Earlier this week, I ended up inadvertently live-tweeting my attempt to overcome a bout of agoraphobia.
I tried to go to Target. All I needed to do was drive there, walk to the pharmacy area, and transfer a prescription.
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But the second I pulled into a space in the parking lot, I had a problem.
I don’t have a smartphone. Yes, technology-obsessed me. I have a clunky Samsung with a slide-down keyboard, but I can still tweet via text message — but I can’t receive any incoming tweets. I tweet into the great void.
It was raining, and I was feeling panicked. The sky was dark. Target’s front doors, let alone the pharmacy counter itself, were uncomfortably far away.
For a few minutes, I sat in silence with the car running, unsure if I should even attempt to walk inside or if I should play it safe and drive away.
Then, I ran through the rain to the front door.
Like many other agoraphobics, I feel more comfortable when I’m within close, direct range of an exit. At my Target store, there are a few obstacles between the entrance and the pharmacy: a display of cheap stocking stuffers, the entire series of check-out lanes, and about five aisles of makeup and lotions and soaps.
I was about halfway there. Surely I couldn’t stop now. Only two or three more aisles left to pass, and then I’d be standing at the pharmacy counter. I told myself to pretend that my chest didn’t hurt and that every muscle in my body didn’t feel locked up.
That “fake it ’til I make it” attitude got me as far as a nearby bench.
Something about texting or tweeting when I panic makes me feel safer. I suppose my logic is this: if I truly find myself in a worst-case scenario situation, like passed out in an aisle at Target, at least someone will have received a text or tweet from me announcing my less-than-well feeling. Prior to hitting the floor, that is. And someone who loves me or cares about me will have a lead when I don’t come home at 8 pm as promised.
Call it a safety behavior. Because it is.
But for now, it helps me to stay in the store. It helps me to stay in the midst of what I erroneously perceive as a dangerous situation. It helps me to not run away from my fears.
And, it helps me to track my cognitions. A big part of panic and agoraphobia, of course, is driven by our thoughts. And tracking those thoughts mid-panic elucidates my underlying fears. It captures fear from the moment of panic itself and not what I later perceive the fear to be.
And then, later on, after I’ve calmed down, I can work on kicking the hell out of those underlying fears. And I can practice various coping mechanisms to either deal with or counteract my body’s revved-up physiology. Including tight muscles.
It was still raining. I turned on my car and turned on the radio. I flipped mindlessly through the stations to eat up time.
I’ve always found it odd that my car can serve as both panic trigger and panic-free haven. It provides a safe, warm, comforting respite from grocery or superstore panic. Yet, if I panic while driving, I won’t feel better until I get the hell out of the driver’s seat and out of the car.
I got out of my car, walked into Target, and passed a display of cheap stocking stuffers. Then, the entire series of check-out lanes. And then, five aisles of makeup and lotions and soaps.
But I didn’t run. I stood, feigning patience, and played with my rings. I browsed medical pamphlets. I mindlessly dug through my purse, and I waited.
Only five minutes later, I typed out my proudest tweet of the day.
Slowing down…just like it always does, and just like it always will.
(Special thanks to everyone on Twitter who was, unbeknownst to me at the time, replying with confidence-boosting messages to help me get through my Target experience: @mattdizzle570, @slappyintheface, @shauna_leanonus, @seekzpeace, @devinwais, @steishere, @tinycowgirl, @citypanicked, @sugarchictreat, and @divinemadness. The kindness of strangers is inspiring.)