Monthly Archives: November 2014

Faith and Spirituality – My path

November 23, 2014

 

faith

 

I am by no means a bible hugging yogi (not that that is a bad thing). But I do have faith. I have had it as long as I can remember. It has been shaken at times over the past 20 years, but it has remained my most constant friend and ally through my mental health journey and through life.

I was raised a Roman Catholic. I attended church every Sunday with all my family and went to a Catholic school. As a very small person I had a great affinity with God. I said my prayers and enjoyed going to mass; the community, the people, the prayers. I felt a connection to my church and to God.

As Roman Catholics we are raised to believe in God but also to love and have reverence for  the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. The ‘Hail Mary’ was always my favourite prayer and remains so to this day. As years passed I made my Holy Communion and Confirmation. I still attended mass on a Sunday. But I got to my teens and it just wasn’t cool to be going to church every Sunday. It wasnt cool to love God. Even in those days, the number of people who had a faith and a church was limited. So, slowly, I stopped going to mass on a regular basis. I would ‘get out of it’ as often as I could. God was always with me, but I didn’t want to attend church every week and look like some nerd. I succumbed to pier pressure, and by this time my parents did not push us to go except on important church calendar events such as Easter and Christmas.

As a teenager, I don’t recall paying much attention to my faith. I said my nightly prayers and just got on with living my life. I went to sixth form college at 16 and this too was a Catholic college. I met new friends and attended the compulsory RE classes. I only recall that apart from my love of God and the Virgin Mother, my faith and the institution that it was, was not doing much for me. I remember my RE teacher well though. She was an amazing, passionate and good hearted woman. She had a passion for her faith and I remember us all being captivated by her passion. We went on retreat with her and there were times that she brought my love of my faith back.

When I lost my grandmother suddenly at 18, I remember feeling at a complete loss. Wondering where she had gone and how would I never see her again? For several years I felt that loss. I just couldn’t get my head around life and death. What did it all mean? I had been brought up with a faith that said that God loves us and when we die we go to heaven. But my logical brain just didn’t feel this belief had enough credence. I wanted something concrete that said we would all be together again. I continued to pray, but I didn’t go to church any more.

It was around this time that there was a number of important investigations into the Catholic Church and its priests. Suddenly there was a lot of press attention. Now I’m not one for hype and I still have my own opinion. But there was so much going on, that I had to read more. There was a feeling of uncertainty that I had that the Catholic faith was in fact quite corrupt and built solely on monetary gain. I remember talking to my mum and grandfather about these findings, and they both suggested that I look more at the good people within the Faith and the good that came from the church. I took this on board.

Over time I continued to pray and have a love for my God. But the faith I had been raised in, left too many immoral questions for me. Too much secular secrecy, too much attention paid to ‘the rules’ of Catholicism. These ‘rules’ left me cold. How could the God that I believed in not love homosexuals? How could a child be born with sin? How could the God that I believe in intend that Catholic priests and nuns live a life alone; no family or life partner, to show their dedication to the faith. Too many questions unanswered. There must be something else?

It was in my late 20’s that I read Sylvia Browne’s book – The other side and back. This changed everything for me. Sylvia was a psychic medium. She was also a Catholic. Her book touched me so much that at last I felt that I had a real understanding of our purpose here, life’s purpose and what happens to us when we pass over. The thought of ‘Going home’ at the end of my life filled me with a strength and courage that this life is just a temporary journey. That we are here for a purpose; to live and experience life for God with God. No matter how hard it is, what ever it throws at us, that we can have the strength of faith that it will all pass and that it is all for a reason.

From Sylvia’s book I went on to read more. Sylvia was a self confessed gnostic. This means that her faith was made of parts of many other faiths. I too have now taken that approach. I love the God that I was brought up to love. I love the Virgin Mother. I love and believe in a Mother God. I love meditation from the Buddists, I love yoga from the Yogi’s and so on. Basically, I have taken all the parts of faith, from the so many that there are, and made my own faith. One where the God that I believe in has an unconditional love for all people. I believe that every person whether good or bad has a purpose in this world, even if its a catalyst to good. I believe that doing good brings good. I believe in Karma. I believe that this journey we take is for the greater good, that there is no option to check out, no matter how hard it gets. But should you be so desperate to check out, then the God I believe in will love you just as much when you arrive on the other side. I believe that we should love one another. I believe that you should never judge another, we have no way of knowing the journey they are on. I believe that sometimes things happen to us and we have no way of knowing how to move forward. I believe that if you ‘believe’ hard enough, your true purpose will become clear.

Faith is a very personal thing. It may be the backbone of all that a person is. It certainly is my backbone. Even at times when there may be a question over something that I truly believe in. If I pray and believe for long enough, the answer always comes. This brings me peace that is immeasurable.

Today I am still a Catholic of sorts. I attend church occasionally. I like to touch base with God in a formal environment from time to time. I believe that the majority of people in the Catholic faith are good people. I am all that I am because of the Catholic faith. It was my start. My family and friends are bound together because of this faith. I still have my own beliefs over much of what the Catholic faith suggests is ‘right’ but I’m happy to keep my own counsel on these issues in the hope that all the good well outweighs the bad. To be part of a community of people is the best feeling. Most people are trying to get through life the best way they can, and the Catholic church and many other churches and religions help those in need in ways that the average parishioner has no way of knowing. Their contribution surely is so much better than no contribution at all. So in this way, I suppose God still works through the good of the church.

Probably the most significant belief I now have, is that we pass over to a better place. We go ‘home’. Where all our loved ones who have passed over are there waiting. I personally cant wait for the reunion party in the sky. But whilst I wait, I will keep the faith and do good where ever and however I can.

I hope I have inspired you to think about faith. I accept it is not for everyone. My paternal grandfather believed that when we die, that is it, we push up flowers. But as my dad said in his eulogy: ‘My dad did not believe in God, but I know God believed in him. He was the best of men.’

Peace be with you. Always K xxx

ANXIETY// What is Anxiety?

November 17, 2014

You may have already read My Story. If you have, you will know that I have suffered anxiety for over 20 years, having had a breakdown at the age of 20. There were signals that something was wrong far before my mental health took a final plunge. But I was totally unaware that these symptoms and signals, were signs of anxiety. It was by leaving these symptoms unchecked and not speaking of them, that caused my condition to worsen. Bit by bit, I became more and more unwell. This coupled with a lack of knowledge on the subject and a lack of understanding as to what was wrong with me, that inevitably lead to a complete meltdown. Please be assured that this is NOT the case for everyone.

There are so many definitions across the web of what anxiety is. I’m sure you have already seen many of them. One of my favourite resources is the No Panic website.

Rather than rehash whats already been published so many times, I will instead, tell you what anxiety is for me. How it has affected me as an individual. I hope you may see some similarities and take some comfort that you are not alone. It is only all these years down the road that I now know that anxiety is a common and very manageable condition and with the right help and approach, it does not have to take over your life.

Over the past 20 years or so, I have suffered various forms of anxiety; Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder and Social Anxiety. All have come to me at different times and have affected me in different ways.

Whilst I had been suffering GAD for the year leading up to my breakdown, I had no idea that that was what was wrong with me. GAD for me was this constant feeling of unease, of being unable to relax, of finding myself caught up in my own thinking. I was constantly worried about the smallest of things. This constant onslaught of thoughts lead to lack of sleep, changes in appetite and changes in my emotions. I felt more tearful and less able to cope with things that at one time I would have taken in my stride. As my stress levels increased and my ability to recharge became less, the anxiety and then depression started to take a hold.

By the time I was on that fateful holiday in 1995, my nerves were in shreds. It was at this point that the OCD thoughts started. I had thoughts that were really quite horrible. I was ashamed of myself that these thoughts were actually in my mind. I had thoughts of a violent nature. It was in later years and when I read the book Tormenting thoughts and secret rituals that I realised that the thoughts were actually textbook for my condition. They did not in any way reflect who I was as a person, but were in fact a sign of stress and anxiety. At the time when they began, I literally thought I was losing my mind and that I was turning into a violent psychopath. It was everything my worst nightmares were made of. I was literally terrified of myself and the thoughts that took up so much of my time and energy. I was living on a knife edge, unable to relax and certainly unable to switch off. Again, I had no idea that all this was normal (in an anxiety sense), so rather than them being just passing thoughts in my mind that every person gets from time to time, they were signals to me that I had no control. I was losing control of both body and soul.

When the panic hits there is nothing like it. The anxiety rages through every inch of your body so that you shake uncontrollably. Your blood rushes from your organs to your muscles leaving you light headed like you are about to faint. Your breathing is so shallow you think you will hyperventilate. You sweat and there is a constant lump in your throat so that you can’t swallow. These are the physical symptoms. Mentally things start taking on a world of their own too. There is no control as your mind jumps from one terrifying thought to another.  You are convinced you are crazy. You focus only on the worst possible outcome. You are lost, alone and petrified.

It seems like a mammoth task to do the smallest thing. Anything big like communicate, socialise, attend events, work, go to the supermarket or travel all go out the window. They are simply impossible. You feel that they just wont ever happen again. That you wont ever be strong enough again.

Even now, it amazes me, that you can actually have all this and still come back from it. But you can. You really can. Whilst my breakdown was probably the worst thing that ever happened to me. I can sit here now and also tell you it was one of the best things. It has shaped who I am today and continues to challenge me. What it has shown to me is that anyone, no matter how ‘together’ they are, can fall foul of this beast. It is not selective. But one thing is for sure, you can come back bigger and stronger than you have ever been. But aside from that, you will have an empathy inside you that can never be taken away. You will understand to some small degree what it is like to suffer mental anguish.

I whole heartedly take my hat of to each and every person who suffers real mental torment. There really is no comparison for me. When I was at my worst I would have swapped an actual limb for the chance to be free from  my mind. You cannot do this of course, but it doesnt mean that I didnt want to. I would have given up an arm or a leg to stop the constant mental and physical barrage that attacked me.

Possibly the worst thing for me when I’m anxious is the feeling of being out of control. That you are broken into shatters and you will never be whole again. That there is a wall you have to climb and you just know that you are not strong enough to do it. Fear runs through your body in waves of terror. It’s not always constantly at that level, but constant enough that your body and soul are exhausted. You feel lost and scared and you think it will always be this way.

Social anxiety came much later on for me. Before this I was a confident and compassionate person who went on to achieved a degree and held down a career of responsibility, even whilst suffering GAD and OCD. Even though I had had years of depression and anxiety behind me, somehow, it had never got to the heart of who I was. I had always, still, been able to hold my own in any given situation; relationship, boardroom, party. It didnt matter that I had a mental health history. My confidence was never shaken. As I got better in the early days, I quite quickly reverted back to my old confidant self.

I was working and I had taken on another promotion. I found myself in a management role for the first time. At first it was no problem. I enjoyed every minute and finally felt the success and recognition I had always dreamed of. But due to excessive pressures, and an inability from me to say no, the stress levels started to increase. I did not see at the time that I was doing everything wrong. I was not looking after myself. I drank too much coffee, had too many late nights working and said yes to everything. Again, without me realising the stress levels were increasing and I was letting it happen. I was burning that candle at all ends. Family were saying to me that I was working too hard. I just thought they were worrying over nothing. But finally in the boardroom, a meeting with all the high level executives, my line manager turned to me to speak and present. At this point my body started shaking. Words would not come out of my mouth. I was dry. I looked around in complete panic. I attempted to give a quick presentation, but the anxiety and stress took hold. Thank goodness my boss could see what was happening and took over. But for me the damage was done. My confidence in my ability to perform was in shatters. I felt embarrassed and humiliated. I left the office and cried. I felt broken, embarrassed and a complete nervous wreck.

It wasn’t long and the anxiety had a complete grip of me again. This time it had got to the heart of me and my confidence in myself. I felt nervous in almost every situation. I thought I could no longer communicate without being anxious. This really did destroy me. I had never put any faith in any other area of my life except my personality and my ability to mix and network, to socialise and host parties, to work and achieve.  Now this had gone, I really felt like there was nothing else. Looking at this point of view now, it seems almost ridiculous to have felt this way. But anxiety is ridiculous. It is irrational and can churn you up so much that you no longer recognise yourself.

I’m pleased to tell you that all of this was 6 years ago. Things (as they always do) got better. I sit here now from an even stronger vantage point. I have experienced all that anxiety has to offer. I have not beaten it completely, and I now accept it as part of who I am. I don’t think I will ever be free of it completely, but at least I now have an understanding and a sense of acceptance.

Some points to help you start on your way to recovery:

  • You will need to take small steps and get the love and support of those around you to help you through. Talking to those you love about how you are feeling is so important to your recovery. As you educate yourself, educate those you love.
  • You will need to accept your anxiety and see it for what it is. Just having the knowledge that you have an anxiety disorder is probably the most important step on the road to healing.
  • Go and see your GP and tell them as much as possible about how your feeling and the mental and physical symptoms.
  • Read as much as you can to educate yourself to the type of anxiety that you have. This too will help the healing process. Join online forums; talking to those that understand is really so so important early on. It will bring you comfort and support.
  • Therapies help. I had very good immediate and lasting effects from prescribed medication. Particularly in the early days. For me they were what saved me. But medication is not right for everyone. It maybe that counselling, psychotherapy, psychiatry, nutrition, exercise might be what save you. For me it was a mixture of all these things.
  • Meditation and Mindfulness. This has without doubt been the most effective measure I take in order to limit the anxiety. Through mindfulness and meditation you can learn to sit with your anxious thoughts and allow them to float on by. There is no trying to stop them or change them, you just allow them to be and accept them. There is now so much evidence that meditation can actually encourage the growth of grey matter in the brain. It can actually change the chemistry of your brain to a place of calm. So over time, not only will you be able to see the thoughts and feelings for what they are, but you can actually get to a point where your brain changes to such a degree, that the onslaught of anxiety completely dies down.

It may feel that the wall is insurmountable, but with the right measures you can really start to live again. Anxiety is the hardest thing to live with. Even 20 years in, there are days that I can’t stop it. But by taking all the steps I mention above, you can start to heal. Life will be better, I promise. Just make your healing your priority and when you come through to the other side, you will be stronger and more wonderful than ever.

Onwards, K xxx

” You are smart, you are kind, you are beautiful and you are important.”

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