Hovering around the top of my somewhat fluid list of all-time favourite movies is Agora, a film by Alejandro Amenabar, starring one of my favourite actresses, Rachael Weiz. Set in Egypt in 4th century AD, it is the story of Hypatia, a brilliant astronomer and philosophy teacher positioned at the centre of violent religious upheaval between Christian groups and pagans who continued to follow the Roman gods. Although it has been both applauded and criticised for being anti-Christian, it is a powerful and gripping reflection of the deadly consequences of religious intolerance and power struggles. But I digress somewhat.
The title, the Greek word ‘agora’ literally means ‘gathering place’, referring to a central public space in ancient Greek city-states that were first used for political purposes, then later as market places.
I had never given much thought to the idea that I might be agoraphobic until fairly recently as I had always believed that agoraphobia meant ‘fear of open spaces’ because I actually love open spaces as these are the places I feel most connected to the universe. I also pictured agoraphobics as people who linger at their front door unable to leave the security of their homes. I have no problem leaving my home; it just depends on where I am intending to go.
Agoraphobia has been defined on Wikipedia as “an anxiety disorder characterised by symptoms of anxiety (including panic attacks) were a person perceives the environment to be unsafe with no easy way to get away. Those affected will go to great lengths to avoid these situations.” So, I guess I am an agoraphobic because I just can’t handle shopping centres (our modern day 21st Century equivalent of a Greek market place I suppose).
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I especially hate and avoid large shopping malls at all costs. Shopping malls: those dreadful, air-conditioned, crowded labyrinths of shops and businesses with countless numbers of robotic faceless shoppers wandering around. And to make it even worse, these shopping malls are everywhere and growing, even as I write this.
My closest mall, which was relatively accessible and tolerable thirty years ago, has recently been redeveloped and now houses four times as many supermarkets, shops, banks, cafes etc. What is worse is the new monolithic car park that has been built next to it which is a nightmare to navigate through. The other mall in my area has also grown excessively to the extent that I can’t imagine even thinking about going there.
Fortunately for me, just around the corner from where I live is a small shopping strip that has nearly everything I need including three doctors, a dentist, physiotherapist and three cafes. So that, along with my regular grocery delivery and my favourite way of shopping – online – I don’t feel as if I am missing anything.
I am amazed at the growth of these shopping malls considering how it is so easy to now buy just about anything you want online and if you are smart, find businesses that even offer free delivery and an easy returns policy.
So, am I agoraphobic or am I just getting old – or is it that online shopping makes life so much easier? I don’t know but I will still avoid shopping malls unless my life depends on it.
Do you feel anxious in crowded places, or do you love nothing more than hitting the shops?