Graduation Year

2009

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Sociology

Major Professor

Sara E. Green, Ph.D.

Keywords

Panic, Stigma, Emotion, Anxiety, Coping mechanisms

Abstract

My thesis explores the disabling condition agoraphobia with panic disorder across the life spans of three individuals who are related: 63 year old Grandmother, her daughter - 43 year old Mother, and her grandson - 23 year old Son. As their life stories are told, glimpses of experienced stigma, emotional management, creation of identities, and coping mechanisms are revealed. These are analyzed using the sociological theories of Goffman, Ellis, Cahill, and Davidson. The notion of nature versus nurture is most apparent in Son's story which details the effects of growing up with Grandmother's severe agoraphobic episodes. While each individual does have similarities in their experience of this disorder, nevertheless they each cope and manage in very different ways. I begin by offering a quick look at my own experience with the disorder. I then provide a definition of agoraphobia with panic disorder, its etiology and risk factors.

I discuss the prevalence of the disorder and how it affects the individuals' quality of life. I present Grandmother, Mother and Son's life stories followed by an analysis of their experienced stigma, emotion management, and coping mechanisms. Of particular interest, is Son's life story followed by his personal depiction of the evolution of his anxiety, his theory concerning causes, and his methods of control. My methodology was selected, first, because Priestly (2003) suggests taking the life span approach is of vital importance when studying a disability. Second, while many assertions have been made about what influences the onset of this disorder; little is known about what the individuals actually experience and how it affects their emotions and social interactions.

The use of qualitative methodology allows for a more in-depth understanding of these individuals' thoughts, perceptions, and emotional reactions to their illness and interactions that cannot be known through quantitative methods. In addition, this may provide us with the tools to create successful interventions that will lessen the discomfort of the individuals and will also allow us to find ways to reduce the harm inflicted by society while adding knowledge about the social and emotional experience of this disabling illness.

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