Someone suggested the Gift of Fear book and I have to say it was enlightening.
I've suffered from extreme panic attacks and PTSD in the saddle due to a bad accident and injury. At first it was just getting on. Hyperventilating and stiffness, whole 9 yards. 8 months later, had a majorly embarrassing meltdown once in public when asked to jump a fence that was really no big deal because my horse was "up". Later successfully jumped a larger rolltop - yay!
Anyway, thanks to that book, I'm finally isolating what it is that has scared me and how to get out of it. I thought it was involuntary, but it really wasn't...what starts the cycle for me is being uncertain of what is going to happen. So - horse is up, I throw a leg over...I feel that ball of tension, I don't know where it's going...instead of being able to ride through it (which I am more than capable of, skill-wise), I freeze, stiffen and my chest starts pounding. If my horse is dancing on the cross-ties even pre-mounting - chest starts pounding.
What is helping me now? A few things...
The first - thinking of myself like a spooky horse. Approach and retreat. Get on and right before I start to get tense (there's a moment)...get off. Rinse and repeat with whatever *thing* I'm trying to do. Sometimes I have to jump off fast, sometimes I can get down slowly and maintain my confidence.
I had a great horse that helped me get through the first stages, who wasn't *easy* by any stretch of the imagination, but he was good for me in the ring, which was where I needed to be. He was a bit more of a handful (in a good way) outside, which makes him perfect for someone without these particular issues. For me, not so much.
I have a new horse who is good for this next step. Today, we hacked all over the property. I even kicked him through one balky stage, dealt with him being up and bouncy in walk, and dealt with him calling the neighbor's horses (buddy sour is a major trigger for me). We even jumped a little ditch. I put him away on a good note...for both him and me. Tomorrow will be even better. I don't have to rush things.
Neither do you.
Read The Gift of Fear. It won't make sense until the last chapter as to why I'm saying that (at least, it didn't to me...but it was a good read, so I read it). Focus on the things that you CAN control. Don't be afraid to visit a sports psychologist if you can find one. I couldn't find one in my area, and a normal therapist didn't seem to understand, so I cheat - I take one benadryl or have a glass of wine on a day when something might scare me. It helps.
You're right - the fear *is* disabling. Quite frankly, I'm SO pissed off that I've let mine affect me for so long. I used to be the girl who rode EVERYTHING, and I couldn't even ride "a kids' horse". I spent many days sobbing on the mounting block...and the more I gave into it, the bigger and scarier it got. The more days that went between me handling the horses, the worse it got.
My horse is at home now, so I can see him and handle him *every single day*. I can ride *every single day*.
I'm so glad you're making strides. I am too. It's SO good to be back in the saddle again!