Tuesday, 30 December 2008

My Autistic Son – part 1 – The Difficult Child

On a cold, wet, Belfast morning in spring, Sandra had a sharp, severe abdominal pain. She knew instinctively that it was the onset of labour. It was the moment she had been waiting for, all these months. There was no panic – she had had the text-book pregnancy. Her husband, Robert, was at work, but waiting for THE CALL to come and take her to the hospital. Less than an hour later she was in the delivery suite of the local maternity hospital.

It was 1980 and men-waiting-to-be-fathers were relegated to the waiting room. It was draughty, not very warm, filled with cigarette smoke and the grey, uncomfortable, plastic chairs were arranged in rows like a small theatre. The décor was typical of the late 20th century utilitarian style with sickly pastel green gloss walls enhanced by fluorescent strip lighting encased in yellowing plastic diffusers. By way of diversion, the management had thoughtfully provided some dog-eared 1978 ladies' journals and a few grubby vintage home decoration magazines. On the walls were leaflet dispensers with helpful advice on contraception and where to go for treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Apart from a background noise of a busy hospital, the only sounds came from the public address system and the occasional occupant of the waiting room saying to a neighbour that if anyone was looking for him, he had just gone to the toilet/to get a drink/to buy fags and he would be back in a couple of moments; or a nurse would appear and ask “Is Mr ---- here? Oh, there you are. Congratulations! You have a lovely little baby boy/girl. You can come and see your wife now.” About 12 hours later, Robert had read all the available magazines, irrespective of their content and was having a fun time learning about the symptoms of genital herpes. He was relaxed. Although this was his wife's first child, it would be his second. A nurse appeared and called his name. No cheery “Congratulations!” for him – just a short message; “Your wife won't be giving birth for quite a while. Why don't you go home and give us a ring in the morning to see if there's any progress?” In the rush, Robert had forgotten to bring money with him to the hospital, so the prospect of a warm drink and a decent meal was very attractive indeed. He left without delay.

Next morning there was no news so Robert went to work. It wasn't until the mid-afternoon of the following day that he received a phone call. It was the “Congratulations! Speech” but had an addendum. Robert was, indeed, the proud father of a baby boy, but he was a “difficult child”. He had been a sleepy baby who didn't cry immediately after birth; the birth had been difficult and eventually a Caesarean section procedure had been carried out. His wife was recovering from her ordeal and his son was in the intensive care unit of the maternity unit. Robert would be contacted when it was possible to see either or both of them. There was no point in coming to the hospital just yet, he was informed.

The next call came the following morning. Robert was told that, all things considered, Sandra was doing fine; but having endured 48 hours' labour and the loss of a lot of blood, it would be another day or two before he could see her. He could see his son, but he had been removed to The Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. It was suggested that he went there as soon as possible. Apparently his son had volvulus, a twisted gut. Robert left for the hospital immediately.

At the hospital, he was met in the corridor by the surgeon, complete with green theatre outfit and wellington boots, who was just about to operate on his son. The surgeon was upbeat. The operation was uncomplicated and 100% success was the anticipated outcome. Robert would be able to see his son in an hour or two. Longer term, no further problems were expected. The only consequence of the operation would be that Robert's son would have a scar on his abdomen.

Indeed, just over two hours later, Robert was summoned to the neonatal intensive care unit, where his son was in an incubator. Robert's first sighting of his son revealed a very sick looking baby with what appeared to be a huge incision right across his abdomen and a distended stomach, surrounded by wires and monitors. (Similar to the photo.) The Ward Nurse explained to Robert that his son had been poisoning himself with the waste that his twisted gut had prevented from exiting his body. He would look better in a couple of days. The operation had been a complete success.

For the next month, Robert spent nearly all of his free time at the children's hospital, where, after a couple of days, he was able to nurse his son (although still attached to a mutitude of wires), change and feed him. The emotion Robert felt welling up inside him for this helpless infant was so intense that it was almost torturous. When he wasn't at the children's hospital, he was at the maternity unit where, for two weeks, his wife Sandra stayed to recuperate after having her “difficult baby”. After leaving the maternity unit, Sandra accompanied Robert to the children's hospital. It was the first time that she had seen her baby – her firstborn.

She accompanied Robert several times subsequently until at last, the baby was discharged with a clean bill of health. The family home, eerily quiet since Sandra had left to give birth, was now a busy, happy place where the smell of baby formula mixed with the smell of wet terry nappies and the gurgles and occasional complaints of the new arrival.

Now read part 2.

Monday, 29 December 2008


This has nothing to do with anything I normally write about. It was inspired by a comment left on Steph's blog by Sarah. The subject of UFO's was raised. So here goes...

On Xmas eve I went to my daughter Colleen's house in Taunton, where she , Carla & Collette were hosting a birthday party for me (yes, my birthday is on Christmas Eve). It had been a beautiful day, and the evening was bright and clear with lots of stars and no moon.

At about 8 o'clock, my son-in-law, smoking a cigarette outside in the garden, called everyone outside to see the strange lights in the sky. We all piled out to see six (I think), fairly large, bright lights in the sky, all the same size, travelling in formation. Like a diamond with a tail. One by one they peeled off the formation, dimmed and slowly disappeared. My kids were outside, too, and we told them that it was Santa and his sleigh. When the lights had nearly all disappeared, we went inside again to continue our revelries.

It's only NOW that I am wondering what those lights were.

Ufo's? Surely not...

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Ghosts - more manefestations?

Maureen was nervous. The anniversary of the ghost's appearance was imminent. Would she reappear?

Close to the time that the ghost had appeared the previous year, she and her daughters Kim & Karen took up station on the passageway of the last sighting. Time moved slowly. Was the house more quiet than usual? Was that a noticeable drop in temperature?

The time of the anniversary came & went but everyone was disappointed that the ghost hadn't reappeared. More normal Christmas celebrations resumed and the ghost was forgotten.

Around midnight, Karen settled in to bed, tired, overfed but content and happy. She was in that semi-conscious world between being awake and asleep, when she was rudely brought back to full consciousness by loud knocking caming from the ceiling above her. After a couple of minutes, the noises moved to the wall behind her bed and then down the wall, diminishing in volume during their descent until all was quiet. After a few moments , Karen's battle with exhaustion was lost and she went into a deep sleep.

Next day, Marie & I, accompanied by our children, arrived at her family's house. Dinner followed soon afterwards. During dinner, the conversation moved to last year's apparition. Maureen told us about the non-event of the ghost's anniversary appearance. This apparently jogged Karen's memory and she relayed her previous night's noisy experiences. Maureen then told us that she, too, had heard noises which, based on Karen's description, were identical to those which Karen had heard.

I asked both Maureen and Karen to tell me which walls were involved with these strange noises. With Karen, it was a cavity wall – thus leaving open explanations for the noises such as central heating pipes expanding /contracting (although Karen said that she was used to those noises and these were much different) or perhaps mice or something similar. But Maureen's bedroom doesn't have any cavity walls...

I'm not offering any suggestions about how these noises occurred, normal or paranormal. I'm just relaying the events and the reader can draw their own conclusions.

I thought that these revelations might increase Marie's anxiety while in her parents' hotel-sized house, but they had no effect. We stayed there for 2 days, and Marie's school satchel sized handbag never left her shoulder during the whole time. A sure sign of anxiety. Despite this she and everyone else there had a really great time.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

The special needs woman and the autistic man

This is a picture of Audrey. She is cheerful, kind, honest, loyal and polite. She has mild learning difficulties and epilepsy. She is one of the 30%+ whose epilepsy cannot be totally controlled by medication, and has a fit once a month on average. The fits come with little or no warning and vary in intensity. This means that Audrey is unemployable. At least, that's what everyone believed - everyone, that is, except Audrey. She successfully applied for a course in customer service aimed at adults with learning difficuties. Some months later, one of the course leaders approached me, in my capacity as an employer, about letting Audrey get some work experience as part of her course. Audrey's mother was okay about her coming to my premises because she knew that I had an epileptic son (although Colm rarely fits - the medication works for him). I agreed to give it a try, and the end result was that in 2001, Audrey became one of my employees. She still is.

It turned out that my older son, Colm, knew Audrey. They had both attended a local club for disabled adults when Colm lived at home with me. Soon we found out that Audrey had romantic feelings for Colm. Unfortunately, Colm initially didn't fancy Audrey; but over the course of time (and aided by the gift of a giant-size Mars bar every time Audrey met him), he has warmed to the idea. Now he calls her "my girlfriend" and occasionally asks about her. Still, it was a surprise when he asked to see her - to spend an evening with her.

Colm & Audrey have had a few shared evenings before. They have been shopping, gone bowling and dined at Pizza Hut. Always accompanied by me. H
owever, Colm has always been uncomforable when Audrey invaded his personal space or attempted an embrace. But their last "date" was different.

After Colm had asked to go out with Audrey for a few weeks (the delay is to give him time to change his mind), I organised an evening at Asda (a supermarket chain owned by Walmart, US readers). The decrease in Marie's monophobia means that I can get to see Colm more often. Audrey wanted a new game for her Nintendo DS which Marie & I had bought her a couple of years ago. Best gift ever! She loves it! Colm, whose current games console is the Nintendo Wii, wanted to check out the latest game releases, so Asda seemed like a good venue for both of them. Well, we had only just arrived at the computer games department when Colm told me to go and do some grocery shopping. He would look after Audrey, he told me. Colm is familiar with the store, and after making sure that he knew what to do if Audrey had a fit, I left them to be on their own for the first time. Awwwww.

I suppose they were on their own for about 20 minutes, and then they looked me up in the grocery department. Audrey had her arm intertwined with Colm's - and he appeared to be fine with it. Next we went to McDonald's, at Colm & Audrey's request. Here, for the first time, Colm didn't push Audrey away when she put her arm around him. Indeed, he seemed to be almost enjoying it. Later, he even let Audrey give him a peck on the cheek before he went into his house. Both of them had had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

OK, so they aren't exactly sharing passionate nights together, but these are changed times. I had always assumed that Colm would never experience romantic love, but now, who knows?

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Pre-Christmas rush

It's been a very, very busy time, this pre-Christmas period. I expect it is for most families-with-small-children in the western world. In the past 10 days, I have been to a Guides'/Brownies' Christingle service, Joseph's school's Christmas nativity play, Joseph's school's Christmas carols service, our town Christmas concert with the combined town brass bands (we have 2 brass bands in this tiny town) and Joseph's school choir, Orla's pre-school group's nativity play, Orla's pre-school group's Christmas party (featuring Father Christmas), the town's Christmas shopping festival with a seasonal performance by a group of children from Joseph's school (including Joseph)– and dress rehearsals for some of the aforementioned. Pre-Christmas events are nearly over, with only the Scouts'/Cubs' Christingle service this evening and Joseph's school party on Friday afternoon.

This is also the busiest period for my business.

It was a little unfortunate, therefore, that Marie had a “bad” spell at this time.

Despite all of the above, I still found a little time to go rock climbing with Joseph.

I had my nephew to visit. Orla likes him!

I walked Blaze and rescued him from Orla!

Marie's bad spell wasn't a major one. She was able to dress Orla as an angel for her nativity play.

She made a Christmas cake, and let Orla help...

However it was my mother-in-law who rescued me from almost certain burnout and terminal domestic chaos! Many, many thanks to her! She went back home again last night after spending 5 days with us. As well as rescuing me, she also helped to cheer up Marie, who appears to be back to her normal self. By the end of this weekend, my busiest business period will have ended and although still very busy, will be gradually be returning to normal. I'll be able to relax a little!

Finally, here is a short video clip of my precocious 3 year old with her big brother. It ends with her picking her nose! Please forgive the quality of the clip.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

The golden retriever, the children and the beach

Shhhh! Don't tell Marie, but I'm getting as much enjoyment from our puppy as she is. Maybe more, in fact. The children are enjoying having him, too.

Blaze, our 5 month old Golden Retriever puppy, has been with us for less than 2 weeks, but he's already housetrained, sits on demand, fetches (indoors only) and only chases the cats occasionally. He's got used to his new environment and his self confidence has grown. Both cats have dismissed him as a threat to their safety and wander around our home as if he's not there. If Orla would stop pestering him some of the time, everything would be perfect.

What I most enjoy about having a dog around the place again is walking him. I had forgotten how enjoyable that could be. I live in a particularly beautiful area. My little town is surrounded by gentle hills, each of which offers panoramas of both countryside and the sea. We have open moors and dense woods right beside us. When, some days, it is misty, the countryside takes on a mantle of mystery. When it is windy, the coast with its crashing waves and sea-spray is the place to go. A walk this close to Nature never fails to lift my spirit. I've tried to pass this fact on to Marie, but she simply cannot conceive going for even the simplest walk. She gets to see a lot of scenery while we are out driving, of course, but much of the countryside and the vast majority of the coast is inaccessible by car.

It is an interesting fact, unknown to the majority of the many tourists who visit us, that we have coastal erosion all around us. The headlands on either side of our town with their cliffs between 20 and 40 metres high are disappearing into the sea at a rate of about 1m per year. As they collapse, fossils become exposed. Ammonites predominate. And when one of these becomes exposed, it is the first time it's seen light for 400 million years! We regularly get busloads of university students here looking for them. I try to imagine what the coast would have been like when my house was built about 400 years ago. The headlands would have stretched out into the sea about 400m further than today. That's the length of 4 football fields! A nearby town lost an entire row of houses complete with all their gardens the sea side of the road. If you were to walk there now, you wouldn't find any evidence that they had ever existed, but you might notice the high wall subsequently built there to defend the houses on the land side of the road from suffering the same fate.

Back to the present day - and the children, the dog and I could be found today at a nearby beach enjoying the calm and relatively mild weather and beautiful sunshine. (Apparently some parts of England are suffering from freezing weather, snow and the like. The weather is kinder to us here.) Blaze was dashing around in and out of the shallow sea water and digging pointlessly in the wet sand while the children were having a ball getting thoroughly soaked (see short video). Fortunately I had taken the precaution of bringing towels and blankets. Life can be very good here. We are all so lucky.

Marie continues to take the dog to the grassy area 20m from our home (in daylight only) but hasn't progressed beyond that. However, she is currently victim to a stomach bug and is unsurprisingly disinclined to be adventurous.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

A visitor from Down Under

Marie spends so much of her time on her laptop that the kids think it's an appendage. She uses Facebook, MSN Messenger and the No More Panic chat room – usually simultaneously. She chats with many, many people from many different countries. One of her chat buddies and fellow anxiety sufferer who has been chatting with her for over a year is a New Zealander called Tracy. One day Tracy asked Marie if it would be ok to visit her while she was on a trip to the UK. Marie immediately said Yes.
You never know if you are going to like somebody until you actually meet them. In the flesh. No amount of emails or chat room conversations can totally prepare you. Thus it was with trepidation as well as excitement that we went to meet Tracy at the local railway station. It was like greeting an old friend from the start. Even the children took to her straight away. Tracy stayed for several enjoyable days and it was with regret that we drove her back to the railway station at the end of her stay.
Marie has several chat room/MSN buddies who live within 50 miles from us, but have never suggested visiting. Strange, therefore, that someone from the other side of the world should visit, isn't it?
Strange, but nice.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Who Killed The Black Cat??

It is 1942 in Casablanca, the largest city and main port of Morocco. The second World War is in progress and Casablanca has many visitors from many countries. Because Morocco is a French protectorate and the Nazi collaborating Vichy government is in charge, the Germans don't actively interfere in Moroccan affairs.

The deputy mayor, a social climbing bureaucrat, has invited a disparate bunch to his official residence for dinner. As well as his wife and daughter (Nicole), eight guests are to attend. The guests are:
- Pierre, Nicole's boyfriend, a left-leaning poet.
- Kirk, a self-centered American bar owner
- Otto, the local Gestapo representative, probably posted here to be out of the way since he seems to be mentally unbalanced
- A Russian Countess
- A Parisienne theatrical agent
- Cherie, a night club singer
- Ingrid, a Danish art dealer of dubious morals
- The Black Cat - an international mime artist and possibly a cat burglar.

On the evening of the dinner party, one of the guests - The Black Cat - fails to show. Just before the meal is due to start, the local police inspector enters unexpectedly and announces that The Black Cat has been murdered. The murderer(s) tried, clumsily, to make the murder appear to be a suicide. Since all the dinner guests knew The Black Cat in one way or another, the inspector believes that one or more of the guests has information which might lead to the discovery of the identity of the murderer(s)...

This was the (imaginary) setting of the dinner party thrown by my wife (with a little help from me). Our (real) guests had been allocated roles and had dressed appropriately. Marie had cooked an excellent meal in the style of WW2 French cuisine and we consumed copious amounts of fine red wine. We all had character booklets and instructions on how to participate, but basically, a framework for the dinner is provided and the rest is improvised by the participants. The result was a most enjoyable, laughter-filled evening. At the end, when the murderer(s) of The Black Cat was revealed, it was a surprise to us all - except the guilty, of course. None of us had taken part in this kind of activity before, and I can heartily recommend it. All you need is a group of friends prepared to join in the role play and glorious revelry is guaranteed to ensue.

Oh! - and Marie's anxiety took a holiday all evening

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

New Dog Cures Agoraphobia!

New dog cures agoraphobia!
Nice headline, isn't it? It hasn't happened yet...but it might! I'll clutch at any straw! However, I've skipped the rest of the story, so let me go back to the beginning.

For some time, Marie has been craving for some canine company. She wanted a Golden Retriever. I said "NO" in no uncertain terms. At that time I was in single parent mode, and the notion of adding morning and bedtime "walkies" to my overloaded schedule was completely unsufferable. The answer was to get a toy breed, the type I usually call "rats", but if it was going to make Marie happy... So Marie looked at Bichon Frises, Chihuahuas, Maltese Terriers, and Papillons, but nothing seemed to "click" for her. After a few weeks, we decided to postpone dog hunting until after Christmas.

Things change, don't they? The medication side effects which had made Marie a sleepy and lethargic shadow of her former self diminished and subsequently disappeared. She began to help out around the home and I was able to gradually relinquish my single parent mode. I started to think that, now I had a bit of spare time, having a "real" dog might not be such a bad thing. I could do with the exercise, couldn't I, I mused while observing in the mirror that I had become rather rotund.

We learned that a small-time breeder in our area had two 4½ months old Golden Retriever puppies for sale. They had been the last of a litter of ten (!), and hadn't been re-advertised due to the breeder's inertia. Of course, we weren't going to get a dog - any dog - before Christmas, but when the breeder told us that if we wanted the mutt she would keep it until the festive season had run its course, Marie persuaded me to go and see them. When we viewed them, it was love at first sight - not only for Marie but also for Joe & Orla. Both puppies, a boy and a girl, had the "aaahhh" factor. There was no question about it; one of them was going to live at our house. The only question was "Which one?" The male puppy was chosen on purely aesthetic grounds.

All of a sudden, three sets of doe-eyes looked at me and I knew why. Softie that I am, I totally gave in to the pleading looks of these three and within minutes we had a new addition to our family.

The puppy, now named Blaze, had been residing in an outdoor kennel with a decent-sized grassy run so I was pleased, but not altogether surprised, to find out that he looked for a grassy area to relieve himself. There is a grassy area about 20m from our home and as long as we kept taking him there on a regular basis, he was, de facto, house-trained. Yea!! Lucky us! But here's the best bit - next day Marie, whose comfort zone only extended to about 5m from our front door, walked the dog all the way to the grassy area. All by herself. And has continued to do so.

So, you see, "New Dog Cures Agoraphobia" isn't a total fabrication - it's merely an exaggeration.

[fanfare] And here he is .... BLAZE!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Agoaraphobia is more important than a carer's condition...

I suffer from renal colic (aka kidney stones) from time to time, and for the past couple of weeks I've been having the familiar twinges.

About 6 years ago I woke up from my usual deep sleep to the most horrific pain I had ever encountered. Apparently, it seemed, someone had removed part of my lower right side and inserted a sharply spiked, red-hot vibrating ball. I also urgently needed to puke.

I staggered to the bathroom and dropped to my knees in front of the toilet, but despite my best efforts I couldn't vomit. My world had suddenly shrunk to the size of my painful side. Nothing else existed. The pain was so intense that my usual health anxiety issues were unable to surface. Strangely, I felt really thirsty, and the next couple of hours were spent drinking water and rolling around the floor in all-encompassing agony.

About 2 hours later, the pain subsided. It was now only excruciating. I was able to phone National Health Direct to find out what might be wrong with me. During the call, I had communicated the severity of my pain without trying – it seems that the way I talked gave it all away - and I got a call back within a couple of minutes. Renal colic was the provisional diagnosis and a bed was being prepared for me at the nearest hospital while we spoke. An ambulance could be sent for me, but it was suggested that if I could get a taxi or someone to drive me there, I could be receiving treatment a couple of hours earlier.

And this was when Marie's agoraphobia became a problem. Although she could drive me to the hospital, she couldn't go into it with me. She couldn't drop me off and drive home either due to her monophobia. Even worse, I couldn't go to the hospital by taxi, because Marie cannot stay at home without a safe person. In effect, my condition was of secondary importance to Marie's.

My daughters came to the rescue. Despite the fact that it was the middle of the night, Carla took me to the hospital and stayed with me until I was suitably drugged and firmly ensconced in a hospital bed. Other daughters, and a day or two later, her mother stayed with Marie until I returned from hospital about a week later.

It is likely that I can avoid a recurrence of that night's events by drinking 2 litres of water daily. If I don't drink enough, I get twinges of pain which I now recognise as the precursor to a major attack. I then drink twice as much for a week or two and the pains go away. Caring for an agoraphobic raises issues about which the average citizen has no idea!

I have been told frequently, and often in a patronising way, that men have no idea what the pain of childbirth is like. Well, here's one guy who knows pain which has similar or greater intensity. Since that renal colic attack, I have met 3 ladies who have had the same problem and have also given birth. They all told me that if they were given a choice, they would prefer the pain of childbirth.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Room for optimism

Things are looking up here.

The side-effects of Marie's medication are definitely decreasing. She doesn't require so much sleep and she is much less lethargic than of late. There is a little housework getting done. She is much more cheerful now and has started to pay the children some attention.

I've been encouraging her to adopt a daily routine (getting up at the same time each day etc.) quite successfully.

Now that I'm getting some help around the house and with the children, I'm a lot less tired and stressed. The children, without knowing the true reason why, are a lot happier too.

In addition, although Marie's agoraphobia is unchanged, her monophobia has decreased a little more. We're a long way off a major improvement in Marie's condition, but there's definitely room for optimism.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

My wife and Barack Obama

Marie isn't much interested in politics. I suppose what happens in the outside world is of lesser consequence to an agoraphobia sufferer.

But that was before Barack Obama.

She has been following his progress in the campaign to become president of the USA for quite a while. And Marie is someone who didn't, until recently, know the name of our Prime Minister! With this interest in Barack came the need for background information. As an enthusiastic political observer for many years, I was able to answer her many questions. It has created opportunities for sharing a common interest.

As a white, Protestant child from a middle-class family who subscribed to the ruling political party in Northern Ireland, I was assured a fairly priveleged childhood and adulthood. But...being a fat, ginger-haired boy, I was subjected to much bullying in my early years and I know from personal experience what it is like to be the one who doesn't fit in. This made me sympathetic to other oppressed persons and groups in Ireland and the rest of the world. I have stood up for those less fortunate than I whenever the opportunity arose (often getting me into trouble). That is how I can empathise with black Americans and what made me so pleased that Obama won the presidential race. Even if he turns out to be a useless president (although it would be hard to be worse than George W Bush), his election is a milestone in the fight for equality in the USA and the rest of the world now looks on the USA in a different (better) light.

Marie and I were unable to settle down to sleep last night before we knew that Obama had won. That is - we waited until we knew for ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that he had won. Despite losing sleep, Marie is in a very good mood today. (And so am I!)

It is my belief that if Marie continues to take an interest in the wider affairs of the outside world and increasingly looks outside her own narrow needs, she will want to engage with that world more than she can do at present. It will help in her journey out of agoraphobia. And it all started with an unlikely candidate for president of the USA...

Thank you, Barack Obama.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Doggy diversion

Marie has been wanting to have a dog for quite some time now. Having had the company of man's best friend for most of my life, I am content to do without now. However, during the last few weeks Marie's quest for canine company has almost become an obsession.

She started out wanting a medium-to-large dog - something along the lines of a labrador or some variety of retriever. All these dogs require copious amounts of exercise and Marie, of course, would be unable to look after the dog's needs in this area. Additionally our "garden" is just a small patio area. I feel unable to
take on additional time-consuming activities, so I was dead set against having any dog requiring much in the way of "walkies". However, in the (as it turns out, forlorn) hope that Marie would be motivated enough to put some serious effort into walking outdoors, I agreed to getting a dog the moment she was able to walk around the (small) block in which we live.

ince Marie was unwilling and/or unable to progress to this level, she began to accept that her dream retriever would be just a dream. She began to peruse doggie websites for smaller breeds. As a result, I reduced the distance she would have to be able to walk before getting a dog. After a few weeks of almost non-stop internet browsing (in between her extended sleeping sessions), Marie decided to go for a toy dog (also known as companion dogs and occasionally lap dogs, for obvious reasons). Many of these breeds require little or no exercise, so you can see why they would be attractive to Marie. She also considered teacup dogs, the type promoted by Paris Hilton who carries one around in her bag (purse) and eagerly copied by other brain-dead "celebs"; but this idea was discarded when she learned that teacup dogs are really freak animals who cannot usually breed.

Eventually Marie settled on getting a chihuahua. The aforementioned Paris Hilton has 17 of these, both toy and teacup size (see video clip of Paris' dogs), but this had no effect on Marie's choice....I think!

We've already viewed some chihuahua puppies, but Marie intends not to get one until she sees one that she falls in love with. It is also my opinion that Marie should delay having any dog until her medication side effects wear off.

This whole canine caper is a diversion for Marie - a way to take her mind off more worrysome matters. But we all need an escape from time to time, don't we? And if you are an agoraphobic, your choice of escape is more limited.

Btw, the children can't wait to get the new puppy!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Single Parent with 3 Kids

In my last post, I wrote "Things can only get better."

I was premature.

Things have got worse.

But not much worse - and the situation seems to have stabilised.

Marie sleeps about 12 hours a day and when she's awake, she's extremely lethargic. I get to look after the children, the housework, the cooking, the laundry, the bills, my business and Marie - not listed in any particular order. I am, de facto, a single parent; and Marie is the 3rd child.

I thought that it was just a phase that Marie was going through, so I coped - barely - and waited for things to change. But change didn't come, so I started to wonder what was the cause of Marie's untypical behaviour. One of my daughters (not Orla, of course!) mentioned medication side-effects. Of course! Why hadn't I thought of it? I checked out the leaflet that came with Marie's Citalopram and there, under "common side-effects" was - tiredness, dizziness, nausea etc. - all the things Marie has been complaining about. But why now? Marie started Citaloprom several monthe ago. Surely the time for side-effects had passed?

When I mentioned my suspicion that she was suffering from medication side-effects, Marie was visibly relieved. I guess she had been worrying about her abnormal drowsiness. Then she explained how several weeks ago, feeling pretty good, she decided that she didn't need her medication any more. A couple of weeks later, not feeling so good any more, she realised that she had made a mistake, and started her medication again. This was when the side effects began to appear.

I spoke to the doctor next day. The doctor confirmed my belief that when Marie re-started her medication, she should have started on a lower concentration and worked her way up. The doctor subsequently came out to see Marie, gave her a good check over and pronounced her to be in excellent health. She recommended a weaker dose of Citaloprim and told Marie that the unwelcome side-effects should disappear in "a month or so".

So...another month as a de facto single parent...I can cope with that, no problem. But more importantly, my "old" Marie will be returning to me soon. Now, that's good news.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Things...can only get better

Did you ever notice that when one thing goes wrong, more problems follow in quick succession?

Marie has been sleeping lots. Up to 14 hours a day. Not every day, but lots of days. So I have more domestic duties to perform or suffer domestic chaos. And with two young children there are lots of domestic duties!

My business is expanding. I didn't look for this (I have a fairly modest lifestyle and don't need a bigger income), but I cannot ignore opportunities. Businesses either improve or get worse - they never stay the same. I owe it to my employees to make sure that my business doesn't get worse so that they continue to have job security.

A few weeks ago, Marie spilled a drink into her laptop and killed it. The next week, she tripped while carrying my laptop and damaged parts of the hard drive, but it still functioned - just about... And then my laptop got a serious virus (my antivirus protection was up-to-date, but it doesn't stop everything) which took a week to sort out and damaged more sectors in my hard drive. It was time to renew the laptops, so we put the wheels in motion and while waiting for the new laptops to arrive, hired one...but Marie broke the screen... No laptops means no internet shopping - Marie's only means of retail therapy - and major problems for the smooth running of my business.

Then my employees started to fall ill...

Ok, the worst is over...I hope! For example, I'm using the first of the new laptops. Marie has the laptop on just about every waking hour, but she's several hours into one of her extended sleeps at the moment so I get to try it out now. The next couple of weeks will be quite hectic, but less than of late, and I'm going to try to find another suitable employee to ease the pressure. After that, things should settle down a bit.

Perhaps Marie will perk up a little.

I'm not complaining - well, perhaps I am just a little - because a lot of the complications in my life are the result of my own actions. If I was like my more normal contemporaries, I would have a couple of grown-up children living on their own who occasionally visit me to show off their children, a non-demanding job with regular hours, I would be looking forward to retirement with my post-menopausal wife and I would have a comfortable cardigan and a nice, worn, comfortable pair of slippers...

Would I swap that lifestyle for my current one?

Definitely not!

Friday, 12 September 2008


Joe: Mummy said “Do you want to go to Grandma’s & Granddad’s house with me for a few days?” I said “No” ‘cos I thought I might be bored ‘cos Mummy can’t take us out anywhere & I didn’t want to leave Daddy on his own. But Mummy said “Granddad will take you out & I’ll be able to play with you more ‘cos I won’t have housework to do all day.” Daddy said that he would only be a little bit lonely & anyway he’d join us a few days later, so I said, “Ok.”

Orla: Mummy say “We go Grandma’s, see Rafael & Sachin & Auntie Kim & Auntie Karen & Granddad & Annie [Granddad's dog].”

Left to Right; Auntie Karen, Raphael, Grandma,Sachin & Auntie Kim

Joe: I hate going to Grandma’s & Granddad’s in the car. It takes hours. I say to Mummy “Are we nearly there?” lots of times & she says, “For God’s sake Joe, just be patient.” When we got there, Granddad took us to the beach.

Orla: I see Raphael. She a baby. Mummy say “Raphael not ‘she’ Raphael ‘he’, he boy”. I say “No him girl. All my babies [her dolls] girls.” Auntie Karen not let me hold Raphael on my knee. She say Orla too small. I crying. Granddad say “No more crying”, he give me weetie [sweet]. Raphael crying. I give her dummy.

Joe: Orla was naughty & wouldn’t go to bed for Mummy for a long time.

Orla: Dora [the doll which shares Orla’s bed] not here. Orla want Daddy put me bed. I crying. Want my Daddy.

Joe: Granddad had to go out sometimes & Mummy played with us. We did drawing & painted & did craft things. It was good. Then Granddad took me & Orla to the beach. I got lots of shells to show Daddy when he comes. We did lots of digging and found loads of interesting things lying on the beach. There were lots of people on the beach & Granddad talked to lots of them. Some of them were funny & some of them were boring.

Orla: Orla like go beach with Granddad. It very fun. Joey not nice to me. Him shout at me, I crying. Granddad say “You be nice to Orla, Joseph” & him give me weetie.

Joe: We went out with Auntie Kim & Sachin. It was a bit boring. But it wasn’t very boring. It was ok really.

Orla: I play with Sachin & Auntie Kim. Auntie Kim got dogs. I not allowed play with them. Auntie Kim & Sachin very fun.

Joe: When Daddy came, we went out every day. We went to the Sea Life Centre. I liked the sharks best. Daddy likes stingrays. I liked the octopus too. There were cool rides there. My favourite was the Tug, which swings fast & turns around at the same time, and the ride which takes you up high & then you drop down. It made me tummy feel funny. We made an ornament out of coloured sand to take back to Mummy.

Orla: I like sea horsy. It funny. I like pink fish. I like funny fish swim up to my finger. Them not eat it! We go on boat, it go round fast. I scared but Daddy hold me. Then it fun. Orla only little bit scared. I like seat go up & down. It very fun, tickle my tummy. I like roundabout.

Joe: One day Grandma took us into town to see the Olympic medallists. I don’t really understand the Olympics but it was fun to be with lots of people waving flags. Then we went to McDonalds and got a free toy. Daddy met us & we went shopping for school clothes for me and Orla. Daddy gets them because Mummy has agoraphobia. Sometimes she orders them from the internet. We were looking for a jacket & shoes & socks for me. I got nice shoes, they look like trainers. I liked a blue jacket but Daddy said that it wasn’t warm enough. Grandma saw a black jacket but I didn’t like it even though she tried to get me to like it. So I didn’t get any jacket at all but that’s ok ‘cos it’s not very cold yet.

Orla: Grandma get Orla flag same as Joey’s. Grandma give me weeties & toy in Mitdonna’s. Daddy get me jacket. It purple. I wet myself in big shop, only little bit.

Joseph looking after his little sister on a ride at Adventure Wonderland

Joe: Daddy took me & Orla to Adventure Wonderland. We left even before Mummy got up! It was quite a long journey & Daddy told me not to say “Are we nearly there yet?” all the time. I tried not to, but sometimes I forgot. Adventure Wonderland is wicked! It has cool rides & I could go on all of them. Even by myself! The roller coaster train was a little bit scary & Orla didn’t like it & the swinging boat went really high & Orla didn’t like that either but I went on them loads of times! There was a big indoor play area too with guns that shoot plastic balls and big slides. We had lunch in the café & even ice cream. And I liked the maze. We got lost. We stayed all day & I didn’t even get bored! We got home quite late & Orla was asleep in the car. It was the best day of my life!!!

Joseph goes on the swinging ship by himself!

Orla: Mummy not go with us. Joey say her have aggafofey [agoraphobia]. Me not like twain [train roller coaster]. Me not like boat swing iva [either]. It scare Orla. Orla like teacups & flying effelants [elephants] and lollipops [a swinging chair ride]. It very fun. Orla not like twain. I not wet myself.

Orla goes on the lollipop by herself

Joe: Granddad took us to the beach next day & then we went home.

Orla: Granddad good boy take Orla beach. Mummy and Daddy and Grandma good girl. Orla good girl too.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Anxiety - more medication

The second group of Austrian students arrived,


and departed.

It was another enjoyable encounter for both Marie and me. The girls were chatty and cheerful, but didn't interact with Joe & Orla as much as the first group.

While they were here, Marie was srill coping with the side effects of her medication. The adverse side effects have been reducing and the doctor increased the dose again - this time there have been no obvious changes to her mood.

So, has medication changed Marie?

Well, yes, I think so.

Her general level of anxiety is much reduced. But maybe it would have anyway? I don't know.

She has many more panic attacks than before and some of them are very intense. Yesterday she had a panic attack which included a spell where breathing was almost impossible for her. This is very unusual for Marie. Oddly, she seems unconcerned by this increase in the frequency of her panic attacks.

Her attitude is much more positive. She is spending much more quality time with the children and they are responding to this by giving her lots more affection. She has begun CBT sessions. She has regained her optimism.

Marie has set herself a goal - to get a dog. This is the first specific goal which Marie has set herself since I met her more than 8 years ago! The deal I have made with her is that she can get one when she is able to walk outside enough to let the dog go to the toilet. I don't normally interfere with Marie's aspirations, but on this occasion I am unwilling to take on the extra responsibility of looking after a dog, so if Marie is to have one, she will have to provide at least some of the care required. So far she has managed 15 steps from our front door. This may not seem much of an achievement, but it's 13 more steps than last week!

An yes...for those of you who read my last post...the increased libido is still here :-) !!

Friday, 1 August 2008

Increased Medication for Anxiety

Marie has been really suffering while getting accustomed to her medication - Cipramil (Citalopram or Celexa
). She's had loads of panic attacks, although not major ones. She went through a period of wanting to sleep all the time. Lethargy ruled. But little by little she rejoined the world.

It was more than two weeks before she started to feel more "normal". Then her doctor visited, gave her a thorough check over and decided to double the dose! However, this time it hasn't taken so long to become used to the drugs.

Today Marie told me that she felt less anxious than she has done for a long, long time. Well, it seems like a long, long time to me. Perhaps it's the start of better times? I've got to be optimistic!

Btw, Marie's libido has increased. Not that I'm complaining! But I was wondering - is this a (welcome) side-effect of her medication - or am I just more irresistable than usual?

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Agoraphobia and more Austrian students

Last year, Marie decided that we should become a host family to students attending an English language learning summer school. So in July, Agnes and Alice arrived. And in August, we got Julia and Anna. Marie liked our hosting experience and decided that we should repeat it this year. Since she's still suffering the "settling in" side effects of her medication, it seemed like a useful diversion for her.

It's an area where agoraphobia doesn't interfere much. It's also an excuse for Marie to spend lots of money redecorating and furnishing a bedroom. And, like last year, it was all carried out in a hurry.

I meet Sarah, Johanna & Karin

First of all, I had to clear out all the old furniture & carpet. Then the workmen arrived for a few days. Next was the selecting of appropriate furniture. Since I wasn't going to be sleeping in the room, I gave Marie a free hand with the design. Everything was ordered online, of course, since Marie is currently not able to visit even small furniture stores. Delivery after delivery arrived - all items needing assembly and/or fixing to the walls. Guess who got the job of assembling the flat-pack furniture? And putting up curtain rails? Yes...yours truly. Now I know why I was given an electric screwdriver for Christmas!

Johanna & Orla became great friends

A couple of days later, our students arrived to occupy our new "Pink Room". It's not all pink - there's a little white too. But definitely not a room for the boys. Well, not the straight boys, anyway. At the last minute, we were asked to take 3 students. We agreed, intending to put the third girl in a different room, but since the 3 were close friends & wanted to stay in the same room (and the room was big enough to accommodate 3 beds), I had to hastily organise an extra bed.

Sarah & Karin about to go on a deep sea fishing trip.

They had a really good time & were very successful.

The girls were a pleasure to have. Chatty, cheerful, good with the kids, clean, tidy, polite...the perfect guests. Marie, the children & I really enjoyed having them stay with us. There were tears from them and Marie when, after 2 weeks, it was time for them to return to their homes.

Here we all are in the "Pink Room".

However, three more are staying here next week!

Friday, 18 July 2008

Syncope and Reflex Anoxic Seizures

Here's a picture of Orla sitting on my knee eating birthday cake. The occasion is the family party to celebrate her 3rd birthday, last weekend.

It's just coincidence, of course, but just after her 2nd birthday I wrote a post about her fitting episodes...and here I am, a year later, writing about them again. That's because she's recently been having them more frequently. Is it also a coincidence that they became more frequent when Marie's anxiety increased significantly?

The fits are all very similar in character. Orla has an unexpected bump/pain/injury; she cries; the crying stops; she goes completely limp, like dead; her breathing and/or her heart stop(s); she turns white or blue; suddenly she comes "back to life" and resumes crying, during which she is inconsolable but requires being held close; there is a recovery period (the length of which can vary from several minutes to a couple of hours); everything goes back to normal. The thing is, I just can't get used to her "dying" in my arms. Even though I know that it won't last very long...but it feels like it is lasting very long. My relief when she resumes crying is tempered by the knowledge that the recovery is distressing for her.

RAS sufferer called Nikki added a comment to my previous post on this subject and I found it very comforting. (Blogging has its rewards!) Also, since I know that many RAS sufferers go on to suffer from anxiety conditions and/or depression, I can try to make sure that Orla has the best chance of avoiding that.

But I still can't get used to it....