When I was 14 I was told that I was suffering with agoraphobia. I remember how it started. It was a summer’s day and I had gone to pick blackberries with my family. Everyone liked picking blackberries except for me. I didn’t like the prickles in my fingers or round my legs. It always took a long time for the soreness to go away and I was left with a horrible itchy feeling. The best blackberries grew by the railway line about 5 minutes from our house. I remember the heat that day and the sun shimmering off the railway tracks making my head feel slightly swimmy. I never really felt safe near the track because I was a bit scared a train might come. No-one else was worried so I followed them to the blackberry bushes. Now I knew I was miserable and everyone else seemed so happy! I felt alone – very alone and scared of the heat and the trains and the prickles. I just wanted to go home.
When I got home I went up to my bedroom and all the fear seemed to come back at me. Most of all I felt the very alone feeling and then I felt as if I wasn’t quite in the room, quite in my body. Now I was really scared. What was happening to me? The feeling kept coming after that – when I was in shops, in church, at school, in the car . . . and I felt really scared and really really alone.
Mum took me to the doctors and they told me I had something called agoraphobia – a fear of open spaces. I thought that was strange. I wasn’t really afraid of open spaces or closed in spaces. I was just afraid and I didn’t know why. It was worse when I couldn’t move from the place that was scaring me like the classroom or a shop. Then I felt I just wanted to get out – into a place where I could feel free. But once outside I didn’t feel free. I just felt more alone and still afraid.
I went to see a child psychologist who talked to me about what I wanted in life. I remember being asked what I would have if I had 3 wishes. I could only think of a new bicycle! I didn’t see the point of the question and it annoyed me. The phsychologist encouraged me to set myself little goals and then feel pleased with myself when I had achieved them. I just felt really down on myself like I was failing myself and my family so although I set myself the goals and achieved them I never felt pleased but at least a little relieved.that I was making some progress.
I went on to take my O Levels and A Levels but I felt different. I felt as if I had lost a part of myself. I was less expressive, more serious and felt the need to ‘get by’ and not be noticed too much. I din’t want to be seen or heard – just ‘get by’ and’ get on’. The light had gone out of my eyes and the bounce had gone out of my step.
I didn’t know then what I know now, that the feelings I had picking blackberries were just my awakening to my soulfulness. I was simply becoming aware that I felt nuances of feeling in the world that others just don’t feel. No-one told me I could just be sensitive and deep feeling. I was told instead that I had something wrong with me – I was neurotic and needed fixing.
Yesterday we took our 8 year old son, Luca to a national trust property called Montacute House. He wanted to go because he loves the parkland and the sheep. We spent many relaxed times there in the summer. Yesterday though, he was not relaxed. The sun was no-where to be seen hiding behind the dense grey cloud. The tall Edwardian house looked eery and foreboding. We headed toward’s Luca’s favourite parkland and there were no sheep. Luca said “I don’t like it, it is lonely and spooky. I want to go home”. I tried to draw from Luca what he didn’t like – whether it was just the sheep or something else and he said “It’s just loads of things. Everything is wrong – I hate it here” The wind picked up and Luca pulled at my scarf for refuge and warmth. I put my arm round him and like a mother hen shielding her chick from the storm I helped Luca back to the car.
On the way home I puzzled over our experience and just how different Luca’s response had been today to the place he had loved so much in the summer. I felt frustrated and I wanted somehow to fix this problem of Luca struggling with places and atmospheres. Later in the evening my husband Richard said “Is this how your experience of agoraphobia started?” I hadn’t thought about this for a long time but I would have to say “My experience of agoraphobia started when I awakened to my soulful nature but there was no-one there who knew how to help me”
Let’s not label our children ‘awkward’ or ‘anxious’. Let’s listen to them, learn to understand them and let them know that it is a blessing to be soulful! With the right support, time and our patience, soulful children can feel just fine in the world.