At the core of agoraphobia is fear. What most people see is that agoraphobics have a hard time leaving the house. But it runs much deeper than that, because the real question is: what if I muster up the courage to leave the house – what happens after that?
The accurate, one hundred percent true answer is this: no one knows. Sound encouraging? I didn’t think so. But wait. Dig a little deeper. Because no one knows what will happen, that means that elements of what happens outside the house are under YOUR CONTROL. This is good news because an agoraphobic does not like the feeling of being helpless in an out-of-control situation.
Consider this: I recently worked up the courage to open my door, walk outside and get the mail – pretty good start to my day. I got it, walked back inside (my heart still at a reasonable rate), and opened it. And what did my eyes see? Horror of horrors (no, not my cable bill) there was an invitation to a PARTY. Oh no. I was doomed.
Now when most people hear the word party, they think: people and food and fun. Agoraphobics think: having to go someplace, people I don’t know, having to talk, food that might make me sick, being someplace and not knowing where the bathroom is. You get the idea. The list goes on and on for pages.
So, then, what do you do? Sit in your safe cocoon or go to the party and take the risk of having bad things happen – or maybe something good will happen, but that never enters your mind.
A long time ago, I made myself a promise. I promised that when my gut reaction was to run away from doing something, I had to ask myself why I felt like this. If the answer was that I really didn’t want to do it, that was fine. But if the answer was that I was AFRAID to do it, then I had to do it. I was afraid to go to the party, so that meant I had to go.
A lot of people have tried to help me overcome fear. Unfortunately, this isn’t always helpful. They ask questions like “What’s the worst thing that could happen,” to which I always answer something like “alien zombies could land on Earth and eat our brains for brunch” or “killer bacteria could spread across the globe,” or a simple “Armageddon.” By that time, the “helpers” leave. If I am lucky, they leave before they punch me in the mouth. That’s what happens when you combine crippling fear and a healthy imagination.
So, INSTEAD of asking about what bad things could happen, why not ask what GOOD things could happen? Doesn’t that make more sense? Visualizing yourself going and having a good time is so much more constructive than sitting there and making plans on what to do when your brain is on the menu.
Fast forward a few weeks.
I went to the party, my stomach in knots, of course. There were perhaps 30 people there and only I knew a half dozen of them. To make matters worse, I was seated at a table directly across from a total stranger. I hemmed and hawed at my words as I tried to talk to people, getting introduced to stranger after stranger…such a nightmare.
But wait. I didn’t die. I didn’t get sick. The Earth did not explode. Before I knew it, hours had passed and I actually had a good time. Believe it or not, this is what happens most of the time, and that is where I put my focus: on rational, solid facts and events and NOT the absurdity that my mind conjures up.
An interesting thing happened at that party. I told someone about my blog (a secret up ‘til now) and explained about being agoraphobic. They thought for a second, smiled and said, “That explains a lot of things. Now the pieces fit.” I consider that a success.
On the way home I remarked about how much fun I had, and how foolish I felt for having the irrational thoughts I had…but that is another story…letting go of the guilt that holds us back.
I am not claiming that living with agoraphobia is this simple and easy. It isn’t. All that I want to say is that I know it’s a hard battle, but one you should always fight. Hang in there. You, too can have a happy life!