Living Anxiously

zara's picture

I always think of those old movies where some chick would start to rant and rave hysterically and someone else (usually a man) would come along and slap her a solid one across the face.

Heh. If only that worked.

For those who don't know, I suffer from major bouts of anxiety. They like to call them attacks, either anxiety or panic. I like to call them debilitating.

The majority of my attacks are brought on by my phobia of large crowds. I've had an internal reaction to being surrounded by large groups of people as far back as I can remember, probably most notably when I was 4 or 5 and we were at Disneyland (my mom and dad and my mom's brothers, wives and their kids, some big family outing). People started rushing in around me to get a glimpse of Mickey or whatever character was parading through the park and I started to flip out and physically push people (and hard) screaming for them to "get away from me!"

My mom at the time just figured I was overstimulated. But that reaction has stayed with me for years.

It usually starts with me just recognizing that there are a lot of people in the room that I'm in. Doesn't matter if it's a small rinky-dink club or a large open space. If there are a large ratio of people in that area, I WILL pick up on that fact.

Once recognizing the capacity, my brain starts to evaluate just how comfortable I am with those people around. I start to scan for exit routes, doors that are closest to me, little corners of the room to escape into. You could be talking to me when I'm mentally tallying everything and I wouldn't hear a word you're saying. Someone once said looking at me during this phase was like watching a robot go off line: my expression was blank, my body was rigid and only my eyes were darting around.

Then I'll start to try and walk around the room. I'm not really sure why I do this, as it just escalates the issue. I should just stay in one spot, nearest people I know. But out of curiosity or some other inane reasoning, I start to move. I don't answer people if they talk to me during this phase either. I just move around and assess how comfortable I am with the crowd around me.

9 times out of 10, I don't do so well. I think the decision that there are too many people in the room has already been made in my mind and walking around is just being self-destructive. I start to repeat the phrase in my head, "There are too many people in here," over and over again.

My heart rate speeds up as if I'm running a sprint, my breathing turns into hyperventilation. I will shake and/or shiver.

The first way that I handle this "attack" is to become aggressive. If people bump into me, I push them. If people get too close to me, I yell at them. My brain just starts thinking, "Kick that person. Get them the fuck out of the way. They don't belong here."

Once I get a blip of sanity somewhere in that mess, I realize that I'm having an "attack" and become overwhelmingly depressed and sullen. I will sit down, fold in upon myself and usually start crying. I will start "stemming," something that most commonly is associated with autism. (It is a repeated action done over and over to calm one's brain when overstimulated.) I'll rock back and forth, run my fingers through my hair or pull on it, start rubbing my chest, over my heart or start scratching with an intense ferocity.

When I'm not stemming, I'll just grasp onto the fact that I'm a stupid, hysterical girl. I will either start calling myself this within my head or whispering to myself repeatedly out loud. The depression is severe and coupled with self-hatred. I think of all the things I can't do, places I can't go. I use my daughter as another way of punishment, saying that I'll never be a good enough mother because I can't handle the things she likes to do. (The more people she has around her, the happier she is - the complete opposite of me.)

For some reason, I continue to put myself in positions where I know I'm going to have a bad outcome. With medication (I now regularly take Xanax), I can dull some of the effects and manage my issues. I don't know if I'm pushing forth because I'm obstinate or just stupid, although I usually opt for the latter. But no amount of preparation, medication or meditation will stop an attack once it starts.

My old friends ask me why I don't go out more. I myself fear that I'm going to be a semi-functional hermit within the next decade. Perhaps once my kid turns 18 and doesn't need me to accompany her anywhere anymore.

I don't know. I just know that it hurts to think about. And that maybe if I explain it a little, someone out there can learn from this and try to apply it into understanding someone like me a little bit better.

Yes, I do hate people. Especially when they're too close to me or invading my bubble.


Budo7's picture

something I know lots about

Don't laugh to hard, but my panic attacks started right after I was married. One of the reasons I drank so much was that the booze dulled the panic. Of course that was a double edge sword, since the next morning if I was around a lot of people or in a small room, it would trigger my panic attack 10 fold.
I take the Xanax myself and have been for awhile, however it's not good for me or you. It screws up you're memory, (not that I have much left) and is addictive since the crap has a half life that gets stored in your fat cells. With that said I would rather take that and have some type of life then not take it and stay inside all the time. There are other meds that do help, try talking to you're Doctor about stuff to take along with the Xanax, since the X is like a life preserver.

Good luck with it, since it's something that can take ruin your life if you let it.

SouperAsh's picture

Those who enjoy suffocating crowds are special.

Almost everyone that I allow in my circle of association has a similar revulsion of crowded places. Curiously enough, they almost all are very independent thinkers. They question the commonly accepted norms.
I too find crowded places extremely distasteful for several reasons.
-I have an unreasonable fear of mob rule that stems from dealing with Union labor.
-I don't trust a crowd in an emergency. They panic and can get violent and otherwise dangerous by obstructing eachothers' escape from a building.
-A large crowd tends to be impatient and inconsiderate. In short, it is rude. It seems that very few have a sense of decency and consideration of others. Very disappointing. Very.
-People in a crowd get in my way. I tend to move faster than most. Got long legs, long stride, and HATE when shuffling people slow me down. Yes, that is my impatience talking, but I AM polite about going around folks.

Enough about me. Just trying to be sympathetic.

People that enjoy big crowds are indeed special. I think they are the rarity. Those that revel in the press of a crowded dance floor. Bodies in motion, in almost constant contact. I think it must be an almost sexual thrill, from what has been described to me. These folk also adore having tons of attention paid them, whatever it may be. Compliments, catcalls, curses, wandering eyes. It doesn't much matter. They seem to crave it all and revel in it. I've met maybe two of these and in my asessment, there was something not quite right with each. Of course, by saying so, I am suggesting that they were not ideally suited for life in this society. They might be perfectly functional, but they might not have an easy time of mixing with most other peeps.

You mentioned, Zara, that you don't know why you continue to put yourself in situations that trigger attacks. I'd suggest this- You are trying like hell to conquer that fear of big, stinky, noisy, rude, and ugly crowds, and I applaud the effort, if that is truly the case. From what I've come to understand about you, I'd believe it. Compare to an acrophobe forcing the effort to go rappelling or skydiving.

You're putting up a fight, kiddo. Its what you do.

giorgina's picture

The Checkout

Is the worst place for me. Standing in line and having someone standing so close behind you that they are touching. That's when I start to freak out. One day I'll end up hitting someone without meaning it, such is my anxiety. I often try to move forward a little to try and put space between us, but people are so stupid, and so disrespectful to people's personal space, that they'll move too, inching closer to you. I have at times turned around and asked people to not stand so close, but then they get offended and upset, and think it's all your fault. I'm sorry?

I have at times gasped for air in markets and in pubs. I don't like being anywhere where I have to stand too close with too many people.

Giorgina Angela

sole's picture

I had no idea.

Seriously - no idea that you were agoraphobic. You always mention taking Liv to those roller derby shows and I just figured you had absolutely no problem with crowds. I have even consciously thought about that before. When you blog about taking Liv to those types of events, I think to myself that you must be completely comfortable in crowds - unlike myself. I always wonder how Daniel and I are going to manage when we have kids since they will no doubt want to go to every theme park in existence. I thought I would ask you for advice. :) Now I know the truth and it really does surprise me.

Daniel is agoraphobic. He is a complete hermit. We hardly ever go to dinner (except special occasions) or anywhere else for that matter because he says he hates people. Now, I know he doesn't hate all people, but he gets extremely anxious and even a bit aggressive when we are out in crowds. He smokes bushels of pot to control his anxiety because he doesn't want to get on prescription medications - never mind the fact that it would be a lot cheaper to do that because his insurance would cover it, and he would probably feel less medicated than he does on weed. But that's another issue for another day.

I'm also a bit agoraphobic. Anxiety issues and depression run in my family and in Daniel's. The reason why medication is necessary for these things is because in the majority of cases, it is a chemical imbalance. My maternal grandfather has been on anti-depressants for sixty years. My mom has been on anti-anxiety meds for at least thirty years (she takes Xanax too) and my dad is now on anti-depressants. The race is on to see who will be next out of me and my two sisters. As you know, I'm really obsessive about a lot of things. I know I have anxiety issues but I haven't had more than one or two panic attacks in my time. My mom's problems started to really develop after she turned 30. I don't know if my problem will take off or if it will stay borderline forever. For now I just practice avoidance - don't go shopping on Sundays, stay home on holidays, etc. I do like going out though - if the place is not crowded (whereas Daniel would rather not go out. Ever). I've been known to push my way out of a crowded elevator on the wrong floor when people start packing in with no regard for who is already in there. I need my space, and if people invade it, my demeanor turns ugly.

So... I should warn you that I'm expecting about 100 people at my wedding (the banquet room has twelve round tables with a narrow dancefloor in between - two rows of three round tables on each side of the dancefloor). Shall I seat you at the table closest to the door?


RoQStar's picture

SuperZara gettin' rid of tha Kryptonite..

About Mini M' not needing you when she's 18 that's cool. What if she wants you around after that point?
Thing about love, it helps you brave stuff. Love yourself enough to come out of that shell.

"Yes, I do hate people."
I just reset my password and got off the phone with my cousin who says I need a new job because I'm a people person even though one of my favorite quotes is my saying how much I dislike people.

An ex of mine - maybe, the only one I get along with - told me I should have more faith in people. I do love how our - yours && myself - interactions/relationship has grown. {I remember you're a stiQkler for bad grammer etc ..this is just re-mixed writing.} I wondered how much time you put into movie reviews etc and if it's about the love or you fulfilling your "hermit destiny."

You can get past this - even I, being a people person sometimes don't like to be around the fake ones but the good comes with the bad - I'm more like Mini M', the more people around me, the better I roQk. And I feel at times that ALL eyes are on me when they aren't in actuality. After you realize that all the people aren't crowding you as you think/feel they are, you'll be doing much better.

I'd sit there with you, hold your hand && kiQk you roQkz if you wanted ..if it would help bring solace && comfort to you.
Visuals, verbals && feelers. 3 categories of people I heard we fall into. I've yet to figure yours out but now think you're a feeler - doing what you feel brings the best outcome for yourself. Though this anxiety is something we both know you can overcome ..without Xanax.

I have a young friend who lives in Jamaica who's hyper much like myself - her mom can't "manage her" so she placed her on Ritalin - I only wonder if I wasn't so independent of people {7 kids in the house, they'll tell you I kept to myself because I wanted no one to dull my shine} would they have used a similar drug on me back then if they ever knew how much I cosmically roQked, from the inside out.

I'm like Jack Black in 'Tenacious D..' - don't need a microphone because my voice is f*Qking powerFULLLLLLLL!! - ahem. Yesterday on the trail as I was jogging I saw a man, pick up a cat {a blakcone at that!}, place it on the bench and give it some of his medication he carried in a Fanny 0_o
Weird. I've not ever liked pills though I can take them if/when necessary. That's why I'm not a fan of you taking Xanax.. seems as if they have a pill for EVERYthing now-a-days.

Excuse the ramble. I do hope by you putting this out there you get the help and or advice you're looking for.

&& Z?? What happens when I RoQkin' out wit ma C*Qk out && you feel the numbers are against you?? Where you see 2 of us, with 3 eyes!! One eyed MonSt*r, turn to Big. Brown. Snake. Hehe.
Watch, your eye..

I could miss your house and go '3 Doors Down' but if you go crazy, Lady ..I'd still call you SuperZara (-:

mistylou69's picture


What Sam said! I understand too, because I retreat as soon as there are too many people or too much noise for me to handle, because if not I'm in the corner sitting on the floor rocking back and forth too. I've started to get better, but if the people in the crowded place aren't familiar...I panic. If they're my friends I just try to move things outside or into a much bigger room or something so that I don't freak out. It's VERY hard to control. I hope that your anxiety gets weaker as the years pass, because it's not as much fun to be in that bubble, sweetie. And life is too short to be secluded all the time. Love you!


SimplySam's picture

Ahhh... the ol' anxiety monster. You know I can relate...

But living in a well protected bubble, is not living. It is simply surviving. It took me well over 7 years to realize that. Seven years I will never get back, just going through the motions and barely surviving. Not even close to living. I won't lie and say it is easy to stay stronger than your triggers, but it is well worth the fight. And you darlin'? I KNOW you have fight in you.

"We cannot banish dangers, but we can banish fears." ~ David Sarnoff (1891-1971) President of RCA and NBC

Stay strong and when you can't... lean on those who love you. That is what we are here for, my dearest friend. Because I love you, I will come along and pop that bubble from time to time as to not let it get too thick to penetrate. You can hate me all you want when I do this, but I promise... you will thank me later. That is what true friends do for each other.

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