A young woman has told how she lives her whole life through social media – because crippling agoraphobia means she hasn’t left her home for two years.
Abby Lewis, 22, from Newcastle, has battled mental health problems since she was ten and this December will be the third where she has missed out on Christmas festivities.
Two years ago she had heart palpitations and collapsed on the bus while trying to meet friends – and hasn’t left the house since.
Abby Lewis suffers from agoraphobia and her condition has become so bad that she has not left her home in two years
The former teaching assistant can’t go further than her back garden – and even the thought of visiting her gran four doors away makes her feel physically sick.
Abby now lives her whole life via social media, chatting to friends on forums, and even having her family take photos of her favourite places they visit to show her.
She is fully supported by her boyfriend of four years, Rhys Irving, 22, who visits her for movie nights and meals in.
Abby is speaking out to others who find social events difficult – particularly in the festive season.
She is now preparing for her third Christmas indoors but is fully supported by boyfriend Rhys Irving (pictured) who regularly comes to visit for nights in
Abby (pictured camping before she became unable to leave the house) has suffered from mental health problems since the age of ten
She said: ‘This is the third Christmas I’ve been stuck at home and haven’t been able to celebrate like I used to. It’s literally my favourite time of year. This year it has hit hard.
‘Not being able to go out Christmas shopping in town, seeing all the lights, visit shop windows and see all the happy and excited faces.
‘Getting home from shopping and putting the fire on, sorting out what I’ve bought whilst warming my freezing cold face and hands up – I miss it, so much.
‘I’m so blessed to have the family, partner and friends that I have who go out of their ways to help me through such a tough time, especially this time of year.
Her agoraphobia came to a head in 2015 when she suffered a panic attack on the bus and has refused to leave her home since
‘It’s hard for anyone else to understand how I feel or why I feel like it, as I don’t even know what triggered it myself.
‘I miss out on everything. I have no life – something has to change.
‘At the moment I live through social media and I joined a group called ‘Girls Mouth’ that i get a lot of support and encouragement on. I wish I could just overcome this so I could finally start to live.’
Abby, who also suffers with anxiety and depression, began having mental health problems when she was just ten-years-old.
After starting secondary school she said just getting up in the morning felt like ‘having to take over the world’.
She fell behind with school work – and then began to avoid friends and stay in on weekends.
Abby (pictured with her sister) now lives her life through social media
Aged 17 she got a job as a teaching assistant but her anxiety saw her struggle, and she admits she was ‘secretly relieved’ when she didn’t pass her probation period.
Despite finding social events increasingly stressful, Abby met boyfriend Rhys, a stair fitter, at a mate’s house.
He helped her battle her demons and she got a job in a bridal shop, they moved in together and initially ‘life was good’.
But soon her dark days returned, and she was prompted to visit a doctor when a friend ‘cut her off’ by saying she ‘couldn’t relate’ to her anymore.
‘I gave up my job in the bridal shop because that just felt like too much to cope with,’ she said.
‘I was phoning in sick so often and giving them every excuse under the sun because I couldn’t explain what was going on in my own mind.
‘I also told Rhys I was moving in with my parents because the long says sat alone whilst he was at work all became just too much.’
She was diagnosed anxiety and depression in January 2013.
Abby moved in with her dad for support, but shunned her medication claiming it made her drowsy.
Her final attempt at leading a normal life ended with a bus journey she will never forget in 2015.
After she boarded the bus she began to have heart palpitations and collapsed on the floor unable to breathe.
‘That was two years ago and I’ve not left the house since,’ she said.
‘Rhys comes over to see me every weekend and some nights in the week.
‘He’s amazing. He cooks for us and we watch movies together and discuss our future when hopefully someday I’ll be able to go out again.
‘The most I’ve managed is walking round the garden and walking to my nan’s four doors away- but that made me feel sick to the stomach.
‘I do worry that Rhys will leave me for someone ‘normal’ that he can get out and about with and explore the world and enjoy what it has to offer.’
She was diagnosed with agoraphobia – an extreme fear of public places – agoraphobia in August 2016.
Her family visits her favourite beach to take photos and collect shells to show her, and she speaks out on her Facebook page ‘Abby’s Mental Health Journey’.
Next week she starts on a new antidepressant called Mirtazapine which she hopes will relieve her debilitating condition.
In the UK two in 100 people have a panic-related disorder – while a third will go on to develop agoraphobia.
Agoraphobia is twice as common in women than in men and usually starts between the ages of 18 and 35. If you think you might be suffering from a panic disorder, visit your GP.