Technology opens up the world to Alan

11 Aug 2016

Social phobia and agoraphobia have ruled the life of Alan Shanley, 50, from Hammersmith for more than 35 years. Now, thanks to the Reboot UK project, he’s learning to use technology in order to to research his condition, manage his trigger situations, and reclaim some of his life.

Alan has been attending Hammersmith and Fulham Mind for about a year - and he’s been learning about computers and the internet through Good Things Foundation’s Learn My Way courses. It’s not the first time he’s tried to get to grips with technology.

“I’ve done some computer classes before,” explains Alan, “but they didn’t really suit me. I had some support at first, but then they just left us on our own with the computer.”

Like many new learners, Alan needs reassurance when unexpected things happen, and he needs someone to help him navigate to find what he wants to find. In other classes that he’s been to, “if something went wrong, you would have to run outside to find someone to fix it.”

Alan also needs to be able to get some air, and not being able to get outside or leave a class situation heightens his anxiety. With Learn My Way it’s been easier to dip in and out, and step away from the screen when he needs to.

He explains: “After about 15 minutes in front of the screen, I need to go out for some air. When I come back to the screen, I can find it hard to remember what I have been doing. When I have a bad attack, I can’t remember anything. It takes me longer to learn, and I need to takes things at my own pace and repeat whatever I need to”.

Without regular access to the internet, Alan found it hard to remember the steps that got him online. Now he’s going along to Hammersmith and Fulham Mind twice a week, and since going through the Learn My Way courses, his confidence has grown. He’s currently going back through some of the courses to practice his new skills and make sure they stick.

“I’m going through the courses a bit more slowly than I did the first time,” says Alan. “If you are learning for the first time, you do need someone to help you. Now I’m trying to do it for myself.”

For Alan, being able to learn at Hammersmith and Fulham Mind, where people really understand his condition, has been invaluable.

He says: “I know that learning about computers and using the internet will help me - especially with things like shopping. With my condition, there is no way I can go out if the shopping area is busy, which it nearly always is. The only shop I can go to is a local corner shop, because it’s set apart from other shops and reliably empty. If I could shop online, I wouldn’t have to rely on my sister to shop for me - I could get things delivered and not be limited to what the corner shop has in stock.”

Alan has also used his new internet skills to find out more about his condition.

He continues: “When I started using the internet, the first things I looked for were about my illnesses - what I could take for them, what medication I am taking and what side effects it could have. For that it was really useful. I learnt more about social phobia, I think that was the very first thing I looked up. Without a doubt, it’s helped me to understand myself and my condition.

“I think that digital can help people with mental health problems in lots of ways,” reflects Alan. “On the internet, I find it reassuring to read about people who have had very similar experiences to mine. It gives me a lot of hope. Things can happen - it’s possible to work through things. This course has contributed to that feeling. I can look up something that inspires me. I can turn a bad day into a good one. I can be independent.

“When you see other people online talk about their experiences, you know that you are not the only one. To read about their experiences, it helps you know that you are not alone. When you read stories of recovery, it gives you hope. That’s really what I would like to be able to find on my own. And that’s what I’m finding online.”