This spring, I have driven to and from Kansas City seven times. Every time, I follow the advice of my agoraphobia book and pay close attention to all the scary parts, and notice how the majority of the experience is not scary, and notice my physical reactions to the scary bits and how they are not actually intolerable. I always think to myself that I will write about it when I get home so that the next time, I will be able to go back to the description and see that it simply is not that bad. That way, I think, I will not suffer all that anticipatory anxiety and it will be part of improving my coping with agoraphobia, and not part of thinking, “I will never go on a freeway again.”
When I get home, though, what I actually do is think “That’s over. I lived through it. I don’t have to think about it any more.”
So now, having recuperated, I am going to put down the fact that on this last trip — when, admittedly, I was a passenger and not the driver, so it wasn’t as bad as it might have been — there were lots of pleasant bits. There were miles and miles when I could say to myself, “This is not a scary road. There are no scary roads coming up in the near future.”
And you know, if you could bottle the scent of rural Southern Missouri in late spring, you would have a major hit on your hands.
The problem is that almost as soon as I would think, “not scary,” the unreasonable phobic part of my brain would say, “Ah, but this time it isn’t just that overpass in Joplin and the little bit of freeway in Independence. And the bridge. This time you’re going to the airport. You don’t know what kind of terrifying roads there may be” and spoil all possible enjoyment of the scenery. Not that there is a whole lot of scenery, but what there is — and it is worth smelling if not looking at — is ruined by nausea and panic. Even though I follow the other piece of advice from the book and remind myself that many people pay good money to be scared to the point of nausea, on roller coasters and in movie theaters. I try to experience it as thrilling. It hasn’t worked yet, but maybe next time.
One of the first things you do in the Overcoming Agoraphobia program is check to see what the chances are that a healthy person will actually die from fear. They are very small, as it happens. This was good news for me, because before I looked into this, I truly did feel that it was a real possibility that I would die from terror while driving on some scary road.
Not to mention having to stay in Joplin for the rest of my life because I simply would be unable to drive across the overpass.
The thing about my fears on this subject is that they are off the Scorn Scale.
You know about the Scorn Scale, though you may not be familiar with the term.
One very obvious example of the Scorn Scale is intelligence. You may admire really smart people, and you may feel scornful of really dim people, but people with an actual mental disability are off the Scorn Scale, and you cannot look down on them.
You might, if you are less successful in material terms than your friends, feel sorry for yourself or wory that they are looking down on you. However, if you are destitute and homeless, then you are off the Scorn Scale.
If Mr. Bush is incapable of speaking coherently because he has a neurological problem, then the sort of fun that we have with Bushisms (and if you think they are funny, check out the book I am currently reading, Bush-whacked), would be most unseemly and we would have to quit it immediately.
Just so, a coward — someone who won’t stand up to a bully, and gets silly over spiders, and that sort of thing — invites scorn. But someone like me, normally a reasonably brave person, who has an uncontrollable phobic reaction to a certain thing, well, you simply cannot look down on me for it. This does not prevent my kids from doing so. My sons’ hilarity while I am spending my 57 seconds of torment on exit 11A is something to behold. I am saying to myself “Don’t stop driving, Don’t stop driving” and my boys are laughing and taunting me.
I guess, if I have to have a mental disorder, then it is fortunate that I should have a really humorous one.
This is definitely the home stretch. Soon there will be a finished sweater winging its way to the West Coast.