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.