Sometimes introverts joke about being afraid to leave their house. For me, that fear is no joke. I have agoraphobia, and at certain points in my life journey, I was genuinely afraid to leave the house alone.
My fear was made worse whenever I had to show up to a social situation without anyone by my side. As an introvert, I wanted someone with me during outings who could dominate the energy of the room and help me feel comfortable socializing.
Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that can make people feel panicked and unsafe in any public place, especially one where crowds gather. Like many people who suffer from it, my fear became so overwhelming that I couldn’t leave my home unless I had someone I trusted with me.
To be clear, not all introverts are agoraphobic, and not all people with agoraphobia are introverts. Through my research and reading online, I have found that sometimes introverts develop agoraphobic symptoms and want to know how they can overcome feeling uncomfortable leaving the house. Here is my story.
All Day Long, I Was Paralyzed With Fear
Usually when I felt afraid to go outside, I was living in an unfamiliar and busy, crowded city. I am not used to being in those kinds of environments. I grew up in a quiet town with parents who were nearby most of the time. My parents kept me away from danger and directed me away from a lot of potential risks.
Maybe you can relate. The first time you do anything alone can be an entirely new and life-changing experience. For me, moving to a new place just added to my anxiety. I was fearful because I didn’t know any different way to feel.
Experience eventually showed me that really bad things rarely happen. I was not going to be attacked, hurt, or made fun of just because I was outside my comfort zone. Even though I was on the right track, these fears stuck with me.
My first year of college was a big move. I knew only a few people in my new city, and I was not emotionally close to anyone. I did not know what to expect, so that made me fear everything.
For example, it would take hours to convince myself to walk or bike to the grocery store. I would stand frozen with anxiety and look out the window at the moving world. I so badly wanted to be like the people out there.
In one episode of this endless roller coaster, I spent the entire day feeling so paralyzed and anxious about completing a task outside the house. Now it was getting dark; time was running out. Suddenly, my legs just started to move. My body turned around from the window, and I grabbed my grocery bag with one hand and wallet with the other. My shoes were on, and I walked down the stairs. I walked through the hallway. I walked out the door. I kept walking.
Block after block, my brain still hadn’t caught up with my feet that were controlling the situation. I was moving my body to get myself out the door before my brain could tell me not to.
I walked to the grocery store. I got there and called my sister. I DID IT!!! We celebrated.
Some Days I Went Hungry
From then on, my No. 1 tip for myself was to make the unhelpful thoughts quieter. The logical side of my brain knew that nothing would go wrong. If I could stand in my window and see many people walking alone, I could be like those people, too! I tried to remember to just let my actions take over in times like those.
But the crawl through fear was not yet over. Sure, I was able to go outside that day to the grocery store. But other days I was too afraid. I missed out on a lot. I went hungry some nights because I was afraid to go out to buy food.
I kept myself hidden. This only made matters worse. When you have a condition like mine, you must experience things so you can gain firsthand knowledge that the outside, social world is not as scary as it seems.
I Took Things One Step at a Time
Even today, many years later, I still struggle with agoraphobia. When I was getting ready to move (you guessed it) out of another big city into a quieter and more comfortable small town, my mind started getting in my way again.
Every little thing I wanted to do seemed impossible. Just the thought of going to new places made my heart race once again. For example, I wanted to drop things off at a thrift store before my move, but a voice inside my head told me to be scared. But I didn’t give up. I was so close to being free!
The first step was just to go through my things at home, right? Sorting everything into piles and putting things into boxes for donation. So that was an action I could take now without worrying about the things I had to do next.
I tackled each step slowly. Loading the boxes into my vehicle was another action that came more easily than the next. On to the next hurdle.
The thought of going into a thrift store which I had never been to really made me anxious, so I decided to just drive there one day and not get out of the car. I simply drove past. Saw what the parking situation was like and the environment around the store.
If you struggle with agoraphobia like me, I recommend doing this a few times until you feel comfortable. Maybe set a date on which day you will go in and accomplish your goal. On my goal date, I went into the parking lot and got out of the car. I donated my old belongings. I felt so accomplished afterward!
I Am Unlearning the Extreme Things I Once Believed
In my past experiences, any time I was afraid or skeptical of something, I would avoid it. I spent the early years of my life not taking risks. But that held me back in the long run.
Now I am an adult who is unlearning all the extreme things I once believed. Therapy, goal setting, planning, and experiencing are the things we need to do to get through the fear, anxiety, and struggles of agoraphobia.
Even when I was scared, I never stopped giving myself gentle pushes. If I was not feeling up to it one day, I would rest and work on it the next day.
Trust me, if I can face my anxieties, fears, and agoraphobia tendencies, you can, too. Just take it one step at a time.