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.