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Agoraphobia: I became a complete recluse, and now I don’t know who I am

The Covid-19 pandemic was when my agoraphobia became very real, and I started to recognise my avoidance as a barrier and challenge

I’ve had many encounters where I ran into someone from my past, and they were so shocked to witness me out wandering the world that they would feel compelled to say the darndest things. The remarks would range from the generally nice, such as “I haven’t seen you in so long,” to something like: “I thought you were dead.”

I’ve experienced some of these odd comments second-hand too, when I wasn’t in the situation.

A friend would tell me they saw X at the bar last night, and upon bringing up my name, the other person was shocked and had entirely forgotten my existence. This part didn’t really bother me at the time as I almost wanted to fade into the background and be noticed only by those I wanted to notice me.

However, in hindsight, these comments bring up some uncomfortable feelings because they represent a time when I was living in complete fear rather than being out and living my life.


Agoraphobia is one of those things where it seems only those who go through it understand it. If you’ve never heard of it before, it essentially refers to a fear of leaving what are deemed safe environments. In the more severe cases, people with agoraphobia will deem only their home to be this safe haven. The fear can cause them to avoid leaving their home for days, months, or even years.

It usually begins as a mild anxiety about a particular place, situation or event. However, it escalates over time until the thought of that situation, event or place is unbearable and utterly terrifying. For many who don’t struggle with this, it may not sound like a big deal, but in my personal experience, my agoraphobia took over my late teen years up to my mid-20s, greatly holding me back. I became a complete recluse and convinced myself I liked that sort of lifestyle.

Now 26, I reflect on this and realise I spent so many of those developmental years living in fear that I don’t even know who I am. My agoraphobia is linked to many different traumatic events I experienced during my teenage years, including being bullied. I’ve spoken about being bullied in the past in my columns, but to give some context, it occurred for most of my time in secondary school.

I wasn’t bullied by someone in my school. The person who bullied me was, however, friends with people in my school, in my year and the year above me. This meant that when she couldn’t do it herself, she could have her friends add fuel to the fire. Some of these friends were also my “friends”. I now realise they weren’t really. They would tell her things I told them in confidence as a means to give her more material. The bullying greatly impacted the way I viewed myself, as I accepted all the names and slurs I received as pure facts.

During this time, I developed an addiction to self-harming as a means of coping and experienced much suicidal ideation. My eating disorder was also at its top power mode. My experience of being bullied meant I grew quite tired of being tormented. I was bullied on social media and out in public. I had slurs yelled at me when I was walking down the street, on a busy bus, in shopping centres, and in other public places where I desperately did not want the attention to be on me.

The agoraphobia didn’t set in until near the end of the bullying, but I’m certain it was a big driving force to me viewing the world as a dangerous place. I felt if I was out in the world, I was fair game, but if I remained in my home, no one could touch me. I began to become a recluse at 17, withdrawing from social outings such as parties and even school events. I also stopped talking to people and would spend my lunchtimes alone in the toilets.

At 18, I continued to live a quiet, as I referred to it then, “introverted lifestyle”. I would spend time with a couple of friends in a safe space. I also spent time with my boyfriend, who was not in the same school as me, which helped me escape from everything that went on. However, even though I kept up some healthy appearances, I still was absolutely terrified of venturing out alone. I always felt I needed a companion with me, “a protector”.

Allowing the fear to run my life stunted my growth and didn’t allow for full self-discovery, which has certainly brought about numerous challenges in adulthood

My agoraphobia didn’t stop me from doing things like going to college and getting my degree, but it did prevent me from going outside my comfort zone, and my comfort zone was quite unusual compared with other people. The Covid-19 pandemic, however, was when my agoraphobia became very real, and I started to recognise my avoidance as a barrier and challenge. The restrictions meant I went from a routine where I had to see people daily to being alone in my bedroom.

I attended my lectures in my bedroom, completed my assignments there and, ultimately, spent all my time there alone. I loved college, but the thought of the restrictions being lifted would nearly bring on panic attacks. I adored college and my friends there, but the unfamiliarity suddenly meant I wasn’t sure if it was still a safe place, and I had considerable time with myself to think of all the bizarre things that could happen. It was as though the evidence I had before expired, and I would have to reprove everything to myself.

I strongly believe this is one of the reasons I went freelance when completing my degree during the pandemic. That and a mix of being very driven, I certainly had a limiting belief I couldn’t handle the world. In some ways, I still haven’t re-entered the world since Covid arrived.

Agoraphobia is very stigmatised and thought of as nothing more than being lazy and dramatic. However, people who struggle with this avoid situations due to such overwhelming fear.

Thinking of it as nothing more than someone being over the top doesn’t really encourage sufferers to take those important steps to venture into the world and realise things will be okay. Navigating this is hard at any age, but it did feel particularly tough to deal with when I was supposed to be in my prime years of having fun. Allowing the fear to run my life stunted my growth and didn’t allow for full self-discovery, which has certainly brought about numerous challenges in adulthood.

I feel as though I have to relive a part of my life and feel some resentment towards my peers for being able to have lived that stage already and knowing who they are. If you have a friend, family member or partner who struggles with agoraphobia, my greatest piece of advice from someone who has been there is to be patient and don’t trivialise their feelings and experiences.

Just because it’s not something you battle with each day, don’t dismiss it.

It may seem like it’s all in our heads, but the fear is all too real and consuming.