Over twenty years ago, I started to experience anxiety and shortly after that, panic attacks and migraines.
I attributed them to exam nerves and pressure at University (I’ve always been a ‘must come top of the class kind of gal), but they were one of the primary reasons I changed my degree from Economics to Psychology at that time as I began an intellectual pursuit of what makes humans work (or not work) the way they do.
I didn’t realise it but I’d always been a bit of a control freak and the anxiety and fear of migraines led to me trying to control my world more and more as a way to cope with the circumstances that looked like they could be causing the suffering.
Studying harder and taking caffeine supplements to help was the only way I knew how to cope.
Eating nothing but Slimfast for weeks on end to control my weight and then when it all became too much indulging in things I probably shouldn’t just to forget it all for a few hours whenever I could.
All the books and learning didn’t seem to help much.
Neither did the first class degree I ended up with.
Neither did ‘all things I probably shouldn’t’ funnily enough.
As I moved into work and then into the corporate world and back to night school to complete my Masters Degree in Psychology my behaviour settled down but the panic and anxiety continued to grow- in the form of agoraphobia (can’t go out) and claustrophobia (can’t be in) – bad combo!
In the end it got so bad I couldn’t go on a tube train in London which meant I couldn’t get to college, and my world got a little bit smaller.
Then I couldn’t get on a train which meant I couldn’t get to work and it got even smaller.
Then I couldn’t get out of my front door.
I had finally control freaked my way into a life I could just about cope with.
And that was my life for a while.
Then for some reason I could never work out, the anxiety would fade away and as long as I stuck to certain rules (must not go on train between Earlsfield and Waterloo, cannot drive on motorways), I was able to go out and about again.
Due to the ‘rules’ though the distance I could travel was limited.
Then every few months it would return – when I got pregnant with my first child, when my MSc exams came up, when we moved to France, for no good reason sometimes.
I created a business that meant I could work from home, sitting behind the safety of my computer screen. I fobbed off my daughter so I didn’t have to take her to DisneyLand.
For some reason I’d be fine to fly to the other side of the world, but in the UK I’d go anywhere, as long as it was within 26 minutes of my home. The ‘rules’ were pretty random and arbitrary!
That influenced the schools I would consider for my kids, the events I could get to, and the fun we could have on school holidays.
I thought I had it sussed but what I had created was a beautiful looking life that was the size of a postage stamp.
I tried timeline therapy, NLP, tapping, EFT, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, medication, feel the fear and do it anyway and bullying myself into going places and ‘being brave’.
Then I stumbled across everything I write about in this blog.
And then all of a sudden, I booked a hotel for my husband and I to go away without the kids for a much needed break together.
It was only after I’d booked it I realised I had thought, ‘That hotel looks great, we’ll go there. I’ll leave first thing on the Friday morning and drive down there, enjoy a day in the spa, then my husband can get the train down when he finishes work and I’ll pick him up from the station”.
No big deal, you might think.
The hotel is an hour and a bit away (in the old days I would be able to tell you exactly how many minutes and that number would be stamped on my brain and keeping me awake at night).
I think you might have to go on a motorway but I didn’t really check (I DIDN’T REALLY CHECK. This would have made the trip un-considerable, or my poor husband would have had to commute an hour and a half home to pick me up then drive me on Friday evening).
I just saw somewhere I wanted to go and I went.
No bravery, tapping or writing down my thoughts and examining them required.
I don’t know if I can express the weird combination of just how huge and yet just how ‘no big deal’ this was.
To be able to choose where to go and be able to go there without a second thought.
To have anxiety not be a part of the equation.
How? How did you do it?
Here are some of the things I’ve seen in the last 3 years that I think have helped.
If I have a panic attack/migraine I can take care of it then. Instead of spending all day every day with my head full of the thinking ‘What shall I do if I get one on the train?’, ‘Who shall I ask to help me if I get one on the motorway?’, ‘What happens if I get to work and have one?’, the moment I saw that wisdom is available in the moment, and at any moment, all that thinking dropped away in a heartbeat.
If I have a panic attack/migraine, I’ll be taken care OF. I don’t even have to figure it out if/when it happens, There is a resource I have available to me that will take care of it. It’s not on me.
The moment I saw that, I relaxed. Huge feeling of relief. And of course my anxiety started to fall away as I realized I don’t have to be in charge.
I might never get rid of my anxiety, but it was possible to get to a place where I didn’t give a shit if it turned up or not. I started to see that thought was something that travelled through me, it didn’t come from me, it wasn’t part of me.
In some way, it wasn’t mine any more. In fact one day I had the thought that it wasn’t my anxiety at all. Instead, given we all share one consciousness, it was possible that I was picking up my kids’ anxiety as they were doing something ‘scary’ at school like going swimming for the first time. And in that case I’d take it for them any day.
I have no idea if that’s true – it’s not something I teach my clients but what happened in that moment was that my relationship to the anxiety changed.
And I no longer minded if it turned up or not because it wasn’t mine. And of course once I no longer minded, it just didn’t seem to be there so much. After all, much of anxiety is caused by being anxious about being anxious, and I just wasn’t any more.
I could travel no further than 26 minutes from my house for the rest of my life and have a wonderful life because our circumstances can’t impact on our well being.
Cathy Casey teaches the Principles to men on death row in jail. If it’s possible for them to experience peace of mind and well being in 6 feet of space, there was no reason I couldn’t in my little space. With that (and this is the huge element missing from any other ‘Anxiety Management’ program I’ve looked at) the need to ‘manage’ the anxiety dropped away.
I could travel for miles, or I could not.
Given that it looked real that it was not safe for me to travel far from home, wisdom had done a pretty good job of helping me effortlessly create a business that runs from home, a beautiful house to be ‘stuck’ in all day and everything I need in terms of friends and things to do all within 26 minutes of where I lived!
The result of these insights? No anxiety.
The ability to pick my kids up from school ( for a while I couldn’t even do that). A trip to DisneyLand Paris with just me and my daughter, the ability to go see my kids play matches all round the county and take them to playdates miles away with all their friends. A lovely carefree weekend away with my husband. Freedom.
The real result? Transformation.
Nothing to do, just conversations that came my way from which I had insights, a deeper understanding about how humans really work, and that’s it.
Yet completely life-changing.
For most of you this post will not resonate.
But for some of you, you’ll know just life-changing this transformation from anxiety to freedom has been. And this post will touch you and give you hope. If that’s you,there’s an audio below that might help.