Agoraphobic, and forced to crowdfund my A-levels

Amber’s anxiety means she struggles to leave the house. But she still wants an education, like everyone else. After the government rejected her application for help, she’s been forced to crowdfund to do her A-levels remotely. The 16-year-old tells us about what it’s like putting your future in the hands of generous strangers.

I don’t want to be stuck in time. All my friends are growing up around me, going to college, getting qualifications, talking about going to university. Whereas I can hardly leave the house. You don’t realise the things you take for granted – small things, like being able to get up in the morning, go to college, and take your A-levels. But I can’t do that. All I want is an education, so, when I can get better, I can move on with my life. But now I’m in the position where I can only achieve this by asking strangers for money.

Getting anxiety

I developed anxiety practically overnight. I caught the norovirus and spent two weeks being sick. But when I got better and could go back to school again, I found I couldn’t physically leave the house. It was like a switch had been flicked in my brain. I remember my grandma was due to come over and I got so anxious I threw up. I was in such a state I just lay on the bathroom floor, I didn’t see the point in getting up.

I tried going into school but couldn’t manage more than an hour before getting so anxious I felt sick. Nobody understood what was happening to me – my parents, my friends. I was pulled out of school and spent most of my time panicking and watching the world from my window. I didn’t leave the house for six months. I went from being carefree and independent, to becoming a constant burden on everyone around me. In short, it was devastating.

What’s wrong with me?

It took me a long time to make an appointment with a GP. Just the thought of the two-minute walk to the clinic was unmanageable. I’m not sure I had the best support for what I was going through. My first doctor just tested me for diabetes and told me to breathe more deeply. A private psychotherapist just seemed to make me worse. Eventually though, I got a new GP who referred me for online CBT. I was diagnosed with chronic anxiety with panic disorder and emetophobia (a fear of vomiting) and agoraphobia.

Getting an education

Alongside all this was the stress of my education. I couldn’t leave the house, but I still wanted to learn. Thankfully my mum found this online school called InterHigh, and my school agreed to fund me doing my GCSEs through there. I felt so relieved – it suited my situation perfectly. I got taught online through a Skype-like service, and could upload my homework digitally. With lots of CBT, I felt just about able to go to school for my exams…just. My academic future was looking bright. But I was just about to be delivered a huge blow.

No money for A-levels

Despite how well I’ve been doing in my studies, I’ve been told my school can’t fund my A-levels through InterHigh. I’ve worked out it will cost around £4,500 for me to do two A-levels there, but I don’t have the money. My parents can’t afford the fees, and there is no support in place for a young person with my type of mental illness to be able to attend college, do an apprenticeship or go out to work. Education is free in the UK up until you’re 19, but only if you’re physically able to get to a college. There are no student loans for studying at home. I applied for a Personal Independence Payment but got turned down. I really, really want to do my A-levels, otherwise my anxiety means I’m stuck in time. I realised that crowdfunding was the only option I had left.

Launching my campaign

I was so stressed and anxious about my crowdfunding campaign. I mean, what if I only raised a few pounds? What if people thought I was just lazy? But I had nothing to lose, so I filmed a YouTube video, explaining my situation, and hit publish. The moment I launched the campaign my Twitter blew up with support from friends, bloggers, vloggers, authors, journalists and lots of people I didn’t know. My parents and I just stared at the computer screen in shock. I’m completely overwhelmed by other people’s generosity and I’m so grateful to everyone who’s donated. Even Katie Piper tweeted about it and I raised a quarter of my target within 24 hours. I’m still waiting on Taylor Swift though…

Will I reach my target?

I’m over halfway over my target now, and really hope I make it. I want to do English Literature and Media Studies, to build on my skills as a vlogger and writer. But, more than anything, I just don’t want to be controlled by my anxiety. All I want to be is a normal teenager, doing normal teenager things like going to parties – getting my A-levels is part of this. I don’t think enough is done for young people with mental health problems. And the support that is out there is gradually being taken away. I found the MindFull website really useful, but then the charity running it went into administration. The support was there one day, gone the next.

I shouldn’t have to rely on the generosity of strangers for help – but it’s the only option for people like me.

To donate to Amber’s cause, go to her Crowdfunder page here.

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015