Thursday, 28 May 2009

Agoraphobia - a little more progress

I was very busy last week and this week is no different. One of my key members of staff is on holiday and the tourist season started in earnest last weekend (one of my businesses is very much tourist related). Put together, it has meant that I'm regularly putting in 12 hour days, 7 days a week - a bit of a change for someone who normally, mainly due to childcare duties, works part time! This has meant that Marie has been forced to spend more time looking after the children and less time fighting her anxiety issues. Whatever she does on the anxiety front has had to be done without my assistance. Perhaps that's good?

Joseph is off school this week. It's the spring holiday week. This means that Marie has had some welcome company at home.

I am very pleased to relate that Marie has continued to expand her horizons. Twelve days ago she drove 25 miles, accompanied by the children, ending up in Taunton, our nearest major town (we live in a very rural area). She visited my eldest daughter, Carla. She drove there again this week.

Most days, Marie has been taking Blaze (our dog) to an area suitable for him to run around unfettered. Usually she is accompanied by one or both of our children. While she doesn't walk far from the car herself, she is becoming accustomed to parking in quiet country areas, often without anyone else in sight.

So, not much progress with walking - Marie feels that she needs me to accompany her to try that - but plenty of activity on the driving front. Pretty good, yes?

Next week I'll be back to more or less normal working hours and I'll be able to assist Marie in whatever way she chooses. I hope to report continued progress in due course!

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The dream home and agoraphobia

Steven from the Estate Agent's office opened the heavy front door, and we all piled in.

The house was, externally, an imposing Georgian building and was one of the most prominent buildings in the street. (The picture above does not show the house - but it looks much like it.) Internally, a clumsy conversion to 3 flats and maisonettes and a subsequent conversion back to a single dwelling had destroyed most of the original features. There was a little Georgian cornicing, a couple of corbels, a few ceiling roses here and there, and most of the skirting boards and door surrounds were intact. A second staircase had been added. The building's last owners, from whom it had been repossessed by their bank, had had bizarre taste, so the décor was very unflattering.

When I learned that it was for sale, I made an appointment to look around it as soon as possible. Although the house needed major refurbishment and a total makeover, its construction was sound and all it needed to make it immediately habitable was to have the electrical wiring renewed. Later it would need a new kitchen, new bathrooms and improved central heating. I would want to replace the cornicing on the ground floor hallway and reception rooms and probably install some recycled period fireplaces. I could see that there was tremendous potential for a comfortable family home big enough to accommodate the frequent visits by my large family. I could have a decent sized office, too. As a bonus, there was a two-storey building in the garden (probably stables with a groom's room above) with its own access to the street, which was an easy conversion to a maisonette, thus providing a useful income while not compromising the family's privacy. When I was a younger man, I bought, renovated and sold three houses. When I moved into my current home, I made substantial changes to the interior. I knew that I would enjoy restoring this fine dwelling.

That was a few days ago. When I described it to Marie, she was keen to see it too. Now in the house, Marie clutched my arm as if she was in mortal danger while Steven pointed out the various remaining features. She managed to make it up one floor and gave the 4 bedrooms there a cursory inspection, but she was obviously uncomfortable and couldn't wait to get down to the ground floor again. The top floor of the building was totally inaccessible to her. In contrast, Joseph and Orla assumed exploration mode and reported what they saw to Marie and me. They were fascinated with the two staircases - they could run up one and down the other... Despite her uneasiness in the house, Marie could also appreciate its potential.

Back home, Marie immediately consulted the internet for ideas on kitchens and Georgian living room interiors. Then Georgian reproduction furniture. And bathrooms... She checked out colour schemes and light fittings. She pored over the house's floor plans, suggesting what use each of the rooms could have. We went back one day to inspect the garden in greater detail.

I told Marie that it was up to her to decide if we would buy the house. On the plus side, it would be the first home that we had chosen together. Restoring it would also be a joint project. On the negative side, it would use up all our financial resources for a few years. I left her to mull it over.

To my surprise, she rang the agent a couple of days later and made an offer on the property. She had made her decision. It would be the perfect dream home. She really wanted us to live there!

A week later, she reversed her decision. Although she knew that she would become accustomed to the new house, she had become anxious about how much effort that would take. Staying put was a much easier option.

This is how much agoraphobia controls Marie - she has just lost her dream home.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Cervical smear test and McDonald's

"Ok Marie, just lie there and open your legs wide. This is going to feel embarrassing, just like men get embarrassed when they expose their bits." Marie's favourite doctor ("just call me Caroline") was talking non-stop to her in a "what-a-lovely-time-we're-going-to-have" over-the-top cheerful tone, preparing Marie for her cervical smear test. Marie had asked me to stay with her to minimise her anxiety.

I suspect that the last bit of her patter was added because I was also in the room. Alas, this shows that she has little understanding of what embarrasses men.

This first time I exposed my genitalia to a Health Professional was at school, when I was 13. Along with the rest of the boys from my class, I had to strip down to my underpants and stand in a line. A nurse approached each boy in turn, pulled down his underpants and felt his testicles (or, I suppose, noticed their absence). This was, I recall, mildly embarrassing, but the worst feeling was fear. The vast majority of us had never had our genitals touched by anyone other than ourselves, so the anticipation of a pretty nurse in her early 20's touching us caused much adolescent giggling - and FEAR. We were all terrified that we would have an erection. Now that would have been embarrassing!

In the boys' changing rooms at school, exposing one's genitalia was almost de rigeur; while in public gyms and swimming pools, men and boys, totally naked, their bits flapping and slapping, sauntered around comfortably and unselfconsciously.

No, dear doctor - sorry, I mean Caroline - real embarrassment for a man would be to have to profess his love for his wife (or girlfriend/boyfriend) in public. He would much prefer to expose his private parts to the crowd at Wembley Stadium than expose his feelings!

But I digress.

"You can hold Marie's hand," Caroline told me.

Not likely! Marie had both hands poised for emergency action. They were on a hair-trigger, waiting for the slightest reason to protect her lady-bits.

"Just relax," Caroline instructed Marie, "this will be over in no time at all."

Relax? While having foreign objects inserted, to carry out an unknown procedure? Once, at a sexual health clinic, I had a foreign object inserted into my penis to take a swab. I was told to relax, too. Not possible!

It seemed that Caroline was taking most of the morning. It was like she was looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. However, she was still continuing with her cheerful chatter...

"That cervix seems to be hiding."
"Mmmm, we'll look over here."
"How about over here?"
"Ah, there it is!"
"Ooops, it's tilted a bit."
"Mmmm, it's tilted a lot."
"Ah, I've got it!"
"No, not yet..."

Eventually it was all over. Caroline complimented Marie on her bravery in making it to the doctor's surgery for the first time in 5 years (yeay!), and coping with her cervical smear test in an admirable way.

Also, this week, Marie managed to get into Orla's nursery again!

Marie drove to the nearest McDonald's (9 miles) and bought the children and herself milkshakes!

Yes, it's all good news this week.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Men Only Weekend

I had a "men only" weekend.

There was just me, my son Joseph and my younger grandson, Reece. Marie had gone to her parents' house for the weekend and Orla had gone with her. (She didn't drive there - I took her halfway and her father took her the rest.)

Joseph and Reece were as good as gold. They played computer games, games on the games consoles and board
games. Lots of games. They also drew and coloured-in, built buildings and vehicles with Lego and drove toy cars around the rooms.

On Saturday, we went to the playground, played football and basketball and went to the beach where they dodged the flying spray from the waves as they crashed into the rocks with tireless vigour.

On Sunday - the weather was superb - we went to a picturesque combe (local word for valley) in the Quantock Hills. Blaze came too, of course. Here, after 30 minutes walk, the boys attempted to dam the river. I had to help, too. Naturally. For about an hour. Then we climbed to the top of one of the sides of the combe where we enjoyed spectacular views of, on one side, wild countryside; on the other side, the nearby sea (a couple of miles away). Then we made our way back to the car using a path on top of the hills.

Very noticeable was the absence of shrill female voices - particularly Orla's. One doesn't realise how noisy a 3 year old girl constantly is until she's absent. Apart from her noise, there is the never-ending stream of parental directions about what she should/should not do.

Joseph and I discussed this on Sunday evening, just after dropping Reece home and before meeting the returning females
"Dad..." said Joseph, "it's really quiet without Orla, isn't it?"
"Yes. Is that good or bad?"
"Really good!"
"Would you like her to stay away forever?"
Joseph pondered. But only for a second.
"No." It was unequivocal. "I'd miss her."


Saturday, 9 May 2009

Changes in agoraphobia and The Linden Method

It is 2½ weeks since Marie met with Charles Linden. Her agoraphobia has changed, but it has been up and down.
First the good news. The biggest change in Marie's lifestyle is her increased ability to get around in her car. She can now drive up to 8 miles unaccompanied. Marie can now take our children to and from school, visit her friends when she wants, go to some shops and take Blaze out to places where he can run around freely. One major achievement is that Marie has been able to join the local gym and goes there by herself.

Secondly, the not-so-good news. Marie's new-found ability to walk any meaningful distance has now more or less deserted her. Almost all her previous improvements have disappeared. The most disappointing aspect of this is that Marie is no longer able to go into Orla's nursery. She can take her there in her car, but she can't take her inside. She can take the dog to nearby fields, but she cannot walk him when she gets there - he has to run around by himself. She can drive to the shops, but unless she can park outside them, she cannot go in. Larger shops and supermarkets are beyond her capabilities.

However, Marie retains her positive attitude. She still believes that she is on the road to recovery and takes delight in the areas of improvement which have dramatically expanded her personal freedom. She has significantly improved her diet (aided by yours truly, who has been active in the healthy cooking area) and this, with her new fitness régime has given her a lovely, healthy glow. She has never looked so healthy.

Marie is still, in her own way, following The Linden Method. By saying "in her own way" I mean that Marie isn't, in her own words, extending herself "as much as she should". She has had all the support, by phone and email, that she has requested from the Linden Centre. So as I wrote in a previous post, "Charles Linden has shown Marie that escaping agoraphobia is possible, and he has shown her how to do it. If she doesn't get rid of her anxiety now, there will be only one explanation - she doesn't really want to".

Marie has been proceeding at her own speed. For my part, I have been predominantly a non-participating bystander. Not that I really have a choice...