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 cup

Last 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.

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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 feet While 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.

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We’ve likely all heard the word: agoraphobia. For most of us, it summons images of TLC specials about people who live life fully from the comfort of their own home… or even bedroom. While this is agoraphobia at its worst, not everyone with agoraphobia will be locked in their home for years and years. According to the Mayo Clinic, agoraphobia is a fear of places or situations that might cause panic, helplessness, or embarrassment. If you have an anxiety disorder, like me, that sentence may have just hit home.

Before I fully understood the range of agoraphobia, I felt like I was hit with a ton of bricks when my therapist brought up the word. I wasn’t a “shut in,” how could she even mention that? Now that I have learned more about my anxiety disorder and what agoraphobia can be, I want to share what it isn’t for me.

1. Not Leaving the House… Ever

Yes, it can be days before I leave the house (don’t worry, my kids let me know it’s strange), but agoraphobics do leave the house, bedroom, tiny closet under the stairs, etc. We just have to do it under our circumstances with the right people, the right water bottle, the right temperature in the car to get there, and the right destination. Sometimes, this means no Wal-Mart ever. Sometimes, it means not even leaving to hit the drive-thru.

2. Not Going Outside

When I’m having a panic attack, one of my safe places is outside. Not out in the open, not in the front of my house where all of my neighbors can see, but on my back porch. It’s a calm space — one where I feel like I can breathe. I also find my anxiety lessens the more time that I spend outside.

Yes, I am an agoraphobic, and yes, I still have a great tan from being outside.

3. Not Having a Social Life

Any of my friends will tell you I love to socialize: barbecues, concerts, even (gasp!) parties. My social life is comparable to that of people who have not been diagnosed with a mental illness. Only a few people who are not close to me know how much I actually struggle with this “normalization” though. When I go somewhere like this, I need to have my purse stocked full with all of the essentials: a water bottle (in case I start choking), a pack of crackers (in case I get hungry), at least $50 (in case I get stranded on the side of the road… hey, this one isn’t really that bad). These are all things I have deemed safe items. Things that make me feel more normal and like I am in control of the situation. Also, sometimes I do bail for what seems like no reason to the people who don’t understand it. Sometimes, I do just want to stay in the house. Cookout at my house, anyone?

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4. Being an Introvert

Yes, all of these thoughts are inside of my head, but I am by no means an introvert. I am loud, friendly, and have an opinion on everything. Just because I don’t love to leave my house, I hate Wal-Mart, and I need a prescription medication to go to an unfamiliar location doesn’t mean I am introverted.

5. Hating People

Most agoraphobics like to avoid big crowds. That doesn’t mean they hate people. It only means they are uncomfortable with the situation. For many, it’s the fear of going somewhere and making a fool of yourself in a big crowd. Are you going to panic, throw up, or fidget like you’re stealing something while checking out the best Christmas buys at the mall on Black Friday? Better not go. One thing I have always found conflicting about my agoraphobia and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is that I don’t like big crowds especially if I know I’m going to panic, but I also hate being alone. I don’t hate people — I hate the idea of myself acting ridiculous in front of people.

Agoraphobia, like GAD, can mean different things to different people. Just because I enjoy going places under certain circumstances doesn’t make mine better than yours. There have been countless times when my husband has had to turn the car around and go home just because I can’t handle the grocery store.

It’s also important for us all to remember that our agoraphobia won’t just go away. We need to work on it, chip away at it and do what makes us most comfortable and happy on a daily basis. I learned the hard way that you need to have a support system to have any chance at conquering this. An understanding family is great. Friends you can call up when you want to be social but don’t want to leave the house are great. Online communities dedicated to similar people coming together to fight this agoraphobia in a positive way are the best.

Image via Thinkstock.


When I was first diagnosed with agoraphobia and panic attacks, I learned that agoraphobia literally means “fear of the marketplace” in Greek. That described me perfectly. My worst places to be were the grocery store and the mall.

When I have a panic attack, I get a strong, uncontrollable urge to leave the place I’m at. I feel more at ease when there is easy access to an exit. Big box warehouse stores with no windows and one door are challenging.

Medication has helped get me through the day without the constant fear of panic. I’m grateful I’m now comfortable going anywhere — even the grocery store.

These are the seven places that help me feel safe and relaxed:

1. The beach

My senses are both awakened and at peace here. I’m mesmerized as I watch the waves form, crash and roll to the shore. Warm sand massages my feet, and cold water makes me feel alive. It’s as if I’m on vacation, with the sounds of seagulls and the smell of salty air. The beauty and serenity make this a spiritual place. I daydream about all that is possible.

2. The mountains

This is where life slows down. I take deep breaths and notice how quiet it is. Birds chirp and trees rustle in the breeze. Gravel crunches underneath my feet. It’s therapeutic to be with nature and just be.

3. Library or book store

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved the smell of books! It’s quiet here and provides a much-needed break from the busy world outside. I get a stack of magazines and best sellers to browse, find a comfy chair and settle in. I focus on what I’m reading and nearly forget I’m with other people.  

4. Movie theater

The thought of sitting in a cool, dark theater for a couple of hours is pure bliss. It’s an escape where I can observe and not participate. For many people with anxiety, being in a theater can be difficult. I don’t like to sit in the middle of a row or in the center of the theater. I prefer to be toward the back and near the end of the row. I munch on popcorn, let my mind wander and get lost in the show.

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5. Coffee shop

I walk in and take a deep breath. The smell of coffee instantly relaxes me. It’s cozy and inviting. I can easily spend an hour or two here, sipping on a hot latte or an iced coffee, chatting with a friend. But because caffeine makes me jittery and anxious, I order decaf. And no double shots of espresso! 

6. Garden center/plant nursery

I enjoy gardening and thrive on the immediate gratification I get from planting flowers, weeding and growing vegetables. A nursery is a serene escape. I browse every aisle, deciding what to buy. I revel in the slow pace and am rejuvenated by the hope of making my garden more beautiful.

7. Church

I feel surrounded by love here. This time is dedicated to prayer and enriching my faith, away from the hustle of my regular routine. It used to be hard for me to attend Mass because I was afraid of having a panic attack. That fear has subsided, but I still prefer to sit near the end of the pew. When the service is over, I feel good that I made it through and didn’t let my anxiety stop me from worshiping. Another reason to be thankful!

The common thread to my favorite places is that they encourage me to be calm and mindful. I use all of my senses to fully immerse myself into the peace and relaxation that they offer.

Imagine someone Googling how to help you cope with your (or a loved one’s) diagnosis. Write the article you’d want them to find. If you’d like to participate, please check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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For people living with mental illness, selfies can be a powerful way to document victories against their disorder. Brenna Mae, a woman living with agoraphobia – a disorder that causes anxiety in places and situations where escape may be difficult – chose a selfie to celebrate a rare moment of relief from her disorder. What she didn’t choose was to be berated in the street for taking one.

According to her post on Twitter, Mae woke up one morning with a “flash of strange courage,” so she went out to a Trader Joe’s for groceries. “For once, I didn’t wait around to see if it would stay… [going outside] felt powerful. I felt free,” she wrote.

While taking a selfie outside of the store, Mae was harassed by a person driving by for taking a photograph of herself. According to Mae, the person yelled “Nobody cares that you’re going to the f**cking grocery store,” right as she finished taking the picture.

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Fortunately, Mae didn’t allow the driver’s harassment to spoil her victory. “Yes, I was a woman standing outside a Trader Joe’s, acting like my shopping trip was important enough to document,” said Mae, “because it was.”

Mae’s powerful statement brings some much-needed visibility to agoraphobia. Mae also makes an important point about how shortsighted harassment is, as people living with mental illness face twice the amount of harassment as the general population.

You can read her full post below:

Dear driver who yelled at me for taking a selfie on the sidewalk outside Trader Joe’s, I know what you thought you were seeing, just a self-absorbed, shallow millennial, documenting a mundane task for no reason. ‘Stupid kid,’ you might have thought, ‘not every little thing has to be documented. Put your phone away and get on with your life.’ But here’s the thing. I also know what you were unable to see: I am agoraphobic.

For the past 3+ years, I haven’t gone into public by myself. I haven’t left the front door of my home without a friend or family member (except, on brave days, to get the mail). Even when going in public with loved ones, I become wracked with anxiety, crippled by panic attacks where I could barely breathe or talk. My husband has had to practically carry me out of movie theaters becasue I started panicking so hard. We’ve lost who knows how much money on non-refundable tickets. Before we got married, we couldn’t go on dates because it was too hard for me to leave the house. I have endured 3+ years of my body and mind revolting against my desire to be independent.

This morning, alone in my apartment, I experienced a flash of strange courage. For once, I didn’t wait around to see if it would stay. I didn’t worry that the courage would abandon me halfway through my trip. I just seized it. I grabbed a beanie and my messenger bag and walked out the door. I crossed two streets, by myself, while cars rushed by, and I didn’t panic. I smiled up at the blue sky and sun, for the first time in year enjoying it on my own. I felt whole. I felt powerful. I felt free.

You and I were the sole witnesses of a moment 3+ years in the making. All I wanted was one photo — not even from a flattering angle, not even well-composed. Just one photo, to prove I did it, to look at when I’m low again, that it’s possible to defeat the demons and win. To show myself that it can be done again. To send to my husband so he can be proud of me too.

When you saw me, yes, I was a woman standing outside a Trader Joe’s, acting like my shopping trip was important enough to document. Because it was.

I’m sorry that you’ll never know.

I’m sorry you see my generation documenting our lives as something to be scorned.

I’m sorry you don’t hear the stories we have to tell.

I’m sorry that I can’t tell you mine.


I have anxiety. I always have — for as long as I can remember. Back during my childhood, kids weren’t diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. We were told to suck it up, stop crying, don’t be a brat. So I learned how to cope on my own. I learned how to shut down certain emotions and feelings. I learned how to control my anxiety. I had no choice.

I had to evolve so as not to perish under the weight of my own fears. I created my own coping mechanisms and adjusted my inner thoughts and feelings.

When I was 26 years old I had a daughter. She was a beautiful and happy baby. Loved people and had no fear. Until she suddenly was terrified of everything. 

Her anxiety was triggered when she was a few months shy of 3. I’d decided I’d had enough of the downward spiral my relationship with her father was taking. It was headed into a dark territory I wanted nothing to do with. So, I left. I took my sweet girl and we moved out. Just two weeks later my brother died from a heroin overdose.

Bam!

My adult world was rocked — and her little toddler world just crumbled.

She suddenly was afraid to leave my side. She was afraid of the dark. Of everything. It continued to get worse. Everything made her angry. Her 3-year-old brain couldn’t process the emotions she was having. Lucky for me, I knew the signs. Lucky for me I knew what grief at a young age could do to a child’s psyche. Lucky for me… she was a miniature version of her mother.

With proper counseling she learned how to cope. How to control, most of the time, all of those emotions. And I learned how to help her… and myself!

She is now 10 years old. She is beautiful. She is strong. She is smart. But most importantly of all, she is coping. Every day we both battle our own selves. Every day we cope.

Her anxiety triggers my anxiety. My anxiety triggers her anxiety. Life happens and we both lose it sometimes. But we have each other. No matter what happens, I understand her, which is more than I ever had.

The Mighty is asking the following: If you’re a parent with a mental illness, tell us about a time you tried (either successfully or unsuccessfully) to explain to your children about your mental illness/mental health issues. How did they react? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


Robb Nash’s newest tattoo may have a bit more meaning than most.

Last week, Nash, a musician and motivational speaker, had the signatures of 120 young people who were once suicidal inked on his right arm.

After Nash’s band performs at schools, students often present the frontman with suicide notes from their past.

In an interview last Friday, Nash told Manitoba’s CBC News, he’s gotten 523 of these letters. He decided to honor the students by having the names of the first 120 who gave him notes tattooed on his arm.

“Everyday when I meet people that are suicidal, they always say that they feel alone….that no one else feels the same way,” Nash wrote in a Facebook post. “My hope is that in those moments, I can show them my arm, so they can see the names of tons of other people that once felt the same way and found the strength to get help and keep moving.”

His post reads:

For years I have been blown away as people have gotten tattoos with my lyrics on them. After thinking about this for a long time, I decided to get the signatures from the first 120 suicide notes given to me tattooed on my arm. (They are as much a part of my life, as I am of theirs.) Everyday when I meet people that are suicidal, they always say that they feel alone….that no one else feels the same way. My hope is that in those moments, I can show them my arm, so they can see the names of tons of other people that once felt the same way and found the strength to get help and keep moving. This is not something I plan to continue doing, so no one will be motivated to give me a note, in hopes of getting their names on my arms. This was just the first names. And I also hope that people will see these names and realize how many people out there are fighting depression and suicidal thoughts. It is something that has taken the life of too many amazing and talented people. It was also cool to see CTV, CBC and the Free Press show up to share this story. I hope many are inspired!

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Nash shares his own story as part of the school presentations. As a teenager, he was involved in a near-fatal collision with a semi-trailer truck, from which he had a difficult recovery and “significant physical and emotional scars.” Though Nash founded a successful band, he felt his suicide prevention work was more important and decided to focus on school performances. He now does over 150 self-harm presentations each year.

Nash hopes that sharing his tattoo online will help further his mission.

“I also hope that people will see these names and realize how many people out there are fighting depression and suicidal thoughts,” Nash wrote. “It is something that has taken the life of too many amazing and talented people.”

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a scene or line from a movie, show, or song that’s stuck with you through your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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