Here is a warning, right from the start. There is no knitting content here. You might want to just skip it and come back tomorrow.
I have learned more about agoraphobia, about which I first wrote a week ago today.
“Agoraphobia” is defined in the dictionary as “fear of open places,” and that is true, but that is not how agoraphobia is diagnosed. A person who is only nervous about fields or phobic about a particular type of road has a specific phobia. Agoraphobia to the medical community is a complex, characterised primarily by avoidance.
Agoraphobics avoid a lot of things, mostly things associated with travel or specific spaces, food and drink, and social and business interactions. When I looked at the lists of stuff agoraphobes avoid, I was taken aback. These are not obviously related things. Making appointments, shopping for clothes, going places alone, driving on freeways, answering the phone — these are not things that seem to fall into a single category. But if you have a strong aversion to or fear of half a dozen of the things on these lists, you should consider that you might be agoraphobic. Apparently, agoraphobes do not typically develop aversions to particular animals, or numbers, or any of the other hundreds of possible things a person might hate or fear. Dr. Drew learned in his class that it is about leaving your comfort zone, and I have read that elsewhere, but I don’t really understand it. I have no problem singing solos in public — why should that be within my comfort zone, while calling my hairdresser for an appointment or answering my own telephone is not? Other descriptions claim that the connection among all the things that agoraphobes usually have trouble with is that they are all situations that are hard to escape from. An open place offers no shelter, an appointment means that you are trapped in a place, a freeway is hard to get off of once you are on it. I don’t know. It may be that all the things on the list really have in common is their connection with agoraphobia.
Agoraphobes avoid these things to an unreasonable degree, or if they cannot avoid them, they suffer over them to an unreasonable degree. They also usually have excuses for their aversions. So, for example, I have a list of aversions associated with driving. Of course, I don’t drive on scary roads. But I also dislike driving on freeways, because I am out of practice. And I hate driving in winter weather, because I grew up in California. And I don’t like to drive long distances, because I drive an old car. I don’t like to drive to unfamiliar places, because I get lost easily. I don’t like to drive at night, because I cannot see well in the dark any more. There may be others that I can’t think of right now. And, if I do nothing about this, there will undoubtedly be more developing over time. The result of this long — and growing — list of completely separate reasons to avoid different kinds of driving is that there are very few situations in which I can drive with comfort. Eventually, I suppose, I will not be able to drive at all.
Driving is an area in which I actually do feel fear. But most of the things on those lists that I recognize as issues for me are aversions, not fears. I am not afraid of making appointments. I do not fear my hairdresser, or even my doctor. But it is very hard for me to make appointments. I haven’t had my hair cut for six months. I don’t know why. I had never associated it with my agoraphobia. But it is actually a typical thing for agoraphobes. And, once it is pointed out, I have to acknowledge that it is a bit odd.
I assumed that my dislike of shopping (except in book stores and yarn shops) was because I work in a store. Naturally, I would not want to shop on my days off. But I work in a bookstore. You might think that, if I avoided shopping because I get tired of stores, it would be bookstores that I avoided. But in fact, I find it very easy and enjoyable to shop for books. I almost never shop for clothes. Even when I actually need clothes, I put it off for months and then do it online. In fact, although in the past year I have gone down several dress sizes, I have bought exactly three new pieces of clothing. I normally buy three books every week, yet I have only bought three pieces of clothing in a year, in spite of an obvious actual need for clothes. The average American woman buys an article of clothing every week — probably a lot more than she needs, but I have obviously gone too far the other direction. I can tell you my supposed reasons for this, but an examination of my reasons shows pretty clearly that they are not real.
And of course I have to shop for groceries, almost every week. But I dislike grocery stores very much. In a grocery store, or on other kinds of shopping trips that I cannot avoid (like back to school with the kids), I begin after a while to feel overwhelmed. I have sometimes thought that it is the fluorescent lights that cause this, or a confusing layout in a particular store, but I now am forced to realize that it is actually agoraphobia. No wonder I love the Schwann’s man.
Agoraphobia is often connected with panic attacks. I have only experienced panic attacks in driving on those scary roads I told you about, and driving in winter weather. Agorophobes who experience panic attacks unexpectedly and without warning may find that this becomes the center of their lives — when and where will the next attack come, and how can they avoid it? It seems very likely, when I am driving in snow, that I will die from sheer terror. I laugh about this — not at the time, of course — but I have to admit that worrying over it consumes a lot of my attention in the winter. As soon as snow is predicted, I begin worrying about having to drive in it. This is the only one of my aversions that I am really not able to avoid. It would be a very good thing if I could get over that fear.
Over the past week, as I have read more about agoraphobia and discovered that all these odd things (yes, I was aware that I was a little odd about the telephone) are characteristic of agoraphobia, I have come to the conclusion that I ought to do something about this. Very few agoraphobes seek treatment, which should not be surprising since that would require making an appointment, probably over the phone, and then driving somewhere. And we usually only perceive our disorder as a problem when we are unsuccessful at avoiding something we have an aversion to — like me with winter driving. And, frankly, I have always felt that the problem was in having to drive in winter weather, not in being unreasonably scared of it. Now that I am aware that this is an actual disorder, will I do something about it? Will I be able to?
I’ll let you know.
(I do not feel bad about showing you all these terrifying pictures, because I know that only 1% of the population will be scared by them, so probably no one out there is suffering.)