In the middle of May I took my camera out for a short walk around the locality. I tried to take a photo of a cool and shady path which Mum was about to stroll down. I stopped her so I could get a picture of it by itself, and she stood off to the side and watched. This is the photo I should have taken:
Unfortunately when I pressed the shutter, the camera turned out still to be on a delayed timer, which I’d been using to reduce camera shake on a tripod. Not having a tripod this time, I was faced with standing still for 10 seconds, as the Canon 350D doesn’t allow me to change to a shorter setting. Aargh!
I hate standing still for long, especially when under scrutiny, even if it’s only by Mum. This is the photo I ended up with:
The camera took it just as I jumped away.
It might have been amusing to say “this is a photo of a panic attack,” but that’s a little abstract. However, if I hadn’t been prone to those… both panics and abstracts!… that particular image wouldn’t be in my folders or here on this blog. It wouldn’t exist at all.
It was bang on time, anyway. I always get worse in the summer when the tourists arrive along with the sun. Sun is lovely for fair-weather photographers, but terrible in other respects… most agoraphobics love rain because it keeps people indoors, hidden under umbrellas or at home. Meanwhile, the sun seems to pin you down under a merciless glare, and various forms of life appear from nooks and crannies to eat ice creams and talent-spot.
As always, I haven’t been giving in to it, and I still go to town. I have to, because the people I feed cats for always go on holiday just when town is at its busiest. People say ‘face your fears’, but agoraphobia is described as a complex phobia, not a simple one. I go to town every day, and every day I feel ill. It doesn’t seem to improve until the crowds thin out.
When I lived on my own, I survived by doing everything really early. I went to the supermarket as soon as it opened… before work if possible. The drawback was usually that supermarkets (and banks and other places) think they only need one or two tills open at such a time, and so they dragoon you into standing in queues anyway.
Another drawback is that if you sleep in, and wake about 9.30 or 10, you think “rats, it’s too late to go and get any food.” You feel able only to do things before the rest of the world awakes, and the rest of the day is a dead loss.
We visited a bigger town a few weeks ago. I was angry with my agoraphobia and wanted to enjoy myself, so at moments when there were people converging and I wanted to turn aside, I turned towards them instead. When I felt dizzy and unhappy, I ignored it. I said all the time “this is my space that I’m walking on… it belongs to me.” Up to a point it helps, and then everybody is all over the place all of a sudden, and you get a choking feeling in your throat. I still tried to ignore it, and slowed down, and looked in shop windows humming cheerily to myself, and tried to distract myself with thoughts of my own projects. And when we went home, I was as limp as a dishrag all night and all the next day… that’s how tired I was.
It struck me as ironic… that I was so wiped out by ‘being relaxed’!
Nothing seems to shift it… and sometimes I think that the usual rules for recovery don’t work so well when you’re deaf (or have some comparable issue). They say you reduce your fears by proving to yourself that nothing goes wrong when you think it will… but what do you do when it does?
I suppose the next strategy would be to teach yourself not to care that such and such does keep happening (like misunderstanding people when it’s important that you hear them correctly) but I suppose it’s like getting hit all the time in the same place. You wind up with an enormous bruise.
Mum bought a book she spotted in Waterstone’s — Overcoming Agoraphobia by Melissa Murphy. The writer has had agoraphobia herself, and that makes it a much more friendly book in some ways than one written by someone who’s never had it.
The author wrote that often, when agoraphobic people are out and about, they feel ‘woozy’ and ‘out of it’ all of the time. Which doesn’t help. And she’s right. It appears to have something to do with shallow breathing (to battle which there are breathing exercises) but it’s not all that easy to get rid of! I felt that way all today, just walking around looking at things in shops. I even bought some things… perfume from a charity shop, clothes in a sale… smiled at the shop assistants and said ‘thank you’… and all the time I felt like a balloon that might go ‘pop’ all of a sudden. Or as though someone might let my string go, and I would float off into space, never to return.
The only time I felt anything like normal was when we stopped in a coffee shop and sat on a soft couch in a dark corner. There, nobody was going to come barging out of shop doorways at you, or suddenly ask if you wanted a bag with that. (A brown paper bag, maybe!!)
Mum said, bearing in mind the dizziness, it might be a good strategy just to ramble gently from shop to shop, and not slalom through the crowds the way we normally do. That did seem to help a bit. We drifted from the coffee shop to the charity shop next door… and I felt relaxed! For five precious minutes, any photo I might have taken would have been of the Path, not the Notpath.
That’s something worth working towards.