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 crรจche.
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...?