Housebound: A Closer Look at Agoraphobia
Agoraphobia symptoms are comprised of, basically, more phobias. These include the fear of being alone and the fear of losing control in a public place. Other symptoms include an over-dependence on others, a sense that their body is “unreal,” and, predictably, the inability to leave the home for long periods of time. In addition, those suffering from agoraphobia may worry themselves to the point that the symptoms of a panic attack occurs. These symptoms include everything from increased heart rate to dizziness, and trouble swallowing to trouble breathing. These physical effects not only add to the fear of going out into the public places that trigger them, but also, such as the inability to leave home, prevent them from facing their fears. This inability, known as “housebound” plagues the lives of the more serious cases of agoraphobia, and is truly difficult to overcome. One victim of the disorder, a woman named Jeina, struggled greatly with the housebound side effect. “I had once been a “go everywhere” woman,” she says, “I took my children to amusement parks, attended teachers conferences and Sunday school. Now, I was suddenly afraid to walk into a grocery store. I would become overwhelmed by a feeling of panic and doom which I simply could not explain. So, I lived quietly inside the walls of my little house, afraid to venture out into the world.” Jeina missed her son’s soccer games, her daughter’s high school graduation, and both of her parent’s funerals. She gave birth to her third child at home. Her distress led her to self-medicate with alcohol, which she came to refer to as her “can of courage,” and became an alcoholic in the process. Only by the constant urging of her loved ones did she seek help, and, even then, she had to reschedule her appointment twice, as she was afraid to venture out of her house. Now, aware of her condition, she is making great progress in conquering it, and has been sober for two years. She ended her interview saying, “My next venture outdoors is long overdue. I am taking flowers to a grave which I have never seen... my father’s.”
Many have agoraphobic tendencies, such as becoming nervous when speaking to someone over the phone, or becoming flustered in a crowd. Others simply have less severe forms of agoraphobia, and have “safe zones.” These are specific places that the agoraphobic can go without feeling exceptionally worried, such as a certain grocery store that they feel comfortable with, or a wide-open park where they can interact with others without feeling trapped. These people are often able to get up the courage to venture out into other public places, but they are often still horribly uncomfortable. These are forms of agoraphobia that do not severely affect the lives of its victims. Help should be sought, however, in the cases where the victim loses the ability to attend important events, work, socialize in a normal environment, and even care for themselves.