Do any dopers have experience, or maybe even suffer from it?

I have since I was 10 or 11. The severity seems to come and go in phases. I spent the last three years being able to go and do anything. No I feel myself slipping, becoming less able to do certain tasks.

How have you coped? Medications? Therapy?

Therapy hasn’t helped me much, it helps with everything around it. Some days I cannot move. But, other times I am nearly okay. I just spent 3 days working at a basketball tourney, I may not be able to go to the walmart this week, I have to play it by ear. I am not currently on meds, I have never found them useful (for me,YMMV). I have a friend who swears by marijuana. I have never tried to use weed as a coping mechanism.

My “triggers” are very specific.

I can’t do Walmart at all. But I’m perfectly okay with some different stores that are similar size.

Bridges are tough

Any time I’m driving and can see what I judge to be an exceptionally long distance, that’s tough.

I’m lucky though, it doesn’t effect my life terribly, just pisses me off.

Yea, I am there with you on bridges. Walmart itself doesn’t bother me, it is the people and the heat. I don’t like street crowds either. Luckily I live where I don’t have that problem. But first I gotta get out that door.

I don’t think I have agoraphobia by any definition, but there might be a little bit of “maybe” factor with me.

I’ve read of two somewhat different definitions of agoraphobia, so I wonder if the participants in this thread could help fight some ignorance here . . .

Def. 1: Fear of open spaces; opposite of claustrophobia. This would include some of the descriptions of above posts: fear of wide open spaces, bridges, etc. This has nothing to do with the crowds of people who are or aren’t around.

Def. 2: Has more to do with fear being around crowds of people, also mentioned in some of the posts above (e.g., fear of the people one might encounter at Wal-Mart). I don’t see where this, in itself, would have anything to do with bridges, wide open spaces, etc.

So which is the right definition? Both? Are these two situation just variations on the same phobia, or are they really two different phobias?

Okay, as for me: Def. 1 (wide open spaces, bridges, hiking in the hills, beautiful vistas from mountaintops, etc): Definitely NOT a problem for me. Not even slightly. I love getting out into places like that — as long as there aren’t a whole lot of people around.

Def. 2: (crowds of people in more-or-less public places): Okay, I have a bit of a problem with this. Being around a lot of people (or even being around a few people, other than acquaintances) tends to trigger some discomfort for me, including causing me to get depressed. It’s not to the level that I would call an outright phobia. In days of yore, I had no problem with this. It’s grown on me in the last 20-or-so years. I’ve come to avoid places where there will be lots of people: Beaches, parades, movie theaters. I dislike shopping at markets, Target, etc. I’ve developed a great skill at “tuning out” the people around me. When I shop, I basically don’t see anybody else there, almost. I see shopping carts moving around in the aisles, pushed by vaguely-seen ghostly apparitions because I tune them out. I do my best to avoid looking at people or even toward people. When I encounter other people in public places (like on a sidewalk), I look away so I won’t see them.

This isn’t stopping me from dealing with necessary life activities (like shopping), but it definitely stops me from doing a lot of things that I used to enjoy, like going to the beach, movies, parades, parties, etc. I will go to an occasional movie if it seems really interesting enough, but always a mid-week matinee where the crowds will be the least, and I tune them all out.

Well, actually, I never liked parties, although I’ve gone to some occasionally and tried, rather pathetically, to have a good time. (ETA: And those were parties with theoretical friends!) It’s been more years than I can remember since I’ve been to a party (other than family parties, and even those only very rarely), and I wouldn’t even think of partying now.

(Why, no, I’m not at a New Year’s party tonight. Why do you ask? I don’t think I’ve EVER gone to a New Year’s party.)

In 1989, at the ripe old age of 39, I quit my passably-good job in Silicon Gulch and moved to a rural area, for the explicit purpose of becoming as nearly a hermit as I could. I lived in a guest house on a 50-acre ranch. The landlord had horses, cows, dogs, and parrots. I was there for 10 years, then he died and his widow sold the place.

I found a trailer for rent up in the hills in the depths of an oak-and-pine forest, and lived there for 3 years. Beautiful photo of it. I had to move back to “civilization” after that due to medical problems. That trailer and the surrounding forest was like a Garden of Eden for me. I still miss living there to this day. It’s 15 years. Now I live in a reasonably quiet apartment complex in a rather small quiet town. I’m not a hermit, but I don’t get out all to much except for specific recreational activities that I’m really all into (flying gliders).

It’s fear of fear, really. It’s trying to minimize anxiety and uneasiness associated with places or things by avoiding them. Left unchecked, a person’s physical world will become very small and not necessarily any better, anxiety-wise.

I have days where I could be ruled by fears, but I’ve gotten pretty good at stopping those trains of thought and replacing them. At bad times – which for me are really just emotional times, I have no idea why my mind packs excess drama into things - I’ll spend a night or two reading Claire Weekes. It’s like being mentally rebooted.

Tee’s got it. “Fear of fear” summarizes most acute anxiety disorders. The mechanisms (avoidance of the trigger which then reinforces the fear) are basically the same for any phobia. My husband’s expertise is treating phobia, OCD and other anxiety disorders using graduated exposure or habit reversal training for OCD. You can’t overcome this kind of anxiety unless you learn to tolerate that sickly anxious feeling and learn it’s not the end of the world.

Agoraphobia (in the sense of large crowds) - I have a mild to moderate case. I despise grocery stores and malls, and there are certain places, like Costco, I never set foot in. I’m perfectly capable of going out in public, to a restaurant or theater, or even a concert if I’m excited enough. But there are certain contexts where it’s not happening. Last fall we drove to the cider mill and the place was absolutely packed. I said “hell no” and we went home. I avoid crowded restaurants, bars, and even large family parties. In fact, I hate most parties. I do fine with my own people, as long as it’s less than ten, but prefer one on one. Large groups of people stress me out.

I see no real reason to push myself on this because I like my life just fine without crowds. I’m a natural introvert, a fact which exists apart from my anxiety. Not being able to leave the house - I’ve been there, but that’s a point where cognitive behavioral intervention is needed. Treatments like exposure are highly effective in treating this disorder. I’ve had it for a couple different anxiety problems and can’t recommend it highly enough.

My twist on the issue is that I refuse to eat with people unless I am already socially at ease with them. So, if there’s a conflict between a person & myself, don’t expect me to break bread with that person. I once worked for a person who absolutely insisted on large departmental meals. I was completely up front about not wanting to join in, would not order food, but, she’d order food for me, then handle the food, then expect me to eat the food & be grateful for the opportunity. This was beyond the pale. I quit within just a few months, after it was clear that the situation would not change.

I now work with a large group of people who absolutely could not care less if I eat with them, what I’ve brought for lunch, whether I eat out or at my desk, and never offer to share their food with me. It’s a paradise.

My first husband developed increasingly acute social anxiety mixed with dysthymia (I think this has a new name now) which eventually turned into something diagnosed as agoraphobia. Crowds, new place that involved people (especially if he was the focus of attention, like a doctor’s visit), or places where he wasn’t in control of the situation were the problems. Generally, if I was with him, he’d be mostly okay. And once he did something low-stress (like going to a movie, for him) several times, he could often tackle it on his own.

Medications and therapy didn’t make a dent in it, I’m afraid. But he had a lot of things in his life that were out of his control and that reinforced various anxieties, so I wasn’t shocked by that.

My mother had it in spades. The only thing she would go out of the house for was to walk over to the doctor’s office a couple times a month (she was a serious hypochondriac on top of it). She would order all sorts of shit over the phone and then my job, from when I was 11 or so, was to take most of it back to the department store practically every Saturday. I have to say, I sort of enjoyed doing that. She hated having to go anywhere by car and absolutely would not get on a bus or trolley car.

Then her brother, whom she loved dearly, moved from Philly to Falls Church, VA (just south of DC) and she wanted to visit him in the worst way. The day we planned the trip, it was go, no go, go, no go. Our family physician made a house call (he did that in the 50s) and gave her something to settle her. Finally, we went. It went pretty well till we got to the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. We just about lost her there. She literally screamed and then quieted down and closed her eyes till we came out. After that trip it got easier, although we would drive through Baltimore on Rt. 1, avoiding the tunnel. Once we tried going through Delaware and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, but that freaked her out totally.

I am talking about the early to the late 50s. But somehow at around age 45, she kind of came out of it, learned to drive, got a small car and got accustomed to driving herself everywhere. They were living in the suburbs and she got a job at a small store in a mall ten miles away and drove herself there every day and the whole thing evaporated. Mostly, I don’t think she ever got on a trolley and her first airplane ride in 1965 was apparently quite a trip, but she even got through that eventually.

Apparently, that Chesapeake Bay bridge (the one on Rt. 50, not the bridge/tunnel at the bottom of the peninsula) really freaks some people out to the extent that a few people make a small living by driving other cars over the bridge for a fee. Oddly, although I suffer from severe acrophobia, I have driven that bridge on a number of occasions without even noticing.

I definitely panic in large crowds, sometimes. Though that is more social than about the size of the space- sometimes I freak out because the room is too crowded, but I often find a very small out of the way place like a closet to stuff myself into when I’m having freakouts.

I don’t like wide open spaces. Being in a large flat landscape unnerves me. I much prefer to be someplace under trees. I don’t know if that counts as anything.

Trees are my safe space too. Maybe because they block the view? Luckily in Wisconsin there are trees everywhere

Like most people I’m mildly claustrophobic; one of my college teachers was agoraphobic in the “open spaces” kind of way. I don’t think he managed it very well:

  • he lived across the street from the school. When that street got turned from an unpaved mudslide into an avenue with an overpass bridge, he went from crossing the muddy space doing a fair imitation of a turtle to doing a less-fair imitation of a terrified turtle as he dashed on the overpass. We’d learned that he was not to be talked to until he’d gotten himself inside back when the street was unpaved; the overpass added a couple of minutes of “breathe deeply, breathe deeply” to his morning dash.
  • his office was the tiniest one in the building, even after he got promoted to department head, because it was where he felt least uncomfortable.
  • students had to go see him periodically for individual feedback, something which most of us viewed as a specific benefit of that particular school (every teacher, after every exam; additional sessions could be arranged easily). But being there with three others and being told “oh, come in, come in all of you, and close the door, we’ll be cozier that way!” had the opposite effect on most of us as it did on him. He felt cozy in his closet of a room; we didn’t. Specially when we were having to do some yoga-like exercises in order to avoid sticking our elbows into each other.
  • he almost never walked into any labs (too open). Before he’d go into a lab or classroom, all blinds had to be closed (Spanish blinds close a lot more tightly than they usually do in Northern Europe or in the US, see pic). One time there was a blind in my class where someone had left a line of light and he refused to come in until we’d fixed it.

His son was also on the agoraphobic side but managed it a lot better. A lot of it was refusing to give in; one time that we were talking about parent-child relations he mentioned the agoraphobia and said one thing he’d always be grateful to his friends for was that when he started developing it himself, they were ok with letting him hold their hand when he had an attack. Still from his telling, he’d had a couple of really bad years but eventually learned to manage it.