When I was 21 years old I was a typical young woman approaching the end of my degree, spending my free time shopping and socialising with friends, making exciting plans for the future and in general, enjoying life. Everything changed when I was just a couple of months from finishing my degree, when I suddenly became ill with something called Meniere's Disease. The simplest description of the illness is that it has a debilitating effect on your balance system, causing a mixture of constant and unexpected dizziness. Not the dizziness where you feel better if you sit down - it was a sensation of everything moving back and forth, kind of like a very bad sea sickness. So even sitting and laying down the world was constantly moving around me. To cut a long story short, the initial period of 24/7 dizziness left me house bound for months. I couldn't walk without falling over, let alone complete simple tasks such as going to the shops, driving, or even going for a walk. It was probably about a year before they gave me medication which actually had any effect and I then had to retrain my balance system. This meant physically relying on someone coming with me when I started to venture outside (incase I fell). Because of the slow progress of my recovery, it had been a very long time since I had gone anywhere outside alone, without relying on having someone there for support.
The first time I did go out alone, I only walked about 5 minutes to a post box around the corner but didn't feel at all comfortable and on the way back I started to hyperventilate. At the time I didn't associate those symptoms with the start of a panic attack. After all, I had always been a very confident and out going person, so surely this wouldn't be something I would suffer with? For the next few weeks I started to make excuses to have someone with me when I went out, but even then I struggled to walk as far as the end of my estate. I put it to the back of my mind that I might have agoraphobia and tried to ignore the signs. It all came to a head when I started to feel depressed too due to not living a 'normal' life now for well over a year (no job, no socialising and essentially stuck within the house walls). I was living with my parents at the time and they suggested I go to counselling. I actually felt relieved to go and looked forward to the help they would be able to provide. It was a difficult and emotional journey, as even getting to the counsellor's house (just minutes away) was a massive challenge initially.
I didn't deal with my anxiety in the right way at the start - if i felt anxious I always withdrew myself from the situation or place, and returned home straight away. Looking back, I can clearly see this only fed my phobia and compounded into my mind that 'home' was the only safe place to be. I would say it took me a good 3 years to establish any sort of normality within my life. The first year of facing my phobia was incredibly difficult. Every day would be a massive struggle and I would force myself to go out and try and walk or drive slightly further. I tried every type of therapy going to try to help me relax and distract myself from how I was feeling… Bach Remedies, Hypnotherapy, Acupuncture, CBT, Emotional Freedom Technique, Herbal remedies, specialist bath oils and so much more. I am incredibly lucky to have an amazing support network of family and close friends, a couple of whom made a massive difference to my life when I was at my worst. I think the only upside to suffering with a phobia that limits your life, is that it makes you very grateful for the people and things that matter most. Longterm counselling has definitely made the biggest difference to my recovery and I believe it is vital to talk to someone who truly understands your emotions without you feeling judged or weak. I definitely faced a few "pull yourself together" attitudes over the years which used to frustrate me, but I began to learn that it's not other people's fault they don't understand. I may well have had the same opinion had I not developed agoraphobia myself.
This all began 13 years ago. I have been on quite an emotional journey to get where I am today, but I now have a great boyfriend, job, and social life with family and friends. There are still some major things I need to face (such as getting on a plane) but I have restored my life to a level where I am happy. With any phobia or anxiety, it's very hard to switch off negative thoughts and I'm not sure they will ever go away completely, but over the last 13 years I have learnt many helpful techniques and tools to keep anxiety at bay and continue to move forwards. Through my posts on our blog, I will go into more detail about these in the hope they will help you beat your anxiety sooner. I have also spent a small fortune on various traditional and alternative therapies in the search for a 'cure' of anxiety, and a key reason for starting this forum was to bring valuable information and reviews on therapies that would have made such a difference to me all those years ago.
I wish you all the very best in your speedy recovery and genuinely hope you find the phobia support forum of great personal value.