Page last updated at 11:54 GMT, Friday, 17 April 2009 12:54 UK

Woman leaves house after 18 years


Sue Curtis takes some of her first steps outside after being trapped inside for 18 years

An agoraphobic woman who was too scared to leave her home for 18 years has ventured outside for the first time.

Sue Curtis, 40, from South Shields on Tyneside, developed the phobia during a panic attack at a local library.

Because of her fear of spaces she was married in her front room and as she could not attend her father's funeral his coffin was brought into the house.

But after researching self-help techniques on the internet, she has now walked a short distance down the road.

The mother-of-two now hopes to "push herself further and break down her fear".

Speaking of the moment she first succumbed to the condition, Mrs Curtis said: "I started to feel like something was pushing me down into the ground and I just freaked out.

I slowly sidled to the edge of bed, crawled on my hands and knees to the window
Sue Curtis

"So I just grabbed the bairns (children) and said we've got to go home. I felt like everything was just closing in on me I thought I was dying."

For the next 18 months she was unable to leave her bed, only being compelled to move by the sounds of her children playing outside.

She added: "I heard the bairns in the garden playing in the snow and I got angry with myself and I thought I'm missing out on them.

"So I slowly sidled to the edge of bed, crawled on my hands and knees to the window and looked out all wide-eyed.

"One of the bairns looked up and waved and said 'there's mam', and I said 'hi son' and shot back into bed."

After searching for advice on the internet, Mrs Curtis began to make use of therapeutic techniques and now believes she is on the road to recovery.

She says she is determined to "get past the barrier" and eventually wants to renew her wedding vows in a church.

It's a wonderful story and it sounds like she's making real progress
Psychiatrist Dr David Cousins

Agoraphobia typically involves fears of activities such as leaving home, entering public places or travelling alone.

Sufferers also often experience anxiety, depression, obsessive behaviour and panic attacks.

Drugs or psychological therapies can be used to help treat the condition.

Dr David Cousins, a psychiatrist at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, said as many as one in 30 people can be affected by agoraphobia.

He said: "It often boils down to fear of losing control and the embarrassment of what would happen, and they retreat away from that and the anxiety disappears."

Commenting on Mrs Curtis's case, he said: "It's a wonderful story and it sounds like she's making real progress.

"The difficulty with this situation is how do you get services to these people who cannot get out and the internet is proving to be a wonderful resource."

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