This is part of a series that looks at extraordinary experiences in personal health. Share yours at email@example.com.
For six years, I avoided leaving my house. I was laid off from my job so I wasn't going to work every day, and my agoraphobia just got worse and worse. Going to the grocery store became increasingly hard, so I'd phone my husband up to ask him to buy groceries on the way home from work. Even going into my backyard was terrifying for me because all these negative thoughts would come: What if somebody sees me? I'm going to look silly. What if they ask me a question? What am I going to say? I'm stupid. I'm going to waste their time. What if I say hi to them and they don't say hi back to me?
To get my mail, I would look and make sure nobody was around. Basically, I'd only go out with my husband because then I felt safe. I was scared I was going crazy.
When I started therapy, that's when I began going out every single day to get over the fear. That's part of how I got well, through cognitive behavioural therapy.
My psychiatrist had me leave the house everyday, past the driveway of my house. I would have to write down what I thought would happen before I left, all the negative thoughts. And then, when I came back, even if it was just that short distance, I would write that I wasn't hurt, I didn't see anybody, or if I did, we said "hi" and that was it and I was okay.
That first time I tried it, I did it first thing in the morning . I woke up and was all shaky and anxious, but I thought, I have to do this. I kept saying to myself, If I want my life back, I just have to walk out that door. Even though I was terrified, I knew that if I didn't do it, I wouldn't get well.
I made that walk to the end of my driveway over and over again until I could walk around the block. Then I'd just go farther and farther until I could leave the house without any anxiety. It took months.
You know when you start doing something that you're afraid of, you become more aware of what it is that makes you scared? I had thought I was afraid of people, but it was more than that. It was more about the interaction with people.
After about a year and a half, I was able to go to the store by myself. I could socialize a bit with people. I could've stopped then. But because I wanted to be the best I could be, I kept doing more and more.
You have to keep on top of it and make it part of your lifestyle. Even now, if I stay in the house for two days, I know I'll have to get out the third day because the anxiety will creep up a bit. I still don't like going to restaurants by myself. But I force myself to do it.
At one point, I realized I'm not stuck in the house any more and I can do all these things. It was like an "aha moment," as they say. It felt wonderful. I felt on top of the world.
Earla Dunbar, 61, lives in Toronto.
Read more stories in this series here.