When people ask me how I recovered from agoraphobia, I usually avoid a very long story by saying such things as “It was a process,” or “It’s a very long story,” or “I had a lot of help,” but one thing I always say is “I had to learn to become blase’.” You know, that French word meaning a sort of satisfied boredom. When I was in the grip of chronic panic attacks I was trying to control everything I could, probably out of desperation to be in control of something, since I couldn’t control my anxiety or fears. As I came more in contact with others suffering from panic disorder through peer support groups I started or helped organize and my social work job at the Mental Health Center I discovered a lot of anxious people with perfectionist traits. I’m not referring now to “obsessive compulsive disorder,” but rather to the controlling behavior exhibited by those who suffer chronic panic attacks for no apparent reason.
I somehow knew my perfectionist, controlling habits were interfering with recovery from agoraphobia. Learning to become blase’, wasn’t that much of a stretch for me. A lot of my habits are of a casual nature, so I just had to extrapolate from not making my bed to not making a big deal out of speeded up breathing or heart rate or other kinds of false warning signs that can trigger panic attacks. I had to learn to stop caring about the outcomes of many many things I used to think were necessary to my well being. The whole business of letting go and letting down my guard didn’t happen quickly… but once I could see positive results from forced lack of concern about this or that, I allowed myself to become kind of casual. The whole process over several years affected everything about me – the way I walk and talk and write and listen. I can listen a lot better now that I’ve become less self-concerned.
Folks who suffer with agoraphobia will help their recovery efforts by learning to let go – a lot. The question of whether anxiety creates perfectionism or perfectionism creates anxiety is a circular one – worth pondering though. I’m thinking of how perfectionism and anxiety disorders co-occur because of an article written by Psychology Today blogger Max Belkin. His nicely written piece, “5 Steps to Taming Perfectionism,” appeared in late July and links the obsession of perfect to both low self esteem and procrastination. I’m not saying that agoraphobes are necessarily perfectionists; just that there’s a trait toward controlling one’s surroundings that actually creates more anxiety.
Dr. Bilker advises those who have let perfectionism ruin their dreams to learn to accept themselves just as they are and to acknowledge that they are good enough just as they are. Self love is at the core of recovering from panic disorder and agoraphobia. Healthy self love always radiates out, so once you obtain it, walk it around and shine on some folks in the shadows.