Blessing was helping me move furniture around yesterday at work when I got a call from an old friend. She was getting up a party to go to a play at the University — would I like to come? I accepted happily and returned to wrassling racks.
A flash of nausea, a coldness in my hands — have I been stung by a strange venomous insect?
No. It was anxiety.
And I had at that point a sinking feeling. Oh, no. (That’s the voice of the sinking feeling.) I have never been anxious about social events. Is that being added to my list of aversions? Haven’t I Overcome Agoraphobia?
In some ways, my experience of agoraphobia is like…. hmmm… becoming a werewolf or something. I do not have a thought, a worry, or a feeling of anxiety followed by some action or reaction. Instead, I have physical symptoms. Like the way your hindbrain stabs you with adrenalin when it first notices that there is something creeping up behind you, without waiting to find out for sure whether it is in fact a tiger or the neighbor’s housecat. If it is the housecat, you are relieved and say, “Oh! It was only you!” and laugh at yourself, but if it is a tiger, you are ready to run away. It is adaptive to have the brain shrieking “Danger! Danger!” just in case, rather than waiting for an analysis of the situation. Unfortunately, in my case, the danger signals come on too often and without sufficient reason. And, apparently, the list of triggers continues to get longer even though I have — dash it all — already Overcome Agoraphobia.
Back before I Overcame Agoraphobia, I would have this experience and look around for the danger. That is after all what you do when you experience anxiety. But since the part of my brain (is it a part? I don’t know these things) that has these reactions is mistaken, there is nothing there. I used to come up with things to be anxious about — somewhat reasonable explanations of why I had that response. And then I would seize on those somewhat reasonable reasons and not do whatever it was that triggered the Will Robinson’s robot experience.
(Boys and girls, there used to be a program on TV called, I think, “Lost in Space.” There was in it a funny robot who would wave his arms around and bellow “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!”)
I don’t do that any more. I remind myself that it is irrational, and continue on with my life, including driving or answering the phone or making appointments. Or, apparently, having an evening out with friends.
But it is still sickening. It is “Oh, no, I’m turning into a werewolf again!” And, in this case, “Curses! It isn’t even a full moon! What is causing my lycanthropy this time?”
The alarming thing about agoraphobia is that it is progressive. You panic on overpasses, so first you avoid overpasses, then freeways, then roads that might lead to a freeway unexpectedly, then driving on any but a few familiar roads. It can sneak up on you. By the time I realized I had this problem, I could foresee being unable to drive at all. And it may be that having stayed home from some of my usual outings with a cold this week undid some of the good work of always making myself go out and do things. Without constant vigilance, I may always be in danger of turning into, if not a werewolf, at least someone who Can’t Do a whole long list of normal things.
Well, the play was very interesting. It was a production of “The House of Bernarda Alba,” by the Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, a play about five unmarried daughters shut up in a house with a grotesquely domineering mother, a mad grandmother, and a couple of serving women. I was not familiar with this play. The director chose to have all the dialogue shouted. Sometimes I tried repeating it to myself with some variations in emotional tone, and it seems to me that it might have potential to make sense. The effect of having the actors yell at one another throughout the play was just to make the whole thing sound crazy.
Afterwards, the four of us who had gone to the play walked over to the student union and had hot drinks and discussed the play, and the university (two work there now, I used to work there, and the fourth is married to a man who works there, not to mention that I have a kid who is going there in the fall), life, religion, politics, and women’s humor.
It was a lot of fun.
Today I must clean and do errands and stuff like that, but I intend also to get on with some knitting and sewing. I’ll finish up the front porch, it being the last day of Front Porch Week. And be lazy enough in between times to vanquish my cold completely.
Enjoy your weekend!