Agoraphobia has a lighter side.
Like Samson Young’s disease in London Fields, it’s a condition that enforces sobriety. I know there are stats about panic attack sufferers becoming alcoholics and vice versa but in my particular case it’s just not going to happen. No more long, confused nights of barhopping on Oxford Road. My problem is getting to pubs, not staying out of them.
Like I said, I do force myself to socialise sometimes but mostly it’s long walks, weightlifting and tuna salad. As a result, I’m at a physical peak. I can look in the reflective surface above the cashpoint without shuddering. Really I am like Harry Flashman: suave and healthy on the outside, shaking degenerate on the inside.
Secondly, if you have cable you can watch South Park being broadcast in its entirety on Paramount 2.
Thirdly, when and if you’re out, it can be funny to drop the condition into the conversation. Example:
Stranger: So what do you do?
Me: I’m agoraphobic!
The reactions are interesting – not least because so many people reply ‘Yeah, I had/have something like that…’
Anyway, the insomnia has now got so bad that I’m resorting to medication. There are no specific meds for agoraphobia and the panic literature I’ve read advises that standard meds can be counterproductive, but the doctor I saw yesterday said that they would take the edge off the panic and help me sleep. I had a hard time getting to the surgery yesterday and that’s a journey that used to be relatively easy.
So there’ll be Prozac delivered to my door in the next eighteen hours. I’m not sure what it’ll be like. I took several medications during breakdown numero uno, which lasted for just one winter. They include:
Olanzapine: Good for sleeping. On this I was knocked out for around sixteen hours a day. I’d get up at ten, go about my day, go to sleep again at two, rise at six, go out for a couple of beers and then lower myself at ten into a thick, dreamless sleep. At the time I was attending a clinic where patients would swap details of their various medications in the same offhand way that office workers chat about football and reality TV. A woman said to me, ‘God, I’d kill for sixteen hours.’
Diazepam: This is basically valium and is very effective for panic, but the prescription only lasts a few days because the drug is so addictive.
Fluoxetine (Prozac): This caused an uneasy trippy sensation for the first couple of hours, but then I tended to forget I was taking it. It’s subtle. But people I spoke to at the time reported nasty side effects like hallucinations.
I’m not an expert on psychiatric medications, but despite their imperfections. all of the above are far more effective than anything the complementary/alternative world has to offer.