Tall Drink of Nerd: Shrinkage
a blogumn by Amy Robinson
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” – Anais Nin. That quote sometimes plays over and over in my brain like an annoyingly catchy Smashmouth song. As a perfect test subject, my life proves the theory of this quote to be true.
At the present moment, my life is quiet and simple and as shrunken as a lamb’s wool sweater that has spent 3 hours on high in your clothes dryer. A Barbie-sized life.
The past year I retracted my various curiosity tentacles, internalized meditation on the meaning of life and focused on healing my psyche. Visiting friends, going to parties, meeting people or being creative seemed mildly terrifying. Invitations were ignored or responded to with a clean “No.” One of the problems of continually saying “No” is that eventually people stop asking.
Being social may not seem all that courageous, unless you find it scary, which I do. Unfortunately, a big bite of this tendency to fold-up into myself is genetic. Agoraphobia is known, in my family, as Grandma Berg disease, or “acting like Agnes”. My Mom’s mom, Agnes Berg, was terrified of going places. She lived on the wide-open Colorado Northern Plains, with 7 kids, on a farm, with no electricity or plumbing for most of her life. That’s crazy brave to me, but she absolutely hated getting in a car, traveling to weddings or other family events. Her panic vexed her children and grandchildren. They still tell stories about how limiting and annoying it was.
I always knew I had a bit of ‘The Agnes’ in me. When the world scared me, I retreated inward, writing stories about imaginary pals who would never judge or let me down. God forbid I let people know about my bouts of heebie-jeebies. It’s impossible to define how your skin buzzes with anxiety and your brain completely freezes into an ice cube of dull terror. Plus, it’s embarrassing to be shy, or worse, paralyzed by a fear of people. Confidence is king and the terrified girl blends in with the wallflowers.
Even with the primal fear of society bubbling in me, I knew wallflowering was not my fate, so I decided to try theatre. When I was acting, my joints would seize up and my hands would drip with flop sweat during the terrifying moments before my entrance cues. But when I actually stepped onto the stage, fear melted away. My heart didn’t stop, matter of fact, it seemed to grow stronger. This is when I decided to be brave.
Fortunately, my own parents were courageous enough to let me make life decisions on my own. At the tender age of 21, I headed from Haxtun, CO (population 1,000) to Chicago on my own with $80 in my pocket. I roomed with a woman I had known for 2 weeks, took improv classes, sang in blues clubs, produced a few plays, even taking the stage in a couple. I fell in love, collected friends, enjoyed a beautiful (but cold!) city and felt like I owned the town. To paraphrase Ms. Nin, my life expanded.
Since then, my strength has ebbed and flowed. I’ve had moments of agoraphobic despair and loneliness. I’ve had exceptional times of growth, success and triumph. As I am a little bit older/wiser during this ebb, I’ve used this self-imposed solitude to listen to, then quiet, the fear. Instead of freaking out about being alone this time, I chose to focus on acceptance. Time to greet whatever I am doing with love and patience and excitement, not dread. Now, I’m ready to re-join the world and pay attention to something other than ME.
Luckily, it’s possible to actively make the choice to head back out into living again. I am excited to reconnect with the community I had started building here and to join a couple of new groups I’ve had my eye on while “convalescing”. In a big town like Los Angeles, there are an overwhelming amount of opportunities to expand with. So my new goal is this – Be courageous and come back to life.
That’s what agoraphobia kept from me. Life. It’s pretty simple equation.