Last week The Empress asked me whether I thought that the agoraphobia program was helping and I said no, I thought I was just having to fit unpleasant experiences into my life a lot more than before. Now, having driven several hundred miles on the freeway — some of it in the dark and some of it alone — I can say for sure that it has helped.
The last time I drove on the freeway — about seven months ago –was exactly the same trip, so I can compare the two. And thus I can clearly see the first improvement. Back then, I made up reasons for my anxiety, so I worried about getting lost, the car breaking down, being unable to merge, accidentally putting the car into reverse instead of fifth gear — and more. I have actually — more than once — stopped on a freeway shoulder to make sure that all my wheels were firmly attached. This time, knowing in advance that I would experience irrational anxiety, I was able to worry very little about that other stuff. (I should probably mention that I had not driven alone on a freeway in many years. This wouldn’t matter to most people but, like many agoraphobes, I can do things on my aversion list much more easily if I have someone with me.)
The program also has you pay close attention to anxiety. I was thus able to notice that, while there are stretches of this road that cause me severe nausea, there are also long stretches that are perfectly comfortable. On the way over, I pointed this out to #2 daughter. “I’m perfectly comfortable here,” I would say, and ten minutes later, “I am now feeling very sick.” Her inability to see any difference between scary roads and normal roads encouraged my ability to recognize this as an irrational fear, and thus to ignore it. This means that, rather than thinking of this particular trip as five hours of unmitigated suffering, I now can recognize it as a 4.5 hour drive with at most 40 minutes of terror embedded in it. That is a much more manageable prospect.
The agoraphobia book also points out that people put a lot of time, trouble, and expense into getting thrills. White-water rafting, big-game safaris, roller coasters — all of these exist as opportunities for recreational fear. How lucky am I, to be able to get the same sense of true danger merely by driving through Tulsa! I pointed this out to myself during the really scary part, and it did give me something to think about.
And by the way, to the black SUV that did a steady 60 miles an hour right in front of me from Tulsa to Chouteau, thus demonstrating clearly that the road was not disappearing ahead and that the law of gravity was not about to give out, I will be forever grateful.