Guest Blog by Becky Prowse – Fight or Flight (My Battle with Agoraphobia)

I’ve decided recently to feature some guests here on my blog to showcase some other people’s troubles with mental health. Here we have Becky Prowse who talks about her journey with Agoraphobia. Rebecca also has a fantastic blog where she features and reviews small business across the UK, Pretty & Petit

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Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder, which means when the sufferer is in an environment or situation that they feel could become difficult or embarrassing to escape, they have a feeling of fear and ultimately this ends up as a anxiety attack. For myself, I usually feel extremely hot, dizzy or ‘spaced out’ and feel I need to get out of the situation as quickly as possible. I also feel like I need to be holding on to something or someone so I won’t fall. Falling is my main fear or being sick, which in turn has caused me to up my eating habits and make sure I am carrying water when on the underground or on journeys.
 
The places I feel this anxiety have been long journeys on trains, London underground and in tunnels, any large open spaces like parks and beaches, car parks, crossing large roads, supermarkets, shopping centres, bridges, roads on bright days that have bright surfaces that reflect (yes it really gets that detailed!) train stations and airports.
 
Before January 2011 I had no previous experience of agoraphobia, as any sufferer will tell you it does literally just come out of the blue. Due to unfortunate circumstances I had to visit a&e, where I was told to keep an eye on my appendix as it was very sore. I was written off work and I went back to stay with my mum in Kent. Eventually, I decided to go back to Southampton, where I live and work, to recuperate at home. When I got off the train at London Victoria I felt weak and sick and felt as though I needed to sit down straight away otherwise I would faint. I managed to get back to a station that my mum was able to collect me from and she took me straight to another hospital where they diagnosed me with post viral fatigue. It was at this time I had strong muscle pain in my legs, something which I realise now could have psychologically been linked to not wanting to walk very far from my house, the place that I felt safest. The pain was so bad I struggled to walk to the end of the road without feeling exhausted and I would struggle to get in and out of the bath or shower. So after I returned to Southampton, gaining a lift from my mum this time, I went back to work and slowly resumed my usual daily routine.
 
I found with this routine suddenly some things were getting harder to do. I would feel panic walking down empty aisles in supermarkets, when crossing large main roads and walking through empty car parks. I shrugged this off as nothing but it continued to worsen, leading to me having to change my usual route to work because I couldn’t walk down a stretch of road as it seemed too ‘open’ to even think about walking down. Avoidance of these spaces and situations is key to agoraphobia, and is what causes the condition to worsen, until you are eventually fearful of even leaving the house. Eventually, after moving house I decided it was the right time to go and see a new GP about my problem. I had initially looked it up on the internet but thought there would be no access for treatment and therapy or even hypnotherapy seemed to be a costly option. It was after over a year of frustration and fear that I was eventually diagnosed as an agoraphobic.
I started a course of counselling in Summer 2012, that fitted in around my work schedule. I was given a variety of options, CBT being one of them which is cognitive behavioural treatment. This includes exposure, that is centred around a hierarchy that I have worked on from the most feared situations to the least feared and every week a new fear has been tackled. Obviously a lot more has been involved in these weekly sessions that I won’t divulge into, but if you have any questions please feel free to ask me.
 
I have told this story to various doctors over 7 times now, as many were seemingly unable to diagnose agoraphobia, sending me for countless blood tests. It is only when I moved and visited a new GP that he told me to self-refer to a counsellor who gave me regular CBT treatment over 6-8 weeks. She was wonderful and inspired me to gain my confidence in walking through those places that I fear the most using a hierarchy strategy.
 
Unfortunately in April 2014, around 6 months after I had initially moved to London my condition worsened due to significant stress levels. I was put on a course of anti-depressants to control my anxiety which I had a severe reaction to and was referred back to therapy. This was my lowest point where I felt that I could not leave the house without feeling anxious and I had to be accompanied everywhere I went. The effect that the medication had was absolutely terrifying but my body just reacted badly to it and it is certainly not the same for everyone.
 
I went for weekly sessions with a therapist at a hospital in London where they treated me with CBT. We discussed the various triggers and completed a few ‘field’ trips in large shopping centres to get me used to the open space. We also tackled my fear of escalators which seemed to have emerge after my relapse.
 
So now we are in July 2015 and although my agoraphobia hasn’t disappeared completely I do feel much better. It has been a long journey to get to this point. I still have to plan every journey and avoid going on the tube if I can. I still avoid high escalators opting for the lift or stairs instead and very large open spaces. It is difficult for many to understand agoraphobia, even my closest friends and family are unable to, because it’s difficult to describe a fear and frustration of not being able to do something that is seemingly so simple. I don’t think there has been a session I have had where I haven’t felt emotionally drained and cried because it really is that exhausting.
The sad thing is that so many people are suffering in silence. Agoraphobia, if left untreated, can leave you housebound. This was something that I had to ensure would not happen to me and something that I have kept as a goal over the past four years. I read a fact earlier whilst researching for other agoraphobics who have shared their stories on blogs and YouTube that 20% of those with mental anxiety issues commit suicide. This is a scary statistic and one that I feel will stick with me as I share my own story in combatting this phobia and to hopefully inspire more people. 
There is no certainty that my anxiety won’t return in the future. It could come on just as suddenly, but hopefully I will now have ways to handle the fears and will be able to control it.
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32 thoughts on “Guest Blog by Becky Prowse – Fight or Flight (My Battle with Agoraphobia)

  1. jennymarie4 says:

    Thanks for sharing your story Becky. I can relate. I was diagnosed with agoraphobia and panic attacks. I went on an anti depressant, which helped a lot. Now I’m nearly panic free, and can go to all the places I used to fear. I’m glad you’re doing better!

    Like

  2. healingflo says:

    I too suffer from anxiety and I tried anti-depressants and they kept me in a sleepy zombie like zone(Zoloft). I removed myself from all medications and just started really exercising, praying, meditation, and every time a toxic thought peeps up I pray. Trust me it’s a long road and everyone’s treatment is different. I thank you for sharing this post. The only way for us to get better is to transparently discuss treatments and experiences.
    God Bless You for sharing…

    Like

    • bex23022 says:

      Hi Healingflo,

      Thank you for sharing. Anti depressants are certainly different for all! I’ve known people to get excellent results from them for anxiety, but like me some have severe reactions. I think you certainly have to find the one suited to you if that is the route you are wanting to take. Otherwise I think a healthy, stress free lifestyle (although difficult sometimes) is the way forward and definitely worked for me.

      Thank you for your comments 🙂
      xx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. lizziecarver says:

    A really interesting post – I can relate to the bright surfaces that reflect and high escalators! When you feel fundamentally unsafe, all kinds of things become difficult. Thanks for sharing this story, Lauren.

    Like

    • bex23022 says:

      Hi Lizziecarver,

      Definitely, I always couldn’t understand how normal things could become so difficult overnight! I still don’t really travel by tube so travelling around London certainly takes a while! Hopefully I can learn to overcome this in the future. One step at a time.

      Thank you for your comments 🙂
      xx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. theresa1122 says:

    What an informative post. I thought agoraphobia was the fear of leaving the house, which I got from a movie years and years ago. I’ve learned something new today and I can definitely relate. I always blamed these fears on my PTSD, but I relate so well to your story. I am definitely going to bring this issue up to my psychologist during my next session. Again, thank you for the information! I’m so glad you’re continually getting stronger.

    Liked by 1 person

    • bex23022 says:

      Hi Theresa1122,

      I’m so glad to hear that I wasn’t the only one who thought agoraphobia was the fear of leaving the house! I always thought it only related to that and at the beginning I was totally confused over why I received so much anxiety over seemingly normal things! I’m so glad that you can relate to my story and I hope this helps you in getting the support that you need going forward. Keep strong and please feel free to get in touch if you would like any further advice. I’m happy to help!

      Thank you for your comments 🙂
      xx

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Heather says:

    As a rider and sometimes engineer of the crazy train I completely agree with you. Unless you’ve suffered through something, it’s very hard to understand. I think if more people are willing to discuss mental health we might someday kick the stigma and more people will be willing to seek out help.

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    • bex23022 says:

      Hi Heather,

      I can admit that I truly didn’t understand what constituted depression and anxiety before I was on the receiving ends of them. So I do understand how those who have not suffered with them or have refused to acknowledge them do not understand and are unsure of how to support. It’s difficult. I hope one day it can be discussed further in schools, colleges and workplaces and I’m so glad there are blogs like Lauren’s where we can discuss these issues.

      Thank you for your comments 🙂
      xx

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Chloe says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! I’m also agoraphobic, and was completely housebound up until… well, about a month ago. I’ve been doing lots of exposure therapy and have been making lots of progress lately.
    Its really is such an exhausting mental battle to overcome. I wouldn’t wish it on anything.

    Even though I don’t know you, I’m really proud of you for getting to where you are. It’s amazing, and it takes so much strength – and more courage than many people will ever have to muster up in their life times.

    Congratulations, and I hope that soon you can live completely free from this stuff, and continue to go out whenever and wherever you want like the badass you are!

    Liked by 1 person

    • bex23022 says:

      Hi Chloe,

      That’s absolutely wonderful news to hear that the exposure therapy is working for you! It’s definitely exhausting but it will be worth it in the end, I promise! There will be days when it is more of a struggle, I get that when times are particularly stressful and this may effect the anxiety you are feeling but just aim to keep calm and think positively and you will come out the other side.

      I’m so proud of you too! It takes a lot of courage to have gotten to where you are. Keep going, believe in yourself and keep strong. Think of all the wonderful things you will be able to accomplish. Please do feel free to contact me should you like any further information or advice – I would be more than happy to help!

      Thank you so much for your comments 🙂
      xx

      Liked by 1 person

  7. barefoot witch says:

    It is odd how these phobia’s just come on so suddenly. I’ve had depression for most of my life, and some anxiety attacks that began in college. I’m on Wellbutrin (the generic) and I take Xanax as needed. I can write those disorders partially off to self-esteem issues. But a few years ago, I developed a sort of claustrophobia. I find it almost impossible to sit in the middle of an aisle at sporting events or theaters. A really crowded room, or bar, isn’t good either. I wish I could see an end to all this psychological upheaval, but I really don’t. I think a young person has a good shot at overcoming it all though. Thanks for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

      • barefoot witch says:

        Lauren, I’m so sorry, I hadn’t seen this question before today. I was thinking about this the other day. I believe the claustrophobia was a result of a vacation. We were going to Jamaica, and our plane was delayed for a long time. The plane was full, and we had to sit on the runway for a loooooong time. I felt the walls closing in on me, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. So now, when I am in a crowd or the middle of an aisle I feel trapped. It can turn into a panic attack if I don’t get it under control. I really almost have to sit at the end of the row, or be on the outskirts of a crowd.

        Like

      • bylaurenhayley says:

        Hi, no worries! The reason I asked is because it actually sounds more like agoraphobia to me than claustrophobia. I thought I suffered from claustrophobia for the longest time, but something didn’t quite make sense to me about it. I do feel scared in small spaces, but I also feel scared in other places that aren’t small, but I feel like I can’t get out. Agoraphobia is the fear of not being able to escape a situation, whereas claustrophobia typically comes on by the fear of being unable to breathe in a physically small space. I might be wrong, but it may be something worse looking in to. It’s much easier to recover if you know what you’re dealing with 🙂

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      • barefoot witch says:

        Now that you say that, I think that may well be true. It’s not so much the crowd or place itself, but needing and recognizing a way to get out of the situation. Wow. Lightbulb moment! Thanks Lauren. Now, to find a way to get over it…

        Like

    • bex23022 says:

      Hi Barefoot witch,

      Thank you for sharing. It is interesting how they come on so suddenly out of the blue! Interestingly, I found myself in a similar scenario. I went through a period of being unable to visit restaurants as I was convinced I was going to be ill. I always wanted to sit in a place which was accessible so if I did have to dash out, I could. This particularly affected me on my birthday when I was due to have a wonderful night in Planet Hollywood (it was wonderful nonetheless!) but spent much of my time feeling so sick. I know now that this was just the anxiety of being in a crowded room with a difficult ‘escape’ route. I think if I went back now I would be absolutely fine. These things take a while to disappear – but you can learn to overcome them. You will find the right coping methods for you and they take time to get to grips with but you will get there! Please do feel free to contact me should you require any further information or advice. Keep strong.

      Thank you for your comments 🙂
      xx

      Liked by 1 person

  8. bex23022 says:

    Reblogged this on Pretty & Petit and commented:
    A few weeks ago I guest posted on Mental Health blog, By Lauren Hayley. I’ve had a busy few weeks so have been off the blogosphere for a while but when I visited the page this weekend I was overwhelmed by all the positive comments that had been left on my post. Thank you so much Lauren for letting me share my story. Make sure you check out her blog: bylaurenhayley.wordpress.com

    Liked by 1 person

  9. rosieparrish says:

    Hi Becky,

    I also suffer from these same feelings when in certain environments; especially feeling spaced out and needing to hold onto someone for support. Doctors have never mentioned it could be agoraphobia, just generalised anxiety disorder so this blog post has opened my eyes a little bit and I will probably mention this to my GP next time I go.

    Thanks for having the courage to speak out,

    Best wishes,

    Rosie

    Like

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