Anxiety Girl: Life with the World's Worst SuperpowerLet's Talk About AgoraphobiaChelsey Falco

I often joke that a perfect weekend is one where I don’t have to leave my apartment. I’m an introvert and a homebody, so an entire weekend spent watching movies in my pajamas is a dream, but the truth is, I try my best to avoid weekends like that. If I don’t have any plans, I make sure I at least go to the grocery store or go for a walk. Even though I’d love to sit around and do nothing, I can’t because I used to suffer from agoraphobia, and I don’t want to fall back into those patterns.

For those who have never heard of agoraphobia, it’s often referred to as the fear of leaving the house. Although, technically, it’s a fear of open spaces, and it is usually used to describe a desire to avoid places out of fear of having a panic attack. Those who suffer from agoraphobia will experience extreme anxiety over leaving their comfort zone. I’m not going to pretend that I fully understand agoraphobia; I’m not a psychologist, and I’m basically just repeating what I read on Wikipedia and what my therapists told me. I can only speak from experience, and for about three months, I suffered from severe panic attacks every time I left the house.

During the summer between seventh and eighth grades, I rarely went outside. I have to say, I picked the best time in my life to be agoraphobic. I was 13 going on 14. I had no job, no school, and no obligations. Looking back, I may have lost a few friendships because of my agoraphobia, but they were middle school friendships. They were already doomed.

But joking aside, there’s never a good time to be agoraphobic. It’s an all-consuming and debilitating fear, and it’s a complete pain in the ass. I spent those three months on my living room couch. I even slept on the couch because that was where I felt comfortable. Every other room in my house, including my bedroom, was outside my comfort zone, so I stuck to the living room. It had everything I needed: a television, my dogs and proximity to the bathroom and kitchen.

After I had my first panic attack at a friend’s birthday party, I started having panic attacks every time I left the house. I would be standing in Macy’s or the produce section of the grocery store when, all of a sudden, a feeling of nausea would hit me. I would close my eyes and push my hands through my hair as my face lit on fire and my breathing sped up. I continued to feel that way until I was back at home and curled up on my couch. In order to keep the panic attacks away, I stopped leaving the house.

Since it was summer, my friends constantly invited me to go places with them, but I always said no. Eventually I cut off almost all contact with my friends. I signed off of AIM and stopped updating my blog, but my friends kept calling. One friend even mailed me a letter. The more my friends reached out to me, the more I tried to isolate myself.

That summer, my life revolved around my TV schedule. I’d wake up on the couch and watch a few morning shows. In the afternoon, I watched Full House reruns, MTV reality shows and Celebrity Poker Showdown. At night, I watched ABC Family unless my dad forced me to watch baseball with him. Then I drifted off to sleep to the sounds of Whose Line Is It Anyway reruns. I never exercised or got fresh air, and I rarely ate. It was a completely unhealthy lifestyle.

I’d like to repeat that I am not a psychologist, I have never studied psychology and I only speak from experience. If you are ever experiencing a bout of agoraphobia, it can get better, but it’s not always easy. I didn’t just wake up one day and magically feel ready to go outside. It took the help of several medical professionals to get me through my agoraphobia. I’m talking psychologists, psychiatrists, hospitalization and strong anti-anxiety medications. Even with all that help, I didn’t start getting better until I put in a personal effort. All the doctors in the world can’t help someone get better if they don’t want to, and at first, I wasn’t ready. I fought with every doctor my parents took me to. Mentally, I was in a very bad place, but I honestly thought I was doing okay. Sitting on the couch every day, watching TV and reading books? I was living the dream!

I still remember the exact moment where I realized I was not okay. The start of eighth grade was rapidly approaching, and my mom, thinking (or maybe hoping) my lack of excitement over the upcoming school year had to do with the school itself, asked if I wanted to transfer to a private school. Rather than answering with a yes or no, I said, “I’ve been thinking, and I don’t think I’m going to go to school this year.”

As those words came out of my mouth, I realized how ridiculous I sounded. Did I really think I could skip eighth grade? Did I think I could just homeschool myself? It was an absurd thing to say, but I realized that I meant it. A part of me did think I could skip eighth grade. I went into battle with myself that day. Emotionally, I wanted to continue living life on my living room couch. I was ready to give up on the outside world and become a recluse at the age of 14. Logically, I knew that was a crazy idea and that I had to go to school. That summer, I missed family vacations, birthday parties and countless afternoons sitting poolside with my friends. I didn’t want to add “eighth grade” to the growing list of things my anxiety kept me from doing. I needed to get better.

I still fought with my parents and doctors over my treatment, but I wasn’t fighting because I didn’t believe something was wrong with me. I kept fighting because I was scared. I wanted to get better, but I still feared going out in public. I feared that I would never get better and I was destined to become a teenage recluse. I feared that it was all hopeless.

Thankfully, I worked past my agoraphobia with the help of medical professionals and my family. It was a lengthy process and a whole other story that I will talk about some other time. Despite my proclivity for quiet nights spent at home, I don’t suffer from agoraphobia anymore. I was tired of letting that fear keep me from going after what I wanted. I wanted to go to college, get my degree, travel and find my dream job. With those goals in mind, I managed to work past my fear, and so far I’ve accomplished everything on my list (well, except for the dream job thing).

It’s hard to understand the severity of agoraphobia if you’ve never experienced it, but it’s a very real fear. Those three months when I couldn’t leave my house were some of the most difficult months of my life. If anyone is reading this from their couch, afraid to leave the house and really relating to anything I said, help is out there. I don’t like to talk about my agoraphobia because I feel like I’m a completely different person from that girl on the living room couch, but I also know it’s important to talk through it in order to understand why I’m such an anxious person. I mostly write about all my little neuroses, but it’s a relief to get the serious stuff off my chest. I’m a recovered agoraphobic, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come.

Image Via Shutterstock

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  1. I think a lot of us can relate! I developed agoraphobia and acquafobia at some point in my early twenties. It was horrible. I had to stop going to my college classes, couldn´t even wash my hands; I couldn´t leave the place where I lived and barely got out of bed. I was already medicated for general anxiety disorder and chronic panic attacks, both diagnosed when I was 16 but I had been dealing with them since I can remember. I am almost 27 now and I am still heavily medicated in order to have a “normal” life, but I have come a long way. It´s very hard to deal with sever anxiety issues as most people in my life usually discard the fact that I suffer from a chronic psychological disease and tend to think of me as either completely nuts or a total drama queen, but I´m neither of those. And I know a few people who, just like me, struggle with these issues every day and even though we are all being treated it doesn´t get any easier if the ones you are supposed to be able to rely on don´t see the struggle, the strength, the fear. Nevertheless, these friends I´m talking about are the very people who I´ve come to rely on, we are a beautiful bunch of diseases and have no problem admitting it; we support each other, we are there for each other, and we understand all those little things that could lead to a huge crisis. It´s important to make others aware of what we have to deal with, but I believe it´s more important to make them understand that we are not crazy, we are not freaks, and that we are not crippled nor attention seekers. Mental health awareness is a big deal, and I´m so happy you are contributing in making it happen. Thank you for sharing, and congratulations, because I know it´s also really hard to talk about it!

    • Thank you for reading, and thank you for sharing your story. Having a support system is so important, and I’m glad you brought that up. (If you ever see an article by me talking about support systems, you know where I got the idea from!) And you’re right that talking about mental health awareness like this can be hard, but these lovely comments make it so worth it!

      Chelsey Falco | 1/16/2014 01:01 pm
  2. I can absolutely relate. I’ve come a long way since 12th grade, but everywhere I go I still have to know exactly where the bathroom/dressing room/whatever small hiding spot I can find is – for fear of passing out during one of my panic attacks. Thanks for sharing! So glad you’ve found your way!

    • Thank you for reading, Lauren! When I was still recovering from agoraphobia, I always needed to know where the bathroom or other quiet place was wherever I went. Sometimes I still catch myself taking note of those spaces as soon as I walk into a building! That must be a common coping mechanism!

      Chelsey Falco | 1/16/2014 01:01 pm
  3. This is something I can absolutely relate to. I’ve had agoraphobia ever since I developed depression and anxiety in the ninth grade. Having depression only made it worse. There were a few days throughout high school where I would work myself up so much, I would throw up thinking about going to school and once I was at school, I felt like I was gonna burst into tears every time a teacher or fellow student said something to me. Luckily, my senior year got better with the help of medicines, therapist visits, and friends who loved me to much to let me become a recluse. So those suffering, it does get better! Thank you so much for this article, some people think that those with agoraphobia are just “lazy”, so I hope this opens up people’s eyes!

    • Thank you for reading, Emily! And thanks for sharing your story. It’s comforting to hear that other people went through similar struggles. But it can get better, and I hope people realize that agoraphobia isn’t just laziness. It’s a real fear!

      Chelsey Falco | 1/16/2014 01:01 pm
  4. I love this! I have such bad anxiety & it makes me comforted to know i’m not the only damn one! glad to relate!

    • You are definitely not the only one! Thanks for reading, Angie!

      Chelsey Falco | 1/16/2014 01:01 pm
  5. I don’t like large spaces that include large crowds of people- the panic attacks (and the potential of passing out) ……I thought I was just a big weirdo…
    Going to theme parks and such, oy vey…when I feel the anxiety rising, I just find a quiet, empty place to relax.
    It’s a working process to avoid the stress and anxiety. Most of the time, I would rather just stay home but I don’t like avoiding doing something fun because that’s only going to depress me more.
    (But 4th of July at Chicago’s Navy Pier…never doing that again….).
    I’m glad I’m not the only one.

    • Thanks for reading, Mandi! You’re definitely not the only one with these fears. And I also have that conflict of wanting to stay home but not wanting to miss out on the fun. It’s a struggle! But finding a quiet place to calm down is key.

      Chelsey Falco | 1/16/2014 01:01 pm
  6. Another recover(ing/ed)? Agroraphobic from Boston saying thank you for spreading awareness. It is a very real phobia and can get pretty serious. You get out of treatment what you put into it, obviously you worked incredibly hard. Cheers to your success!

    • Thanks for reading, Kara! It’s oddly comforting to hear that there are more recovering/ed agoraphobics in Boston.

      Chelsey Falco | 1/16/2014 01:01 pm
  7. Obviously*

  8. Understood! Thank you for sharing. Middle school is a hard enough time as it is! I live in Boston now…Lets get a drink and celebrate our growth with anxiety. You obviousoy deserve it.

    • Thanks for reading, Kaitlin! Clearly we need to set up a group of anxious/agoraphobic Bostonians to talk about our fears over drinks!

      Chelsey Falco | 1/16/2014 12:01 pm
  9. I am really glad that you shared this story. Such a hard thing to admit and share with the public. I cannot understand what it is like to have social anxiety or those type of anxieties, but it gives me more of an insight into people who do. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for reading, Michelle! As long as I can help other people understand where those with anxiety are coming from, I’ve done my job!

      Chelsey Falco | 1/16/2014 12:01 pm
  10. I suffer from social anxiety and the fact of meeting new people, going to public places or even go to family meetings exhaust me. Since I knew that I wouldn’t have a normal/healthy life if I kept shutting myself in my room, I asked for help. I feel comfortable now to say I am recovering, and although I still rather to watch movies or reading a book than partying on a friday night, but that can’t keep me out from experiencing life. Thank you so much for this article!

    • Thank you for reading, Javiera! It’s great to hear from other people overcoming the same fears. I’m also more of a sit-at-home-and-watch-a-movie type of person, but as long as we’re happy and open to experiencing life, we’re doing okay!

      Chelsey Falco | 1/16/2014 12:01 pm
  11. Thank you so much for sharing this! I struggle with social anxiety and agoraphobia can sometimes result from that, so I know exactly what you’re talking about in this article. It’s inspiring to hear of you overcoming this, I can’t say I’m there yet. But the more people that share their stories and let others know “hey, you’re not alone in this” the easier I think it will be for all of us struggling to overcome our anxieties. Keep it up, Chelsey!

    • Thank you for reading, Kayla! We’re definitely not alone in this, and good luck overcoming your own anxieties. Knowing there are other people in the same situation will hopefully make it easier!

      Chelsey Falco | 1/16/2014 12:01 pm
  12. Thank you for sharing something so personal about yourself. It takes a lot of guts to open up to the whole world and I think what you have accomplished is amazing! :) By the way, I love reading all of your articles on HelloGiggles. You are very talented!

    • Thank you for reading, Diane! You are too kind! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading my articles.

      Chelsey Falco | 1/16/2014 12:01 pm