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Chat Magazine
December 19, 2002

Jennifer's Distressing True Story

Ian & Jennifer Robinson

"Hour after hour, mile after mile, mince pie after mince pie..." by Jennifer Robinson, 52 from Cardiff

The Christmas tree lay in the corner. Beside it, a box of decorations. I bent down, caught sight of my hands. Watched the tremble in my fingers become a shake. It spread up my hands, my arms, through my whole body.

I stood there, a complete quivering wreck, as the panic washed over me. I rang my husband, Ian. 'I need you,' I whimpered. 'I'm on my way, love,' he said calmly. 'Be home in five minutes.' He'd heard it a million times. Knew exactly what these chronic anxiety attacks did to me.

I slumped to the floor, curled up in a corner. Shivering, shaking, my heart thumping. Waiting for my darling husband to come home to rescue me. I tried to stop the shaking by remembering how it used to be. We'd met 10 years before. You wouldn't have recognised me then. No panic attacks, no staying at home. I was a high-flying businesswoman - writing reports, chairing meetings, and earning 30,000 a year.

Ian was a local heartthrob, an ex-Welsh rugby international. It'd been love at first sight. For both of us. I caught sight of my reflection in the window opposite. A tiny, grey shell of a woman looked back at me.

What had happened to me? Valium, that's what. I'd been on Valium for 20 years by the time I met Ian. I'd first started taking them when I was 21. I was teaching handicapped kids. It was a big job. Overwhelming. My mum knew I was struggling. Suggested I see the GP. Get something to help.

The pills worked a treat. Made me feel I could take on the world. And I did. I shot up the career ladder. Then I met Ian, knew I'd found the love of my life. We'd had eight great years together. Then I started feeling sluggish.

One night, I woke up, covered in sweat, shaking. 'Bad dream, love?' Ian asked. He was concerned, but assured me it'd pass. It didn't. Nightmares took over my sleep. Terrible, violent dreams of death. Then they started taking over my waking hours, too.

I went to see my GP. 'Withdrawal symptoms,' he told me. 'From long-term Valium addiction.' He explained that the Valium had just stopped working. My body was so used to them and, without the boost, well, there was the come-down. There was no cure. I had to go it alone. Except I just couldn't. I hated being on my own - even for a moment.

'I think I'm losing my mind,' I sobbed to Ian. 'Please don't let them put me in a mental hospital.' Ian looked into my eyes, cupped my face with his big hands. 'Never - I'll always be here for you,' he said. But I couldn't bear to let him out of my sight. He was my lifeline.

I was diagnosed with acute anxiety - the very condition those tablets were meant to treat in the first place. And then I was also told I was suffering with monophobia - a fear of being left alone. That was me alright, I went to pieces whenever Ian walked out the door.

'I'm giving up my job.' Ian said one day. 'I'm here for you, Jen. Forever. No matter what it takes.' Ian's trapped with me. Without sex. I can't bear to be touched anymore, even though I love him. I get panic attacks just thinking about how much he has to put up with. How some other woman could snap him up.

But he never stops trying to help me. Like when I feel the walls closing in on me, Ian will pick up my coat.

'Come on, love,' he'll say, 'Let's get you out of the house.' And he'll take me for a drive. Through the windscreen I'll watch other people going about their normal lives. Going shopping. Talking the dog for a walk. Or the kids to the park... He doesn't complain - even on Christmas Day.

I remember Christmas morning last year. My heart sank as I peered through the curtains and watched the rain lash against the window. It was cold, damp and wintry - not a good day for a drive. But staying at home wasn't an option. I hated it when I felt the place closing in on me. I pulled on my coat as Ian picked up the car keys. Luckily the rain stopped so we could see something from our car windows.

We drove around for hours on the deserted streets. Saw all the fairy lights in house windows, looked at the shop fronts and street lights. Kids out on their brand-new bikes. People dressed up in new jumpers, rushing about carrying brightly coloured parcels. Some straggling out of the pub.

It was very quiet at lunchtime. I thought about everyone - they'd be having their big Christmas lunches. Come 3pm, we switched on the radio and listened to the Queen's Speech, like everyone else. About an hour later it was starting to get dark so we headed home again. We'd been in the car for nine hours.

Perhaps this year we'll drive as far as the coast. Watch the grey sea come in and out. We could even decorate the car with a bit of tinsel, I suppose. Take some turkey sandwiches and mince pies. That'd give us some sense of normality.

At least there'll be fewer cars on the road. We'll keep on the move and watch the world go by through the rain on the window. It helps me forget the constant panic that has left me a physical and mental wreck.

I get so annoyed and angry because my tranquillisers should have only been prescribed for a maximum of four weeks. Even today, people are still being given them long after that. A friend of mine had them six months ago, but, after hearing my story, she threw them away. If I do nothing else with my life, I want to get them banned forever.

Everything I loved doing - like gardening - is simply impossible now. I'm forever having flashbacks to when things were normal. I was trying to read George Best's autobiography the other week, but every time I reached a phrase like 'chip shop', it took me back to when I was a happy child, skipping to the chip shop. I just couldn't concentrate.

The only time I'm at peace is when I'm asleep. The nightmares have now stopped and I have lovely dreams of how things used to be. I keep urging the psychiatrist to try me on any new antidepressant that comes onto the market. But I've been told it's no good - I've got to beat this alone, through my own determination. Ian has to go into hospital soon for a knee op - a legacy from his rugby-playing days.

I really don't know what I'm going to do. I can't stay here without him - I need someone by my side 24 hours a day. They suggested I go in with him, but I'd feel like such an idiot. I'm so frightened of ending up in a psychiatric unit. I'd be even more depressed there.

So this Christmas, we'll get up early, get into the car, and drive. That's all we can do. All day, every day. At least there'll be a few festive songs on the radio to pass the time.

• For information on tranquilliser addiction, call The Council for Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction on 0151 9490102 or log onto www.benzo.org.uk

See also: Valium Addiction, Wales On Sunday, April 14, 2002.

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