There are so many horrible things about being stuck in agoraphobia land that it would be hard to list them all. One of the worst is the embarrassment of it all. I was never comfortable about revealing my deep dark secret to anyone because I was convinced people would think I was totally lame and weak and actually could do whatever it was if I really wanted to. I went to extremes in some cases to hide my anxiety problem from others because of my shame.
My most shameful experience was when my dear Grandma Mae died and I was unable to attend her funeral 120 miles away. My father was grieving over his mother’s death and unable to comprehend why I could not attend. Anyone with agoraphobia is familiar with those disappointed looks when we’ve had to get out of one thing or another because of our inability to make a trip. The quandary is this: we often don’t want to tell the person the real reason we’re unable to do something with them because it is so humiliating. And if you are able to summon the courage to reveal your seemingly weak-spined problem, what are you going to say? What words can you use to sound plausible? For many years I didn’t even have a name for what I had. I just thought I was crazy. I told some people I had “vertigo” and used dizziness as an excuse when I could.
Perhaps it’s time for agoraphobes to come out – to stand up and tell your stories. I’m convinced that the lives of people afflicted with panic disorder will be easier when “normal” people can understand the science behind panic attacks. I’m hoping that once agoraphobia is de-mystified, those afflicted with it can feel safer about explaining themselves.
My assignment for you is to get a notebook and begin a study of the brain science behind panic attacks so that you can be professorial when you tell people about your restrictions. Learn as much as you can about the amygdala and its role in your misery and take good notes. Once you become an expert you can say to a friend something like, “It’s a function of the amygdala that is mis-firing and sending blasts of adrenaline through my body by, essentially, mistake. It’s kind of like my system made me more susceptible to startle than most and sometimes a slight startle can be mis-directed by the amygdala and become a panic attack.” Keep it simple, but keep the emphasis on the brain science and this will help the “normies” comprehend the enormity of what you’re going through – through no fault of your own.
My feelings about the benefits of openness are echoed in the documentary”The Anonymous People.” It tracks several former addicts who have organized to come out about their addiction and recovery. The former addicts decided to speak out because they want to help others recover, believing that treatment will become more widely available and acceptable once people understand how addiction works and how it can affect people from every part of society.
As I listened to men and women speak candidly in the film about the suffering, the severely altered lifestyles, the shame, the degrading experiences I could certainly see parallels in the lives of addicts and the lives of agoraphobes. Self esteem is an early victim in the life of an agoraphobe. A good way to retrieve your self esteem is to start educating others about the science of panic disorder so that you sound smart instead of freaky. If you have an experience with coming out that might benefit someone else, post a short account of it to our address: firstname.lastname@example.org for possible inclusion in the blog.
Did you see the 1979 sci fi horror flick “The Alien” with Sigourney Weaver? A terrifying destructive force in the form of a very scary creature invades a space ship and begins terrorizing the occupants. The most frightening aspect to the alien was that it could invade and take over a person’s body. When it happened, the person would behave sort of normally for awhile… until the awful reality came out.
The analogy of the cinematic alien to the alien creature called agoraphobia is uncomfortably clear. When I was suffering from panic disorder – the trembling sort of anticipation fear that makes you always feel as though something bad is about to happen – I felt like a victim of something strange and powerful that was inhabiting my body. The toothy, snake-bodied creature exploded out through the chest of one space traveler it had inhabited and took two years off the lives of everyone in the movie theater. Kind of like a panic attack, only not as scary as the phenomena every agoraphobe fears.
The alien at one point emerged from hiding right in Sigourney’s face and she expressed such a convincing display of sheer terror that her first major role made her a movie star. Granted, she turned out to be an excellent practitioner of the thespian craft, but unless she’s had a panic attack she will never know the full meaning of terror in the way an agoraphobe does. Scared? You don’t know what scared means unless you’ve been through a horrific tragic event or have had a panic attack.
When you suffer panic disorder, the alien in you is bad programming. The panic control center in your brain – the amygdala – is an instant decision maker. No wishy washy ambiguity when the amygdala’s in charge. When the amygdala decides it’s time to be scared, it’s time to be scared and there’s apparently nothing you can do about it. That feeling of helplessness is one of the worst things about having a panic attack. As the hot blast of adrenaline is coursing through your body setting off alarms you’re like a frightened creature, desperate to escape danger. Luckily, there is something you can do about the alien in you.
The program in Un-agoraphobic will help you take control of your alien and re-train it to become a docile pet. No one need be a helpless victim of panic attacks. You can re-program your system so you’ll never have another panic attack – so you can go anywhere you want without the threat of the Monster suddenly appearing in front of you. Stay tuned to this blog and join the forum for questions and answers.
“Mindfulness” is a hot topic these days and I think I know why. We have created so many ways to connect ourselves electronically to anything and everything anywhere and everywhere at any time day or night that mental disorders are being named after the phenomena. Continuous exposure to social media, broadcast television and electronic games can have adverse effects on some. The American Academy of Pediatrics calls “social media depression” what they’re seeing in alarming numbers of young people who have devoted their lives to their screens. It seems we need a break from the buzz.
Large corporations are beginning to set aside time and space for employees to reduce stress through meditation. Do a quick search of mindfulness and you’ll see pages of attention being paid to the simple act of living in the present moment. When you continue to stay in that mindset, when you carry along with time, looking neither forward nor back, we call it meditation. That mind cleansing process is being employed to save people from the loud buzz of daily life.
People with panic disorder know full well what daily buzz is about. The constant anxiety that comes from fear of having another panic attack keeps your engine revving all day and sometimes all night. I’ve been there; I know what it’s like to never have a calm moment, to get up knowing you’ll be controlled all day by the strong arm tactics of anxiety. That’s why mindfulness plays such a big role in the “Un-agoraphobic” recovery program. You’ll need to first learn how to practice meditation and then how to apply mindfulness tactics to your every day routine as part of your path to recovery.
I recommend you do a search of meditation techniques, find something that works for you, and start practicing today. If your anxiety is too high, do a head to toe tense and release routine beforehand. While seated, raise your feet a few inches off the floor and arch your toes away from you so that you feel a stretching across the top of your foot. Next, arch your toes toward you and continue this process of tightening and relaxing muscles (calves, thighs, buttocks, abdomen, shoulders, neck, arms and hands). Each stretch should last to the count of four, as should each release. Once you get your body loosened and have practiced focusing, sitting in meditation will be easier.
Once you learn meditation you own a valuable tool for diverting panic attacks. Ommmmmmm.