mapheadFear is elusive. When you are young you’re scared of the thing in the closet. As you get older – and, surprise surprise, I’m indebted to Stephen King for this insight – this primeval horror coalesces around more mundane sources of anxiety: credit card bills, relationship troubles, the biological clock.

The only adult fear that comes close to the sheer existential terror of the thing in the closet is the root of all our health and social anxieties: the fear of death, especially the fear of dying alone.

That’s how it normally goes – but for some reason as an adult I’ve become frightened of traffic, tall buildings and big crowds. It turns out that the thing in the closet is a panic attack. Representing death and unreality. Jim Morrison had it best, when he wrote: ‘I see the bathroom is clear…’ Jesus, the horror of that line! The paranoia of it! Surely no other sentence captures so deftly the phobic instinct.

What to do? Many panic attack and agoraphobia sufferers (and there are more of us than you think) take refuge in safety behaviours.

A friend of mine who had agoraphobia and recovered got into the habit of carrying a bottle of whisky around every time he went out. Even I recognise this as a road to hell, but apparently loads of sufferers get drunk and take diazepam before they leave the house.

My safety behaviours aren’t as bad but they still aren’t helpful. They are:

  • Carrying bottled water
  • Smoking
  • Carrying books
  • Positive visualisation
  • Jogging
  • Carrying maps

I’ve since unearthed safety behaviours that I didn’t know about, including walking on the inside of the pavement to avoid traffic. We probably all have little unconscious crutches of this kind.

When I was a kid I got lost easily and since I loved visiting other cities in my youth – I used to go to Amsterdam quite often, where it’s really easy to lose your way – I took to carrying maps with me to make sure I didn’t spend hours wandering around. Now as an agoraphobic the Google Map has become yet another safety behaviour.

When the Condition first started coming on (this was in the spring, when I still went out in central Manchester) I used to download and print a map of wherever I was going  – and then take some circuitous route that avoided the main roads. This worked okay for a while, but like all safety behaviours the maps simply reinforced the problem.

As the summer died I first restricted myself to one or two Oxford Road bars, then stopped going to the city centre altogether. Then I found it harder and harder to get around in the part of Salford where I live.

The Condition makes your world smaller and smaller. I’m fighting to claim back the lost ground, and making progress – but it’s a long haul.


2 Responses to “Maphead”

  1. Sarah Franco Says:

    I hope you get over this, and I think you are very brave to share it with us readers. I also carry a bottle of water, at least a book, a notebook, or at least a sheet of paper, a pen, and whenever I go out and decide not to take my photo camera I regret it. When I don’t carry a bag I put a small pencil in the pocket of my jeans. All the rest I don’t mind much not to take with me, but the pencil just has to be there. the store IKEA has small pencils for the costumers, when I go there I take a bunch of them.

  2. maxdunbar Says:

    Yes we all have these safety behaviours.

    Thanks for your kind words Sarah.

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