Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Is For Agoraphobia

This year my family is planning a cruise together for Christmas. Fun, right? And yet, after we bought the tickets a couple of months ago, and as I lay awake for the 3rd night straight with sweaty palms and a racing heart, I finally had to admit that I have a real problem.

A problem called agoraphobia.

I only know that word thanks to one of you readers - the one who suggested in the comments once that my "escape anxiety," as I called it, was actually something called agoraphobia. At the time I did a quick Google search for the definition, agreed with the commenter, and moved on. Having a fancy name for my peculiar flavor of anxiety just didn't seem all that helpful, to be honest. I mean, most folks don't even know what agoraphobia is, so what good is it having a label?

But as it turns out, it can be a whole lot of good.

As it turns out, understanding that "label" could very well be the key to understanding my anxiety, to mastering my panic, and - at the risk of sounding overly dramatic - to getting my life back.

You see, I've let my fear bully my life away. I've been telling myself I was fine missing out, that I was happy always staying home, waiting in the gift shop, taking the stairs, skipping the show. I never dared let myself wish I could have it all back some day.

But today, dangit, I dare.

So now I'm going to tell you what agoraphobia is. I'm going to tell you what it looks like, so you can watch out for the signs in yourself or your loved ones. And I'm going to tell you what I'm doing right now to try to undo the damage I've done to myself - damage that I *thought* was actually helping.

First, what the heck is agoraphobia? Here's what The Anxiety And Phobia Workbook has to say:

"The word agoraphobia means fear of open spaces; however, the essence of agoraphobia is a fear of panic attacks. If you suffer from agoraphobia, you are afraid of being in situations from which escape might be difficult - or in which help might be unavailable - if you suddenly had a panic attack."

Many people associate agoraphobia with housebound shut-ins, but that only happens in the most extreme cases. Most agoraphobics can leave the house, but almost all will avoid things like elevators, airplanes, sitting up front, driving alone or in heavy traffic, and other hard-to-escape situations.

Seven years ago I developed a panic disorder, literally overnight, but no one told me that's what it was. Four days in the hospital, countless tests, doctor visits, trips to cardiologists & kidney specialists, and not a single health professional ever uttered the words "panic disorder" or "anxiety attack." NOT ONE.

Looking back, I'm kinda irked about that.

And since no one mentioned anxiety, of course I also wasn't warned about the very real danger of agoraphobia. I wasn't told that more than 30% of people with panic disorder will develop agoraphobia, or that it strikes far more women than men. (About 80% of agoraphobics are women.) I wasn't told what to look for or how to combat it, or that catching the fear early on can be crucial.

The trouble is it starts out so very logically: if going to church makes you have a panic attack, then stop going to church. And hey, since panic is all about adrenaline and over-stimulation, it just makes sense to avoid loud environments like theaters or concerts, right? That's just taking good care of yourself!

As avoiding those situations rewards you with fewer panic attacks, you may start to think you've really got a handle on this whole anxiety thing. To keep up your "winning streak," you might start avoiding any situation that gives you even a twinge of discomfort. Elevators, public transportation, tunnels, crowds, long trips, theme park rides, shopping or driving alone, rush hour. Before you know it, your world has shrunk down to a carefully regulated "safe zone," and so long as you don't try to leave that zone, you feel pretty good!

But then, say, your family schedules a Caribbean cruise, and that fragile house of cards can come tumbling down.

To clarify, being uncomfortable in confined situations doesn't necessarily make you agoraphobic. It's only when you start avoiding situations because of that fear that the phobia truly begins. And the more you avoid - and are consequently rewarded with fewer panic attacks - the more entrenched that fear can become.

Funny, isn't it? How something that feels so healthy - less stress and panic - can actually be so damaging?

There is good news, though, and it's this: Agoraphobia can be reversed. You - WE - can get our lives back. It's not easy, and the process kinda sucks, to be honest, but knowing there's a light at the end of this tunnel helps more than I can say.

So this is what I've done so far:

First, I ordered several books on treating panic and agoraphobia in particular. So far I've made it through The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, and I'm working on Master Your Panic now.

The Workbook is huge and a bit daunting, and I was rolling my eyes a lot through some of the "inner child" and childhood history chapters, but I learned more there than I did in seven years of chasing diagnoses from doctors. (Apparently I'm the textbook personality type for panic disorder: a creative, people-pleasing, emotionally sensitive, conflict-avoiding control freak with a hefty streak of perfectionism. Who knew?)

Next, I went to my doctor for a check-up. (Ergo that Halloween blood draw.) Since this next step will undoubtedly cause me more anxiety, I need the peace of mind that comes from a current clean bill of health. Not only that, there are several deficiencies that can cause increased anxiety: deficiencies of magnesium, potassium (both of which were critically low for me in the past), B vitamins, and even calcium.

Once I get my test results back, I plan to get more aggressive with the treatment I've already begun: exposure therapy. The name says it all, but please don't run out and throw yourself into situations that make you panic; this is NOT an "all-in" approach. First you have to get comfortable with the proper techniques for managing a panic attack, most of which I already learned from Hope and Help for Your Nerves. (If you have panic attacks, read that book.)

Once you have the mental and breathing exercises down, then it's time to slowly start testing the limits of your safe zone. This is to be done incrementally, and though it only works if you feel some anxiety, you're never to push yourself so far that you have an actual attack. You have to build up your confidence, testing your ability to manage the anxiety as you go, until the things you fear become almost routine.

I know exposure therapy works, because I can take long trips in a car again. There was a time when just climbing into the passenger's seat caused me real fear, but now, for the most part, I can even look forward to day-long rides again. In fact, the other day I caught myself feeling bored - bored! - while in the car. Not gonna lie; after all the terror and avoidance and wishing I could just stop thinking about being in a car, that moment made the air a bit dusty.

With that said, I still have a long way to go. In fact, I didn't realize just how far until I tried to go to the store by myself the other week. John was sick in bed, I needed some eggs to make cupcakes for a friend's birthday, and I thought, "Hey, this is a great time for some exposure therapy! I haven't driven myself in months, and I haven't driven alone in years. IT'S PERFECT."

Or... not.

I wish I could tell you I struck a blow for independence and emotional health that day, but the truth is I started shaking the moment I walked through the door of the local 7-Eleven. The two-minute drive over had been fine, parking a breeze, and I even remembered my wallet. I was feeling pretty good! But then a lady looked at me as I opened the door. She made eye contact and smiled, and suddenly there was this "whooshing" sound in my brain. Over the roar, I thought, "What are you doing?! This is too much! This isn't just driving! You have to deal with PEOPLE! AAAAUGGGH!!"

I managed to stand in line with that carton of eggs for about 10 seconds, breathing and practicing my "floating" response. Then I shakily returned the eggs to the case, walked out the door, and drove home empty-handed. Once there, I shook for another 20 minutes.

But you know what? It wasn't defeat. It was progress.

Later that night I told John about my failed attempt, and I could tell he was shocked - as I had been - at just how far my agoraphobia had progressed. (If you never test that safe zone, then you'll never know!) Then he put his shoes on, handed me the car keys, and announced we were going to the grocery store. Once there, he also made me pay. Then I drove home again. And I did just fine.

That's how it has to be, I think. Step by step, little by little, I'm going to reclaim all the things I've let my anxiety steal from me. Some day I'm going to see a live play again. Some day I'm going to get on a plane again. And some day - one day - I'm going to go to Tokyo Disneyland. (Heck yeah!)

But 'til then, I'm ok with working on just buying eggs by myself.


For my Pinterest peeps:


******
 
UPDATE: I wrote this post over the weekend. Last night, I went to a movie in a theater for the first time since 2010. Not only that, I went without the aid of Xanax or earplugs, and I did more than just endure it; I enjoyed it. (Big Hero 6. I recommend.)

Do you know what this means?! Thanks to the things I've learned about agoraphobia, and within just a month of deciding to try, I get to go to movies again. I can finally see Guardians of the Galaxy! (Er, assuming it's still in the cheap theaters.) 

My point is, any shame I might have felt over sharing this here is overshadowed by the hope that one of you might read this, and get to reclaim something joyous in your life, too. So please, guys, spread the word. Don't let someone you love be bullied by agoraphobia any longer.

Feel free to chime in in the comments; personal experiences & helpful tips are always welcome. (I know I could use the encouragement - maybe some of you could, too.)

207 comments:

  1. Jen, I am so proud of you to tackling this! I can only imagine how hard this must be, and I can completely understand how you end up a 'safe zone'. Positive reinforcement of negative things still FEELS positive. It must take incredible courage to go outside of it, knowing that for a while, it will be bad. But, for every 7-11, there's a Big Hero 6, and eventually the Big Heros will outweigh the 7-11s. You can do this, and I'm up here in Michigan, shivering and cheering every step you take! Congratulations!

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  2. Jen, I am so proud of you! You took responsibility and charge of your own life and your own self, and are making steps of progress. And thank you for pushing past any emotions you had/have to share this with us. We support you! We love you, just in case you didn't know.
    Maureen S

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  3. You are a strong person for working so hard to better yourself and your fears. Best wishes for your continued success and I will look forward to flying to Tokyo as well for a Disney park meet-up.

    P.S. You really do have the most awesome husband!

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  4. WooHoo Jen!!!
    The internets is so proud of you!

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  5. Yay for you! And yay for the people who will read your post and be encouraged to look at their lives with compassion and hope. Brave woman! Work those strategies!

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  6. There is no shame at all in sharing your struggles! One of the reasons I love Epbot is because you are so honest. I'm looking forward to seeing your pictures of Tokyo Disney one day!

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  7. Thank you so much for sharing this, and yourself, with us.

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  8. I was diagnosed with GAD about 9 years ago and it has been an uphill battle ever since. But with the help of family and friends, mostly moral support with occasional hand holding, I've managed to do things I never thought would be possible. I've flown to visit family and I've gone to see a Broadway show (Lion King), and I have driven by myself to attend a friend's wedding across my state. I still struggle to push against the limits of my comfort zone, but I do it. And I'm glad to hear that you're pushing your limits too; you got this Jen!

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  9. Way to go Jen! This was extremely helpful.

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  10. I have a friend who has panic and anxiety attacks. I know how hard it is for her, and I can only imagine how much harder it is for you, Jen. But the fact that you have the courage to stand up and talk about is truly amazing. I've been following this blog for two years, and I've read all of your posts on anxiety. And far from making me uncomfortable, they've been really inspirational. Please, keep fighting. One of these days I'm going to come to Florida, and I'm going to see you at Disneyworld having the time of your life--I'm so glad you have John to help you through this, and a supportive family who helps you test your limits but realizes where those limits are. I hope you can go to church again soon, and congratulations on the places you've already been! You're SO brave, and I admire you so much. You go, girl.

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  11. Congratulations! You are such a strong person to fight this thing that has kept you hidden. The world deserves you in it :) I am amazed at people who do not sit back and let their fears and insecurities control them but try to face them! I am so glad you are able to see movies again and I hope that one day you will beat this completely :)

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  12. Congrats on your progress! I've been obsessed with Tokyo Disney recently, so that seems like a perfect goal to work toward. I don't have agoraphobia, but I do have some anxiety that seems to be worsening (that none of my doctors seem all that concerned about) so I'm definitely going to check out some of those books you mentioned and hopefully improve my coping skills.

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  13. That is AMAZING! I am sitting here crying from happiness that you got to go see a movie. You are a strong woman and I know you can do it. Keep going and go get you eggs!

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  14. Long time lurker, first time commenter: Good for you! Keep it up, babe! (Sorry I called you "babe.")

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  15. "a creative, people-pleasing, emotionally sensitive, conflict-avoiding control freak with a hefty streak of perfectionism." I am so glad you added this. I started reading post this just because I follow Epbot but there in the middle is a little red flag for me. I've had some issues this past year that I've realized are anxiety related. I have even toyed with the idea of going to a chiropractor, which I think I have read here. While I don't fit the definition of agoraphobia, clearly I need to take care of this anxiety sooner rather than later. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Ah, I'm glad you mentioned that; in the chapter on personality types, the Workbook mentions you can have all the workings of anxiety built-in to your personality & genetic makeup, and sometimes it just takes a "trigger" to set it off, which is why some (like me) don't develop anxiety until later in life. If you're already armed with this information, though, it's very possible you can avoid that trigger, or at the very least, know how to deal with it when it comes!

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    2. I'm normally known to Google as tal, but my computer's being stupid and won't let me sign in, so I'll just post anonymously. I have anxiety issues and panic attacks myself--both of which are often set off by my sensory issues--and the majority of the personality description (minus the people-pleasing and avoiding conflict parts) fits me well. It's interesting that personality traits potentially lay the groundwork for anxiety. I'd never thought much about it, but it makes perfect sense.

      I'm happy you're taking charge of it all and seeing results, Jen. Reading some of your posts about not traveling or going to the theatre (two things I'd have a hard time giving up) has helped me to keep my own anxiety in check, by pushing myself to see to it that my anxiety fits my life rather than the other way around, so rest assured, your posts DO help people. This one, for example, has me wondering if maybe I should be concerned by how long it's been since I've driven. It's easy to excuse because I live in a city and don't own a car, but I had access to one last year for five months whilst in the suburbs--where they're--necessary and I still didn't drive once. I need to keep an eye on that, I think.

      Consider coming over here and visiting Disneyland Paris when you do start traveling again. You could hit up Nantes while you were over this way and get steampunk-y goodness in Tomorrowland and in Nantes.

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  16. So happy for you! I have followed your blog for a long time. I've got some anxiety issues myself (mine are about fear of not being able to breathe, or move, so I love outdoors but get terrified in small spaces where I can't escape) and know that it's affected my ability to do a lot of things I'd like to (even now, after years of work, I still get anxious every time I even get in a small bathroom stall). Keep working, and know that for a lot of anxious people out there you are a fine example of what we can all do if we keep working. :-)

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  17. Hi Jen, firstly a massive congratulations on taking steps to tackle your agoraphobia! You are awesome!
    About 4 years ago I found myself developing similar anxiety when travelling and, although it was not as severe as what you describe, it was very limiting. I was still able to do day-to-day things but found myself avoiding staying away from home overnight which meant missing lots of great opportunities to see friends and do fun things. I started doing exposure therapy with the end goal of a solo trip abroad. I'm not going to lie - it was hard. It takes something like 20 positive experiences to make up for one negative one so it took a lot of exposure to feel like I was getting anywhere. When it came to my final exposure I bottled it: I was due to go to Rome for a work trip and ended up asking my Mum to come with me as a security blanket. (I expect John has a similarly reassuring effect on you!) I felt like I'd failed but in reality I'd managed to fly 2 hours to a foreign country and stay away from home for 3 days without a panic attack which was massive progress. To cut a long story short I have continued working on my anxiety issues and this year I successfully spent 11 days in India on my own - something I never thought I'd be able to do! So what I'm really trying to say is 'go for it'. It may take time and be hard work but you are already seeing the results and someday in the future I can't wait to read your blog posts from Disneyland Tokyo!

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    1. That is amazing! It's so inspiring to hear success stories like yours, Tamsin. Thank you. I hope someday I have a story like yours to share.

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  18. Kudos to you for working on managing your anxiety. Making it to the movies is a huge step! I can't wait for the post where you are able to enjoy a ride at Disney again. :)

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  19. I really admire you. I know you've had panic and that you prefer to stay home. I, too, suffer from these things. I don't go out. I don't have a life. I don't fly, I hate car rides, I haven't been to a movie this millennium. I don't have a wonderful John husband that helps me, I have an un-understanding husband that yells at me. I also have PTSD...and I find it impossible to make it to dr appts because there's no way to get there besides in a car...and a freeway.
    I'm glad you're fighting, that you refuse to give in and you insist on having a life. I never did those things, and now, 20 years later, a walk to the mailbox (at the end of the driveway) is about as far as I go. Keep fighting!!

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    1. Hugs, Nancie. Remember, it's never too late. Wishing you healing and hope.

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    2. You, too, Nancie! And hey, these books I'm reading are a great start, because you can start your own treatment without leaving the house or seeing a doctor. There are visualization techniques, so you can try exposure therapy without even leaving your room at first, really taking it slow. Even just having the information makes a huge difference, I've found, so whether you choose to go on with the therapy is completely up to you.

      I'm so sorry you don't have a John to support you; it means you have to be twice as strong from the start, and I can't even imagine how hard that's gotta be. Don't be afraid to ask for help, though, either here online, or maybe from friends or relatives nearby. Just remember: it's never too late, you're never alone, and we CAN do this.

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  20. Jen, you are double awesome - first, for researching and taking action to get better and, second, for sharing in order to help others!

    Luisa in Dallas

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  21. I don't have anxiety, or really know anyone who struggles with it, but I just had to share that I admire you and your comment about getting to Tokyo Disneyland one day made me smile! And going to the movies, woohoo! I'm looking forward to seeing Big Hero 6 this weekend! Also had to share that I made my first geeky art purchase thanks to your last art post. I fell in love with one of the etsy shops you posted. The prints (yes, I bought multiple) are going in my bathroom and I will share pictures once they have arrived!!

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  22. Jen, I wish you the best in conquering your agoraphobia, and high fives all around for getting to go to the movies this weekend! You are awesome. And of course John is also awesome for being so understanding of what you're going through and always doing his best to help you through it. YOU'RE GONNA BE FINE. High five!

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  23. Thank you so much for sharing about this, Jen! Do you have any suggestions for books about helping loved ones, especially children? My 12 yo dd is working with a therapist to develop strategies for her anxiety, but we really want to help her before it becomes entrenched. Any advice you can offer would be appreciated.

    Take care!

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    1. The books I mentioned are also great for loved ones, since they give a lot of valuable information on what the anxiety sufferer is experiencing, how to counteract it as a support person, etc. One key piece of advice - as I'm sure your therapist has already covered - is that you can never push the anxiety sufferer beyond her comfort level; she needs to be in control of the speed and progress of her own therapy, for the most part. (A little stretching is fine, like when John had me drive, but if she balks, never push too hard.)

      That said, I'm sure there are more books and resources specifically targeting children, so I'd look for those, or ask her therapist for recommendations.

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    2. Thanks, Jen, we try not to push. We are afraid that she'll have a panic attack somewhere we can't pull her from quickly, but that hasn't happened so far.

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  24. Hi Jen! YAY!! Clapping, Clapping! YAY! Wow, you are so strong. To go towards your fears like that - it's amazing. You definitely have my full admiration. And then when I think of all the people you are helping through your writing, well, it's just wonderful. Thank you for the courage to speak out about agoraphobia. I will always be cheering you on in your life. You are such a special and unique, articulate woman. I probably won't ever meet you, but I truly will be cheering you on! You go! Because you are you and you deserve a happy life without boundaries! As do your readers :) like me. So,off I go, encouraged more than ever to stop creating boundaries for myself. Thanks Jen!
    Beth

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  25. Good for you, Jen! Thank you for sharing -- you are an inspiration.

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  26. With all the consulting you've done, I am quite surprise a "doctor of the mind" isn't someone you went to see.
    Because anxiety doesn't come "from nowhere", nor does agoraphobia, nor any kind of phobia really. These fears have roots, and it's only by healing the root of the problem that you heal the fear.

    I'm glad for you that you are making progress, just extremely surprised you're not consulting someone who's job it actually is to treat those specific problems.

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    1. I've considered it, but like many anxiety sufferers I've always been convinced there was a physical cause at the root - something the doctors all missed. (Again, that feeds into the panic, I know.) Knowing what I do now, I believe my first panic attack actually was caused by a severe deficiency of magnesium & potassium, since both were critically low when I was admitted to the ER, plus a hormonal imbalance, which they also found. However, after that, I kept the panic alive through my own fear, convinced something much worse was wrong with me.

      It takes a long time to accept that there's no magic pill to make the panic go away - that the problem could, in fact, be in your head. Plus, as an agoraphobic, leaving the house to find yet *another* new doctor has never been high on my to-do list!

      Fortunately the workbooks I'm going through offer sound therapy options you can achieve on your own, and are written by doctors who know you probably can't travel to see them. Of course more extreme cases may need in-person professional guidance, but so far I'm happy with my progress.

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    2. I'm not sure if every professional would agree that it is necessary to find and heal the roots in order to overcome anxiety or phobias. Once physical health is addressed it may be efficacious to deal directly with overt behaviors (the current response to anxiety) rather than past experiences (the initial trigger). (Obviously this isn't always the case, especially when extreme emotional trauma has taken place.)

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  27. Congratulations! And good luck. You're an amazing person, and I admire your strength. Maybe next time we're at WDW, we can meet up again and ride Pirates together. :)

    PS as Anonymous at 11 a.m. said, I do think a therapist might be really helpful in all of this too.

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  28. Oh, good Lord, is someone chopping onions? At work? Thank God I have my own office!

    Seriously, Jen, apart from being in a small flood of tears as I type this, I'm so happy to read this post!

    I had OCD for many years (undiagnosed for most of them, as I developed it as a child and didn't realise that the anxiety I was experiencing for many years wasn't normal), and it robbed me of a lot- I couldn't cook food for myself or anyone else, I couldn't learn to drive, I couldn't cope with a relationship... but following my diagnosis, I knew what was going on in my head was real, wasn't just me and it could get better. And it did. OCD hasn't controlled my life for nearly 7 years now. I cook dinner for friends (it's not great, but hey, that's just because I'm not a good cook) and no longer worry I will kill them all with food poisoning. I passed my driving test in September (at 29) and am slowly building my confidence in my driving abilities.... and you've met my lovely husband, as we've celebrated 4 years of marriage this summer, and 6 years together on Friday...

    I hope and pray you can continue on your journey of healing/control/freedom/whatever appropriate adjective describes what you're doing! Maybe next time we're at WDW (you've got years before we'll have saved for that!) we can all mock the Figment ride together! ;)

    Much much love,
    Clare xx

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    1. Congratulations on all that, Clare! That is amazing!

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  29. That is amazing! You should be so proud of yourself. I admire you and this blog so much because you don't shy away from the uncomfortable topics. I appreciate that you are so open with your issues; I bet you help many readers more than you'll ever know! Hang in there, and good luck moving forward!

    P.S. I'm working up the nerve to see if you are going to be anywhere in WDW in January when my family and I will be down there! Uh, that's not too creepy right. Right?! :)

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    1. Not creepy at all; we do Disney meet-ups all the time! Just e-mail the dates over, and John can put it on our calendar. :)

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  30. I have enjoyed reading both your blogs for years. Today's post is particularly meaningful for me because I have suffered anxiety all my life, including panic attacks (had my first at age 11) and a severe bout of agoraphobia and depression that lasted 5 years. I have made great progress through the years, so you my friend, are on the right track! For me, what helped contain the agoraphobia was learning to let myself feel uncomfortable. That means not fighting the negative feeings when they come, because that only makes it escalate! If for some reason I know I can't physically leave, I have a mantra I use. I tell myself, "I'm feeling anxious right now. It's just a bad feeling. I'm just going to sit here and feel anxious. This is normal for me. It'll pass when it's ready. I'll just wait it out." Telling myself that it's ok to feel scared, anxious, heck even panicky, is what finally - after years and years - helped me STOP panicking. This is especially helpful when you are in "trapped" places like public transfortation, boats, planes, dentist chairs, hairdresser chairs, long grocery lines, you name it. ;-) I so feel for your struggle and I wish we could swap stories and advice. It helps to know you are not alone.

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  31. Ooh i was fine until your update. I've been following this blog since its inception so i know how long you've struggled with movie theaters. This is great news, Jen. I'm so proud and happy for you. I don't know your financial situation but i want to recommend therapy to you. I have been seeing my therapist for about 5 years since the advent of my post-traumatic stress disorder and it has been the absolute best thing -- but it's expensive and it only works if you can find the right professional. I'm lucky enough to have good insurance under my mom but I'm still struggling with the financial bit... still, i would literally rather die than give up my therapy. You might consider looking into it. It's extremely important to find someone you click with, though, so it can be a long and arduous process. I'm so lucky to have who i do.
    Congrats Jen, so proud.

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  32. This is so great! You are such an inspiration to people who think their problems are too big and too unfixable, thanks for being a voice for the voiceless.

    Exposure therapy is great and I'm glad that you have a supportive husband who is there with you. I'm a counselor and wanted to share something that might be helpful, for you or for others reading. DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) can be incredibly helpful for anxiety. It's a very skill driven therapy. It could give you tangible tools as your are engaging in your own work of exposure therapy. There are counselors that specialize in DBT or books you can buy to look at on your own. The hope is that DBT skills will give you tools to use in situations such as standing in line at grocery store. Anyway, so thankful for you sharing and good luck!!

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  33. Congrats, Jen! You can totally do it!

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  34. I wanted you to know that I have followed you forever! I am equally enlightened by posts such as these as I am in your totally geeky posts. Truth is so many of us geeky girls also have some sort of anxiety issue, so many years with not too much self confidence can tend to widdle down your ability to deal with the public no matter how happy a face you put on.
    I had already grabbed something off your pinterest "Toy Wish List" to send as a thank you for having my daughter in your exemplars last year, but I think that now you are even more deserving of it. Consider it a prize for taking a scary step out into the unknown, no matter how inconceivable you thought it would be.
    So proud of you for taking that first step, then going back to face it again. We can all push through together, and you aren't alone.

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  35. Way to go girl!!! Good for you.. Depression can also make you afraid to interact with the world, and the cure for that particular symptom is similar: basically, trying it & seeing that nothing horrible happens. Of course, occasionally something does happen, but you learn that you can DEAL with it!! That is a real revelation.
    Don't worry about any backsliding that might happen. Healing is always a zigzag path.

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  36. Woohoo ! Did you know that Paula Deen also fought with Agoraphobia? Thank you for the transparency.

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  37. Wow...

    My husband always makes fun of me because I have to take one of our kids with me when I go shopping...for anything. Even on days when I have to go shopping for undies or bras for myself, I have to take one of the kids with me...I hate shopping in malls and stores!! I always get a headache just thinking about it.

    I knew I was an introvert and kind of shy, but never thought my little "weird-nesses" could be attributed to a phobia.

    Thank you, Jen. I don't suffer from this phobia as extremely as you seem to, but I am definitely going to check out the reading you suggested. I'd love to one day cruise through the mall all by myself just once and feel comfortable in my skin!!

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  38. I hate that shame is the default reaction. I wish we lived in a world where people could just love one another wholly, and not be all judgy. When you open yourself up and share honestly, you take away the shame, not just for you, but for others in similar situations. Love, love to you!!

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  39. I wish my sister would get help with her agoraphobia. Two years ago we took a car trip to Charleston, SC. We were not even out of our home state of PA when she screamed at me to pull the car over. She then insisted that I leave her on the side of the highway for her husband to pick up. Thankfully, she got on the phone with her husband and he calmed her down. We were able to make the trip, but she had to talk to him at least twice a day. Last Christmas we went to SC again. This time we did not even get out of town before I had to pull over. She has also had other attacks. Like when she kicked down the door of the hearing test booth at her work place!

    Our grandmother had agoraphobia and I hate to see my sister deteriorate like she did. Luckily my grandfather was completely devoted to her as my brother-in-law is to my sister. But that always raises the question of what would happen to her if something happened to him.

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  40. I don't think I'm agoraphobic, but I worry I could be on my way to developing it. I'm currently battling with clinical depression, and the depression has brought a bunch of other problems with it, including social anxiety. I've never had a panic attack, at least so far as I understand it, but I do get an awful feeling inside in some situations, kinda like a black hole is opening up in me, and I start to feel terrible and overwhelmed and just want to go home and cry. Worst thing is, the feeling itself is more of a warning that I'm pushing myself too far, and if I push on through it I am likely to spiral downwards in depression for the next few days, the kind where I'm crying alone in the middle the night for no reason and looking for any desperate measure to try to feel less bad. The counsellor has explains it as being a sign that I am doing too much, that I need to back off and accept my current limits. I am currently very broken with depression and part if the reason why it is so bad is because I don't know when to stop; I view a lot of my problems as personal failures, and things that I must work harder to overcome. The deeper I sink in the quicksand, the more I try to burrow out.
    However, I am afraid that backing off more and more from things that make me feel bad, like shopping, or walking alone, is only going to cause me more problems in the future. Sigh. I feel I'm between a rock and a hard place (I'd say they are both of my own making, but that's the kind of thinking I need to stop) of letting things go and accepting my depression means normal life is not possible, and creating a load of problems for when I finally feel better, like agoraphobia.
    Still, it is encouraging that these other potential problems can be reversed in time, with effort, so thank you very much for sharing. And sorry for venting!

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    1. I'd say your counselor is right; you don't need to "push through," - you need to let yourself breathe. Depression is a different beast than anxiety, so don't worry about retreating for a while to heal up. Heck, even us panicky types need that sometimes!

      If you haven't lately, you might get a check-up/physical, see how those neurotransmitters are doing, see if the Dr thinks you should try a medication. You can't just will yourself out of depression, so don't take this on alone - and like the Bloggess says, remember: Depression lies. You WON'T always feel like this; things CAN get better! Promise.

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  41. Thanks for this post, Jen. I'm so glad to read that you're making progress and feeling better.

    I definitely see quite a bit of myself in the descriptions of your anxiety, and I had no idea that it was agoraphobia. I'm going to check out the books you suggest because I can see that I'm becoming a little worse all the time, and I want to learn how to face the world confidently and find peace and happiness with who I am.

    Wishing you much love and continued success,
    KW

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  42. Way to go, Jen!! I have a panic & anxiety disorder myself, and I'm always walking that fine line between self-care and pushing myself into agoraphobia. I took classes on managing panic & anxiety through our HMO that really helped, once I stopped panicking about being there. (Just picture a room of 20 people with varying panic/anxiety disorders, all trying to learn how to manage it while all freaking out...)
    Turns out I might have Inattentive type ADHD, and I've been doing some reading and research on that (when I'm not distracted by other things...heh) and gearing up for a conversation with my doctor. I'm kind of expecting that she'll tell me I'm crazy, but honestly, the ADHD thing is making me feel LESS crazy! And the more I learn about it, the less panic & anxiety I experience when I'm in a situation where I can't focus or I haven't finished everything I'm supposed to get done.
    Thanks for being an inspiration to keep trying, and your honesty helps me feel better about myself, and that I'm not a freak or a failure for struggling with these things.

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  43. I have been diagnosed with anxiety disorder for 6 years. I first started exhibiting symptoms after returning from Iraq. Mine was a fear of going new places by myself. I caught myself going less and less places and staying home with my computer more and more. Luckily, I made myself go see a psychologist and a psychiatrist. I started on medications and therapy. Today, I still have the occasional issues, but I've learned how to manage it, and if I have a few weird tics, I'm ok with that. There is light at the end of the tunnel, I guarantee. If you feel better, maybe we can share a Slurpee in Orlando someday!

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  44. Wow. What fantastic progress and a very inspiring approach to talking your personal demons. I wish you every luck with it and have my fingers crossed for you that the cruise will be a success (however you define it). Congratulations! Rachel ��

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    1. Oh boo! My little hug emoticon came up as two question marks...!

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  45. I'm so happy for you! Nothing insightful to share, just helping you celebrate. (And dang, you're going to be gone at Christmas. We're traveling to Disney World in December and I was hoping you'd be up for a meetup somewhere. But joy for your triumph wins!)

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    1. Our cruise is actually the week before Christmas, so hey, e-mail me the dates! Maybe we can still make a meet-up. :)

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  46. Wow. Under the broader definition of agoraphobia, I fit. (And other than the people-pleasing part, I fit the typical profile, too.) The lurking fear of a disabling panic attack, and of social settings, definitely dictate how I live and what I do. I've only had one serious panic attack, but it was incredibly terrifing and the memory of it influences me every day, almost 25 years after.

    Cons I can handle. I'd been doing those long before this all started and know the "rules," the patterns, to how they function. I know how to find and duck out to the empty spaces, and that I can. I've learned as long as I can move relatively freely, and find pockets of space regularly enough, that I can handle a crowded situation. It does keep me slightly on edge, because I'm always aware and alert -- and fearful -- of becoming overcrowded. But other than cons, I avoid being where crowds are.

    I simply *don't* do social events unless I can be anonymous, or I have a friend with me, no matter how much fun it sounds as if it'd be. I can't handle the one-on-one with strangers when I'm not going to be anonymous. I'm too afraid of being in a situation where I have a panic attack and there's no one to rescue me. I could tell someone I've barely met I have a phobia that may trigger a panic attack, but I couldn't *trust* anyone but a good friend to notice it happening and remove me to safety. Work threatened to become an issue years back, but there are rules to social interactions at a job that serve as buffer enough to make it safe.

    I fight my phobias only on things that matter strongly to me -- equestrian events (if I'm on a horse, I can handle almost anything), cons, and lately, trying to find a gaming group again. Braving 3-6 strangers is scary as hell, but I really, really miss the creative outlet of gaming. But for things I'd just like to do, or that sound like fun... it's too stressful, too much work. I have to pick things that really matter to me for that kind of battle.

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  47. I can't wait to see your pics from Tokyo Disney. I'm so happy for you! Oh darn, there's something in my eyes.

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  48. Thanks for writing this, Jen. It inspired me to write a post of my own on the topic of anxiety and shrinking horizons. In my case, my anxiety is comorbid with ADHD, which is pretty common, I guess. Incremental steps are so important!

    http://peaceandpekoe.blogspot.ca/2014/11/on-shrinking-your-horizons.html

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  49. I just wanted to take a moment to tell you how proud I am of you and your accomplishments! We don't know each other personally, but I feel I have gotten to know you some through your posts. Congratulations to each person that fights their own demons and defeats them daily.

    Great job!

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  50. First of all, there's nothing to feel shame about here. Second, I'm so proud of you! <3

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  51. A is also for Awesome and Amazing, which you absolutely are! Thanks for sharing and helping. Tokyo Disneyland is fabulous, you'll love it!

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  52. thrilled for your victories! and looking forward to hearing more.
    :)
    while i don't suffer from anxiety, i just want to thank you for putting this all out there for the world to see. i have a feeling you helped many.

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  53. You are just awesome. I've been reading your blogs since you were just doing Cake Wrecks and I found out you were a Disney CP/lover of Disney and I've been hooked ever since. Since you started Epbot I feel like I know you and I have read every blog and feel like I've went through this situation with a friend. That being said, I am SOO proud of you and the steps you have taken to get back your own life. Even though we aren't real-life besties I'm still proud and excited to see where these new steps take you!!! Congratulations!

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  54. Hi, Jen, I don't often comment although I do really enjoy your blog, but I felt I needed to comment on this. I don't suffer from panic attacks or agoraphobia, but I hated to read that you felt shame. I think you are incredibly brave and selfless to put this out on the internet in hopes of helping others. Congratulations on your achievements, which you should be very proud of, and good luck on the remainder of your journey! That Christmas cruise does not sound like something to be missed!

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  55. Yes! Yes! Yes! SOOO Proud of you! Great big ((HUGS))!!

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  56. You are so brave. Good on you.

    Stating the obvious, but.. you have acknowledged you have a problem (big), decided you want to deal with it (bigger), found some help (biggest) AND ARE CONSCIOUSLY STRETCHING YOURSELF (HUGE).

    Massive cheering from here.

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  57. Hi Jen, love your work and really admire your attitude towards your challenge. You are absolutely right about nutrient deficiencies contributing to brain function. If anyone is looking for ways to help themselves, I'd like to mention something that may help. have just spent the last 6 years with an international company that produces a plant extract in capsule form that has a wide range of nutrients in a form the body can actually absorb. PLUS, it contains PEA (feel-good molecule) that helps us cope with stress. It's a great tool to work alongside other ways of overcoming anxiety related problems.
    I've experienced it personally, and have seen it work for many people. Anyone is welcome to contact me via my website, if they want more info. I went into business with this company so I could help others with products that are ground-breaking, and really work.

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  58. Congratulations, you are awesome for tackling this (and for many other reasons too obvs!). Disneyland Tokyo - yes, you will get there! I feel like your steampunk loving self would also enjoy Whitby goth weekend (not just for goths). All the very best.

    "All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them."

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  59. My once mild anxiety has recently gotten worse. Thank you so much for the book recommendations- I'm going to buy them!

    (And congrats on your accomplishments!)

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  60. I experienced some mild anxiety about riding in the car right after my first baby was born. Luckily it didn't last long and never really interfered with my life. I can definitely see how avoiding the things that cause you anxiety would seem smart and healthy until it all backfires on you. I can't imagine living with it every day and I think you are amazing for working so hard to help yourself!

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  61. I want to thank you for this post. I have noticed that I'm developing anxieties about situations like going to the store alone and I shy away from people even when I don't have to interact with them - nothing as severe as your situation but it's something I'm noticing and this post has reminded me that this is something I need to work through, that the fear can be combated and eventually overcome. I am constantly amazed by your bravery in sharing your struggles with us but I know your experiences are helping so many people.

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  62. Your post just made it a bit dusty in my office, too.

    I've been considering going to Dragoncon, if we can afford it next year, and one of my motivators is hoping you'll be there again, and I can walk up to you, shake your hand (and John's!), and thank you for posts like this one. They make me feel so much less alone, in the world I live in, where Anxiety is a large part of daily life. As I think I've said to you before, it's the 3rd person in my relationship, and it can be so isolating for us, but it's good to hear that others are struggling and TRIUMPHING, even though the triumphs may feel incremental to others.

    Keep on striving. You're already doing amazing!

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  63. I don't happen to share an anxiety disorder, but this sort of post helps me greatly anyway. I understand better what things are like for people who do, and I know that if I'm suffering from something, even something I haven't heard a lot about otherwise, that there are others out there who will understand and support me as your social group (online and off) supports you. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  64. I started to cry as I read this, I'm allways watching out for my anxiety not to develop into agoraphobia and I had no idea yours had gone that far. I'm so happy you are getting help and have hope. That determination to do something is often the best thing ever. Good luck.

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  65. This post was incredible to read -- writing this post and planning to tackle this head-on is incredibly brave. I would encourage you to seek out some professional counseling to help with your agoraphobia. PsychologyToday is a reputable professional resource that allows you to search for a counselor/therapist in your area and filter for things like specialty, accepted insurance, and counseling methods. It's a fantastic resource because you can do so much of it on your own and on your own time -- minimal human interaction!

    If you do want to go the therapy route, a quick shorthand for the different types of specialists: psychologists are the "talk" therapists (also drawing, music, play, etc.) and they have a list of referrals for psychiatrists, the ones who can prescribe medication. Social workers don't specialist in therapy although they have training in this area and nurse therapists (various terms apply here) have counseling training but also work out of hospitals and have other duties as well.

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  66. It's wonderful to hear that you've made progress and that you have so much insight into what's going on with your problems. I'm sure it will help others enormously to read all this. Lots of love.

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  67. That is wonderful! I am so happy for you!

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  68. Good on you! So glad you're getting better and that you enjoyed the movie.

    I, myself, have a slight fear of feeling trapped. I'm fine in planes, cars, (not trains - they make me sick), etc, but elevators give me a slight shudder - not so bad that I can't get on or won't use one, but it's there. Not being able to get out of a room (like if someone holds the door shut) causes me some anxiety, but it's not so bad. Being caught up in a tight bear hug where I can't move, though, will have me kicking, and if it lasts too long, screaming. Regular hugs and cuddling are fine, though.

    It also gives me the heebie jeebies to have someone looking over my shoulder.

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  69. You rock, Jen! Your story brought tears to my eyes. I don't have anxiety but I have recently started my own personal journey of self discover in an attempt to build-up my self-confidence. We can do this! Let's meet in Tokyo Disneyland!

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  70. I hardly ever comment, Jen, but this story is so very inspiring. Even though you feel like you let agoraphobia get the best of you, don't you think attending cons--even hidden in your costume--must have helped you stay close enough to normal to "climb out" on your own? Your descriptions remind me in a way of depression, but you sound so motivated and energized, I know you'll beat this. High five for setting those awesome short- and long-term goals!

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  71. I didn't know I was an agoraphobic until this post, so thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and your journey.

    I am also going on a boat trip this Christmas and I have been freaking out about it intermittently! My in-laws have rented a beautiful yacht to sail through the Caribbean for a week, because I am spoiled rotten. And everyone is telling me "I'm so jealous! You're going to have so much fun!" and "You must be so excited!". And I am excited and I know I should be skipping and leaping, but I am also terrified. Trapped on a boat in the middle of the ocean thousands of miles away from home. I can already feel my heart racing again.

    I also started my agoraphobia overnight. I had a panic attack when my husband (then fiance) was out of town. Our wedding was in two months and apparently the stress just threw me over the edge. Luckily, the ER I drove myself to at 4am (shaking like a leaf) diagnosed me with a panic attack immediately and gave me Lorazepam. In the morning, I woke up feeling uneasy and spent the day trying to be nice to myself. The day after that, I had to return to work and that turned out horribly. I basically ran out of the office in terror and didn't even tell my manager. I felt absolutely horrible.

    Ever since, I've been afraid of my panic attacks and I was doing a lot to please them. I wouldn't eat certain foods, in case they would upset my stomach and cause me to panic. I was watching Star Wars when I got my panic attack, so I refused to watch it again. When my husband had to go out of town, I would invite a million friends over and play it safe. I basically stopped doing a bunch of things I loved because I became afraid of them.

    I am definitely going to take your advice and keep pushing myself into situations that are uncomfortable but doable. Exercise, daily vitamins, and transparency with friends has taken me a long way already. If you're feeling that familiar twinge of terror on your cruise, know that somewhere in Caribbean is a reader who thinks you're the bees knees and that they are sending you feel good vibes as long as you promise to send some back my way. =)

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  72. Also, here is a really really fantastic poem about anxiety that really spoke to me:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVEf6jS8GdU

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  73. My family was in a bad car accident when I was sixteen, which triggered a fear of driving. My parents tried to force me to drive once and I broke down crying and hadn't tried since. I'm now thirty and have never had a driver's license.

    I had always managed to get around by having others drive me, or taking public transit when it was available, but it is difficult to always rely on others to take me places.When I got married, my husband told me about exposure therapy. We started with me just sitting in the driver's seat with the door open until I was uncomfortable, and then adding a little more after I was comfortable with that step. Now I can drive in a mostly empty parking lot by myself! I still am a ways off from getting a license, but it is great to finally be making progress to overcome this fear that has ruled my adult life. :D

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  74. Heck yeah! I'm over the moon for you (and for John, let's be honest). I'm also selfishly hoping that you'll be able to do another tour one of these days.

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  75. I had absolutely no idea that agoraphobia had to do with the fear of not being able to get help. It has always been labeled a fear of open places, hence the visual of people cowering in their homes not being able to step foot out the front door because they can't handle the sky above them or the air around them. It makes sense. I looked up "fear of open spaces" to see if anything different was there and Wikipedia had the same old definition, but it also had some updates that seem to lend support to your statement. It just boggles the mind, really. Thank goodness for the digital age, right? I mean, without it, you may have continued down your dark path. Now you're well on your way to conquering it. Bravo. And your sincere post is helping so many people, you can be sure of that. We all think it, so it must be true. :)

    I will shed more then a few tears of happiness for you when I see a post from Disney Tokyo. In fact, they're threatening to emerge just thinking about it. Stay strong.

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  76. Holy crap, Jen. You are really fucking brave. I don't even know why I am going to write this, because I know how stupid I sound, but this made me cry. I avoid going anywhere. I try to make jokes about it being my hatred of pants, but I am just terrified. I hate being around people, even my own loved ones, because I can't shake the feeling that they are all disgusted with me. I don't write anymore, even though I enjoyed it, because I don't see the point of writing when I know that everything I am thinking is wrong.
    My son has started Cub Scouts this year, and I do my best to be strong for him, I have gotten to a point that I wish he had not been interested, because I did not realize how much I would have to be in close contact with other grownups. I had to do an adult training that lasted 9 hours last Saturday, and after it was done, I had to find a secluded place to park, so I could just sob and replay the entire humiliating day. And get ready to suck it up and try and pretend to be normal for the 15 minutes after I got home, with the babysitter. I should talk to my doctor about it, but I am terrified that when I go to see him I am annoying him. There are very few moments in the average day that I am not wishing I could just fade away, so I would not constantly be in this cycle of panic and self hatred.
    So I am sitting here in tears after reading this. You are so brave, and I wish I could be more like you.

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    1. You are so brave to be honest about everything you are feeling right now! I hope being open here is a turning point for you!

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    2. I had tears, too. You sound very, very brave, doing things for your son despite how hard it is. You also sound (and I only have your comment to go on, so I hope this doesn't sound really knowitall/superior) pretty alone. I know that feeling. A lot.

      After 3+ years of feeling worse and worse and worse, I talked to my doctors about my problems. One immediately prescribed meds for depression without asking any questions (which I wasn't comfortable with), and another let me talk for a bit and suggested I try counseling to see if I wanted to do medication or not, or both. I felt so much better after talking to the doctor who sat back and listened. And then I called the helpline my workplace offers. And I cried. But through that process, and through reaching out, I made contact with someone who actually understands about anxiety, depression, etc., and was able to say "yes, something is very wrong. Let's work on it." It wasn't my imagination, it wasn't my fault. But there are things I can do that help me feel better. The doctor wasn't the final answer, but he was a step in a helpful direction.

      I know your experience is, and will be, different than mine. But the first time I felt at all positive, and the first chance I had of getting more healthy, was when I said "damn the possibilities" and talked to a stranger who was in a position of possible help. Not a friend, not a family-member, a stranger (which went entirely against the grain). It's okay to do it. It's good to do it. And if your doctor doesn't listen, s/he is not doing her/his job, and is not reflecting you. (I needed to book a long appointment because I was afraid of taking the doctor's time when he was supposed to be with another patient. I didn't have to, really, but *I* needed to, because of the way I think. No shame in that. It helped me take the time to breathe deep and let it out - and actually cry in the office - but it worked for me. Do what you have to do to make yourself comfortable with expecting/asking the doctor to do her/his job the way you need her/him to.) You do need someone in your corner. Friends, family . . . as much as you might want them to understand, they probably don't have the background. Try talking to a stranger. I mean, I'm in your corner and you have no idea who I am (which might be weird)!

      I know (my version of) how horrible it is to know and continually replay all the mistakes, gaffes, and wrong things you did/said/etc. I really, really do. But, in my (limited, and personal) experience, there actually can be hope. There can be feeling better. Not perfect, but better actually does exist.

      You aren't doing everything wrong. You aren't writing everything wrong. You are doing so, SO much right. Try doing something right for you. Try giving an expert a chance to help. If you can't yet, that's okay too! Know that you're not alone in the universe, and you aren't alone in anxiety either.

      Wishing you lots of love and luck,

      A stranger who kinda gets it

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    3. You're absolutely not annoying your doctor by going in. Either you or your insurance company is paying him to listen to you. If you need to spend time talking about it, tell the person who schedules the appointments that you'll need a longer appointment than usual(so it doesn't mess up the doctor's other appointments). It's best to have a doctor that really wants to help their patients. If you don't have one, it's worth it to look for one. Not going to the doctor just means that doctor goes home with less money at the end of the day, and you still need help. Better that you get the help you need. Good luck!

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    4. *hugs tightly* I can so relate, and I sincerely hope things will get better for you, and you will get the help you need. But you have to take the first step, however terrifying it may seem. For me, for over 10 years the only way I was able to cope with my anxiety and depression, was alcohol. This, and being in a constant state close to sheer panic, seriously impacted my performance at work, and I got hell for it. It took a nervous breakdown early this year to finally realize I needed help. By that time I was terrified of answering the phone or opening the mail, I would sneak out of the house only when I was sure none of the neighbors were in the hallway. I withdrew so much that a month before my sister had to come by to see if maybe something had happened to me, because I had even the doorbell switched off. I hadn't gotten a full night's sleep for almost a year. I was a complete wreck. I saw my doctor the very next day after the breakdown, who, fortunately for me, was incredibly patient and caring. And that day, I had my last glass of wine so far. As of today I am 10 months sober. And, last week, I have finally started writing again.

      Things wont get better from one day to the other. It is a gradual, slow progress, but there IS progress. That was a very frustrating experience for me, and only now I'm starting to slowly come to terms with it.

      Unfortunately I live in Germany, so I can't really give you advice on where to seek help, but certainly there must be helplines in the US? I have the number of my local one programmed into my cell, and just knowing that I can call them anytime, and talk, and cry, and they'll patiently listen, helps me so much. They might also be able to help you looking for a different doctor or where to go to for counseling. I've found it's MUCH easier for me to talk and cry to a complete stranger.

      Wishing you love and calm and peace of mind, and very much the strength to do that important first step. You can do it, I believe in you.

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  77. Bravo, congratulations, and YAY YOU!!! I hadn't heard of that meaning of agoraphobia - and I just realized I actually was going through it a year ago. My life-long (and I mean, since I was a teeny kid) anxiety crashed into a very bad ending to a relationship, combined with losing friends, being very isolated where I live, etc., and I would go as much as a month without going to the store to get milk, bread, etc. Not that the store is far - it's only a 5-minute walk away. But I couldn't do it. With some counseling on how to manage anxiety, I started going to the store (when it wasn't busy, which I still prefer) and would have to actually talk myself down as I left. Like you, shaking, plus tears, and being genuinely upset with myself if I wasn't able to make a decision, find a product, or had to leave before all the shopping was done. But I did it. Now I don't have the same reactions, thank goodness. And thank me. And my counselor. Because I didn't realize how many limits were imposing themselves on my life until all that happened, and I started trying to do those things again. Doing things little by little, step by step, and congratulating yourself for every single step along the way (and not beating yourself up for stumbles backward) is a huge, HUGE thing. So CONGRATS to you, and YAY for John for supporting you in this, as you support him with his stuff (hey, everybody has some). Good luck, and as always your online support-group/friends are here to cheer you on!

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  78. There is so much dust in the air right now. I am really proud of you Jen, you amaze me,you inspire me. I don't have a panic disorder my problem is very damaging all the same, but it gives me hope. I can either cop out and just say this is what I have and stay in my safe zone. Or I can change something. I started seeing a therapist a few months ago just to deal with some life/ family issues (i was a scary ball of rage..at everything) and for reasons I had to stop going and we were just getting started on some more issues that I just have never dealt with, that I don't want to deal with. But I kind of have to. Its literally killing me. I am nancy, a food addict, a, now insulin dependent, diabetic, a shame wearer, all in a people pleasing codependent introverted shell. And you inspire me. I want to reach 26 and be alive, not just free but ABUNDANTLY free (sept 2015) and be changed. Thank you for sharing, thank you for being you, thank you for being willing to share in such an open place. I do hope your cruise is as wonderful as you are. Now I must go and do something about all this dust.

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    1. hello Nancy, just wanted to say that your comments touched my heart. I've never met you outside of this comment box, but I want to you reach 26 too. If you don't mind, I'll be praying for you to reach your goal.

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    2. Thanks Ren, your prayers are much appreciated :) Sometimes you don't have to meet outside of a comment box to be touched :) Thank you for being so encouraging.

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    3. It's also amazing that you're sharing your story, Nancy. I'm pulling for you too!

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  79. Go you! We all have to find our paths through this. In my case I had three amazing pups who offered to be medical alert / service dogs for me. They taught me how to recognize and manage my attacks. Still not a great socializer but at least I can handle myself most of the time and the times I can't I know what I need to do to be safe. I wish you the same.

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  80. Jen, for the past year or two that I've been reading you here on Epbot, I've taken comfort in your stories about your anxiety and your dislike for crowded places. I've often seen just a touch of myself in your stories. Your description of a textbook agoraphobic person sounded very familiar. While I am no where near developing agoraphobia, nor panic disorders, I do think I COULD. I think a few negative experiences could easily start the trend downward for me. I have been trying to widen my social network for years now, but like you.. I get all psyched up to go the store, I get there.. and then I see people or they see me and I suddenly feel very small, out of place, and like I am the biggest laughing stock of the entire town. I don't say a work to anyone except the cashier because.. what reason do I have to bother someone? They are here doing their own shopping, they don't want to be bothered so I'm not going to. That's how my brain works.

    And I think because of that - I'm not making friends. Why don't you go out to dinner, my Mother or coworker will say. And do what, sit in a booth or at a table by myself and eat in silence? Take a book. And definitely send the signal that I am closing off all communication. Strike up a conversation with someone on the street! And look like a creep.. or have them walk away because they're actually really busy.

    So.. that's my problem.

    Good luck Jen, and Good Luck everyone who is working to overcome a difficulty, or is experiencing a difficulty.

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    1. I don't have anxiety, but I really understand about it being hard to make new friends. In the past few months I have made some new friends in my adoptive new city through meetup.com. There are a bunch of different groups (sports, crafts, book clubs, dining out, etc.). I have played tabletop games, ultimate frisbee, gone camping (which is weird for me), and even learned rock climbing thanks to that site! I have to drive a little ways since I live in the boondocks, but it's a nice option if you want to check it out. I feel more comfortable going into a situation knowing I already have something in common with whoever else comes based on the group or event.

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  81. Jen, thank you so much for sharing your story. I know from reading your posts that you have anxiety issues, but hadn't considered how much you were affected. Good on you for taking the baby steps! I am so excited for you and all the things you will be able to enjoy as you progress. Looking forward to some great photo posts from your cruise, I have always wanted to see the gorgeous blues of the Atlantic Ocean (I'm on the West Coast, so I have the mighty, murky, frigid, Pacific).
    I can't thank you enough for being so frank with us, and can't reiterate enough what an amazing husband you have!

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  82. A few years ago I started having problems with going to new places, dealing with new situations. Turned out I was critically ill and ended up off work for 20 months, combine that with being bullied at work and sexually abused as a child, sheesh. Too much to deal with by myself, my Dr made seeing a psychologist a condition of my sick leave and wow what a huge difference it has made to have a non-judgmental person to talk to. (I also have no 'John' in my life)

    I did sell my car for financial reasons and now find it so much easier to go to new places, just find the right bus and off I go. The bully in my office got fired. I got almost all the way to healthy physically. I do get acupuncture and see a chiropractor and massage therapist. It all helps. I also have gotten much better at saying NO. Not because of the situational stress, more about setting boundaries around what I really want to do.

    I love when you do these posts. They are always easy to read and yet, great content.

    I will be in WDW in March!!! I will figure out how to email you the dates. The teen I am traveling with adores your Con postings.

    And for future reference, keeping up with your B vitamins helps deal with hot flashes . . .

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  83. I don't usually comment, but I've been following your struggles since you started sharing, and I am thrilled that you have been able to name and find a way to fight your enemy. As a fellow anxiety sufferer (though no where near as severe) I enjoy hearing about your triumphs. And since my anxiety is more on the being packed into the middle of a bunch of people type, seeing your convention posts has been inspiring for me and I'm planning on going to one as soon as time and money allow. Hopefully someday I'll even be up for DragonCon.
    All that being said, I'd like to add one more thing for you - if you need it - and especially for other readers with anxiety problems. While talking to your physician about these issues can sometimes help, they're not necessarily qualified to really help you conquer your fear. As a future psychologist, I beg everyone who knows they have an anxiety problem to look into psychologists in your area. If cost is ever a worry, you don't need someone with a doctorate necessarily, there are a ton of people with Masters in psychology or social work who are fully licensed therapists, and trained to help you go through exposure therapy, as well as work out any other issues you might have. Therapists and psychologists really are an under-utilized resource, and I can't stress enough how much seeing a therapist has helped me. Thanks for letting me do my little therapy plug, and again, congrats on the steps toward getting back to you!

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  84. Living in a houseful of anxiety plagued individuals, this hit me quite personally. Your textbook description of yourself pretty much mirrors my own. I Never reached the point of agoraphobia, but I very easily could have. I think peer pressure made me face a lot of my irrational fears. I'm still much more of a homebody than I'd like to admit, though. One of my three daughters was probably the closest to being agoraphobic. She was afraid to go anywhere. Afraid to go to her own grandmother's house because there might be someone there she didn't know, even if I was there with her. Afraid to walk into an Easter egg hunt. Afraid of going to school. Afraid of getting sick, which happens frequently when you're afraid of everything. She is so much better now than she was as a small child, and I'm thankful because she starts college in the fall. I think I'll be afraid for her as much as she'll be afraid for herself. I applaud your road to self-recovery, and truly hope you succeed! I read all kinds of books when my daughter was very young, but she was too little to grasp what the books were trying to teach, too young to comprehend facing fears. One book taught her that anxiety was like a dragon. it feeds on fear. The more you fear, the bigger the dragon gets. The less you fear, the more the dragon shrinks. So, she would sit in the bathroom, rocking back and forth, chanting, "Go away dragon... go away dragon..." over and over until it was time for the school bus. It took years of therapy and medication to get her to where she is today, and she is only one of four of us who have been treated for anxiety issues. Best of luck to you on your recovery. And enjoy that cruise!!!!

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  85. Jen, you are great. I'm so happy for you. You'll love Guardians. And I can't wait to see Big Hero 6.
    Honestly just knowing I'm not alone is helpful! When I started having frequent panic attacks I decided to go get help. The Dr. informed me that along with my generalized anxiety disorder I was suffering from agoraphobia and clostrophobia. I looked at him and said, "So I am afraid to be in big and small spaces and of being with too many people and being alone?". He chuckled and said, "It's being trapped. People can feel trapped in any situation.".

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  86. Jen, I have no experience with agoraphobia, but I am so happy to hear of your progress! And I really hope you are taking a Disney cruise, because they are fantastic.

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  87. I am so glad to hear you are making progress forward! I hope you continue to make (large or small) victories towards getting back to the life you want! I love when you talk about these things because they are so helpful to people to understand the struggles of people with anxiety! You are an inspiration to so many! I know your writing has helped me to deal with understanding my own anxiety better. So thank you so much!

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  88. That personality type is me exactly. Wow and for years I have seen myself sliding back and creeping forward. I had given up on movies because about 30 minutes in I would have a panic attack. It took me several years to realize it was so bad because of caffeine. I don't drink any but would always treat myself to a giant pop at a movie! Now I can watch a movie and do pretty well because I don't have the caffeine getting me all jittery before even getting started.

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    1. Amy,

      You know that clear sodas like Sprite and Sierra Mist are caffeine free, right? If not, then now you do and can enjoy a soda at the movies again.

      Maureen

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  89. Wonderful work Jen! Way to take back your life! My Dr. recommended Natural Vitality brand Natural Calm magnesium with calcium supplement. Raspberry lemonade is my fave flavor but the cherry is good too and it's made a huge difference in my anxiety levels.

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  90. "Then he put his shoes on, handed me the car keys, and announced we were going to the grocery store." - That line alone is yet another example of how John is the best man ever. If only we had more people like that...

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  91. Wow, that's awesome, Jen! Yay progress!
    It has thankfully (knock on wood) been a good three years since I've had a panic attack, but I still am a terribly anxious person. There are situations I make myself struggle through, whether I have to excuse myself to the restroom to deep breath (or possibly cry a bit) or not, because otherwise, that 'getting used to avoidance', it really sneaks up on you. However, it struck me the other day just how far I've come, when I was sitting at the blood bank donating blood. Ummm... I was in a chair, hooked up- there was no escaping if I wanted/needed to. Yet, I was OK. Not happy-dance-fabulous, but still OK. I had made the appoint without freaking out about it, I drove myself there, I went through with the donation. Only then did it strike me- wow. I've come so far. It was a profound moment for me.

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    1. Congratulations AND high-five for donating blood!

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  92. "A creative, people-pleasing, emotionally sensitive, conflict-avoiding control freak with a hefty streak of perfectionism" is an exact description of me as well. I would never have thought that my personality had anything to do with my panic attacks. Mine are triggered by a very specific phobia, so I can manage it pretty well.

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  93. Thank you Jen, for every word you write.
    Over the years my own anxiety has gotten worse and worse. Most days I feel like it's just me being lazy. Too lazy to go to the store, too lazy to do x. It's easy to go to work because I've had the same job for years, but if my schedule changes it makes me uncomfortable. Finding a job in the career I really want has been impossible because it's easier to not make that jump.
    I was reading this post, and somewhere in the middle something you wrote struck such a cord in me I started crying. I don't know what it was, but it effected me.
    I picked up the Workbook in the library last week because it just caught my eye as I looked down the stack. I should read it. I will read it. I need to get better for me.

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  94. I am so so SO happy for you Jen!! Thank you for being brave and telling us about it.

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  95. Mostly off-topic, but I also saw Big Hero 6 over the weekend. LOVE! I'm happy for you, too. We mostly watch movies on Netflix or DVD, but sometimes there's nothing like seeing it on the big screen.

    I'm rooting for you! Hope you are able to enjoy that cruise with your family as much as you enjoyed the movie.

    Also, I'm glad I'm not the only person who still hasn't seen Guardians of the Galaxy. xD At this point I'm waiting until it comes out on DVD.

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  96. To quote Piet Hein:
    "To be brave is to behave
    bravely when your heart is faint.
    So you can be really brave
    only when you really ain't."

    True bravery is not the lack of fear; it is doing something in spite of fear. I salute your courage and John's chivalry.

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  97. I'm proud of you! Thanks for sharing and being so open about your struggle. Hope you get to really enjoy that cruise with your family. You deserve it!

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  98. This may be the millionth time I'm trying to post this, but I had some glitches with being signed out. Anyway, here's a post I wrote about my own diagnosis:

    http://meg-a-blog.blogspot.com/2014/02/there-must-be-someway-out-of-here.html

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  99. Yay you!! Glad you've found a way to help yourself.

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  100. Way to go! This is very similar to the behavioural therapy I got in late high school for what was then a crippling needle phobia. I was at the point where even thinking about that doctor caused a panic attack; at the office, they'd spent years getting as many nurses as it took to hold me down when they had to, and doing without as much as possible. It only took six months of therapy to get it under control, starting with visualization, then practicing injecting fruit with water from an insulin needle, and finally going to the doctor's office over and over again, getting prepped for a (much needed) blood draw, with them stopping at every step to ask me if they could continue.
    They were incredibly patient about spending all that time without ever getting it done, and it paid off -- I warn the nurse to stop and ask my permission before the needle now (control issues much?), but I can do it, and it's okay.
    You can do it! It will be better than okay! (Because cruises>shots, clearly.)

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  101. Such amazing progress, I can't imagine how many people you've helped just by sharing your story and your progress! Though I don't think I'm agoraphobic, I have a very hard time leaving the house in the morning to go to work. Once I get there, it's okay, but actually leaving the driveway and getting on the road makes me panic almost every day. I also have a hard time with trips away. I stress and stress about leaving but once I get halfway there I'm okay.

    Thank you for sharing, it is so easy to relate to your posts!

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  102. Anxiety is SO HARD! It's awesome that you are pushing boundaries and deciding to grow. It can be beyond difficult to push past our comfort zones. I knew you had anxiety, but I've talked to you at cons, and didn't realize how difficult it must have been to be there and interact. I'm so impressed:) You go, Jen!

    My introvertedness has gotten more and more pronounced as I've gotten older, and then I discovered I have an autoimmune disease. Ironically once I changed my diet to control the autoimmune condition my anxiety decreased as well. I was getting out of bed! I took a second class! I volunteered to be an assistant cub scout leader! With kids! That weren't mine! In charge! Being in charge meant people, and people looking to me, I couldn't let them down. I couldn't hide, I couldn't run away, and for the first time in years I felt capable of doing it. It's a tough diet, and takes dedication, but it is so worth it for me. It also changed my anger issues and my energy. I actually have some! Energy that is. I had more than enough anger:) It's amazing to see how much what we eat can affect how our brains deal with input (I'm on a paleo diet, and specifically the Autoimmune Protocal (AIP) diet, fyi)

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  103. I am so glad you can give this a name and have a battle plan. I will confess to having been worried about you, given some of the stories you'd told in the past (and I say that as someone with anxiety and who experienced a period of time with frequent panic attacks--oh, and that personality you described is mine as well!). I didn't know enough to think agoraphobia, but what you say makes perfect sense. As you know only too well, there's no magic bullet, but I'm so glad you're not going to let your world keep contracting. You have all of us cheering you on! Thanks so much for your honesty. I know it will help so many.

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  104. I had my first panic attacks in my life just a couple of months ago. I went to the doctor first thing and got a clean bill of health. That took care of them for the most part (I was panicking about having heart problems). I'm so glad that you share things like this with everyone. Please don't feel shame about your anxieties or about sharing them! It takes such courage to step out there and share publicly. I'm super proud of you for your progress AND for sharing!

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  105. Jen,

    Guardians is still playing in the cheap theater near us so take a long drive in the car, come to PA and see the movie. Heck, I even have a place you can stay that is private and people free so you can distress.

    Maureen

    P.S. It was great to see you in Pittsburgh!

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  106. Okay, I don't know if it published my first comment, 'cos now I can't find it. All I wanted to say was, this is a cool blog you have over here. I'd only ever read Cakewrecks, and here this is quite different. Your writing is personal and informative at the same time. I'd like to see if I can find a niche like that to fill!

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  107. Several years ago I developed situational/stress induced migraines ( on top of the " regular" ones). I knew the exact situation that was triggering them and still couldn't prevent them from occurring. I worked with my neurologist and he sent me to biofeedback. I was able to break the pattern within two months. It was fascinating to see how I really could control my body and grateful that it worked. Good luck and best wishes in your journey.

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  108. Thank you for sharing, Jen. And congratulations!

    Have you tried listening to binaural subliminal music before going into a situation that might cause anxiety? I don't suffer from panic attacks, but I stress out really, really easily. Seeing a hypnotist has helped immensely, and in the absence of being able to afford regular appointments, I've downloaded a few 50-minute tracks to listen to while I work--specifically from Binaural Beats Brainwave Subliminal Systems, but I chose them simply because the ratings were good and the prices cheap; there are others on the market. They make me feel much more calm. I don't think it would hurt anything for you to try (sounds of seagulls and water mostly) and the tracks from this particular company are only $0.99 on Amazon, so not a massive financial investment. Maybe you could listen in the car.

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  109. Jen, thanks for sharing. I'm so proud of you! (Is that weird coming from a total stranger?) Anyway, keep it up. Praying for your continued growth, peace, and freedom!

    ~jeccaess

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  110. I love you, Jen! It must be hard to share such personal stories with the world here on Epbot, but I can tell you that I for one am so grateful that you do. Seeing you talk so openly and candidly about your anxiety, as well as reading comments from so many readers with similar experiences, has gone a long way toward combating the shame I've always felt about my own--usually manageable, sometimes debilitating--social anxiety. Growing up, my default response was always to try to hide the fact that I was feeling anxious, to "act normal"--a burden which, of course, only made me more anxious. Now, my close friends and family know about my anxiety, they know how to help me and how to recognize the "Help me now, please" expression in my eyes that means I need to be rescued from an awkward situation. It's been incredibly freeing.

    Also: "a creative, people-pleasing, emotionally sensitive, conflict-avoiding control freak with a hefty streak of perfectionism" could not describe me more accurately, although my anxiety is more of the social variety than the no-escape variety. But I'd say there's a good reason why I identify with you so much!

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  111. I'm so excited for you! Figuring out and understanding my problems is one of my favorite things because I learn that they're real things with potential solutions.
    Developing agoraphobia is one of my fears. Since you and other favorite bloggers have started talking about your anxiety, as well as a friend, I've started learning more about myself. Until I went to my first con last year it never occurred to me that my hatred of crowds was anxiety. Once I acknowledged that I started to notice when I would make excuses to avoid going out. I've told my husband that I need his help to keep me from becoming agoraphobic. When I try to beg off of an outing we've been planning he'll step up and make me go, unless I start to get angry. I've definitely noticed anger as a response to anxiety. If I do go out into a crowd I slowly get upset with everything.
    My best solution for times I have to go to the store by myself is calling someone. I'll call my mom and chat about nothing so I can keep myself distracted enough to get what I need and go thru the self-checkout. This has been my solution since before I realized I had anxiety.
    But I'm so happy you've gotten as far as you have. It definitely helps give the rest of us hope and encouragement.

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  112. Yay, Jen! Thank you for sharing this! I watched a close family member go through this, her world shrinking and shrinking until she couldn't leave her bedroom. It took lots of therapy but she got past it. I'm so happy you're making progress! I'm sending positive thoughts your way! Thanks again! :)

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  113. Thanks for posting such great information on agoraphobia and panic disorders. Your personality type description could easily have been written about me, and I have noticed that I have increasing anxiety issues as each year passes (crowds, enclosed spaces, anything that could potentially cause pain, like sports, outdoor activities, etc). I'm going to make extra sure I keep my magnesium and potassium topped up, so hopefully that agoraphobia switch does not get flipped. Luckily my husband is very good about making sure I don't miss out on anything for anxiety and makes sure I'm safe wherever we go. I'm so happy for your progress and look forward to reading about many more successes to come!

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  114. This post made me cry. I can relate to almost every single word you wrote, and the fact that I am trapped as badly as you were before you started out made me cry.

    I've been reading your blogs (both of them) for years, and I've never commented; but I just couldn't help it this time.

    I don't have agoraphobia; I have general panic disorder. I'm terrified of men, doctors, confrontations of any sort, profanity (odd one there), and being alone in any public situation, among many other things. I can't deal with my panic attacks alone, and thank goodness I have the most understanding husband in the world who knows how to help/deal with me when I'm all-out panicking. I also have stress-triggered Functional Neurological Disorder, which means that when my panic attacks start, I also start jerking uncontrollably from the torso upwards.

    The textbook type for a panic disorder that you mentioned describes me to a T. The fact that you have been able to expand your safe zone MAKES ME SO PROUD of you even though I don't know you, because I know how hard it is. It's REALLY, REALLY hard, and I haven't had the strength to follow through with any half-hearted attempts that I made at exposure therapy.

    The store incident you tried? I tried it too, and almost exactly the same scenario ensued, except that I walked there. I became more and more panicked with every step of the way, and almost broke down in tears when I walked into the store. I made my purchase only because my terror of looking stupid was worse than my terror of dealing with an actual (male) human being at the counter, and then I walked home and jerked and cried and sobbed for half an hour.

    I don't really have a conclusion; I'm not improving or getting any better, and I don't know how to muster up the courage that you have. But THANK YOU for sharing. It gives me the hope that maybe one day, I can do it too. Maybe. You're AMAZING and BRAVE, and don't ever forget that if you feel like a failure after an attempt that didn't go so well. All the best.

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    1. Don't give up, please. You bring value to this world.

      Delete
    2. Sending you the biggest virtual hug right now, Sawsan! I can actually understand the fear of profanity; even casual cursing can sometimes sound so combative, it's like a physical blow. I think it must be tied to our aversion of conflict.

      It sounds like you tried too much all at once; you don't have to push yourself QUITE that hard. Take smaller steps! The workbook I'm in suggests pushing yourself up to a 6 on the 1-10 anxiety scale, but no further than that. You don't want to cause more damage by making yourself miserable! And it's not an all-or-nothing thing, so next time, maybe try just walking to the store and then back again, without going inside. Do that a few times until it's boring, and then step inside for a few minutes, and so on. Little by little, we can do this!

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  115. I was one of those extreme cases. Right as I started high school I developed Agoraphobia. I had to literally be pulled out of bed and out of the house. I spent three years doing nothing but sitting in my house avoiding everything and everyone, including my own family. Finally because of the situation at home I had to force myself out of the house. It's hard to fight against your own mind. You just have to remember that you are a strong person and that you can do anything that you set your mind to. I wish you the best.

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  116. Kudos to you Jen for taking this on and reclaiming your life. While I have not yet read her books (on the list that keeps growing) Patsy Clairmont struggled and suffered from agoraphobia and her books may be a good resource as well for you on this journey. Much love to you and John!

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  117. Hello Jen,
    I am so happy for you. You are a heroine. Because you admit your anxiety, you talk about it and you give so many people hope. I would love to hug you for that.
    In only a month so much progress?! Wow. Please, tell us regularly about how it is going. Even if there is not so much progress, please. Because then we are here for you to remind you what you already achieved.
    Hey some idea: so you don't forget how much you already achieved (that is something for the frustrating moment) make a magentic board and pin a little piece of paper (mabe even a photo) on it for every step you took. I know that there will come moments when you think you can't go further. I had that too with my anxiety of strangers. Thanks to you I started cosplaying and overcome that fear, first under a mask, now even without one.
    Maybe someday you will come to Europe and we could go to one of the big medieval festivals here in Germany.

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  118. Congratulations on the progress you've made so far! I'm sure it wasn't easy and I'm sure going forward it's going to be hard. But you're just the kick-butt girl to do it! ;) And as many others have said, don't ever feel shame in revealing your true self to us, your readers. We're your little anonymous mob of cheerleaders who want nothing but the best for you and John (and Lily and Tonks!) and shame should never enter into the picture. I suffer from a debilitating neurological disease, the details of which I won't bore you with, but your 'shares' always make me feel like there is a kindred spirit out there dealing with rotten crap too, and doing it with a smile, like I try to do. Please continue to share; it really means a lot to me, and I'm sure, many, MANY of others. ��

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  119. Well done for starting to undo all the bad! It's so tough... I'm dealing with Agoraphobia, and social phobia, and anxiety and depression and it really gets in the way of having fun. I actually ran into you a couple years back at Dragon Con - I was cosplaying from Cats the musical. But the anxiety's got too much for me to cope with big cons at the moment - not so much the fear of having a panic attack, because I've always pushed through, and end up having the actual panic attack which really isn't fun, especially in an elaborate costume! crying ruins the makeup :/

    As you say, it is so counter-intuitive that behaviour that seems to help is avoidance and makes the problem worse, rather than self care and makes the problem better. Having a therapist to talk it through with helped me so much, tho I'm a long way from getting back to Dragon Con.

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  120. Hi Jen,

    Like a few others here, I had a period in my life, triggered by my brother's death, where I could not leave the house alone. I couldn't go out in my yard; I couldn't open my curtains, or even let my shadow fall on the curtains. It was so incredibly debilitating, and inexplicable, as previously I'd been a world traveller, even backpacking around the US on my own. Though it has been several years since this extreme period, I still have trouble with new situations, and especially with driving (my brother was killed in a car crash). Like you, if I'm going someplace unfamiliar, I plan it out first; if I have to drive alone to a new place, I try to take a test run with my husband beforehand.

    But to be honest, I avoid driving as much as possible, and almost never go anyplace new.

    It's hard. I know it's hard. Thank you for sharing it. Reading your post made me realize that what happened to me before (my fear of leaving the house, of facing new situations), is still affecting me now. Maybe I can do something about it instead of just avoiding it.

    Galadriel

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  121. Hi Jen.

    Paula from Barcelona, here. You know, I thought I had all figured out until a month ago or so, one day I woke up and started crying. A lot. Couldn't stop. My doctor was quick in diagnosing an anxiety attack and I was so taken aback. After reading and researching during these weeks (while patiently taking my pills and taking it easy) I have discovered I've been suffering from panic attacks and anxiety for a long time... only I just didn't know what it was.

    It is so good to have a label and a name for your monster. It just feels so right when you finally know what's going on and what's wrong with you. I've been feeling so relieved and so capable of doing something now that I am aware of my illness.

    So thank you for more information and more insight! It's good to see that we can get our lives back little by little and that once we know what we are suffering from, we can just move on and try to make things better.

    I wish you all the best and hope to find you in Disneyland Tokyo ;^)

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  122. Congrats Jen! That is GREAT! Baby steps - you'll have this thing licked in no time cause that's how you roll. :-)

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  123. Jen, you're so brave to share and so brave in your fight against your anxiety. As someone who had to deal with her own anxiety alone as a child, I've been fighting hard so that my daughter (who's now eight) doesn't have to be alone in her own, much more severe battle with it. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is our best friend in this fight and she's constantly working so hard to deal with the anxiety. It isn't easy--trying to help her through a panic attack and seeing her in such pain when it happens tears me apart in a way I can barely describe to you--but it's day by day and getting better all the time. She's courageous like you are, and we're in her corner all the way. So glad that John's always in yours.

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  124. Jen, thanks so much for sharing, and I'm so proud of what you've accomplished so far! You're inspiring me to do some research and learn how to deal with anxiety issues if I should have a major issue, because I can easily see that happening to me. I fit the same personality profile, and I've always described myself as a worrier. Sometimes that worry is enough that I've avoided doing things I actually enjoy. I was especially interested to learn that several deficiencies can contribute, because I just found out this summer that I was B-vitamin deficient, and I'm thinking I should check the paperwork for the others you mentioned, as well.

    I'm so glad you have John to support you, and I hope you can make enough progress by Christmas that you can really enjoy that cruise!

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  125. Seriously, this is AWESOME! I am actually excited FOR you! I'm just a long time lurker and just feel the need to throw out some encouragement. I can totally see how you could get to the just stay home phase and am really happy for you that you've decided to make a change. That cruise is going to be quite an adventure- I know you'll be ready when it gets here- Go Jen!

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  126. That's amazing! Good for you! I wish we had been able to help my bff's mom. She had very similar symptoms. She would come over to our big family get togethers for me - even though it made her visibly uncomfortable. I miss her so much.

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  127. Jen, I'm so glad you aren't going to let your phobia be who you are! That's a hard fight, but I know you can do it!
    If you're like me, knowledge is power, especially knowledge of what to expect. So, in prepping for your cruise, check out Cruisecritic.com. Now, some of the people who answer questions can be weenies, but most are really nice. You can find out about anything you'd ever need to know just from doing forum search, so you probably won't even have to interact, just search. They have roll calls, boards for specific cruise lines, boards for each port, etc. It's a great resource! It helps me to know what to expect and keeps my anxiety in check! Best of luck!!!

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  128. I hope you continue in your progress of beating this. Never having suffered from this, I can't imagine what you're dealing with, but I'm happy for you that you are working to defeat this.

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  129. I love it when you are so honest and open about your anxieties and the struggles you have in overcoming them. I can relate to alot of what you say - while not suffering in any degree by as much anxiety as you, I do the avoidance thing big time. I only drive on roads I know and never long distances. I will refuse invitations if they involve staying away from home for too long (the dog needs me of course!) and when sitting in a cinema or theatre I have to be within reach of an easy escape. But it's not quite as debilitating as your anxiety, but I can completely understand where you are coming from. Well done on your progress so far, you should be feeling very proud - keep it up!

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  130. First of all, I echo all the congratulations at your bravery and honesty and the progress you've made.

    Secondly, I find the personality description fascinating, as most of it fits me perfectly, yet--though I am a worrier--I don't have anything I'd describe as anxiety attacks, and don't really share most of what bothers you (I looovvee driving places by myself!). I have also recently (in my 50's!) realized I'm an introvert, and so I've started being more conscious and willing to do self-care things surrounding that, like allowing myself alone time without feeling guilty. But given the personality description, I can see that I probably also need to be aware of balance and make sure it's not slipping into non-helpful avoidance.

    So thanks for the heads-up for me, and for all the help and hope you've brought to folks by your candor.

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  131. Congrats to you for battling your anxiety! I have mild panic/anxiety problems myself. I was never scared to fly but a few years ago I had a panic episode on a plane and it did something to me mentally... I got nervous even thinking about flying. I'm happy to report that I didn't let that stop me from going on a trip to England and Scotland for my 10th wedding anniversary and I'm even happier to report that I was 100% totally fine both to and from. Normal and calm on a plane for eight hours = a big deal. Keep fighting!!

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  132. I'm so excited for you, finally being able to put a label to it must feel so good! My mom does healthcare design (all the interiors) and with all she's seen and been through, her mantra has always been you are your best (and only) advocate when it comes to your health. Trust your gut. :)

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  133. NEVER be ashamed of mental illness. That is my new mantra. We have been in crisis mode for a little while in my world, and I decided that since I am not ashamed to have high cholesterol numbers, I will treat mental illness in the same manner. End the shame, end the fear, you GO girl!

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  134. Thank you for sharing how much work you are doing to regain your life. You are awesome and brave!

    P.S. Big Hero Six was an excellent movie to start with. "Hairy Baby! Haaaairy Babyyyyyy!"

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  135. Please don't give up you'll get there. My mother had anxiety attacks for the last thirty years of her life the last 10 meant she didn't hardly leave the house which meant she saw her new premmie grand daughter, we lived 100 miles away, for 2 days and a night, when my husband passed 13 years later she made it one day and a night. It is a devastating disease and it hurts those that suffer and eventually it can hurt everyone you love because worst part is we hate seeing our loved ones go through it. Love to you and keep going.

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  136. Jen, I love your blog and I always really appreciate your serious posts like this. I've never experienced agoraphobia, but I think that the principles you describe for dealing with agoraphobia and panic attacks in general are really helpful for overcoming any fear in life. Thank you for being so candid!

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  137. I'm SO proud of you! The world needs to be treated to more Jen Yates! Keep up the excellent work you're doing!

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  138. You are an amazing and strong person! I'm so proud of you taking those steps. Go Jen! There is nothing shameful about it. I have recently taken the reins in my own anxiety, as I realized how much it was actually impacting my life. I call it anxiety, I don't know if it is, but I have a constant movie playing in my head of all the scenarios that could go horrifically wrong in everyday situations, peppered with acute overwhelming moments that sometimes have no apparent trigger, like laying in bed to go to sleep at night. I realized how much it affected me when we started planning our 19th anniversary parents only weekend to Disney, and instead of being excited I was having chest pain and stressing about riding the coaster-type things, something I always loved to do. I was able to overcome that for the trip and had an amazing bonding time with the hubs. Now I'm working on everyday management and looking into non-medicated options for long term. Caffeine definitely exacerbates it so I avoid it most of the time. I'm going to get the book you recommend about techniques. My big goal is preparing for a trip to Italy with my teen daughter next summer. Your description on not fearing the place, but the fear of a panic attack at the place with no exit, really opened my eyes. I realized that's exactly my fear about my trip! Together in spirit we will tackle this and step our way forward. Huzzah!

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  139. Jen this post was enormously inspiring. I tend to forget that there are others out there like me. Feel like a freak and so alone. I could have written your post. I've been battling panic disorder and agoraphobia for 14 years. I mostly hide it because it seems shameful, but my family knows and is supportive. I, like you, thought I was "managing it" well. My biggest fear is of having a panic attack on a highway. So I don't drive on highways - voila! problem solved (well, OK, avoided) and I can pretend I'm OK. But I'm not. I know that I have to just do it to be cured. Drive on the highways. I can do it with my husband in the car with me, or my sons (who are old enough to drive and could take over if necessary - that's the key, am I right?). But I can't do it alone yet. Well, at least I can drive by an on-ramp without shaking anymore. Sigh...maybe someday I'll gather the courage. Thanks so much for sharing. I have followed you on Cake Wrecks for years, but just decided to check out Epbot today. Cosmic coincidence?

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  140. GREAT JOB!
    You went from baby steps to a huge step in a few weeks.
    Keep up the good work, don't be afraid of set backs and enjoy the world.

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  141. Good work! I know that anxiety feeling while out and about with, *shudder* people. I've been twitchy about it since I was a kid. My mom started little too, making me tell the person at the fast food place my own order, etc. Didn't even know that it was probably anxiety/agoraphobia issues. Now, well, I do little things to keep myself from being a shut in with the toddler. Things like signing up to take him to adorable little kid story times at the library. Or, when it's not snowing, making myself take him to the park (it IS nice to have an excuse to climb the playground equipment myself). Though this week, I've a legitimate excuse to stay in.. not sharing this &(*!@#$ cold we've all got. I still don't always LIKE crowds, ordering fast food while feeling pressured and indecisive, loud concerts (I need earplugs, cause that noise physically hurts!) etc., but I've not wanted to cower and hide from them for quite some time now. So I can say that the practice definitely can and does help!

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  142. Way to go Jen! That is amazing progress and you should be so proud of yourself. Keep it up, and remember to be kind to yourself when/if you have an off day. You can beat this! Much love to you and John!

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  143. Jen I typed a super long post but the internet ate it. Just know you are not alone and you are on the right track. 20 yrs ago I was in your shoes and now I am free! I can do anything I want now where before I could hardly leave the house without my DH. It's SO worth the discomfort of gently pushing the envelope and taking baby steps towards freedom!! Hugs, Rebecca

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  144. Good for you! I can only imagine how hard it must be to fight such a debilitating phobia. Keep (gently) pushing! It is so very awesome that you not only have the courage to continue to search for answers and find solutions but that you are brave enough to share your struggle so that others can benefit.

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  145. Hey Jenn. Just wanted to tell you to hang in there, and this is such an inspiring post. Your Epbot community is here for you. :)

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  146. You are awesome- for writing this, for facing it, for wanting other people to UNDERSTAND...

    Also, John is awesome.

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  147. Here are my tips for surviving anxiety on a cruise ship:

    1. Get a balcony room if possible. During at sea days the ship will be OVERFLOWING with LOUD people. I read a book in the ocean breezes with my private little ocean view. Worked for me.

    2. If you can't snag a balcony room, go to the ends of all the hallways. Often there will be little teeny decks with a few chairs that are usually deserted. Score a private deck!

    3. Take a port day to explore the ship while everyone else is ashore. There will still be lots going on and the ship will be EMPTY. We did this and had so much fun! It was my favorite day.

    4. Find the adult-only deck/lounge/pool area/restaurant. There might be a lot of people there but it will be MUCH quieter. At night it's practically deserted! We scored a whole hot tub to ourselves for an hour one night!

    5. Our ship had a library that was nice and quiet and great for card and board games. Good chill fun with the family!

    Hope these help!

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  148. Good for you! I remember running out of a McDonalds without my food after I'd paid due to agoraphobia. I'm much better now because of exposure therapy. I still have days where things can get to be too much and I still get major anxiety over long car trips, but my life is basically my own again and it feels great. You CAN do this. You can and you will and it will be great.

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  149. Okay, fine, I guess it is time to finally post on one of these. The last time I was practically in tears while at work. You can see why my reply post never made it to print. So, here goes...
    a few years ago my best friend and partner was randomly stabbed at a grocery store in Utah, of all places--and in the middle of the day. I have never been an anxious person, nor scared, but this changed many things.

    To add to this, my dog had been randomly seizing and, let's just say, my life became a giant ball of stress and nerves. To make a long story short, ever sense the horrifying experience of seeing my best friend carted off in an ambulance--he is "fully" recovered now, and my dog died of seizures--I have slowly developed less then acceptable coping mechanisms. From sleepless nights to general feelings of anxiousness. I know I need to get this under control before it becomes something worse. I bought the book you recommended, "Hope and Help for Your Nerves," and know that while my issues are not the same as yours, maybe starting to think and read about it now, before it becomes more of an issue, would be helpful. Thank you for this post and all that you write. Thank you for showing me that the world can be a creative and fun place to live in.

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  150. I'm sure it sounds bizarre coming from a total stranger, but I'm seriously proud of you, Jen! Kick that agoraphobia in the nads! :D

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  151. Congrats on your progress! And thanks for writing about it. Because of this post, I have finally start reading the Social Anxiety Workbook that had been collecting dust on my bookshelves for about half a year now.

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  152. I just want to tell you how proud of you I am. You're doing so great!

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  153. You are so inspiring. I'm so so so happy for you! Thank you for sharing your story with us.

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  154. I'm so glad you're able to face your fears. I'm also now wondering about my kid, who claims zie's not scared to leave the house to do things... zie's just bored without the technology zie needs in order to leave the house. Technology zie can't explain and isn't sure if it exists yet.

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  155. Hi Jen,
    I'm a longtime reader, but very seldom commenter (I think like once before). First, I just want to echo everyone else's comments here and say you're awesome for being so brave as to always share such personal issues with us, and letting us learn and grow with you. You're incredible for facing your fears and taking back your life!
    However, I did want to say just one little suggestion: anyone who has anxiety, thinks they have anxiety, thinks they have or are developing agoraphobia, etc...should consult a mental health professional. I know there's a lot of stigma around mental health, and people don't want to be considered "crazy" or they think it's something they should be able to handle on their own, but the truth it it's like trying to tell yourself to "snap out of" cancer. It's a real illness and a professional should assist people in a wellness plan.
    Now, I'm not saying people have to, or can't do things on their own, but in my opinion it's taking unnecessary risks. Giving yourself therapy and especially exposure therapy (even after reading books/websites) can go horribly wrong and actually make the situation worse. So far you seem to be doing great, and have a real handle on it, so I really don't want to seem gloom-and-doom or Debbie Downer. If it works for you, hooray! I just worry about all the commenters who are also going through it, and who may not be as successful.
    So, if you (all you out in the world wide webs) have concerns about anxiety, I would highly recommend consulting a mental health professional. There are so many free and sliding-scale professionals, money should not be a deciding factor. Even if you've experienced a crappy counselor/therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist (and trust me I have too!) they're not all like that, and once you find a good fit, they can really help you!
    Anyway, congratulations and thank you again for broaching subjects that most people keep hidden. You're a very brave woman and it's no wonder you've built such a strong and supportive community of followers!

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  156. Big Hero 6 was a great movie to pick for going back to the theater!

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  157. Good for you Jen! I'm glad you're taking control of your life. And hooray for geeky movies in the theaters! And thank you for the heads up about agoraphobia. My panic attacks have started getting steadily worse recently and knowing what to be aware of from someone that's gone through it really helps. I know it takes a lot to put yourself out there and I just want you to know that you really are helping others. Thanks and enjoy Guardians!

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  158. I'm sitting here with tears streaming down my face. I didn't realize how much I was in denial. I'm terrified of freeways, long stretches of open road, heights, elevators, flying, I've started having panic attacks when riding in cars, and, although I'm still driving, I'm in a downward spiral about it that makes giving up driving inevitable if I don't do something about it soon. I have obsessive compulsive thoughts about all the catastrophic things that could possibly happen to me and my family.
    This article just smacked me in the face. I have angoriphobia. I didn't even realize it. And now I feel even more overwhelmed at how to fix it. Where do I even start? How do I find someone to help me? I'm stuck in a hole and I need someone to throw me a rope.

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    1. Marian, you can start by doing a search of your local area with the terms "psychologist" or "therapist" (or a specification like PhD or LCSW) and "agoraphobia." Many mental health professionals list on their websites what their specialties are (i.e. which disorders they are most qualified to treat). Medication may also be helpful, and in that case, you would turn to a psychiatrist. Personally, and speaking from experience, I *DO NOT* recommend receiving psychiatric medications from your primary care physician (however, a referral is fine); a psychiatrist is far more qualified to make a proper assessment, render diagnosis, and begin treatment. When seeking relief for any mental illnesses or disorders, it is highly recommended that you combine both therapy with medication, as studies have shown time and again that a blending of the two produces the best results.

      A great resource is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI at nami.org), which covers just about anything you'd want to know on mental illness and mental health. You can find information on different types of therapies as well as locators for professionals in your region.

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    2. It's ok, Marian, take a little time to breath and process first. Recognizing the issue really is the biggest first step! From there, collecting information and realizing there IS help - and help that isn't all that hard to get! - will go a long way towards making this wall surmountable.

      If you feel capable of seeing a professional, then absolutely look up a local specialist. If not, then you might start with some books like I did. If nothing else, they'll help educate you on what's going on, how to treat it, and some exercises you can start right now at home. It's never too late, you're not too far gone, and you're never alone. And please feel free to check in here from time to time; I'd love to hear you're doing!

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  159. I hope you know how much we all care about you, Jen. Thanks for writing this post. I have a tendency to internalize my stress (bitten fingernails, sores on my lips from biting them, sleeplessness, etc.) but yoga has helped me more than I would have ever dreamed (a few years ago I would have rolled my eyes at the thought--I'm a real skeptic). I'm still not good at remembering to be proactive about heading off the stress reactions before they start, but I'm getting there. Thanks for your honesty here and for allowing for a space where people can share and be open.

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  160. Thank you so much for sharing! I've never experianced a full blown panick attack, but I have experienced avoiding normal, every day activities out of fear, and the feeling of having to escape a "perfectly normal" situation. Take baby steps and make sure to celebrate every victory. Patting yourself on the back for peying at the store might sound stupid to some people, but it sounds like it really is a huge step in the right direction for you. For me, knowing there is an out, has helped me to stay focused. For example, telling my self I can allways get off at the next stop has helped me stay calm on the buss the whole trip. Knowing I have a friend that will take me home if I give the signal, has helped me feel safe at a party.

    Once again, thank you for sharing and beeing open! I think you have helped a lot og people with this.

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  161. Congrats and good luck on pushing your boundaries and reclaiming what the anxiety has taken away. I've lived with anxiety all my life (not that we had a word for what i experienced until i was well into my teens), so i know it can be a hell of a slog, but every tiny victory opens up space for the next.
    I'm sure your books have already mentioned this, but i have found sometimes i can push my boundaries farther if i break things down into steps, check in with myself after each step, and promise myself that i can stop if i start to reach that tipping point where nervousness translates into "panic attack eminent". For some reason, that makes it easier to let go of not getting the eggs and still hold onto the fact that i drove myself to the store, which is progress all on its own and helps a store run feel less threatening the next time i try. It also helps me if i don;t push myself too much all in one day, of course; rather like alcohol, panic has a tendency to build up in my system and sometimes i just need to wait out the high and the post-panic crash before trying again.
    I know when i was in high school i couldn't so much as walk up the counter at a fast food restaurant and ask for a ketchup packet, and i was terrified of driving; now i can handle bank negotiations and all-day car trips alone. I still struggle with lots of other things, but like you, i'm hopeful that i can keep stretching my boundaries just a little bit farther. Apparently bloody-minded stubbornness really is a super power.

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  162. You, like Jenny Lawson, have always been so forthcoming about your anxiety issues, and for those of us who suffer from similar issues or disorders, we thank you for putting it out there for the world to read about in the hopes that more information and brutal, unflinching honesty will bring greater understanding to others and simultaneously reduce the stigma attached to mental illness.

    Amongst my co-morbid disorders exists trichotillomania. I had been pulling hair (not from my head, which is the most common manifestation) steadily and increasingly over a couple of years (it started in my mid-20's and escalated dramatically when I was 27) and had mentioned the picking and pulling to my psychiatrist many times over that period, assuming it was another off-shoot of my anxiety (it is, in a way). However, it was not until I happened upon an episode of 20/20's "Medical Mysteries" or "My Strange Affliction" that I learned that other people did this and it had a name. My disorder had a label. I related, with wonder, my recent discovery to my psychiatrist upon my next visit, and his response to my telling him the name of my problem was "I know."

    In that moment, I was stunned. My heart sank into my stomach. I felt like he'd been keeping a secret from me; I felt betrayed. Before that show, I was sure I was the only person in the world pulling hair and that it was some sort of very particular and unique form of insanity; it never occurred to me that other people did it too and that it was a diagnosed disorder (there's even an entry in the DSM-IV for it, but it was categorized under impulse-control disorders rather than receiving its own separate placement).

    The point is: labels do help. Now, I know there are solutions and treatments because my disorder has a name. Now, I know there is the possibility of getting better - or at least improving - because my disorder has a name. Now, I know I am not alone because my disorder has a name.

    Be well, Jen, and please continue to share your struggles, your bravery, and your triumphs with the world. You are not alone and have many allies - in real life and virtually.

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  163. Jen, I am SO happy for you! It's awesome that you're doing this and even more awesome that you're sharing your story in case it helps someone else. And Guardians is totally worth your time if it's still in any of your theaters! :)

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  164. Thank you for sharing. If you had to see a movie Big Hero 6 is a great one to celebrate with. I'll add one more thing (as it's so rarely diagnosed correctly that I'll take any opportunity to share): P.A.N.D.A.S. stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections. It's a reaction of the body to step infections (or other common infections) and it affects the neuro system much like Rheumatic Fever affects the heart after a strep infection. Symptoms often start overnight. Individuals experience OCD and extreme anxiety (often not wanting to leave their homes or even their bedrooms). It is getting more publicity, but many health professionals are not aware of it. You may learn more at: http://pandasnetwork.org. Our youngest daughter had it. It was such a long journey to find answers. She's a different child after treatment. Take care!

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  165. You should know that even as someone who doesn't struggle with agoraphobia I'm so very appreciative of you for sharing this. It helps me know what you, and anyone else struggling with anxiety, are going through and be understanding and sympathetic in a way that I couldn't be otherwise. It also makes me happy seeing someone struggling, persevering, and WINNING in the face of whatever life throws at them.

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  166. Hi Jen, This was such a great post and it was very brave of you to write it and push "publish." I totally get where you are coming from. For a long time I could not stand in line at the grocery store, go to movies (live theater was absolutely out too), or go to restaurants. What really helped me was professional treatment. I went out and bought all the books that existed at the time and read them, but it was talking to a professional and doing group therapy (scary but amazing) that really brought me out of my phobias and panic cycle. Just a suggestion, I wasn't able to go it alone. Meds helped a lot, but that's a very personal preference, I think. Big virtual hugs.

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  167. Thank you for sharing such a personal side of yourself. It means a lot that you would do that. I know somewhat how you feel. For the past year I've noticed that my anxiety is getting progressively worse too. I still go out and do what I need to do because mine is more like mental torture. It's not so much situational but more worry I guess? Every day it's always about money, whether or not I'll still have a job in a few months, etc... Sometimes you feel like you're going crazy and it's just too much handle. (at least that's how I feel) I can't remember that last time I had a full day without anxiety eating away at me. Right now, I'm trying to figure out ways to cope without having to go to a doctor. It's really hard. Sorry for venting myself but I just felt I needed to tell someone. I don't really have a lot of support right now. Just know that I feel for you and am proud of the steps you've taken. You're doing it ! Yay! *massive hugs*

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  168. Jen, I am so proud of you for making such progress! I've let anxiety rule my life for decades. Thanks for the book recs. Keep up the good work.

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  169. Wow. I had no idea, but I am very grateful for the lesson. There is a saying my girlfriends and I use to keep each other motivated: progress, not perfection. Keep at it, Jenn. You are amazing!

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  170. You go, Jen! I am excited about your progress. God bless!

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  171. Jen, I am so proud of you, and I love you for posting about your anxiety issues and sharing how you deal with these. Because, this gives so much encouragement to those who are suffering from the same, or similar problems. They get to see they are not alone, that it's not "just them", that they are not oversensitive, childish, and whiny. I have been called all of this. I have always been extremely shy and anxious, and this has, over time, lead to depression, and alcoholism as a means to cope with all this and keep functioning. It took a nervous breakdown to finally go see a doctor. I had my last glass of wine that day, and as of now, I am 10 months sober, and able to sleep peacefully without the help of meds. Alas, things didn't improve over night, which was a very frustrating experience to go through. It's a two steps forward, three steps back, one step forward, is this going forward at all? kind of progress. I keep having to remind myself that, a year ago, the phone or the door bell ringing would terrify me, that I was too scared to open the mail, that I hadn't had a good night's sleep for at least half a year, because I would wake up every other hour, terrified, with my heart racing.

    So, your posts, all these comments, they are encouraging and comforting, that I am not alone in this. I have ordered the Hope And Help For Your Nerves book you mentioned, and am already half way through. And I just ordered the Phobia Workbook you mentioned and also this one because the reviews were very promising. http://www.amazon.de/dp/0380810336

    Also, guided meditation vids on youtube, while not working for everyone, have helped me a lot.

    Love, peace and calm to all of you,
    Sandra

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