Anxious hermit


Anxious hermit


your avatar   the idiot

Hello. Where to begin? I'm in my fifties, university degree, divorced, no kids, family all dead, own a business and home, no close friends anywhere nearby, no girlfriend for maybe 10 or 11 years, no hobbies or interests other than watching TV. I am neither religious nor spiritual, but am emotional -- in that I can be moved by something I see or read. I have a poor self-image (which I deal with by dressing very well), poor body image (which I address by never looking at myself closely in a mirror), and several bouts of serious depression in my life starting as a teenager (which I cope with by hoarding sedatives "in case").

I've been in and out of therapy five or six times in my life, with no changes or improvements in my mental state or outlook. I haven't slept with anyone in eight years, and stopped going on "dates" four years ago. Frankly, I have no interest in sex or an emotional relationship with a woman. None of the stabs at it worked out anyway, and I got tired of being used or taken advantage of.

I have traveled all over the world but became an increasingly nervous flyer in the mid-1990s. By 1997, it was so bad that I was at the airport and couldn't board the plane to come home, so I left and took a train instead. I haven't flown since, and even watching a TV show set inside an airliner makes me nervous. I've tried a program offered by an airline, read about flying phobias and their causes, did an aversion therapy class (couldn't take the last step and get on the plane), did a program offered through my then-employer's EAP. Nothing worked.

Now I am becoming increasingly anxious when I have to leave home (my office is in my house). I worry that my dog or cat will become ill, that there'll be a fire, something along those lines. So other than when I absolutely have to go out for business or to buy food, I stay at home to avoid the anxiety. I don't suffer the panic attacks others here have described -- I am just very uneasy. Basically, everything in my world seems increasingly threatening and unsafe. At night, I keep all of the drapes closed and the inside lights dim, while lighting the exterior of my home so that it is impossible to see if anyone (me) is inside -- the interior looks dark from the street. Does this mean I am suffering from paranoia, as well?

I regularly calculate how many of the sedatives it would take to ensure that I die if I choose to. I am in despair I don't think therapy will ever work for me (I've tried every type imaginable, from psychoanalysis to transactional, cognitive to open-ended but focused conversations). I despair at the thought of continuing my life as it is, yet lack the courage to swallow the damn pills. I feel angry very often, at myself and at the world (no, I am in no risk of harming anyone else). The last therapist I saw (I ended it in August 2000 when I saw no progress in eight or nine months and realized I was wasting her time and my money) said it as if there is an emotional miniature living inside me, slowly trying to kill me by cutting myself off from the world.

Too much background? Hope not.

Why do I feel so unsafe and unhappy? Why can some people have joy in their life (or seem to -- I'm not sure anyone really feels joy or happiness) and some of us are ordained to be so miserable and want to die? How did the anxiety and, eventually, a phobia take root and assume such control? What will it take for me to finally have the guts to take the pills and get better? Thank you.


    Bob Rich, Ph.D.

My friend (I refuse to call you 'idiot', for obviously you are a highly intelligent man),

On reading your story, my first thought was, "There but for the grace of God go I" - not that I am religious. The problem you have described so well and eloquently is not just YOUR problem. It is an epidemic. That means to me that it has struck you, not because you are faulty (though that's how it feels to you) but because society is faulty.

First of all, I want you to track down a wonderful book: Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Just reading this book could change your life.

All your past therapy has been ineffective because it tried to fix you when you weren't faulty. All that you did wrong was to take into your belief system the values of the global industrial culture: materialism, the futile search for 'happiness' as if it was a substance, the passive attitude that 'they' need to fix things for me.

My friend, your current troubles are like itches. Think of your back. Sooner or later you will feel an itch there. And once they start, new ones keep popping up. I have one on my shoulder blade, it started as I began typing this sentence.

Emotional itches are the same. They are generated by us focusing inwards on 'me, me, me', and they keep breeding and growing. Once you have read Frankl's book, you'll understand what I mean.

People CAN be joyful and happy. YOU can. The secret, if you can manage it, is to stop worrying about it.

You are lonely. You don't want a sexual partner, and that's fine, but you need company, the friendship of other people.

You are a ship adrift, with nowhere to sail to. All you are doing with your life is making money and worrying about your mental health. Use your excess time (which really is all of it?), some of your money, to do something worthwhile, not just for yourself, but for people outside. There are so many worthwhile causes! You will find that the more you give of yourself (not your money, but your involvement, your intelligence, your very being), the more you will get back.

You are only in your fifties, not an old man yet. Illness or suicide apart, you can expect 20 to 25 more productive years. Use them, for the benefit of others. The rewards to you will be ENORMOUS.

You have connection to the Internet. You can initially cosset your agoraphobia by making your contacts and doing your community work through your computer. But I predict that soon you will have a need to fly the nest of safety once more, and you will not be able to remember what the hell you had been afraid of.

The first step is the hardest. But what have you got to lose?

And if you read this, please send me an email. I would have forwarded this answer directly to you, but you didn't even leave a webmail address. I am at


Bob Rich

This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.For more information visit:


Spend some time getting to know yourself. What are your true beliefs and values?
"Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced."
Soren Kierkegaard
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