When my agoraphobia was at its most restricting I found myself doing the strangest of things.
Opposite where I was living in the late 1980s is a recreation ground that hosts a football match every Sunday. Being a sports fanatic, I was determined to join the other spectators. But the entrance to the sports field is about 20 yards to the left on the other side of the road. I was so petrified that I had left the sanctuary of my home that I was incapable of walking those 20 yards.
So, I was left with one option: if I was going to watch football, I had to walk right through the thick hedge directly opposite which borders one side of the pitch. This I did.
Spectators turned in amazement as they witnessed yours truly emerging from the hedge on to the pitch side. Even some of the players stopped in their tracks at this bizarre sight. For one awful moment, I thought the referee was going to halt the game. A few weeks later I was able to enter the park through the normal entrance, thank God.
Without a doubt the most debilitating aspect of my depression is the fear of being too far from base. It still hasn’t completely disappeared but thanks to Sandra’s patient encouragement and understanding, I have been able to push back the boundaries.
At first I couldn’t even walk more than about 50 yards unless I was wheeling my bicycle.
I found it much easier to walk around the village after dark. Nobody can see you then and it helped me regain some confidence. Be careful and check whether your route is safe at night though. After a couple of years going on ever-longer walks and driving longer distances, my confidence slowly but surely returned.
In time I was driving 45 miles to see my stepdaughter and her family in Hertfordshire. It wasn’t always plain sailing but I managed it. I also drove to the outskirts of Oxford about 60 miles away to visit my stepson. The more I did it, the better it felt. The routes became well-trodden paths, as I find familiarity to be a great tonic for my depression and agoraphobia. But I needed to do all this alone. I didn’t want to feel responsible for ruining someone else’s day if I suddenly had to rush home.
This all changed when I met my second wife. I trusted her from day one to believe what I was saying about my restrictions. It was on a Wednesday evening in October 2005. Sandra, who had only just started using the social club again after many years, arrived before opening time at 7pm. Luckily, the stewardess happened to be glancing her way and let her in.
Had the stewardess been looking the other way, Sandra would have driven home and the moment would have been lost. Sliding doors or what!
Thirty minutes later, I turned up at the club to watch a football game. I sat down at an adjoining table in my usual seat. Sandra was busy calculating the measurements for her Roman blinds.
We got talking and the upshot was I didn’t see any of the football on TV and Sandra made scant progress with her task. And that was that. A few days later, she witnessed my karaoke singing and yet still wanted to see me again. Anyway, I immediately told her all the things I could no longer do and the few things that I could. It was fair to her and a weight off my mind. It was as selfish of me as it was selfless. Sandra is about 12 years younger than me, very pretty, and has been married before too. I’m still convinced she is after a Care in the Community award!
The reason I have gone into such detail is that I firmly believe that some things are meant to be.
So, seek out a kindred spirit and together you may be surprised how much happier and contented you will feel. It changed my life. It may not happen quickly; it took me 18 years to meet Sandra after my divorce.
That said, some people are happier single. I was for a while. It’s horses for courses.
I can now drive to West Yorkshire (232 miles) and Dorset (120 miles). Not only can I drive there, but I can also stay for about five days without panicking. Slowly but surely, it gets better.
Yes, I still get bad days or a bad patch so I consolidate. But I now know that in time the cloud will lift again.
I can travel by bus (motivated by my free OAP bus pass) after an interval of 15 years, and have made a handful of short train trips with Sandra. I have yet to master flying and boat trips. The last time I went abroad was to Kefalonia in October 1985 – you could still smoke on the flight, that’s how long ago it was! One day, I hope to travel to London and watch my beloved Chelsea FC.
One thing that I did try at the suggestion of my wife was camping, which I hadn’t experienced since my days of hitching around Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s. I’ve never been a great enthusiast of life under canvas but it turned out to be a cheap and unpressurised way of having a holiday away from crowds when you were having a bad patch. We bought a tent, sleeping bags and cooking stuff, etc. and stayed in a field beside a pub in West Sussex about 30 miles from home.
It was a useful and therapeutic first step to extending my boundaries. We ended up having at least one camping holiday a year for about five years by which time my ageing body told me that the comfort of a warm bed was a wiser option.
I found spending time on the seashore gazing out to sea and breathing in the air to be incredibly relaxing and peaceful. After a while, I would walk along the promenade at Brighton, either pushing my bicycle or riding it as the mood took me. I still do it today!
Chris Trevor-Wilson, a 68-year-old retired journalist, shares with the reader how he has lived for 30 years with episodes of panic attacks, fear of crowded places and depression and gives encouragement to anyone who feels their life is devoid of hope and their future bleak.
Happily married to his second wife, Sandra, Chris has spent the last 18 years as a part-time gardener following a heart attack in 1999 at the age of 50.
Chris is at pains to point out that he is totally unqualified medically; he merely hopes that his coping strategies and experiences documented here may help and comfort fellow sufferers.