Monday, 9 July 2007

Agoraphobia expands into the space allocated to it.

"A job will expand into the time allocated to it."

You can get this sort of wisdom from business management books. basically, if you give 2 men 3 hours to do a job - a job which should only take 2 hours - they will take the whole 3 hours to complete it. As soon as they realise that they will finish the job early at their current level of work, they slow down. It's not even deliberate. It's just that they expect the job to last 3 hours, because that's the amount of time allocated for it; so if they look as thought they might finish early, they must be working too fast, and they unconsciously slow down to compensate.

I have observed Marie's agoraphobia for 7½ years, and I have adapted the maxim to apply to her agoraphobia. As follows -

"Agoraphobia will expand into the area allocated to it."

Marie's agoraphobia is not stable. It grows and recedes, gets better and gets worse. But it never - NEVER - gets in the way of something life-threatening/very important/very much desired by Marie. Examples -

  1. 1999. Marie cannot get into ANY large shop. Marie needs a new bed and wants to choose it herself. We go to furniture stores. They are LARGE. Marie is scared, but stands at the entrance, fights the panic, wins, goes further into the store, fights the panic again, goes further in, fights the panic again, gets to the back of the store where the beds are... Next store, less panic at the entrance, makes it down the store more easily... Final store, beds are up the stairs at the left hand side of the store to the first floor and down to the back wall and half-way across the width of the first floor - Marie makes it! A couple of weeks later - can't get into the store...but then there's nothing she really wants there...
  2. 2000. Marie gets pregnant. She is suffering from quite severe 1st trimester sickness which makes her feel panicky. Her immediate reaction is to have a termination. Then, after some consideration, she decides that she wants to have a baby with me. Once she has decided this, she is able to cope with the panic feelings
  3. 2001. Marie can't get into hospital. Any hospital. But she really wants her copes with hospital.
  4. 2002. Marie can go most places by car, but cannot use public transport. When I decide to go to Ireland to see my ill aunt, Marie decides to go too. This means two ferry trips and ferries = public transport. Once on a ferry, there's no way off until it berths. A panic attack sufferer's nightmare. But Marie really wants to go with me. She is prepared to risk the possibility of a panic attack. In the event, she doesn't have one.
  5. 2003. Marie has a number of "safe" people, and she has to have one of them near her at all times. But she really wants her driving licence, so she gets in her car with a man she has never met before (the driving test examiner) and shows him how well she can drive. She didn't pass her test the first time, so she repeats it - with a different examiner. No panic attacks... Since then she has never been in a car without a "safe" person. Can't do it...
  6. 2004. Marie's sister's wedding - Marie really wants to be a bridesmaid and attend the reception. The reception is in a large marquee with more than 200 people there - normally somewhere that Marie would totally avoid. But she copes. And without panic...
  7. 2005. When, during her pregnancy with Orla, Marie was told that she should go deep into the bowels of the hospital to have an emergency scan, she does it. Yes, there were panicky moments. There were times that I wasn't sure that she would make it - but she really wanted to get there. And she did!
  8. 2006. Two weddings. Marie was quite anxious about getting through our wedding day. But she really wants to have the perfect day - and she gets it. The 2nd wedding - Jenna's - she couldn't cope with the journey to Ireland to attend (perhaps she didn't really want to go), and she was very anxious about me going without her. She had severe anxiety for several weeks leading up to the wedding. However, from the moment I left for Ireland until the moment I returned, she was fine. No panic attacks whatsoever.
There are more examples like the eight above, but NO examples of Marie NOT being able to do something she really wanted to do - because her agoraphobia got in the way.

So I'm thinking, Marie is actually allowing her agoraphobia to exist in her life. I know that she would prefer not to have it at all, if there was an easy way to remove it. But there's no magic wand which will make it go away. So I'm thinking, what does it take to make her want, really want, want so much that she will be prepared to take the pain and stress and effort to get rid of it?


Ruby said...

That's a great theory Robert, and so true. I know myself that if its something I really want to do I will try harder to work through the panic or anxiety. If its something that isn't that important to me I don't fight it as hard.

This isn't something that I plan or do consciously but it does happen all the time, now that you have made me give it some thought.

We become so comforted by our agoraphobia in a weird sort of way and no one likes to go out of their comfort zone.


Anonymous said...

thanks for posting these blogs. I just stumbled across your site and it's very comforting. You are a very sweet husband.


Robert said...

Thanks for visiting, Jaye. And thanks for taking the trouble to post a comment. I hope to hear from you again?

Dawn said...

Robert, you make a very good point about how someone with agoraphobia can make themselves do something they really, really want to do or they really, really have to do. An agoraphobic can always run away from a house fire, for example, even if they've been totally housebound for years.

But make no mistake about it, these are very much 'one off's' and no one could live their life at that intensity every day. Anyone, agoraphobic or not, can do things they really want to or have to, but it doesn't mean they could do it every day. Someone can psyche themselves up to do a parachute jump for charity - the adenalin gets pumping, they're terrified but they get up the necessary courage to do it. Would they do it again that same afternoon and every day after that? I doubt it. Someone can run in front of a speeding car to snatch a child to safety, but that doesn't mean they could do it again and again.

I don't think anyone who has never suffered from agoraphobia knows how much courage it takes to do things that others take for granted. I remember reading the words of a decorated soldier who'd fought in the trenches in World War 1, but whose agoraphobia made him unable to walk freely in his home town. He said it took more courage to cross the bridge in his own town than it had taken to go over the top during the fighting. No matter how extreme that sounds it's something that many agoraphobics would understand, but that others would not. All of us can do extraordinary things, but for agoraphobic people daily life is a struggle where they have to call on all their reserves of courage in a way that other people don't.

I've been fortunate enough to have found the solution to my own agoraphobia through EFT and I am enormously grateful to have found out about this healing method. But I will never forget what I suffered as an agoraphobic or how hard it was to explain to others just what it feels like to have such a misunderstood illness.