A client who came to see me for help with anxiety recently asked me if I have ever experienced anxiety myself. The answer I gave him was yes, yes I have.
There was a time, that feels not too long ago when anxiety had very much become the boss in this head of mine. I know only too well how this can feel and how, rather than seeing it for what it is, anxiety becomes the lens through which we live life.
Post Natal Anxiety..
Following the birth of my first child, just over nine years ago, I quite quickly found myself in the land of post-natal anxiety. The thing was, I had absolutely no idea at the time that this was where I had landed. I far as I was concerned, I was as normal as ever. I had never had a baby before so everything was new anyway and the fact that I was now running through life at full speed x10 and obsessing over everything to do with the baby was normal. Probably.
There just was no room in my psyche for anything other than the baby. I obsessed over feeding times, sleeping routines, germs, amount of fresh air, and it went on. Before you have a baby you are warned about the signs of post-natal depression; not connecting with the baby, feeling tired all the time, feeling numb. This was not me. I was wired, all the time. I wouldn't let the baby out of my sight and I definitely wasn't numb. So I clearly had nothing to worry about. Business as usual.
As the months went by and my frantic behaviour showed no signs of abating, my very brave Mum would occasionally venture remarks such as 'you're a bit worked up love', or 'maybe try to do something to calm yourself down'. I thought she was being mean. Couldn't she see I had a baby to look after and I had to make sure, I mean it really was very important that I got it all right. These tendencies were not new for me. I have always felt the need to get things 'right' but these days I am aware of this tendency and know how to step away from it and into a different choice.
One lunchtime, when my baby was around 9 months old, I found myself getting into a state because I was 'late' getting her lunch ready. I had decided that her lunchtime was 12 o'clock. In my head this meant 12 o'clock exactly, not sooner, not later. The time was now 12.15 and we had just arrived home from a toddler group and I didn't have lunch ready. I remember feeling like a volcano was on the verge of erupting in my chest. I was familiar with this volcano, it simmered away sometimes in the background and sometimes the foreground but was contained most of the time by my running around at 90 miles per hour and 'staying on top of things'.
But this one lunchtime, instead of flying into the kitchen to sort out lunch, I sat down beside my baby who was watching me in her high chair, and I thought to myself - ENOUGH. This is not right.
Coming Out the Other Side..
Medication helped initially, however the benefits of this, as for so many, were short lived. The NHS suggested CBT and soon afterwards I found hypnotherapy, I began to see what was going on with me and to turn things around. I began to feel better, not immediately or all at once, but I did begin to feel better. It was only when I began to relax and gain some perspective that I was able to see with hindsight, just how anxious I had been.
When a client comes to see me now and tells me they are suffering with anxiety, I do not claim to know how they are feeling. Every client is different and every client's experience is different. However I know how it felt when I was living with anxiety. And I also know how it feels to come out the other side. In my experience, one of the biggest problems with anxiety is that the thoughts and feelings it carries with it are so very convincing. It seems that they must be true. It seems as though following these thoughts and feelings must be part of the answer rather than part of the problem. Today, I know differently and this is something I show clients.
When you come to see me with anxiety, we take a close look at the thoughts and feelings you have been having and what it is they are telling you. Then we can question whether they really are valid for you. We look at the beliefs that underlie your experience. The beliefs that you see the world through, like a lens. We look at your experience for what it really is, we question it, we replace and update it, and you learn to relax.
Anxiety is not something any of us have to live with. If this story sounds familiar, or you are in the same place I was in 9 years ago then, Stop. Take a deep breath. And reach out for help. My beautiful babies may be growing up now, but I do remember how it feels to have a volcano simmering away in my chest.