The dictionary defines agoraphobia as an abnormal fear of being helpless in an embarrassing or unescapable situation that is characterized esp. by the avoidance of open or public places. (Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition) But there is more to this mental condition than that. Most people's perception of agoraphobia comes from movies, television or books. They think of a person who literally cannot leave their home. While this is true, it is only the most extreme form of the disease. Some people can leave their home, but not their neighborhood. Still others can leave the neighborhood but not their town. Some can leave all three places but can only go to "safe" places. The third is me. I go to the same stores, gas stations, post office, etc. and am fine, but ask me to go somewhere new by myself and the panic sets in. I avoided our new post office for a couple of years, preferring to go instead to the more inconvenient older one because it was "safe". I knew where it was, what it looked like, where I was supposed to go once I got there, etc. I don't like surprises. Really! I can go to new places only if I am with someone and only if they are driving. If I must go on my own - and this has to be a must - I HAVE
to know exactly how to get there, where to park, what door to go into, the whole nine yards. I also cannot drive in heavy traffic. I can drive on highways but never during or near rush hour. When I am forced to do otherwise I will have a panic attack. I can't breath, can't think or form coherent thoughts, my heart beats too fast, I start sweating and shaking and sometimes, in the more extreme cases, parts of my body can go numb. One time I had to go to another town, through heavy traffic, to pick up my sister when her car broke down. It took me 3 days to get all of the feeling back in my right arm.
I am also shy - which doesn't help matters. Through years of therapy I have been able to handle some aspects of the shyness, but it's still there. Put me in a room full of strangers and I will be quiet - and I will sit as far into the corner as I can get. Put me in a room with friends and strangers - well, that's a little different. "They" call it social phobia. I call it a pain in the neck! Oddly enough not all agoraphobics are shy. If you come into their environment they can be just as outgoing as any other extrovert.
I hope this gives you some insight into just what an agoraphic is. That's one thing I want to do with this blog, educate people. I want it to be a place where people can communicate and learn about agoraphobia and shyness. There will be no judging here, only support.
But I mostly want this to be a place to celebrate those little steps we each take in confronting these fears.