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.


SarahC♥ said...

I am SO jealous!!!!!

...but quitely pleased you had such a fabby time :)


Tashi said...

Heavens Robert, that was a stunning post, stunning in so many ways.

Loved your conclusion - it is so so true, and no different down under. I really hope the trip has been a turning point for Marie.

Here's one for you, from the 13th century Sufi poet, Sheikh Saadi ...

"A traveller without observation is a bird without wings."

Just reminded me of you in your role of "observer". You really have been riding the thermals these last four days, I think.

Coffeecup said...

It was awesome to meet you and I'm so thrilled that you asked ME! I wouldn't have missed it for the World. Marie I can assure everybody, is even more gorgeous in person, has a beautiful smile and is just as warm and lovely as her dear hubby.

I'm so happy that you got so much into your trip. You really did go hob-nobbing in Alderly Edge! Wow what an adventure! The final picture of the sunset was fantastic. No place like home is there? Beautiful.

The post was moving in it's honesty. Well observed, well considered. You both must have learned so much from this. I did. That there are some truly genuine caring people out there, it was a pleasure to meet you.

Thank you so very much Robert, for travelling to me, I appreciate it so much, and congratulations to Marie for being 'out there' and 'doing it' for those days, it was inspirational. A huge success for all concerned. xxx

Robert said...

Sarah -

Thanks for the comment. Marie & I would love to meet you too, sometime. We'll be in touch if/when we plan to go to your end of England.

Robert said...

HI Tashi -

Thanks for the compliments. And the quotation. Here's one for you...

"Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."

Miriam Beard

Robert said...

Steph -

Marie & I enjoyed our brief sojourn with you. We hope to be in your area in the not-too-distant future and would dearly like to call with you again. Naturally, if you're too busy with your allotment, we'll understand ;)

Rachel's Diary said...

You know what Robert Marie is the luckiest girl alive....what a wonderful husband you really go the extra mile (or 300) LOL.... What a trip! how lucky !