After all the trauma of the past year and once I’d settled into my new apartment, things started to go downhill;  I couldn’t stop, just had to keep working, pushing myself as hard as I possibly could; each time I tried to stop, I just fell apart. My trip back to Harrogate was great and gave me a focus for a while, but I couldn’t sleep, kept having bouts of unexplained pain and ended up going to A&E on one occasion.

On my return from the UK I went to see my doctor; I explained that I really wasn’t coping well and suggested that maybe I needed a few counselling sessions. His reply shocked me – a stay in a psychiatric clinic! He knew of a good one in Bayonne, where, in fact, his receptionist had stayed a while ago. He called his receptionist in and they both assured me that it wasn’t full of “mad people”, but those, like me, experiencing difficulties in their lives. The clinic specialises in addiction, anorexia and depression and the receptionist couldn’t speak highly enough of it. Woah, woah, this was all too much for me to take in, too sudden, too fast!

I simply couldn’t commit there and then; my very English view of “lock you up and throw away the key” being too deeply ingrained in my psyche. That was ok, said the doc; I could go away and think about it and go back when I was ready.

A week or so later, I went back; I’d give the clinic a try (there was always the reassurance that if it didn’t suit, I’d be free to leave). The doctor made a phone call and told me the clinic would ring me in the next few days to arrange my stay. I couldn’t believe how fast things then moved; they called me the next day – could I go in the following Tuesday?

I packed my bag and set off to drive to Bayonne, a challenge in its own right. My shoulders and neck were rigid and desperately painful with the stress of what I’d agreed to do. However, I got there safely and was admitted, I had no idea for how long. The first few hours were taken up with a full health check and seeing the on call psychiatrist before I was taken to my room,  light and spacious with en suite facilities, in the modern part of the building, in the grounds of a lovely old chateau.

The general way things run is that you stay in your room in the morning, unless you have appointments with a physio, dietician, etc, and the psychiatrist assigned to your case visits you there every day. Lunch is served in the canteen, after which some people are free to go out till 6pm. There’s a lovely park in the chateau grounds and it’s not a long walk into the centre of Bayonne. Dinner is taken in the canteen, then you’re free for the evening, as long as you stay in the clinic. Some people go out for a smoke, others play boules on the allotted space, still others play cards in the common area near the nurses’ station The staff are all delightful and more than happy to help in any way they can; in fact during my second week they even found me a quiet space to practice singing, before Saturday’s rehearsal, where nobody would hear me and I wouldn’t disturb anyone.

At first I felt quite resentful, this was all rather overkill; all I needed was a few counselling sessions, not to be confined to quarters for hours at a time. I was sooo bored! Most other people I met were doing “ateliers” – workshops – in music, dance, theatre, art, sport, aquarobics…… But not me. I gradually realised that I was there to learn to do nothing for a while. After the first few psychiatrist’s visits, I began to see things differently and settled into my new routine. I was allowed home for my first weekend, to “see how I got on”, heading back at the beginning of the following week.

The second week’s psychiatrist visits were harder than those of the first week, dredging up memories and emotions I’d had safely hidden away under lock and key for many years. But at least the psychiatrist had a sense of humour (I guess he needs one)….. and terrible taste in jackets. He said that I’d suffered a burnout (same word in French, just try saying it with a French accent), but had made excellent progress during my stay. However, I really must learn to listen to my body when it tells me to slow down – not to wait till it’s screaming at me! I promised to try and was discharged on Friday, at the end of my second week.

Friday 2nd June 2023 will henceforth be my personal Independence Day, the start of my new life.

I’m so grateful to the French healthcare system for providing this service; I’ve never heard of anything like it in Britain. The clinic is private, but the costs are covered by my “mutuelle” – top up health insurance. Clinics like this exist all over France and are well used; so many people I’ve spoken to have been through a similar experience following a traumatic event in their lives; there’s no stigma attached to needing a bit of help here.

The view from my window
Bayonne street art
Bayonne cathedral and cloisters
Botanic gardens
Bayonne and the “vieux ch√Ęteau”

A taxing time

I hate and detest paperwork; an official form or letter sends me into a flat panic and I’m unable even to read it properly. So you’ll understand why Nick used to deal with all the bureaucracy and why I’ve been having nightmares as the deadline for filling in my tax form loomed.

I told myself it couldn’t be that complicated and spent an evening hunched over the computer, trying to make sense of it; but I didn’t understand many of the questions and eventually gave up when I got into a loop that just took me round in circles.

So I got together all my paperwork and queued up at the France services minibus; but there they said that because I’d moved house, my income is from abroad and the tax office had got Nick’s date of death wrong (only by a few days, but wrong), it was too complicated for them to deal with – I’d have to go to the tax office.

I arrived at the tax office 10 minutes before they opened, but everybody else had had the same idea; the queue stretched from the doors nearly to the road, there were about 50 people ahead of me. My heart sank, I thought I’d be there for hours.

However, it was well organised; we queued up to be triaged, some people’s questions could be answered immediately, others were given tickets to queue at one of the six or seven offices available. When my turn came, I was sent to the computer at the end of the triage desks and told to log in, but when the man arrived to help me, heard my accent and realised my income is from a foreign source, he said he couldn’t deal with me, I’d need a specialist.

Again, I thought I’d have to wait for ages, but he went to one of the offices, turned out the couple who were in there (I do hope they’d finished) and sent me in. The advisor was very helpful, told me that the wrong death date didn’t matter, hardly needed to see any of the documents I’d taken, saying that he likes to keep things simple and within 10 minutes my tax return was completed.

I was amazed! It was so efficient! So un-French! I won’t have nightmares next year; I’ll just go to the tax office.

Carpet Dragons

After a few false starts, I played my first gig with the band last night. It was billed as a “cabaret evening”; there were a couple of sketches, a few singers, then we rounded off the evening, which was raising funds for research into childhood illnesses.

Maybe it was because we ran through the whole set 3 times, twice as sound checks and once, unamplified, sat in the kitchen of the salle des associations, or maybe it was just being part of a group, all of whom are proper musicians, but I was able to keep my nerves in check, meaning that I sang as well as I do in rehearsal.

The audience was very appreciative (it was good to see several friends there) and even joined in with “knocking on heaven’s door” at the end. Once we’d packed up somebody asked if we’d go back for another event later in the year, so they must have been pleased.

A friend took this video on my phone; the quality’s very poor, but you can get an idea.