by Thomas Yarbrough
July 17, 2020
One year after the death of my Father.
Twelve years after being a shut-in in my Father’s house, frozen by Agoraphobia and Social Anxiety.
A childhood marked by shyness and an escape into introversion. The play world of my mind; beginnings of an artist, a room just for myself and phantoms that passed, some benign, others long-haunting hardwired the switch of my fight or flight response.
Looking back I view no egregious trauma I can distinctly point to. My parents were loving. Ames, Iowa had not recorded a murder in 50 years and many houses, like my house were rarely locked and children were free to wander into the dark to play.
My childhood was not bleak by any means. I did play, was generally happy and held onto a few good friends, but the seeds of phobia were sowed. Its birthplace alludes me, bloodlines, a loner tilt, the small frame of my body for which I was teased surely could not have helped.
My first panic attack was in my senior year of high school. I was at a party unacquainted with those present. Not knowing what to say or do I backed myself in a corner and awkwardly watched; my left hand began to shake. I retreated to the bathroom until the episode subsided and promptly left. I would go on to have hundreds of panic attacks. Many would arise for no apparent reason and shared a sameness: doom, then an intense thirty minute full body spasm. I would lay down in a fetal position and breathe letting the energy escape me. As I grew older I welcomed the shaking stage, it meant the fear had pierced a leak-way out, for the seconds preceding it, classic to panic attacks, was the conviction of impending death.
Early summer, forty-nine years old, 2017, I had been diligently tapering off Seroquel. It was the seventh week. I can’t say if that was a cause of what was to come, there had been the lingering tragedy of Father’s passing. Shadows were my sole companions. What can only be described as unending terror commenced, only without the shaking or release valve. I was hospitalized three times in secession. Friendless, unable to do anything, but lay down and slow my breath; standing felt like a heart attack. Twice I called 911 and went to the ER first, once directly self-admitting myself to the behavior ward when suicide appeared to be the next logical step. It was only after the final hospital stint that a new trio of medications stabilized my condition.
I had been on anti-psychotics for 12 years up into that point, because a psychiatrist years ago diagnosed me with bi-polar, incorrect as it was (miss-diagnosis are common) fooled me for a time. I don’t think it would have mattered then what was on paper in some dusty file cabinet or what words I self-identified with; I had not crossed the threshold where I had the tenacity to help myself, therefor what others or myself might have proffered couldn’t be duly received.
In the end only I embodied the power to take the first step to grasp the helping hand. That August without the support of my Father whose protection shielded me from homelessness and destitution throughout my adulthood I had finally touched bottom. The choice before me was life or some form of death, tactile or psychic. Several weeks after that choice I had an epiphany; a flash of insight. I struggled for the next three days trying to puzzle back its revelation. Piece the story together, manifest a word, a few phrases, mantra-
Anxiety, anger, fear, sadness, regret, loneliness, envy, embarrassment, hopelessness
are natural responses to the human condition. There is not a single person who doesn’t cycle through these emotions through their own time-line of experience.
I now possessed a key to unlock the shackles of my shame and reverse the mirror in which I viewed the world.
The pathos of the human condition is a gateway towards universal commonwealth regardless of one’s divergent path. The encyclopedia of the heart a communion for shared knowledge, validation of worth, a window into empathy and connected communication. I reached out for that helping hand and allowed it lift me.
I entered the PROS program at Tompkins County Mental Health, for which I participated in for the next two years embracing my peers. I won’t lie, it was admittedly easier at that juncture to try out my friend-making abilities with those who shared some of the same reasons for our presence, proof of the necessity for programs where peers can freely engage and support each other, for myself a life-saver. Over the proceeding months a calling blossomed, as the practice of self-disclosure, reciprocal in nature, lead to pathways of healing and happiness buoyed by the kinship of my community to become the one whose hand lifted others, to reassure they also were no longer alone and no shame needed to be cast for the act of simply being human, for on the other side of that mirror lies hope,
love, gratitude, inspiration, confidence, creativity, joy, empowerment, the future.
Photo: Ithaca City Cemetery – 07/17/20