I used to have a file folder on agoraphobia but recently threw it out, thinking we have Google now.  Anyone who wants information on the subject has only to type out the word to get pages and pages of relevant material.  What I intend to post is simply my own personal experience for whatever it may be worth.

The day it all began is crystal clear.  I was a young mother of several children with a husband that couldn’t seem to hold a job.  After a period of unemployment we  had reached the point where I was checking pockets, looking for loose change.  When I noted a sign in the window of a nearby herb supplier for a part-time typist I went in and was hired. When I told my husband that I started Monday he said he couldn’t watch the kids because he had an appointment.  At that point something went “snap” in my head, and in a strange hoarse voice that I didn’t recognize I said, “What are you trying to do, drive me crazy!”  A few days later in the local store I felt uncomfortable and uneasy, as if I might become unglued.  This feeling of not being at ease in places where there were other people was to be with me for 25-30 years.

Etymologically, agoraphobia means a fear of the agora, which in Greece was a forum or place where people could gather.  I’m thinking the word has morphed to mean a enclosed place containing people to include a store, church, bus, meetings, etc.  It is typical of agoraphobics to sit in an aisle seat in the back of a church, for instance, so they can make a quick exit if they can’t stand that feeling anymore.  That the problem was mental was obvious when one felt just fine once outdoors and free.  When I’d go to the supermarket shopping with the kids the very worst part was waiting for my turn at the check-out counter.  I’ve read of people who ran off leaving a shopping cart full of groceries behind!

Eventually I saw a Catholic doctor for my problem, thinking he was Christian and had to love me even if I was crazy.   I’d take the trolley to his office, envying the other people on the trolley who seemed quite comfortable while I was just holding on till my destination.  I remember the doctor prescribed phenobarbital and I knew so little about drugs at the time that I feared I might become addicted.  This was the beginning of years upon years of Librium, Valium, Xanax, etc., to take the edge of the anxiety and help me to function.

At one point I recall my Catholic doctor said that I had despaired. Reflecting on this diagnosis I feel it was accurate.  Though I was a Catholic, trust in God was minimal.  When I made a last ditch effort to fix things by getting a job and found myself frustrated something snapped.  I knew how to obey and ended up with seven kids but trusting in God when I couldn’t fix things myself never occurred to me.  Later in the course of my agoraphobia  I remember in particular a day in church when I felt I was going to just dis-integrate, to fly off in a million pieces.  I said to God, “OK, if you want me to go crazy, I’ll go.”  I guess He didn’t want me to go crazy because I instantly felt perfectly well and went up to Communion at peace, as in the olden days.  Maybe it was something in the surrender, I don’t know.  I felt better for a few days, then back to the usual.

We moved with the seven kids from Chicago to Connecticut where we ran my parents’ motel for a year.  I learned to drive and seemed to function, agoraphobia and all.  When I got  a job at a hospital as a medical secretary I couldn’t handle the full day and switched to part-time.  I saw a psychiatrist and actually started to work for him as his secretary, all the time phobic and medicated.  When there was a shortage of school teachers a friend suggested I take a 6 week teaching course for college graduates and make more money teaching.  I did it, got a job teaching fifth grade in a local school.  I have to wonder how I lasted three months, medicated, always uncomfortable, never at ease in front of all those kids, barely hanging on, finally giving up.

And life went on.  Back in the 1980’s I joined a charismatic prayer group that started in my church.  The charismatic renewal was a nationwide movement with prayer for an infilling of the Holy Spirit as occurred when Mary and the disciples were gathered in the upper room waiting for the promise of Jesus (“you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”)  Acts 14.  Read your Bible, see what a difference the baptism in the a Holy Spirit made in His disciples.  If you are a follower of Jesus I cannot urge you too strongly to ask for more of his Spirit!  God forces nothing on us.  ASK!

I don’t know exactly when the agoraphobia left.  There were many healing masses, many prayers by many Christians.  A phobia, after all, is a fear.  My thinking is that as I grew in trust the spirit of fear was gradually edged out.  It is now gone.  For this I thank and praise God!

As a postscript I’d just like to add a word about being judgmental about others.  You cannot know their interior self well enough to be anything but kind.  Only God really understands and He is always ready to forgive and cut some slack.  Do unto others as you would have them do to you.  A simple, and time-honored, rule of thumb.