Extroversion and agoraphobia – it’s hard to imagine them going hand and hand, but sometimes they do. It’s taken a peculiar series of life events starting at a young age to get me to this point. I’m not going to hash over all that. The short version is that for all my adult life, I’ve wanted to be out and around people, and I feel better when I do. However, the default is to stay in because I get tied to a single place (which can be as small as a room depending on the severity of that moment’s agoraphobia). The irony of all this is that my agoraphobia becomes worse the longer I stay in place, and it improves when I am forced (one way or another) out of my comfort zone and begin to interact with people again. I’m not talking just family, the people I live with. I mean getting out into the world. Having conversations that go beyond polite small talk. Being with people out in the world somewhere.
November, 2009. I’d joined NaNoWriMo for the first time, and I’d forced myself to go to a meet-and-greet in October with the local NaNo group. I enjoyed the night, but now that it was time for the second meet-up, anxiety reared its ugly head. My agoraphobia was reasonably controlled enough to leave the house, but as I drove, things got worse. I was driving to a place I’d never been (cue severe anxiety) to meet with a bunch of strangers (cue more anxiety related to how I was supposed to find my group etc). It wasn’t the actual meet-up that worried me – I like being with people, and writers are my people! It was all the rest. I was coming up on an exit for a shopping center I knew well, where there was a bookstore I liked. I thought, hey, I could reward myself for my hard work by going into the bookstore and getting something I want, rather than going out to dinner with a bunch of folks I barely know! Agoraphobia vs extroversion; comfort zone vs making new friends. That time, extroversion won out, and you know what? I had one of the best nights of my life that night. I made friends that I still talk to a decade later.
I have a lot of examples like this: early Sparkpeople meet-ups when I didn’t know anyone; various book blogger meetups and conferences; creating a book club at my library that was open to the public; joining fitness groups and classes. Nearly all of the time, when my desire to be among people can conquer my fear for venturing outside of safe spaces, the result is positive. And yet…
December, 2008. My favorite singer in the world was giving the only concert he ever ended up giving with his new band (at least so far, but it’s been over a decade…). I’d gotten to meet him and two other members of their former band from the 90s the year before, two trips to New York that were incredible for many reasons. The moment I heard that this new concert was happening, I bought plane tickets. The date got closer and closer, and anxiety grew. My sister no longer lived in New York, so I’d be on my own. Shouldn’t have been a problem – one of the other two times I’d gone had been the same – but it was also winter, and I didn’t have the right winter clothes, and I’d gained a lot of weight and felt self-conscious, and technically I’d have to fly home on my anniversary so I’d miss that, even though Jason told me he didn’t mind, and… You can see where this is going. That time, agoraphobia won out. I canceled the tickets. I missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and still kick myself for that.
This, like my previous example, isn’t an isolated incidence. I can name dozens of times when agoraphobia and anxiety took something from me – school concerts and performances from my kids; missed doctors appointments I desperately needed; 5Ks I’d signed up for and really wanted to do; classes missed in college that caused slipped grades. You get the picture.
These two forces war within me all the time. It becomes simple math/logic: If agoraphobia is winning a greater percentage of time, then 1) it’s likely to win even more, and 2) I’m going to be unhappy and my mental health will be increasingly disordered. If extroversion can start getting some wins, then 1) it snowballs until (eventually) I resemble a well-adjusted, normal human being, and 2) these times stand out as the happiest times of my life.
One of my goals for this year is to help extraversion snowball. I’d gotten to a good place back in 2014 before my family began its insane moving years. I’ve recovered enough from those years to start thinking about improvement rather than survival. Because I live in a military town, many of the friends I had pre-Boston have since become virtual, online friends. I still have in-town folks, but not the larger circle of before. I’m going to build that circle again. It may take years, given my personal mental health limitations, but that is the goal. Join groups. Make groups. Revive old groups. Get out of my damn house. Push the comfort zone circle wider and wider until I can only barely see its barriers. Then guard those barriers vigilantly, because I do not want them closing in on me again.