Guest Blog

(This is the first of what I hope will be many guest blogs from folks engaged in overcoming agoraphobia)

Have Turtle, Will Travel

First off, I’d like to thank Hal for inviting me to be a guest blogger on this site. It’s an honor and a priviledge and I’ll try to uphold his confidence in me. From time to time I will be sharing personal thoughts and experiences on my road to putting aggie behind me. Maybe, like Hal, but in my own small way, I can help others on the same journey to lasting freedom and a shiny new life.

This first post of mine is entitled “Have Turtle Will Travel.” I call it that because I recently installed a toy bobble-head turtle (actually it’s a “tortoise”) on the rear deck of my car to help remind me that I take my home with me wherever I go, and therefore I can feel safe no matter how far away I am from my physical home. Whenever “distance anxiety”– what I called aggie before I knew its clinical name–rears it’s ominous head, I repeat to myself “I am as safe here as I am in my own living room, because I am my own home.” It’s one of the prized affirmations in my mobile toolbox. In short, the Kingdom of Home is within me.

Onward!

Gene

Tarzan Meets Buddha at the Anxiety Store

Going into a large store is pretty much like entering a wild jungle for a person afflicted with agoraphobia. Someone whose alarm system is set on high avoids as much as possible things that can trip the alarm, but very few people can avoid The Store completely.  I have some inside-the-store survival tips below, and plenty of personal experience to share about a day in the life of an agoraphobe, or “Tarzan Meets Buddha Swinging from Aisle to Aisle in the Jungle Store.”

Here’s what happens on the big day; you are totally out of food – even pickles – and whatever else, and you have no choice. The store becomes now a Beast that is carefully guarding something you need and will extract whatever price it can from you before it yields the goods and lets you pass back outside to quasi safety. I’m guessing you prepare as you would for a safari, gathering such survival gear as meds, talismans, a half pint of Wild Turkey, the phone, a paper bag, water bottle and others.

You begin the journey of a thousand miles by, first, obsessing over every possible detail before you slowly push open the door and take hopefully a deep breath before that first step.  Tension builds as you begin the transport part of the saga. You travel an uncomfortable distance and then leave the safety of your conveyance and travel further in even greater discomfort before you arrive at the climax of your story.

Here you are. And there it is. The Beast, the evil, foreboding entity has what you need and you cannot get it without entering through the glass-toothed mouth (unless you know another entrance) and rushing through its innards to get your necessities. Like Tarzan, you leap and bound and expedite the journey at breakneck speed until you grab what you need, But now what? You learn it is much easier to get into The Beast than it is to get out. It doesn’t want you to get out. Prey is all around. Walls suddenly appear where before had been a patch of daylight. You suddenly fear the worst – being trapped and lost in the mandibles of the Beast that you need more than it needs you. What an ignoble dilemma. The thing that is trying to kill you is scarcely aware of all the drama.

Remember the look on Shelley Duvall‘s face as she was lost in the maze, running desperately from the monster Jack Nicholson brilliantly became in “The Shining?” She convinced me that she thought she was going to die, which is how you feel when you’re trapped deep within a store.  You’re probably a very good actor, though, and no one notices your desperate efforts to escape. I ran from many a store over the years, feeling extreme terror, but I’m sure I never did anything that would make someone take a second look. I don’t want you to ever get that desperate, store-trapped feeling again, so here’s my big advice:

   Become a slow shopper.

I know, I know, it sounds completely counterintuitive. I always did my shopping at top speed, organizing where and when I’d go so I could get the dreaded deed over quickly as possible and get back to my safety place. Now I know that doing the opposite would have made shopping much more comfortable. I have learned  the value of “mindful” thinking and practice in overcoming panic disorder and am convinced that the way to re-train your amygdala and calm your alarm system is to live in the present as much as possible.

To wit: become a mindful shopper. As soon as you enter, start looking at and reading signs that might be revealing sales or locations and take careful notice of everything you pass enroute to your destination. Say hello to clerks and take note of their appearances.  Closely observe all products and compare one brand to another. Touch stuff and turn it around as you look at it. Read the ingredients or contents and think about where it originated and how it might have gotten here in front of you. Compare prices. Talk to other shoppers. Make your trip a thorough, helpful experience, so you can find a certain safety in big stores. Instead of focusing on the vastness of the space, focus on details within the space. Look carefully at displays and think how you might improve them, for example.

I’ve written blogs about the use of mindfulness as a calming device while traveling; pretty much the same advice holds for the difficulty in many endeavors and activities, including shopping and beekeeping. Be here now and you won’t get stung.

Shake the Shakes with Shakes

Good nutrition was about the last thing on my mind during times of high anxiety, obsessed as I was with fear over the threat of yet another panic attack. I didn’t eat at all well during panicky periods and many of those “periods” went on for months. I know now I could have decreased my anxiety and hastened my recovery by figuring out easy ways to get something wholesome in me.

“Eat (While) Nuts & Also Berries” is a chapter in my book that shows folks suffering high anxiety how to get the best nutrition possible under the circumstances. You may not be able to get to the store very often and even if you have food around, you are so tense and your body so tight that even swallowing becomes difficult. I was able to overcome that problem by making healthful smoothies – or shakes – in the blender. What you make will be 10 times better than those little canned nutrition beverages. Here are some tips for doing that for yourself:

– Buy protein powder and use enough each time to make it a “meal replacement.”  Whey and soy proteins are good, but if you are lactose and soy intolerant as I am, choose from among several plant protein products. Pea powder provides the most protein of them all, according to what I’ve read, but there are other appealing plant based protein sources. I buy pea powder and one or another of the green ones and put in a scoop of each. Double up whatever you’re using.

Use fresh fruit as often as you can and blend in whatever is available. I use a banana, 4 or 5 big strawberries and a handful of blueberries. I have a big strawberry patch and a few blueberry bushes, but I live in berry country so it’s easy for me to benefit from the essential micro-nutrients in the sweet little fruits. You can probably obtain some kinds of fresh fruit through the winter and buy bags of frozen strawberries and blueberries.

– Liquids include “milk” from many sources. If you are lactose intolerant, you have several options for something to pour on your daily granola or to put in smoothies. You can buy non-lactose dairy milk, or soy milk is good nutrition if you can tolerate it. I use “almond milk” because it seems to provide good food value. I’ve seen coconut milk, among others in the dairy cases. It’s best not to use fruit juices regularly for your liquid meal because they are high in fructose. Fruit itself is not, but fruit juices contain the worst kind of sugar (of sucrose, lactose and fructose). I see in the news these days high fructose corn syrup being blamed for obesity and diabetes. I believe it and won’t buy products containing it. Nearly all commercial jams contain HFCS to our detriment.

-Other ingredients can include wheat germ and any edible seeds. A decent blender will grind up sunflower seeds and squash seeds. I throw in a tablespoon of flaxseed meal.

Keep foods around that won’t spoil quickly and are easy to get at and nibble on. Cut up veggies and put them in a jar in the fridge; keep a head of lettuce or spinach in there as well, so you can just rip off a bit in passing. You don’t have to make salad to have salad. Other tips for eating during anxious times include hard boiled eggs, deli cheeses and meats and pancakes. Make sandwiches to keep you busy and freeze some.  Trail mix with nuts and raisins and chocolate chips is something I could make and have around for emergencies.

Eating well will help make you well. Here’s a good read on that very subject:

http://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/voices-of-experience/why-you-should-make-every-meal-happy-meal/?pos=4&xid=nl_EverydayHealthEmotionalHealth_2