I’ve noted a phenomena common to many agoraphobic people I’ve connected with over the years. I’m trying to think of a nice name for it. What would you call it when someone exaggerates and distorts reality in order to make someone think something is way more complicated than it actually is? Practicing deceit is I guess what I used to do when explaining my craziness to someone who had never heard of agoraphobia before. And so have some of you, admit it.
Here’s the problem: we’re afraid of panic attacks. That’s all. It’s not like we’re delusional, or have a “”thought disorder” type of mental illness. We’re not psychotic, but we are disabled because of this one very strong fear. If your business partner or spouse is waiting on the other side of town for you to show up for a very important reason and you can’t make it, somehow “I’m afraid I’ll have a panic attack” doesn’t carry much weight. I found myself engaging in a lot of psycho babble to make whatever it was I had sound medically complex and almost dangerous whenever I was really blowing something by not showing up. My grandmother’s funeral was painful for the whole family, made harder by my not being able to show up.
I can understand the phenomena. Someone who’d never had a panic attack would think I was a sissy or faking it; that’s how I justified my elaborate and mystifying explanations of my peculiar condition. I was trying to make certain people believe I really was crazy, but in a nice way. I wanted my disability to seem significant to the few people I had to explain myself to. I guess there are times when you might want to use clinical language to obfuscate the reality of your condition. The one person you don’t want to deceive is yourself.
Keep it simple. If you suffer from panic disorder, what you are working on is a way to stop being afraid of panic attacks. Once you accomplish that, your problem is solved. Once you change the messaging in your “fight or flight” system you’ll no longer have false alarms like the ones your amygdala has been triggering because you gave it too many things to be fearful of. Every day that you work on your recovery program you are creating new neural pathways that will lead you to freedom. Keep it simple: all you’re doing is re-training a clumsy elephant