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.