Until a few years ago, home was the where the hurt was for Carlsbad resident Audra Leigh. She couldn't imagine setting foot outside her front door, let alone becoming CEO of The bUZZ Ladies, a social network for moms, work-from-home women and retirees.
Leigh suffered from agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder experienced to some degree by 3.2 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 54, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
"It's triggered by some sort of panic or anxiety attack, the classic fight-or-flight that mimics a heart attack," says Dr. Dori Winchell, an Encinitas-based licensed psychotherapist. "Characteristically, the anxiety is in the context of being in places and situations where escape is either difficult or impossible. It might lead to avoiding situations, and soon your world becomes smaller and smaller."
Leigh's struggle with the disorder arose from a trauma she suffered a decade ago, when a stalker made threatening phone calls and posted fake and potentially damaging stories about her online. The divorced mom became paralyzed with fear, her panic attacks worsening to the point where she avoided venturing from or socializing outside her home.
The birth of her third child began to shake her out of it.
"I decided to take control and beat this phobia, when I realized I didn't want my kids to have a mother like this," Leigh says.
In May 2008, Leigh bit the bullet, joining her five BFFs at the restaurant nearest her home, Vigilucci's in Carlsbad, where everyone broke bread while playing armchair therapist to Leigh. Similar monthly meetings ensued, with Leigh posting reviews of each restaurant on a fledgling blog.
This healing social interaction and its online extension, says Leigh, evolved naturally into "helping all women and the community, while supporting locally-owned businesses." Her passion for writing the blog increased, as did her loyal fan base. And with the blog's growing buzz came its official name: The bUZZ Ladies.
Leigh is using the concept to unite women in a welcoming environment, her mission being to enhance their personal and professional lives while keeping them abreast of regional happenings (accomplished locally through 12 monthly events called bUZZ Nights, which are limited to intimate groups of six to 15 women in central San Diego and North County). And now it's going national, with The bUZZ Ladies colonies popping up in New York City; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Madison, Wisconsin.