Health

Living With Agoraphobia and Panic Disorder

Agoraphobia is defined by the NHS as “Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or that help wouldn’t be available if things go wrong”.

Agoraphobia is most common in women between the ages of 18-35. The cause of this mental health condition isn’t exactly clear. 

While it usually develops from a panic disorder often brought on from a traumatic event there is also evidence this may be a genetic condition that can be inherited as well as a small percentage of suffers who have no prior history of experiencing panic attacks.

I spoke with 18-year-old Ellie Gilmour who was studying hairdressing at college and working as a part-time retail assistant before her anxiety became overwhelming. 

Ellie struggled with her Agoraphobia, even struggling to eat and drink. Picture by: Ellie Gilmour

Ellie told me she first began to suffer from symptoms of anxiety at the age of sixteen when attending college. She said, “I assumed these symptoms were a physical illness as I was just constantly feeling sick and having to run to the bathroom.” She added, “I couldn’t eat, I even struggled to drink and most days I felt like I was having a heart attack.” 

Ellie found college wasn’t for her, she told me “Although I had good friends, there was someone in my class who was horrible too. There were numerous occasions where things just became too much, and I had to run out of the classroom in tears from anger”. One person can only take so much so Ellie developed symptoms of anxiety and sadly eventually had to leave college to seek help. 

When Ellie began speaking to a psychologist over the phone she was at a point where she was physically scared to leave her home. It took many phone call appointments but Ellie’s psychologist convinced her to meet face to face and helped her understand that despite the fact Ellie felt like she was dying, it wasn’t real, and it was just her body attempting to keep her safe.

Ellie explained that when she was diagnosed with agoraphobia and panic disorder it “Was such an overwhelming but positive thing because many people around me thought I was making it up and being lazy when in actual fact my brain wasn’t functioning correctly.” Often people do feel better after receiving a diagnosis, it helps validate the way you’re feeling and explain clearly to others what’s happening. 

After Ellie’s first round of psychology, she felt like she couldn’t cope. She spent a lot of money on private treatments that didn’t work. When lockdown came around Ellie felt somewhat happy as she didn’t need to challenge herself, but her progress plummeted back to square one again and all doctors were offering was medication, she added “There’s nothing wrong with medication but personally I was ready and willing to do all the therapy I could to talk my troubles away and get better.” Thankfully a local charity provided Ellie with the treatment she needed. 

Ellie concluded by saying “Coming to the present, any planned event in my life, such as going to the shop, a walk, a day out, or even visiting my family I will have a panic attack and be sick before going out. This is not how I want to be living my life. I’m so lucky to have an amazing family to support me.”

“Something I would hope everyone can take from this is that when you see people in day to day life and something negative comes into your head, just think to yourself; is it going to be helpful to judge them?’ or does my opinion on them matter?’ and they might be going through something that I know nothing about.”

Having an invisible illness is one of the worst things ever. People judge you for your looks, personality but what do they actually know about you? I want people to remember to be nice to everyone. Hate doesn’t get you anywhere and if someone is struggling it can be the last little push for them to make a stupid decision.

I wish Ellie all the best in her journey with agoraphobia and panic disorder. If you’re struggling with symptoms similar to Ellie please seek help. Lifestyle changes are helpful such as regular exercise or eating healthy as well as cognitive behavioural therapy and medications, discuss this with your GP to see what is best for you.

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