housebound adjective unable to leave one’s house, typically due to illness or old age.
agoraphobia noun extreme or irrational fear of crowded spaces or enclosed public places.
Being housebound is not a vacation. Even I, someone who has struggled with agoraphobia at different times in her life, have thought about others “must be nice to be able to sit home all the time”. But it’s really not as simple as that.
There’s a big difference between choosing to leave the house and being unable to leave the house. The fear in agoraphobia can have many sources, and I don’t pretend to know about any of them but the ones I experience.
The main symptom is just an impending sense of doom when even considering leaving the house – for any reason. That’s right, even walking out (and sometimes even opening) the front door. The doom is heavy, cloying and suffocating. It is grey. Thick. As though you can actually walk through it. I am walking through it, most of the day.
And then there’s what happens with my mind chatter. It’s incessant. The thought of leaving brings up many messages – most of them questions. All of the questions (once I actually think about it) start with “what if?”, but quite honestly, the thoughts are less full sentences than scattered words:
- it’s [warm/cold/sunny/rainy] (aside: in other words: there is a reason no matter how “good” or “bad” the weather is, for not wanting to be in it.)
- I could fall [slip]
- someone could see me
- the sun is bright
- there’s [snow/mud/puddles]
- the car might not start
- the car might start
- getting in and out of the car is such a chore (aside: chronic pain issues)
- what if I forget my sunglasses?
- I can’t talk to people
- if anyone found out I left they would expect me to leave again
- if anyone found out I left they would want me to [go out with/visit] them
- the traffic
- people are in such a rush
- the sounds [does no one *hear* that? I can hear it and I’m not even in it, just thinking about it]
- I’m so tired
- It will make me tired
- I will have to recuperate
- I could end up in bed for days (aside: this would be a setback for those times I’m actually maintaining some sort of schedule and getting out of bed most days)
- what if the house [burns down/falls apart/is hit by a tornado] (aside: there is an added layer to this because of pets left behind)
This list is not even close to all the thoughts that enter my head. In fact, they don’t even address the thoughts about the actual REASON for leaving (a drive, an appointment, visiting someone, going to the grocery store, picking up milk – whatever!)
in fact, it might be interesting, in another blog post, to just have a running list of the thoughts in my head – what do you think?
I am told, by doctors, therapists, friends, family (and all the other people who don’t experience anxiety) that they have these thoughts, too. The only difference is – those thoughts for those people are mostly subconscious and fleeting. For someone with anxiety, the thoughts are conscious, loud, in the forefront of the mind and encompassing. And, also – they are incredibly tiring.
It’s not just the thoughts – it’s also the visualizations, some of which are flashes of memory and others are imaginings. In my head I am actually experiencing a “what if” movie reel. These mini-movies play themselves out, as if I’m actually living them and reacting to them.
Additionally, with so many of us who experience anxiety, we also have the double whammy of a depressive disorder having its own set of symptoms which contribute to agoraphobia: low mood, low energy, lack of interest, negative thinking, rumination, emotional affectation (can be expressed as numbness, sadness or irritability). Therefore, if I can actually get past the depression affecting my desire to do anything, I am then assailed by the heightened emotion & visualizations of anxiety. Yes, it does feel like a battle or attack on my senses – and if you look at the science behind anxiety, you’ll see it is actually an attack on the brain.
Brain abnormalities associated with anxiety disorders McGill University
Anxiety and the human brain Medical Daily
originally written Feb 11, 2017