WARNING: this page contains a picture of a little old lady. Read with extreme caution
Granny phobia ... OCD sufferer Stephen Drake
By SAMANTHA WOSTEAR
FEBRUARY 10, 2007
BURLY Stephen Drake peers nervously from behind his curtains to check that the coast is clear.
It’s a precaution the shaven-headed 36-year-old insists on taking before he will even consider venturing outside his home.
For Stephen suffers from a terrible fear which has left him virtually housebound for years. He is thought to be the only person in Britain with a phobia of GRANNIES.
The dad of two is so frightened of little old ladies that the mere sight of one is enough to make him hyperventilate and even collapse.
The former factory worker has been treated by top psychiatrists, written a book about his problems and even admitted himself to a psychiatric unit for help — but nothing has rid him of his fear.
He says: “There’s no doubt it has changed the course of my life. It’s ruined my ability to work, affected my relationship because we can’t go out and affects my children’s lives.
“It all started one night when I was 17. I was watching the news and a report came on about an old lady being viciously assaulted.
“Police were looking for a suspect and I remember thinking how awful it would be to be responsible for such a sickening crime.
“That thought stayed with me and although I had never been violent in my life, I started to panic about being responsible for something so horrific. It got worse and worse and I became so frightened at the mere thought of a granny being hurt that I started to avoid them.”
Stephen, of Bookham, Surrey, had previously suffered with mild obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Irrational fears are a common associated occurrence.
He says: “I started to cross the street to avoid grannies and steer clear of places they might be, like bingo halls and the Post Office.
“If I did pass one, it would leave me in a state of anxiety for up to 48 hours. One day I went into Guildford shopping with my mum and after being faced with two old grannies with walking sticks and curly grey hair I had a severe panic attack and collapsed.”
By the time Stephen was 19 he was so desperate he admitted himself to a psychiatric unit — but to his horror there were lots of old people on the wards. Although the course of therapy worked, it wore off after only six weeks.
He says: “I’m not a small bloke so to say I’m frightened of grannies sounds daft.”
Cry for help ... couple Stephen and Catherine
Encouraged by his doctor, Stephen began visiting a local pub, where 12 years ago he met partner Catherine.
He was honest about his OCD, vigorous list-checking and agoraphobia and they fell in love.
But he managed to keep his granny phobia secret until six months later when Catherine became pregnant.
The couple began rowing about his refusal to go to the hospital with her and he had to come clean.
Catherine says: “It explained why he’d been so nervous about meeting my mum. He was always weird around her but I just put that down to mother-in-law stuff.”
With Catherine in the picture, Stephen did his best to attend hospital with her, but it was an ordeal. He was there when daughter Caroline was born but rushed home afterwards. It was the same when Caitlyn came along four years later.
Three years ago the factory where Stephen worked closed.
After a stint as a supermarket cleaner, he and Catherine decided he would stay home to care for the girls and she trained as a driving instructor.
The girls are now 11 and seven and Stephen picks them up from school every day. If a granny passes, he grips their hands and the girls know to avoid them at all costs.
He also wears a special pair of dungarees which he can grip on to if his heart starts to race.
He hasn’t been into a shop for years and wishes he was able to take his daughters to the park like others dads do.
While the only place where he really feels safe is home, Stephen remains upbeat.
He says: “You have to learn to live with what you’ve got and adjust. I’ve got a wonderful family and I’m very proud of them.
“I know this condition will never leave me but I know how to live with it now. I just wish more people understood.
The truth is that grannies are probably more scared of me — but I just can’t help it.”