I was a prisoner to agoraphobia

Most of us can't wait to get out of the house, but for Ryan* even the thought of stepping outside the front door was terrifying.

True Stories

agoraphobic looking out window

"I didn't go outside for months."

I’ve lost count of how many mornings I lay awake, unwilling to move a muscle and unable to crawl out from beneath the sheets. Most days the fear and panic was just too much to take. If I didn’t have work, then I didn’t wash, or bother to get dressed. I would just lie in bed, wishing I hadn’t woken up.

How it all began

I wasn’t always like this. I used to be happy to go anywhere, anytime, but when I was 14 my friends and I were started on by a gang of lads. That changed everything.

Entirely unprovoked, they started shouting abuse at us then ran over and beat us up. I was repeatedly punched in the face and chest, I was lucky I wasn’t seriously injured. But while the physical bruises from the beating healed quickly, the psychological effect of the attack didn’t. I became much less willing to leave the house, especially at night. I was well aware I had begun to withdraw, but after what happened it felt like it was in my best interest.

From time to time I was able to fend these feelings off, but the fear never really left me. As soon as I made some progress it would come back with a vengeance. Trying to leave the house was like fighting a losing battle. It was exhausting. By the time I was 22 I had slipped further and further into depression. I would only leave the house when I had to and, when I did, I would have consistent panic attacks. It was unbearable. I stopped seeing my friends as I couldn’t even make it across the street to the local shop. After months of suffering, I decided it was time to seek help.

Seeking help

My GP diagnosed depression and agoraphobia and offered me a choice of counselling sessions over the phone or face-to-face. I went for the phone option but it didn’t work out. The counsellor was fantastic, yet I found it difficult to follow their suggestions because of how I was feeling. It was partly due to the fear, but also I think because it was easier to brush off advice made over the phone and take the path of least resistance.

I started to feel better for a short period, but once the sessions ended I regressed completely. So I returned to my GP, determined to give it another go. This time I opted for face-to-face counselling, which was the best decision I ever made.

Getting better

It was fantastic. About halfway through the course I noticed an instantaneous change in myself. In one session, my counsellor encouraged me to induce a panic attack so I could face my fear of them; being scared of them apparently makes them worse. She had me sit and close my eyes until the feelings dissipated. And ever since that day the fear has been dramatically reduced.

Even though I still suffer with some of the symptoms of agoraphobia, they no longer have anywhere near the same impact on my life. Since completing my course of counselling, I’m in a much better position to deal with them. I’ve never looked back. However, that wasn’t the only thing that helped me along the way.

Don’t do it alone

I was very lucky to have the full support of my friends and family. My best friend visited me regularly to make sure I was doing OK, my brother came round every Wednesday to watch films and talk, and my sister happily drove me to all of my doctors’ appointments. Above all, my mum and dad were incredibly supportive. Not to pick favourites, but I really don’t think I could’ve made it through without the love and support of my mum – she was absolutely amazing throughout. She told me that one day I would look back on it all as just a bad patch in my life, and she was right. My life is so different now. I started a university course and have been working towards my degree for almost a year. I’m not sure I’d cope with the pressures of university if I hadn’t faced my agoraphobia head on.

Looking forward

If I could give one piece of advice to anyone in the same position, it’s that you should seek help. Nobody deserves to feel the way I did. There is help available and it really made all the difference in the world to me.

I still have good days and bad days. I’m not sure it will ever disappear completely, but nowadays I wake up ready and willing to face the world. When I think of how I used to feel in the mornings it all seems like a bad dream… one that I’m so glad I managed to wake up from.

Told to Scott Woolley

Photo of boy looking at window by Shutterstock

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015