What Agoraphobia Taught Me About Fear Versus Facts

What Agoraphobia Taught Me About Fear Versus Facts

Most of us get paralyzed by fear at some point, whether it’s in our professional or personal lives. We know that taking a certain action or making a specific change will give us the results we say we truly want. But when it comes time to act, we freeze. We procrastinate. We explain, justify and excuse ourselves from the tough call.

Why? Fear, of course. But if it were as simple as mustering our courage and powering through, we’d all be at the pinnacle of success. Instead, we struggle daily in big and small ways to get around the fear.

Rather than trying to exercise sheer willpower against fear, I want to help you see right through it so you can get to the other side with less struggle.

First, I need to tell you a little story about my history with fear.

When I was 21 years old, I started having panic attacks.

If you’re not familiar with panic and how it’s different from anxiety, you can think of it like this:

Anxiety might be the feeling you get when you’re late for work or about to give a presentation. You feel irritable, scatterbrained, maybe short of breath. Your chest might feel tight and you might even describe yourself as “panicky.”

But real panic, in a clinical sense, is different. Panic is the feeling you would get if you walked into your house at night, turned on the light, and a man in a ski mask was holding a gun to your face. It’s the certain knowledge that your life is on the line. Your mind and body are thrown into a fight-or-flight response. If you can imagine yourself faced with imminent death and the accompanying terror, you’re close to understanding what someone experiences when they have a panic attack.

Now, I’m not a psychiatrist, but I did live for about a year with panic attacks that became so frequent and debilitating that I wound up with agoraphobia. I was terrified to leave my house.

Why? Because every time I did, I had a panic attack. I was experiencing this horrific state of mind and body up to 10 times a day. The stressors of everyday life were no longer just anxiety-provoking for me. They brought on full-blown panic.

When I finally got some professional help, an amazing doctor explained to me that my resting state of anxiety and stress were so high that it didn’t take much to push me over the edge. So we set out to adopt behaviors that would lower that resting state of anxiety as a first step to lessen the frequency of attacks.

Over time, I learned how to control and then stop the attacks before they started. I learned how to calm myself, read my own body for negative signs of stress, and develop an inner voice that could quell the fear that constantly plagued me.

During the process of recovery, I also learned something about fear that I hadn’t known before. And now I realize a lot of other people don’t know this either. Here’s what I learned:

Fear masquerades as fact.

Now, you may be saying, “Yeah, Amy, I know that.” But do you really? I mean, do you really know it so well that you never fall for fear in disguise, much less fall for it every day?

Let’s take a look at three ways that we fool ourselves:

1. We confuse the potential consequences with potential catastrophes.

Here’s what I mean by this: We think about a negative outcome that has a reasonable possibility of occurring, but we fear a catastrophe that is highly unlikely. This incongruence between what we’re preparing for and what we fear causes so much stress and inner turmoil that we get paralyzed.

For example, let’s say I want to start a business. I’m miserable in my full-time job and my family is on board with the idea, mostly. I have a savings account that will last us six months without my paycheck. But I’m terrified to quit my job. Why?

I tell myself—and my spouse, friends and anyone else who will listen—that I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it “in this economy” or “without employer health insurance” or “because I have brown hair.” Whatever.

But deep inside, the fear I experience when I think of quitting my job is not about succumbing to any sort of real-life obstacle. My fear is about the catastrophe that lies in wait on the other side. It’s fear disguised as fact.

I envision myself failing as a business owner, being unable to pay my family’s bills, suffering medical issues that my cut-rate health insurance won’t cover, succumbing to illness, alienating my spouse who is bankrupt and now working two jobs, failing my children, losing the respect of my friends and peers, wasting away and finally dying, leaving my family destitute.

That’s the size of the fear in my chest when I tell my friends I’m afraid I’ll fail as a business owner. Not the whole “what if health insurance is really expensive” excuse. I fear actual death and destruction.

Of course, reading this, you can see how irrational this line of thinking is. Is it a possible outcome? Yes. Is it a probable outcome? No. The fact is that I could succumb to some kind of horrible illness working a 9-to-5 job I hate and still bankrupt my family.

So what am I actually afraid of? If what I fear isn’t a fact, then it’s an illusion. I’m basing my decision to stay miserable on the illusion that I will lose everything if I make a change. Now that’s scary.

Here’s the solution: Ask yourself, What’s the worst that can happen? Is that what you fear? If so, talk it out with someone who is objective and experienced in that issue. Ask for help in discerning what is realistic caution and what is doomsday paranoia.

2. We use our feelings as a guide in making decisions.

Now, I can already hear some of you arguing with me before you even read what I have to say here. So please just bear with me.

First, I am not saying that feelings shouldn’t ever play a part in decision-making. Often how we feel is a primary factor in whether or not we should do something.

What I do want you to pay attention to is how realistic your feelings are and whether they should be the guiding factor in your choices. Let me give you an example.

I email a client about an urgent matter, and I need him to respond within 48 hours. The first day, I hear nothing from him. I follow up with another email the next morning—this time using all caps in the subject line. Still nothing.

My feeling is this guy is ignoring me. His delay will push the entire project timeline back, which will jeopardize the financial outcome. In other words, I’m afraid he’s going to blow the whole deal for me. (Remember point No. 1? Do you hear the catastrophe in disguise as a consequence here?)

By this time, I’m seriously scared, but it feels a heck of a lot like anger. In my mind, I’m bad-mouthing him. I’m thinking of all the other times he was rude or unresponsive or even just slightly on the curt side. I’m thinking he has no respect for me and my work boundaries, and a billion other poor-me thoughts. My feelings are hurt.

These negative feelings can sabotage a scary situation if we allow them to be the guide in our decision-making. If I choose to react to my client out of anger or annoyance, I’ll probably jeopardize that deal all on my own (nobody likes a snarky email).

But what if I back up and remove my feelings from the situation? What if I tell myself that regardless of the outcome, my values dictate that I treat people with respect and compassion? Rather than shooting off a snarky email or a passive-aggressive text, I could pick up the phone and find out if he’s OK or if there’s anything I can do to expedite the turnaround on what I need from him.

The next time you’re about to act out of fear, ask yourself if the negative feelings you’re experiencing are calling the shots. That’s just another way fear pretends to be a fact.

3. We don’t weigh the facts correctly.

This one is tricky because there are actual facts involved. But the fear gives us license to weigh certain facts as if they were more important than they actually are.

For me, this happens a lot when I’m good at something, but my inner critic tells me I should be afraid of doing it anyway. I’ll line up all of the compliments or great outcomes, then excuse them away with lines in my head like, “Well, she’s my friend—what else would she say?” or “Yeah, but I spent 10 months preparing for that. I could never do that again,” or even “Yeah, but I think that was a fluke.”

I’m naming facts, such as preparation time or the love someone has for me and assigning them more weight than the actual results of my actions. If you’re good at what you do, the results speak for themselves. It’s imperative that you measure real results and real feedback as more important than the doubts, exceptions and fears in your mind.

Look, I still feel fear. I wake up some days and think, “Oh no, I’m scared to face that interview/project/discussion/large dog.”

But here’s my final piece of advice: Fear is a fact of life. We’re not going to get rid of it. But we can see through its disguise and choose lives based on facts. I’m writing this so that maybe, just maybe, you don’t have to live a life paralyzed by fear. Because believe me when I say that I know how hellish that existence is.

Just in case you’re confused about what the facts are, let me tell you that the facts, my friend, are these:

You’ve got what it takes. You are loved. Your dream is worth it. And if you need help, there’s someone willing to help. Don’t be afraid to ask.



Please don’t tell me to just chill and relax

YOUR heart starts racing. Sweaty palms. A feeling of desperately wanting to escape suddenly sweeps over you.

If you’re about to skydive or swim with sharks no one would question these feelings.

But for those who experience these heightened emotions at a simple birthday party, attending their child’s parent-teacher night or when speaking at a work function or to a sales assistant, it can be debilitating and isolating.

How do you tell a friend you’re only one step away from a panic attack at just the thought of going to their wedding where you will have to socialise with new people?

The reality is many people dealing with anxiety don’t say anything. Not to their partner, their mates or their doctor. They can become experts at avoiding situations which trigger their anxiety and adept at masking symptoms.

Just as triggers, levels and symptoms are different in each individual, so is the journey in recognising anxiety and seeking advice and support.

One local man, Xavier, is using his journey to try and reach out to others.

“I just felt there was a need for a local anxiety support group so I’ve gone about organising one,” Xavier said.

“Dealing with my own issues made me feel we should have a group in the community that was open to all ages, male and female, where people could share in a non-judgmental space what has worked for them and maybe get back on track.”

Being anxious about going to a job interview is normal. Frequent worry not related to a specific event or stressful situation is not. Excessive fear, obsessive thinking, irritability, physical symptoms such as hot or cold flushes, a tightening of the chest, a racing heart or breathlessness; these are some of the signs experienced by people with anxiety. And this should not be accepted as anyone’s “normal”.

“Anxiety comes in all forms; OCD, panic attacks, agoraphobia. People avoid doing things they really love, as well as the simpler things like shopping, when they have anxiety. It can be very isolating and lead to loneliness. I know, I’ve felt it.”

You wouldn’t tell a mate with depression “cheer up, don’t be sad” and expect a result. It’s the same with anxiety. Saying to someone or telling yourself, “relax, don’t worry” is not going to cut it.

A good place to seek help is with a visit to the doctor. Seeing a GP will ensure diagnosis and an individual plan of action. The medical profession has access to resources and can suggest services you may not be aware exist.

If you would like to be part of the Coffs Harbour Anxiety Support Group, meetings start February 7 from 11am to noon then every second Tuesday at the Neighbourhood Centre, Earl St, Coffs Harbour. More info Xavier 0411 338 699.

“Come for a cup of tea or coffee, a chat or just to listen. You don’t have to be alone.”



Zoloft Antidepressant Side Effects: Risks From Sertraline Prescribed For OCD, Panic Disorder, Depression

If you are suffering from depression and have been seeking help, you may have heard of a drug called Zoloft. With the generic name of sertraline, Zoloft is used to treat depression and listed in a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

In addition to being an antidepressant, Zoloft can also be used to treat obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


This class of drugs is the most prescribed type of antidepressant in the United States because their side effects are minimal. Despite this, Zoloft has a black-box warning due to an increased risk of suicide, a possible mental side effect of the drug among those 24 and under with a psychiatric problem, according to Everyday Health. It should be noted some young people experience suicidal thoughts when they first begin to take an antidepressant. However, according to Drugs.com Zoloft has been approved by the FDA for children with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Most of Zoloft’s common side effects are physical, including nausea, diarrhea, drowsiness, headache, excessive sweating, uncontrollable shaking of a part of your body, and constipation. However, some side effects can be rather serious. The U.S. National Library of Medicine says to call your doctor if you experience seizures, fever, abnormal bleeding or bruising, or hallucinating.

Another serious side effect of Zoloft is serotonin syndrome, caused by a high level of serotonin in your brain. Zoloft can cause this because the drug works by increasing the availability of serotonin in your brain. Similar to Zoloft, serotonin syndrome can cause diarrhea, excessive sweating, and headaches, but severe symptoms can include high fever, seizures, irregular heartbeat, and unconsciousness.



The Unexpected Neighbor I Met While Playing Pokemon Go-Agoraphobia Help

pokemon sitting on a coffee cup

For years I have struggled with my mental health issues. I am diagnosed with panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and psychotic hallucinations. I am in a constant state of working on coping with these things so deeply rooted in my mind. My combined diagnoses has also lead to agoraphobia.

I take medicine, go to therapy, and attend a weekly anxiety group. I’ve noticed I will get looks from people in my anxiety group when I mention “The last time I left home was to come to this meeting last week.” I don’t mind the confused looks. I actually prefer for people not to understand.

pokemon sitting on a coffee cupLast week this silly little game comes out. Pokemon Go. Surprisingly, my nerdy self has never played a Pokemon game in my life, even though I have been married to a Pokemaster for five years. I had played Ingress, an augmented reality game from Niantic, which they used to test data pools for Pokémon Go locations. (I hadn’t made much progress, given I am usually home.)

I decided to download it since I thought the augmented reality premise on a popular game was a neat concept. From my home, I managed to catch two Pokémon, but I knew if I wanted to advance, I would have to get out somewhere new. I figured I would wait until my anxiety group, therapist appointment, or my visit to the psychiatrist, and look around then.

I would still check on the app from my home. A few days ago, I noticed a lot of rustling leaves around my complex, which meant there were Pokémon to be had, but that would mean going outside. This is where something unusual happened. I put on my shoes, put my dog’s vest and leash on and went to catch me some Pokémon dammit!

pokemon sitting on feetWhile I was out there, I was only paying attention to where I needed to walk and where my dog was wandering. (I did kind of feel like I was walking a personal Poke-Terrier.) While walking, I noticed a woman whose actions mirrored mine: look down at the phone, look around your area, walk a few steps, look down again, change direction, and such. Without even thinking about how this person in my complex is a stranger to me, I shouted, “Excuse me, are you playing a game?”

“Yes! I’m playing Pokemon Go!” she responded kindly. 

Turns out we were both headed for the same rustling grass, so we walked together and talked while we both searched for our Pokemon.

This is where something truly beautiful happened. After a bit of Poke-talk, she starts to open up on a more personal level. We wound up learning that we are neighbors and even have the same first name. We talked a bit about our dogs and our husbands, but then she took a big step and started to mention her struggles with anxiety.

“Sometimes I’m not able to leave my place for a week” she told me. I tried to be open about my struggles with anxiety, panic, and agoraphobia, so I didn’t leave her hanging. I told her I also have that issue and I have been fighting for years.

There it was. Two women, typically scared to leave their homes, talking, playing a game, bonding outside. When I told her I had similar issues, I noticed the look on her face… I know the look because I had it when she shared her struggle with me. It’s that look of “Wow, so you understand!”

Two women who have seen each other more and more the past few days, happy to talk about Pokemon or any other little topic. Two women leaving their homes to go on Poke-walks, when usually they would be inside alone. Two women who realized something as silly as a Pokemon game has become a helpful tool in their dealing with anxieties and phobias. Two women who have started a friendship all because they happened to be playing Pokemon Go.

As I read articles and blog posts with stories similar to mine, I can’t help but smile. When I downloaded the game to my phone, I had never expected anything more than a silly distraction while I sat at home. But in the time I have been playing, I have been walking so much more.

Getting out into nature and increasing my movement has had a great effect on my mind and my sleeping. I have met people whose paths I would have never crossed. I have visited places I was always too afraid to check out before. I have started to feel less afraid. Even as I type this, I am thinking about how I cannot wait to go to my therapist and tell her all I was able to accomplish in a week. I am so grateful something that seemed so trivial has turned into another tool to help me with my fight against some of my mental issues.



What’s It’s Like Waking Up With a Panic Attack

A woman laying in bed fully dressed

I’m awake, but my eyes are still closed. Maybe, I can go back to sleep if I don’t open them. Maybe… and before I can think about anything else, there is a rush of sadness with its claws out, slamming against me like an angry wave.

It’s like a punch in the gut, and it knocks all hopes and strength out of me. The claws scratching your insides, while the wave has smashed you so hard against yourself that it feels like death, but death never comes.

Instead, there is more pain. There is less air, and your heart feels like it is beating so hard it will burst out of your chest. Your hands and feet start to freeze, as if they no longer belong to the same body that feels on fire. You feel light headed, and your breath becomes shallow. It feels like it will never end.

The doom that has surrounded you as you’re falling through yourself and in a black hole, where nothing familiar exists, stretches you so far that you feel like breaking. I feel like I’m being held by an invisible hand over a massive cliff, and I just won’t die. If it lets me go, then it could all end. It would be painful for a bit, but then black and into what I think will be a blissful nothingness. Instead, I’m hanging in mid-air, arms and legs flailing about, too scared of the darkness that surrounds me.

I’ve been awake for two minutes, and I am drained. I roll over to my side and open my eyes wide open with the hope that… and there is another wave, bigger and stronger. I am frozen. I feel like I’m drowning in painful memories of yesterday and in thoughts of the real world that awaits me today. A world where no one knows I’ve already drowned, I’ve already survived and I wish I had just died before I’ve even had the chance to turn off my alarm.

I fall deeper through the black hole as it occurs to me I have nowhere to go. There is no safe place to go and hide for the day. There is no safe person who isn’t at least slightly confused and annoyed by my dramatic emotions. I feel cold while I feel like the blanket is strangling me. There is a buzzing sound in my ear. You know, the kind that you get when you are some place abandoned and secluded, where there isn’t a single sound.

I feel it fill my head and start making it more difficult to breath. I feel like the walls are closing in and I might suffocate, but I don’t. I want to run away.

I want to sleep, I’m so exhausted. Sleeping isn’t an option when waking up is so terrifying. I want to scream, but that doesn’t make sense. I’m not “crazy”… I’ve just lost myself — or am I?

I start to think of people who can help, but I’m not sold on the idea. It will be hours before I can reach out to anyone. What would I even say? I am scared to be alone with myself. I feel alone and terrified. I feel like a child who has had a nightmare and needs to be consoled. I want to sleep, but I need you to be here when I wake up because that’s the hardest part. I want to die.

I can’t say any of that. None of those things are acceptable to say, even if you are in excruciating pain. I am not bleeding or physically broken. I do not have a fever, even though I think my insides are on fire. There is nothing visible to show for the hell I’ve just gone through. My head is pounding, and I feel like vomiting everything that is boiling inside of me, but nothing comes out.

Instead, with the fear of the world that awaits, with the fear of the wrong things I will hear, fear of lack of support, lack of love, lack of compassion or understanding, the fear of the invisible hand that will dangle me over the edge of the cliff time and time again, I put every ounce of energy I have into lifting myself out of bed.

I sit there for a short while, and I can feel hot tears stinging my eyes. There is something sharp that is squeezing my throat. At that moment, I feel so sorry for myself, so sorry for carrying all this pain and so angry for not being able to let it go. I want to scream again.

I want to know why? Why doesn’t it get better? Why doesn’t anyone see? There is no answer, and I feel just a little more alone.



3 Things That Got Me to a Place I Never Thought I’d Be With My Agoraphobia/Panic disorder

Let’s throwback to the time we got kicked out of a Weird Al concert.

OK, so maybe “kicked out” is a tad melodramatic. Technically we didn’t get kicked out of the theater till the concert was over and the meet-and-greet for Weird Al was about to start. The meet-and-greet was only for a select few who paid for VIP badges. And we had no stinkin’ badges. So at the end of the concert where we were in the very back row, I decided I wanted to try going down to the front of the theater and looking up into the balcony.

As I’ve mentioned in previous writings, I live with agoraphobia, which can make it nearly impossible to enjoy theaters and stadiums without tremendous bouts of anxiety. Through the years, things have gotten a tiny bit better, and I’ve even been able to enjoy concerts and go to the theater without anxiety. This day was no exception.

I had no anxiety throughout the entire concert. So afterwards, I decided I’d be really brave and see if I could go down in front of the stage and look up at the balcony.

In the past, even if I’d been able to tolerate the venue, I’ve never been brave enough to go down front and look up.

And guess what? I did it. I went down to the front, turned around and looked up. It was a glorious, anxiety-free moment I never thought I’d have in my lifetime.

Then the voice of doom spoke out behind me: “OK, we are about to start the meet-and-greet, so if you don’t have a VIP badge, that mean you gots to go!”

In between wanting to correct his grammar, or give him my blog promo cards in an attempt to let us stay, or explain to him how big this moment was in my life, we decided to forgo all of those options and just head back to our hotel.

For the entire drive back to our hotel, I was basking in the glow of my victory. When I was a kid I never believed I’d one day be able to go into an auditorium/theater without a lick of anxiety and at the end of the show go down front and look up. So how did I get to this point of success? I have to say it took time, and it wasn’t always pleasant.

1. I think one of the biggest things that I did was starting to go to a very large church with a large auditorium when I moved back to the Midwest about five years ago. I do have to be honest and admit the first two or so times my husband Chad and I went, I was pretty anxious and had to sit in the back near the door, and I clung to Chad’s arm the whole time. But the more I went, the more comfortable I became.

2. After I became used to our church, I was able to gauge how big a space was and if I’d be able to handle it based on if it was roughly the same size. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of a panic, this can be hard to keep in mind, so I was glad when I had friends around me to remind me of this. It was because of this reminder I was able to go to the Grand Ole Opry and see Loretta Lynn perform. Highlight of my life!

3. I married a concert junkie! Seriously, Chad loves concerts and music. And because he also enjoys spending time with me, I’ve gone along to many a concert in our almost decade-long relationship. This has helped to desensitize me to venues and situations that would have caused anxiety for me in the past. It should be noted that for some of these concerts I did have anxiety, but the more I went, the less I had.

I hope if you live with agoraphobia like I do, you’ll find hope in this post. Also, please be aware that although this has been my experience, this may not work for you. Remember you are not alone!



Is Agoraphobia Just Like Social Panic Attacks?

There are many panic disorders an individual may develop. What panic disorders all share would be that the subject can seem to be intensely afraid, worried and anxious in a few instances.

Inside the same grouping of tension disorders are fears, which similarly cause irrational, yet intense, fear, worry and anxiety responding to particular conditions. Agoraphobia is a such fear one could have, also it is among the most generally treated fears on the planet. In addition, it may be an overpowering fear, which frequently needs specific treatment so that it is reduced.agoraphobia


Way over only a situation of feeling shy or reserved, agoraphobia is definitely an overpowering feeling of dread of departing the security of home and venturing in to the perceived danger from the outdoors world. It is also found in conjunction with other fears, for example obsessive-compulsive disorder or social anxiety. Its signs and symptoms include feeling trapped, unmanageable and outdoors from the focus which individuals feel in charge and comfy. Sometimes, the emotions of agoraphobia is really so overpowering that individuals struggling with it feel not capable of departing their house because of the anxiety about anxiety they are able to experience when going outdoors.agoraphobia

AGORAPHOBIA IS Totally Different From SOCIAL Fear

Agoraphobia is a reasonably misinterpreted condition. First of all, this isn’t a anxiety about open spaces, neither is it anxiety when finding yourself in an audience of individuals. Although these conditions might be present inside a person too, agoraphobia is basically anxiety when being too much from the safe location, no matter others. Lots of people struggling with agoraphobia welcome visitors to their home, even when they do themselves not leave. Agoraphobics wish to feel in complete charge of a scenario to feel secure and relaxed.


There aren’t any social or genetic traits that may suggest whether somebody will build up agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is all about two times as common among women than among men, however. The introduction of agoraphobia could be predicted, however, if a person is struggling with a far more generalised type of panic attacks, anxiety attack or fear, for example social anxiety . Happily, agoraphobia may be treatable. The very best treatment methods are a mix of gradual exposure and medicine so the person struggling with it may be accustomed to being outdoors their safe place and educate their marbles never fear about this.

Some therapists will visit agoraphobics in your own home, and remedies like hypnosis are gaining popularity like a strategy to agoraphobia along with other anxiety conditions. Cognitive behavior therapy may also help you’re able to grips your agoraphobia or social anxiety to be able to understand to feel calm and also have less fear in social situations or outdoors your house.

As The CAUSES Will Vary, TREATMENT Is Identical

Even celebs have worked with agoraphobia previously, including Woodsy Allen, Kim Basinger and celebrity chef Paula Dean. The bottom line is to acknowledge that it may be overcome. Should you suffer agoraphobia, the initial step is to inquire about the aid of your loved ones, buddies or physician to start the process of recovery.

While two different panic disorders , agoraphobia and social fear could be developed simultaneously. What they likewise have in keeping is the fact that people struggling with it may attempt to decrease their feeling of dread by self medicating with alcohol or illegal drugs. However the best and healthiest method to treat both social panic attacks and agoraphobia is to talk to your physician. Medication and therapy will help you sort out either disorder to be able to live a proper and socially active existence.


little girl sitting in  grunge interior (Photo and hand-drawing elements combined)

Surprising 10 Things That Helped Me Get Over Agoraphobia/Panic Disorder

I’m already getting butterflies in my stomach.

The title of my speech (or at least how the events programmer is advertising it) is: “Darlene Craviotto – Getting Out of the House.”  I can talk about screenwriting for days,  or how to be a working mom for hours on end.  But when it comes to speaking about my struggles with agoraphobia my mouth suddenly goes dry, and the room gets unbearably hot.  The only way to fight through this is to make sure I’m prepared for next Monday.  I’m no Ph.D. with all of the answers, but I’ve had my adventures with agoraphobia over the years, and (as nervous as it makes me to admit it) I’m doing much better now than I did in the past.  I’ve gotten healthy enough to step out of the house on a regular basis.  And if I had to tell you how or why I got better, I think I could list ten things that have helped me go from a full-blown agoraphobic to someone who regularly gets out of the house – and usually has a pretty good time while doing it.

(Not counting the panic attack I had in the Home Depot this morning.)

Here’s my Top Ten List for Overcoming Agoraphobia:


Having somebody else drive taught me that if I was too nervous to get behind the wheel I could let someone  (hopefully, less nervous) do the driving for me.  This worked fine for a while until one day I got a cab driver that drove like a crazy man.  It took me a few minutes of internal debate (“You have to speak up!” “I can’t speak up – He’ll drive even faster!”) before I finally found my voice and asked the cab driver to slow down.  I told him I was in no hurry, and I didn’t mind if it cost me extra.  Well, he turned into one of the slowest drivers I ever had – which was fine with me.  That experience taught me that I had the power to speak up even when I was terrified, and that lesson was worth every dollar I paid for that overpriced cab ride.


I don’t have to explain this one, do I?  The more you talk about your problems (preferably with an expert) the better you feel.  And feeling confident and good about yourself not only helps agoraphobia, but it’ll help a whole list of other problems too.


No matter how badly you want to hide in your house, you’ve got to force yourself to get out.  NEVER LET THE PANIC ATTACKS WIN.  No matter what happens: Get out there past your front door and try it again.  I did have a panic attack in the Home Depot this morning – just a day after I had gone there with my husband.  Ironically, while we were going to the back of the store (a real problem area for me), I said to him, “Wow!  This is the first time I’ve been in the Home Depot and not wanted to run for the nearest exit.” Well, okay, so today that flee-right-now-feeling found me again in the Home Depot (I had to return a towel rack) and this time the panic won.  But the important news is that I walked (not ran) to the exit, went outside, took some deep breaths, and drove home leisurely, intent to (one day soon, but not today) return again to that huge behemoth of a store known as Home Depot.  I’m in charge of my life, not the panic attacks.

4) A JOB

I took a job that forced me to get out of the house every day even though I felt miserable trying to get there. Just having that regular commitment of a place to go every day – a place that’s familiar – can put you in a better frame of mind.  I met people; I interacted with them; I even dated one of them and eventually married him.  He became my support person and that really helped me and well…that brings me to the next step in my recovery:

5)  KIDS

You have to leave the house eventually when you have kids – there’s no way around that.   One of my readers here at my blog (who has had her own challenges with agoraphobia) wrote me: “Doing something for my kids gets me out of my comfort zone.”  Every parent can relate to that – even if they don’t struggle with agoraphobia. There is no comfort zone once you become a parent: kids are messy (toddlers and public bathrooms are a real challenge), noisy (we preferred to call our kids “extremely verbal”), and overly honest (“Mommy, why is that man so fat?”). But here’s the good part for an agoraphobic who is a parent:   As my kids started to explore the world, they took me with with them.  There were times when I needed some help – Hubby would drive, or I’d have someone else drive us. But what was important was that my kids were getting me out of my house – away from my comfort zone. And the excitement in their eyes at looking at the world (a place that for me felt so frightening at times) made me see life with a brand new enthusiasm – a zest for living that only children understand.


Part of the fear you face as an agoraphobic is being in a new (and unknown) environment.  Thanks to Google maps no location is ever surprising to me anymore because I know what to expect (and what it will look like) when I get there. And now  you can see the world at street level and 3-D!  When we went to England two years ago, I immediately recognized the outside of all of our hotels; I could walk down the street like a local.  I knew every building in the neighborhood, from the pub next door, to the Italian restaurant around the corner.  Google has given me the confidence again to travel.


Make some.  Or become closer to the ones you already have. For the longest time, Hubby was my only safety person – someone with whom I could venture out into the world and feel safe doing it.  I didn’t have that feeling with my friends.  If a friend wanted to go out to lunch or meet for coffee or a movie I’d always find a reason not to go or I’d cancel last minute.  It wasn’t the fault of my friends: it was me.  I just didn’t have the same level of trust with them.  That changed the summer my husband was hired to star in a play in Colorado.  While he rehearsed during the day, I stayed alone in the condo and wrote.  I didn’t dare venture outside.  As a matter of fact, I was a nervous wreck just being there, thousands of miles away from my comfort zone – our home in West Hollywood.  And then a good friend came to visit, and I had a choice to make:  spend all of our time indoors (there’s a limit to how much telelvision you can watch) or venture outside with our friend. I was a wreck trying to decide what to do. What was I afraid of, you might ask. That’s certainly what the therapist had asked me, when I called her frantically all the way from Colorado. “What if something bad happens to me?” I told her.  “I trust my husband to help me, but I’m not sure about my friend.”  Well, thanks to that therapist (See Item #2 above) for saying: “You’ll never find out, Darlene, unless you get out of the house.” So my friend (Jeff) and I went fishing at a nearby river.  For a first step, it was a big one.  A big step that turned into an even bigger stumble:  I slipped on a rock on the muddy river bed, fell backwards into the water, and I couldn’t move. My ankle was sprained and I couldn’t get back up. I was trapped there and my head was slowly sinking under water.  Jeff did what any of my other friends would’ve done: he laughed.  I looked ridiculous, spread-eagled, still wearing a cowboy hat (somewhat cock-eyed on my head), and still holding my fishing pole.  But Jeff did something else too: he came running, reached down to stop me from slipping completely underwater, and he helped me back up to my feet. Easier said than done – we slipped and slided along the muddy river bank, both of us now laughing (and me wincing in pain and hopping on one foot).  Jeff saved me from drowning.  And he taught me that day that I could feel safe in the world with a friend.


My daughter started playing competitive softball when she was five.  When she was seven she was asked to be on an All-Star team and to travel during the summer to tournaments.  I remember how exciting this was, but also frightening for me.  We had to go to new towns every weekend, adjusting to different motels, new restaurants, and thousands of people at the tournaments.  The first time we had a team meal I was certain I couldn’t do it.  There must have been 50 of us all sitting together with tables joined  – everyone talking non-stop, people I barely knew. I thought to myself, “If I can get through this meal without bolting out of the restaurant in hysterics, maybe this won’t be so bad after all.”  I made it through that meal, and after that, team meals started to feel okay.  As a matter of fact, they started to feel like we were one big noisy family.

Softball taught me how to be flexible, and how to travel to strange new towns (like Mesquite,Nevada) and how to feel comfortable in a group of people, even if my husband had to miss a tournament.  I had to fly with my daughter and her team to Denver (thanks to valium) and Houston (thanks to valium again) and one time my best friend Marie drove my daughter and me to a tournament in St. George, Utah.  Marie’s not exactly a softball fan but she drove us anyway (See Item #7 above).   Softball taught me “to hit whatever strikes were sent my way.”  And in return, my confidence really started to build.

9) A VAN

I stopped driving completely in Los Angeles, and anyone who has driven in a large city can understand why: the streets are crowded with traffic. Once we moved two hours away (back to my hometown) and to a suburb, I couldn’t use traffic as an excuse not to drive anymore.  Plus, my kids were older, and getting busier.  True, they were in school all day in one location, but after school they had sports (located all over town). I realized that I needed to start driving again full time.  That was easier said than done. I was able to make short trips – down the street one block, and around the corner to pick up my kids after school. But I had to get more comfortable behind the wheel for longer drives, and I just wasn’t sure how to do that.  If I could’ve put wheels on my house, that would’ve helped.  Then it dawned on me: that’s what an RV is.  It’s a house on wheels.  All right, maybe an RV was too large, but if I could get something like an RV, maybe I’d feel more secure while driving. I looked in the newspaper one day and I saw an ad for converted vans. That sounded promising.  We had to drive an hour away to test drive it, but the moment I saw the Great White Van  I knew that I’d found my home away from home. Complete with wood paneling inside, a television set, mood lighting, and a third seat that (with the push of a button) turned into a bed, it was more like a pimp mobile than anything else.  But it was exactly what I needed.  I called it my mobile office.  And I would drive it to the beach, park it with a 360 degree view of the beautiful Pacific Ocean, and feel as safe and happy inside as I did in my own little track house in the suburbs. My Big White Van became my home away from home, and  I started driving (the kids and anybody else who would go with me) all over our small town.  Except for freeways – I’m still working on that.


Writing my book (An Agoraphobic’s Guide to Hollywood) was one of the best things I ever did to help my agoraphobia.

As I worked on the revisions, I started to feel a lot freer because I was finally opening up (publicly) about something I had kept hidden for years.  When the book came out, (and through this website) I started hearing from people who wanted to know more about what it was like to battle agoraphobia.  For the first time in my life, I was giving myself permission to talk about all the fears I’d so carefully locked away because I was afraid people would think of me as weird. I had been terrified that if I talked about it people wouldn’t understand, or they’d put me down as a whiner, or some kind of malingerer.  Writing the book helped me in one other way too: it became another reason for me to get out of the house. There have been book signings, and personal appearances (like the one coming up next week) and I have to leave my house to do them.  True, they’ve only been in my local community, but still, I can’t hide behind my computer in my home office anymore.

When you struggle with a BIG PROBLEM in your life, its difficulty tricks you into believing that you’re the only person in the world suffering from it. The bad thing about agoraphobia is that it keeps us suffering all by ourselves. I once wanted to find a support group for agoraphobics, but then I realized probably no one would show up to the meetings.  That’s what’s so great about the Internet. You can show up here without really showing up.

There’s one more item I should add to this Top Ten list (even though that would make it a Top Eleven List) , and that’s humor. Never take anything so seriously that you can’t find a way to laugh about it.  Remember the Irish proverb, “A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.”

I shed a lot of tears in the worst of times – when agoraphobia first called my name and I answered.  But life only started to get better once I figured out  that it’s not about getting out of the house – it’s just about trying.



Surprising New Understanding Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia

Many people have the mistaken belief that agoraphobia is a fear of open spaces. While this is a common component of the disorder, it is not actually the entire problem. Agoraphobia is actually a phobia of being stuck in a situation which it is difficult to escape from, should things go wrong. This means that the person may be anxious about leaving the house, visiting busy public areas or traveling on public transport.

confinementIn most instances, agoraphobia is a complication of panic disorder. A panic attack can be overwhelming and frightening, and the sufferer may avoid situations where they have previously had an attack. Since a panic attack can also occur out of the blue and with no apparent trigger, the person may also become generally fearful of having an attack away from the safety of home – particularly if the attack was to happen in public and cause embarrassment. In a third of cases, people who suffer from panic attacks become so anxious about this that they develop agoraphobia.

Agoraphobia can trigger further panic attacks if the person finds themselves in a situation which causes them anxiety. The symptoms of this can include hyperventilation (rapid breathing), a racing heartbeat, feeling sweaty and too hot, and feeling nauseous. It can take anything from a few minutes to a couple of hours for a person to recover from a panic attack.

Treating Panic Disorder And Agoraphobia

Since there is such a strong link between agoraphobia and panic disorder, treating the panic attacks will normally help a person to recover from their agoraphobia as well. Because the causes of the disorder are normally psychological, therapy is the preferred way to treat it.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the form of therapy supported by most doctors, as it has the highest success rate. Since anxious thoughts – which are often irrational – can trigger or perpetuate a panic attack, the therapist will help people to become more aware of these thought processes and help them to replace them with more helpful ways of thinking. It can take many weeks or months of CBT to successfully control a panic disorder or agoraphobia, but the relapse rate is relatively low.

In recent years, relaxation training has also become popular as it can be just as effective as the CBT approach. This technique uses the link between body and mind to help the patient to develop coping strategies. The idea is that if a person relaxes certain muscles when they feel tense or anxious, then their mood will be become more relaxed as well. A person will normally require 12 to 15 sessions to master relaxation training.

Sometimes, a doctor may feel that the patient needs medication to control the symptoms in addition to psychological therapies. This will allow the patient to cope with daily life a little better, while they learn to overcome the psychological aspects of their panic attacks and agoraphobia.

Although panic attacks and agoraphobia can make life very difficult, most people can resume a normal life through support from their doctor.