Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Agoraphobia - outdoor coping skills test postponed

Marie wanted to go out and check out some shops, get some Christmas presents, see if her outdoor coping skills are also improving. We had everything organised to go on Monday when Joseph was at school, extra staff were working so that we wouldn't be needed and Orla was booked into a nursery for the day; but alas! it wasn't to be.

First of all, Orla went sick on Saturday. Puked all over me, so that was good fun (lol). Next, late on Sunday night, Joseph vomited over his bedroom floor. Perhaps he liked the feel of this, for he repeated it in the hall, and finally at the entrance to the bathroom.

are nicer things to do at 2.30 am than clean vomit from carpets...

Marie has been enjoying working for the past few months, so I took on the childcare duties. Orla hasn't been physically sick since Saturday, but she has been running a temperature off & on since and is stuck to me constantly like a second skin. She spends large amounts of time on my knee. Poor Joseph was retching just a few hours ago. Too big to sit on my knee now, he tends to lay his head against my chest. With this unplanned, unexpected use of my time, other things are running behind schedule - mainly Christmas preparations and some work projects.

However, the good news is that Marie's recent improvements have remained, and she's been on her own a few times.

Emma Roberts rang. Marie phoned earlier telling her of her progress. Emma told Marie that she would send her an email containing instructions for some new exercises to do to allay panic. It arrived shortly afterwards, but neither Marie nor I have had a chance to read it properly.

Marie & I have met quite a few therapists of one sort or another over the years, and I can tell you that for lots of them, their income stream seems more important than the progress of their clients. Emma Roberts is different. Since Sharon Osbourne introduced Emma to Marie about 15 months ago, she hasn't asked for
any payment. Makes me feel guilty. Perhaps we'll go to see her (in London) next year just to have a paid consultation. If any readers want to try EFT (Emma does therapy by phone, so you can reside anywhere in the world and still use her services), you could do a lot worse than give Emma a try. Btw, I'm not getting paid for this plug! But perhaps I could send Emma a begging email...

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

More steps away from agoraphobia

It is 12 days since Marie’s EMDR appointment and there have been significant changes. For the better! In fact, there has been a major improvement in one area – staying home alone.

Marie has not been able to stay anywhere on her own - for more than a few minutes - since she was 16. Over the past couple of weeks, that has changed dramatically. She has been staying at home without a safe person for increasing amounts of time. Here are the steps she took –

* 1 hour with just the children while I went to a meeting ½ mile away. Marie rang two different friends who live close by to check that they would be in “in case of emergency”. I had my mobile phone with me, of course.

* 1½ hours on her own while Orla and I went to Joseph’s nativity play at his school, ½ mile away. (It is sad that Marie's agoraphobia kept her from going too and seeing her son being applauded by everyone there...) Two friends were put on standby again and Marie went into the “No More Panic” chat room for a while for support. I had my phone with me, of course, but this time on “silent” mode.

* 2 hours on her own while Joseph, Orla and I finished a shopping trip, 20 miles away, and returned home. Marie used “No More Panic” chat room again, but this time didn’t have friends on standby. I rang her a couple of times, just to check her anxiety level. She was fine!

* 5 hours at home with the children while my sister, her new man and I went to Sharyl’s college play (excerpts from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales – mainly the lewd tales – just what you would expect from hormone-flooded adolescents…). Our phone line had gone down and with it our internet connection, so no chat room support this time. Marie didn’t ring me the whole time.

* Tonight I went out twice for relatively short periods, but Marie wasn’t even slightly anxious.

Up until recently, Marie could only work if I was in the same building or at home, but this has also improved. This afternoon I had to go to a meeting 20 miles away, and Marie worked the whole time.

All the above happened without Marie having a panic attack.

So things are looking better for Marie. And it had nothing to do with EMDR! Although her appointment was 12 days ago, she was ill (stomach bug) and couldn’t go. Now she’s undecided about going. Why bother, I wonder? She’s improving anyway. If she goes now, she won’t know if EDMR is helping her or if she would be improving anyway. And there’s always the slight possibility that it might halt her progress – or worse…

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Panic Attack near Posh Shops

We went to Clifton yesterday. Clifton is a THE posh suburb of Bristol with the some absolutely gorgeous Georgian and Victorian architecture, including the world's largest crescent of houses (there are 46 of them in the crescent). And, of course, the world's first suspension bridge over the impressive Avon gorge. And a lovely, large, interesting park. Want to live here? In the best streets, you can pay around £1,000,000 for a pad, and that's for a sixth-floor one bedroom apartment suitable for a non-claustrophobic, easy-to-please midget with the bathroom in the basement!!! There are also lots of hotels, posh or nouveau riche natives and rich American tourists (poor Americans go elsewhere).
Enough of the travel writing. Marie likes Clifton village very much. It has small, interesting shops full of exclusive items and super designer shops. Of course, it has shop prices to match! (Now you see why poor American tourists go elsewhere!)

I'm not that comfortable when we visit Clifton. Firstly, when I look at what those around me are wearing (...jeans £150, top £150, shoes £150, coat with leather & faux fur £600...that's over £1,000 ($2,000)! Excluding jewellery!), I feel like the poor cousin coming to visit.
Even though I have polished up my Doc Martins. Then I see Marie hovering over the designer tops and visualise my next credit card statement...ouch!!

But most of all, Marie likes Clifton village because you can park on the street outside the shops!


Well, that's if you can find a space...

We were really lucky and quickly found a parking space big enough to accommodate our car, and then Marie began to explore the shops with the purpose of buying some Christmas presents (only for special people - we couldn't afford to buy many presents here!). Marie ooohed and aaahed and said "Look Robert, isn't that really cool/nice/sweet?" at various intervals while I stood around trying to be unobtrusive. Also, hiding yawns and my bored expression took lots of concentration. In this way we spent an hour quite pleasantly.

Clifton has an unusual café/shop. It's the chocaholic's heaven. All things chocolate are sold here. Nearly everything on the menu in the café is chocolate based. For Marie it is a "must" to visit when in Clifton. We were making our way there, about 100m from the car and about 30m from the café (near the posh shops in the picture below) when Marie had a panic attack. A full-blown one - the worst I've ever witnessed her having. When the panic subsided somewhat, Marie dragged me back (literally) towards the car and, for her, safety.
In the safety of the car, we discussed the panic attack. Marie told me that it was the worst one she'd had for many years - the one she had spent the last several years trying to avoid. She had really wanted to scream, but because she was in the middle of the street, had managed to stop herself. I tried to put the positive side of this to her - she had survived the panic attack, it hadn't killed her, she had coped with it without fainting, screaming or otherwise making a complete fool of herself. I suggested that she remember this when she felt another one was a possibility. This seemed to relax Marie. She still wanted to go to the chocolate café, so I drove the car that way, hoping to find another parking space.

Again we were lucky and found another parking space closer to the chocolate café. Once there, Marie had a hefty sugar and fat fix. (How does she keep her stick-insect figure? Just looking at all that chocolate forced me to loosen my belt a notch...) This fortified her enough to continue exploring the shops.
In fact she did really well after lunch, and we managed to explore shops on five nearby streets! Big achievement for Marie and a very successful day out for her. She managed to find a few affordable, trendy gifts, so as a shopping exercise the day had been successful too. I saw an attractive stainless steel watch - a Breitling Bentley, (I had never heard of this brand before) but even though the price was only £4, 850 ($9,700) - very reasonable (lol!) - I decided to wait for another day to purchase... Yes, Clifton village is that sort of place.

Friday brings Marie's first EMDR appointment. I'm hoping this will be successful too.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Agoraphobia - potential progress

I'm quite friendly with a psychologist who lives nearby; but I have never asked her for her advice regarding treatment for Marie. Mainly, this is because when I see her she is "off duty" and I imagine she wouldn't welcome enquiries about mental health issues when she should be relaxing and following other pursuits. Marie and I are pretty well known (or possibly notorious?) in our local community, so I assumed that she knew about Marie's condition. One day, she asked me how Marie was doing. "Much the same as usual" is my stock reply, since most people simply ask this out of politeness, and any further information is usually met with a bored expression. This occasion was different.

"I know a lady who has quite a lot of success in treating people with Marie's problem," I was told. "She's a psychologist who specialises in CBT and has been very effective in treating panic/anxiety sufferers.Would you like her contact details?"

A few moments later I was clutching a small piece of paper with the lady's name (Vera) and her telephone number.

I used to ring up mental health professionals on Marie's behalf, but nowadays I let her do her own phoning up. It's my contention that if she wants her condition to improve, she'll ring up anyone who can help, entirely unaided. I gave her the piece of paper with Vera's details...and that's the last I ever saw of it. I wasn't surprised. That was about 6 months ago.

But last week, Marie bumped into my psychologist friend, and asked her if she could have the CBT specialist's contact details again. "Delighted" was the reply, and a new piece of paper was given to Marie. This time Marie acted on it, phoned Vera and after a long call, made an appointment to see her.

During the course of the long call, Vera told Marie that she thought the EMDR would be a better therapy for her than CBT on its own. She is to explain her reasons for coming to this conclusion when she meets Marie.

I am aware of EMDR, and had never previously considered it as a therapy for Marie. You can read about it here and here. It's main use is for post traumatic stress disorder. To the best of my knowledge, the only clinical trials carried out on EMDR relate to its efficacy with PTSD. I know that there are some claims that it works for many other mental health problems, but since there are no accredited reports to this effect, I am somewhat skeptical. Has anyone reading this ever tried it? I'll let you know how Marie gets on in due course; her appointment is in 2 weeks' time.

Marie is currently less anxious than a few weeks ago, and is back to driving Joseph to school, driving to nearby shops, working most days for at least a couple of hours and she even stayed at home alone for a while a couple of nights ago while I went to a business meeting ½ mile away! (Yes, Sarah, just like it is for you, the effects of Marie's agoraphobia change from day to day.) Now she has approached a new therapist...I am hoping (but experience has taught me not to be TOO optimistic) that this is another step along the road to recovery...

Friday, 9 November 2007

Carer or Enabler (Part 2)?

When I published my post "Carer or Enabler?" I expected a comment or two...

But I was blown away by the depth of feelings and unexpected insights contained in those comments; and the time and trouble that the correspondents had taken to post their comments. There is a community of sufferers of anxiety and/or panic attacks who blog or read blogs. Most of them are among the nicest people I could ever hope to meet.

So what have I learned from those comments? Well, I believe that I now know the answer to the question I have been asking myself for several years - am I a carer or an enabler? And the answer is...


Very simply - I need to care for Marie by providing for her needs; and I need to provide an environment which enables her to expand to her full potential.

Thank you HSP woman. You have no idea how much you helped me with your comments, but now I am more confident that I'm doing the right thing - at least to the best of my ability! It was nice to learn about your husband, too. Marie's agoraphobia, like yours, is capricious: one day she woke up, went to see a neighbour and then drove herself and the neighbour to her parents' house (1 hour, 45 mins drive) and a few hours later, she drove back! She's never been able to do anything remotely approaching that since.

Thanks to the anonymous commentator. Fortunately for Marie (and me, too!), I don't need Marie to be dependent on me - nor am I afraid for the future if she became agoraphobia-free. I would rather that she left me for a full life than stay with me and not achieve her potential. I take your point that I should be careful in the manner I give Marie praise for her achievements, and I'm grateful to you for explaining why (some) agoraphobics (like Marie) cannot bear to be on their own.

Sarah - you DO make sense. I can see how your history has led to your current situation. I admire your bravery and determination in providing for your son. You obviously care for your husband and he cares for you (or he wouldn't have made any effort to celebrate your wedding anniversary), but it may be that he doesn't realise how much he is damaging your self-esteem. A long, serious heart-to-heart about this might help.

And as for you, Steph - you should know more about agoraphobia than anyone, being in the extremely unusual position of experiencing it in your own life and observing your father. Hopefully you will be able to use your knowledge to sort yourself out, and in the process help others. Thanks for telling me how the behaviour of your boyfriends have affected you - but not all men are the same! (Sad to say...some are even worse...) I have experienced a panic attack, so I know what that feels like. In my case the panic attack was caused by a previously undiagnosed medical condition and when this was treated the cause of the panic attack disappeared. Being frightened all day long, every day - that I have not experienced, nor can I imagine it. So I don't know why Marie doesn't try harder to overcome her condition. It's not because I do anything for her that she could do for herself - I encourage her to do as much as she can. I know that any progress Marie will make will come entirely from her own desire. Marie has been agoraphobic all her adult life, and she honestly has no idea what she has been missing! Perhaps this is what holds her back?

Thank you ladies - I'm really glad I became a blogger!

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Carer or Enabler (Part 1)?

Dirty Butter wrote this in the last paragraph of her comment on my last post -

"I wonder, is there ever a time when you feel like you are an enabler (to Marie), rather than a helpmate?"

How many times have I felt like an enabler? Often. But if I really am an enabler, it's not deliberate. And there's more - by accommodating Marie's agoraphobia, am I hindering her recovery? Am I making her life as good as possible...or removing the incentive to fight her agoraphobia? Worse than that - perhaps I am creating an environment which allows her agoraphobia to get worse?

My ex-family doctor (retired) told me that if I really wanted to help Marie, I should leave her. (See the whole story here.) Marie didn't agree - but was he right?

Fact - Marie is not showing much enthusiasm for getting better.
Fact - Marie's agoraphobia is worse now than it was when she met me, 8 years ago.
Fact - Marie is pretty content with her life.

When Marie got assessed by a psychiatrist in 2005, the short version of the report was "....doesn't want to get better". (See the whole story here.) Perhaps the psychiatrist is correct? If so - am I partly to blame? If I am, what should I be doing differently?

So - am I a helpmate or an enabler? I wish I knew.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Caring for the Carer of an Agoraphobia Sufferer

Imagine this... Take a foot-shaped balloon and fill it full of water. Now overfill it, until it becomes deformed. Colour it angry red with purple and dark red blotches, and give the surface a scaly appearance.

Not a pleasant image? That was the reality of the appearance of my foot last week. It was worse than this. I had a quite severe case of cellulitis. It started with a fever and within 12 hours, I was unable to walk too. Yesterday was the first day that I was able to walk better than a pathetic hobble; and I'm quite a lot better today. But never mind me...

Marie's anxiety increases when I'm unwell. I'm sure that she hopes that (a) it's nothing serious and (b) I'll get better soon; but it comes out as "Will you have to go to hospital?" (she would have to stay with someone else while I was there), and "How are the kids going to get to/from school/nursery?" (someone else will have to take them). On this occasion normal treatment did not require a visit to the hospital and Joseph has been on a half-term break from school. Marie has been looking after my needs and has been (as usual) very caring.

When I can't stay with Marie for any time more than a day, she goes to her parents' home. We didn't need that this time, but Marie did have them take the children to stay with them for a week. It was either stay with their grandparents or stay imprisoned in our home. I often work at home, but as luck would have it, some of my staff were on holiday and I was supposed to be working away from home in a different town. Marie is able to work, but only in the premises beside our home. I had to ask some of my staff to work in different premises and change their hours so that Marie could work here and free them up for another site. I am extremely fortunate to have helpful, flexible staff (who know my situation) and between us all, everything in the business is running smoothly.

Collette has been ferrying urgent supplies into our home as required and a large order for groceries and other mundane domestic supplies was made online to be delivered tomorrow. The parents of one of Joseph's school friends has agreed to bring Joseph home from school this week and the lady running the nursery is to look after Orla when required and collect and deliver her. My very understanding doctor has offered to make a house call because I can't leave home while Marie is at work. He's not obliged to do this - isn't he fantastic? And the pharmacy delivers my medication.

So you see that we have a well-oiled machine here - all geared to Marie's agoraphobia.

But it would take so little to make it all grind to a halt.

What would happen if I became more seriously ill and Marie got too stressed to stay here? Or if I was hospitalised? Where would Joseph stay to avoid missing school? If Marie's parents couldn't look after her, who would? Would one of her sisters take time off work to care for her? Who would look after me? Who would care for the carer? I'm sure that there are lots of carers who would have trouble answering the same question.

It's not easy, looking after an agoraphobic.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

A New Home for Colm, another Wedding and another Baby

Last weekend was really busy.

On Friday evening, we went to Exeter hospital (psychiatric ward) to see Colm. He was in good enough form, but anxious about his forthcoming move to his new home. That was the week's best news. Colm is to move out of the hospital in the next couple of weeks, when his new accommodation is ready. It's not the home we had looked at a month ago - he is to live in a 3-bedroom detached house with 2 others (with 24-hour care). He's got his own bathroom and satellite tv. He's going to be working, part-time and fully supervised, at the nearby Riding for the Disabled centre where he will be able to resume his equestrian pursuits. The house is situated in friendly residential cul-de-sac in a village about 30 minutes' drive from here. He will be a 10 minute drive from 2 of his older sisters, and a third is moving into that area soon. So he will have plenty of family around him. Now Marie and I can look forward to less stress in that part of our life.

On Saturday morning, Collette called round to discuss her wedding plans. She only got engaged 12 days ago, and at that time she told everyone that the wedding would be a some unspecified date about two years in the future. Now she's decided to get married next April. (No, she's NOT pregnant!) Collette's mother doesn't figure in her life, so it's up to Marie and me and her sisters to put it all together. I know that it will all work out well, and we can look forward to a joyous wedding day. However, Marie is already getting anticipatory anxiety...

In the afternoon, we went to Carla's house where Lee's birthday was being celebrated. Colleen & Collette and their men and loads of beer were there too, so there was lots of noisy fun.

And then on Sunday, we went to Marie's parents' house to see her sisters. Her older sister, Karen, had travelled from her home in Brighton. It was her 39th birthday the following day and this was the day for the birthday cake and presents. Her other sister lives close to her parents and brought along her husband and delightful little son (see picture). Karen announced that she is pregnant. The baby is due next June. For many women, 39 might be a bit old to start having children, but former footballer (soccer) Karen is in peak condition and there is no reason to anticipate any complications. Much joy and happiness all round.

Despite all this happy news, almost all of the recent improvements in Marie's agoraphobia have disappeared. She had a stomach bug last week and hasn't been driving anywhere. At her parents' house, she needed the security of her oversized bag at all times, and didn't venture outside. There is a short school holiday now, so I am hoping that she'll be back driving to school with Joseph later next week.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Our Beach

We live in a small, ancient, sleepy coastal town with narrow, quaint, irregularly shaped streets. We’re surrounded by beautiful scenery and loads of history. In the height of summer, an influx of tourists makes our population quadruple. At this time of year we get older tourists and walkers – people without children. Most of these ignore our beach, so when I took Orla there this afternoon (Joseph was at a friend’s house), we had it to ourselves.

After expending her initial, frenzied, just-got-free energy, Orla settled down to play in the sand.

It was quite late in the afternoon and the sun was getting low in the sky. It was bright, warm and calm. Cotton-wool clouds moved at a snail’s pace. The sea was softly lapping the sand and rocks while sea birds drifted effortlessly overhead (falcons nest in the cliffs which surround the beach and are beautiful to behold when in flight, but they were absent today).
Far out to sea, there was a small fishing boat bobbing gently.

Only the sounds of nature were audible.



This beach is only 100m from our home, but it is inaccessible by car. It’s about 20m from the road and surrounded by cliffs. You have to walk to it. But because of that, even though she has lived here for the last 8 years, Marie has never seen it.

One day…one day, Joseph and Orla and I are going to take Marie to that beach. That’s a promise!

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Agoraphobia and Random Events

Marie has been more anxious than usual for the last week, and this is why.

Yes, the road outside our home was closed on Monday to have work carried out by our local water company. Despite the sign, the road was closed for three days – only opening this afternoon.

Marie can’t tolerate being confined. It causes exactly the same panicky feelings as being in a wide open space. So having the road outside our home closed was cause for concern. Even before the road closed, we had a few days of anticipatory anxiety. Actually, Marie’s anxiety level was better this time than the last time the road was closed.

Anyhow, it made me philosophise on the way that random events totally outside our control can affect our lives. And how, if we’re having a bad day/a few bad days, perhaps it has more to do with things around us than it has to do with us.

I’ll have to try to remember this next time Marie is feeling worse than usual!

Monday, 8 October 2007

Less Anxiety - More Indicators

As well as the common symptoms of agoraphobia, Marie has other issues.

I have mentioned before that she has a very large handbag (purse, I believe, is the US term) with a shoulder strap. She keeps it fairly full and quite weighty and it only leaves her shoulder at home, in our car and in other rare occasions when she has little anxiety. This is, of course, a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder and Marie also has other, less extreme symptoms of this.

But in addition, there are other more bizarre things which make
Marie anxious. One of these is hair shampoo/conditioner. At its most extreme , I have to administer these to Marie or she cannot wash/condition her hair properly.

Another is going to the optician's. When she tried to do this some years ago, she had to leave before the examination was complete. Based on what evidence he
had collected, the optician took an educated guess at what kind of lenses Marie required. He did quite a good job, too!

So it was with some surprise that Marie informed me that she was going to have her hair permed. Here's the "before" picture...

Marie organised a hairdresser to call at our home and do the perm there; but nevertheless since it involved washing her hair and then having perming lotion on it hair for quite a while, it was quite an achievement for Marie.

Then, knowing that her eyesight, even with her glasses, wasn't at its optimum for driving, Marie made an appointment at the local
optician's. I drove her there, of course. Marie wanted me to go into the building with her but there was no legal parking space available. Still, Marie went in to the optician's by herself while I parked illegally (but safely) outside and waited in the car. Marie managed to stay for the entire examination without much anxiety, and then spent quite a while choosing frames. A week later, she took possession of her new spectacles. Here's the "after" picture, showing the permed hair and new specs...

With Marie maintaining her earlier small steps out of agoraphobia, it seems that we still have an improving situation. Happy days!

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Dental Treatment, Agoraphobia & the NHS

Since I've known Marie, she has always had trouble with getting dental work done. For example, she would have benefitted from having a dental brace, but couldn't deal with having a permanent structure fitted inside her mouth.

However, having a caring, sympathetic dentist, and knowing that her diet was about as good for her teeth as heat was for ice cream, I eventually persuaded Marie to have a checkup.

One of the Marie's first symptoms of heightened anxiety is the "dry mouth". Next comes the feeling that she won't be able to swallow. To obviate this, she carries a bottle of soft drink, sometimes just water. For years, Coca Cola was the drink of choice, to the extent that she began to believe that only Coke would be able to help her when her "dry mouth" was starting. What is the best thing you can give to your healthy teeth if you want holes in the enamel? Yes, sugary fizzy drinks - e.g. Coca Cola.

There was good news from the dentist - she wouldn't have to have work done on all her teeth. The bad news was...well, you've guessed it, work needed done on most of them. And even worse - some might have to be extracted. The dentist took x-rays to complete the examination and we made another appointment.

Marie was doing quite well on her return visit to the dental surgery. The dentist gave her local anaesthetic - lots of it! This was the problem...the local anaesthetic administered to the rear of the roof of her mouth caused her to lose feeling in her throat. She couldn't feel herself swallow; she wasn't sure she WAS swallowing; she wasn't sure if she COULD swallow. Result - panic.

Marie managed to hold back the panic enough to avoid a full-blown attack. The dentist caried out some of the necessary work. However there was no way she was going to go have that type of local anaesthetic again! So she didn't return to the dentist for a couple of years. And then it was only because she had a pain in her jaw which, by comparison, made the pain of childbirth dwindle into insignificance. The pain was the result of the mother of all abcesses.

The dentist looked into her mouth and spoke in a monotone. This tooth would have to come out...and this one...oh, and that one too....and probably that one. Oh! and maybe that one too. This one needs a major filling, and so does that one. This one needs attention and that one needs attention... And on and on and on he droned. Marie asked him if she would need a local anaesthetic in the roof of the mouth again, and he said yes. She told him that she wouldn't be able to cope with this and explained why. What was the alternative? The only alternative he could offer was to refer her to the dental hospital, 25 miles away, where the gamut of dental treatment alternatives was available. It would probably be a few months before she could be seen. In the meantime she would have to take antibiotics.

So it was that a few months later Marie set out with trepidation to the dental hospital with her chauffeur (me). We had already carried out a reconnaissance of the facility and organised a parking space right beside the entrance. I reported our arrival to reception, which was too far away from the door for Marie, while she fidgeted at the entrance, frequently sipping bottled water to alleviate her "dry mouth" (she doesn't have Coke any more). After a couple of minutes to me, but a couple of hours to Marie, we were ushered into "our" dentist's treatment room. The dentist, a sensitive and empathetic 40-something lady who was five feet in height AND around the waist perched on a typist's chair with only one bum cheek - the other wouldn't fit - and explained the choices of treatment. These involved various local anaesthetics with different effects, a spray that freezes a specific area, a mixture of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and air, various mixtures of the aforementioned or the full-blown general anaesthetic. The last option was the least favoured by the dentist because it carries the most risk to the patient.

After 45 minutes, Marie chose the local anaesthetic which, she was told, wouldn't affect her throat so much. Much to our surprise, we were told that was the end of the consultation. We would have to make another appointment for the treatment.

More antibiotics and another few months later, we were back at the dental hospital. The nice lady dentist (who I noticed only just fitted through the door-frame) led Marie into the treatment room and told me to wait in the waiting room. "We won't need him" she told Marie.


An ashen-faced dental nurse rushed into the waiting room. "Robert, please come straight away. Your wife has had a panic attack!" Trying to hide my anxiety, I followed her into the treatment room. Marie, seated, looked OK.

"Ah Robert (giggle, giggle)" said the dentist looking guilty, flummoxed and knackered simultaneously and sounding dangerously like the doctor on The Simpsons. She was greeting me as if I was her long lost brother, "Marie has had a little (giggle, giggle) eh...turn." And she added quickly, "But she's alright now" and then "She'd probably better go home now." Marie got up and we left.

Once in the car, Marie told me that the local anaesthetic had affected her almost exactly the same as the one our family dentist had administered. It had made her panic and she wouldn't let the dentist near her mouth, screaming and flailing all around her. The hospital dentist told her that she'd never had anyone take a panic attack in her room before. I don't think she wants it to happen again, either!

This time the hospital made another appointment for Marie. No more options, it was to be a general anaesthetic this time. Operating theatre. Seven teeth were to be removed. The rationale was that all the teeth which might need to be removed in the next few years would be removed at this time. "We don't want you coming back in six months' time and have to do this all over again." Fair point. The operation was to be in a different building and I couldn't park right outside the entrance. Marie had very heightened anxiety for the entire six weeks' wait for the procedure and became quite difficult to live with. However, the big day eventually arrived. I stopped outside the entrance door to the building which houses the operating theatres and led Marie to the very helpful receptionist just inside the door. She looked after Marie until I parked the car and returned. Then we had to go about 20m (22 yds) to wait for the dentist and change into a hospital gown. This was already much further away from the entrance than Marie was comfortable with, but she coped. Ten minutes later, the dentist arrived, all scrubbed up and clad in a (very large) pea-green outfit c/w miniature wellies and we had to walk yet another 20m to the room where Marie's anaesthetic was to be administered. Amazingly, Marie was fine walking there, but her anxiety rose sharply when she was presented with the needle. Seconds later she was unconscious and I took her handbag with me to the waiting room - the first time she had been separated from the bag in several years.

After a few hours, dental treatment complete, Marie (now reunited with her bag) was giving a good impression of a drunk woman trying to get into a car, and then we went home. Within a week Marie's gums had mostly healed and her anxiety level returned to normal (Marie's normal, that is). Without examining the inside of Marie's mouth, you wouldn't know that she is missing any teeth at all. Quite amazing!

She's just had a checkup. Everything is the way it should be.

The National Health Service may be slow, but the care that Marie received in this matter was definitely world class - and free! I was pleasantly surprised how much consideration was given to Marie's unique requirements and cost was never an issue. Well done NHS!

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Help With Caring For An Agoraphobic

Marie's agoraphobia requires a "safe" person to be with Marie at all times. She cannot stay anywhere on her own - even for a minute or two.

When I started to go out with her, one of her "safe" persons was Emily. However, soon after we began to live together, Emily was removed from the safe" persons list because she can't drive. In the evenings and at weekends, we started to rely on my family to look after Marie on the occasions when I had to go somewhere that Marie couldn't. (During the day, I had members of staff who were on the "safe" persons list.)

We started off with relying on Carla and my sister, both of whom had cars at that time. Usually Marie would go to their houses while I went elsewhere, or, less frequently, they came to our home.

Here are my oldest daughters. From left to right, Carla, Colleen and Jenna. Collette is at the front.

In 2002, Colleen got her driving licence and she was added to the "safe" persons list. In 2004, my sister moved away and Collette passed her driving test, so it was up to my three daughters to help me with Marie's care. This was quite a good period, because one or two of Marie's "safe" persons lived in the family home. In 2005, Colleen left the family home to move in with her boyfriend: Collette did the same last year. More recently, Jenna became a "safe" person, even though she doesn't have a driver's licence; and within the last couple of months, Sharyl has joined the list, too.

I am a lucky man. My sister and daughters have often gone out of their way to assist me by sitting with Marie - and my daughters may have to continue doing so for some time in the future.

Here I am on the day of my wedding with my four oldest daughters.

My daughters are a great bunch of girls, and I'm proud to be their father.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Anxiety, Panic (and Agorapobia) Helpline (UK)

Many thanks to those who are/have been supporting Marie at this time. Marie is continuing to do well in her struggle with the demon agoraphobia. Although not progressing rapidly, she has been consolidating the progress she has already made. Her "new" attitude continues. The future is still bright.

One resource which she has been finding very helpful is the No More Panic site. It's a UK site, but I'm sure that they don't care where their members live. Marie seems to be able to speak to other sufferers/ex-sufferers 24 hours per day. And in the evenings (London time) there is a whole community there to chat to.

Any dear readers who haven't had a look at this site...can I recommend that you have a look at it now? Let Marie & me know what you thought of it.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Agoraphobia & the NHS local mental health team

The phone rang. Marie answered got to it first. When the call finished, she told me what was said.

-Hello, can I speak to Marie, please?
-This is Marie speaking.
-Oh, hi there, Marie. Kevin here from the Xxxx mental health team. I'm the new team leader. I believe you wanted to speak to me. You have a problem with your appointment with our psychiatrist, Lisa Dee?
-Yes, I want to get some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and my doctor told me that I had to be seen by one of your team first.
-Yes, that's correct.
-The doctor said that he would refer me, and a couple of months later, your team sent me out an appointment. I rang up a few days ago to see what room my appointment would be in, and when I was told which one it was, I told them that I couldn't get to it. I asked if another room close to the main entrance could be used. They said I had to speak to you.
-And why could you not get to this room? It's on the ground floor, only about 15 metres from the entrance.
-I've got agoraphobia. That's what my appointment is all about! I think that I can get into your building, but I couldn't go 15 metres down a narrow corridor. Sorry.
-I don't think we can change the room.
-Then I won't be able to come for my appointment.
-Well, that would mean that you would automatically come off our books. And you would have to get your doctor to refer you again to us if you wanted to see someone in the future.
-Yes, but I can't get to Lisa Dee's room.
-I'll have to have a word with her, then.
-Good! She knows my situation - well actually, it's deteriorated since I last saw her - she did an assessment on me a couple of years ago.
-Ok Marie. I'm not making any promises, but I'll get back to you.

The phone call took place about a month ago. Kevin hasn't called. The date of the appointment has passed. Isn't the British National Health Service brilliant?

Thursday, 20 September 2007

A New Home for my Disabled Son?

My older son, Colm, has severe learning difficulties (i.e. he's mentally handicapped), autism and Asperger Syndrome. He's currently living in the psychiatric ward at Exeter Hospital (if you want to know why, click on the link), where he has now been for over 6 weeeks. It is a temporary measure, so local Social Services Department and Marie & I are all looking for a new permanent placement for him. Luckily, Colm is quite happy at the hospital - and we call to see him and take him out every couple of weeks - so we have time to consider things properly and look for the best possible solution.

Last week, we heard about a residential home close to our home which might meet Colm's needs. Marie & I wanted to see it and assess it, the staff, the facilities and overall suitability of the place. A meeting was arranged on site. But the building was large - 14 bedrooms - so Marie was apprehensive (understatement!) about going there. A reconnaissance trip was required.

So two days ago, we drove there to see if Marie was going to be able to gain access. The (attractive) building (see picture) is set at right angles to the road and there was a medium length path to the front door. Unsuitable for Marie. However, to the rear there was a courtyard with vehicle access and another door. We spotted a member of staff having a cigarette in the garden, and asked her if we could speak to the manager.

Within a couple of minutes a lady came out to see us (we were still in the car). We discussed the layout of the building, where the meeting would be held and the possibility of accessing it by parking near the rear door (the manager told us that it would be arranged for us). When we left, Marie was much less anxious about going to the meeting.

The meeting was today. Marie not only managed to get into the building, but also completed a tour of the house and walked to a large walled garden to the rear. Although she began to panic at one point, she was able to control it and the rest of the visit was without incident.

Colm's accommodation, should he go there, was superior and the staff are superb. We both felt that this home could provide Colm with good care and opportunities for personal development, but we have some reservations, too. We have another, smaller, home to see in the not-too-distant future, so we don't have to make any decisions immediately.

Marie & I both feel that the worry we have both felt about Colm's position is much decreased, now that potential homes have been identified.

The best news is that this successful trip is only part of Marie's ongoing improvement in her condition. She takes Joseph to school (by car) every morning, now, and has been working every day. Her attitude has most definitely changed and she has noticed this too, although she is scared that she might slip backwards.

I'm trying my best to keep her thinking positively and doing all I can to quietly encourage her to progress. I hope it works...

Monday, 10 September 2007

Less Anxiety - Room for Hope?

Marie and I live in an apartment above our business premises. It's slightly more spacious than the average British house, and it has a small patio area for sunbathing/pot plants/kids to play, so it's quite comfortable...but it doesn't have a garden. All my older children live in houses with gardens, and Marie has noticed how the gardens become an alternative living area when the weather suits, the kids like to play in them, the adults like to barbeque, but she knows that we cannot move to a house because of her agoraphobia. She can't stay at home by herself while I go to work. A week at her parents' house, with its large garden, highlighted this shortcoming in our own home. It was one of the subtle differences in attitude that Marie has had since we both returned home from our separate holidays.

Another difference was an almost intangible increase in Marie's self-confidence and a lessening in her overall anxiety level. I'm not even sure that she realised this herself, but I could tell.

And then I noticed how much our children - particularly Orla - had missed their mum. Marie noticed it too. They smothered her with affection on the first night of our return home, and have been showing her their love for her ever since. It's beautiful to watch.

Then Marie has been working in our business pretty much every day, at least for part of the time. More than that, she has been letting me leave the building while she works. Of course, she's not alone. There are other staff there. But it's an improvement from just a couple of weeks ago, when she felt unable to work unless I was at home.

Joseph took this photo
of us at the beach.
Not bad for a 6 year-old,
don't you think?
And she got her car serviced and has been driving it around town (½ mile from here maximum) on several occasions - with just the kids accompanying her. She has even driven to Orla's nursery totally unaccompanied. Ok, so it's only ¼ mile away, but it's the start of something bigger, isn't it? ...Perhaps?

We have been going on picnics to a nearby beach, making the most of the superb weather we are currently enjoying. We have been playing soccer with the kids. Although Marie can't stray more than 2m (2 yards) from our car, she has been getting some exercise!

A strange picture of
Marie & Sharyl enjoying
a drink.

On Friday evening, she and Sharyl went out to the local pubs. We have 7 within ¼ mile of our home. Marie drove of course (she is almost teetotal so no drink-driving was involved), and they managed to visit 3 pubs, ending up at the one at the harbour which has seating outside. The weather, as earlier mentioned, being really good, they sat here mixing with both locals and boat owners from the marina until almost 1 am Saturday morning. This was the 1st time Marie has been out in our town without me in the 7 years we have been living together.

And the best of it all - the hope for the future - was this brief sentence Marie said, out of the blue, on Saturday - "I'll have to get used to staying at home on my own, so that we can get a house." It's is the first goal Marie has set herself (or at least, the first one she has told me).

Is this the start of something, or just a flash in the pan? We'll see...

Friday, 7 September 2007

Agoraphobia and Family Homes

So you've retired, all the children have left home and you're living in a big house. A 4-bedroom house. And you mostly only use one or two of the bedrooms and you've NEVER used the fourth bedroom - it's just been a store room. the house is much too big for just two.

You decide to move house.

You look around for AGES.

What would you end up with?

A two bedroom bungalow (no stairs to negotiate in your later years)? Perhaps a 3-bedroom bungalow, just in case you get lots of visitors at once. Or maybe a modest detached house (you can put in a stair-lift later, if necessary)?

What about this house?

It's got 8 (yes, EIGHT) bedrooms spread over 3 floors. It's got stables, an air-raid shelter (no home should be without one!) and its own fresh-water well. It's even got a basement underneath with a tunnel which leads to a nearby castle! The whole building is not in good repair. A typical home for retirement???

This is what Marie's parents have bought. It's situated on the South coast of England near the sea and close to a military port. Part of the house was originally a 16th century farmhouse while the Georgian wing is the most modern part (except for the purpose-built 2nd world war self-contained air-raid bunker).
The building is believed to have been used for military purposes during the 2nd world war, which would account for the bunker, and the tunnel would have come in useful in the right circumstances. Because of its historical importance, it's a government listed building and requires special planning permission for even the smallest alteration. Oh, and it's supposed to be haunted...

Marie's parents are treating it as their retirement project. They intend to sympathetically restore it and expose all the (many) covered-up period features. If completed the way they visualise it (and fortunately they have enough money to do it), it will become a very desirable and interesting home.

When Marie first visited her new family home, she was little short of panic-stricken. If this had been a hotel, we would definitely NOT have stayed in it. With its long hallways, it is most definitely NOT agoraphobia friendly. Five hours later, she was still anxious, but reasonably comfortable in a couple of the ground-floor rooms. After staying there for a little over a week
(while I took the children on holiday), she became comfortable with the whole building - even the top floor - and part of the front garden. She was even able to explore the windowless bunker. When she had a paranormal experience, feeling drawn to an end bedroom - later identified as the one supposedly occupied by the ghost...she did not know this at the time - it didn't frighten her and she is able to joke about it.

Did her parents take into consideration their daughter's agoraphobia when they decided to purchase this property?

They probably assumed that their daughter would, out of necessity, learn to deal with the building.

And they were right.

Family Holiday & Agoraphobia

I have endured family holiday photos many times. I always say things like "Wow, that looks really nice" or "Those are really nice photos" or "Looks really good - you must have had a really good time", but I NEVER say what I'm really thinking, which would more likely be "How soon will this be over..."

Our family holiday was at a holiday park in Woolacombe, SW England,
chosen specifically for its children's facilities. Not all that far from where we live. My daughter Jenna, her husband Colin and my granddaughter Elisha shared the holiday accommodation with us.

My family photos aren't spectacular viewing, either, but I have a point to make by showing them...

Orla, Joseph and Elisha enjoy the playgrounds.
Orla (and Joseph) liked the adventure playgrounds, too.
Both kids liked the indoor play areas.
There was a good crèche.
Carla brought my other grandchildren to visit one day. Here is Shannon.
Everybody, adults and children, enjoyed the various pools.
Orla really enjoyed the pools. Here she is with Jenna & Elisha nearby and Carla & Reece in the background.
Joe and grandson Lee enjoyed the water slides & flumes.
Everyone joined in at the bowling alley.
We went to the clubhouse most evenings. There was a kids' disco before the adult entertainment.
Joe enjoyed many other activities.
Joseph went to the Kids' Club most days.

The kids had an absolutely terrific time, and the adults were able to enjoy a few drinks and quality entertainment at the clubhouse in the evenings. The holiday park's facilities exceeded our expectations, and the holiday was a great success.

So what was missing?

Or rather, who's missing? Who isn't in any of the photos above?

It's Marie. Because of her agoraphobia, she couldn't be with us. She stayed with her parents, instead.

Isn't that sad...?