Saturday, 19 April 2008

Enabling agoraphobia

Last week I had a comment on my post "Stressed". The comment, from an anonymous contributor, included the following words...

I just get this overwhelming sense that Marie is a victim to it [agoraphobia], and you are her enabler. I know this is something you touched on in the's just she's not going to get better by doing nothing."

....and it was odd how, at just that time, Marie and I were having a conversation about this.

We discussed how, in order to assist her to attend Collette's wedding, everyone pandered to her anxiety. We talked about how in the past she had been able to make progress by allowing herself to risk getting into a situation where having a panic attack was a distinct possibility. Recently she had even come through a small panic attack while driving in her car, and continued to make a 9 mile journey. And we both agreed that doing nothing would mean living this way, more or less, forever.

Knowing almost nothing about the consequences of my actions on Marie's agoraphobia when I first met her, I made many mistakes, some of which were major. The repercussions are still with us. With my acquiescence, Marie retreated from staying with almost anyone to staying with someone from small group of "safe" people. I got a mobile phone at her request and now it's essential that I carry it everywhere. I introduced a second car and now I cannot downsize. There are plenty more examples I could cite if required.

Now we both have eight years (long time!) of experience of living with agoraphobia, and it has been increasing in its severity. Simultaneously, we have been exploring possible "cures" and gathering as much information as possible about the efficacy of the available treatments. We have looked at the results of this long investigation.
So now we know with absolute certainty that...

The way to eliminate agoraphobia is.....

Expose yourself to panic attacks, and gain strength from each one that you ride out.

Bit by bit agoraphobia will decrease in strength, and the fear of fear will reduce. Monophobia and OCD can be similarly dealt with. CBT, EFT, hypnotherapy and the like all rely, ultimately, on exposure to panic attacks.

In about a month, the children and I shall be going to Ireland for a break. Marie will have to stay behind. In August, the children and I shall be going to the island of Jersey for a holiday. It's very unlikely that Marie will be accompanying us. When I began a relationship with Marie, she already had agoraphobia, and I made the decision that even if it never went away, we could make a happy future together. Our children have created a different issue. We both agree that we should minimise the impact of Marie's agoraphobia on our children. If her anxiety condition remains undiminished, this would mean Marie sharing her children's lives less and less as time goes on.

Will this give her the strength to fight her anxiety? Only time will tell.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Agoraphobia & Collette's Wedding

On Thursday, Collette's big day had arrived. Her wedding day. The day which had caused Marie's anticipatory anxiety, and the day which was costing me thousands of £'s

Collette and the bridesmaids stayed with us the previous night and were busy all morning drinking champagne and getting ready. The downside - the bathroom was occupied most of the time. The upside - watching a succession of half-naked women running back and forward across the hall. When the photographer turned up at 1.00 pm, they were ready and Marie, the kids and I were pretty close to being ready, too. After the photographer did his bit, we all went to the wedding venue. How was Marie going to fare there? I had no idea.

When we arrived at the wedding venue, our two cars were placed where Marie felt that they would help her to keep her anxiety at a manageable level. Then she was able to enter the building with our children. Collette, the bridesmaids and I followed a few minutes later. After a short but pleasant civil ceremony, we assembled in various groups for the formal photographs. This was followed by a sumptuous four-course meal. After the hot beverages had been served, it was time for the speeches and champagne toasts. That completed, the dancing could begin, starting with a disco. Later a live band performed, and after a break for a buffet supper, they would play a second set and a disco would finish off the evening.

The first hurdle for Marie was the wedding ceremony. Success! She managed to sit near the front with the children.

The second hurdle was being able to join the rest of us for the formal group photographs. Another success! Marie, who had established a useful rapport with the photographer (the same one that attended our wedding almost two years ago), accomplished this task easily.

The third hurdle was Marie sitting beside me at the top table for the duration of the meal and the ensuing speeches. More success! Marie managed with some effort to get to her allotted seat, and was able to stay there and even become comfortable. This was what I had hoped for most. I was able to relax, which aided the delivery of my after dinner speech. As a consequence, my speech was exceedingly well received.

The fourth hurdle was getting to the toilets. Failure. Although only 6m away from her seat, Marie wasn't able to get to them. Instead she exited the wedding suite, drove to the other end of the complex and used the more accessible ladies' room there.

The fifth hurdle was to cope with the noise of a live band. Success again! After an initial bout of anxiety, Marie settled down to enjoy the band with the rest of the assembled guests.

There was a break in the music at 9.00 pm for a buffet supper, and then the band started up again. It was at this point that Marie's anxiety took over and she couldn't stay in the main room. So, after taking my leave from family and friends, we left. We only missed the last hour and a half. No big deal.

Collette wore a stunningly beautiful wedding dress which accentuated her slender figure and feminine curves. Her fiancé, Neil, exhibited an endearing humility and shyness. The two of them radiated happiness.

Although, as one would expect, all Collette's family were in attendance, there was one special appearance - her brother Colm. Colm came for a few hours during the evening part of the celebrations, brought there by staff from the home in which he lives. He really enjoyed himself and, being autistic, he is incapable of faking his emotions. His obvious and infectious enthusiasm added energy and life to the proceedings.

Collette's mother and her partner travelled for seven hours to attend the wedding. Although she does not have a close relationship with her children, they all made her feel welcome.

Neil's family were there too, of course. Marie and I had previously met many of them, and a fine group of people they are.

So the wedding was a great success for all - including my dear wife. She joined the rest of us in savouring a contented glow that evening. Collette and Neil additionally enjoyed their first night as a wedded couple and looked forward to their honeymoon in Mexico followed by a long and happy life together.

Collette is the third of my daughters to get married which means that there are two single daughters left. Collette's younger sister is only 2½ years old, so luckily I've got a few years to save up for her wedding! Her older sister Colleen, however, got engaged earlier this year, and has suggested that she may get married next summer - in Malta. If Marie is to attend that wedding, her agoraphobia will have to be significantly diminished.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008


I'm stressed.

I didn't realise how much stress I was under during Marie's anxiety sufferers' tour until I got home. I was totally exhausted. I did enjoy the few days away, but all the time I was away, I was worrying, consciously or subconsciously. Worries like...

  • Will Marie feel comfortable to stay here?
  • Will our overnight accommodation be suitable?
  • Where's the nearest toilet that Marie will be able to access?
  • Where can we find somewhere to eat?
  • Where can I park the car?
...And similar issues.

Most of the time we're out, I'm monitoring Marie's mood. Is she getting anxious? Will we have to leave here? It's hard to relax since I'm on a constant state of alert.

Marie really enjoyed her trip; but she too was exhausted by the time we returned home. All that time away from her safest place had taken its toll.

Collette & fiancé Neil
In addition, we have anticipatory anxiety at the moment. My daughter Collette is getting married tomorrow (Thursday). Marie and I have visited the wedding venue. We have planned where she will sit. And where she will sit if she gets too anxious to remain in her first choice place. We have planned how to get there separately, since I have to accompany my daughter. How the children will get there, and who will keep an eye on them until I arrive (Marie can't, for example, take them to the toilet). We have planned where our two cars will be parked (one at each end of the building). How she will get to the toilets. Who will look after the children if I have to help her to go somewhere. And, if the worst happens, how she will get away from the wedding and who she will stay with then, since I cannot leave until the wedding reception is over.

So as you can see, I won't be able to relax at my daughter's wedding, either - unless Marie is having a good day.

It's most likely that the wedding will pass off smoothly and without Marie having a panic attack. But until then, anticipatory anxiety rules. It's not easy for Marie.

And I stay stressed.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Marie's Anxiety Tour

Marie’s 4-day break

Marie communicates regularly with another agoraphobic of similar age called Lynn. Stunning-looking Lynn lives in Scotland. Marie & I visited Scotland a few years ago and I used to live there (quite a few years ago) and we both like the country, so it had been Marie’s long-time wish to go to Scotland again and visit her friend.

More recently, one of the members of the No More Panic online community arranged a “meet” in Long Eaton in the English midlands. Marie wanted to go there. She would be able to meet in person some of her online friends from the NMP chat room as well as other anxiety sufferers.

Marie came up with the bright idea of combining the two visits in one trip. Then she expanded this idea to include visiting more of her online friends on the way up to and back from Scotland. We would spend a few days on the trip. Fellow blogger Coffee Cup (aka Steph) lives about halfway between our home and Scotland, so we decided to pop in and see her, too.

Thus Marie’s Anxiety Sufferers’ Tour was born. A rather bizarre premise for a tour, don’t you think? Lyn, for reasons not entirely clear to us, became uncomfortable with the idea of us visiting her, so we dropped that section of the trip but decided to carry on with the rest of it.

Last Thursday morning, we set out the trip. Our first stop was in Birmingham. A couple of hours later, we drew up outside Kellie’s house. Kellie, her husband James (Jimmy) and her sister-in-law Denize all suffer from anxiety, but in different ways. They were also intending to go to the NMP meet. Kellie made us most welcome and provided a meal fit for royalty! She and Denize are extremely good company, providing us with a wealth of amusing anecdotes, witty observations about other NMP chat room regulars and funny stories. Later, Jimmy arrived home from work. A very enjoyable afternoon flew past and it was with some regret that we took our leave to go “up north” to our next destination.

Denize, Marie & Kellie

Finding overnight accommodation for Marie can be a nightmare! Here is a sample of the list of her requirements…

* Must be able to stop right outside the entrance
* Must be able to park close by
* Room must not be far away from the entranc
* Room cannot be more that one floor above the entrance
* The building must not have a large vestibule or reception area

…so we mainly use small, privately owned bed and breakfast establishments or smaller guesthouses. How do we find suitable places? We have to go online or consult local classified telephone directories, compile a list of phone numbers and keep ringing them until we strike lucky. Even this method is not foolproof – on arriving at an establishment, we can find that the “5 paces to the front door” is, in reality, traversing a path crossing a 75’ lawn; or “you can see the bedroom from the landing” means that the door is visible with long-distance binoculars; or the “small, homely reception area” has seating for 40! Our overnight stop in Merseyside (north west England) was just such an example of this kind of thing.

It was just after dark when we arrived at “Six Acres”, where the accommodation was supposed to meet Marie’s requirements. Our problems started when we arrived at the gates to the property. The pretentious, oversized, ornate wrought-iron gates were chained and padlocked, and we had to phone the owner to gain access. After a 10-minute wait (Marie’s anxiety increasing), the owner arrived at the gates and announced “I’m Caroline.” The gates were unlocked, the lights on the long curved driveway were lit and we drove up the curved driveway to the front door where we were presented with two flights of extremely wide steps leading to the front door of a very large house. Marie took one look and decided that it was time to leave, but the Caroline stopped us. “That’s not the door I spoke to you about on the phone,” she said to Marie. “It’s round the back.” Relieved, we drove round to the rear entrance. We could certainly park just outside it, but the door was at basement level! This meant that our bedroom would be two floors above the entrance (anxiety increasing again). Nevertheless, Marie persevered, and we followed the owner up two flights of narrow stairs - most definitely meant to be the servants’ entrance. The house had an unpleasant horsey smell. Just around the corner at the top of the stairs, Caroline ushered us into a small, poorly furnished kitchen with a dining table. This was where we were to have breakfast. Then we followed Caroline along a hall into a very large living room that was obviously not currently in use (even more anxiety). Halfway along the wall on the left hand side was an opening through which was another set of stairs. There was a right-angle turn halfway up the stairs, and then another hallway came into view. Just as Marie got to the turn (anxiety at danger level), Caroline could be seen, careering down the hallway. This was too much for Marie, and a panic attack ensued. Well, we did finally get to the bedroom, but Marie remained very anxious. After some fitful sleep, we fled.

We had arranged to meet agoraphobic Steph in a pub in her home town on Friday. When we checked out the pub, it was, as Steph had promised, admirably suitable for Marie. In addition the décor was attractive and the ambience relaxed. Later we were to find that the food was much better than average pub fare. Steph is warm, articulate – just as I had expected from reading her blog – and beautiful. Poor girl! We kept her away from her beloved allotment for the entire afternoon, and she suffered this without complaint.

Stephanie and Marie

On Friday evening, we found excellent accommodation in Alderly Edge, a village in the Greater Manchester area. We stayed in a good-sized 1930’s house in spacious, well-tended gardens. The house and grounds appeared to have changed little in their 70+ years of existence. Modernisation has been minimal and unobtrusive. Period fireplaces, stained glass windows and bell pushes to summon the servants were all untouched, and the overall effect was that of entering a time bubble. Our hostess was exceedingly sympathetic to Marie’s needs and the whole property reflected her old-world, genteel and slightly eccentric personality. For example, there were table napkins whose design matched the dinner service, connoisseur chocolates on the pillows on the bed and a selection of herbal and caffeine-free teas on demand. It also had an unexpected, very modern bonus – WiFi! Yea! We could check out our emails and see what was happening in the virtual world.

Alderly Edge is home to the vastly overpaid (imho) members of the famous Manchester United football team and their wags. Popular television celebrities, particularly members of the cast of Coronation Street also live here with their partners. Shops in the busy main street reflect the needs of the very affluent, hedonistic and often decadent residents. On Saturday morning I parked alongside the Porches, Ferraris and Bentleys so that Marie could join the wannabe wags (real wags don’t get up before lunch on a Saturday, our hostess informed us) in their favourite occupation – shopping for non-essentials. Marie made a few clothes purchases (to pay for which I may have to remortgage our home…) and then we were on our way to see Helen.

Marie & Helen

Helen lives in Manchester.

Although Helen suffers from anxiety, her main problem (imho) is her lack of self-confidence. Yet she is such a great person! A street or two away from her home, an elderly lady lives in fear of yobbos breaking into her house, so Helen parks her car there to give the impression that the elderly lady isn’t living there alone. This is an accurate indication of Helen’s good nature. In her delightful, infectious, good-humoured company, a few hours just flew by. Helen teaches crafts to adults with learning difficulties and she taught Marie how to make bath bombs. She gave us home-crafted soaps as leaving gifts. We were really sorry to leave, but we had a dinner to attend in Long Eaton, near Nottingham - 2½ hours’ drive away.

We had booked a room in the Europa Hotel in Long Eaton. Marie’s anxiety issues were adequately addressed here, but the hotel was cheaply furnished, tawdry and had a faint but unpleasant odour. However, the Chinese lady who looked after us was very pleasant and accommodating.

Our dinner engagement was at a nearby Chinese buffet restaurant, where we were to meet, among others, Nicola, the lady that runs the No More Panic website (where does she get the time to do it all?) and Meg, the organiser of the next day’s activities. The restaurant was quite large, quite full and bustling with activity. Not the best place for Marie. Nicola (who was by no means unpleasant and was very friendly the next day) turned out to be less welcoming than Marie had hoped, while Meg, observing Marie’s anxious fidgeting, kept asking her how she was feeling. Although done from the best intentions, this regular questioning managed only to increase Marie’s anxiety to the extent that we had to take our leave. But the night was not lost. At a nearby motel were Julie, Dying Swan, Flinty and Running Man – four nmp chat room regulars. After a brief phone call, we went there. Marie wasn’t able to actually get into the motel, but Julie and Dying Swan and a helpful motel management enabled Marie to wine and dine al fresco in front of the building, while I tested the quality of the beer inside in the company of the two lads. What a kind bunch of people! It proves my theory that anxiety sufferers are much nicer people than the general public.

Left to right –
Wolfie, Flinty, Marie, Kellie & Dying Swan at the “meet”.
Wolfie had traveled all the way from Fife in Scotland!

Sunday was the day of the much-anticipated “meet” and at 11 a.m., about 30 people with various anxiety issues got together at The Arts Centre. Among them were Kellie and Jimmy as promised.

Everyone chose a piece of pottery (which varied from skulls to mugs) and decorated it. There was a minimum amount of basic instruction and then the lady in charge was available to assist as required. This activity was ideal as each could be as creative as they wanted while simultaneously carrying on a conversation. For the next four hours all that could be heard was the happy hum of chatter with the occasional clink of pottery. At the end of he session all the pottery items were collected. They would be glazed and fired in the kiln the day after. A day or two after that, they are to be dispatched to their creators. The “meet” was extremely successful. Everyone, without exception, had a most enjoyable day.

Marie & Nicola, owner of the No More Panic website

So what did the events of the last few days show me? As Marie & I drove west into a wonderful sunset scene, I ruminated about the events in which I had mostly been an observer.

Sunset from a hill outside Bristol

The “meet” was like a secret society meeting. All these people from different walks of life, from different personal, financial and social circumstances…all suffering to a greater or lesser extent from a condition that they mostly keep secret…often maligned by a society that has no understanding of their problems… at the “meet” they were able to socialise, knowing that they would not be judged. They could be “themselves” in a way that is mostly impossible in the wider world. For a few hours, they were not alone in their individual, anxiety induced prisons.

Apart from anxiety issues, what do these people have in common? They are the nicest, most considerate, kindest bunch of people you could ever hope to meet.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Winter??? Wonderland

It hardly ever snows here in our little town by the sea. And when it occasionally does, it doesn't sit. Just melts away straight away. But sometimes it snows properly on the surrounding hills.

On Sunday last, snow was forecast for our general area, and, true to form, we got about 43 snowflakes. ...Which immediately disappeared on hitting the ground. The kids were most disappointed. They had seen
snow on various TV programmes, but had never seen the real thing. So, when one of my daughters who lives 20 miles away inland told me that it was snowing in her area, I decided that I would take the kids to the highest hill near us and hope for snow.

Naturally, Marie couldn't go.

We struck lucky. Just as we reached the car park at the summit of the hill, it started to snow gently. The children were mesmerised. They had to go for a walk in the snow. So off we went down picturesque forested paths. Suddenly the snow got heavier...and heavier...and it was a blizzard! The children got very excited, but I thought we had better head back to the car.

The blizzard didn't last long, easing off until we were back to gentle snow, but we now had a few inches of snow on the ground - enough for it to crunch beneath our feet. Nearing the car park, there was a clearing and the children began to make (and throw) snowballs. Joseph was disappointed that there wasn't enough snow to make a snowman.

After a while, little hands became cold hands (see the picture below, where Orla is holding up her cold hands for inspection) and it was time to go home.

Once home (still devoid of snow), the children excitedly related to Marie their exploits and experiences. Marie listened wistfully. Just for a moment, the disguised melancholy in her expression became visible.


Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Anxiety Care and self help

By sheer chance I found an article about self help for (all) phobia sufferers a couple of days ago. I thought it might be of use to Marie and showed it to her. She later told me that it was the best thing she’d ever read (in relation to agoraphobia)! If you want to see it too, click here, and I’d be interested to know your opinion of the contents.

Btw, the charitable organisation who run this site are broke, so if you have any spare cash, click here. If you would like to help, but have no spare cash click here.

Monophobia & Agoraphobia

I recently learned a new word – monophobia. It’s not a new word, so I don’t know why I never came across it before, and it’s a useful word for me to use in relation to Marie’s condition. As I’m sure everyone knows, this is the fear of being alone. It sometimes occurs on its own, but mostly it’s an optional (lol) add-on to agoraphobia or social phobia. Marie used to have the extra-special platinum version of this, where she was unable to be anywhere without one of a few safe people: now she has the common-or-gard en platinum version, where she can stay at home alone as long as a safe person can get to her within about 3 minutes. This might not sound like a big improvement, but its repercussions have been vast. No longer do I have to drag “safe” friends/relatives/neighbours away from their families/leisure activities to our home. Now all I have to do is to check that they’re not going out anytime soon, and I (most often accompanied by our kids) can be away, hiking in the hills/paddling in the pool/playing in the park or just shopping in the supermarket. Nor are the benefits one-sided – Marie now gets some time on her own and she can enjoy a little husband and children-free tranquillity.

In other areas, Marie’s situation hasn’t changed from that of recent posts, mainly because she isn’t trying much to make it change. However, her “change is possible” attitude is still with her, and while that’s the case, change is inevitable – even if it’s at a snail’s pace.

There’s still optimism here!
Animations - smiley-02