On very hot days in Portland I’m working on a folding plastic table in the bedroom because it’s the only room in my apartment with air conditioning. My cat, Trudy, sometimes referred to as Little Yowler, believes that if I’m in the bedroom, I should be lying on the bed cuddling with her. This is something I could do for hours even though she will only cuddle one way: lying on top of me and facing the door. As she relaxes and begins to fall asleep, she usually beats her tail softly against my face or brushes the feathery tip against my cheek so who can blame the part of me that could do nothing but this forever? When Trudy succeeds in pulling me away from something that engrossed me to pay attention to her instead, she takes it as a very particular kind of victory. But as attractive as it is to cuddle with her all day, I really have to hustle now so we’ve been having some interesting conversations.
When you’re working at home, you’re living with your work and when you’re working in your bedroom, don’t expect insomnia to get better. It seems perversely fitting somehow that someone who wonders if she’s agoriphobic should be spending so much time in a 16 X 10 foot space.
Agoriphobia is an extreme or irrational fear of crowded spaces or enclosed public spaces. Panic disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, is a debilitating anxiety and fear arising frequently and without reasonable cause. Six million American adults experience panic disorder in a given year and women are twice as likely to have it as men.
The following hypothetical situation — to illustrate how this plays out in my life — occurs in a personal context but it has a professional impact for me too. Imagine you’re hosting a barbecue in the park. Your friends and family are gathered and everything is in full swing. People are everywhere. Suddenly it becomes completely reasonable and desirable to leave. You have disabled your mental alarm so you don’t hear: “Danger, Will Robinson. Wait. Stop. Think. Do you really want to do this? Has acting on this impulse ever ended well?” No, you blast past anything like that and blithely bail.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this. Once I’m alone I’m usually able to say to myself at some point: “This gathering is a unique moment in time. You will regret missing a minute of it.” I take some deep breaths and return. But by this time, half the guests are gone; others are leaving; and I get to agonize over the feelings I may have hurt and wonder what’s wrong with my brain. I become furious at myself for falling into the same trap yet again.
How many times do you have to deal with a problem before acknowledging that it is one? In my case, lots. In another manifestation of this issue, I once had a panic attack in a book store and had to hire a taxi to take me on the 40-minute ride home because I couldn’t drive my own car. Even that got swept under the carpet.
Now that I’m blogging though, I may have a new approach. Jeff Goins and Tim Grahl believe that in business, one should be outrageously generous and relentlessly helpful and they walk their talk. It occurs to me that these words of wisdom can be applied to much more than web sites, blogs and email lists. Maybe this is a good approach for relationships in general. The next time I feel panic or agitation at a social event or in a group, I’m going to ask two questions. One: Who am I thinking about right now? The answer will always be “me.” Two: “Who might be better to think about?” Answer: “Them.” It will be a wild, crazy experiment and I’ll see how it goes.