Agoraphobia can be completely debilitating and can really affect a person’s life. Five years ago, I didn’t think I’d ever get better. One of the first questions I always asked my therapists (I’ve had a few over the years!) was, do you know anyone who has recovered from this? The answer was always an upbeat one but never necessarily positive. I wanted to share my positive story and talk about how I got better because I am now. I’m proof that you can recover from agoraphobia. I wouldn’t say I have agoraphobia but there are still things I can’t do (I’m not going to focus on that in this post, that’s not what it’s about).
Agoraphobia isn’t as rare as you’d think. I have a small Facebook group with over a thousand members that can testify to that. It can very much differ from person to person though, there are MANY different degrees to this illness. I know people that can’t leave their bedroom, whereas others can go out and hold a full-time job.
If you’re here, reading this, chances are you know exactly how bad it can be. I won’t bore you with facts and figures. Let me tell you what works. It isn’t easy but this is how I got better.
I made a sort of vision board entitled A Life Worth Living. On it, I had listed the things I really wanted to do but couldn’t. On my list were weekends away in our van (we’d just bought a big transit van and converted it into a camper), going out for coffee with my mum, shopping, taking long forest walks, going to festivals, family holidays and eating out at restaurants. I only found this vision board the other day and it did really make me realise just how far I’ve come. I think this step is important to look back on and refer to.
Make A List
To start off your recovery, you need to make a list of things you want to achieve from 1 – 10. 1 being the easiest and 10 being the most difficult. On it, you can put things like, walk to the end of the road or walk to the end of your front garden path. Something that is quite simple and won’t cause too much anxiety. Number 2 needs to be something slightly harder, for example, walking around the block where you live, or driving around the block. I think my number 10 was something I was really desperate to do, such as a family holiday. Your steps depend on how difficult things are for you now. Once you’ve made the list, it’s time to get out there and start ticking them off! It’s not easy at all. It’s really scary and sometimes on my journeys I’d cry and try to get out of the car, but it really is achievable, if you break the steps down.
Graduated Exposure Therapy
In my opinion, this is the ONLY way to get better. You have to go out and experience and work through your anxiety. If a step is too difficult, you can break it down into more manageable stages. A big one for me was driving an hour and a half away following my son moving away. I felt like I’d never be able to get there so we broke it down into 8 parts and worked on the first 8th of the journey first. Once that was easier, we’d work on the 7th part. Breaking it down like this made it more achievable.
Things that I found especially hard were journeys where we were stuck in traffic or we had to wait and traffic lights. I’d play games on my phone, such as Solitaire and mahjong.
My favourite is Solitaire because it isn’t too taxing but it’s just enough of a distraction from the panic to keep my mind busy. I like to use this website because you don’t have to use an app that takes up space on your phone and there are no adverts that you have to wait for to disappear.
Proof That This Works
I can’t remember the last time I had a panic attack. I’ve been out shopping with my mum and teenagers today. We have a family break abroad booked for July, which I’m looking forward to and we went to a festival last month. I would say life is pretty good. I’m happy.
If you’re struggling, remember you’re not alone and this will pass. Feel free to pop me a message on Instagram if you need someone who’s been there to talk to.