When I try to explain to people what my agoraphobia is like I tend to get a few raised eyebrows and a look as if to say: "You're just lazy". My response to this tends to be "Lazy is not having milk in your tea because you can't be bothered to go to the shop, not sitting in the dark because you're too frightened to open the curtains in case someone sees you". When I go into more detail about my mental health disorder people tend to relate some of my experiences back to things they go through on a daily basis. In fact, many of the symptoms of agoraphobia are things that we have all experienced in one way or another.
"Stop untagging those drunken photos..."
For example, many people that suffer with agoraphobia are worried that they will embarrass themselves in a public place. It could be that we tremble and blush when spoken to or that we have a full blown panic attack when leaving the house. This is no different to many of us who would rather not make a fool of themselves in the middle of town, avoiding situations which could make us do so. If you think 'I don't care if I make a fool of myself!' then stop untagging those drunken photos of you on Facebook. We all have some degree of pride and being proud is nothing to be ashamed of.
When it comes to leaving the house there are strict limits in which I feel comfortable. These limits tend to be around 5 minutes walk away from my front door and I will never venture out alone. How many of us really enjoy going somewhere on our own? We will always try and rope in a friend or family member to pop into town with us if we need to get some shopping. If all else fails then we will just do our shopping online! Some of you may feel confident enough to walk around the shops on your own but have you noticed that you may do some things differently? Perhaps you'll put your headphones in and listen to music while shopping or even call a friend to have a chat while you're browsing the aisles. We will avoid groups of people that we don't like the look of and even cross the street if we don't feel comfortable. This is nothing unusual, it is just how we behave as human beings.
"Is it because we are becoming lazy as a nation or is it something slightly more sinister?"
With more and more of our daily life being carried out over the internet it's no wonder we are becoming slightly agoraphobic; preferring to sit and chat to a friend via Facebook as opposed to meet them in town for a coffee. We can do all of our shopping online without having to face the hustle and bustle of the nearest supermarket or town centre. There's no more queuing up for something that can just be conveniently sent to your home. Is it because we are becoming lazy as a nation or is it something slightly more sinister? Social anxiety is similar to agoraphobia with a fear of meeting new people or being in crowded public places. The number of people being diagnosed with this and agoraphobia has risen over the last few years and many researchers say that it could very well be due to the lack of 'real socialising' done any more.
Now I'm not saying that we have all suddenly discovered that we have agoraphobia but I am trying to explain that what I go through is not that much different from what you or he or she goes through daily. The same can be applied with various mental health disorders and their symptoms. That nagging Monday morning feeling can be very similar to what people with depression experience every single day. Trying to avoid emotional situations after a traumatic experience (deaths, break ups, divorce) can be related to post traumatic stress disorder. Constantly asking or seeking reassurance or checking that the doors are definitely locked (we all do it!) can be symptoms common with obsessive compulsive disorder.
If we each took a little bit of time to understand what people with a mental health disorder go through then we may find ourselves not quite so quick to raise the eyebrow of disbelief. We may be able to see a little bit of that issue, problem, disorder or illness in ourselves at one point or another. Whilst putting together The Mental Health Struggle book I have read stories from people that have experienced mental health disorders that I didn't even know existed. It fascinates me to learn about these different types of illness and how these people cope on a daily basis. Perhaps if we understood it all a little better then we could see the warning signs in ourself and others. We'd know how to take better care of our mental health and realise that there is as much a need for this as there is taking care of our physical health. There are currently 1 in 4 people in the UK that will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime. Can we better that statistic?