The Snake and the 'Snake'
Well, the idea for it came to me fairly recently, when I recognized (again) just how frustrating it is for those of us who suffer from severe anxiety and agoraphobia to explain to the average person what it feels like to sometimes have such intense feelings for no apparent reason (at least not apparent to them).
While pondering how to explain my situation to someone who's very close to me, I remembered that she has a severe phobia towards snakes. Suddenly, it occurred to me I could use analogies to make it easier for her to understand some of my "not-so-rational" fears.
Now....where to start?
I think a good place to start might be right here at the beginning. For those people who are actually terrified of snakes, just the mention of the word might make them literally shake. Reading this little writing might actually be more than they can bear.
Herein lies the first similarity. We all know, intellectually, that there's no snake here and nothing to possibly harm us. This is, however, only an intellectual statement. Overpowering fear can be so strong that the mere suggestion of the feared object or situation can be enough to get the adrenaline pumping and make us want to flee the situation to avoid the terrible feelings.
The same is true for agoraphobics. The problem is, there isn't always something tangible to "see"...the dreaded "snake" is often within us and becomes triggered by such things as memory, public places, performance- demanding situations, and almost any type of situation where one may feel "trapped," either physically or emotionally.
These types of situations (or more to the point, our fear of our FEELINGS in these situations) are truly our "snakes". The mere thought or mention of being placed in a perceived "trapped" situation can trigger panic in an agoraphobic, much the same way just reading about snakes can cause a snake-phobic person to become panicky. Fortunately for them however, their phobia is somewhat more "common" and can be seen and therefore more readily understandable.
Anxiety /agoraphobia may have many different facets, forms and "quirks," most of which are very foreign to the average individual. It's very important to many phobics that a certain amount of control be afforded them in most anxiety-provoking situations. Hence we have another similarity to our "snake-phobic" counterparts. For example, if we're attempting to "practice" going to a supermarket (which may be a highly anxiety-provoking event) with a supportive person, the average individual may not understand why we might panic while left alone unexpectedly for five minutes. To them it just seems like a very small matter, but while they've drifted away from us to check out the price of tomatoes, all sense of security in an "unsafe" place has gone out the window. Often unfortunately, along with it has gone all trust in that individual to work with us in the future. Chances are, we may be very unwilling to venture out of our safety zone with that person ever again. If that person happens to be a spouse or family member that can create particularly difficult problems.
Explained in terms of the real-life snake situation, it may be a little easier to understand.
If someone who has a snake phobia decides to TRY to desensitize to snakes, they may be willing to do it with a trusted person for very small exposures at a time. For instance, if someone brings a snake into a room, placed SECURELY in a box, and agrees to stay for only five minutes, the phobic person may be willing to do it.
Probably, just the thought of all this about to happen would bring the person to a very anxious state, but they're trusting that it'll be a limited experience, one over which they have control, so they agree to proceed. If however, the support person decides randomly to enter with the snake and then just leave the room, or worse yet, let the snake out of the secure container, the snake-phobic person would most assuredly panic and perhaps never be willing to try this process again, and especially not with that person.
The principle is the same in both cases only, once again, in the case of the snake the trigger for the anxiety is obvious whereas in the supermarket there are no apparent "bogeymen". The "snake" is within the person, but the feelings are the same and nonetheless real.
For agoraphobics, on any given day, it often feels like we have "snakes" being thrown at us from all angles. Since agoraphobia is usually many phobias rolled into one, there are many triggers, even some we can't often identify.
A snake phobia on the other hand is considered more of a "simple" or singular phobia. It's very difficult to understand the complexity of a true agoraphobic's situation on a daily basis. It's like we have to live in a society where snakes are the norm and we simply have to adjust and be willing to live with them everyday or be thought of as "odd". This keeps us continually "on our guard" and can be very threatening and draining.
I guess the bottom line here is that we all have "something" in this life to challenge us and for some of us our challenge is not readily visible or explainable to others. We ask only that you try to accept us, even if you don't truly understood.
All I'm asking, if you have an agoraphobic in your life, please try to be as compassionate and accepting as you can be because we all do the best we can and most of us would give anything to be more like you!
Thanks for listening.
Staff, H. (2007, February 20). The Snake and the 'Snake', HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/anxiety-panic/articles/the-snake-and-the-snake