Relationships: What to tell friends and family about your anxiety? [draft letter]

Dear friend:

There is something about me that I would like to share with you. I have a phobia and I'm presently in a program that is helping me overcome it.

A "phobia" is not a result of laziness, selfishness or emotional weakness. It is an involuntary, frightening reaction that is inappropriate to the situation. It has no logical explanation, cannot be reasoned away and leads to avoidance of a specific situations.

 Imagine the terror you would feel if you were stuck standing in the middle of a six-lane highway with cars coming at you at 60 miles an hour. Think of the real physical changes this experience would make: your heart races, palms sweat, chest gets tight, knees get weak and you may have abdominal distress, feel dizzy and have a lump in your throat. All at once! Now imagine how you would feel if that same intensity of fear came upon you for no reason why you were standing in line to pay for groceries, riding in an elevator or just walking out of your house, and reappeared each time you were in that situation. Imagine your embarrassment and humiliation when no one else feels as you do in those situations and people tell you "don't be silly, there is nothing wrong!" Scary, isn't it?

If you are fortunate enough to have never had a phobia I cannot expect you to really understand the fear and shame I suffer as a result of it, but I do ask you to believe that what I feel is real and frightening. I know this seems irrational and unrealistic to you. Intellectually, it does to me too and that makes it even more difficult. In the past I have tried to hide my phobia from other people because I was afraid of being ridiculed and misunderstood. I no longer feel as if I have to hide behind a mask. It is a tremendous relief for me to be able to share this with you.

You could help by "just being with me" when I am feeling panicky. Knowing that I am with someone who will not laugh at me or force me into a situation that I feel I cannot handle is a great source of comfort to me. Once that pressure is removed, I am often more able to confront the phobic situation step-by-step. Knowing that I can leave a situation at anytime also helps alleviate my anxiety and make confronting my fears easier, so please allow me that option. And respect my efforts to face my fears, however small these efforts seem to you.

I know that I have to face my fears to get over them, and I am being taught how to do this in a systematic way. At times the ways in which I approach things may seem strange to you, but I am learning to use specific techniques that have helped others to cope with their phobias and lead normal lives.

By participating in the phobia program I am actively working on my problem and I most appreciate your support and understanding.

Sincerely,

[Your Signature]​