I have been armored most of my life. I remember when my friend and I went for a walk in my neighborhood. We were about six years old. We thought it would be funny to not come home when we were told. So it got darker and when we finally did get home, I found my mother anxiously waiting for me. She was terrified and in her desire to teach me a lesson said, “You can’t be out alone like that. Men will grab you down there!” Yes, that’s what she said, in the innocence of the fifties. Somehow that message quickly sank into my subconscious. It was to stay there until I was in junior high.

Fast forward to me having a date with a guy in 11th grade when I was in the ninth. I had a crush on him. We drove downtown. He said he wanted to go into a shop and see if he could get a tie for his dad for Father’s Day. I stood there on the sidewalk alone and was hit by a panic attack. I had no idea that is what they were called. The world overwhelmed me. I wanted to escape. That feeling drove my life and to some extent still does.

I had had one other panic attack prior to that. I was about to go onstage at the Mid-South County Fair and do my acrobatic routine. I was so relaxed that I gorged myself on taffy I had bought there. Suddenly the panic hit and I felt nauseous and afraid. I performed poorly because of that and didn’t win anything. The previous year I was was one of the top dancers. But there you go. Life had turned me into a panicky person and there was no way out.

There was no talk of agoraphobia in those days but that is what I had. My parents knew I was anxious. I remember talking to a kindly family doctor who was interested in hypnotism. He tried that on me but it didn’t work. I was not given medication; it simply was something I had to deal with.

Talented, I now was afraid to be visible. When in college, my psych professor urged me to major in it, I knew I was too “crazy” to do that. So I chose English with psychology as a minor. When I met Bob Woodyard, he felt safe to me. A foot taller and with a genuine ethical bent, he treated me like a gift beyond measure. And so I relaxed into my marriage with him.

But the agoraphobia went with me. He got frustrated because I never would socialize. There were no parties at our house, none at all. I just wasn’t wired to endure that sort of thing. I often felt anxiety coursing through my body and my only recourse was withdrawal from people.

Eventually I took to the spiritual path, which led me to Betty Bethards. She was a spiritual teacher and healer. I told her about the panic attacks and she laughed heartily. “Did they hit you when you were in puberty?” she asked. “Yes, I was about 13,” I said.

“That’s when it happened to me, too,” she said. “I couldn’t be in crowds of people because I was clairsentient. I was picking up on everybody’s energy.” So she taught me how to surround myself with a balloon of white light and that is something I now do every day.

Clairsentience is when you know people through their vibrations. It happens instantly and on a subconscious level. My antennae, unbeknownst to me, turned in the direction of sensing bad things that might happen to me. My mother was simply afraid of losing me, and to show me, she scared me into agoraphobia. It was no longer safe to be in the world.

I write all of this because everyone has their inner demons. I now know that this fear of people gave me time to want to know God. My life isn’t empty so much as rich in silence.

Subtraction is the theme of my life. I lost my family when Bob and I moved away after our marriage. Our daughter died and then Bob. Only my son and I remain.

The lessons in life come at you suddenly, cracking your ideas of yourself into many pieces. We have many selves within us. There is darkness and there is light. I write about each, so it is time for me to write about my anxiety-ridden nature.

I live in days of great peace now, a phrase I borrow from Mouni Sadhu. I learned from Peter, who knew only the present moment to be fruitful. I learned from loss, which softens you around the edges, allowing the armor to drop. I learn from wise friends who assure me that I am lovable just as I am.

We are all children huddling in the dark, hoping that the light will heal us. It will.

Vicki Woodyard


    1. Mary, when I think back, my grandmother and cousin both lost children and both isolated themselves emotionally. Ordinary People is a movie that deals with that theme beautifully. To be in the shoes of a bereaved parent is to walk alone when everyone else is seemingly connected. Both were private to an extreme degree, as I am. This has to do with extreme vulnerability and not knowing any other way to be. We appear aloof when we are actually shaken to the core.


      1. One other thing I find interesting. My cousin’s first child died of leukemia. A year to the day later, I was born, in the same hospital room that she had been born in!


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