Fistandantalus's Journal

I'm FUNNY, Darnitall!

Hollywood hasn't done the agoraphobic any favors.  Say the word "agoraphobia" and it invariably evokes the images of Sigourney Weaver popping handfuls of pills or Jodie Foster loving that panic room.  In reality, agoraphobia is a much quieter and sneakier ailment that affects approximately 5% of the world's population, including me.

I wasn't always this way.  I became this way gradually, as most agoraphobics do.  I subconsciously and consciously crafted my life to support this condition.  I'm a SAHM, I homeschool my children, I rarely leave the property, I have no fleshy friends...All these things were choices I made to keep the walls up, no matter what other good and decent reasons I may have also had, the essence of my life choices for the last nine years point in-arguably towards my deeper, subconscious reasoning.

Agoraphobia isn't just about not leaving the house, or having panic attacks when you do.  It's about keeping yourself safe and calm by avoiding The Great Unknown.  It's about ultimate control.  If your body produces unbearable physical symptoms when your brain is exposed to stimuli, the natural reaction is to avoid that stimuli to avoid the physical sensations.  Control your environment, control your emotions. During my worst episodes, I found myself literally unable to stop watching the same television programs over and over.  The idea of seeing anything different made me physically ill, but the idea of not being able to stop made me frightened.  By that point, it was clear to me that I wasn't just "not going anywhere"; I was actually shutting the few people I do see regularly out of my life.  I was "inside" in every way imaginable.

There is evidence that some agoraphobics have balance and perception issues.  I could get behind that, as the shelves at the Wal-Mart do seem to waver and close in on me at times.   Some studies link agoraphobia to unnaturally high sodium lactate levels.  Treatment of agoraphobia typically involves anti-anxiety and anti-depressant therapies, but those are just to deal with the side effects of the one, the only tried-and-true treatment.  Gradual exposure.

Coming to grips with my problem wasn't easy for me.  I think of myself as a strong person; admitting that I wasn't just strong, I was self-destructively strong was a bitter pill.  Looking at the "cage" I built for myself was humbling to say the least.  Pure shame got me out the door the first time; seeing results kept me there.  Agoraphobia doesn't just "go away" if you keep yourself on the seemingly straight and narrow; you'll catch yourself building walls that you have to keep tearing down, over and over.  Sometimes I'll find myself in the middle of a full-blown regression with no idea of how I got there, other than I SHUT EVERYTHING OUT except exactly what I know I can always handle.

Most obsessive-compulsive disorders have an outward physical component--washing hands, cutting, anorexia, bulimia, physical tics--agoraphobia has none, other than the "cage", which appears normal until you crawl inside for a while and see how intricate it is, how many things it won't allow you to do, how it affects your relationships and every move you make, how it's slowly killing your YOUness and reducing what you are to fear-based reactions. 

The majority of agoraphobics have experienced a level of post-traumatic stress, or a "trigger incident" that caused them to choose the "flight" reaction initially.  In my case, I have been unable to isolate any single thing that caused me to react to the world in this way.  It would be so much easier to be able to say "THERE!  That's why I'm different!  It's not my fault!"  Today's general social climate tends towards "victim culture" in which the individual "explains" him or herself in terms of physical and/or emotional disorders that are organic and/or created by trauma.  I can honestly say that I can't do that.  I built this problem, however innocently, and now it has to be un-built, stone by stone, day by day, failure by failure and success by success.

If you resemble these remarks, just know you are not alone.  There are 3.2 million of us in here, and most of us are trying to get out.  Remember that this is a matter of control; asking for help may be the hardest thing you've ever done, but it'll be among the smartest moves you'll ever make.

 

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Comments:

Night...
Jun. 3, 2008 at 12:38 PM I know it all too well. Thanks for posting on it.

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crazy...
Jun. 3, 2008 at 12:42 PM

Thank you so much for posting this. I voted  popular!

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_Tam_
Jun. 3, 2008 at 12:44 PM Good, informative post.  I am mildy agoraphobic, I guess.  I get anxious when in large crowds.  Going to Best Buy or Walmart on a Sunday or Saturday scare me.  I could be there with my family, but I feel the need to zig and zag to get by anyone.  It also seems like the store is jam-packed with people, when it's not as bad as I think.

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Krist...
Jun. 3, 2008 at 12:44 PM Very informative! 

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BigMo...
Jun. 3, 2008 at 12:47 PM Wow.  Thanks for the education!  I had no idea what it was like for you.  I promise to stop lurking in your bushes if it's freaking you out.

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RanaA...
Jun. 3, 2008 at 1:15 PM

Jess, you can't bail on our plan now!  We were SO close!

Liz, I knew what agoraphobia was... but I guess I didn't know what it was LIKE, if that makes sense. 

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queen...
Jun. 3, 2008 at 1:34 PM

You don't often see anyone talking about their agoraphobia.  I have agoraphobic tendencies.  If it wasn't for the fact that I have a very active 15 year old........I would have no problem cocooning myself in my home. I've only had short term episodes, so I don't even know if they count.  They've always followed an acute depressive episode....so that is what I've always attributed it to.

Anyway, thanks for opening up and sharing the information.

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JoyeA...
Jun. 3, 2008 at 1:39 PM Beautifully written as usual, Elizabeth.

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erfrye
Jun. 3, 2008 at 1:44 PM

That was very imformative and easy to read. Good job. I learned something. I don't mind leaving my house, but I have my "zone", and I don't like venturing too far from it.

Blessed Be

Erica

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clean...
Jun. 3, 2008 at 2:03 PM I have a relative who has had these kinds of anxieties as well.  He is still not able to drive.  he takes public transportation wherever he goes.  I applaud you for shedding some light on this subject.  I is like any other phobia really about a fear of losing control.  Monsters live in the dark, so now that  you have turned on the light maybe it will be easier for you now.

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