Misconception of Agoraphobia

Hello everyone. My name is Bear and I’m a claustrophobic.

Hello Bear.

Yes that’s right, I have a slight fear of enclosed spaces. Take for example the time I was travelling in Mexico and my parents decided to venture out into a touristic sink hole. The sink hole revealed a maze of rocks submerged almost completely in water. By almost completely, I mean you can’t lift your head up unless you want a concussion. Which means you have to make your way through these caves breathing through a snorkel. As we were swimming from open cave to open cave, there were stretches in which the rock protruded down towards the water so much so that my snorkel would often get caught, inhibiting my movement. Cue the claustrophobia. I panic’d, I wailed, I cried, I flailed. The idea of not being able to comfortably emerge from the depths of the water for a breath of fresh air was too much for this grizzly girl.

For much of my life I thought the opposite of claustrophobia was agoraphobia. However, it is actually not. Ok, wai-. Just hold -. Rela-. Let me explain.

As I mentioned, claustrophobia is the fear of confined spaces. Pretty straight forward right? And agoraphobia is the fear of public places, right? Wrong.

It wasn’t until my second year of university that I learned agorphobia is actually an uncontrolled, unhinged, poorley managed older sister of anxiety. Let me put this into terms you’ll understand. Let’s say we live on Asgard and you’re the God of Thunder, Thor. That means your pesky adopted brother you didn’t really ask for that always plays tricks on you to rile you up (Loki) is anxiety. However, that also means that your random-never-even-knew-she-existed-until-just-now older sister who wants to bring nothing but death, destruction, and despair to Asgard (Hela) is agoraphobia. Even your anxiety low-key (excuse the pun) wants to help you bring down hell-of-an-ass-kicker agorpahobia (another pun).

But as I said before, agoraphobia is not quite what people think it is. For many years, I thought agoraphobia was just the opposite of claustrophobia. Fear of open spaces and the fear of closed spaces, respectively. However, agoraphobia is much more sophisticated than simply being afraid of the outdoors. In reality, agoraphobia is a combination of both open spaces and the potential anxiety attack. So really, agoraphobia would be more accurately defined as the fear of public spaces in which one may fear having an anxiety attack. You can’t have agoraphobia without anxiety since agoraphobia relies on the triggering of a panic attack.

Developing agoraphobia is a very gradual process. It starts with the development of anxiety and full blown panic attacks. One day, you’re at the Edmonton Mall (once, if not currently, known for being the largest mall in Canada) when all of a sudden you start to panic for some unrelated reason. Embarrassed by this panic attack and fearful that you might have another episode, you avoid the Edmonton Mall. But not to worry, there are plenty of smaller scale malls that you can pleasantly shop in. You visit your local mall only to have yet another panic attack, possibly brought on by that final tomorrow that you didn’t study for. However, anxiety works in mischevious ways (Loki, God of Mischief) and now you’re conditioned to think that it was your local mall that triggered the panic. No matter! Your local superstore is small enough for you to comfortably shop, not for Gucci or Prada, but for the basic living essentials. Only, the second you step foot in the store, you have a panic attack. So now, you’ve resorted to visiting the closest general store at the darkest hours of the night, because frankly during the day there is too much activity. Eventually, you become a prisoner to your own home, fearful to leave in case you have another episode at your local supermarket.

Fear not, agorpahobia can typically be treated by both anxiety treatment methods and phobia treatment methods. First, treat the anxiety either using medication or cognitive behavioural therapy (my personal favourite), than treat the reintroduction of a person into society, again using cognitive behavioural methods.


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