I won’t be going anywhere this weekend. Omicron is spreading like wildfire, and even though I just got another shot (which takes two weeks to attain full effectiveness), nowhere feels safe to me anymore. That pisses me off, and I’ll tell you why.
When I was in my teens and twenties, I suffered from agoraphobia. That’s “fear of open spaces,” but what it really means is you’re terrified of going anywhere. I managed to work full time, take the bus both ways (I lived in Minneapolis then), and very occasionally go somewhere fun, but I almost never ventured into new places, and when I did I was a nervous wreck.
In my thirties, panics attacks added to my misery, and they were nasty. I remember having one at work, in the midst of a presentation during which I spoke through a slideshow to a roomful of people. All I really wanted to do was run screaming from the room. I didn’t understand it then, and I don’t now.
It’s impossible to describe just how awful a panic attack can be to someone who’s never experienced it, but you really do think you’re going to die. There’s no direct threat, you’re probably in a safe, even familiar place, but it hits, and you are going to die.
Friends with a vacation house in Missouri offered it to me when I said I was thinking of moving to a warmer climate. I wanted to go, because I’d never been to that state before, and I was so bloody tired of saying “No” to everyone that I accepted.
I made it to Kentucky that first night and got a motel room. In the morning, on my way to the car to continue the journey, I noticed how drop-dead gorgeous the scenery was. It was truly breathtaking, and though it was still winter in Minnesota, wildflowers were already blooming in Kentucky.
The point is I was happy. I was glad I’d talked myself into taking the trip. But half an hour later, a panic attack struck so hard, I almost pulled off the road. I had insane thoughts of turning around and going home, fuck the rest of the trip!
But I didn’t. I kept driving. I breathed in and out. I waited. Eventually, my head stopped yelling at me to go home, my heart stopped pounding maniacally, and I was myself again, though deeply shaken.
I’d read about a technique called “flooding” to deal with panic attacks and agoraphobia. That’s what happened to me: I put myself in a situation from which I could not easily retreat and survived it, and that was a major jump toward normalcy.
I got to Missouri, found it interesting but rife with poverty, and crossed that state off my list. The next year, I drove to Asheville, NC. GORGEOUS town, liberal, and located in the foothills of the mountains. Not only did I not have any panic attacks, I even interviewed for a job and talked to people about rentals. In the end, I decided not to move there, given there were five colleges in the area, which meant it would be difficult to find anywhere to live at an affordable price.
Not too long after that, I packed up everything I owned and drove a U-Haul to Florida, with my car on a trailer behind it. A year and a half later, I did it again in the reverse direction. About eight years ago, I retired and returned to Florida, where I currently live.
I haven’t had a panic attack in a very long time. The flooding worked, and I was finally able to go places and see things, and I’ve never looked back, except to kick myself for having taken so long to get over that shit. I missed my best years because of my mental illness.
Normally, people who suffer from panic attacks and/or agoraphobia get psychiatric help and an assist from medicine, but I did it the hard way. What can I say? It’s my way. I’m stubborn to a fault. But I encourage anyone with mental problems to seek help. Don’t waste all that time, like I did, waiting and hoping to get better. I was lucky. I had a massive panic attack in Kentucky and survived, and it changed everything.
I’ve been busy and haven’t done much photography lately, but yesterday I did take this pic of a snowy egret fishing for food at the edge of the lake. The lighting is dramatic because I had to adjust exposure to prevent the whites from blowing out. I accentuated that by lowering the luminosity of the greens (which darkens them) and adding a vignette to direct the lighting.
I took this picture about a week ago during a walk. I turned around on the boardwalk, and the sun was setting through the trees.
Have a safe and happy holiday! See you soon.