Posted by: Katy | April 21, 2008

Nolagoraphobia

One of my best friends moved to Columbia, South Carolina in January 2006.  I miss her so much it hurts, yet I have never visited her.  In fact, even my roommate paid her a visit.  Just not me.  Of course, being from the area, she makes several trips a year back to our area, so I’ve still been able to see her.  In classic Kimberly fashion, she succinctly diagnosed the situation:

“You are incapable of leaving New Orleans.  You are allergic to travel.”

This was not always the case.  In 2005 I went to Gulf Shores for Spring Break, spent several weeks in England and France after graduation, and had a week long business trip to Washington, D.C.  Then disaster in the form of Katrina struck.  I spent several weeks in a hotel room that I shared with my grandparents and my rather unstable cat.  I then spent a week at a friend’s apartment in Baton Rouge.  Finally, I stayed at my parents home in a suburb on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain for nearly a month before returning to New Orleans on October 9, 2005.  By the time I got back to New Orleans, I just wanted to never again have to live out of a suitcase.  The idea of a hotel rooms made me ill.  Never again did I want to burden anyone by taking over their homes or relying on their charity.  I just wanted to BE IN MY CITY.

Now I watch as my friends journey the globe.  This year, one of my girlfriends has visited Denver, Charleston, D.C., Portland, Richmond, and Hawaii.  This weekend, she’ll be flying up to Wisconsin.  Then back to Portland.  Then a trip to London.  My roommate has visited New York, New Jersey, D.C., North Carolina, South Carolina, and even spent a whirlwind weekend in Austria!  As for me—to my horror, I realized that it’s been a year and two months since I’ve even been OUT OF THE STATE.  Trips to Baton Rouge are significant commitments.  Dear friends there say it’s just a short drive away.  For me, it’s like entering another universe.  You see, it’s not New Orleans.  As much as I complain about my city, I have a hard time functioning outside of it.  Part of the problem is that I’ve so adjusted to NOLA’s dysfunction that more humdrum cities prove difficult for me to both physically and emotionally navigate.  Another part of the problem is that the wonderful things about New Orleans—music, food, culture, quirkiness, architecture, history, decrepitude—are severely lacking elsewhere.

During the storm, I thought I had lost my city.  When you’re forced to go there—when you have to cope with the fact that everything you know and have known and planned on knowing might be suddenly destroyed—you really hold back from leaving that place.  And then two days before the anniversary of Katrina, the house next door to mine caught fire.  The fire came very close to spreading to my house.  By that, I mean it was an absolute MIRACLE that my house was spared.  I watched it all unfold from my front yard, clutching my lap top, important papers, and a duffle bag that held my terrified cat.  Kind of makes you a little scared of what might happen when you leave home.

I thought I was the only one with this problem, or at least the only one who ADMITTED it.  So many people I meet who also survived the storm and are helping with rebuilding efforts say that they MUST LEAVE the city for a while periodically in order to cope psychologically with everything.  They say how wonderful it is to visit other places, take a vacation.  I have yet to encounter anyone who openly discusses their apprehension at leaving.  Until today, when Angus Lind’s column appeared in the Picayune.  Below you will find an excerpt describing my feelings, even giving them a name!  And of course, it is all discussed in the typical New Orleans comedic style.  After all, we must laugh at ourselves and each other, especially now.

Afraid to Leave New Orleans? You many have NOLAgoraphobia

by Angus Lind, Columnist, The Times-Picayune April 21, 2008

We all know people who suffer from claustrophobia, fear of confined spaces. People who suffer from arachnophobia fear spiders, which is totally understandable, and there’s no shortage of those — both spiders and sufferers.

Then there are those who freak out at the sight of crawly things — they have ophidophobia (fear of snakes) or hereptophobia (fear of reptiles). And people who fear heights have acrophobia or altophobia, take your pick.

In today’s world, phobias, real or imagined, are everywhere you turn. You might not know the technical word for what bothers you, but you know you’ve got it.

A phobia in its simplest terms is an irrational, intense, seemingly never-ending fear of certain situations, things, activities, places or persons.

For example, I have a lifelong case of ergasiophobia — fear of work. It’s a daily battle for me. Just ask my bartender.

Agoraphobia is one of the more common phobias, or anxiety disorders. It can be a fear of traveling, a fear of leaving what is perceived as a comfort zone or a safe harbor. An agoraphobiac is someone who is not comfortable where he/she does not want to be. Some cases are so severe that the person is confined to his block, his house, or even a room in the house.

Among the more famous agoraphobiacs are Woody Allen and actress Daryl Hannah. One of my readers, let’s call him Huey, confessed to me recently that he suffers from a special form of agoraphobia in which the sufferer (that would be Huey) experiences serious discomfort when leaving New Orleans.

He calls it NOLAgoraphobia.

But let him describe it. It’s very interesting. And weird.

“I apparently have internalized the entire city as my home and thus am as nervous about leaving the city as a conventional agoraphobiac is about leaving his house,” Huey says.

Makes sense. If a true Orleanian, whether native or adopted, has to go long periods of time without red beans, gumbo, po-boys, crawfish, shrimp and ersters, his immune system starts breaking down. When that happens, he is basically dysfunctional until either the pilot says he is beginning his approach to New Orleans or he spots the “New Orleans City Limits” sign on the highway.

But NOLAgoraphobia can be even more serious. Not long ago, I wrote about how parochial and insulated people in some New Orleans neighborhoods are — some folks even limiting their activities to certain boundaries and perceiving places outside of their self-designated borders as distant outposts, unknown territory not to be explored.

In New Orleans, parochial sometimes is a synonym for psychotic.

Huey said that reminded him of his NOLAgoraphobia, and wished he was kidding, but he’s not. Or as he put it, “It creeps me out to leave town. It’s such a comfort factor here. Whenever I’m driving home, I always feel good. I can’t wait to get back.”

The NOLAgoraphobia support group forms to the left. First meeting is at the opening day of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

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Responses

  1. You were the FIRST person I thought of when I read this article. I’m glad you can now put a name to it too!


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