I come to this place as the perfect storm for creating an agoraphobia recovery program. See if you agree:
1. I had my first panic attack at age 10 and totally overcame agoraphobia at age 49 (more than 20 years ago).
2. I started writing (radio plays) at age 10 and have been editing and writing most of my life – my first career was in journalism.
3. When I recovered from agoraphobia I started volunteering at the local Mental Health Center (teaching pottery), which soon turned into a job offer to become a social worker, providing assistance and problem solving for severely mentally ill adults (I requested people with panic disorder on my caseload). I organized and participated in several agoraphobia peer support groups before and after I recovered.
If my life wasn’t ideal storm conditions for writing a recovery book, it was as close as I’d dare to come – especially that number 1. It was a stormy life, that’s for sure. Here’s what made it so extra stormy. The summer I was 16 I was working on a remote guest ranch in Wyoming when I had a recurrence of panic attacks. In desperation, I got one of the wranglers to bring me some beer from town 50 miles away…… and it worked. At the end of the summer I relied on drinking 3 beers for the 3 hour car trip home. I drank off and on over the years and finally succumbed to my alternative med and became a hopeless, helpless, part of the time homeless agoraphobic alcoholic….. for about 10 years. I was also addicted to Xanax. My family intervened and transported me drunk in a motorhome the 3 hours to a treatment center in my home town. Not even a year later I had healed myself enough emotionally and physically to enable me to totally overcome agoraphobia and move to a place I desired to live in.
20 plus (ha! unintended double entendre’) years later and I pretty much default daily to “happy” or at least spend most of my time in that neighborhood.
Just over a year ago I finished writing the book and packed everything I could into a rental truck and moved to Oregon where I didn’t know anyone. I’m having a whole great new start, kind of like a new life… kind of like but only a mere shadow to the feeling of renewal I had when I was first able to travel again. Nobody is allowed to get that high twice. I think I need to make a drastic change every 20 or so years in order to reinvent myself, and that’s what I’ve done.
I met a wonderful community of potters at the local art center and have been playing and laughing with them pretty much since I first drove into town. I took a break from decorating pottery to check my email one day about 4 months after I arrived here and learned that (drum roll) Red Wheel Weiser was going to publish the book. It was the day before my 70th birthday.
Now that I’m settled in here and have turned my garage into a pottery studio and my gardens into jungles and my bedroom into my writing room I can think about “why am I here?” – Why am I in this place? I realize I’m fulfilling a need I had during all my years with panic as my constant companion. I always experienced my highest anxiety level of the year as the days started getting longer – in early March. But then a great thing would happen. Spring would happen! And suddenly I’d feel calm and remain at a lowered anxiety level during that (short in Montana) time of the year. This became a life pattern, year after year, I always experienced this cycle: heightened activity at the end of winter and then a period of calm during Spring as the world was renewing and reinventing itself. I recall now that I often wished I lived where light was soft and things were growing green and it felt like Spring all the time. Oregon here I come (decades later). But, yeah, that’s why I’m here: I feel at my best when it’s mostly Spring with stuff growing almost all the time – including me.