Do I have mild Agoraphobia?
March 28, 2013 9:43 PM   Subscribe

I always thought that, when it comes to phobias, I won the genetic lottery, because I don't have any. I am not afraid of public speaking, flying, heights, clowns, snakes, spiders, etc. I'm not even claustrophobic, despite my mother and brother being terribly so. However, I've recently found myself wondering if perhaps I have a mild fear of wide open spaces.

There are two things which got me thinking about this. Tonight I was, as a result of a MeFi posting, watching this video, which is the intentional sinking of the USS Cushing, and some of the footage, especially right at :45 gave me a tinge of weirdness (fear?), I think because I could see the ship but there was just vast nothingness around it.

This got me thinking about a time about a year and a half ago when I was crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel on a clear, cold, windy day, and I stopped at the gift shop which is about halfway across, waaay in the middle of the Bay. There is a long, fairly low pier behind the gift shop that one can walk out on that I'd guess is about 100 yards long.

There was no one on the pier that day, and I started to walk on it, but began to feel, again, a somewhat uncomfortable. I told myself it was just too cold, but I have been wondering ever since if the vast, wide-openness around me was the problem. I actually started down the pier a couple of times before I got back in my car.

The other thing is that there is a part of me that actually likes this tinge of fear.

Is this a thing? Has anyone else ever felt this way?
posted by 4ster to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's definitely a thing. And if you like the tinge of fear try this. Next time you're out in a wide-open expanse, try realizing that to one perspective you're on top of the earth standing on top of it, but to another perspective you are underneath the planet, hanging upside down, attached to the ground by your feet by nothing but gravity...
posted by cairdeas at 9:50 PM on March 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

Do you feel the same way in a wide open field or in the desert? If not, maybe your fear is actually related to water instead of wide open spaces.
posted by Dansaman at 9:53 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've always lived in cities surrounded by mountains, giving me a constant sense of being "surrounded" and "safe". I experienced that sort of fear of the wide open first when I visited The Netherlands. Short-lived, because I spent most of my time in the cities. Next time I experienced it was the first time I visited Alberta. Very disorienting and somewhat upsetting. Back to the city for me. Then I rather impulsively moved to a very flat, very open-skied place (also in Alberta) and while I felt it quite acutely for about six months, it did eventually dissipate. I thought at the time I first experienced it that I would always feel that deep sense of terror and the sense that I could be crushed by the sky but in my case it did quietly go away.
posted by mireille at 10:01 PM on March 28, 2013

I should add that the "crushed by the sky" part was accompanied by a feeling of being too "light', of it being entirely possible that I could be sucked up into the atmosphere, and then compounded by the very real feeling of being small and insignificant. Like I said, all that went away. But it comes back in spades whenever I see the Northern Lights!
posted by mireille at 10:08 PM on March 28, 2013

Here are the criteria for phobias:
  • Marked and persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable, cued by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation (e.g., flying, heights, animals, receiving an injection, seeing blood).

  • Exposure to the phobic stimulus almost invariably provokes an immediate anxiety response, which may take the form of a situationally bound or situationally predisposed panic attack. Note: In children, the anxiety may be expressed by crying, tantrums, freezing, or clinging.

  • The person recognizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable. Note: In children, this feature may be absent.

  • The phobic situation(s) is avoided or else is endured with intense anxiety or distress.

  • The avoidance, anxious anticipation or distress in the feared situation(s) interferes significantly with the person's normal routine, occupational (or academic) functioning, or social activities or relationships, or there is marked distress about having the phobia.

  • In individuals under the age of 18, the duration is at least 6 months.

  • The anxiety, panic attack, or phobic avoidance associated with the specific object or situation are not better accounted for by another mental disorder, such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (e.g., fear of dirt in someone with an obsession about contamination), Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (e.g., avoidance of stimuli associated with a severe stressor), Separation Anxiety Disorder (e.g., avoidance of school), Social Phobia (e.g., avoidance of social situations because of fear of embarrassment), Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia, or Agoraphobia Without History of Panic Disorder.
  • posted by empath at 10:28 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

    Maybe you’re feeling excitement, wonder, a thrill, and some fear. That’s not a phobia. That’s life.

    Most people don’t have phobia’s, it’s not luck. People just talk about them a lot.
    posted by bongo_x at 10:49 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

    I dunno about phobia in a clinical sense. I can tell you driving through the flat emptiness of Kansas and the Midwest definitely gives me the heebie jeebies.
    posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:56 PM on March 28, 2013

    I feel tinges of fear when I'm in high places and looking down, but I'm not at all phobic of heights. I do have a moderate phobia of insects and, believe me, the feeling is ENTIRELY different. There's absolutely no enjoyment or excitement mixed with the fear, for one thing.
    posted by serelliya at 5:26 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

    Perhaps in the face of the expanse you're feeling something like a twinge of the sublime, which different philosophers over the centuries have explored to understand our ambivalence towards powerful natural phenomena. While the most famous formation by Kant is somewhat different, I think people ordinarily use the word sublime to describe an almost disorienting awe in experiencing gigantic, boundless experiences in nature. And Wikipedia has a nice quote that sounds like your experience: Addison, in 1699, wrote that "The Alps fill the mind with an agreeable kind of horror." (Sorry can't link now.)
    posted by third rail at 5:47 AM on March 29, 2013

    If anecdotes help at all, in my experience there's a pretty significant difference between something that makes you feel kind of deliciously uncomfortable, and exposure to something you have an actual phobia of. Roller coasters scare me a whole lot but I'll talk myself onto them because afterwards I feel all giddy and thrilled; exposure to the thing I'm phobic of - especially if I'm not expecting it - feels like this intense electric shock that pretty much blacks out any brain activity not related to GETTING AWAY RIGHT NOW (or freezing up completely if escape seems impossible). I would never deliberately put myself in a position to experience that because it's pretty awful.

    So in my completely non-expert opinion, the fact that you're not sure if you're phobic suggests that you aren't really, but either way, there's certainly nothing wrong in enjoying those twinges if you can!
    posted by DingoMutt at 6:12 AM on March 29, 2013

    Do you feel the same way in a wide open field or in the desert? If not, maybe your fear is actually related to water instead of wide open spaces.

    A bit of fear of open water is probably sane, really.

    but I have been wondering ever since if the vast, wide-openness around me was the problem.

    Vast, wide-open spaces where you can, you know, drown, are different from wheat fields.

    I would not worry about this.

    I would suggest you learn how to swim, if you don't currently know how to swim.

    In a pool.
    posted by sebastienbailard at 1:47 PM on March 29, 2013

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