Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Linden Method & Marie - Part III - The Linden Method Retreat

As we travelled to The Elms Hotel near Kidderminster, Marie was simultaneously exhilarated and terrified.  As usual, her head was full of "what if" questions, but there was also the exciting prospect of soon being, for the first time in about 15 years, anxiety free.

Marie had contacted Charles Linden and he had arranged to meet her at the hotel at 1.00 pm to help her to get into the hotel.  Marie wanted to arrive before anyone else so that if she "freaked out" none of the other retreat clients would witness it.  However, when we arrived at the hotel - an hour early - we discovered that we could park the car close to the entrance.  Marie was able to make her way up the path to the main doors, but that was as far as she could get.  Soon afterwards Charles' wife Beth arrived and helped Marie to get to get into the building and later to our 1st floor bedroom - no mean feat, I assure you.  She had panic attacks all the way up the grand staircase. There is no way on this earth I could have cajoled Marie there!  Once we settled into the room, Marie was able to go up and down the stairs and to all the rooms used during the retreat for the duration of our stay.  Charles did arrive - especially to meet Marie - but his help wasn't required.

I won't, of course, reveal anything about the clients which could lead to anyone identifying them.

Bearing in mind the cost of the retreat and the type of the venue, the clients were, as one would expect, predominantly wealthy or the dependants of wealthy families. They came from all over the United Kingdom.  Most of the clients were accompanied by family members.  Family members were mostly spouses or mothers.  All the clients had different types of anxiety but all had in common the experience of having panic attacks.  Clients were predominantly young to middle-aged and only one was male (!).  Most, but not all, of the clients had purchased The Linden Method.  None - yes, none - of the clients I spoke to had read/watched/listened to all of the contents of The Linden Method and many hadn't bothered to read it at all.  And not one client had really tried to follow The Linden Method before attending the retreat.  Most were expecting to leave the retreat cured or, at least, mostly cured.  At least one of the clients had serious mental problems.

All the clients and most of the family members were kind, considerate and caring people.  Despite their disparate backgrounds, they mixed exceptionally well and were eager to share helpful tips.

My descriptions are, of course, just my opinion and as such cannot be truly objective.  They are not meant to offend.

Holding it all together was the very capable Beth Linden.  Beth was friendly, likeable, attractive and impeccably coiffed.  Her photos on the various Linden Method sites don't do her justice.  She was never condescending nor patronising.  She was firm and assertive when required.  At the retreat, she was expensively dressed, but not ostentatiously so.  Her outfits were perfect for the setting - neither too formal nor too casual.  Smiling often she flashed a set of Hollywood-style, impossibly bright, white, perfect teeth - usually indicative of expensive, extensive dental treatment.

"Chief Educator" Jenny Saunders MSc was extremely knowledgeable not only about The Linden Method, but also about the areas peripheral to it.  She was able to provide comprehensive, informed answers to the vast majority of queries; and where her knowledge was incomplete, she wisely said so and didn't speculate.  Her presentations were informative but fell short of being oratorical gems.  However, she is better in real life than she is on The Linden Method's DVDs.

Retreat Host Gareth Dore is a 20-something former anxiety sufferer.  His job appeared to be (I said "appeared to be" because neither he nor any team member actually explained what his function was) to keep everyone cheerful and entertain the clients during the quiet moments such as mealtimes and evenings.  He is quite good at being the life and soul of the party, but this tended to divide the clients into two groups - those who wanted to party (mainly the younger clients and their partners) and those who were of a quieter disposition.  Gareth was asked about how anxiety had affected him and how he became anxiety free.  He told us that at its worst, his anxiety had made him become a house-bound agoraphobic.  He tackled this using what is commonly called the exposure method: he made himself go to his front door; when he was comfortable doing that, he made himself open the door; next he tackled going down the drive, then he drove to the end of the road, then a bit further...etc.  Oddly there was no mention of The Linden Method as an aid to his escape from anxiety, but we know that he definitely purchased it.  He told us that he didn't understand it, so he contacted Charles Linden and asked him to explain it to him.  He went to The Linden Centre, which is near to his home, where Charles explained what was in the book.  Gareth was impressed and thought that it would be a good idea to organise sessions for others to learn about The Linden Method from people rather than from the book.  He suggested the idea of The Linden Method retreats to Charles and Charles agreed to run them.  This is, apparently, why Gareth is the retreat host.

Rob Holcrofd presented Postural Empowerment and relaxation techniques.  According to Marie his presentations were entertaining, funny and useful.  She still thinks about her posture, so some of what he taught has stuck.

Jackie Donkin Bsc was excellent in imparting advice on one's diet.  She showed how much sugar is in common foods and snacks (and shocked most with this information) and suggested alternatives.  Charles mentions diet in some depth in The Linden Method and it was encouraging to hear a nutritionist endorse his recommendations.

Alan Smith took the meditation session.  The general impression was that he was a very nice man.  However, he was bizarre.  He looked bizarre, with a permanent smile on his smooth ruddy face and his near-monotone, soft, happy voice (you had to listen very carefully to hear what he was saying) was just as bizarre. He was the most calm, chilled-out person I have ever met.  Some clients and partners fell asleep during the first half of his session, which was a lecture on the various types of meditation and why anyone would bother to meditate.  Several people left the room.  Alan was fond of the phrase "give yourself a gift" - and the gift was a quiet time, a time to meditate.  The second half of the session was a period of meditation, where he used the same tone of voice to encourage us to meditate.  I can state without equivocation that this session was the least successful during the retreat.


While we were at the retreat there were few other guests at the hotel.  Perhaps indicative that the accommodation was poor value for money?

The Elms is a great looking period building with good, well managed grounds and, of course, a spa.  There's also a gym and swimming pool.  The rooms are interesting and fully kitted-out, but there was no air conditioning and the room could get uncomfortably hot.  

We were unlucky.  Others were happy with their rooms, but our room had a faulty toilet and no shower mat.  I found out about the missing shower mat when I slipped and nearly fell out of the bath, much to Marie's amusement.  A shower mat was provided next day by a very apologetic manager.  No such luck with the toilet.  It took 3 days to repair it: all it needed was a £5 part.  The toilet made an awful noise which also disturbed the family in the room next door, which could be controlled by flushing it. However, getting up a couple of times during the night to flush the toilet is not conducive to having a pleasant stay.  We were offered another - and better - room, but it was on the 2nd floor and inaccessible to Marie.  A partial refund would have been a nice gesture but it was unforthcoming.

The Elms boasts about its great food and the fact that many of the vegetables are grown in its own garden.  I found the food to be, on average, disappointing and all of the other clients I spoke to agreed.  Retreat clients were not offered the hotel's full menu.  Instead there was a very limited choice of dishes.  The menu was unexciting and unadventurous.  Gareth repeatedly told us all about how good the braised beef was, but when in due course it was served it was almost inedible and most diners left it on the side of their plates.  The next day we were treated to an excellent spicy Mediterranean dish, so the chef can obviously cook well on his good days.

The rooms which were used for The Linden Method seminars were light and airy and acoustically good.  Very much fit for purpose.  There were plenty of comfortable settees and armchairs to accommodate all the clients' partners.  Tea and coffee were almost always available, frequently accompanied by delicious home-baked shortbread or speciality bread.

Was the venue good for the retreat?  Despite the hot rooms and not-so-good food (which, of course, might usually be much better...the regular chef was on his holidays/wasn't feeling very well etc...), the quiet, relaxed atmosphere, superb, friendly staff and the large, light, airy, comfortable seminar rooms provide excellent surroundings for clients of the retreat.

But if I'm in the Kidderminster area looking for good accommodation, I'll give The Elms a miss.

You can see the programme in the image opposite (click to enlarge).  The programme offers busy, productive days and relaxing, convivial evenings.  By the end of the retreat, The Linden Method will have been comprehensively explained.

The four days/three nights format works well and it offers education in an unhurried, pleasing way.  The retreat could probably be adapted for a three days/two nights format without losing much content, although the shorter time-frame would mean that the overall experience was less relaxing.

Marie liked all of the programme except the meditation session.  Her most enjoyable session was the one-to-one session with The Great Man.  Accompanied by Charles she was able to walk around the grounds at The Elms.  She was able to walk across the immense front lawn without panic.  Proof indeed that it is possible to overcome anxiety.

I particularly liked the Partners/Carers Only session.  As followers of this blog will be aware, Marie has tried almost all the available treatments and therapies in the market as well as what the National Health Service has to offer.  None of them - absolutely none of them - involve partners or carers.  And I have asked for help...and received none.  

I said to a NHS psychiatrist "I don't know what to do for the best regarding Marie.  I'm worried that I may be doing all the wrong things and hindering her progress!"

And the psychiatrist's reply?  "Yes, I can see that it must be difficult for you."  That's all I got.  Helpful?  Hardly!

The Partners/Carers Only session was perfectly timed at two hours.  Basically it told us what we have to do to support our anxious loved ones, and why.  And what we shouldn't do, the things that make anxiety grow. There was lots of excellent advice based on TLM principles.  I was able to see how, in the early days, I had actually helped Marie to increase her anxiety!

Now the problem with a one-size-fits-all approach is that it rarely does.  And it's the same with The Linden Method's advice for partners and carers.  I cannot "Treat Marie the same way as I would treat a non-anxious person."  I have got young children and I cannot do anything which would adversly affect them.  I can't say "If you want food, get it yourself" because the children need to be fed.  I can't let the children see me leave their mother screaming in the middle of a panic attack - I've got to back and calm her down/cancel going out.  Despite this, I felt that the session was worth every minute.  Well done, TLM, for including partners and carers!

The main criticism I have of the programme is the lack of supervision of the group's leisure time.  On the last evening, the doubters and dismissers were given free reign to voice their pessimism, tangibly changing the atmosphere.  I feel that retaining a positive atmosphere at all times is essential.  Engendering seeds of doubt can only do damage.  Yet Gareth seemed unable or unwilling to try too steer the group away from this destructive line of conversation.  An effective host would have gently, almost imperceptibly changed the subject matter to happier topics.

The advertising and promotion of the retreat tends to give the impression that it offers an instant cure for anxiety sufferers.  That is, to say the least, unfortunate.  Yes, I know that if you read all the splurge carefully, you will see that it does not offer you that.  But many of the clients at the retreat I attended expected to be going home, cured.  Marie expected to be going home to get ready for a family holiday in Spain.

It doesn't provide an instant cure.  There is no instant cure.

But for some, the retreat will give them the tools to transform their lives for the better.  It will give them hope that they can beat anxiety.  It will equip their partners/carers with a set of aids to help the affected loved one.  For these people, it will be worth every penny.

Friday's afternoon session was a disappointment.  Some of the clients left early, the question and answer session never took place and the group photo didn't happen.

Nevertheless, as Marie toured pleasant English countryside bathed in beautiful late spring sunshine on our way home, she was a changed person.  No, there was no miraculous cure; but there was a feeling, a certainty that everything had changed for the better.  Tomorrow, anxiety would be diminished.  Life was going to get better.

UPDATE, April 2014

1.   My wife has been quite unwell for a substantial portion of the last few years, and I haven't had time to continue with this blog.  But one day...
2.  Please be aware that the format and content of the Linden Method Retreat has been changed.  There is a revised timetable and a new host.  And there is a new menu at the hotel (presumably better).  Contact the organisers for further information.
3.  Beth Linden contacted me to say that it is not the organisers' intention to imply that the retreat offers a "magic cure".  Beth wrote to me, saying, "...What we do say, however, is that they [their clients] will be armed with a 'toolbox' of what they need to make a full recovery and that they will feel more empowered and less fearful about making that journey of recovery..."
4.  The beneficial effects of The Retreat were short-lived and my dear wife went back, more or less, to where she was before going there.  However, since she didn't follow the advice given to her at the Retreat or in The Linden Method book, her lack of progress can NOT be described as a failure of TLM or the Retreat.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Linden Method & Marie - Part II

When I decided to move to England in 1994, I chose the location and bought a business there.  Along with the business came a full complement of fine staff and one of these was Amy, a highly intelligent, very competent lady in her 50's with decades of experience.  In time, I surrendered the day-to-day running of the business into her capable hands.  When Marie came on the scene, the two of them became close friends, despite the age difference.  They would swap intimacies while Amy was at work and Marie would help out in my business.  Then, just after last Christmas, Amy decided to retire.  This caused me some logistical problems, of course, but for Marie the loss of her close friend was a big blow.  She rarely visited my business premises, became pretty much housebound and depression set in.

Marie became even more set on going on The Linden Retreat.  However, her life at that time consisted of her sleeping all morning and then spending most of the rest of the day on Facebook. I couldn't see the point of her going to The Linden Retreat if she couldn't be bothered to get up and see our children before they went to school or put them to bed at night.  So I made a deal with her - if she followed the Linden Method at home for a while, then I would go to The Retreat with her.

So she began to follow Charles Linden's 9 pillars - or at least, some of them.  She ordered up food to follow Charles' dietary suggestions.  Her waking/sleeping times regularised.  After a while, she was out driving in her car again - only short trips, but better than nothing.  Marie began to visit some (small) shops again.  She started spending some time in the business.  Our house was cleaner, tidier and the children thrived on the extra attention being heaped on them.  Life was much better for all of us.

And Marie had a goal!  She wanted to go on holiday with me and the children.  (I had already booked a holiday in Spain.)  She wanted to go to Barcelona!  I knew that Marie was really serious about this when she applied for a passport. Bringing Marie to Barcelona with us would be easy for me.  I had booked a holiday home, not a hotel; and there was a hire car to transport us around.  All I had to do was book an extra seat on the planes.

So I agreed to take Marie on The Linden Retreat in June.  (She didn't feel able to go without me.)  We booked the retreat and I organised staff to run the business in my absence.  I felt that the children would be bored at The Retreat's venue, The Elms Hotel & Spa in Worcestershire, so I arranged childcare.

But a problem arose.  When Amy decided to retire, I passed on her duties to May, my next-most-experienced member of staff.  She was the one who would be looking after business while I went with Marie to The Retreat and when I went to Spain in July.  May decided that she wanted to move home, back to the area where she spent her childhood and where several of her family members still lived.  She gave me a month's notice to quit.  And the date she was leaving?  Right in the middle of The Retreat.  Without competent staff, I couldn't go anywhere.

I successfully recruited new staff.  But there was no way that they would be sufficiently trained to be left on their own before Marie and I left for The Retreat.  With only a few days to go before The Retreat, I realised that I would have to cancel all my plans - always a risk when you run your own business.  Marie was, understandably, very upset.  The children weren't too happy either, looking at the possibility that our holiday in Spain would be cancelled.

Then Stephanie contacted me.  Stephanie manages one of my branches.  She offered to supervise my business while I was away, and had already organised staff to cover her absence at her branch.  What a hero!

So, 48 hours later, Marie and I set off on the 3-hour drive to rural Worcestershire.  Marie was going on The Retreat!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

The Linden Method & Marie - Part I

Back to the summer of 2010.  Marie was pretty down, but we had a new resident to make her life more interesting.

Regular readers will know that Marie & I are hosts to Austrian students every summer.  They attend a two-week summer school where they improve their knowledge of the English language and also, from sharing life with a local family, learn about English culture.  Our students are usually girls.  One girl, who had stayed with us a few years ago, wrote to ask if she could stay with us for a couple months.  I'll call her Anna.  Further investigation revealed that, out of the blue, Anna's father had left her mother for another woman.  Her mother was both devastated by this unexpected failure in her marriage and justifiably angry about the months of deceit from her spouse.  Foe Anna, a break from the family home was required.  Anna's mother supported this temporary absence of her daughter and once I had sorted out all the legal, social, medical and educational matters, we had a teenage foster daughter.  Anna stayed until Christmas, twice as long as originally planned, until her mother wanted her to return home.

Having a foster daughter affected Marie in two ways.  Firstly, she had a new companion, someone to chat to at length.  But secondly, she became increasingly aware how much she was missing due her confinement to our home.  Not only was I the only one who shared our children's out-of-home activities, but I was also now the only one who shared Anna's out-of-home activities.  Marie began to look for ways to diminish her agoraphobia.  When she found out that Charles Linden was on Facebook, she revived her interest in The Linden Method.

We have had The Linden Method in our home since 2005.  And in 2009, we visited the Great Man himself at his office in Kidderminster.  He was able to make Marie feel confident enough to do much, much more than usual - a capability with which I cannot compete.  Marie bought another copy of The Linden Method (the original one is seriously dog-eared and some of the CD's etc. are missing).  His book became Marie's bible and became a necessary item in her handbag.  She listened to his CDs regularly.  She was a regular contributor on his Facebook wall.

But there was little improvement in her condition.

Around November, an agoraphobic friend asked Marie why, if The Linden Method was the answer to agoraphobia, she wasn't cured already?  Revealingly, Marie answered that she didn't have enough incentive to follow the programme!

This confirmed what I had believed for quite a while - I am Marie's worst enemy (in relation to agoraphobia only!).  I have removed the need for her to work, look after the children, do the shopping, plan for the future, walk anywhere...  Her life is comfortable enough for her to feel it unnecessary to do what it takes to tackle her agoraphobia.

Things changed towards the end of 2010.  Marie had had enough of depression and constant anxiety.  She still believed that The Linden Method was her way out of agoraphobia, but she now believed that she needed his latest (at that time) aid for anxiety sufferers.

She needed The Linden Method Retreat.  And to accede, I needed to find about £4,000!*

* The Linden Method Retreat cost £2,700 at that time.  Other expenses which contributed to the total cost were travelling and subsistence expenses, extra staff  wages and childcare costs.