Saturday, October 22, 2022

It's been a long time since I had a panic attack. So long that I'm forgetting what it felt like. I'm starting to minimize it, at least emotionally. Looking back, it seems like an over-reaction, something not quite real. There's the temptation to think I should have just buckled up and got over it.

Intellectually, I know this is wrong. I remember the incidents, if not the feelings. It was bloody awful and I became extremely agoraphobic for a few years. Over a period of probably 20 years, that agoraphobia started to fade, but it was always lurking in the background. And, in fact, it mostly dimmed and faded because I didn't actually "buckle up," but instead avoided most situations that caused the panic attacks. Basically I stumbled upon the fact that every time I forced the issue, made myself challenge the syndrome, it would only reinforce the panic. 

So, yeah, I slowly weaned myself off the panic attacks by avoiding "the marketplace." I picked my shots. I forced myself to go to writer's group because that was important. I forced myself to go into Pegasus Books the first few times, because that was important. I forced myself to go to movies, (show up late, leave early, spend as much time in the dark as possible), because that was important.

I learned ways to cope. I liken it the way an adult illiterate must cope--getting others to read the signs, pretending to be without my glasses, whatever. I always found clever ways to get the stuff done that needed to be done. I would send actual strangers to the bank with my deposits. (Banks, stores, and restaurants were the worse triggers.) I would pick slow times of days. At the beginning of the panic attacks, I would venture out very late at night to do my grocery shopping. I was a little bit of a vampire, I guess. 

The best solution to my inability to operate in public was to have the public come to me. My own space, where I was in control, where I felt safe. Pegasus Books. 

It's complicated, because the panic attacks at first came along with a deep depression while I was a senior in high school which continued on through most of my 20's. I came out of the depression, but I really do remember those feelings and if they ever reoccurred, I'd go for help right away. Thankfully, by the time I was thirty, I was pretty much over it.

But the agoraphobia remained. I remember finally diagnosing it when I read an article. It became very clear to me that that was what it was. It was a relief to finally know. In a way, it helped me realize I wasn't crazy, that it was situational. (I have some anxiety, but probably no worse than most people.)

So it took probably way too long to get over my agoraphobia. Especially since it is one of those rare conditions that can actually be cured. Really, the way I got over it was by marrying a kind, calm, grounded woman who never pushed me. It turned out that I could go most places as long as I was with Linda. Then I discovered that a small dose of tranquilizer prior to a challenging event would help me through. I used alcohol for a long time, but that was often counterproductive and not usable during the day. (I no longer drink at all.)

It turns out that that small dose, so low that I wonder if it isn't more of a placebo, will get me through just about anything. I remind myself that the event isn't about me, usually, and I can just be there. The more success I had at not have a panic attack, the more success I had.

I believe that there were some weird benefits to it all. Because I was restricted in what I was willing to do, I could concentrate on the things I could do. I focused on the store and my writing, and I was extremely productive. I didn't have as many distractions as most "normal" people. 

I do feel that I probably got left out of a lot of social events because of my agoraphobia, but when the agoraphobia faded I also realized that I really do like being by myself for long periods of time. I really am an introvert, and there is nothing wrong with that. 

Anyway, I'm not ready to pronounce myself cured. I doubt I ever will be. The little demon of panic is always lurking, somewhere under the surface. I'll never be a YOLO kind of kind. I recognize that my emotional equilibrium is vulnerable. 

I'm extremely self-protective and probably closed in. But...I think I also open myself up to people I trust, and that's enough.

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