My Hidden Hoopdance with Agoraphobia

August 5, 2013 Caroleeena healthHoopingmental health


Agoraphobia has been the biggest challenge of my life. I’ve never said that out loud before.

The outside world is unpredictable. You never know when or where something terrible will happen. I know this from experience. It’s not safe out there.

I prefer to stay home, in an environment I have some control over.

Going out means driving. You can be the best driver in the world but if someone else isn’t, they can kill you. Or you can be the person who sees someone get killed. Or you could be hurt really bad…but not die. And if you don’t have health insurance in this country, good luck!

Going in public means going among strangers. Most people are good but some people are not good. Some people are angry. Some people are mentally ill. Some people are intoxicated. Some people are predators. I always kind of have my guard up in public. When I leave, I can hardly wait to get home again.

Now I have my safe spaces, places that are more predictable, that feel safer. Sometimes these places are quite far from my home. Distance is not really the issue. I think the main issue is people.

I also worry about leaving my animals though. When I taught in Birmingham two years ago, I returned to find my kitty Cassidy had had some kind of seizure that ultimately cost him his life. I can’t type that without crying about it. I feel so guilty. I’ve had a lot of trouble leaving since then.

Anyway, you can see what it’s like — big scary world out there, safe(r) place here. (Though telephones, mail, and email can bring scary, awful news right into your sanctuary. Not wanting to drive, talk on the phone, or read emails, are some of the most embarrassing side-effects of living with these fears. I feel ashamed that I feel anxiety about things that are normal to other people.)

A lot of life experiences contributed to this. I know some of them, I’m sure there are others, but these feelings and fears have ebbed and flowed (and occasionally eddied) my whole life long. Hooping is one of my coping strategies.

Hooping gets me up and moving. It puts a smile on my face. It shakes off indolence and lethargy before it hardens into entropy. It releases endorphins and serotonin and dopamine. Hooping is a direct path to joy.

Hooping gets me out of my head and into my body. When my inner voice is getting into feedback loops of catastrophizing and worries, I need to get out of there! Putting on music and making up a little dance in my living room helps me do that.

Hooping gets me out of my house. One of the reasons I started the Raleigh Hoop Jam was as a service (because nothing gets you out of your own worries like serving others) but another was to get myself out in public at least once a week.

I feel safe in my hoop. The hoop creates its own safe space. People literally cannot get too close to you without getting hit. If feels like armor sometimes. Hooping in public actually feels safer to me than being hoop-less in public. It’s weird, I know, but I’ll go to places where there are lots of people, like festivals or free concerts, if I can hoop. It gets me out and among people a lot more. Plus, people come up and talk to you when you’re hooping so it’s a relatively safe way to make friends and meet people.

Hooping is creative and creating is empowering. It makes us feel confident and competent and alive. It makes us feel up to our challenges.

Hooping allows me to connect with other hoopers! That is a blessing too because hoopers are some of the kindest, most considerate, most well-adjusted people I’ve ever met. For someone with a fear of unpredictable people and/or scary situations, finding hoopers is a godsend! The hoop community feels safe.

I am grateful for hooping. It’s been a huge blessing in my life.

When I say it is my favorite form of mental health care, I am not kidding. It is.

6 Responses to “My Hidden Hoopdance with Agoraphobia”

  • Jane O'Brien says:

    Caroleena, it was great meeting you last night and I loved “hooping” with you. Thanks for giving me tips to get me back in the practice. I have a ways to go but that will come. I have just moved back to the area after living at the NC coast for 15 years. I too had become too secluded in my home, not for the same reasons, but still I needed to get out. I would have never done this in my old location. We talked about you making a hoop for me and I am trying to decide which color I would like. If you are planning to be back at the park next Wednesday night, I will be there. Thanks so much for what you do. You are helping others in more ways that you can imagine.

  • Joe R. says:

    How could I not have seen this in you when I know how much it is in me too? Much love and new understanding, and kudos for bravery in spite of it all.

  • mzmary says:

    i’m right there with ya. have all the similar issues. and yes, hooping has helped! let’s help slay our phobias with a frickin’ hoop… xo

  • bj says:

    hey… this was very brave indeed. i enjoyed it and definitely enjoy knowing that there are other people that i love and admire facing some of the same challenges i face.

    and as anne says, i love you for all of it!

  • Anne says:

    You are one open, brave, smart, kind, and, yes, sometimes scared woman and I love you for all of it.

  • Jodie says:

    I just want to say that I read your post and am moved. It was brave of you to share all of this. Thank you. I think there are many that are in similar situations and it’s good to know that it doesn’t define you. <3

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