We aim to publish meaningful stories of perseverance amidst mental health struggles.
I've been where you are, I've felt similar things to you and just like you I'd have ignored someone’s success story because it's “bullshit.” Success implies a final victory, and your battle with mental health isn't going to end.
There is no great answer to how you feel or some magic solution. Every battle with mental health problems of all shapes and sizes are as unique to the person living them as they are to the brain that made them. I hope that in sharing how my life has changed that you will understand that you are not alone and that things can improve.
I was always shy. I didn't make friends and I struggled to mix with people around me. I spent a long time at school feeling like an alien and as I got older, I started to withdraw more and more until it stopped being a choice for me. For six or seven years I would walk about my parents’ house unable to bring myself to go outside.
I'm unsure how long I was inside for, because every day was like every other: with darker parts and lighter parts. Without shape to your days there is little reason to keep track of them. I wouldn't sleep, and I gained a lot of weight.
In short, I had agoraphobia, social anxiety and depression. I missed family events as I would get to my house’s front door and not be able to step outside and would also avoid answering that same door whenever someone knocked. I knew in my head that nothing bad would happen but the fear that it could would keep me fixed in place. Petrify me.
I remember one instance when a postman called, and I could see him through that god awful 90s frosted glass you seem to always get on front door windows. I was sure he could also see me, but I just couldn't open the door. If you have ever had a panic attack, then I'm sure you know it feels like you are going to die – that your heart will explode in your chest and every intake of air is more effort than the last. Feeling this in waves I just stood, and when the postman eventually left, I was so angry with myself that I punched the wall until my hand bled.
That moment was not my catalyst for moving forward, but it’s one that sticks with me because of the anger I felt towards myself. For how small I felt… As you could guess, in seven years of not leaving the house, of not experiencing much, nothing really happens, and you struggle to move forward. I thought about killing myself often and would have save for the damage it would have done beyond myself. I knew that life would change for the people I loved and that they would be left with unanswerable questions and I couldn't do that to them. It’s a stark reminder that though you might think you don't matter you do. And so do I.
I'm far from special but I will say this: I put in the effort to get where I am now. I didn't get here alone; I had support from my mother, siblings and my friends (online and otherwise), and began to attend counselling sessions. My brother came with me to those early appointments, and I thought of him as a travelling safe place.
At first, I sat there for two or three sessions not talking, a little overwhelmed by it all. I stuck with it though, and over time I started to try and talk. In hindsight, however, I wasn't quite ready and ultimately retreated more.
It would be a few years later when I truly realised, I was unhappy inside. So much so that I knew if I didn't make a change I wouldn't last much longer. It was a low point, and I remember being awake on a sofa thinking to myself that there must be more to life than this. Anything is better than this.
When you know in your heart that your way of life will kill you, and that something as simple as going outside only might kill you, it's easier to go outside. To take those first steps.
I pushed myself to ask for help and I was lucky to find it was still there. I reached out and with the help of my mother and sister making phone calls for me, I started to see a gentleman called James at a place called Hill House, (not the one with the ghosts!). We talked every Wednesday for an hour. He would set me tasks, small at first but ever growing.
Go to the post box at the end of the lane, alone. If you can do that then go to the end of the street and if you can do that go to the shop. I started to volunteer at a mental health counselling service as a “data monkey,” which – jokes aside – I enjoyed. I had finally begun to rebuild my life!
Shortly after, my mother died, but instead of cracking my resolve it galvanised it.
I made a choice to not let such a profound loss push me back inside, and instead let it fuel me and support my efforts. I knew that while she never said anything, she was worried about me: the future I’d have and the amount of time I had lost. She never pushed me because she knew it wouldn’t help. She tried to let me find my own way.
My mom was a kind and wise lady. At the time I thought I would like to show her what I could be, but really I couldn’t get well for her. You can’t get well for someone else, you just can’t. You need to do it for yourself, but you can sure as hell use the love of others to strengthen you and add it to the reasons why you can’t go back.
The morning of her funeral I made this note in a log of my thoughts :
“How trivial all this seems now that today I say my goodbyes to one of the only people in my family I could talk to about how I was feeling. I'd be stood by my mom at big family things like this, and I now can't be. I wish I'd gotten the chance to tell her how thankful I am for everything she did and for giving a crap about me. I'll have a little cry and then go down to see them all. I'll put my mask on and no one will know how I feel.”
I don’t recognise that man now. I still remember those feelings, but like I said before, a little growth can change your perspective on things. I’m not the same person. I don’t hide how I feel now. I trust others with my feelings and speak honestly about how I feel.
I dropped that mask, the one I used to hide behind out of fear. Her death, more than anything, showed me that the time we have is limited, and that you can either spend it unhappy or try to make a change. You can try to hide how you feel, or risk a little and trust others.
From those small steps to the post box at the end of the lane came train rides. You see, things snowball, and after a while you find you don't need to push as hard to take that train. To get up in the morning.
I take the train every day of the week now, even on days when it's standing room only. I still think about it, the fear of so many people, but the thoughts are smaller now. Manageable. I am finally in control. Now I work full time and have a group of good friends that I love a great deal. It's through them that I connected to the person running this page.
It’s important to remember that things change, people change – it’s inevitable – but if you just keep going forward, then who knows where you will end up.
If you or someone you care about is affected by agoraphobia, you can find information and support at www.anxietyuk.org.uk