Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Agoraphobia Musings and Strangers

I wasn't always shy.

I used to be adventurous.  I never wanted to be at home; it was always: run, go, do, see, explore, create.  Never just "be."  Everything was open to me.  The world was my oyster.

Slowly, though, the constraints of school and life and growing-up crept closer and closer until going and doing and seeing and exploring were very low on the priority list.  Then, I moved to Rome.  What a dry patch!  For a year, I had no friends except the ones I had to be on the computer to see.  Home became the theme.  I rarely left the house unless I absolutely had to, and even then, I would get anxious about all of the people and everything I wasn't used to and I would hurry back into my shell.

My personality changed.  Being in a place where being American is uncommon muddled my thoughts and made me shy.  I didn't want to stand out, so I backed into a dark corner and hid as best as I could.  My thoughts were just a series of commands.  "Walk tall.  Don't look him in the eye; he's sketchy.  Pronounce Italian better, dummy, they're going to think you're an idiot.  Don't make eye contact; that lady might start a conversation and that could get awkward."

So I would stay inside.

I became a homebody.  I would groan when we left the house, or if I had to go somewhere by myself.  And I was immensely frustrated with this new development.

And then it all changed.  I moved to Brussels and made some friends who happen to live a good distance away.  In order to see them, I have to walk about 5 minutes to the bus stop, take a 15 minute bus ride to the train station, and then ride the train for 45 minutes to their town.

This has forced me to purchase train tickets, figure out arrival/departure times, talk to people, and maneuver around a foreign country all by myself.

I realized one day how agoraphobic I'd become when my dad made me go out.  He told me I just needed to leave the house and do something, to conquer a few fears, so I took the bus to Starbucks and went to my favorite little bookstore.  When I found out the bookstore was closed, I walked right back to the bus stop and came home.  I didn't explore or try to find somewhere else to see something new; my first instinct was to run home.

Yeah, that had to change.

My agoraphobic tendencies still often outweigh my exploratory ones.  I still think too hard about every detail of everything I do in public, and I occasionally panic when something that's routine gets twisted up and I have to change my modus operandi.  But, I've been getting better.  I find myself caring less and less.  How sweet coffee tastes when I've ordered it in French without passing the duty onto my friend.  I'll hug my buddies all the harder when I take the train and the bus to their house without any incidents or mild panic attacks.  I'll have a conversation in what I like to call "Frenglish" with the sweet girl who sat next to me on the train.

Perhaps the dulling down of my adventure-sense was a good thing.  Maybe it broke whatever could have been irrational or overly-enthusiastic in me.  Now, I must build a bit of it back up; I need to break the cycle of shyness and self-awareness in order to blend those warring spirits happily within me.

I'm learning how to talk to strangers.


  1. <3
    I love you, Caroline Malone.
    Thanks so much for sharing this ;)

  2. I love this.
    I can't wait till I move back to Europe- did I tell you there's a possibility we might go to Brussels?

  3. It's interesting to see the different sides of you caro ;) love you. :)


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