“Steps to Success” – My Journey Through Agoraphobia
After appearing in an article regarding agoraphobia in the East Anglian Daily Times I recieved an email from Michael Worthington who offered to help me through my agoraphobia. After meeting with Michael at my home I realised I had finally found someone who could help me through my agoraphobia. To show my progress I have published my weekly achievements below!
Wednesday 12th November 2003
The day arrived and filled with mixed feelings: fear anticipation, hope, and insecurities. Michael Worthington rang at 09.15 to let me know he was just leaving Colchester. When I said I was feeling nervous he reassured there was no need for concern.
After introductions my Mum and the dogs went upstairs and work began! Michael didn’t want to know any reasons for my Agoraphobia so it was more what will I do with my life when its gone! I told Michael that my dream was to set up a Eating Disorder group in Sudbury and that first I wanted to be able to visit family and friends again.
I was asked to write down three aims, they were:
- To get to the front gate
- To be able to get to the back door and face the neighbours
- To be able to walk to the shop and back (without going in!)
I was asked to imagine the wall behind the settee as a big TV screen in black and white and to envisage me from a side angle walking down the hall to the front door on the screen, when I could visualise it happening to put it into colour, a real sense of elation. We did that over and over, which was like flicking TV channels on the screen.
Gosh, so much was said, keep talking positive and change thought patterns and the only thing I’m frightened of at this stage is how am I going to remember everything.
We open the sitting room door looking out to the front door, and then I had to close my eyes and imagine swaggering down the hall in a John Wayne fashion toward the door, open the door, and proceed to the front gate breathing in and taking in the surroundings. Michael asked what that felt like, “Yeah that feels good!” The occasional what if someone comes over and wants to talk to me did come to mind so we repeated the process again and again until I felt good about it. At this stage Michael pulled back the blinds in the sitting room, which would normally fill me with anxiety but this stranger I had only met this morning, had me feeling “I can do it.” Just looking out at first I then had to imagine walking to the fence surrounding the patio, hold that thought and breathe in the air. I was asked to rate my fear from 1-10 with 10 being confident. I set it at 8. I was told to grip my hand tight to hold that good positive feeling. Michael then opened the door and my number slipped but with positive talk managed to return it to 8. Michael stepped out on the patio at which point I thought “no he wouldn’t take me out on our first session” I was told to take a step closer to him and to keep thinking 8. Whenever the number slipped I had to take half a step back but eventually managed to step outside but hanging onto the doorframe. Michael managed to convince me to let go of the handle and think 8,8,8…
When I realised a neighbour was outside my number started to slip. Michael said don’t look, look for a second, then look away again and say to yourself its only my neighbour. I said it in my mind several times. Before I could think about anything else we had reached the fence! Whilst standing and discussing positive thought patterns Claire had come home from school to find me on the patio, in complete shock. Michael asked Claire to walk me half way down the garden to pick up a milk bottle and take it down to the shed and then walk back. I had told Claire about my number 8 and she continually chanted it down the garden to keep me thinking positive. Beaming that I had been out I hugged Claire! By this time my Mum had come down to see what all the commotion was about, I had done it! I thought to myself how much we had achieved in one session, a good days work. But I was wrong….
Michael had other ideas; we walked to the front door and opened it talking through the positive thought process the whole time until we got to the front step, I turned to come in but was told “No!” I felt slightly intimidated by a group of school children at the shop across the road but Michael told me not to stare, just look and look away. We moved up two more steps and carried on to the gate. Michael started to open the gate, which knocked my confidence number down scale slightly as I thought to myself surely I couldn’t go out the gate. As Michael stepped outside the gate I changed that thought to I want this to work. We managed to turn left out of the gate and around the green. As we walked back towards the house I looked up to see the elation on my Mum and Claire’s faces which peered out the window. I jumped through the gate “Yeah I did it!” Michael said that until next time I had to do the walk round the green daily. At the end of the three hours I was able to walk to the gate to wave Michael off.
Wednesday 19th November 2003
09.45 and I am filled with anticipation and slight apprehension as to what Michael would encourage me to do today. By 10 ‘o clock I am fixed at the front window waiting for him to arrive. As I see Michael pull up outside I go to the front door to greet him with the door wide open – no fear! At the beginning of the session he read through my diary sheets to see what I had achieved since his last visit and any problems that I had encountered. I’m so pleased with myself and its been so liberating even in the smaller areas I’ve been, and surprisingly have only felt fearful a few times.
Michael started on the positive approach of what makes a confident person, in my eyes it was positive, talking louder and clearer and more talkative as well as eye contact and not looking down.
We practiced voices of a non-confident person the then the confident with just two words “excuse me” and to turn my head towards them when saying it. We also spoke about breathing techniques. I tend to breathe from the chest area but the correct way of breathing should mean that the stomach should come out as air fills the lungs and then goes in as you exhale.
Michael then explained what we were going to do that session. We were going to incorporate what we had just spoken about. Michael said he’d like me to walk up to someone and ask him or her for the time. At this stage I felt slightly nervous but thought its only the green outside but as Michael continued to detail the session it became apparent that it was not going to be outside the house but up to my daughters school. We walked up towards the school and we saw someone approaching us, a young teen. Michael turned to me and said “Go on, ask him the time” My initial reaction was “no, he’ll just ignore me” but remembering what I’d just been taught, speak loud and clear, I asked to which the teen replied “yeah, sure” took out his mobile phone and relayed the time to me. I cannot remember the time but was overwhelmed at yet another achievement. After thanking the teen we continued up past the Upper school to the Primary school further along. As we approached the front of the school two young females started walking towards us Michael again turned to me and said keep looking forward, have eye contact, and smile. As we passed the two females Michael and I had to chuckle as they both looked down, obviously not as confident as us!!
We crossed over at the school and started to head back and discuss how the tqwo scenarios had made me feel. Michael then asked how I would feel walking into the shop, buying a can of coke, then leaving and if anyone was in the shop to think they are only people. So Michael and I entered the shop paid for the coke and left, another achievement! When we returned to the house I assumed that would conclude the session but I was proved wrong yet again!
Next I was to return to the shop alone and say “Silly me, forgot the milk!” I did it but the walk from the house to the shop seemed like a million miles. Another achievement added to the list but I was to learn there was still more expected of me for that session!
I was now asked if I thought I could manage walking up the road alone for five minutes then turn round and come back. “What the hell” I thought “of course I can!” I walked back up towards the Upper school and decided to wait to meet Claire; the look on her face was a picture, one that I will treasure for a long time to come.
Wednesday 26th November 2003
Michael rang Monday to ask how things were going and I told him of the daily things I’ve made myself do. It’s his voice and encouragement that’s helping me through. I said a big fear and hurdle will be being around people as I find it threatening and I’m frightened they’ll talk to me. So she said we’d work on that factor on Wednesday. (Suddenly fear set in “what had I said? What was he going to encourage me to do now? Still I want to beat this and I have so much faith in him”)
Wednesday 26th arrived I woke with the usual mix of anticipation and excitement, when I looked out the window it was absolutely chucking it down with rain. Surely it will all be indoor work today then!
Wrong!! (I should know this by now)
Michael read through the diary I’d been keeping and we discussed how on the whole everything is getting easier and how event the obsessive compulsive disorder was becoming less of a hold, it’s a radical change!
We discussed how I’ve shut out so many friends, even stopping them from coming to mine. After all other than the kids what else in all this time have I had to share that others would be interested in- my four walls?! No, my OCD? Instead of letting people in I made my world smaller and concentrated on my obsessions and rituals. So this week I am to make a list of friends and start to make contact. After Monday I’ll have a car again, so no excuse!
Michael’s next question was “where is the nearest big supermarket?” “Tesco is” I replied slightly worried. “We’ll pop up there then Diane!”(Horror of horrors ~ what was he trying to do to me, three weeks ago I couldn’t even walk past my windows!
Lots of positive talking and visualisation of what it’ll be like maybe someone knocking in to me, the shop may be crowded. More positive thinking, then don coat and into Michael’s car. Even in the car in daylight in the front was like a first experience as I would normally, if really needed to, would have been bundled in the back and hiding under a blanket and that would have to be at night. All the way Michael continued with his positive talking until finally we reached the car park and Michael decided we should park the furthest distance away from the entrance. While we walked to the entrance we discussed where to look once I was in the shop and just how much we can see even when just looking to the sides. By the time we reached the doorway we needed to stop and concentrate on my breathing to prevent a panic attack and continued with positive thinking and how good I will feel when I’ve done it.
We walked up the first aisle and I was part relieved to see that I didn’t know anyone but soon realised that sooner or later I was bound to bump into someone I knew and that it would probably best if that happened whilst I was with Michael. I said to Michael that I needed to buy bananas for the kids so we went to get them but boxes and a member of staff blocked them. I would have left it if Michael hadn’t said to ask him to pass me a bunch. I asked but no response but eventually he turned and handed them to me, I was told that if I wanted people to take attention when I was talking then I would need to talk louder and try to be more assertive. We went up and down and up and down again until we decided that I had done it so we headed for the tills. Now if it had been left to me I would have found the till with the least number of people but Michael chose for me! Naturally we ended up at the longest queue in the shop with just a bunch of bananas to pay for!
When we got outside the shop I just wanted to jump and shout that I had done it! What an achievement after all. With the biggest grin possible we headed back to the car. Lovely….
..But “we need petrol” Michael said “and guess whose going to pay!” Michael chose the cashier I had to pay and guess what? It was the longest queue and the furthest away and to make things a little more interesting I had to ask for a receipt!
Back in the car now I thought we’d probably come home but at the roundabout we turned left not right. I pointed and showed Michael the Homebase store and McDonalds, which I had never seen before as they had been built whilst I couldn’t leave the house. So without any hesitation he turned into the Homebase car park! More positive talking before going in and looking round. Wow this is good, coming out again I grinned at Michael. When we left the store Michael asked where the town centre was. I pointed in the general direction and he started to drive in that direction. Driving through town? That cant be too bad, after all it’ll be easier than walking through town, but I was wrong!
We parked up on the market hill and walked into North Street. We picked up a prescription I had been waiting for and then crossed over to Woolworths. We had a good look round and after not seeing anyone I knew we decided to go and have a coffee, thirsty work! We went to a coffee shop in Kings Street, which gave me the perfect chance to practice my clear, loud, and confident voice. We sat and spoke about what we had done for about twenty-five minutes when it started to fill up for the lunchtime rush so we decided to pay and leave, and guess who had to go up alone to pay?!
On the way home I felt we had done so much. My day had consisted of so many achievements and it was only lunchtime! Not only was I grateful to Michael for helping me on so far but for once I too felt proud.
Wednesday 10th December 2003
Michael came at 10:15 and was here until 2:55. He must have been shattered when he left, I know I was but I know too that I was left with a great sense of confidence. I feel I could go anywhere ant anytime in car or on foot all on my own!
We didn’t go anywhere today we concentrated on confidence building so I could go out alone and feel confident enough to talk to people. Michael was obviously very pleased with the effort and progress I have made. He hadn’t seen me the week before so there was quite a lengthy progress report to feedback.
After a while Michael asked how the anorexia is as it looked to him as if I’d lost weight. The rest of the session was spent purely on my feelings, fears, etc. I have decided not to make notes about what was covered at this point as I feel it is quite private. Michael has taken me as far as we can go and now I’m working daily on getting out, driving, walking, at this stage I have even been in two shops alone. I believe I am over the worst and now its just daily putting his words into action, which I am doing.
It was sad to think this is our last session together but we will keep in contact and meet up again when Katy Edwards comes to do a follow up hopefully in the near future. See the article here
Michael has given me the best Christmas present anyone can give me and its all been through positive thinking, and it has changed my life around. Although totally housebound for nearly two years and sever panic attacks for three years previously I could not go anywhere unaccompanied, a total of five years of entrapment. Now I feel total freedom and can go out alone. When I think that the local Community Mental Health Team said my problems were too numerous and complex and refused me any treatment I felt there was nothing besides my children for me to live for.
Thanks to Michael Worthington I am over agoraphobia and has also stopped my obsessive-compulsive disorder. Now that I am no longer a prisoner in my own home I no longer have to find jobs to keep me busy throughout the day. I feel I need to thank Katy Edwards too, had she not covered my story and told people that I had written a website Michael would not have known about my plight and come forward with his offer of help. So thank you Michael and Katy. See article here
The only thing that kept me going from February, after the CMHT left me with no hope, was my counsellor Margret who has been a fantastic support and also my GP Dr Bevan. Without their care and encouragement I believe I would probably not still be here today.