Tuesday, 29 May 2007

2005 - The Family Doctor Has His Say

We belong to a reasonably-sized medical practice with around 8 family doctors, many of whom have specialities. The head of the practice was a snappily dressed, affable chap with what seemed to be an almost casual, but sympathetic attitude, whose speciality was heart problems and learning difficulties (mental disabilities). I got to know him quite well as he looked after he interests of my son (with severe learning difficulties) and cared for my father right up to his last days (stroke and arterial sclerosis) with great skill and empathy. He had also been instrumental in introducing Marie to the local mental health team as well as the (so-called) cognitive behavioural practitioner (have a look at the posts with the labels NHS and CBT).

After Orla was born, Marie's agoraphobia worsened. She had trouble getting from the car to shops, although once inside she could negotiate her way around most of them. She decided that she would apply to the local area council for a disabled person's parking permit. Armed with one of these on the dashboard, one could park almost anywhere and ignore "normal" parking restrictions. There were also special disabled parking bays in front of larger stores and most parking fees were waived. "Disabled badges" as they are more commonly referred to are like gold dust! Marie believed that she would be able to get one since her agoraphobic condition made access to shops and offices more restricted to her than, for example, a man with no legs.

I was against getting the permit, arguing that all the previous improvements in her condition took place without a parking permit. I was also worried that if we had one, Marie would have less incentive to expand her capabilities.

So we went to see our family doctor for his opinion and, possibly, his assistance. He greeted us warmly as usual and informed us that he might not see us again since his retirement from practice was imminent. Marie explained why she wanted this permit and I stated the case for not having one. The doctor explained that the criteria required to get a permit had changed. Only persons with a serious physical disability would be considered. Persons with any other type of disability, no matter how severe, would no longer be considered.

Marie was obviously disappointed, but neither of us was prepared for what followed.

"I agree with you, Robert," he started off, "that getting a disabled person's parking permit would be detrimental to Marie's long-term recovery (from agoraphobia) prospects. In fact," he continued, "the best thing you could do for Marie would be to leave her. You would almost certainly get custody of your 2 children since your partner is incapable of looking after them by herself. You should tell her that if she really wants to see them again she must sort herself out."

"But she would only go to her parents' house," I replied, shocked, "where her mother would pander to her every need, and she would get no encouragement to get better."

"Yes, that is a problem," the doctor agreed. He had met Marie's mother when she tried to enlist his support for the abortion of our first child. "But while she's with you and you arrange your and her life around her agoraphobia, you're making things worse." He became more animated. "These situations arise when it is mutually advantageous to both parties. Marie here can avoid growing up and making the sorts of decisions that a woman of her age should be making. By living with a man old enough to be her father, she can avoid taking responsibility for her decisions, her actions, her life. And the situation suits you because you obviously like to be in control. It could be argued, however, that by behaving the way you are, you're actually ruining a young woman's life! She'd be better off without you!"

Marie was dumbstruck. I replied, "You still haven't told me how this would help, since she would obviously go and live with her mother."

He shrugged his shoulders and didn't offer any further argument. Instead he dismissed us, and we, mentally disoriented, took our leave. He retired from the practice the following week, and we haven't seen him since that day.

I didn't take his advice.

2005 - Joseph goes to school

Early in September, a little boy dressed up proudly in his school uniform and with a little apprehension took his dad's hand and went to school for the first time.

Half a day later, he returned home with his dad to pass on with excited chatter about his experiences to his mum. He couldn't wait for the next day at school. His parents were delighted that he liked his new environment.

That was 20 months ago, and Marie has never seen Joseph's classroom or chatted to his teachers, and has only been able to attend one of the school's functions.

It's all very, very sad.

2005 - Agoraphobia, Pregnancy & Baby #2

Baby #2 was shaping up nicely. The pregnancy was going fine, just like the previous one, when suddenly a possible irregularity showed up on a routine scan. Up to this stage, the hospital's maternity department was bending over backwards to accommodate Marie's condition; but now she was advised to get a more detailed scan as a matter of urgency. This could only be done in the hospital's main x-ray department, deep in the bowels of the complex, down interminable corridors with no nearby vehicular access. All the things Marie couldn't cope with. We explored every possible way in to the x-ray dept., but they were all similar in the fact that they were all very inaccessible to vehicles. And then...

Marie did it! She just walked to the x-ray department, holding my arm, clutching her shoulder bag, keeping a mental note of every seat and wheelchair we passed en route...but she got there without panic. And she stayed calm while the scan was being performed AND on the long journey back to the hospital exit. It just shows how strong the maternal instinct is...or, possibly, how you will always be able to do what you really, really, REALLY want to do?
Aunt Orla with niece Elisha
The scan showed that everything was ok and at about the correct date, 11th July, Orla was born with the minimum of fuss, healthy and normal sized (and, again, no pain relief).

13 days later, Jenna (who didn't have the text-book pregnancy Marie had, poor girl) gave birth to her first, a lovely little girl whom she called Elisha. Both had to stay in hospital for a little while, but soon they were proclaimed fit and healthy and promptly discharged.

So within the space of less than 2 weeks, I was once more a father and a grandfather!

Thursday, 24 May 2007

2005 - NHS again, hypnotherapy again & The Linden Method

At the start of 2005, the local National Health Service team suggested to Marie that she have 6 hypnotherapy sessions. Marie had already told them about her previous experiences, but they talked about all therapists being different and it was the relationship between the therapist and the client which mattered, etc., etc.

So Marie began attending Keith, a pasty, thin, timid 30-something. Most of what he did was the same as that which Marie had experienced before, but his total lack of charisma, personality and empathy made this experiment doomed from the start. After 3 sessions Marie gave up.

Marie asked the psychiatric nurse if she should try medication. She hadn't wanted medication before, so this avenue hadn't been explored. The psychiatric nurse said that she would refer Marie to the Psychiatrist. Months passed (as expected) but eventually Marie got an appointment with Lisa Dee, the psychiatrist. Lisa surprised us all by saying that she wouldn't prescribe any medication to Marie without a full assessment of her condition; and for 13 weeks after that, Marie went along for an hour and they talked. Sometimes Marie would ask for advice, but nothing other than the most basic advice was ever given. Marie and I couldn't really see where this was leading, but my enquiries on Marie's behalf didn't really get us anywhere except to be told that any future treatment for Marie would follow the conclusion of Lisa's "assessment".

At the end of the 13 weeks of "assessment" Marie was very pregnant and about a month away from giving birth. We didn't hear from Lisa Dee for months...

If you put "agoraphobia" into your internet browser, one of the sites that you'll get is about "The Linden Method". After reading a long sales pitch, you'll eventually get to the cost - £117 (normal price supposedly £320!) and of course you get £144 worth of stuff free... Typical sales pitch. Well, he claims to have cured over 82,000 people ( that's nearly £10million of sales!), although I don't know how he knows that. Marie bought it, read it, put it away and isn't "cured", but Charles Linden wouldn't know that since he has never contacted her. Has he contacted the 82,000 "cured" customers? I'll leave you to speculate on what the answer to that question might be.

The Linden method, in Marie's case (this is the very abridged version), told her to expose herself to panic attacks, get through them, and thus learn that she can cope with them. As a result, the panic attacks reduce in intensity, thus eliminating the problem. This might work for many or maybe even all other sufferers, but it couldn't work for Marie because she's so afraid of panic attacks that she can't expose herself to them.

Some of the free stuff is ok - the relaxation CD's, the relaxation exercises, etc., but the book, the main item, is so badly written, so grammatically inept, that I wondered why Mr Linden hadn't employed a ghost writer to write a proper book. Perhaps he's done that by now...

Eventually, Marie got a letter from Lisa Dee. It was 2 pages long, but it could be summarised as follows;

"Marie doesn't want to get better."

...and it concluded that Marie shouldn't get any treatment until she changed her attitude. Would you be surprised to hear that Marie didn't agree with this long-lasting, long-awaited assessment?

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

2004 - Scottish Trip Disappointment

I lived in Scotland for a couple of years when I was a young man (long time ago!), mostly in Glasgow, but also in Edinburgh for a while. Even at my young and tender age then, I was a partner in a business. We imported pot plants from Europe and sold them to shops and garden centres in the greater central Scotland area. I didn't make a fortune, but I really enjoyed driving around the Scottish countryside. My experiences taught me 2 things the Scottish Tourist authorities don't mention -
  1. It rains in Scotland most of the time (actually, with global warming, the climate has improved).
  2. Scotland has (and this is its biggest secret) millions of midges, just waiting to feed on you! They are particularly numerous in wet weather
So I knew - and here's a tip for anyone wishing to see the wonderful scenery which Scotland has to offer - that one should never book a trip to Scotland...one should check the weather forecast frequently and on the rare occasions that a dry week is forecast, pack up and go to Scotland immediately!

And that's what Marie and I did in the summer of 2004. It was just after a week of torrential rain which had caused widespread flooding (see! planning is everything!). We filled the car with Joseph and our belongings and drove (almost) non-stop to Glasgow to visit the haunts of my youth. Of course, Marie and cities don't mix very well, due to restricted parking opportunities, but we found that the old seedy run-down area of Glasgow that I used to live in had become a bustling, bohemian, trendy area. We were lucky enough to find a parking space beside an Italian café, set among trendy clothes boutiques. Heaven for Marie! Big success.

We found a guest house that suited Marie quite easily, and we set out north to Loch Lomond with high spirits. Obviously, we didn't go on a Loch Lomond boat trip, but we browsed around Balloch and there's plenty to see from a car on the road which runs up the west side of the loch. After a pleasant day, we spent the night at a B&B just past the nothern tip of the loch.

Next day, we continued north to Fort William. It was a beautiful drive. We didn't stop off at the ski centre at Glencoe, you might not be surprised to learn... And we found a nice B&B on the outskirts of the town, so we stayed there for a couple of days. Marie was able to explore the shops in the town. Happy Marie.

Next, we set off for the Isle of Skye, which can be reached by a road bridge. The weather was superb, and we stopped off at the start of the now defunct but still very pretty Caledonian Canal. But then, soon after we took the A83 for Skye, Marie became anxious. Had Skye got a hospital? This was a new anxiety (of Marie's) to me. She had never asked this before, but she was obviously under the mistaken impression that I was an authority on the provision of hospitals in Scotland. I don't know if Skye has a hospital, I told her. Probably not, since it has only a small community, but it would definitely have a health centre/doctor's surgery. What would happen if you got ill? she asked. Same as anywhere, I replied, the local medical staff would try to help you, but if they couldn't, you would be taken off to a bigger hospital - presumably by helicopter. We were still on the road to Skye, but Marie was getting more and more anxious, still worrying about the hospital facilities on the island. Eventually her anxiety got so bad that we had to turn back. Marie, on the edge of panic, insisted that we go to the nearest town. That was Fort Augustus, the pretty town at the southern tip of Loch Ness.

For the next couple of days, we continued north along the coast of Loch Ness (where the only monster in evidence was the Marie's agoraphobia). We were lucky to chance on a local Highland Games in progress one day, and even luckier to be able to park right beside some of the proceedings. The games themselves took place some distance away (but visible), but the parade passed right by us and there were lots of amusing activities for Joseph nearby. We arrived at last at Inverness. It was quite difficult to find overnight accommodation here (due to Marie's anxiety) and it was late and we were both pretty stressed when eventually we found a place that Marie was happy with.

We decided to continue north to John O'Groats (the most northerly point in Great Britain) and who knows - possibly take a ferry to Orkney?

Still feeling a little stressed from the previous night's long search for accommodation, we weren't exactly in high spirits, but as the sun shone and the Highland scenery became more...well, scenic, I began to look forward to our continuing trip.

Obviously I hadn't been reading Marie's body language. Her anxiety had been on the rise. Where's the nearest hospital? she asked me, once again mistakenly believing that I was an authority on the location of Scottish hospitals. After I replied that I didn't know, it wasn't long before we were returning south, somewhat dejectedly. Although we called in at Aberdeen and Edinburgh, both visits were very brief. The holiday spirit had left. There was little to say - Marie was feeling guilty about spoiling the trip, I was feeling disappointed and Joseph was fed up with the car (since we weren't stopping much now for him to run around) - and there was even less to do. Neither of us really wanted to return home early, having to explain to friends and family the reason why, so we half-heartedly called into various towns on the long drive south.

The only highlight on the way home was seeing the famous Blackpool Illuminations. This might have been spectacular a few decades earlier, but in the 21st century with laser displays, etc., the Illuminations, while fairly entertaining, aren't spectacular any more. Blackpool, like almost all British seaside resorts, is suffering from a decrease in the holiday trade and has become a somewhat tired and tawdry place, mainly populated by older people.

Although neither of us voiced it, I think we both thought that further holidays would be unlikely while Marie had this level of anxiety.

All in all, a disappointing trip.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

2004 - New Baby, Kim's Wedding

A new arrival - my grandson, Reece

Then at the start of July, my grandson Reece was born. I already had 2 grandchildren and Marie got on well with them, but they had been on the scene before Marie and I got together. She was quite excited about Reece because he was the 1st grandchild that she would be around from the beginning. She could feel a little bit more like a "Nanny" (at age 25!).

The beautiful bridesmaid
But Marie's anxiety was building up because her sister, Kim, was to get married in August. She had asked Marie to be one of her bridesmaids and Joseph to be a page-boy. Kim also asked me to play the organ in the church. Marie was worried that she might not be able to get into the church or she might feel "funny" on the day of the wedding and not be able to go at all or she would want me but I would be at the back of the church at the organ...or her behaviour would affect Joseph in his page-boy's role... The wedding reception was to be in a large marquee with 200 guests. As the wedding day approached, her anxiety increased. She had to try on the bridesmaid's dress, and the dressmaker's shop didn't have a parking space for the car in front of the door (I had to stop the car illegally and stay in it ready to move if challenged by the police). Then the dress needed an extra fitting. We had to go to the church and practise getting into it. The path was too long for Marie, but she found a way to get to the door by climbing over a wall at the side of the building. This had the added advantage that I could park the car there.

Joseph was a handsome page-boy
During the week before the wedding Marie was almost unbearable to live with, but at last the wedding day arrived. Marie went to her parents' house to get ready early in the morning. Her dad parked one of his cars in the space that Marie want us to park at the church to stop anyone else parking there. When it came near the time of the wedding, Marie climbed over the wall as arranged and her anxiety held off enough for all to go well at the ceremony. After the ceremony, she was too anxious to stay for the photos, because she was worried about going into the large marquee. However, when we got there, we were able to park right up the side of the marquee and her sister had arranged for us to sit at a table just beside the entrance, so Marie was able to relax. Apart from the fact that because we were at the back we couldn't hear the major proportion of the speeches, everything went well and we all had a good time. There was much relief that night that the wedding was over. As with most events that Marie worried about, the actuality was notnearly as bad as she imagined.

Marie with her parents and 2 sisters
One month after the wedding, the next hurdle arrived - getting Joseph to his pre-school sessions. The building was conveniently (for most people) situated next to Joseph's first school, but there was no car access to the entrance door. I parked as close as I could, and Marie eventually go to the entrance, but she was starting to panic and had to retreat to the safety of the car. This happened a few times, and eventually Marie gave up trying. She wasn't going to be able to take Joseph to his pre-school group, or to share in what he did there. It was to be the first of many parts of Joseph's life that she wouldn't be able to share...

Most of the 200 guests
It also threw up a new problem - who would look after Marie while I took Joseph to and fro his pre-school group? She couldn't stay at home without a "safe" person. During the day, my staff could be the "safe" persons, but before they arrived...what were we to do? In the end, I stopped the car as close as possible to the pre-school building and within view of the entrance. Marie stayed in the car, I had my mobile with me and I went there, dropped Joseph off and returned to the car at top speed. It wasn't ideal for either Marie or Joseph, but it was the best I could do.

Two of my daughters, Collette (left)
and Colleen (right) attended as well

2004 - Changes in Agoraphobia

Although Marie's agoraphobia wasn't getting any worse regarding her getting out and about - it wasn't getting much better, either - there were some new aspects opening up. For example, she now needed Peter's pram with us no matter where we went. Often she had to have it with her to walk somewhere, even if Peter wasn't with us. She used to get comments like "Hey! You've lost your baby!". It used to embarrass me to be walking around with someone pushing an empty pram. But I kept thinking, It's only temporary - remember she used to carry her camcorder around everywhere when you first met her? And I felt ashamed of myself for being embarrassed anyway. Marie had a problem I didn't have, and she was coping as best she could.

Then there was her car. She really didn't use it much. I used it more than she did - for short trips. But she insisted that it was parked right beside the road and she would get really upset if anyone parked in front of her.

And the mobile phone. She insisted that I carry my mobile around with me no matter where I went. When I first met her, I didn't even have a mobile. Now I had to be in contact by mobile all the time if at all possible.

And the safe people...they all had to be able to drive a car and have one outside their house or Marie couldn't stay there. She could no longer stay at the house of her good friend, Caerwyn, even though she used to live there!

All these extra demands put extra pressure on me, and sometimes we would have rows about one or more of them.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

2004 - Agoraphobia & NHS etc.

Marie's agoraphobia, OCD and general anxiety didn't change much during 2003, but by 2004, the effects of her post traumatic stress disorder were decreasing. We still had to make sure all the doors were locked in the evenings and nights, but she wasn't just as insistent on this during the days, as long as someone else was in the house. (In our area, with very little crime, people frequently leave their doors unlocked all day.)

Then, early in the year, along came Marie's appointment with the local mental health team. We had been waiting for this for about 3 months (which is normal, such is the state of the National Health Service), and we had to wait yet another month for the day of the appointment to arrive. Marie had been referred for psychiatric treatment in her teens, but it had been a waste of time. The drugs they tried had made her feel more anxious, and the "talking therapy" had had no effect. We were assured by our doctor that the mental health team in this area had had "good results" with panic/anxiety disorder patients, so Marie had high hopes that things would begin to improve.

First we had a home visit by a member of the team - to assess which team professional(s) should see Marie. Then we heard nothing for months...

In the meantime, Marie had passed her driving test. This was quite a feat for her, because her examiner was (as is normal) a complete stranger to her, i.e. not one of her "safe" people, and this would usualy mean that she couldn't go out in the car with him alone. Although I had agreed to go in the car while she was taking her test, on the day she decided to go it alone.

But she didn't drive her car home on her own...she wasn't ready for
that yet!

Five months later, the mental health team contacted Marie again. They had decided that she should see the Psychiatric Nurse on a weekly basis. Quite what this was meant to achieve, I could not fathom, but we knew that the Pschyciatric Nurse could recommend other treatments with other members of the team, so once a week I went with Marie to see this lady.

Jean, the Psychiatric Nurse, was a friendly-but-firm, soft-spoken, unintentionally patronising lady in her 40's who oozed middle-class upbringing. She and Marie explored Marie's daily routine (or, in reality, the lack of it), self-confidence issues, her PTSD-induced insecurity, her childhood and adolescence....ooh! and occasionally, her agoraphobia.

Three months later, with no improvement in Marie's condition, the sessions stopped and the team didn't contact her again that year.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

2003 - 2nd Holiday in Ireland

Our holiday in Ireland last year had been pretty successful for an agoraphobic, so Marie & I thought we'd have another one. I had already travelled all around Ireland and while this meant that there would be little to surprise me, it also meant that I knew where the best places were! It was also helpful that I could guess what places would be the most agoraphobic friendly.

Marie's fear of car ferries was less than last year, so we chose to cross the Irish sea from South Wales - a 2-hour crossing in a small (this was important to Marie) ferry - to south-east Ireland, about 100 miles south of Dublin.

One of the B&B houses we stayed at
We toured from place to place stopping off in bed-and-breakfast establishments. Our biggest problem was finding somewhere to stay overnight. It had to be somewhere with a family room (Joseph was with us) where our car could park beside the door, and our room could not be far into the building. Then it also had to have the breakfast room easily accessible from both our room and the front door. Quite often we spent a couple of hours looking for a place that Marie felt comfortable in. This was the least enjoyable activity on our trip and sometimes became a stressful task for me, as well as Marie, if it started getting late, Joseph was getting fractious, and we hadn't hadn't had our evening meal (often another problem since restaurants had to be within 4 or 5 metres of our car). Somehow we always found a suitable B&B in the end.

Marie got close enough to this historic
site to take this photo, but that was her limit

We started off touring the Wicklow mountains (inspiration for "The Meeting of the Waters by W. B. Yeats) including the beautiful valley of Glendalough. This area has many exceptionally beautiful scenic roads and mountain passes and Marie enjoyed th
e tour just like any other tourist. However, when we got to Glendalough, Marie missed all the best bits where you need to walk around the historic sites and the scenic lakes. But we were able to stop here and there so that Joseph and I could have a look around and get a little exercise.

Marie was being very brave this day to venture so
far into this site.
We visited Cashel monastry ruins. Marie was only able to get to explore the buildings at the perimeter of this historic site, but for her it was a big achievement.

A traffic jam in Killarney!!?? It's the wedding
following the happy couple on their way
to their
reception venue. No one can get past
them on THIS
road! The 2 photos below this
were taken beside
lakes in Killarney.
We toured the area around the lakes of Killarney, but were only able to see some of the lakes properly. However, this was a particularly enjoyable trip. We happened on a wedding party leaving a church and setting off (towards a reception venue?). The church nestled in a small, deep valley and the wedding party was a convoy of
assorted vehicles snaking up the
single-track mountain road around hairpin bends and perched on ancient embankments. The party stopped at various scenic spots (and there were many of these) for a photograph or two or more. No one was able to pass the convoy, so we and several vehicles behind us followed slowly observing all that was going on. In the tradition of south west Ireland, no one was in the slightest hurry and it took us about an hour to reach the summit where the wedding party stopped off-road to allow the rest of us to pass. Ahead a little, the road followed the shore-line of one of the famous lakes. With the surface of the lake black and as smooth a glass, and surrounded by barren uninhabited mountains, the vista was simultaneously surreal and incredibly peaceful. Later, we found our very own deserted lake and stayed there until the sun set...

A typical Dingle village (just after a shower)
The Dingle peninsula offers a scenic road which follows the coast, punctuated by villages of gaudily painted ancient houses. Lots of places to stop the car and commune with nature and/or the seagulls. We visited a pottery where ancient Celtic design met contemporary in a perfect harmony...

Modern sculptures from traditional materials!
Heading from Ireland's west coast to the east coast, we stopped off at a non-descript village in the middle of nowhere. At the edge of the village was a sculpture park, with very modern sculptures made from local stone (see photo). Ireland is full of surprises!

We drove through the (river) Boyne valley, where the oldest complete buildings in the world are situated. These are burial chambers, and, at 5,000 years old, predate the pyramids. The most famous of these is Newgrange. We were able to drive to the perimiter of the site and take a photograph, but agoraphobia once more reduced the enjoyment factor, since Marie wasn't able to visit and explore the burial chamber and could only admire it from afar...

Dublin - one of Europe's most beautiful cities and one of the most dynamic, with over 50% of the population aged under 25 - was an anticlimax. We could only see the city by car, since there was nowhere to park near anywhere that we would like to have gone. Joseph got (understandably) bored and irritable. Disappointing.

Wexford, near the ferry terminal is an attractive, prosperous busy town. Marie felt more at home here and we spent several hours exploring its shops.

After taking the ferry back to South Wales, we spent a couple of days exploring the area while heading in the general direction of home.

2003 - Cognitive Behavioural Therapy , Reiki & Agoraphobia

We started 2003 with Marie's heightened anxiety - one of the consequences of the robbery late in 2002. Plans to help Marie drive by herself to her friends' houses - or anywhere else - were put on hold since Marie didn't feel confident enough to try to do this.

I had been reading up about the efficacy of CBT for agoraphobia. A clinic in the next town advertised CBT, and I contacted the therapist there. He mentioned that his therapy could be funded by the state if we got referred to him by our doctor (or we could pay £45 per session privately). So we consulted our doctor, and after a few months, Marie was awarded 6 sessions, with the promise of more if it proved to be beneficial.

Alec Smith, the therapist was a small, middle aged, gently-spoken man whose office was on the 2nd floor. It took a lot of effort, on Marie's part, to get there for the 1st session; but she got there eventually, and it was easier to get there for subsequent sessions. Early improvement as a result of the therapy led to a situation of not much happening. Nevertheless, Marie continued to attend for a 2nd course of 6 sessions. It became obvious that it wasn't working and Marie didn't ask for any more sessions.

A couple of years later, I discovered that Alec wasn't primarily a Cognitive Behavioural therapist - he was a Hypnotherapist who had studied CBT a little!

At the start of 2003, Marie can not -
  • Be by herself, anytime, anywhere
  • Go into any "dangerous" building i.e. a building which has a risk of being robbed
  • Go near a group of 2 or more youths, especially if they are earing hooded tops
  • Stay in the house without the doors being locked
  • Go more than 3 metres away from our house (or any other building she is visiting)
  • Use any form of public transport
Marie can -
  • Go out in a car, with a safe person, almost anywhere
  • Walk up to a quarter of a mile away from the car along a street with shops (which are open)
  • Go into fairly large buildings
  • Walk quite far around markets and car boot sales
  • Stay with a selection of "safe" people, as long as they can drive and there is a car close by
Marie's OCD means -
  • Needs her shoulder bag, mobile phone, heavy coat/jacket/jumper, a bottle of flavoured drink, her keys before she can go anywhere
  • I have to carry my mobile phone around at all times
  • Our pram - must be in the car when we are out in it
  • Our pram - to walk anywhere more than 5 metres
  • Our cars must be parked close to our house with unobstructed access to the public road (Marie gets really stressed if anyone parks - even for a short while - in front of either of our vehicles)
Later in the year, Marie went to see a young man for Reiki. Marie was invited to lie down on a conveniently-placed couch. The therapist spent about an hour passing his hands over her - never touching her. He talked in gentle relaxing tones throughout. Suddenly, Marie vomitted. It wasn't a lot, but required, of course, immediate cleaning and this meant the immediate termination of the therapy. The therapist told us that this had never happened before, but it was a sign that the therapy was acting on Marie. Marie also revealed that during the therapy, she felt heat emanating from inside her. It was not an uncomfortable sensation. Interesting though all this was, the treatment had absolutley no effect on Marie, and she has never felt the need for another session.

Monday, 14 May 2007

2002 - Armed Robbery, Agoraphobia & Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

So there you are...life's not too bad. You have got the relationship you were waiting for all your life, a new and perfectly behaved son, your partner's business is going pretty well and you are slowly but surely rolling back the influence of agoraphobia, when... BAM! life gives you an almighty knock.


On 9th October, 2002 an incident occurred which would massively change Marie's life in the short term, and still affects it now...

Marie, Joseph
and I had been out - shopping, of course - and returned in high spirits. I took Joseph to our living room while Marie called into our business premises to show the results of her shopping activity to Laraine, one of the members of the staff with whom she was very friendly.

About half an hour later, Laraine, having just checked our cash holdings, was crouched over the safe when Marie noticed, out of the corner of her eye, some activity to her left. When she turned round, she was confronted by an armed man in a hooded jacket and wearing a balaclava.

"Don't move" he growled in low voice, but there was no chance of Marie paying him any attention. Panic took over and she fled the premises with the almost superhuman speed of the very frightened.

Laraine didn't have time to react to all this activity before she felt a cold metal tube press into her neck and a voice growl "Give me all the money - NOW" .

"Robert, we're getting robbed! Robert, we're getting robbed!" It was an almost unintelligible scream, but I could make out enough of what Marie was saying to make to go to the business premises.

"No! Don't go! You'll get killed!" Marie screamed while trying to physically restrain me; but my instincts took over - I wasn't concerned about being robbed, but I WAS concerned about the safety of my employees. I ran to the staff entrance of the building.

Too scared to look around, Laraine had handed out all the cash in the safe. The cold metal tube left her neck and still she did not move. Then, when she heard a voice yell, "Nobody get up for half an hour, or I'll kill you!", she ventured a look around and saw two figures running away from the entrance to the building.

As I entered the premises, I could see that the robbers weren't there any more. There was just a sobbing Laraine and a couple of members of the public. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a couple of people run past a window. Again, instinct took over and without thinking about what I was doing, or the consequences of doing it, I was outside running faster than I thought possible, in pursuit of two young men whom I believed to be the robbers. I could hear our burglar alarm began to sound as I followed them to their getaway car, but they had managed to get into it before I could stop them. Now they were prepared to drive over me to escape. At this point I did the sensible thing and let them past.

I ran, somewhat more slowly, towards my house to see a hysterical Marie being comforted by some neighbours. She calmed down somewhat when she saw me and after a short while we both went to the business premises to see how everyone was there, and for me to call the police with details of the getaway car and its occupants.

Laraine was sobbing uncontrollably while Mary, the other member of staff on duty, was trying to console her. Outside, the members of the public involved in the incident were swapping stories with each other and relating their experiences to a gathering crowd of curious onlookers. Marie went over to Laraine and Mary while I phoned the police.


The aftermath -

Marie - added Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to her conditions. Had to leave the house for a week. Couldn't go into the business premises for several months. Became paranoid about unlocked doors, young men, anyone wearing a hooded jacket. Became scared of places which she considered to be in the high risk category of being robbed - Petrol Filling Station forecourts, off-licences, convenience stores etc. Was scared of the robbers coming back to "silence" her. Heightened anxiety in general. More agoraphobic.

Laraine - suffered seriously from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It seriously affected her life and put a lot of pressure on her marriage. Didn't seek help for over a year - she was too scared of "reliving" her experience. Was also scared of the robbers coming back to silence her. Had to change her car because it had "too many windows". Never returned to work for me, but has more or less got over it now.

Mary - wasn't at all fazed by the experience. She was a Londoner by birth and spent the majority of her life there. Had worked in off-licences and had experienced other robberies, although never with a gun. She had been slightly injured by falling when a robber pushed her out of the way, but turned up for work next day.

Me - like Mary, wasn't fazed by the experience. I'd spent most of my life in Northern Ireland, where armed robberies were commonplace, murders, bombings, beatings, extortion, intimidation....all "normal" while I lived there.

The burglars - were heroin addicts from Birmingham. One of them had a sister who lived (and still lives) locally. It was the 20th "job" in 12 days, and their last. They successfully escaped to Bristol where one of them negotiated a very large drug deal. When the deal was to take place, he got robbed, seriously beaten and left for dead. He spent 5 days on life-support before an almost full recovery. The police went to his address and found his accomplice. When prosecuted, they eventually admitted their guilt and no one was asked to testify at their trial. Only Mary felt secure enough to go to the trial (I was too busy). They are both still in jail (2007).

Friday, 11 May 2007

2002 - Hypnotherapy for Agoraphobia

In early 1999, Marie had gone to a hypnotherapist in Dorchester. Her agoraphobia diminished radically and rapidly. Within weeks, she was boarding a bus on her own and travelling to Bristol.

Once in Bristol, she found that she could only be in areas where there were quite a few people.

She was able to go to a nightclub and stay in Bristol overnight.

But the improvement went as quickly as it had appeared and Marie stopped going to see the hypnotherapist. Her hynotherapist told her that she had tried to do too much too soon.

In 2002, Marie thought that perhaps she could try hypnotherapy again to augment her improvement in her condition. This time she was determined not to try to do too much too soon again. We travelled to Dorchester 6 or 7 seven times to see the same hypnotherapist. Marie's mum met us in Dorchester and spent some quality time with her grandson while I stayed in the hypnotherapist's waiting room. After each session, Marie got a tape to listen to until the next session. She listened to these tapes diligently each night for the first few weeks, and less often thereafter.

Marie didn't have to worry about doing too much too soon. It became apparent that there had been no real benefit from the hypnotherapy, Marie stopped listening to the tapes, and soon we stopped going to see the hypnotherapist altogether.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

2002 - Trip to Ireland!

I was born and brought up in Northern Ireland. I had three aunts there, and one of them was dying. She and I had had a good relationship since my childhood and I wanted to see her before she died. I didn't expect Marie to go with me. Although she had been abroad before - to France by ferry - that was many years earlier when her agoraphobia was in its infancy. To go to Ireland meant a long car journey, followed by a ferry trip when we wouldn't be able to access the car, i.e. it would be using a form of public transport, a definite no-no for Marie.

To my surprise, one day she announced that she would be going with me.

First we went to the doctor. Marie asked him for tranquillizers and he obliged by prescribing her diazepam. She intended to use these as an
aid to reduce her anxiety before boarding the ferry.

Joseph really enjoyed the ferry trips
Thus, shortly afterwards, we (Marie, Joseph and I) drove to Stranraer in West Scotland and boarded the ferry to Larne in Northern Ireland. This wouldn't have been my chosen route, but it offered the shortest ferry trip - just 45 minutes. As we approached Stranraer, Marie's anxiety level got higher and higher, but after taking the diazepam, she coped very well with the ferry.

Marie at Dunservick Castle, Antrim Coast Road
Our trip went extremely well. Once in Ireland, Marie relaxed and enjoyed herself. Our first call was a surprise visit to Jenna in Belfast. We took Jenna to a job interview (she later found out that she had got the job!). Marie's anxiety about my relationship with Jenna was receding all the time, and things were almost back to normal. Next, we called on all three aunts and then went on the tourist trail. I was extremely pleased to show Marie around the land of my youth and we toured around the beautiful scenery of the Mourne Mountains, the Antrim Coast Road, the Giant's Causeway, the lovely lake scenery of Upper and Lower Lough Erne and the not-at-all beautiful but interesting sectarian wall murals and heavily fortified Police Stations of strife-torn Belfast.

Street murals in Belfast
We were lucky with the weather - having mostly bright weather with spells of sunshine. Typically, only one day out of three is bright in this part of the world.

Marie & Joseph at Donaghadee lighthouse on a windy day!
We were also lucky to have, in Joseph, the best behaved one year old passenger in the world. With his permanent smile and calm temperament, he was much admired wherever we went or stayed.

Antrim Coast Road

Marie's favourite part of the trip was the Antrim Coast Road. This offers a drive of about 60 miles of coastal scenery, most of it on a road only a few feet above sea level, culminating in the unique hexagonal basalt columns formed after the eruption of a volcano many thousands (millions?) of years ago and now popularly called The Giant's Causeway.

Marie felt so good at the end of our trip that she didn't take any diazepam on the return ferry to Scotland...and she talked about going back to Ireland for another holiday.

Here are some more photos we took of the Antrim Coast Road

2002 - Driving Forward With Agoraphobia

2002 opened with optimism. Marie was more mobile than she had been for years. This was the state of her agoraphobia at the time - she couldn't...
  • Stay on her own anywhere, anytime
  • Walk more than 2 metres (yards) from the car if in the countryside
  • Use any form of public transport
But, she could...
  • Walk up to half a mile in a street lined with shops - as long as the shops were open
  • Go into quite large buildings - e.g. supermarkets, the theatre, the cinema, the Doctor's surgery
  • Walk around open-air markets and car boot sales
  • Stay with several people other than me in their houses
  • Travel with most people in their cars
On the down side - but not all that much down, her OCD had got worse. Now, before we went anywhere, she needed...
  • A heavy coat or jumper (no matter what the weather
  • Her shopping-bag sized shoulder bag (no substitute was allowed)
  • Her keys
  • A bottle of soft drink
  • Her mobile phone
  • My mobile phone (new)
  • Our son's pram (even if he wasn't with us) (new)
It seemed to me that it was time to try to push back the barriers further.

I had heard of people whose first aid to reducing their agoraphobia was learning to drive. When Marie was 17, she had taken several driving lessons. Her driving licence was still current, so I insured her to drive my car and persuaded her try driving it. We had several sessions on a deserted road near us, and then as her confidence grew, she gradually started to drive in traffic. I had a Renault Espace at the time (a 7-seater people carrier or MPV) and few people would choose to learn to drive in a car so big, but Marie got on well.

Marie learned to drive in one of these!
Soon Marie could drive from our house to her parent's house - over 70 miles. At that time I used to go to Bristol quite frequently, on business, and Marie sooned learned how to cope with city traffic. (I was always with her wherever she went, of course.) Then Marie started to go places with other people (they had to hold a full licence), and even went to her parents' house one day with a neighbour.

I thought it was time to give her a further incentive. I promised to buy her a car if she would try to pass the driving test. Marie agreed, and soon had passed her theory test and was taking lessons from a driving instructor to get her ready for the test.

Near the end of 2002, we spotted the car that Marie wanted in a car magazine advertisement. Off we went to London with one of my daughters who could drive, checked out and bought the car. My daughter drove it back home for us while Marie and I followed.

Marie's dream car
Marie and I made plans. After she got her full driving licence, she would get a job nearby that she could drive to. This would mean a life outside our house, and not being tied to me most of the time. She could start to drive to her friends' houses in our town. Later, she might be able to drive to the next village - 2.5 miles, then perhaps the next town where there was a supermarket - 10 miles, and then....who knows?