Updated: Jan 8, 2022
Managing Life with Agoraphobia
Guest Blogger: Blaise Dismer, MSW
I had been suffering from Panic Disorder for 5 years, ever since I had a traumatic 21st birthday losing my girlfriend. Over time, my panic attacks worsened, and it became full-blown agoraphobia, the anxiety of leaving one's home for fear of terrifying panic attacks.
Agoraphobia affected my life in so many ways…especially when I wanted to go out or in trying to hold down a job. In 1976, I was broke. Flat out. I had no income source. There was still the obvious need for food, shelter, and basic needs. I had tried bartending which temporarily reduced my constant panic because I sipped alcohol all shift but I kept losing jobs. One time I'd escaped behind the bar to the cooler room, trying to calm myself with a beer. However, I was soon surprised by the owner. "What the hell are you doing back here?”, he screamed. "You're fired!" Lots of similar stories exist.
Blaise and I connected after I discovered his personal journey through his book, Homebound No More: How I Beat Agoraphobia. I was seeking insights into my mom’s struggles with agoraphobia and any possible connection with introversion. His book was so personal, true, and insightful.
My bank sent me frequent insufficient fund notices and I had tried many creative ways to make money. I sold all my furniture at an "in-home" yard sale. In another gambit, I sent small liquid silver necklaces that I'd bought wholesale to churches throughout Denver with an explanatory letter and request for donations. I'd even written to Coach John Ralston of the Denver Broncos asking if he had a simple job I could do. Nothing transpired.
When I couldn't pay rent anymore, two waitress friends let me park my sleeping bag in their apartment for a couple of weeks. My depression and anxiety were too much for them and I was politely asked to leave. Next, an old girlfriend took me in for a few weeks. Her boyfriend wasn't too happy about that arrangement and I was soon looking for my next place to squat.
During the chaos, I was flooded with scary body sensations that made me think I was dying or going crazy. At the trough of my depression, my dad sent me $500 and my sister flew out to accompany me on the flight home to Atlanta. Despite the comfort of my family, I remained largely ignorant about panic and my phobia until I finally got help at the Emory Clinic in Atlanta. For the nuts and bolts about panic and agoraphobia, I recommend Neal Sideman's website: www.paniccure.com.
There were many lessons I learned from my experience. Isolating to solve my problems didn't work. Staying stuck in my head didn't work. Sometimes you have to do really difficult things to get better.
Fast forward over 40 years and I’m still facing my demons every day. The battle is never over.
Now...in 2019, I’m okay. My wife, Martha, and I have moved to Porto, Portugal for at least 6 months. We love traveling and learning so with some creative financing and chutzpah we rented an Airbnb over the Douro River.
I made my resolution to write something every day. I missed yesterday, but I was encouraged this morning when reading The Mantra Project blog by Holly Whitaker. She shared a teaching she’d learned from Pema Chodron: “I can start anew, again and again, every moment of my life”. I embraced that and start my daily writing practice anew today.
I’m honored to be invited by my friend, Steve Friedman, to offer a guest blog on www.BeyondIntroversion.com. I started thinking about what I might be able to contribute to the community. After discarding a couple of ideas, I settled on sharing a difficult day I experienced in Portugal and what I learned.
Yesterday was a rainy, cold one in Porto. Having relocated here with my wife on December 1, every day offers us a new set of challenges: little things like not speaking Portuguese (yet!) and having no car and no knowledge (yet!) of how the metro, trams, and buses operate. Although we are living in a lovely apartment, it’s quite cold since the manager has run out of pellets for the wood-burning heater.
Baby steps and some jitters and gnashing of teeth along the way have gotten me a million miles away from where I was when I was stuck in my Denver apartment long ago. Perseverance is key.
My plans this day include a laundry run and search for a nearby Activo Bank to face another little challenge- lack of cash. Along the way, I questioned an information booth attendant and was relieved to receive very detailed directions to the bank. However, after following obviously incorrect instructions through a meandering 45-minute trek in soaking tennis shoes, I finally found the bank, only to discover they required a local phone number which we did not have yet. New experiences are fun and exciting…and very frustrating.
After walking home and sharing the discouraging news with my wife, we agreed to have lunch at the nearby city of Gaia, famous for storing huge quantities of the venerable Port Wines of Porto. We jumped in an Uber, only to discover a 15-minute ride became 35 when the driver opted to take the scenic route through traffic. Once we arrived and had lunch, Martha and I agreed to split up in Gaia so she could shop at El Corte Ingles and I could ride on to the (allegedly) nearby Gaia Shopping complex to see the movie “Knives Out”. As we were having issues getting cash with credit cards, I agreed to walk back to meet Martha in 3 hours.
Once I got in my new Uber, the driver advised that the cinema was only a few kilometers away. I cavalierly shrugged off any concerns since I’m from the South and we aren’t fluent in this foreign measurement system! However, the misunderstanding was clear when the driver got on the expressway and sped through the rain for 5 minutes. I was definitely not walking back to El Corte Ingles.
Nevertheless, I squelched my instinct to simply tell the driver to return to Martha’s site and ditch my movie plans. Instead, I sat through the movie with minimal, if constant, angst about the return trip.