This month at Thrive, we have been raising awareness of agoraphobia. Many people seem have a good understanding of what agoraphobia is - although many of us tend to think that is just the fear of open spaces - not a lot of us seem to know someone who experiences such difficulties and therefore it might feel quite difficult to understand what someone is going through.
Agoraphobia is not just the fear of open spaces, but a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult, or help wouldn't be available if things go wrong. People who experience agoraphobia tend to anticipate the anxiety they think they'd experience in certain environments, perceive these as dangerous or uncomfortable, and then start to avoid them. In the most severe cases, the avoidance becomes such, that the person with agoraphobia becomes unable to leave their house - or even their room - or do things out of their comfort zone.
The cause of agoraphobia are not clearly established, although we know that it can often develop as a complication of panic disorder or panic attacks. Traumatic events, psychological factors, a previous history of mental health problems in the family, substance misuse, or a combination of several, can trigger agoraphobia. And of course, famous people get it too as, like other psychological problems, it can affect people of any social status. It is difficult to understand how these celebrities coped with their problem and overcame it with the kind of hectic lives they have, but the truth is they did and you can too!
The American actress confessed that she had her first panic attack in her twenties whilst in a food store. She managed to make it back to her car and drove home. She was unable to leave the house for 6 months after that. After this she had a very successful career as a model and actress. However, as a child, she struggled reading out loud in the school's classroom, felt vulnerable during her rise to fame while living in Hollywood and had a public breakdown when she couldn't find the words to deliver her speech while accepting her Oscar for LA Confidential in 1997. Basinger talked about her agoraphobia in a 2001 HBO documentary, “Panic: A Film About Coping.” She has received therapy and has a normal life, but still remains shy.
It's not a secret that the American film director has multiple phobias, including phobia to dogs (cynophobia), children, arachnophobia, entomophobia (insects), chromophobia (fear of bright colors), acrophobia (fear of heights) and claustrophobia amongst others. But that's not all. Woody is also agoraphobic, highly superstitious and has OCD. In fact, he has been psychoanalysed for 37 years of his life and this has become a recurrent theme in some of movies. However he seems to have learned how to cope with his conditions and lives a rather excentric, but normal life.
The beloved English comedienne and actor who plays Miranda in her self-titled sitcom confesses she tends to have depression and also had agoraphobia. "I think I'll always be a slightly anxious person. It's just bad genes, bad luck, really. I'll always have to force myself to see the positive, because I'm wired badly, I'd say I'm just naturally a bit under, a bit depressed" she told in an interview with The Guardian. As a young girl, she attended an all-girls' school and found it very difficult when she went to University and there were also men there. Her agoraphobia and anxiety started when in her early 20s. She went back to live with her parents. She says she had a "blip" and had panic attacks when travelling in public transport. She did however recover from it, and managed to land a job as PA just before she decided to become a comedienne.
Has something to thank her agoraphobia for. She became the American chef and author that she is today after 20 years of agoraphobia. She got married when she was 18, got pregnant and lost her father at 19 and then her mother when she was 23. She was afraid to die as well and became homebound. She moved with her husband to Savannah and there she started cooking for her family, making sandwiches that her children sold to the neighbouring office workers and eventually ended up opening a restaurant and self-publishing her own cook books. “I could concentrate on what was in my pots and block out what was in my head,” she confessed. “Some days I could get to the supermarket, but I could never go too far inside. I learned to cook with the ingredients they kept close to the door.” Eventually she got noticed by an important publisher and got some bit TV appearances like an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” which launched her successful career.
Known by his leading roles in Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Culkin had a very traumatic childhood, working as an actor between the ages of 8 and 14, whilst his father spent all his money. This caused him a bit of a struggle and turned him into a very private person. He said in an interview for CNN with Larry King he had "self-diagnosed" agoraphobia as an adult, probably triggered as well by the use of substances. "It wasn't like I went to a therapist and he said it. It's just I realized - I started going outside, and it felt like the buildings were going to eat me" he said. "I didn't even realize I wasn't leaving the house a lot. I was just kind of, you know, there was always photographers in the bushes and things like that, and there was a lot of things out there that were trying to consume me." He says he eventually overcame it when he started forcing himself out of the house more and more when he got a dog.
In any case, all these celebrities found themselves a good reason to overcome their fears and pursued it until they did. Being persistent with your goals and therapy, as well as continuously pushing yourself forward, is important to recover from agoraphobia.