January 28, 2012
Agoraphobia is the fear of crowds, being in public spaces, being around strangers, people in general, being in unfamiliar places or away from home. It commonly arises alongside Panic Disorder, a debilitating mental condition where the smallest thing can make you freak out and feel as if you’re about to die.
Anxiety / panic attacks are horrific. Anyone who has ever become suddenly aware of the weirdness of a situation and started to sweat because of realising that weirdness, knows what it means to experience anxiety and panic. Long-term sufferers live with that feeling every day, sometimes in that mild form, other times in such an extreme way, medication is required to sedate them.
I am one of the X million people in the UK who live with Panic Disorder and have developed agoraphobia as a result. I’m going to make a list now, one of my favourite things to do. This list outlines my experiences as an agoraphobiac.
The thought of three or more people in one place at one time, near me, makes my stomach shrivel. I rarely venture out at the moment, due to a serious relapse, but if I do, I have to plan my outings and set myself time limits for how long I can stay out for. I do not go beyond my village, a mere half-mile up the road. If people start pouring in, I have to leave. Symptoms include:
- Dry mouth
- Dizziness, light-headedness, feeling faint
- Shortness of breath, sometimes a lack of breathing altogether
- Difficulty swallowing
- Chest pains
- Sudden bowel movements (hilarious fun…)
There are probably more but I can’t recall them and herein resides another element of my mental health that must be explained before I move on to the next experience.
I dissociate. What that means is that under stressful and / or frightening situations, I disconnect from the experience. It’s not an uncommon thing. Dissociation is a psychological device which enables us to survive traumatic experiences. If you’ve ever been in a nasty accident, experienced a bereavement or even seen a film that’s scared the buckets out of you, you might have a hard time remembering the event and feeling any emotions that would naturally be connected to it. This is our brain’s way of protecting us.
My own life experiences have been traumatic in a consistent enough way to make dissociation a regular defence mechanism so that now it happens naturally. I can’t control it and I don’t know or understand all of my triggers yet. What I do know is that when I have a panic attack, I disconnect. I can’t remember everything that goes on.
They don’t have to be packed full of people to terrify me. For reasons I don’t understand, I experience spatial and visual glitches. I call it ‘Alice in Wonderland Syndrome’ because either I’ve become really small or everything around me has become monolithic. Even the sense of my own physical body becomes warped. The same list of symptoms applies and more often than not, I leg it and try to find somewhere safe to hide. Mostly I don’t go out at all.
Meeting strangers is a nightmare. I remember my first day back on the second year of my MA. Not only was I in a small, public space surrounded by a crowd of people, I didn’t know a single one of them. But I was determined to finish my studies and I set myself a target: make a friend.
Having the willies about strangers doesn’t lend itself to making friends, I can tell you that. What if I make a complete tit of myself? I’m a weirdo anyway; I have a habit of staring, I say inappropriate jokes and statements when nervous, and when I get really wound-up, I start ticking.
Ticks are physical twitches, involuntary movements. Mine are mostly facial but at my worst, I roll my shoulders out-of-place and continuously wipe my thumb and index finger over my brow and nose, one after the other. I fidget, jig my legs, twist my fingers and experience sudden spasms that make me turn my head quickly. I try to calm down but it’s not easy. I make odd noises too. All this in front of people I don’t know, who don’t know me, can become too much to handle.
I hate buses. Trains I can just about cope with. Cars are bearable only in cases where I trust the driver. Recently, all have been off the menu. Simply put, I don’t want to be in a confined space with other people and I certainly dot want to be transported to places where there are other people. I refuse to learn to drive too because I’m terrified I’ll end up getting lost or cause an accident because I dissociate and freak out.
I think I can be left to my own devices at home for around fifty minutes before I start to panic. What if my Dad has had an accident? What if he’s unwell? What if I hurt myself? What if I become sick? There’s no one here to help me.
There are days where I experience nothing. What I mean is, I’m so out of my mind and confused, I can’t work out what the kettle is for. I know I want to make a cup of tea but then I realise that I don’t know what tea is, let alone how to make it.
I can’t account for what happened in any precise way, but I remember wanting to cook some scrambled eggs. I’d not been eating properly and for once, I was hungry. With making a cup of tea being hard enough, I think I must have become disenchanted with the eggs and distracted by something else. I remember the TV, which was turned off at the time, being fascinating.
I returned to the kitchen some time later (I’ve no idea how much time had passed) and noticed that it didn’t smell right. It smelt thick and sort of sweet. There was a hushing sound. I’d turned the large gas ring on, intending to cook those eggs, and walked away without realising what I’d done. I could have blown my home to pieces, myself along with it.
All of the above does not make it easy to relax. I have terrible trouble getting to sleep at night and maintaining that sleep, which is why I’m awake at almost 1:30 am writing this.
Newspapers are off the agenda, along with news broadcasts. I have to carefully select any TV material (all apocalyptic material is to be avoided, no exceptions), and when viewing a film or episode of something, I have to make sure that I’m physically aware of my safety. Obviously I don’t go to the cinema or the theatre. A rarely watch TV. The films and shows I do watch can’t contain anything too heavy.
I got into Sherlock recently. The second episode scared me so much, I sat in bed crying for an hour. It wasn’t the hound; it was the setting. The open spaces of the moors juxtaposed with the claustrophobic trap of the research facility. And the tourists. God, the tourists…
Reading fiction also requires vigilance. Certain topics can make me throw the book across the room in terror, and I love books. I’m a bibliophile and proud. But I get so involved with the characters, I forget me and begin to experience them, their world and all the people and spaces, their fears and feelings. It spirals and I have to take a break, ground myself.
It helps to have someone who ‘gets me’ close to hand, when engaging in any TV or reading, for reassurance. To stop me from going off the deep end.
A Deeper Understanding
It’s not just physical effects that panic and agoraphobia inflict. The mental side of living with these things is hellish.
- Wave goodbye to your self-esteem and confidence
- Say hello to increased periods of depression
- Reality becomes implausible
- Embarrassment makes it hard to seek comfort and advice
- Isolation breeds paranoia
- Mistrust strains relationships
- Fear paralyses efforts to break free
- Confusion erases time and memories
You’re probably feeling as miserable about this as I do now, after reading that. I’ve found however, that even if all of the above is going on and blocking my path to a happy, fulfilled life, I can always find a way around it. And if you’re in the same boat as me, so can you.
My next post, Creativity for the Agoraphobiac, Part Two, will be focused on the creative activities I enjoy but because of my mental health, are restricted. It sounds daunting I know, but I’m going to be finding ways to rediscover the pleasure of these activities without aggravating my fears and making myself sick.
Until then, I’m off to get some much-needed sleep.
June 23, 2010
From my perspective, UK politics has gone to pot not because of our shiny new overlords but because the political animal that once was has devolved into a squirming pile of snipes and sneers.
You can’t watch a broadcast from Parliament or read a news report about the current government or the opposition without being subjected to childish finger-pointing and mountains of blame that currently sit higher than the UK’s near-one-Trillon-pound deficit.
It’s not just the politicians either; people take the time to moan religiously about how unfair all of this is and how it wasn’t what they voted for. Really? I would never have guessed.
Let’s level the playing field a little here at the expense of the scare-mongers, those of society who find it hard to think at all, let alone think straight in times like these, all of the citizens tutting and turning off the TV, all of those considering strike action and maybe a bunch of disadvantaged five-year-olds. Because everyone is capable of destroying someone’s life.
We all knew that this was going to happen. Let’s stop pretending that our idealistic vision of a brighter future is lying in tatters at the roadside, smeared in Tory excrement, signed ‘LibDems were ‘ere’.
This is what we voted for; it’s what we vote for every general election: a group of people with ideas radically different (at least on the surface) to those who were in power the last time we made the effort to pay attention and vote, but nevertheless, a group of people who always disappoint when they finally move into number 10.
The real problem with voting is not the apathy of the voters but the fact that once you’ve got one bunch of idle-thinkers in office, you can’t actively change your mind for the next five years.
PR would be great; we’d have more diversity and less ‘same old hat’. Congratulations by the way, to Caroline Lucas on fighting her way in amidst the swathe of aging politics, without the aid of PR. She and the Greens are proof that it can be done and that change can really happen. However what would be even more interesting is a system where we can evict unsuitable politicians.
I can hear a bunch of you screaming at me now: ‘NO! That’ll cause massive political instability!’ Great! Better than the stagnant pile of red-yellow-blue we have swimming around in The Commons at the moment; ‘Nothing will ever get done, society will go to hell.’ Isn’t that happening already? Aren’t we all sitting on our hands?
I’m fully aware that a reform such as that would need a lot of planning and a series of complex regulations to prevent us from chucking out politicians willy-nilly; politicians need a home after all and we are a bunch of fickle-minded people.
Think of it though: crooked MPs could be sacked immediately and a suitable alternative elected immediately – no waiting around for the next elections; in the case of a government delaying or refusing the next generals, we could vote in favour of instant parliamentary dissolve – no more waiting around for one miserable looking git to get his act together to call an election, no more death cries of a terminal cause.
I digress. Politics is in need of revival. Fortunately, there are a lot of new ideas out there – good and not so good – that are beginning to engage the younger generations. Unfortunately, the rise of new ideologies is underpinned with nasal whines, jabs in the ribs, sideward grins and a complete lack of frankness, sincerity, honesty and inspiration.
Young political animals aren’t being breastfed by their true mother: actual, positive change with a fist in the air; instead they’re being weened onto the slop of discontent and irresponsibility, too weak from a lack of genuine political nutrition to do anything more than moan and wag their unhappy fingers at the obvious: nobody is happy.
This observation isn’t representative of all however; I find it amusing how the media often fails to show those who are breaking the barriers or even worse, manipulates them into the ‘I’m just another ranting politician / party supporter’ pigeon-hole.
For me, politics is all talk and no trousers. Nod if you agree with me, there’s no shame in saying you’re disappointed with our current political atmosphere. There is shame however, in sitting there and not doing anything about it.
The first step we can take is to stop moaning and bitching. This is it, this is what we voted for and we’re stuck with it for the next five years on the basis we can make it past the end of the world in 2012 of course.
Stop throwing insults at things you don’t like. I don’t like a lot of decisions made by the new coalition. I don’t agree that education is going to suffer under the 25% squeeze, I don’t agree with education’s current archaic systems and this need to test and evaluate little kids all the time. I don’t agree that we’re sitting with a Cold War relic in our laps; I don’t agree that we’re clearly at war for reasons nobody understands and I don’t like that I’m told we’re in peacetime when we’re not.
I don’t like that little is being done to create a greener economy; considering that this is the only home we have, I think we’re doing it a great disservice in side-lining our responsibility to clean up our act and protect what we have whilst creating viable opportunities for green energy, jobs, transport, architecture, sustainable food and resources, and a home for future generations.
I don’t like that the budget is unfair, that tax reform hasn’t been properly considered, that the greedy are being fed their rewards by a giant cement mixer and are on the path to becoming greedier as our natural resources begin to peak and the water slowly runs out. I don’t like that those who don’t earn all that much are footing more of the bill economically and morally whilst big business cracks the whip and leaves everyone choking on its fumes.
I don’t like that I’ll be considered a drain on the country when my time comes to be reassessed for the welfare reforms. I don’t like that the NHS has failed me in helping me get the treatment and support I want, meaning that the structures I need in place to help me become a genuine member of society aren’t in place.
I don’t like feeling so alone.
We may not be privy to all of the facts, we may not completely understand what’s happening and why, but we can stand on our own two feet, look the coalition the eye and say: fine then, we’ll play it your way.
I’m not giving in to a political system that’s unfair, misguided and past its sell-by; I’m not giving in to the temptation to collapse under the ideological burden of this mess and cry. I’ll protest in my own little way by picking myself up and turning a bad situation to my advantage through political engagement, self-education and spirit.
I am not weak. I will not be walked on.
What I’d like to see more of are people and politicians actively campaigning now for a fairer system. Start now. You have five years to build a positive alternative to everything that’s shockingly unjust about our current political system. You have a lot to go on. Stop saying ‘same old Tories’ and stop being the same old voice of opposition.
Put your local MP in a difficult place. Challenge them. Stand up to your local council and demand transparent operations and change where it is needed. Play the game, but don’t roll over onto the pre-destined bed of tactics created by those that you seek to unsettle.
Become the thing that resistance to change dreads the most: a curious, questioning, fearless, informed, adventurous, radical, hard-working, energetic, independent, outspoken, living, breathing, beautiful, renewed political animal.
August 23, 2009
I would never have guessed that deciding to stay with my mobile contract or leave it for an attractive Pay As You Go option would cause so much trouble. As if making that decision wasn’t worrying enough, the consequences of it are enough to throw my whole social position into question.
I don’t use all of my monthly allowance on O2 and I spend £30 a month for that privilege. I don’t take full advantage of the contract deal because people never contact me and I rarely contact people.
PAYG would be cheaper because I have no friends.
But I’m thinking, what if I suddenly get friends? My monthly expenditure may shoot through the roof and because my credit rating is poor and I don’t own any utilities and pay their bills (why I want to own utilities baffles me), it’d be near impossible to get a contract again; I’m financially unreliable and the only way to prove I exist is unfortunately through an easily forged document.
But forget that for a second – what if I end up getting friends? I’ll be asked to parties. And because having so many new friends means I’ll be texting and talking more often, I’ll not have the credit to contact them and tell them I’m not coming, which means I’ll be obliged to turn up.
Maybe I’ll just throw my phone in the river.
February 3, 2009
I must be really uptight because the slightest thing makes me chew on my bottom lip. At this rate, I’m due to look like Two-Face from ‘The Dark Knight’ within the week.
This niggle has been brewing for some time and I’ve so far been able to resist articulating what is about to be burnt into the memory of the poor soul who reads this. Yes. That’s you.
Facebook. Not the first blog-oriented vent concerning this wonderful medium of perpetual irresponsibility. But I’m not here to argue about the morality of a website that innocently sucks your day away through your eyeballs. Immanuel Kant does the same thing.
No, I’m writing about this thing, this beast with all its little pleasures hanging like bells from the belt of my fantasy nude because it continues to insist that I be sociable.
What do you use FB for? Chatting? Uploading photos? Feeling compelled to continue the diseased chain of chain notes? Spending good yet boring working hours playing the infectious and entirely worthwhile MouseHunt?
Telling the world who you are, how you feel, what you’re doing, where you are, how much you hate the guy who sat in front of you on the bus today, how annoying it was to have the best orgasm you’ve experienced in months being interrupted by a telemarketing company trying to con you into changing your gas supply when you live on a boat and have no gas line? Sure, I do those things.
But. I do them on my own.
My previous annoyance with FB was when I declined the offer of my privacy being invaded by someone I hardly know and had to put up with being asked several more times before the said someone managed to put their brain cells together and figured out I didn’t want to know. This time, my gripe is with FB telling me that there are people I may know… Really? How queer…
People you may know. Let’s pick this apart:
1. People; very good, we’ve established that the things we may know are something physical and bear a resemblance to us. Although results are going to vary. Drastically. For me, this is where it starts to fall apart slightly.
I don’t really like people; I like the odd individual I meet and get on with and have a laugh with, can work with and trust etc. but I do not like people. Why? Because I don’t trust The Collective. You think The Borg had problems with Captain Janeway? Try poking a Drone in the eye and see what happens; each digit is different and has multiple variations and combinations, and are subject to the random actions of a panicked individual. I’d like to see them adapt to that.
So FB is losing already by mentioning people. People? Well there goes my cognitive skills, my libido and generally, my will to live.
2. You; who me? Why are you addressing me? Do I know you? How did you get this number? STOP STALKING ME!!!! Don’t make me make the effort to go upstairs, grind some peppercorns and throw them at you.
3. May; I always think that when FB says this bit, it cringes as if to say ‘sorry, but in all likelihood you don’t know this person and by thinking that you do, you’re gonna message them, speak to them for like five minutes, make a complete tit of yourself and then never speak again’.
Don’t get me wrong, I like a bit of uncertainty in my life, it keeps me on my toes, but ‘may’ isn’t uncertainty in this case. It’s stupidity. If you know them and like them, they’d be on your contacts already.
4. Know; I don’t know anyone. I only see and try to understand, and feel connections with someone I like. I wouldn’t want to ‘know’ someone anyway – where’s the fun? Where’s the potential in knowing that in three months time, this individual is going to hate me because I’m so analytical and find it hard to think/talk/breathe anything but the things that irritate me and their philosophical implications?
If I knew that the girl I decided to develop a friendship with last week would end up being the one I spend the rest of my life with, why the hell bother meeting, talking to and eventually hating anyone at all?
So. People I may know. I find it patronising. And the premise on which FB bases its assumption that I may know these people? We went to the same university. Bravo… braaaaaavo.
There’s something else too. What makes FB think I want to know these people? Is it not obvious that I’m antisocial, selective and cynical over everything? And this is where it starts to get annoying.
The whole assumption that I may want to know these people nestles itself smugly on the right side of my screen three times a day, displaying all of the wonderful people I may know who I don’t know, have never seen, have never heard of, never even knew existed, only to have to spend several minutes trying to get rid of the box containing the reminder of my bitterness by removing each and every one of those names I don’t recognise; you can’t turn it off. The repeated attempts at trying to get me to submit reminds me of a lazy-eyed klutz with a wonky grin and a runny nose, trying to give me a leaflet about something I don’t really care about.
Kudos for the perseverance of leaflet droppers; I used to be one myself. Kudos to FB for trying to spoon feed me more humiliating attempts at friendship. But please. Take the hint:
November 30, 2008
The weather. Not me. I’m not gloomy, although I am vastly irritated by my cat forcing me from the comfort of my very cozy bed to let him out at 8.30 in the morning. 8.30 you say? Why, that’s not early at all! It is when you spent most of the night sleeping with your eyes open, conscious of everything around you.
I’ve promised myself that I’m going to take a day away from the laptop today. I’ve spent the last three days on it, editing stories, building Egypt and generally waiting for signs of life that I can attach myself to and suck dry. Being anti-social on an extreme level means that I need some form of replenishment. And I think maybe some of you will be glad to hear that although I remain ‘mad’, I’m now comfortably, if not cautiously, hooked up with bits of the world around me. Face it (just like I have), this is as good as it gets.
So considering that I’m not going to be plastered to this tiny machine for the day, I thought I’d deliver a short, angry (and very paranoid) burst about my favourite of subjects: Christmas. For this, I shall be focusing my attention on one specific aspect: the Christmas tree…
First off. I hate it being called Xmas. Partly, I think it’s lazy to substitute six letters for one, although I can see the strange logic in the removal of its religious connotations, but then society (and Coca Cola) did that for us a long time ago.
The roots of my disgust nestle themselves in the fact that the Alphabet and I don’t really get along. As a lover of language (an admirer, a secret affair all tied up in the cotton sheets of creative scrutiny) this causes a bit of a problem. The fact is, the Alphabet lies. The letter ‘H’ shouldn’t even be in there. Serious thought has drawn me to this, in that the letter ‘H’ is mostly silent…
Then there’s the matter of O,P,Q, R, S and T. These letters are in the wrong order. ‘Q’ should be before ‘O’. Why? Aesthetics. ‘R’ should not be subordinate to ‘T’ with ‘S’ holding each apart. In fact, ‘S’ should be before ‘Q’ for the reasons of auditory fluency. Thus I propose the order of these letters should be:
‘X’ is ultimately another letter that causes me problems. Have you noticed how the letters right at the end appear out-of-place? Simple, the letter ‘X’ doesn’t look right at all. I feel like I should be bending the points together to make it vanish. Which is what it does really… it causes sound to vanish into the guise of another letter: Z.
I don’t think I should say anymore about my relationship with the alphabet or we’ll all be here for a remarkable amount of time.
With ‘Xmas’ (shudder) just around the corner, it’s time for me to engage myself in the activity of putting up the Xmas tree (my stomach actually spasms every time I write that now…) which should be a barrel of laughs because this will be the first time I’ve ever done it. I don’t want to mention who always used to spend hours erecting it as it could end up leaving the comments option open to gentle hands on my shoulder.
Anyway. I’m excited.
Note: Maybe, possibly construct a post explaining the workings of this mind to help brush away any questions that may arise from the oddity of what has already occurred and is about to occur in this post.
I’m not excited like a kid would be, but I’m bubbling over with a perverse sense of fetish. Building and decorating something like this is a mental exercise. As is number crunching and balancing the household’s budget (which I do every fortnight) despite the fact that mathematically, I could be the end of the known universe.
Gawking at library catalogues, familiarizing myself with the decimal systems, searching bibliographies, establishing texts and creating foot/end notes. Spending nine hours building a virtual Egyptian city and refusing to give up for the day until I’ve built the Grand Pyramid requiring 169,000 blocks of limestone and 350,000 blocks of sandstone (numbers are estimates). Ordering my books on my book shelves in relevance of theme, topic, size, subject area, current interest and relevance to my studies. These are all fine examples of menial, long-winded tasks that I do to keep my selves busy.
Having idle minds not only produces boredom tenfold due to the plurality, but also welcomes moments of Mischief that happen to pop out of nowhere when my back is turned. As mental exercises, their repetitive nature strengthens the being of so many minds, gives them purpose, keeps them alert and generally distracts them from constant misery born of our predicament.
Building the tree is going to be extremely cathartic but not without its hiccups. I hate tack and I’ll be damned if my tree will look like tack. I’ll be asked if I want any help. No I want to do this by myself because I’m neurotic and I don’t need any help don’t look at me like that just because I’m twitching I’m perfectly fine just leave me alone to complete this, please.
And where to put it? In front of the large window I guess (at least people won’t be able to see in as much) but then there are logistics in the placement of a tree. Being at least six feet tall, it’s hard to expect the thing to resemble a size zero model once you get to the base. This means that it is going to cause some obstruction and I refuse to squash it against the window.
I refuse to use the same lights that have been used for aeon’s by my parents. Half of the sodding twinkles won’t work, the spare bulbs will be duff and the ONE bulb that is truly done for in the entire line of stupid little lights is ALWAYS the fuse bulb. And I am not going to Homebase at this point in the year to buy a pack of over priced fuse bulbs when I need that five quid to buy milk and bread with this week.
So, lights. I have some new ones in the wardrobe, intended for a completely different occasion, but they work and will blend with the tree. White wires on a green tree do not please me. The other thing about lights is that they make me paranoid.
Tree lights can cause fires. Whether they be faulty or come into contact with materials that combust easily, it doesn’t matter. Apparently, and I’ve sourced this from December 2006 as stated by Fire Minister of the time, Angela Smith, people are 50% more likely to die in a fire over the Xmas period than they are at any other time of the year. Doesn’t that fill you with reassurance?
Fire safety tells us to check the fuses, replace blown bulbs, don’t leave the lights on when you go to bed or go out… I won’t even leave the power light of my TV on, and not because I’m being eco-friendly.
The damn tree can also fall over. This is more so in my case because I live on a boat. Land dwellers tend not to wobble out in bad weather. Considering the position of my home, when the winds come in, they come in, bringing with them, waves. I plan to rig the tree up somehow to prevent toppling.
Asides from these natural worries, I’m still excited about doing it. I’m slightly dampened by the prospect of being picky as I rake through dozens of decorations that won’t fit the theme I’ll invent on the spot and again, I’m not going to Homebase.
Depending on what is available, the tree will probably end up a hash job, along with the family arrangements, the food, my attempts at wrapping gifts (you can never tell what I’ve got you due to the lumps and then there’s the issue of getting the thing open due to the amount of cellotape I’ve used). The long, endless melancholy of wanting the dreary, plastic season to be over with and then wishing it had stayed over for a bit longer when the next optimistically rubbish year farts its way in at midnight, December 31st.
Feeling depressed yet? Welcome to my world. It’s not all bad though, despite the economic downturn. Now that I think about it, this is what Xmas is about really. Trying to do the best with what you haven’t got with those you have got.
Don’t get me started on Santa. I may post the opinion piece I wrote for my Journalism module a couple of years ago later on…