Anxious Encounters of the Agoraphobic Kind
I’m writing this while on the tail end of recovering from a dislocated rib — a freaky injury that left me house bound for the better part of two weeks. Those two weeks of time spent could be seen as both a blessing (loads of R&R) and a huge figurative pain (too much resting, not enough enjoying life.) But for me, it left me vulnerable of something else…
You might need a bit of a back story to understand how being stuck indoors can create a sense of vulnerability as it did for me, but you see, for as long as I can remember I’ve struggled with panic disorder and the not-so-delicious cherry on top of my sundae of anxiety: agoraphobia (what many define as a fear of open spaces but specifically is the act/desire of avoiding places and situations in fear that a panic attack will occur.) In the past, my house has been my refuge from the challenge of going out and interacting with the world but recently I’ve worked hard to overcome and fight against my instincts of flight. I have been able to step out the door without much second thought and only a few heart thumps instead of someone convincing me to go out while accompanied by heavy beats of panic. But my two weeks of down time reminded me how, in such a short amount of time, my progress could be challenged with “what-ifs”… (“What if I don’t want to go out of the apartment anymore?” “What if I can’t get up the courage to visit my friends down the block?” “What if I stop being able to talk in public again?”) that swirled into a cyclone of anxious doubt that, while somewhat similar to the anxious idiosyncrasies of Raj Koothrappali on The Big Bang Theory, doesn’t pack a comic wallop when it’s real and happening to you…
On a fair-to-good day, I’m already constantly reminded of my anxiety when I do the slightest things: go to get the mail or do laundry in my apartment building, think about studying for my learner’s permit (eight years overdue), pass through a checkout line at the grocery store… It’s hard enough to swallow the bitter little pill of realization that such typically categorized “mundane” things are not easy or breezy for me…things that in fact would be quite facile to avoid by having someone else get my mail or send out my laundry, forget driving, store-to-door grocery shop instead…but none of the latter, however possible, is rewarding for me because, deep in my heart and even on the tippy-top surface, it’s not how I want to live.
Why am I writing this? Well, it’s not to tell a “poor me” or “pity, party of one” tale but to share my experience and feelings with a beacon of hope that it might strike a chord with someone else out there who is experiencing something similar.
Anxiety is a devil of a condition, its real evil power being the embarrassment, often times shame, that comes with the struggle — I’ve come to think that it’s all because anxiety is a lot like Santa Clause…it’s real if you’ve experienced it (seen or believe it) but to those who haven’t, it can be hard to understand such an invisible thing as anxiety. There are a lot of people who have judged me for it and who believe the cure to be a one liner fix-it-all: “Suck it up.” Luckily for me I’ve had my mother as my closest confidant, which means the world to me…probably more than I can ever describe. As I struggled through a childhood filled with panic attacks, doctors visits and meds on top of, eh…slightly, more typical adolescent trials like mean girl back stabs and, figurative and literal, beat ups from classmates and frenemies alike, I learned the immense value of having someone on your side.
Though it’s taken me more years than I’d like to learn how to open up about my anxiety and trust others with the truth, I find a certain liberation comes with being vocal about it (as I am now, shouting it from the rooftops of the web.) The small steps I’ve taken to be more slack jawed about the subject have come to help, not just in healing but also in learning to accept a different way of viewing it. Instead of focusing on the downside of anxiety, I’ve changed the way I see it (or to get all Oprah-life-change-y: embrace it) not as an all-consuming flaw but as at least one positive, extracted from the muddle…a unique power, if you will, that is in actuality a positive contribution to myself. The one positive that I can most proudly salvage from my anxiety is the direct awareness and ability to observe the things around me, allowing a fresh perspective to write treatments, screenplays and storybooks inspired by my many observations of the world.
This article came to me in a transcendent-esque moment that only extreme interruptions in everyday life can bring and I’m glad that my temporary (and I mean temporary) homebound situation was able to become the catalyst to my forming these words… I really, seriously wish that this can inspire and support all y’all out there, with and without anxiety, to start more open, honest conversations, with zero judgment, about anxiety and make sure that no one deals or suffers with it alone.
You can read more from Morgan Lindsay Nelson on her blog.
(Feature image Studio Ghibli.)