(Too) Close for Comfort

Living through a pandemic was obviously challenging in many different ways, but there were also some things that having to quarantine for a year and a half made easier…for one, my agoraphobia. It was definitely a nice break from having to constantly worry about going places because there was, quite literally, nowhere to go. Reflecting back on it now, I can definitely see how this caused some major setbacks for me. My “comfort area” has drastically narrowed and I have not had to push myself to leave it for a long time. Before COVID, I was okay with driving about two hours from home in most directions, but now I am probably hovering around an hour. I know that now that things are opening back up, I have to start pushing myself to go places, but it is just so hard. It. Is. So. Hard.

This past weekend, my boyfriend and I were discussing going to his mother’s beach house about an hour and a half away. Naturally all of the logistics pushed their way into my head- “it is the first weekend of the summer”, “everyone and their mother is going to be there”, “it will be SO crowded”, “the traffic is going to be a nightmare”. This is the doozy for me every time, the nail in the coffin…the traffic that I will have no control over. And then all the what-ifs start piling on….”what if I get sick?”, “what if I have to go to the bathroom?”, “what if there is an accident and the road is closed?”, “what if I have to go to the hospital?” (mind you, in my 42 years of life, I have gone to the hospital exactly one time for bronchitis).

Years ago, my therapist asked me what the worst part of thinking about flying was for me. Easy…”I can’t get off the plane if I want or need to”. She replied, “WHY would you NEED to get off the plane?” I still have never really had a good answer to that question.

The problem with anxiety and agoraphobia is that I can sit here and have a perfectly logical conversation about it. I am intelligent and well-educated. I have read articles, editorials, self-help books, etc. about these disorders. I can even be my own devil’s advocate (well, really, why WOULD you need to get off?). But, the problem is that once you start feeling those feelings, all logic goes out the window. I can’t control the wave of panic or the sensation that I can’t breathe or my body feeling on fire or any of the other multiple physical reactions that come along with these thoughts. I know it is all about lack of control. I know that. But when it is happening, it is really hard to remember that I don’t need to be in control.

I started dating my boyfriend a few months before quarantining began. It has been a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because we had so much time alone together to be a couple, to learn about each other, to enjoy each other’s company. Also, we work together and he is my boss, so although it is something that was disclosed to HR, it caused a lot of gossip. It was nice to be able to take a step back from that. Now that things are “normal”, he and I are old news and no one really cares

It has been a curse because he wasn’t exposed to this side of me. Obviously, I told him I have these problems from the beginning. I would never hide that from anyone. But it has been very easy for him to say that it is no big deal, he can handle it, it wouldn’t change anything about how he feels, etc. I believe him that he believes himself when he says these things, but I also know that dealing with this can get old quickly. It is easy to say it is not a big deal until the time he wants me to go somewhere and I can’t do it.

And therein lies the other problem. My boyfriend is the most amazing, patient, understanding, caring man I have ever been with. I am so lucky to be with him. Even through the death of my ex-boyfriend and my grieving process, he has been unwavering in his support. Okay, that is not the problem. The problem is that I feel like I don’t deserve him. It isn’t like I have super low self-esteem, it is more like I feel like I am not worthy of him. He is so normal and I feel like I am so…flawed. He had a pretty normal upbringing and I had an extremely dysfunctional family and an abusive alcoholic father. In some ways, being with my ex was easier because he was more messed up than I was. That sounds mean in light of his recent passing, but it is true. I took care of him, I had my shit together, and even though I had these issues, his issues with addiction and depression dominated our relationship. Now, I feel insecure that when my new boyfriend sees the REAL me, he is going to end things or not love me anymore. I have never really felt like this before (not liking it). I have shared a little bit of this with him and he is so reassuring and sweet and always asks me, “why do you think that?”

I don’t know…why do I need to get off the plane?

We are not cleared for take-off…


Many people have a fear of flying…then there’s me.  I actually feel anxious when I see an airplane on television.  I have to close my eyes in order not to watch the flight attendant closing the plane door on the screen.  Strangely, I flew often as a child.  I have flown alone and I have flown internationally.  My fear did not start until I was in my 20s and I had a panic attack on the flight home from my honeymoon (I am now divorced and the irony is really not lost on anyone).  In the years that followed, I flew as seldom as possible and my anxiety grew to include any type of travel.  In recent years, with the help of time and therapy and a supportive boyfriend, I have worked hard on overcoming my fears.  I also was medically hypnotized two summers ago to help conquer my fear of flying, which actually did help a lot.

Regardless of how far I have come, the overwhelming panic still affects me every time I have to fly.  It settles in a few days or a week before and keeps me up at night.  I reason with myself in the dark, telling myself that I have successfully flown before and I know what to expect, even as the electricity of an anxiety attack courses through my body.  I shiver and sweat and try to work through it.  For me, the anticipation of flying is the worst part…that and not being able to control my environment.  I often said that I preferred driving because “I can stop and get out of the car if something happens, but I can’t get out of a plane”, to which my therapist asked, “and why would you have to get out of a plane?” (to which I’ve never had a good answer!)

So this time I felt prepared.  I had the tools from therapy and hypnotherapy and several successful flights to aid me.  I knew the anticipatory anxiety would be there and how to deal with it.  And I had Xanax, something I rarely take in my every day life, but that I use generously on travel days.  The flight was only an hour and a half and the plane was on time.  My boyfriend and I breezed through security and got settled on the plane, as I waited for the Xanax to help me fall asleep (I look ridiculous when I fly, wearing an eye mask and a hoodie pulled over my head).  The plane pushed back from the gate and took its place to taxi out to the runway.  Then we waited and waited…and waited.  Finally the pilot came on and said that all planes were grounded because of a power outage in Washington D.C. I felt myself get hot and the panic start to rise uncontrollably.  I turned to my boyfriend and told him I was going to freak out (poor guy!).  In my head, I could picture myself standing up and running towards the plane door, yelling for them to let me off the plane.  I took a couple more Xanax and then closed my eyes and focused on slowly breathing in and out, in and out, in and out…for three hours.  This was literally my WORST nightmare- being trapped on the plane with no way off and zero control.  It was horrible and terrible and traumatic and yet, I survived.  After three hours of sitting on the plane, we finally took off, so in total I was on the plane for almost five hours.  Even writing this now, two weeks later, I still remember how awful I felt and how scared I was.  If I think about it too much, I actually start to feel anxious about it, even while sitting in my own family room.  But just a short week later, after enjoying a wonderful vacation, I got back on the plane to fly home (thankfully with no issues!).  I am actually really grateful that it happened on the way to our vacation location and that the flight home was easy, because I don’t want to use that experience as an excuse to not fly next time.

Keep on keeping on…

Remember How Far You've Come

I am supposed going to fly this weekend. It is my biggest fear ever since I had a panic attack on a plane in 2005. For the past couple of months, I have been doing hypnotherapy to help get over my fear. I guess I won’t really know how much it helps until that day. I am really nervous, but I hate the fact that this fear has had so much power over my life for so long.

It’s all about control (or the lack thereof) and I am starting to realize (sloooowwwwlllyy…) that no matter what I do or how hard I try, there are just things in life that I cannot control. I think once I am able to accept that fully, I will be much happier!!

You are getting very sleepy…


I am currently in the process of hypnotherapy in order to conquer my fear of flying and traveling. I have mixed feelings about how it is going, but am hopeful that it will help (and I am willing to try anything at this point). I had an interesting conversation with the hypnotherapist this week. I asked him how much of my current issues he thinks could be related to growing up with an alcoholic. Although I have always assumed there was a connection between my problem with anxiety and my childhood, I have never blamed any of my adult problems on what happened to me as a child, but we are shaped by our early experiences. I have explored this connection with my regular therapist (yes, count ’em- two therapists- lol), but I was curious to know another person’s professional opinion.

I found what he said to be really interesting. I know that the fears I have associated with travel really stem from an issue with the lack of control. He said that the connection is that when I was younger and my dad was completely out of control, I developed a coping mechanism to be able to live in the house with him. The hypnotherapist was very complimentary in that he thinks I have achieved a lot of success due to this self and environmental control, but that in this situation with traveling, it is a huge hindrance. That really makes a lot of sense on a very fundamental level. I couldn’t control my dad…his behavior was completely unpredictable. So instead, I tried to control everything else I could and it has now manifested itself in a really unhealthy way.

Anyway, not sure if anyone can relate to this revelation (of sorts) or to this feeling of needing to have control. For the record, I do not think I am controlling of other people, but really just of my surroundings and myself. Also, if anyone has ever been medically hypnotized, I would be very interested in your experience!!

All by myself

The best thing my therapist ever said to me was in reference to my (now ex-)husband. She told me, “he has every right to be upset with you, disappointed in you, angry with you, frustrated with you, or anything else he is feeling, but he does NOT have the right to be mean to you.” That really stuck with me.

Coming back from our honeymoon, I had my first panic attack ever on the plane. It was one of those moments that could have been a scene from a movie- the girl freaks out and starts yelling, “I have to get. off. the. plane!” while her poor husband just looks around frantically for help. It was not fun. The thing is, I had flown many, many times. I have lived all over the country and have family in several states. I even flew to Ireland to visit my sister when she studied abroad. I still do not completely understand it and many people- including my therapist- have questioned if subconsciously I knew that I was coming home married to a man who I had serious reservations about. I loved my husband very much, but I had seen a lot of red flags before we got married that I chose to ignore. Red flags that I kept secret, like him pulling the car over when we were fighting because I was scared of his erratic driving and then leaving me on the side of a major highway in an inner city neighborhood. At night. In the winter. And never coming back. Yea, I wasn’t dying to tell anyone that romantic story because I protected him instead of protecting myself. When I finally told my friends and family that happened, they were so upset that I didn’t tell them at the time.

I have never been the same since that panic attack- it really changed something inside my brain and my heart. After that horrible flight, I suffered from constant anxiety and was eventually diagnosed with agoraphobia. It had an effect on our marriage and although my “wasband” had a terrible anger problem and did treat me badly during the last couple of years of our relationship, I truly believe that he just simply did not know how to help me. He is a good person- even after everything that happened between us, I still think that. He would help anyone with anything, but he seemed to lack empathy. He was an amazing friend to his friends, but he was not a very good husband. I also think that there are two kinds of people: those who think mental illness is a real thing and those who don’t. He was in the latter category. His big thing was just to tell me “mind over matter” and his approach was tough love. It clearly didn’t work. He also didn’t “believe” in medication and so I suffered for a long time because I didn’t want to disappoint him or upset him by taking antidepressants. I am fortunate to currently be in a relationship with someone who understands mental illness and really supports me…it has made a huge difference.

The best thing I ever did for myself was be by myself. I see women getting divorced and jumping right back into dating or even marriage again. If that is what makes someone happy, then to each their own. I knew that I needed time- time to find myself again and work on myself. I still loved my husband the day we went to court…I did not get a divorce because I fell out of love. I did it because every day I was married to him, a little part of me died. It was like I was a shell of my former self. I lived to try to make him happy, when in reality, there was so much resentment that there was really nothing I could have done to please him. I stopped caring about myself because I stopped thinking I was worth caring about. After getting divorced, I didn’t have anything to do with men for almost a year. I wasn’t a man hater or anything crazy like that- I just knew I needed time to learn who I was again. I took yoga and learned to meditate, adopted a cat, spent a lot of time with my sister and girlfriends and also spent a lot of time alone thinking, lost weight, cried A LOT, taught a college class…just anything I could do FOR ME. I knew that I could not love someone or feel worthy of being loved by someone until I really loved myself again. It was the BEST thing I could have done. By the end of that time, he was already engaged. I spoke to our marriage counselor during the time he was annulling the marriage and she said she was not surprised that he was getting remarried so quickly and said that she truly felt he would victimize his new wife. I felt good hearing that at the time because I was still angry and hurt and even though I take responsibility for my part of the marriage failing, I do believe that his behavior and treatment towards me were the primary reasons we couldn’t work things out. But now I hope that isn’t true- I hope he treats his new wife better than he treated me. It is hard to imagine that only because he could never admit when he was wrong and didn’t “believe in apologizing” (yup- direct quote). He was the kind of person who thought he was always right and it is really hard to be with someone like that. The last thing I ever said to him outside that courthouse was that I was so sad things didn’t work out and that I would always love him. The last thing he said to me was that he was sorry he couldn’t fix me.

It took 11 months for me to pull myself together and in the end I realized that I really wasn’t broken.