Am I going crazy?”
The fear of developing a mental illness or going crazy is a common fear among people with agoraphobia.
There are some good reasons for this fear.
First, panic attacks can make you feel like you are going crazy. During a panic attack, your mind and body feel out of control.
Because panic attacks can make you feel out of control, some people with agoraphobia have fears about suddenly losing control of themselves and doing crazy things. For example, I’ve heard people with agoraphobia say they were afraid of spontaneously jumping out of a high, open window, driving into another car in traffic, or stabbing someone they loved with a kitchen knife.
When you don’t feel in control of your mind and body, it’s easy to develop scary, obsessive thoughts like this – which can lead to the misconception that panic will keep growing worse until it turns into mental illness.
But, the truth is, agoraphobia is not a mental illness, nor can it turn into one. Psychiatrist and phobia expert, Fredric Neuman, director of the White Plains Hospital Phobia Clinic, says:
“Agoraphobia does not cause a physical derangement or psychosis. Schizophrenia and other such serious illnesses do not grow out of panic states.”
In his book, Rising Above Fear, Dr. Neuman describes agoraphobia as developing through “mistakes in learning.” Mental illnesses like schizophrenia are conditions in which a person loses touch with reality. Anxiety disorders like agoraphobia are conditions in which a person develops some unrealistic fears within reality.
That’s the main difference between agoraphobia and mental illness: Agoraphobia is learned. Mental illness is not.
This means that agoraphobia is more highly treatable than mental illness because it develops through processes over which you can gain control. If you have agoraphobia, you have just learned to think and behave in certain ways over a period of time. Learned behaviors and thought patterns can be unlearned, with patience and consistent effort.
If you have agoraphobia right now, be rest assured that you’re not sick and you are not mentally ill. Nor will your condition develop into mental illness, no matter how crazy the panic attacks make you feel. You are a normal person who has just learned some unusual fears.