I Had Agoraphobia For 30 Years. Here's How I Healed

Written by Hal Mathew

Not all agoraphobics are so terrified of being in the outside world that they have to remain inside their dens. I should know. I was agoraphobic for 30 years before I finally pieced together a plan involving Buddhist practices that helped me escape. That was more than 20 years ago.

What many people may be assuming about agoraphobia — that victims of this anxiety disorder confine themselves to their homes — isn’t necessarily so. Agoraphobes may be walking near you down the sidewalk or in the park or driving on your streets … but probably not your highways. Allow me to explain.

What people with “panic disorder” and agoraphobia fear is having a panic attack. Simple as that, but it’s complicated. Ever had one? If not, I and every other panic sufferer hope you never will, but secretly wish others could experience what we do for at least a few seconds so they could understand why panic attacks can entirely change your life.

Fortunately, I’ve developed a way for those imprisoned by agoraphobia to escape and will help you get started. But first, I want to share the journey that helped me arrive at my cure.

I remained fearful for many months after my first panic attack at age 10, and then pretty much returned to my normal childhood happiness. This pattern continued through my youth. Not until just after my 19th birthday did a visit from the Panic Monster turn me into a ball-and-chain prisoner of fear.

The length of the chain varied over the years, but the ball, the heavy weight of an impending panic attack, was always there. At best, I was virtually anxiety free and could travel as far as 20 miles from my safety net. At worst, I was constantly on edge and afraid to leave the safety of my home.

This is true for many of those diagnosed with agoraphobia because circumstances change. Normal people have their good times and bad; the same is true for folks cursed with chronic panic attacks. I’ll give you examples of extremes. My symptoms during my panic spell at age 16 virtually disappeared overnight when I met “Dale,” a cute, hysterically funny classmate who made it clear she was mad about nerdy me.

The endorphin storm freed me from anxiety until that terrifying day six years later when I opened my draft letter at age 22. The Vietnam War wanted me.

I instantly shot into a cycle of panic attacks, and started graduate school to avoid what would have been unbearable. My anxiety level was constantly high during the first year of classes and I struggled to make the eight blocks to campus. My anxiety level and range of travel improved dramatically, though, on the day I was granted medical exemption from the military draft by a psychiatrist. I was a smiling, easygoing guy again — albeit one who couldn’t travel more than 15 miles from home.

I tried everything to break free, from psychiatrists to MDs, to pills and therapists and, unfortunately, alcohol. Nothing really worked.

Finally I began to focus on healing the whole me, spiritually, physically, emotionally, and discovered that Buddhism was a perfect model for recovery from panic disorder and agoraphobia. I never became a Buddhist, but used many of the principles as tools for my recovery, including meditation, acting with loving compassion toward myself, and doing all things “mindfully” (fully focused).

Here’s what I want you to do to start your path toward freedom. Begin a journal with the before and after of yourself. Write a page describing where you are and a page describing where you want to be. Start doing research on brain science and panic attacks, specifically how the amygdala operates and how it can be retrained.

The method I created includes a structured routine of activities and projects all designed to help you create new neural pathways to supplant the old ones leading you to despair. You can be free.

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