail to understand what it’s like for us. I live with the common illness known as ‘anxiety’. The medical term is known as an ‘anxiety disorder’ or ‘panic disorder’. However, not only do I suffer from this ‘disorder’ I was also cursed with agoraphobia.  To me, it was a label given to years’ worth of panic attacks and constant anxiousness. Agoraphobic is defined as a fear of large spaces or the outdoors, basically anywhere with a sizeable crowd.  Since I was a young girl, I was always the ‘crier’ at the parties. If I got lost in the playroom or if I went missing, I cried. It was my body’s reaction to the stress I felt but in the eyes of my peers and their parents I was a certified madam who felt the need to throw a hissy fit when I didn’t like something. I’m not saying I wasn’t dramatic as a child; I could have left Blair Waldorf standing there with my ways. The point was I was always a very emotional as a child and going to parties or events with my friends usually ended in tears for me. Sucks doesn’t it?

Push forward ten years to this day. I am now 17 years old sitting the ever so daunting Leaving Certificate exam in June. The fears of parties and events have since strengthen and grown to the point where I feel physically ill at the thoughts of going out on the tear with my friends. Typically I would push these thoughts to the side go out and have a laugh, allowing the destruction that will follow to subside a few hours. Once I could go out I would have my fun and eventually those thoughts I had previously resurfaced and were now looking for their revenge. So there I would be, in the bathroom of some dingy pub crying my eyes out, gasping for breath and praying my heart rate would slow down. Girls would walk by, ask was I okay? Or do you want water? I would say I am fine and they would move on, possibly on another quest for the shift or to seek another misfortune to do shots of tequila with them. I would be left to battle my demons by myself.

Normally my friends ditch me on a night out because I am too much of a burden to them. It was when my best friend admitted it to me I decided to give up on a social life. It was my Leaving Cert right? More study, less socialising. I decided to bury myself in the books and only resurface from my room for the necessities or when it was time to go to school. I gave up on having fun; it was too much hassle and a waste of makeup in my opinion. Although the lack of socialising boosted my studies, it ruined my relationships. My boyfriend has since given up trying to make me go places and I don’t get an invite to any outings from my friends. I know I wouldn’t go but the invite wouldn’t hurt?  It has deeply wounded my communication skills as I only see my family and friends and also my boyfriend when he is available. It has damaged my school life seeing as I am mainly the black sheep of the circle. I was labelled an outcast for something I could never understand.

Eventually I worked up the courage to tell my mother of my troubles and the next morning I was sitting across from my GP, wearing a tear stained t-shirt describing all of my fears and faults I have realised over the last few years. She politely told me I had anxiety but not only that, I suffered with agoraphobia but it was a mild form. Unsure of what it meant I did what anyone would do, I googled it and I was greeted with thousands upon thousands of pages of help and advice. Although I was overwhelmed I found comfort in knowing I was not alone and there was help out there. After several blood tests and meetings I was given some medication for my anxiety and redirected to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). So far it has been a success and I am slowly coming to terms with going out and having a life. I was lucky enough to deal with it before college.

I decided to write this for my own benefit but at the same time I wanted to write it for the people who feel the same as me. It sucks being terrified of going out and when I say going out I mean a basic trip to the shopping centre. Online shopping has become my safe haven recently but I am beginning to miss Penneys. I haven’t thrown myself into a full blown shopping spree just yet. I usually run in for 30 minutes and sprint back to the car where I’m met by my mother who has been very supportive. The constant fear of going out in a crowd has been a burden on my life but I am now trying to move on through the battle. I wrote this to highlight and to emphasise to people that if you have a friend who suffers with anxiety and in particular agoraphobia please support them. Be kind, be there and pick them up when they hit the bottom. I battled my problems on my own and I lost a lot along the way so I encourage you, the readers, to help and support your friends throughout their darkest of times. They will thank you for it someday!

If you feel you suffer from what I have please visit your local GP or seek advice from a trained professional, you will be grateful you did it.

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