Karen Haggerty

Writer & Clinical Hypnotherapist

Mental illness v. physical illness #mentalhealth 


I've often heard and seen trial by media but I saw something quite new this week. Medical diagnosis on social media. First on Twitter, quickly followed by the tabloids. Katie Price has been diagnosed with PTSD and entered rehab.

This, sadly, happens all over the world every day. The only difference is Katie Price is a celebrity and her story is being covered closely by the press.

Usually, we see the setting up of two camps with this type of 'news': I love him/her and wish them well, or I hate him/her and don't care or worse. This week changed the usual two camps and a third sprang up. The third one shouted, 'We don't believe you or your medical diagnosis!' They are calling Katie, and by default the doctor who diagnosed her with a debilitating mental health issue, a liar!

Echoes of the past came flooding back. In times gone by, if an illness was not visible it did not exist. More importantly, who are we to diagnose a mental or physical illness without the requisite years of training at medical school, just by having a social media account?

When I wrote about having cancer on my social media platforms last year no one challenged me. No tweets saying I don't like you, so you and your oncologists are liars and attention seekers.

I wonder if things might have been different if Katie needed medical care for a physical illness. Of course, they would have been! How many vulnerable Twitter users will read the abuse and disbelief that Katie is receiving and decide not to seek help for fear of similar ridicule?

Miss Price is the Mum of five beautiful children. Some are old enough to read the same hate-filled tweets about mental illness that I have. Her own much-loved Mother Amy is terminally ill and desperately needs Katie to get better so they can enjoy precious time together.

Let's stop using mental illness as a weapon to belittle, punish and hurt others.

I wish you well, Katie Price, from the bottom of my heart and pray you will soon be home with your loved ones. XX
Karen Haggerty

(Daughter of a Bi-Polar Father.)

In praise of eternal fathers


Although I came on holiday with a Grandad, I’ve holidayed with a Dad. Sharing a small basic guesthouse bedroom with an eight year old isn’t easy at the best of times, especially for three weeks. But it’s an eight year old who we rarely see and whose English repertoire consists of not much more than ‘Oh my God’ (now changed to ‘goodness’), ‘Shit’ (that’s still a work in progress) and ‘Good morning children, how are you today?’ The last, acquired from his weekly English lessons at school, has stretched our parenting skills yet again.

We’ve been here before with two small Indian children we met working (them not us) on the beach in Goa and eventually adopted (hence my forthcoming book From Goa With Love). We taught them how to speak English and over the years have added our culture to their existing one. How many people do this with not only their own children but grandchildren too?

It seems odd when I sit here in Poland thinking about it. History is repeating itself. Our life, mine and Stephen’s, like everyone else’s in the world, has a pattern. Ours is to be forever parents. Forget the Grandma, Grandad lark! That’s not happening to us. Max said he wants to be Grandad’s (or Dad’s as he calls him) ‘Mini me’. A compliment that brought tears to Steve’s eyes. Everyday he’s dressed him, played football, swum with him (Steve’s not keen on swimming every day) and become a father to his fatherless grandson.

I’ve watched in admiration when he’s played Petang rather than have a grandpa snooze or played car games on the iPad when he’d rather read the sports pages! Our eight-year-old granddaughter lives with her mum and us in Wimbledon so it’s nothing new. He’s the same way with her. Our other two grandchildren live close by and he, like me, adores them all. He was a brilliant father when our kids were young, all five of them and he’s still the same now. It’s just that his hair’s a little thinner and greyer but the core of the man is still rock solid. He is an eternal Father and I’m delighted as I never really wanted to go to bed with a grandad!

PS I’m writing this blog post, on my iPhone, with one eye closed due to losing my eye patch and having left my MacBook at the guesthouse. Too bloody busy getting the kids ready to remember it this morning!

No queue for the doctor...


No queue for the doctor

Another Haggerty has been to visit Dr. Frank during this holiday. We are fast becoming regulars to his tiny surgery in this small village where the bears sometimes roam. My son arrived from London on Saturday evening feeling ‘anyhow’ as my Nan used to call it. That part in between feeling rough and being ill. As he was feeling much worse the by Monday, morning a trip to Dr Frank for him was on the cards.

On arrival – and no stopping at the dentist’s next door, Dr Frank, our holiday hero, diagnoses Pharyngitis and prescribes penicillin. No need to drive around searching, for the chemist is just downstairs. He is served by an elegant middle-aged Slovakian lady who Frank lunches with each day at our guesthouse. The whole process takes less than 30 minutes!

We sit in the dining room later, when my son takes his pills, amazed at how fast it all took to get sorted out. An emergency, same day appointment is hard to come by back in Wimbledon. We can have one but only after explaining why it’s needed to a receptionist who is not medically trained. and sometimes hard to understand. My thirty-five-year-old son does not remember the days when we could simply turn up at the doctor’s in England and wait our turn.

My children mostly grew up in Portugal where the small local hospital was used as a doctor’s surgery. This village is a little like Portugal in the 1980s. But there we lived in a town called Lagos with a population of 12,000 people: this tiny Slovak village is home to under 1,000. Our guesthouse here is fondly called the billet (the name I give to all our holiday accommodation). It is not what I would class as a holiday ‘hotel’ but more a passing-through, bed-for-a-night-or-two place. We have workmen, families and older couples sleeping in the other seven bedrooms. We are occupying three of the ten rooms on offer. I have eight bedrooms and eight toilets at our house in Wimbledon so not much different to here! Just a few more people and I have a hotplate to make tea and cook in my bedroom!

Always wear your glasses...


Always wear your glasses . . .

I’ve been unwell most of last night. Vomiting and pain but nothing serious. Must be something I ate. Nothing contaminated but due to having EDS (and no gallbladder) I cannot digest food properly as I have stretchy insides.
Yesterday morning I asked Stephen to put two of my effervescent Paracetamol tablets in water to ease the discomfort. Upon tasting the medicine, it seemed as if the glass had some washing-up-liquid residue left in it. It tasted foul so I spat it out. Dragging my weary body from my bed I had gone to investigate. The tablets were not Paracetamol! He’s given me my mouth-guard tablets that I use to clean my brace (for TMJ) instead. They are highly toxic and I’m miles away from a hospital. The instructions say to go to a hospital if you’ve ingested the tablets, so we will just need to see how the day goes! I only had a sip. I will be okay but have said to my husband that there are easier ways to kill me off after over 40 years of togetherness! Do wish he’d use his bloody glasses!

By the next afternoon, my cramps are worse. Not continuously but when they attack I double over in pain and moan. I’m not staying in bed: the fresh air will do me good, so I make the short car journey into neighbouring Poland with Stephen and my Grandson. There will be no swimming for me today but I’ll mooch around the small picturesque riverside village instead. I look for a chemist, using Google Translate on my iPhone, stopping everyone to ask but no one lives here, they like me are tourists.
At long last, I find some local shops but there’s no chemist in such a tiny place. A small mini market has various lotions and potions and I grab a large box of the familiar looking Rennies, plus a couple of other hopeful-looking boxes. After finding a cafe and ordering some water, I hungrily devour several Rennies like a woman possessed! A box of gel charcoal capsules is next on my list. They are rather large for me to swallow whole (EDS causes me to have problems with swallowing) so I chomp down hard to chew the gel instead. But it’s not gel, it’s charcoal powder! I begin to choke and have to flee outside to spit out the remainder and glug my water in the hope of
not dying alone while my boys enjoy their swim at the nearby hotel!

I go back inside the cafe, smiling through gritted teeth at the people seated at the other tables. We’ve heard no English spoken so far, so I try hard not to make a further spectacle of myself as I sip my coffee. I also attempt to look like a normal tourist, wearing an enormous black sunhat (for my Melanoma) and using a gold walking stick (for my EDS).

Back at the guesthouse, with me still in pain, we sit outside in the car debating what to do. Steve elects to go in and ask where the nearest doctor is. He returns elated! The village doctor is having lunch at our guesthouse and will be back at his surgery in half an hour. After a short rest, we make our way by car to the surgery, our eight-year-old grandson Max giving us directions. He lives here with his Slovakian Mother and has grown up in the village so he knows the way. He speaks only a few words of English so we follow his arm-waving instructions from the back seat, making the short journey just a little more complicated!

The building houses a few businesses and is like something from an old Russian film. We enter and find a small chemist, no bigger than my en-suite bathroom. There’s a hairdressing shop with more plastic flowers than I’ve ever seen and hairdryers from the Antiques Road Show. There’s a florist with only fake bouquets for sale. We sit quietly in an empty waiting room for a few minutes only to find it’s the dentist’s and not the doctor’s.

Finally, we find it! A tall handsome man in his sixties with a long white coat and footwear to match offers his hand to me, introducing himself as Frank ( I have another cramp at that point so I don’t hear the rest of his name). I wish the other patients in the waiting room ‘Good morning’ in Slovakian. Max apologises for my mistake, as it is the afternoon, explaining his Grandma is a foreigner, then acts out my vomiting scene at the hotel from the night before in great detail! He has a captivated audience!

Handsome Dr. Frank ushers me in and asks me to lie on the couch. After gently examining me he decides a drip with some other things added would be the best option. I’ve no idea what the other things are but I trust this kindly man and go with his sister (who is his nurse) so she can insert the needle. I’ve no visible veins in my arms (another EDS gift) and the severe papyrus scars on my upper arms do not like tight rubber tourniquets.

The nurse has not heard of EDS but Google Translate comes up trumps again with ‘hyper-mobile veins’ and we use the back of my hand as is the usual MO. The small room has two comfy, seen-better-days armchairs, a fridge and a wardrobe. His and her’s outdoor shoes are placed neatly underneath. The nurse sets my drip at a slow pace careful not to burst the tiny vein she so gently eases the needle into. Her German is fluent. Mine is almost nonexistent but far exceeds my Slovakian.

I take a photo of the needle in situ, with my left hand on my iPhone, for my Facebook page. Isn’t that what everybody does these days? After all, if people can post images of a Starbucks cup of coffee and a muffin, why not post my story? I’ve never posted gory images of the cancerous skin being removed from my back in private London hospitals but this is a different experience. It’s a walk in the park for me, medically. It’s minor and not one of the victim-style posts we see so often: ‘I have a cold and no one loves me’.

Steve and Max go to buy ice creams while I look out of the window and marvel at the care I am receiving. I am not charged for my examination or the drip. ‘We want you to be well and enjoy your time here in Slovakia,’ I am told.
Touched by their kindness and compassion I leave the building with a little sticky tape and gauze on the back of my hand. My pains ease over the next couple of days and if I’ve suffered any ill effects from Steve poisoning me they’re not yet visible. I might even go swimming with the boys today.

A Happy Reunion!


Three glorious weeks in NE Slovakia. It’s so close to Poland that we’re driving through the old Checkpoint Charlie most days to have our fix of both countries.

Three weeks is a long time to leave my large leafy Wimbledon home and sleep in one small spartan guesthouse bedroom with three beds when we are not The Three Bears. There’s no porridge for breakfast or long walks in the woods. There are bears, I’m told, that sometimes wander down from the high Tatras after a long winter, looking for food. I love bears but I’m delighted it’s summertime.

I’m no lover of extreme sports or trekking through the countryside and white-water rafting is not on my holiday to-do list. As beautiful as this area is I’ve travelled here for a different reason. I’m here to see Max. Not a sweetheart or a boyfriend but my Grandson. Fast-approaching nine years old, he’s growing quickly. Taller than the last time we met and with some teeth missing, he looks so like his Father at that age. My mind constantly flips between past and present with each hour we spend together. Eighteen months is a long time in the life of an almost nine-year-old. It’s been that long since we last met. In the weeks before the trip, I wondered how he’d feel when he saw me: how long would it take for us to feel familiar again, like Grandma and Grandson?

My fears that he might feel shy or awkward before we fell into a natural rhythm were unfounded. Running towards me on arrival, he almost knocked my rather frail body over in his excitement to get close. Like his Father, his ability to treat you as if he saw you only yesterday shone through and my fears melted away. That moment alone was so worth every second of the last year and a half of pain that I’ve gone through. In darker times I feared I might never see him again. The crippling, worsening onset of my EDS, followed just a few months later by stage-three Melanoma diagnosis, have been so much more than just life’s setbacks. The whole experience has not just taken the wind from my sails but knicked my bloody sails altogether some days!

He speaks such little English: in reality just a few words. All learned from his weekly English class at his Slovakian school. He’s a live wire like his Daddy so I quickly learn to say ‘stop it’ and ‘slowly’ in Slovak to prevent any accidents happening while he is in our care. His small hand in mine takes me to bygone days when my son and I would walk along together singing made-up songs to amuse ourselves. You see, I knew Max before, in another life before he was even born. He is his Father’s son and the resemblance is so striking it repeatedly takes my breath away and makes my heart beat faster. Sadness and joy sitting alongside each other in the same moment. I can’t show my pain. He’s too young to understand and although the English-to-Slovak app is very helpful on Google, it doesn’t cover matters of the heart. All that is inside me, fit to burst, will need to wait for another day.

My mind fast-forwards to the Monday after my return to London, to my next scan to see if cancer has spread or is still sitting quietly on the runway like a plane that has lost its slot. After all, the gap between the first and second time the monster reared its ugly head was twenty-four years! Stay in the moment, I scold myself and snuggle in closer to breathe in his smell, ejecting all thoughts of the monster from my mind. I almost succeed but fleeting thoughts of ‘will I see him grow up so I can tell him all about the almost thirty-one years his Father walked this earth?’ are always lurking. It’s the worst loss, I was told many years ago, by a Mother whose child died. I now know that to be true. But what about Max? He’s lost a Father he barely remembers; ‘isn’t it worse for him?’ I ask myself.

In the early days after my son’s death, I felt afraid to see Max. He’d lived with his Mum back in a small village in rural Slovakia for a few years by then. We’d had no contact, only through my son, and when he died it all but dried up. So we became desperate to see Max and as his Mum would not bring him to see us, we came here. Our earlier visits have all been for a few days or at most a week. I’ve been just a handful of times as my texts and emails have mostly been unanswered. Not much change now, so we just book and forward our dates and hope for the best.

This is the first visit that he’s stayed at the guesthouse with us or even spent time with us without his Mummy. He’s a confident chap and the lack of language has not been too much of a barrier. He’s picking up English fast and we now have his Mum’s approval for him to learn. Of course his Slovakian is brilliant but he needs the languages of both his parents and their cultures too. Slowly I hope we will add that to his life.

Aye Aye Captain!


Aye Aye Captain!

The week leading up to my trip to Slovakia was as usual full of medical appointments. A body behaving badly won’t obey orders and have a few days off, even when I ask nicely.

I met Mr Ali, an eye surgeon at St George’s Hospital in London, a few days before my departure. A charming man who seemed rather taken with my eye condition (it’s his speciality) so we had a little fun when he examined me as I have a rather extreme case.

I have Congenital Fourth-Nerve Palsy which in layman’s terms equates to my eyes looking outwards. The opposite to cross eyes. For many years of feeling dizzy when standing up, I had put it down to my blood pressure being a little low. In reality, for many years I’d been seeing double from various angles but had become used to it. It can happen to anyone but is common with people with EDS like me. Another genetic condition that has worsened with age.

I need an operation but have been a tad poorly and distracted with all the cancer scans, operations and examinations. So I wear a very fetching (love that word) see-through, plastic eyepatch on one eye. It’s covered with lines and makes the vision in my right eye, erm, ‘interesting’ but it stops me feeling giddy.

They fitted a new one at St George’s for me. My old one was too small and not the right prescription for my posh new glasses. I wore it with pride as it fitted the whole lens and made life a little easier. Now, I’ve lost the bloody thing! Here in Slovakia! No idea where and we’ve searched the room in the billet and the car. We’ve grovelled around on the floor of the small village shop, much to the amusement and curiosity of the locals. I’m seeing two of most of Slovakia now . . .

I made it!

After all the stopping and starting, I’m here.

Drinking my coffee on an early, very peaceful morning in beautiful Slovakia. We’re staying in a small sleepy village about forty-five minutes drive from Poprad-Tatry airport. After eighteen months without a visit to my grandson Maximus, due to being too ill to travel, I held him in my arms last night until they hurt. I always need to fly somewhere to be with those I love. Thankfully Slovakia is much closer than India!

However, this being me, things were not without drama before I left Wimbledon; I feel I’ve paid almost with blood for this trip.

First, checking in with Wizz Air online, I almost fainted when I discovered my passport had expired four days previously! With fraud concerning British passports now rife, a booked interview seemed the only way to obtain a new one. You can get a passport in one week for a £177 premium. So I paid and booked this service.

Then I looked at purchasing another ticket for a week later, meaning I would lose a week of my holiday. Luckily my son knew of a visa/passport company who were able to help.

Long story a little shorter: I went to their office, paid for their service and eventually they worked their magic and we were still able to fly to Poprad as planned.

However, before we left, our housekeeper wanted to be paid cash for her holiday back home to Romania.

Apparently, the banks there don’t allow money to be taken out without charging the account holder an exorbitant fee! That’s all fine and dandy but some notice would have helped.

Dashing daily to the hole in the wall in Wimbledon and fighting my way through the tennis crowds is a no-no for my body. Luckily my daughter did the needful. Gone are the days of taking out whatever we want from our accounts!

Our housekeeper’s stress level at travelling alone hit an all-time high the day before she left but the house calmed down on Wednesday when she went to the airport to catch her flight.

She’s a wonderful lady, and my best friend, but God does she stress – and usually all over me!