Sunday, February 6, 2011

Agoraphobia and WoW: My Form of Rehab

Sorry to interrupt the general flow of this blog, but I feel like getting down and personal for once. Will this happen often? Unlikely. I'm currently feeling incredibly sterile with this blog though, along with many other things, and I want to be real for a bit. I've also been highly inspired by Beru with her incredibly moving personal post over at Falling Leaves and Wings.

This is in no way, shape, or form meant to be a "QQ" post, but rather a way to get some things off my chest. Perhaps it could also help someone else in the long run...who knows.

If you have any comments along the lines of "Lol go get help noob." or of anything of the like, please keep them to yourselves. If they pop up around here, I'll simply delete them. I have enough negativity in my life, and this blog is my realm. If you don't like it, your navigation bar is located at the top of your web browser.

This is my world. Welcome to it.

Now, I'm about to share some things that I've really only begun to share with my family and more recently the closest of my friends. I'm feeling a bit ballsy, and I'd like to throw this out there for the greater World of Warcraft community. You knowing this information, great reader, in no way/shape/form changes me, Saz, but may change your view on me as a person. Honestly? I don't care if it greatly changes your perception of me. I'm me, I've been me, I just haven't shown you all of me because what you haven't seen isn't a side I love. Matter of fact, if I could physically cut off a part of personality, the side you may or may not have noticed would be lopped off in a heart beat.

What brought about this post? Well, I've been considering a post of this nature for quite some time. As a matter of fact, I had at one point considered doing a whole anonymous blog on it. Of course during my massive unscheduled internet break I lost any interest in taking on such a task, and now I think to myself: why should I hide? Why on earth should I hide the fact that I'm working through an extremely difficult point in my life? I finally feel as though I shouldn't have to. Because I'm an extremely prideful person who has probably to an extent always valued the opinion of others too highly, I have simply just opted to keep my mouth closed about some of the things I've gone through up until this point. Honestly, I don't think that may have been the healthiest choice.

You see, I suffer from severe Agoraphobia. If you're really wanting to read the remainder of this post and have no idea what Agoraphobia is in the slightest, please read the information on that Wikipedia page. While non-sufferers will still not be able to fully grasp what it's like to be an Agoraphobic (even as one, it's taken me years to fully grasp the fact that this was my ailment, and thought that anyone suffering from some sort of phobia was just over-reacting at something ridiculous), it will give you a general idea of what I have to deal with. How bad does it affect me? Well, let's just say that over the past 2-3 years my avoidance behaviors have gotten to the point where it's difficult for me to walk out to the mailbox, let alone go out for dinner with some friends. It's not fun, it's not something that I can "just snap out of", and it's not just some bullshit excuse to get out of doing things I don't want to do. No, I don't want pity. I would however except and in fact appreciate your understanding. Now that we have all that straightened out...

The Life of Saz...The One Without Pixels.
The first 7-9 years of my life were incredibly happy. I was an only child at that point, the youngest of a large clan of cousins, doted on by everyone, extremely happy, very quiet, loved playing with my dinosaurs in dirt piles while wearing dresses, and I made friends easily. When I was 7, this changed a bit: I had a new baby sister. She came into my life like a torrent...she screamed for everyone's attention, and I was more or less now ignored by my family. I was a bit jealous, but for the first few years I didn't mind much, I had a sister. A few years after my sister was born my parents split up. Yup, I'm part of that incredibly standard statistic: a product of a split home. My world started to crumble. My parents refused to speak to each other and opted to use me as a messenger. As the messenger, I was often "shot" with what ever rages one felt for the other.

On top of the whole ordeal of my family life being a royal mess, my mother insisted that I be put into the local Catholic school system for "a better education." I was torn away from the friends that I knew and thrown into a very hostile environment. Yes, my schooling environment was hostile. I'm not talking nuns with rulers beating the crap out of you for sinning hostile, no. You see, I grew up in a very small mid western town. In these small towns cliques are incredibly prevalent. There no racial diversity to speak of, close-mindedness runs rampant, and if you don't come from a family "of money" (which funny enough, very few people in this area qualify for the rich person's club) you're nothing but a slug. So here I am, in a new school. The 3rd grade version of Saz had huge glasses, a short, boyish haircut, and was from a split family with little excess cash laying around...not to mention she was the new kid, no one really likes or cares about the new kid. Did I mention that I'm a red head? Oh yes, that played a nice little negative role in my elementary school years too. I didn't adjust well, and I ended up being the extremely shy teacher's pet which just alienated me more. The girls in that school were particularly harsh to me, and I wasn't allowed into the "cool kid's" group. By the time I entered the 6th grade I was the ring leader of a band of ragamuffins consisting of three gingers (red headed girls), an anti-social guy, a hyperactive guy who had a lazy eye and a gimpy leg (and was one of the sweetest people ever, may I add...even if he was pretty off the wall personality wise), a girl who I believe was half Native American, and another girl who was just incredibly shy. We were the "rejects," and we were all different from the so-called norm.

The 6th grade for me was when my issues began. I was falling into depression, and I began to have panic attacks at school. To this I was told to "Suck it up." "Snap out of it." "Do you WANT to end up at the psychiatrist?!" anytime I brought the issue up, and was told "Don't tell anyone that you have panic attacks, people will think that you're crazy." I'm not exaggerating in the least. So I "sucked it up" and the problem began to spiral. Almost daily I wanted to call my mom to come get me from school; it became an often occurrence that I actually did. You see, with anxiety issues, one of the common side effects is nausea and stomach aches. Anytime I got to school, I'd have severe stomach cramps and nausea. If they got bad enough, I called my mom, she'd come get me and bring me to work with her, which just so happened to be a pediatrics clinic. She'd have my doctor check me out, and would find nothing physically wrong with me. After a half an hour to an hour I'd be feeling better, and she usually ended up bringing me back to school during my lunch hour. This happened on numerous occasions, and eventually she yelled at me for it. After that I just sucked it up and let my suffering fester internally, and unfortunately I became very angry and began to take out my frustrations on my poor band of misfits.

Thankfully after that year my mom decided that she wanted to change her life and go back to school. This meant we had to move. While it was rather difficult to be so far away from my father, this move was the best move of my life. I was placed into a new Catholic school system, which was thankfully much less vicious than the last. I slowly became reacquainted to my shy, but less anxious and anger-ridden self. I found that I was incredibly socially awkward, but people accepted me for who I was and no longer singled me out due to the color of my hair, the fact that I sometimes wore glasses, or because I had no bloody clue what fashion sense was (thank you uniforms for stunting that skill for me...).

My high school years were actually really happy. I developed a very odd fashion style which worked for me, I didn't really have a clique, but managed to float between several groups of people (I often thought that had I ever put all of my friends into one room together, we would have had one hell of a rumble), and I found a certain passion in music. Rarely did I get nervous, especially on stage. While my home life wasn't ideal (I had no social life outside of school, I had to be home to take care of my sister), it was for the most part drama free. Aside from one bad relationship, what existed of my social life was for the most part very positive.

College for the first few years were like-wise relatively positive, despite the fact that I had no idea what I was doing there. I met new people, eventually decided to study music despite my lack of "professional" training (I was 100% self taught at that point...never had a lesson in my life), and in the music department I met someone who eventually convinced me to come play Alliance over on Aggramar. Those first few years of college weren't the so-called glory years that most college kids apparently know, the excessive drinking (I refuse to drink in the first place), experimental sex, parties...that's just not my style. No, instead my first few years were spent drowning in sheets of music and gaming. Good years for the most part.

This is where things begin to get fuzzy for me, for things began to crumble very quickly. There was a summer were I had gotten food poisoning, and from that point on...well, you know the saying "When it rains, it pours"? Something along that nature happened to my life. The food poisoning royally screwed me up. I kept relapsing with the sickness (I was sick on and off for months after the initial incident...I went to the doctors and all I got was a big bill and them shrugging their shoulders), and eventually became paranoid about most foods. I also began to have obsessive thoughts, worrying about whether or not I would relapse again.  Earlier in the year my mother had gotten remarried, and she was moving in with her husband. So, I'm working two hours away, living between my mother's house, my father's house, trying to spend time with my still very new boyfriend, and trying to find the time to move my belongings from my mother's old house into the new, or move it to my father's house. Yes, I was sick, working 40+ hours a week, and trying to essentially live between four different houses. Insert school starting back up in the fall. I moved back "home". By this point my mom was settled in with her husband, so now I was only bouncing between my mother's house and my boyfriend's. Needless to say, my mom didn't approve, and gave me an ultimatum...probably one of the worst things she could of done. Me, naturally being young, full of spice and vinegar, not to mention I had a pocket full of money from a summer's worth of hard work, took the 'move out' option.

Living on my own with the boyfriend worked well for a month or so, but luck would have it that my school account would once again get audited (this happened three years in a was supposed to be random and I had known people who had never gotten audited). They found out that my mom (who was the only person on my financial aid) was remarried, and now my household income was too high. I promptly lost all financial aid, despite being 21 and living on my own. I also lost my job on the university itself, which was my food money. Pride kept me from crawling back home though. I managed to grab myself a private loan and kept my head somewhat above water.

I quickly began to drown though. Private loans weren't enough to pay both my full tuition and the rent. My health still was terrible (I no longer got ill, but I was plagued by sleepless nights and stomach aches). I began to feel useless, not feeling up to the standards that music required of me. I felt stupid, depressed, unmotivated. I began to have panic attacks again, and they were getting to the point were I wasn't able to go to lessons, and had to force myself through rehearsals and performances. I began to make excuses for everything. Eventually I just opted to move departments, deciding that photography was probably a better fit for me. (Side story: I had some cousins who were rather nasty in their youth, and one day they were particularly harsh with aunt saw that I was really down about this and she gave me her camera to play with. It did the trick and I've loved photography ever since.) While the darkroom was rather soothing to me, the damage to my nerves had already been done. I found the critical environment of the art department to be a bit too much for me. I stopped going to classes. I began to flunk even the easiest of subjects. I was running out of what little money I had from summers working. I wasn't just drowning, I was fully immersed with my head below the surface.

Enter spiraled depression, increased avoidance behaviors, more self hate.

What WoW Has Done For Me
By now, if you've manged to get this far, you may be thinking something along the lines of "Alright, good sob the hell does this tie into WoW?" Well, allow me to get to that.

World of Warcraft has been a huge part of my life for the past three and a half years or so. I got into it just before my spiral occurred, and it has very much been my one twig in the wild torrent of oceanic waters that has kept me from completely sinking to the bottom. It was my distraction, my go-to, get away from it all. I threw myself into the guild (that four of us from the same school was made by that guy who convinced me to move to Aggramar, his girlfriend, myself, and my boyfriend) that we were building. Eventually I threw myself into raiding, then into raid leading, and eventually when things began to fail with that guild, leading a guild of my own. I relished in helping others. I lived for those long hours spent in vent laughing at some of the stupidest things one could imagine. While the added drama eventually added onto my anxiety issues pretty severely, I seemed to be able to handle problems with ease when they were supposedly at arm length, easily turned off with the flick of a switch; it provided me with an aspect of my life in which I felt in control of. It also allowed me an avenue in which to feel like myself again, instead of just being some anxiety ridden freak.

In my darkest days of my...journey I guess you could call guild was what kept me going. In the deepest throws of my depression I could barely make myself wake up to eat. There were some days that the only reason why I bothered to wake up at all was because I had to raid. The people in my guild gave me something to give a damn about. They motivated me to do something other than wallow. Without even knowing it, they were my support group, my therapy. They kept me from teetering over the edge into the abyss. I honestly cannot convey my gratitude to my guild mates for the things they did without even knowing it. While I may not get to play with many of them anymore, for many bridges have since been burned since I first began to play, they have all had a hand in keeping me afloat.

WoW has also blessed me a pretty incredible group of friends who have managed to stick with me despite my lack of consistent play time over the past 10 months or so. They've really been the shoulders that I've leaned on when things have turned dicey with the guilds, and recently they've even lent their ears to listen to my troubles that I never shared with them while Battle of Serenity was still active. They've been incredibly supportive, and have helped me with some of the push that I've needed for my recovery, of which I'm still very much in the process of. I really can't thank them enough for what they've done thus far, no matter how much they've involved themselves with my problems prior to knowing about my Agoraphobia or after the fact.

What some of those closest to me in real life have viewed to be a sick addiction to a game has in truth been my greatest salvation (for lack of a better word...I tend to shy away from terms that seem a bit religious).

The Path Towards Recovery
I would love to end this post in an epic "Hey! I beat it!" type of comment, but I can't. I'm unfortunately not out of the woods as of yet, but there has been massive improvements for me. No longer do I have severe, crippling (for they are indeed crippling) panic attacks 4-5 times a day, but merely have maybe one or two rather minor ones a week. I'm putting weight back on finally...I now live with my father, and since I've moved in with him I went from weighing under 95 pounds to over 105, which is still very light for my height, but I'm much more comfortable in my own skin (literally) now. I'm having also beginning to have an easier time with social interactions, albeit in small doses, where once I'd literally have to go hide if there was more than two people in a room.

In real life my family has really come through for me with this ailment. My father has taken me, along with my nine degu girls, into his house and takes care of whatever bills I can't quite cover yet. My mother has been a super hero and has removed over half of my mountain of debt left from my unfinished college experience. My grandmother, who despite her own growing fears of driving, picked up the slack in driving my brother to school when I simply just couldn't make myself do it. My brother is just who he is, and is too young to understand that any of this is really going on, is just a pretty cool dude, and that's enough for me. My sister who, while she admits to not being able to understand my behaviors, has been an amazing listener to all of my troubles, and has become a pro at distracting me when I get "tweaky". And through it all, there's been the boyfriend. For almost four years now he has dealt with me being sick and depressed, shouldered the burden of rent for most of that time, and somehow has not yet completely thrown me out to the curb.

So I have my two support groups, one in the real world, one who is a bit more in the virtual but is still in the real world, just at a distance. I consider myself pretty lucky. I'm slowly becoming more active again, and while I may have my down days, most of the severe depression is now behind me. I've been slowly working myself through the Lucinda Bassett program Attacking Anxiety and Depression (I have a hand-me down copy thanks to one of my mother's co-workers) which has offered a ton of insight and is slowly helping me change my obsessive thought processes as well as help me understand things about myself which I managed to completely ignore. I've thus far avoided medication (I attempted to use meds at one point, and the result wasn't pretty), and have absolutely no plans on relying on chemical alteration to solve my issues.

Progress has been almost painfully slow. Regardless, progress has been made. Slowly, oh so slowly, I am re-finding myself. I'm regaining the Saz character that so many have come to know in game in my real life. The mostly laid back, semi-temperamental, fun-having, loving, laughing, sassy ginger kid is slowly coming back. For this I have to thank those who have stuck by my side through thick and thin, even if they for the most part never knew how thin things had gotten. I also have to thank World of Warcraft, and at a greater extent Blizzard Entertainment, for giving me the opportunity to meet those who I have become very close with over the past several years. And because of both Blizz and said friends I am here right now, writing this wall of text.

Now, there is of course many, many details to all of this that I have left out either purposely or unintentionally, for both my battle with Agoraphobia and my tie-ins with WoW. Unfortunately, adding in all those little details would not only be incredibly difficult for me, but would probably fatigue your poor eyes even more than they already have been. Just know this: social anxiety/panic disorders are complex buggers, as are the ties that we create both through real life and via this video game we all play. Any problem can be worked through, it just takes time, the right amount of release, and the right support group. Never underestimate the positive influence that something that you love can have on you.

Alright, Wrap It Up Already...

WoW (gave me) friends (who gave me) support (which allowed me to) write (which gave me) purpose (which helped with) combating my problems. If I hadn't been at this for so long, I'd actually MS Paint you the flow chart of positivity.

TL;DR Version
- I have problems, for I am human after all. Deal with it, I must. Take me as I am or keep walking.
- I love those left of my BoS crew, you know who you are.
- My family has become pretty cool. Without them I'd probably be out on the frozen streets.
- WoW is the shit.
- I'm really digging the WoW blogging community.
- Beru is awesome for inspiring me to finally get the guts to write up this post. I'm sorry that I kind of ganked your format! It just works so well...

Many thanks and much love to all of those who have ever tossed some positivity my way <3

Wall of text crits you for 9001. We now return you to your regular programming.


  1. I love you babe. I'm so proud of your progress I can see from hundreds of miles away. You can only go up from here. <3

  2. I stumbled upon this post while browsing the web for info on info on agoraphobia. I'm a social worker and in serious psychotherapy myself. I've been bordering on a diagnosis (self-made with my trusty DSM) for years and I've just started considering talking to my therapist about adding it to my many other diagnoses.

    I spent years in college playing WoW. I have been missing it terribly lately, but my friends (IRL) discourage it, saying that it will only give me an excuse to stay inside and "avoid the real world." At least I felt safe and productive somewhere. Anyway, I work with people with developmental disabilities, and I have many times discussed the merits of WoW for learning social rules for people on the Autism Spectrum. In fact, I've considered making that a research goal in the future. Never have I thought about how playing WoW could relate to me and my own challenges. Thank you for giving me so much to think about.

  3. If you think you may have agoraphobia, it's definitely worth chatting to your therapist about it. It's much easier to nip this condition in the butt before it spirals completely out of control (or so I personally think), like it did for me.

    I think that an agoraphobic's interaction and potential "dependency" on WoW is different from person to person, and should be played in moderation depending on personality type. WoW unfortunately does have a really bad stigma for "making" (I say this with word with great sarcasm) people lose their jobs, relationships, and fail school. In my personal opinion most of the people who fall into this category often have other greater underlying issues, WoW simply becomes the "logical" scapegoat to the people in said person's life. I personally believe that WoW can have just as many, if not more, positive influences on those who have issues with social interaction.

    For me personally WoW was a blessing just because it brought me together with some amazing people who accepted my condition and were understanding enough to help me through the worst of it, something real life simply couldn't give me. I've also had the same discouragement that your friends have given you, and perhaps in a way they're right. To combat agoraphobia you often need that boot in the butt to get outside of the cozy nest that WoW can often create for you, but I'm still under the impression that WoW can help give you a stepping stone to rehabilitate yourself for the real world. All that's missing at the end of the day is the confidence to take the good things about interacting with pixels and apply it to real faces...something I'm still very much working on to this day.

    Your research project definitely sounds like an interesting one. I can definitely see some potential for WoW being a help to those who are autistic, especially given the variety of social types that one can find in WoW. I hope you go after this research endeavor. Sometimes we have to look within before we can look out, and we almost always are able to understand something more if we're able to relate them to our own personal experiences.

    I'm glad that my post was useful to you. I wish you all the best!

  4. Like DaedalRose I happened across your blog while trying to find out information about agoraphobia. What a great post! I love your blog and it has been very informative. I wanted to share with you another website I found through my search,, that offers great information about agoraphobia. It has been really helpful for me so I hope that it is helpful for other agoraphobia sufferers.

  5. Another wow gamer and agorahphobic saying hey and wishing you all the luck in kicking it's ass.

    1. Thank you kindly, good luck to you as well! : )