x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

UAE fear-of-flying Joe gets New Year's treat

Joe Thompson's mother has flown in from the UK to spend the New Year with him since anxiety attacks have prevented him from taking a flight home.

Joe Thompson's fear of flying hasprevented him from returning home to the UK, but his mother Pauline (L) flew to the UAE to spend New Year's Day with him and his father, Anthony (R).
Joe Thompson's fear of flying hasprevented him from returning home to the UK, but his mother Pauline (L) flew to the UAE to spend New Year's Day with him and his father, Anthony (R).

AL AIN // Six months ago today the Thompson family was due to leave the UAE after four years to start a new life back home in the UK.

But 12-year-old son Joe had an acute anxiety attack at the airport that prevented him from boarding the plane, with repeated attempts over the coming weeks.

He was forced to remain in Al Ain with his dad Tony, while mum Pauline returned to the family home in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, to be with Joe’s sister Chloé, 17, as she started the new school year and prepared to take important A-level exams.

Joe has since been diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder that prevented him from flying and left him unable to embark on an overland journey home, or even attend school.

He is seeing a psychiatrist and a counsellor and is taking medication, and in the past two weeks there has been a breakthrough in his treatment.

He received a further boost on Thursday when his mum flew to the UAE for a three-week visit after spending Christmas in the UK with Chloé.

“The fact that we’re split is not good, it’s a difficult situation to cope with,” said Pauline, 49. “But it’s something we’ve got to go through. We’ve got to get Joe right, and if that takes time, it takes time.

“Chloe’s OK, she misses Joe and Tony but she understands. It’s not ideal, it’s not perfect, but hopefully it won’t be forever.”

Tony, 64, added: “Joe is having cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, which is particularly useful for anxiety conditions because it basically reprogrammes how you behave.

“To have maximum impact you need to combine it with medication that will deal with the chemical reactions in the brain.

“The purpose is to bring the anxiety levels down, or disperse them altogether, and then the CBT is about changing your behaviour and how you deal with whatever the problem is.

“At a session two weeks ago the therapist identified that these anxieties, which on the face of it appear to be related to travel, are actually about going back to the UK.

“The problem is not the actual getting there, but what the future holds for him back in the UK.”

The difficulties appear to date back to an earlier plan to return home to Britain in 2011.

“When Joe went to a new school in the UK he had a couple of bad experiences. He was only there for a few days,” Tony said.

Pauline added: “He didn’t like it, he had a bit of trouble, there was a bit of bullying. It wasn’t anything major but it’s obviously stuck in his head. The therapist is helping us to unravel it all.”

This new understanding of Joe’s condition should assist his recovery. In the meantime he is being taught at home as he cannot face returning to his old school in Al Ain.

Joe said there was an upside to his predicament, as he had previously seen little of his father. Tony, a safety expert, had frequently spent long hours at work.

“It’s one of the longest times I’ve ever had to be with my dad,” said Joe. “It’s been nice having him around for a change.”

csimpson@thenational.ae