18 February 2013

Derivative Thoughts on Agoraphobia

I have for some time considered that I suffer (though I am certain that the verb, ‘to suffer,’ is too, too extreme) from a mild case of agoraphobia. I am uncomfortable being away from home for any extended period of time, say, twenty-four or so hours, and I am loathe to travel any great distance.
It is fun to label my mild but constant neuroses, and it is even more fun to define them. And so I have been considering the nature of my agoraphobia: of what does it consist? If agoraphobia is not about the space itselfit is not a specific space of which I am afraid but of all space into which I might venturethen the agoraphobia must be about my relationship to space itself. Though I love looking up at the stars, I do not think I want to get any closer to them than I am at present as I view them through my window or even standing outside in the proximity of my back door. I do not ‘amuse’ myself on roller coasters or Ferris wheels, and on an airplane I always choose an aisle seat and do not look out of the window. It is not fear of heightsacrophobiabut the extreme openness of the space that panics me.
I think that my problem with space lies in my perception of its vastness. After all, my entrance into a wide-open space demands that choices be made in that space, and the choices (and possibilities) are, as is the space, illimitable.  Agoraphobia represents an unwillingness, perhaps, to confront illimitable choice! Agoraphobia is a fear not of making a wrong choice but of making any choice at all and stems perhaps not from an ignorance of what rubrics might be followed in choosing or what set of criteria to use for choice but of having too many possibilities from which to choose. Agoraphobics don’t lack initiative or confidence: they suffer from too much knowledge. In limited and limiting spaces the agoraphobic can choose from a seemingly very narrow menu, and the wider the possibilities the greater is the fear. The agoraphobic prefers a short range of choice and fears  contingency. It is not certitude that the agoraphobic demands but limited possibility. A constricted space presents the agoraphobic with only a minimum array of choices: the agoraphobicc’est moifeels more comfortable with such limit. I know there is more out there but I am very content in here, thank you.
And the opposite seems also true, and perhaps for similar reasons: because so much could be placed within illimitable space, a cluttered space makes choosing too difficult. There is in this space too much from which to choose and too many possibilities by which to choose. I recall once walking onto the floor of a large department store in search of a dress shirt, and confronting table after table piled high with many beautiful shirts. Each and all appealed to me, and I hadn’t any idea how to choose from the vast array and therefore, which to purchase. I would have them all!! In that space there existed too much criteria by which to consider choice and no material basis on which to choose. I turned around and went home. I appreciate the limited selections I find in shopping by catalog.
Adam Phillips says that perhaps we enter such a filled (Phillips refers to it as ‘cluttered’) space in order to find something, but then in that space discover something else for which we did not think to look. I believe that we discover something we have lost only when we find it, but that is part of another topic I have dealt with in my book, Ethics and Teaching. Here, I think Phillips’ suggestion is only true concerning one’s own clutter: we can almost always deal with our own clutter (or put it in some order) but we are not so tolerant of the clutter of others. Freud says somewhere that we can only tolerate the smell of our own excrement. The agoraphobic prefers to stay close to his own familiar. And I do not have to leave home to experience my own clutter, though the clutter of others in my own home seems intolerable and sends me back to my own calming chaos.
Of course, the Freudian in me recognizes that the restricted space suggests both the womb and the tomb, the desire for either representing the ultimate denial of living my life. But I do not sense that my agoraphobia stems from this desire, though it is also true that our phobias (how we defend ourselves) tell us a great deal about what we desire. But though I could not enter the department store, I still needed and wanted a shirt to wear to the party! And it is not tight fitting clothes in which I am most comfortable, though I do still tuck my shirt into my trousers even when I remain in the house.
I like to consider agoraphobia as a relationship to space because as with all relationships, there can be change. Though the agoraphobic (c’est moi) enjoys a limited repertoire for change.


Post a Comment

<< Home