Monday, 4 April 2016

Agoraphobia 101: why "anxiety" is not a general term.

"Anxiety" is such a vague term. When I say I have anxiety each person hears very different things and to be honest it drives me mad. There are so many types of anxiety disorder, and each one has branches. Anxiety isn't black and white, every single person will be affected differently, what works for some won't work for others and what some are capable of despite their anxiety does not mean all anxious people are capable of it too. Accept it.

I have Agoraphobia, which despite popular belief is not the fear of wide open spaces at all. Around 0.6% of the country suffers from Agoraphobia and less than 1/3 achieves a full recovery. It is a vicious blend of panic disorder, OCD and General Anxiety Disorder. Agoraphobia is the fear of being unsafe, trapped or being left alone. It's a fear of anywhere where escape or a safe retreat doesn't feel possible and that includes being left alone in my own home. Usually it is due to being afraid that you'll have a panic attack, or feel the symptoms of anxiety, it's a fear of being afraid. It's a cycle that's near impossible to break without consistent hard work and it's completely exhausting, which is ironic really, because god forbid it loosens its grip on me for one night so I can sleep properly.

In no uncertain terms, Agoraphobia is self inflicted torture. I'm afraid of myself and it's incredibly hard to put into words how that makes me feel. You may feel that a situation is plenty safe and has many easy ways to escape, but trust me I've laid awake all night working out just how unsafe it is and there's no changing my mind. It's taken over a year to feel comfortable at home by myself, but even now it's not exactly my favourite thing to do. I'm terrified of restaurants, waiting in queues makes me shake uncontrollably and a trip to the cinema is just about my worst nightmare, new places are a no go and please don't ask me to go more than half an hour away from my house.

Have you ever felt like you so desperately wanted to go home that you'd give an arm or a leg to be there? Maybe you were on holiday or just having a terrible day away from home and your body feels as though it's screaming for the safety of home. For an agoraphobic, that's how I feel every second of everyday, even when I'm home. I am never safe. I am never relaxed. It is no exaggeration to say I no longer know what it feels like to be unafraid. That's the problem with a persistent anxiety disorder like Agoraphobia, I can't close the door on it or hide from it no matter how hard I try, it's inside me, I am the root cause of my own anxiety. It's fair to say it's a living nightmare.

I know my loved ones mean well when they say "it's okay, I'll be there, I'll hold your hand", and I hope they know I appreciate it with all my heart, but honestly, it's not that straight forward no matter how much I wish it was. You can't fix this with your support, it's myself I'm afraid of and no amount of love takes that away. There's no doubt it helps though, if not for feeling less anxious then simply for feeling less sad. Depression and anxiety go hand in hand, and mine is no exception. I'd be lying if I said I didn't already know exactly what I'd write in a suicide note. You see that's what an anxiety disorder does to you, especially one you can't get a moment of peace from. There are days, sometimes weeks, where I can't possibly imagine a life where I don't feel afraid, and that's no way to live. The worst part is that I'm not alone; this is the same case for thousands upon thousands of people all over the world.

My anxiety is understandably difficult for the people in my life to handle. I have a very small group of friends now and I love them more than anything because they are the only people who have stayed beside me despite the strain I know it is on them. The fact of the matter is, mental health issues mean people abandon you. That's just how life is. It's hard for some people to understand why you can't just make it better or be stronger for a day, for them, and don't even get me started on trying to form romantic connections. But truthfully I couldn't care less, it's shown me who I can rely on in my darkest moments and for that I will always be grateful to this monster that lives inside me. Explaining anxiety is an incredibly hard thing to do because everyone interprets it in a different way. Some will ask you to "just try", they are the worst kind of people and you must avoid them like the plague. In case you were unaware, that's not how it works kids. I'm lucky enough to have friends and family who have never asked me to explain, and I've never felt like I had to justify myself to them. They are without a doubt the only reason my suicide notes have never had to be a reality.

Look after your anxious friends, they're trying their best and pushing them will only damage your friendship and probably their recovery, they just need to know you'll wait for them to be ready and that you aren't giving up on them.