Wednesday, February 21, 2012, 9:37 AM.
I tell everybody I come across that I am agoraphobic. Consequently, some people ask me what it feels like to have a panic attack. It feels as if YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. Not every panic attack is the same. It varies from person to person and even from attack to attack, but the one constant – YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.
For me, there is one positive side effect from having one. From a zaftig Jewish gal with ancestral roots in the lands of stocky Russian and Polish women – I lose weight. One time I lost ten pounds overnight. Of course, I gain it back the next day, but still, for a 24-hour period I am ten pounds lighter and dammit, it’s a perk.
Recently, I started seeing a therapist, and she says I need to stop telling myself I’m agoraphobic because we tend to take our self-talk to heart. But, I don’t mind being agoraphobic. Agoraphobia has brought some good things into my life. It’s helping to lead me to accept myself in a way I never could before I was agoraphobic.
That’s not how I felt at first. I hated being agoraphobic. I was embarrassed, ashamed, confused, and in constant panic mode. Like all the time. Which is not fun. Now that’s subsided to being in panic mode situationally, which is much easier to handle.
You might think, as I did before I “got” it, that agoraphobia is simply the fear of leaving your house. Like arachnophobia is the fear of spiders. Like it’s a singular thing. But it is way more complicated than that. And, it takes a lot of energy.
Here’s a real-life example of the process for me:
CONVERSATION BETWEEN TWO PEOPLE AND NEITHER OF THEM HAVE AGORAPHOBIA:
PERSON ONE WITHOUT AGORAPHOBIA: “Hey, want to have lunch Saturday at Yard House? Maybe catch that new Tom Hanks movie afterward?”
PERSON TWO WITHOUT AGORAPHOBIA: “Sounds great!”
SAME CONVERSATION BETWEEN ME (AGORAPHOBIC) AND MY HUSBAND:
HUBS: “Hey, want to have lunch Saturday at Yard House? Maybe catch that new Tom Hanks movie afterward?”
MY BRAIN: Lunch? Oh my god, he wants to go to lunch. I can go to lunch, right? I am okay with lunch. I have been out to lunch before. I was good when I went out to lunch. Wait. What if I have a panic attack at lunch? I might faint. What if my panic attack makes me faint and they have to take me to the hospital? The chef at the restaurant might be new. What if the chef doesn’t know you can’t randomly leave food out because bacteria grows on it, and then they leave the potatoes or rice out overnight and serve it to me, and I get food poisoning? God, I never should have taken that food safety class. That instructor and his stories. What if someone comes in the theater and goes crazy and shoots us? Would a killer see a Tom Hanks movie? What are the odds? No, killers don’t like Tom Hanks movies. Wouldn’t they rather see “Don’t Breathe”? I bet they would. There are tons of germs living on the armrests of the chairs in there. And the seats themselves? What if I get lice? What if a kid with lice sat in my exact seat for the movie right before mine and I end up with lice? Forget that, how am I going to get there? Will Gary want to take the freeway? What if there is traffic. What if there is a traffic jam and I panic? What if I get sick in the car, and I need to get off the freeway immediately and I can’t? I’m being ridiculous. I’ll be fine. I’m fine. I can go. I can do it. I’ve done it before. I might get nervous but nervous is okay. It means I am excited. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. Nervous is a good thing.
ME: “We don’t have to take the freeway, do we?”
HUBS: “We’ll take surface streets.”
ME: “Sounds great!”