Imagine being beaten so badly as a teenager that years later, after having a child of your own, you can’t bear to go outside for fear of his safety.
That’s what happened to Ballymoney fashion blogger Sera McDaid who suffers from agoraphobia, and has struggled with a fear of the outside world since being attacked at Newry’s Christmas light switch-on over 15 years ago.
The up-and-coming fashionista, now aged 30, explained to the Times how she lost clumps of her hair and was bruised black and blue down one side of her body, after bullying she was suffering at school spilled on to the streets.
And the attack, by a group of around 14 teens at the town’s bus station in the season of good will, has had a lasting effect on her life.
But this year, determined not to let her phobia - the legacy of her tormentors - get the better of her, she resolved to make it to Ballymoney’s Christmas light switch-on for the first time ever - for the sake of her four-year-old son Riley and husband Lee.
Speaking about her award-winning blog, how it has helped, and the love she has for her family, the self-titled ‘Agoraphobic Fashionista’ said: “When I was beaten up in the bus depot I was fourteen, and it has just being going on from them - I have not been right since.
“Anybody who goes through that kind of trauma, it stays with you - I said I would never go to see the Christmas lights again.
“I was very badly beaten up, I lost clumps of my hair and I was bruised black and blue on one side from head to toes and I had some facial injuries.
“It was a group of fourteen teenagers, and the majority of them went to my school.
“I wasn’t going out anymore, and there was strict regulations in school, but the bullying was still going on.”
Having had enough, Sera left her Newry high-school at the age of 17 saying she felt like she just needed to get away - and then she left Northern Ireland in search of a better life.
But the damage to her self-esteem was done, and after a bad relationship in which she suffered a cracked jaw and broken tooth at the hands of her partner, she said her parents insisted that she come home.
And so she fled, leaving behind everything she had in the world.
Soon after that Sera met the man she would go on to marry - a husband whom she says is very supportive - but that was not an end to her woes.
“With my son being born in July 2010, everything got on top of me, and then the problem with going outside started.
“I couldn’t go places I had never been before, and it kind of slowly progressed until outside was a no-go.
“There was too much danger, I had Riley to think about - I was afraid for him - I was afraid for myself and I was afraid for my husband.
“It all just kept snow-balling. I had alienated all of my friends and family because I wasn’t going out anymore.
“I had no-one to chat to so, I literally had my husband - so I thought why don’t I just set up a blog - I could always just talk about mental health if I wanted to and I could talk about fashion posts too.”
Since then [Nov 2011] Sera has won awards for her quirky and honest fashion blog, in which she also talks about mental health issues, the issues she faces as a parent and of course her new found love for clothes - and she has credited the platform with helping her overcome the condition.
With the support of friends she has made through her blog, and the self-esteem boost her ever-growing online following has brought, she said she was able to tackle the Christmas lights for the first time in all those years.
Although she admitted that she found it incredibly difficult to deal with Ballymoney’s Christmas crowd - but the brave mum said that sharing her thoughts, outfits and zest for fashion has helped her to go outside.
And taking it one day at a time, she said she will continue to fight that fear.
Sera wrote about her experience at this year’s Ballymoney Switch on in one of her online blogs:
The Christmas Lights Switch On... I made it...
So here we are. I did it. Though there were tears and panics, I did it. Armed with every ounce of support I’d very gratefully received over the last days, no years actually, I did my makeup with a very shaky hand. I carefully selected an outfit to wear. I took a lot of very deep breaths and I walked out my front door.... With The Mr and Wee Dude by my side and every morsel of advice you awesome lot gave me, I made it to the switching on of the Christmas Lights.
I even managed to take some photos (I knew you’d be wanting evidence!)
Much more than that. I was able to sit and eat a meal beforehand! As we tucked into Monty’s Steak Sandwich, my courage grew. There was a relaxed and jovial atmosphere with a lot of excited kids running about and you really couldn’t help but get a little into the mood.
Next was a short walk upwards to the best coffee place in town, Ground Espresso Bars, where the staff had completely immersed themselves in the spirit of all things Christmas and were decked out in their festive finery and even though the queue was out the door at one point, the coffee was (as always) very much worth the wait. As were the smiles of encouragement from (what I would now call) friends behind the counter.
And before long....My world lit up...
Behind the flashing multicoloured lights here is the face that made it all worth it. Every single moment of panic, tears, arguments and heartbreak. The memory of his face when those lights came on will keep me going for a long time. Yes, there was stress and no, I don’t think I’d be in a hurry to do it again as it was incredibly scary and far too busy (and also not fantastically organised if I’m being completely honest) BUT.....
I DID IT!!!
Over 15 years after the fact and I did it and it was worth it. Now I am emotionally and physically drained beyond anything I could have imagined though I wouldn’t change a thing. Not one little miniscule thing.
This mightn’t seem like a huge deal to a lot of people but for right now, in my life, it doesn’t get much bigger. At least for now. Sure there’s always tomorrow ;)
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