My whole body and my brain feel like they are in full melt-down mode.
My muscles throughout my body are extremely tense, my jaw muscles are working overtime forcing my teeth to bite down on each other, my shoulder and neck muscles were that tight I could feel my skin stretching beyond its purpose.
The arches of my feet and the palms of my hands are sweating, as quick as I can wipe my hands on my shorts the sweat returns. I can feel beads of sweat pushing through the pores on my forehead and whilst the light breeze outside cools and dry’s the sweat, this relief is short-lived for the sweat beads are now streams of sweat.
My nervous system is in overdrive, I’m now experiencing whole body tremors and whilst I try to disguise the tremors, the simple task of picking up a bottle of water and putting it to my mouth show the uncontrollable shakes.
I’m trying to hold on, fighting with the last drop of my inner strength that I have left to contain these feelings, these emotions…just trying to hold on…just trying to hold on…
Tears are now streaming out of my eyes, running down my face, meeting at my chin before dripping down to my t-shirt.
I’m feeling embarrassed, I’m feeling confused, I’m feeling alone and this all happens without a sound from me.
No screams, no crying sounds, no words…not a peep…
“Who do you turn to when the only person in the world that can stop you from crying,
Is exactly the one making you cry”
You see, I have and still experience episodes of Anxiety and this is just one example of how Anxiety can affect me. To be honest, I like to explain such episodes as “Anxiety Testing My Character”.
I would like to open your eyes and minds up to how Anxiety isn’t always triggered by large events for they are often triggered by much smaller events such as what I recently experienced.
To set the scene for you, it was Boxing Day of 2017, my family and I had arrived at my Brother and Sister-In-Laws house to celebrate Christmas. The day was beautiful, clear blue sky and a temperature of only 26 degree’s which made it perfect for a Boxing Day lunch outside.
Personally, I was feeling healthy, I was happy and really looking forward to this day of catching up with family. These family catch-ups on Boxing day occur every year and comprises of eating great food, having good conversations and a laugh with the ones I love.
So, it’s important to note that the environment I was in made me feel very safe and comfortable.
We all agreed that we would open presents after having lunch however we had our Grandaughter experiencing her first Christmas and I therefore insisted that she opened at least one small present before lunch. Now I can tell you that I was more excited about this occasion than her for she was only 6 months old. Never the less when she saw the Christmas wrapping paper her face just lit up. It was priceless. I was in my element.
I had my Grandaughter sitting on my lap holding her with one hand whilst my other hand was holding the present. The present was only the size of a Rubix Cube so holding the present with one hand wasn’t a problem while she ripped the paper off.
Once she had ripped all the paper off the box, the present was revealed which was a handmade Christmas Tree Ornament and was personalized with her name on it. The ornament was absolutely beautiful for it was one of those traditional Christmas world shaped balls with lots of magical sparkles all over it. The ornament was personalised with her name written on it too.
As my Grandaughter put her hand on the ball, I noticed that the hook that is attached to the ball was metal and sharp. I decided very quickly to take the ball away and place it onto the outdoor table to prevent her from scratching her finger. Nice Grandad aren’t I!
It was then that the ball began to roll off the table and fall to the floor before I could catch it.
The ornament smashed all over the floor into lots of small pieces…in short it disintegrated into next to nothing as a glass light bulb would do. That acute popping noise.
At this point, I felt as though someone had pressed a slow-motion button on the entire environment that I was in. Family members appeared to be moving slowly, voices were muffled and whilst family members were talking to me saying it’s not my fault and it’s an accident, I knew that I had broken something very special.
I got my pretend stick out within my mind and started beating myself up with;
- Why did I do this?
- How could I let this happen?
- Why didn’t I just listen and leave this present?
- Why didn’t I catch it?
- Why didn’t I put it in to the box it came out of instead of the table?
- What is my Son and Daughter-In-Law thinking of me right now?
- What is my Brother and Sister-In-Law thinking of me right now?
- I have wrecked this Boxing Day for everyone?
- Why didn’t I just stay home?
I know “objects” can be bought and replaced but this present was extra special. Extra thought and love had gone into this handmade ornament!
…and the list of painful negative self-talk went on…and on…and on…driving its way from my brain through to under my skin like a parasite.
As I sit there on the chair, I would say I was somewhat in a comatose state, trying to process what the hell just happened.
I felt as if everyone was just staring at me for this was what my negative self-talk was conveying in my mind.
My wife and my 3 kids, 2 of which are adults were all trying to console me, reassure me that it wasn’t my fault and it doesn’t matter what happened.
The rest of my relatives however were in shock, sitting quietly, also wondering what the hell is happening to me and why my wife and kids were so calm and casual towards what I was going through…which was clearly not coping with the situation.
You see, whilst my relatives were aware that I experience Anxiety and have listened to my examples of my experiences with Anxiety, they had never to this day witnessed me experiencing such an event in front of them.
Hearing about an event versus visually seeing an event changes people’s perception and at times people can be very taken back as to what they witness in person. This was the case for my relatives.
So, what was the outcome of Boxing day for me you are probably asking yourself?
Well, I managed to get the strength to stand up and walk into my Brother and Sister-In-Laws lounge room in order to take some quiet time for myself.
I sat in lounge room for 2 hours just closing my eyes and being mindful.
Concentrating on my breath, the feeling of the oxygen going in and out of my nostrils. I could then imagine the oxygen being inhaled with all the fresh air filling my lungs, circulating through my brain collecting all my negative thoughts before flushing them out on my exhale. I could imagine this happening with each breath with a few more thoughts being swept away on each exhale. This is how I personally meditate.
Once my concentration had shifted solely onto my breath, I was then able to shift my concentration onto my tense muscles. Starting from my head and slowly moving down to feel my feet planted and engaged with the floor. With each muscle group, tensing them until they go past their threshold before relaxing them. Repeating this process until all of my muscles had returned to a relaxed state. This is how I apply the Progressive Muscle Relaxation technique.
Returning to meditation, I once again concentrate on my breath before shifting my mind to happy thoughts that have a positive impact on me personally. For me, it is laying around a pool in Bali under a palm tree with a light ocean breeze using all of my 5 senses to take in the environment. Looking, Hearing, Smelling Tasting, Touching
…and yes…it’s only a happy place if my wife Donna is present!
It is these coping strategies such as Meditation and Progressive Muscle Relaxation techniques that I have learnt over the years that help me to deal with and overcome my experiences with Anxiety.
There are many more coping strategies that can be applied however Meditation and Progressive Muscle Relaxation were the two techniques that I felt would assist me on this specific day.
I have also learnt over the years that “Reflection” is the key to learning from such events.
Questions I ask myself are;
- What am I going to do today to fill my cup with kindness & happiness?
- What was the event?
- What was the environment like?
- What was the catalyst?
- How did it affect me?
- Why did it affect me?
- How did I respond in relation to applying coping strategies?
- Did they work or do I need to do something different next time?
- Can I eliminate such an event reoccurring or can a control be put in place?
- Was I kind to myself during the event and if not, what would I do differently next time?
For me, reflecting on an event that has impacted me is extremely important for it enables me to either put strategies in place as controls or eliminate such events all together. I developed what I call a “Reflection Form” which have all the above questions. I simply write in my answers / observations / experiences and review my current strategies.
So, what was my learnings from my Boxing Day event upon reflection?
I’m really proud of how I dealt with and handled myself in this situation.
I learned from previous experiences, I applied coping strategies that work for me and as a result, my self-confidence has been lifted. Remember that “One-Size-Doesn’t-Fit-All” when it comes to coping strategies. What works for me may not necessarily work for another person so approaching recovery from a holistic view enables us all to find what works best for our own personal needs.
I understand I still have a journey to travel for the path I am on still has bumps, bends and hills however that’s ok for I’m prepared to go through whatever life throws my way.
I choose to have control of Anxiety, Anxiety no longer controls me and I would encourage you all to grab all of your inner strength to do the same.
Just remember that there is HOPE – Hold On, Pain Ends