Sunday, January 29, 2006


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.



Anonymous Bebo said...

Well done. I know I always used to think about Sigourney Weaver in Copy Cats as the example of agoraphobics, but as you said that character was a "worst case scenario".
Keep up the good educational work.

January 29, 2006 3:23 PM  
Blogger Bailey Stewart said...

Good - that's what I wanted to do. I also want to blast stereotypes.

January 29, 2006 3:27 PM  
Blogger Toni Anderson said...

Oh--I can relate to some of that. I hate going places until I think I know where I'm going--hate traffick, hate a room full of strangers :) But I am also desperate to travel and see the world (or was) so it is a funny mix. I am a funny mix.

Interesting stuff Eve :)

January 29, 2006 5:11 PM  
Blogger Toni Anderson said...

PS. My sister suffers from panic attacks--it is getting worse rather than better. She is on some drug and waiting to get counselling. Very painful.

January 29, 2006 5:12 PM  
Blogger Bailey Stewart said...

Thanks Toni.

I don't know if this is going to be daily or weekly, but your sister is welcome here. Sometimes it helps to talk to people who actually experience the same thing.

January 29, 2006 5:15 PM  
Blogger Brandy said...

Eve, I am the same way whenever I have to go somewhere. I want a route in mind, a way into wherever I go mapped out and freak if I have to go somewhere I've never been before. Social Phobia fits, finally, it's nice to have a title for the extreme shyness I can't get rid of. Also, I read your profile and good Lord, we could be related! B. (good work setting this up!)

January 29, 2006 5:28 PM  
Anonymous Olga said...

Eve, I can relate to it so much. But I think I'm also a mix like Tony. I love, love, love travelling and going to new places, but I don't like to do it alone. I also hate driving in heavy traffic. It gets better now, but I used to complain about traffic if there were three cars on the road. In half-an-hour.

January 29, 2006 5:47 PM  
Blogger Bailey Stewart said...

You see, I think there are a lot of people who have some feelings like this - it varies among them - and some have all of them. There are also extremes in how they are affected (effected - did I say I was a writer?) - some are crippled by it, others are functional. I hope that all levels can get something from this blog.

January 29, 2006 5:55 PM  
Blogger Eileen said...

Hi Eve, I can relate to most of the things that you have described on your blog. I had panic attacks a while ago (when I was pregnant) which were really scary, but as suddenly as they started they went away. That is until recently, around 4 months ago I had my first panic attack and it was one of the worst I had experienced. It came from nowhere without any warning and took me off my feet. I felt the lump come in my throat and I could not swallow, then I got hot and sweaty and couldn't breathe, I felt like my heart was going to beat through my chest and had to call an ambulance. I cant go anywhere on my own (not without a packet of valium in my pocket anyway) I try to always go with someone so that I know that my kids are ok if I feel bad. But if I have to go alone I do but I am reliant on my valium to do so.

I am not a shy person and have always been quite confident but now I do not like being in places where I do not know anyone and prefer to be with friends and family (mainly because they all know that I am having panic attacks and wont look at me like a freak if I do have one).

My strangest thing is that my attacks come from nowhere for no apparent reason so I can feel ok one moment and terrible the next the only way I know its coming is when my throat tightens and then I am rooting in my bag for my tablets. I am on anti-depressants which are helping to keep my spirits up but I am trying not to let it stop me doing the things that I need to do.

Anyway my sister Toni told me about your blog so I thought I would try it out!! hopefully we all feel a bit better when we know we are not on our own with these things.

January 30, 2006 9:32 AM  
Blogger Bailey Stewart said...

Eileen - welcome! I'm glad Toni passed you on over here. Wow, you have classic symptoms. I find it interesting that you first felt these anxious feelings while pregnant - hormones play such a big part in pregnancy that they could have caused the first attacks, but afterward (you didn't say how long) is different. There is always some explanation - be it chemical inbalance (hormonal) or some underlying trauma that you are just now (subconsciously) dealing with. I'm not saying that you ever had a trauma, not in the everyday sense of the word, but an experience that might not effect everybody but for some reason has stayed in your subconscious until now. For example, I once read about a woman who had accidently gotten herself locked inside a closet as a child - no harm done, just a little scared. No problems but then suddenly 30 years later started having panic attacks. When she and the psychiatrist got to the root of the problem, the attacks went away. Medication is good - I was on one called Buspar which helped with my anxiety (I wish I could afford some now). Maybe you should talk to your doctor about anti-anxiety medication. It's good that you have someone out with you when you have your kids with you - just like any medical condition, anxiety attacks can cause problems. Take a person who is epilectic - when they are having frequent attacks they will have someone with them while out with kids. Are you under a medical doctors care or a psychologist/psychiatrist? If just medical, I urge you to see one of the other two. It will help. Like I said, there is always some underlying cause - I'll go into mine in a later blog. Interestingly, the majority of people who suffer from these attacks are women. Come back again - it really helps to know that you are not alone. I need to also point out that I am not a doctor - just someone who has been there, is there presently and who hopes that, together, we can help each other. Take care.

January 30, 2006 10:01 AM  
Anonymous Susie said...

Wow! I think you're really providing a great service here with this blog. I know I've mentioned before that chronic depression was an issue for me at one time. And like you, I've always been shy in new surroundings. The depression has pretty much been dealt with, through therapy. But being very much an intravert, anytime I'm in a new situation, I internalize everything, gathering information until I have a good feel for the situation. Only after processing my surroundings will I offer my opinion. Needless to say, I'm a good listener and very analytical by nature. I have a good understanding of how my mind works and how I function in the world. I don't know that I will be of much help here, but I will visit from time to time to add my 2 cents if that's all right with you.

January 30, 2006 12:01 PM  
Blogger Bailey Stewart said...

Susie - your welcome here any time and Thank you. Tomorrow we tackle just plain shyness and then we're through with the definitions of the three primary conditions covered in this blog. I'm pretty sure depression will come up.

January 30, 2006 3:07 PM  
Blogger Eileen said...

Hello, I wanted to say that it is strangly good to read other peoples experiences. The things that we experience seem so strange and scary that it is easy to forget that there are so many people out there that are feeling the same as we do! One of the hardest things is to get over the feeling of impending insanity and realise that its OK to be like this and is nothing to hide or be ashamed of. As you said Eve all of us will have had some kind of emotional trauma or chemical imbalance that has caused our problems so I look at it as the same as any other illness! Does that sound weird? Anyway, I am seeing my GP and am currently taking Citalopram and Valium. I am on the waiting list for counselling which may help. I had a major period of stress which lasted for probably 3 years and the things that I dealt with in that time were enough to send anyone over the edge. I think that the reason that the attacks have come now is that my partner has lost a very well paid job and we are constantly having to consider the possibility of moving. I dont know I could be wrong!! Anyway this is a great thing that you are doing and I hope that we can all help one another in some way.

February 01, 2006 1:45 PM  
Blogger Bailey Stewart said...

That's the whole purpose of this blog - to alleviate the feelings of isolation, share experiences, and maybe learn a little bit along the way. We're here to help each other. I'm glad you are going to get counseling - that will help. The circumstrances you have outlined sure sound like they could trigger it - for me it's always the unknown - the not knowing, not being in control.

February 01, 2006 1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like panic disorder, agoraphobia is one of several anxiety disorders. Agoraphobia may occur with or without panic disorder, but it is most frequently seen with panic disorder. If treated quickly and properly, panic disorder may not progress to agoraphobia. Once the condition progresses, it is all the more difficult to treat.

October 14, 2008 1:49 AM  

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