Retreat, Isolate, and Shut Down by
(11 Stories)

Prompted By Illness

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For a few years during childhood, I had asthma, though never so severe that I had to go to the emergency room. Still, those episodes left a legacy. My asthma attacks were precipitated by physiological arousal such as athletic activity or even laughing intensely. In response, I had to quit the athletic activity or stop laughing immediately. (There were no inhalers available back then). When the attack was strong enough, my solution was to go to our bathroom, close the door, kneel down on one leg by the tub, lower my head, and try to calm myself. The core experience of asthma is the sensation that you are not getting enough air, that you are suffocating or drowning. It’s a very private experience because everyone else around you is breathing comfortably. It is about as clear an experience as I have ever had that one is ultimately alone. And not only alone, but at risk of dying at a moment’s notice.

...with isolation and aloneness as the only relief.

I did learn the valuable skill of calming myself and eventually retrieving my breath, but I could only do so by removing myself from the company of others. Intense activity or arousal with others posed an inherent danger of an asthma attack, and I could not predict them very well. So, in interacting with others, I always had a readiness to monitor my arousal and take protective action if necessary. Engaging with people became associated with potential danger with isolation and aloneness as the only relief.  I suspect those experiences facilitated by conversion to an existentialist philosophy of life.

Profile photo of Lou Moffett Lou Moffett
I was born in 1946 and raised in the Bywater district of New Orleans.
I attended Jesuit High School and then Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, graduating in 1968 with a major in psychology and a minor in philosophy. In 1968-69, I did graduate study in personality at the University of California, Berkeley, I returned to LSU to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology although my dissertation was on the psychology of sculpture. I completed my internship at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Palo Alto, California, and then became a staff psychologist there specializing in the treatment of men with severe substance use disorders. During those years I also taught at Stanford's School of Education and was a clinical educator in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in the Medical School.
I also taught at Palo Alto University, and, in 2008 I retired from the VA and became a full-time professor at PAU and then retired from there in 2013.

Tags: illness, asthma, aloneness, existentialism
Characterizations: moving


  1. John Zussman says:

    What a shame that your condition put you forever on guard for too much arousal or even too much laughter! It must be sobering to learn of our aloneness at such a young age.

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