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Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Guest blog: The Ghost of Anxiety by Gloria McBreen


I am honoured to introduce my guest blogger, Gloria McBreen, who is a freelance article writer, blogger and teacher.  You can find Gloria on her website or via Twitter @GloriaMcB
 
10 days in The Valley of Chamonix with my family. A spacious two bedroom apartment overlooking an array of snow capped peaks and a child friendly balcony with a breathtaking view of the magnificent Mont Blanc – poetically described by Percy Shelley as ‘The Mountain that Holds the Spirit of Nature’. Wow!

For my family, hiking in the Alps is the most desirable holiday. We’re not keen on spending our quality time lying on a baking hot crowded beach. The hiking boots and a picnic in a backpack is what give us pleasure. Our time for complete relaxation, absorb a mega boost of vitamin D and an opportunity to rejuvenate the soul.

So, why did I cringe at the mere mention of our upcoming fabulous holiday? Why couldn’t I engage in the excitement and anticipation with my husband and children? Why did I leave the room when I heard the word France and Aer Lingus?

I left the room because of my anxiety. I was extremely anxious about flying and about being so far away from home. As much as I tried to smile and laugh with them, I couldn’t. Their incoherent voices would fade as the thumping in my chest would get so loud that I was certain everyone around me could hear it. Sometimes I would panic even more as I would imagine I was having a heart attack. My chest would feel heavy, my shallow breathing and palpitations would make me feel faint.

It’s not so much the fear of the plane crashing or being the victim of a terrorist attack, it’s more about claustrophobia or ‘temporary insanity’ as my friend calls it. The thoughts of being locked in with no control over my environment leaves me feeling nervous and jittery. Lots of people enclosed in a small space freaks me out. Some looking more anxious than others and stressed out mothers trying to cope with tired cranky children. When you’re up there, you’re up there. There is no escape. It’s not like being in a bus where I can ask the driver to stop because I need to get off. Now!! I don’t mind the train because I know there’s an emergency button (somewhere) if I really need it. I’m sure I won’t ever need it but as long as I know there is one. I feel grounded on a train, bus or car. It’s easy to imagine roots coming out of the soles of my feet and connecting to the core of the earth but I just can’t seem to imagine that when I’m seven miles high in the sky.

Sometimes people can relate back to when they began suffering from anxiety. When was the first occurrence? What triggered it off? For me, it all began when I was about thirty years of age. Ooh, wouldn’t you think I was all grown up and sensible by then.

My friend and I went to Sheffield for a long weekend and we stayed with her cousins Anna and Pete. On our last night, we went out to their local for a few drinks. We were fairly good at drinking in those days, so we were quite inebriated by the time we got back to the house at about 11.30 pm. Everyone there was in great form, particularly one chap called Declan. He was smoking a spliff. I’d been in the company of cannabis users in the past, but never contemplated trying it myself. I was brought up in a small quiet town where recreational drugs belonged in big cities. However, by the time I was well into my twenties, they started to become a problem in just about every small town in the country. And it wasn’t just soft drugs anymore – cocaine and heroine too. I couldn’t understand why the young people had to get high on drugs to have a good time. I was baffled! My friend and I thought we were rebels the night we got tipsy on two bottles of Satzenbrau at the age of sixteen. And now a lot of the teenagers in our small quiet little town were experimenting with illegal drugs and for most of them, it began with cannabis. I wondered what the big attraction was. What is so great about this stuff and why do they love it so much?

Well, here I was away from home and I was so curious to find out how bloody great this stuff was that I decided there and then that now was the time to find out. I knew it would only be a once off, no matter how much I was to enjoy it. (I did have some sense!)

I took the spliff and pulled hard on it. It was much like a normal cigarette, but tasted awful. I took a second pull and inhaled deeply into my lungs. I had decided by then I’d had enough. I didn’t like it.

‘Feck it’, I thought to myself. ‘I’ll finish my bottle of lager instead’.

I think I managed a couple more sips and the room was spinning. I said goodnight and headed off to bed.

My last night in Sheffield turned out to be a complete nightmare. For about five hours I was a crazy mess. I had never experienced anything like it in my entire life. The room was eating me up and at one point I wanted to jump out the window. My friend had a terrible job keeping me in the room. I hallucinated, I laughed, I cried. I was convinced that the police were coming to arrest me and I would never see my children again. I kept repeating over and over, ‘Why, oh why did I come here? I will never leave home again’. The room was on fire and I could feel my face burning. It was so real! The next minute, I was surrounded by snow and I could see little people skiing on the bed. That’s when I started laughing. I thought it was all hilarious! But then the fear returned and I cried more than I laughed. Eventually I fell asleep – one hour before I had to get up to catch our flight home. The drive to the airport was horrendous and as for the flight. I really thought I was going to die.

Obviously it wasn’t cannabis I smoked that night. I have no idea what it was. It may have been LSD or something similar. I know very little about illegal drugs. But it was the last time I ever touched it or anything like it.

It was at least two weeks before I was feeling well again! But for months I had flashbacks, feelings of paranoia and panic/anxiety attacks. I couldn’t stand being in crowds anymore and hated queues. After about nine months these feelings subsided more or less completely.

However, the anxiety returned when a few years later I was emotionally stranded by someone very close to me. My trust was abused and my self confidence declined rapidly. My anxiety returned and so began my long battle of trying to cope with insomnia, cold sweats, palpitations, worry and negativity. I didn’t feel in control of my feelings any more. I didn’t even feel in control of my life. I was very unhappy and I couldn’t see a way forward. I don’t even know who my best friend was at that time because there was nobody I could tell everything to. I had nobody to share all my feelings with. I have no sisters and I couldn’t possibly let my parents know how bad I was feeling.

My love for natural medicine and holistic health became my saviour. I dug out my self-motivation books that I bought when I was a teenager and decided to get my life back. And I did! I practiced reiki on myself, I went for reflexology treatments and aromatherapy became one of my passions. My reiki teacher introduced me to shamanism and I found that to be absolutely fascinating! I even managed to engage in a few sessions with a counsellor.

The biggest lesson I learned in all this was that none of these therapies and ‘cures’ are permanent. I soon realised that once I stopped taking care of my body, mind and spirit, the negative anxious entity inside my head would return to haunt me.

And that is what I allowed to happen in the last couple of years. Family life got busier, which is brilliant for many reasons but I was forgetting about me. Everyone else was to come first. I hadn’t time to meditate or take long walks. I was letting certain people get on my nerves. The people who you know aren’t good for you but you can’t eliminate them from your life because there’s a family or friend connection. It’s not always possible to avoid the people who make you feel small, inadequate or anxious. It’s just a case of learning how to deal with them.

The last time I flew was in October 2014. My husband’s cousin was turning fifty and we were going to London for a weekend to celebrate with her and her family. I hated every moment of the flight. I wished I had stayed at home. I was so glad when we landed but I spent the next two days worrying and fretting about getting home.

‘What if something happens and I never get home? Maybe I’ll have a full blown panic attack on the plane and they’ll have to sedate me or worse….take me off the plane. What if it’s not palpitations I’m having but in fact the start of a heart attack?’

In order to control the distorted fears that welled up inside me, I would close my eyes and focus on my breathing. That’s how I spent most of the weekend – focusing on my breathing.

I couldn’t let my anxiety ruin this beautiful holiday that my sweetheart of a husband had planned so meticulously. I needed to kick myself right up the bum! I had less than three months to prepare for my trip to France.

My Action Plan.

  • Resurrect one of my favourite motivation books. What to Say When you Talk to Yourself by Shad Helmstetter.
  • Meditate every day instead of once every few weeks.
  • Research best herbal remedy for anxiety.
  • Search my aromatherapy log book for the most effective oils for anxiety.
  • Ignore the well-meaning suggestions from people who swear that Xanax is the best thing since sliced bread. (I have to admit I was tempted to try it.)
What to Say When You Talk to Yourself

This is one of my favourite self-help books. I bought it when I was about nineteen and as a young adult it really helped me to improve my self-esteem, overcome my shyness and live in the present. It taught me how to rephrase the words and sentences I use when I talk to myself. My mind believes what I am telling it and when I am thinking negative thoughts I am creating a negative state of mind. By changing my daily self-talk habits – using positive phrases instead of negative ones – I can create a healthier mental environment. This book appeals to me because it has many examples of positive phrases I can use for many different areas of my life.

Positive Self-Talk for Freedom From Worry

I control the thoughts that I choose. No thought, at any time, can dwell in my mind without my approval or permission.

Meditation

I have always being a firm believer in meditation. Because deep meditation requires strict self-discipline, I’ve never taken it much further than the beginner stage. But this level of meditation works for me. Ten to twenty minutes at a time is usually all I need. (I make myself do longer than that if I’m feeling very stressed.) Prior to my holiday, I made sure to practice mindfulness and breathing exercises for at least ten minutes a day. While doing so I repeated my positive self-talk affirmations in my mind.  

Passiflora

I had used herbal medicine quite a few times in the past and always with pleasing results. I researched ‘herbal remedies for anxiety’ and I came up with Passiflora, a herb that is particularly helpful for people who worry. I took 20 drops in a glass of water twice a day. Although I don’t feel the need for it at the moment, I still take it once or twice a week.

Aromatherapy

There’s an essential oil for almost every emotional situation. And used in conjunction with other therapies, I believe they are super powerful. Because aromatherapy can also help on a spiritual level, it works particularly well with meditation. Rather than blending my own essential oil remedy for my travels, I treated myself to a little bottle of ‘Remedies to Roll’ from Neal’s Yard Remedies. This handy little roller ball bottle contains a blend of rosemary, lavender, frankincense, bergamot, neroli and clarysage to lift the spirits and create a sense of calm. It’s handy for travelling and enhances the mood in an instant. Essential oils are a potential skin irritant and as I have slightly sensitive skin, I had to stop rolling this blend on the inside wrists because I developed an itchy rash after two days. So instead I rolled it onto the palms of my hands. This worked perfect for me – my hands are put through quite a lot so they’re quite tough.  So if you have sensitive skin, be careful where you roll!

It is advisable to obtain the advice of a qualified herbalist or aromatherapist if you decide to self-treat at home, especially if you suffer from any health conditions.

I was amazed and thrilled at how calm and excited I felt by the time our departure date arrived. And I was so proud that I didn’t give into the temptation of Xanax. I had one or two brief moments of ‘what if…?’ during the flight but I very quickly dismissed all negative thoughts that attempted to creep into my head. I had such a wonderful holiday and the only reason I hated the thoughts of the flight home was that it meant I was leaving the beautiful scenery, breakfast on the balcony every morning, lazy walks in the busy town of Chamonix and the gorgeous hot sun. (I live in Ireland) However, home is home and a holiday recharges the batteries and somehow helps us to appreciate what we do have!
 
 

Oh indeed, it’s possible that I will allow family life or work take priority over my life again at some stage and I will forget to meditate and take time out but I do know my limits. I am able to recognise the warning signs and I know I will act accordingly. So I think that’s the important thing. Even though holistic health is a huge part of my life, I’m still very much like everybody else in this mad busy stressful world and I sometimes forget to practice what I preach!

But for today, I am laid-back, calm, relaxed and looking forward to a fun weekend with two of my very best friends!  

Thank you for inviting me to your wonderful blog Shelley. I do hope that if any of your readers suffer from anxiety in the way that I do, they will find some hope and inspiration in my story!  You are more than welcome, and thank you for sharing your story.


6 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing, Gloria. It's a thought provoking and very honest piece x

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  2. You're welcome Ali. I was nervous writing this and embarrassed too. 😳 I've only told this story to a few people in my life. So to have it on the internet felt a little uncomfortable at first. But if it helps someone in a similar situation then I'm happy! Thank you for your comment.

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  3. Very nice and helpful information has been given in this article. I like the way you explain the things. Keep posting. Thanks..
    anti anxiety herbs

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  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  5. Thank you Korry. I'm glad you find it helpful.
    I'm sorry I'm just seeing your comment now. (I came on to post the link to this article for someone looking for advice.)

    ReplyDelete