Breathe Michelle, breathe…
Sometimes, I catch myself forgetting to do that. Something as essential, as life giving, as calming, as soul cleansing as breathing and I forget. How can this be so? I practice a lot of yoga and have learnt about our ‘relationship with the breath’ but I still have to consciously remind myself not to hold my breath, sometimes often, in my day to day activities. Not surprising really. The over-thinker has to think about what is normally deemed a subconscious process.
Recently I have been attempting to not use the ‘S’ word. A beautiful friend of mine brought to my attention recently about all the negative connotations that come along with the word ‘stress’. Such a commonly used word in today’s society, as we rush around trying to fit 50 million things into our work or study day, maintain our relationships, look selfie ready always and follow whatever food fad or intolerances we are currently living by. Many of us profoundly pronounce often, just how undeniably ‘stressed out’ we are. I know I have definitely been an avid user of the term in the past. So how can using the summation of a bunch of arbitrary symbols, be so bad for our health?
Well put simply, what we think – we become. Think happy thoughts, you feel happy; think angry thoughts, you feel angry; think stressed out thoughts, you feel stressed. But what is stress? What is it that you actually feel? This was how my girlfriend put it to me. This was how it was put to her. A motivational coach was bought into her workplace by this major cooperation she stands in high regard for. So this speaker stated that collectively as a society, increases in ‘stress levels’ have shown a strong positive correlation to our societies use of the term ‘stress’. Basically stress didn’t exist as we know it until we felt the need to coin it with a term and attach all the psychological turmoil to the term that we do.
Interesting to say the least. Until we created it, it simply didn’t exist.
For me personally, the term caused some events in my life that I had to learn a great deal from. It was scary the extent this term had on my health. And I experienced the ramifications of the word in the form of panic attacks. Scary, overwhelming and at times, frequent panic attacks. It felt debilitating. The feeling of being unable to draw enough oxygen into my body, would leave me feeling like I was going to die. Honestly, it was terrifying. And to anybody who has or is experiencing this please know you are not alone.
I think for me it was a multitude of things that occurred in my life. Moving interstate, feeling unsupported, parenting two small children, a relationship breakdown, a new unhealthy relationship, an unhealthy lifestyle of partying to try to deflect from my real issues, not succeeding like I had previously been at my studies, financial changes… The list goes on…. And I am very aware I was not in a unique situation. For all of us have times in which we feel a bit down on our luck in life. A bit beaten down. However for me, I was struggling to see the light. The out. The up. How was I going to get back to good. And to be honest, the pressure of getting better or over it, just made it even worse.
The attacks would come on and I couldn’t control when, where, how or why. Often something would trigger it, but it could something as small as opening another bill in the mailbox or even just thinking about all the cleaning jobs I had to do around the house. I had attacks at the shops, at uni, in therapy – blessing in disguise – , in bed, basically everywhere. But the biggest and sadly the worst was witnessed by my son. His face is something I will never forget.
He was seated next to me in the car when it came over me. Another relationship argument had preceded and I couldn’t control my body. I felt my body go numb, my mind begin to spin and the massive lump rise up in my throat. My body tensed and I began to gasp for breath. I could feel my whole body go hot and I began to panic. I looked across to my son and the fear on his face was heartbreaking – but that guilt only made matters worse. It seemed to go on forever. He was bawling and I couldn’t do anything to let him know I was going to be alright. At the time I honestly didn’t know if I was myself. But to not be able to comfort your child is the worst pain I have ever endured. I felt I failed him.
Eventually, I gained control of my breathing and managed to calm him down too. He told me he honestly thought I was choking and was going to die. The whole thing broke my heart. We spent the rest of the day curled up at home together with me trying to explain to him what had just happened. Things beyond his years, that I wished he hadn’t been exposed to. But for me it was the trigger I needed to change my unhealthy lifestyle. My unhealthy dynamics. My lack of self love and care. I was a real shake up. I just felt terrible it came at the cost of some of my child’s innocence.
We all make errors in judgement however and I no longer beat myself up. Amazingly, I think my son took good from the experience. We have very open communication at my house and have spoken about it on several occasions since. His care and empathy for people is truly beautiful. I learn from both my children’s pure hearts on a daily basis. But what did I do to try to overcome my panic attacks?
Firstly, I spoke out. To my GP – who found my thyroid was all out of whack too – my therapist, my family, my friends, and occasionally to people I did not know well at all. And do you know what struck me. Many many people had been there too. It was not that I was so broken or fucked up, it was purely just my lack of ability to deal with my life pressures in a more positive way. To learn what was causing it, what brought them on and preventative ways to deal with the build up.
I wrote a list of things that calm me. Hot showers, long baths with candles, yoga, anything to do with the ocean, time with girlfriends, music even giving myself a cuddle are now all things I actively do to reduce any build up of intense emotion.
Also very importantly, I try to define exactly what the emotion is. I try not to use the umbrella term ‘stress’ as it does not exactly define what the problem is. And if you don’t define it, you can not actively deal with it. I try to figure out if I feel sad, confused, angry, disappointed, frustrated, doubt, despair, guilt and in what area of my life. It is very easy when something is getting you down to tell yourself that everything is going badly. When in fact, it is just one aspect of your otherwise very joyful life. I know I have definitely done this and acted out the woe is me. In fact I would say that was me all last week. I’m human after all. I won’t beat myself up. But I will use this post as a way to also remind myself how far I have come.
I have not had an attack for almost 5 months now. I no longer live in fear of when the next one will strike. It’s a great feeling. But I also know if it does, I am not a failure. I am not letting any one down. I simply need to work out what I should be doing differently to nurture myself. Sometimes, the emotions get heavy and the breathing becomes a little erratic but with a little mindfulness and a lot of love I have been managing to calm myself down before I lose control of it. And I am really proud of myself.
I just want to live my life the best way I can. And every direction points to loving myself as being the most important part.
I also hope by sharing my experiences, others can know they are not alone and that they deserve to love themselves too:)
All is well in my world.
Much love, Michelle xxx