I present to you my submission for the Academic category of the YC119 New Eden Capsuleer’s Writing Contest.
I hope you enjoy the read
Dr. Mizhir Devara
The Big Blue Sky of Doom
Agoraphobia – An anxiety disorder characterized by anxiety symptoms in environments that are perceived unsafe by the person. A common trigger for agoraphobia is big open places, which is why it can be considered as the opposite of claustrophobia, however there can be other triggers. The term agoraphobia comes from the words ‘agora’ meaning public square and ‘phobia’ meaning fear. Before we dive further into this disorder I will take us back to where we, mankind, come from: Temperate planets
Temperate planets are our natural homes – environments where no technologies are needed to sustain life. Humans evolved from temperate planets and our bodies have adapted to their environment. Unlike any other forms of life, we developed technologies that allowed us to settle in places not meant for life like ours. However, our conquest of the universe has meant that many will live their lives far away from temperate planets. This could be under the dome on a barren planet with no atmosphere to sustain life, in the confined quarters of a space station, or even in caves dug under the surface of plasma planets where the surface is just too hostile for settlements. To them their homes will seem natural while the open environment of temperate planets would seem alien to them. And this is where agoraphobia comes into the picture.
I consider myself blessed that I grew up on a temperate planet. I could take each breath without ever having to worry about malfunctioning gas scrubbers. Nature did that for me and nature nurtured me like it has nurtured life for billions of years. I spent many hours staring into the blue sky. Something that seemed infinite to me but at the same time natural. And during the night it would be the starts of the universe that replaced the sky. Their light traveling lightyears before the photons got absorbed by my retinas. It never crossed my mind that these photons traveled through nothing aside from what in astronomical scale is considered a small amount of gas molecules before reaching me.
However, if I had grown up on a station, or any other planets where environmental suits are required for being outside, it would have been different. Then I would always have something solid between myself and the stars. I would not be able to live without this wall that separates my body from the cold void or any other hostile environments. And for the people who have lived their entire life in these environments, it is the lack of this barrier that is unnatural, and suddenly the blue sky can fill them with dread when they realize that the only thing between them and the void is a bunch of light reflecting gas molecules.
It is not all who from non-temperate planets and stations who develop these symptoms. And for some it is only the first one or two times while for others it can manifest for longer and for the unluckiest it can haunt them for the rest of their lives unless they get help. There are risk factors associated with the development of agoraphobia. People who have spent most of their life in small stations and ships are more likely to develop the symptoms than someone who grew up in larger stations and planetary facilities. And for the ones who grew up under large domes on the surface of planets the symptoms are much rarer. In addition, people who are used to performing EVAs are better at handling the open environments then those who haven’t. And those who has already walked the surface of planets, or moons for that matter, in environmental suits will also find this a huge benefit, especially those who has done it on planets with environments close to the environments of the temperate planets as it requires lighter suits. For those who has spent their entire life within the cramped quarters of ships or smaller stations it is almost guaranteed that they will develop symptoms. They have gotten used to always having solid walls in all directions. Even those working in large hangar bays can find the openness of a planetary surface to be overwhelming.
Dealing with agoraphobia can be challenging for the person affected. Some can handle it on their own while the more severe cases require help from someone who has experience with treating phobia. Several methods can be used, however the best results are often achieved with a combination. The most common methods are: Therapy, systematic desensitization, and medications. My preferred method is a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and desensitization. CBT is a process where the person affected is encouraged to challenge the dysfunctional thoughts or beliefs that their mind creates when exposed to phobia. The role of the therapist is to keep asking questions so the person becomes aware of their own negative thought process when their symptoms appears. The end goal is to make the person aware of the positive outcomes instead, i.e. giving them the belief that they can handle the situation.
Desensitization is a process where the person is gradually exposed to their phobia. In this case they will slowly but surely be exposed to larger and larger environments until they are finally able to handle the big blue sky of doom. The process itself can be quite sensitive as pushing too hard can reverse what has been achieved but on the other hand it is vital to be assertive as well. As a therapist, it is important to create a possible ‘route of escape’ for the person so they can withdraw in case it gets out of control. This can be a small room, a wall, or some other enclosure. In dire situations where the person lost complete control and is panicking, it may be necessary to throw a blanket over the person (or pull a sack over their head – hence the birth of the ‘stuffing a Sebbie into a sack’ joke that briefly on the IGS weeks ago). It is vital to clear this with the person beforehand as the blanket can be a shocking experience as well. It is still optimal to avoid this all together by being supportive and soothing in the process and reading their body signals so they can be pulled out of the situation before they lose control. Another tool to aid the process is the use of virtual reality to get the person accustomed to the environments before getting there in person. The virtual reality can easily be switched off if the person is losing control so it carries a minimal risk.
Medications are something I strive to avoid in treatments, however they can be used to soothe the person affected when undergoing the desensitizing process. Most of the time I avoid synthetic anxiety medications and instead rely on traditional Vherokior medicine as many of the herbs used have a milder and more natural effect.
Agoraphobia is something that is rarely discussed however it prevents countless of people from experiencing the worlds that their ancestors came from. By identifying the problem and applying the right treatment it can be handled – even the most severe cases. Studying the phenomena also serves as a reminder on how irrational the human brain can be and how much we have developed as a specie. Likewise, it shows us how different the world can be seen depending on your background. For some the blue sky is freedom and for others it is pure terror. And then there is the exact opposite case as well: People who grew up on temperate planets who struggle with handling the tight quarters on ships and small stations – The Tin Can of Madness.