I remember my first taste of Anxiety, and it nearly destroyed me.

What makes Serenity NLP so special when it comes to dealing with anxiety, well, of course, we have the knowledge as do all others who study a subject, but more than that we have an understanding and  had a relationship with anxiety that others haven’t  and that makes all the difference when we help people here is how I know anxiety only too well.

I remember it like it was yesterday, and if I really focus on the intensity I could certainly re-live it, should I choose to. The anxiety was something I hadn’t felt before in my life. And what triggered it – well, my 52 year-old mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. That was the start of my relationship with anxiety.

I remember I was in a place called Ghazni at the time and it wasn’t the best of places, to be fair. I received a phone call from my mum, so I knew straightaway this was serious, as she wouldn’t have contacted me if it wasn’t. I remember her words; she asked when I would be home, and I said I had around five weeks to go before I was back. She said she thought I needed to come and see her when I got back, as she was not very well and needed to talk to me.

I asked a million questions and all she said was, “It’s ok, son; it’s nothing serious, but you need to come here.” She asked me to promise that I would come, so of course I promised.  You see, my mum was a fighter and never let anything stand in her way, so the very fact she needed to see me as soon as I got home started me over-thinking and then entering the whole catastrophic mind set.

Where I was based had a really limited phone and internet service and we were only allowed one call and thirty minutes of internet time a week. Due to the time difference, every time I tried my mum, after the initial conversation I was told she wasn’t feeling great and she would be resting – and, in turn, the whole negative thought system really kicked in at this point.  The last time I had seen my mother was around twelve months before this, as we lived 500 miles apart and we’d only really maintained phone contact for the last six months due to my work and life commitments.

I remember her being normal and healthy, weighing around 9-10 stones – a normal weight for a woman her size, I think. Now nothing on God’s great earth could prepare me for what I walked into when I arrived at her door. I remember it feeling very early, quiet – quieter than I ever remember the street or the house being – and it just felt like I was walking into an ambush of sorts in my mind. Turns out that was my gut feeling letting me know something was amiss, and it wasn’t wrong.

My beautiful wee mammy was sitting on the sofa, wrapped up with a blanket over her legs. Her tiny frail feet were sticking out at the bottom, with her wee West Highland White terrier curled up by her side. The second I walked into the room, the very breath left my body. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think, and I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t believe what my wee mammy looked like. She was lucky if she was 6 stone wet. Her face was drawn, she was pale, weak, and her jammies didn’t fit anymore. It was a moment which will haunt me to the very core of my being for the rest of my life – it is that moment when I had my first ever anxiety attack.

My wee mammy had cancer, and it had ravaged her body from head to toe. She was a different person from the one I had last seen all that time ago. I fell to my knees and begged God not to let this be true. Please God, I am begging you; don’t let this be my wee mammy. I knew in a heartbeat she was going to be taken from me. I started crying hysterically and my wee mammy forced herself to sit up.

She said, “Come here, son. It’s ok, I am ok. Don’t be silly, I am ok, I promise.”

I curled up and put my head on her knee and could feel her kneecap pressing on my temple. She put her hand on my head and said, “Don’t be upset, son. It’s ok, I am going to be ok. I have you back now; everything’s going to be ok.”

The fire from her once-sharp temper and voice was gone; it was just peaceful and I couldn’t tell you how long I sat with my head on her knee but it felt like it a lifetime. My wee mammy knew she was going to die. She knew and I knew, and the only thing I could do was cry. I couldn’t get off my knees; I couldn’t breathe. She asked if I wanted my sister to come over and sit for a while. Maybe she could explain everything, and let me go outside for a wee bit to see if I could calm down. I agreed and my sister arrived.

Again, a look says everything about a person and my sister knew the same as I did; this was a fight my mum wasn’t going to win.

I said I needed to go; I just kept saying it, and I ran out of the front door and threw up everything I had in my system.  My eyes lost focus it felt like someone had stolen the very breath from my body and I couldn’t get control back, I remember feeling panicky, full of agitation, like a brass band were marching up and down inside my chest. I couldn’t breath. and got so panicked and worked up the neighbour from next door thought I was having a heart attack as I held on to my chest and just tried to breath. This, I was to discover, was a full-on anxiety attack and it wasn’t going to be my last one for many years to come. I just kept asking in the short gaps between rapid breaths:

Why was this happening? Please God, take me instead, I begged. Please take me! I am not afraid of death; in fact, I welcome it. This is not fair! I thought. But it wasn’t my time and He didn’t answer me that day. I couldn’t even stay in the same street at that moment in time. I had my partner pick me up in the adjacent street and returned to the place I was staying.  I remember thinking I was about to die, and the more I thought about it the worse the feelings became, and they simply wouldn’t go away. That lasted between 6-7 minutes and it felt like a lifetime.

One of the most memorable things that day was that I felt physically and mentally drained; like I had gone 10 rounds with a heavyweight boxer; all my muscles hurt, even my eyes were sore. Panic and anxiety attacks can be so powerful that they leave you washed out and can ruin a whole day. So, of course, I had no choice but to face reality: the woman who cared for me , loved me unconditionally, and made me the person I was today was 6 weeks away from being taken away from me and I simply wasn’t ready. But the whole stages of grief were not to be played out yet – I remember thinking, if this lady has 6 weeks to go I need to be focused I need to be strong, I can’t have her lasting memory of me a nervous wreck with anxiety, panic and fear showing.

She was my wee mammy and I was about to fight my anxiety on a level I didn’t think possible, and also fight hers for her. You see, we had lost my brother a few years before and if the truth be told, my mother died inside that day, no question. She never recovered, and the fire and sparkle she was renowned for was replaced with a sadness and dullness behind the eyes which never really shone that bright again.

One of the most amazing things I have seen in all of this, was the acceptance she had – she didn’t even try to fight it or say, no this is not over. The very fact that she held my hand tight and whispered ‘it’s ok, Kevin, my time here is finished; it’s time to go and see your brother now’ made me realise that it was that easy for her, and the comfort she took in her beliefs and faith were something so powerful and amazing that I have yet to see it repeated at any level again.

Now, this was the calm before the storm.

Firstly I had to deal with the daily anxiety attacks, the very fact that I never switched off or even managed to sleep properly for the next six weeks was just something I was going to get used to. But, to ensure my mother wasn’t upset by my sadness or constant anxiety, I remained in a mode that served me well. In front of everyone I remained calm, focused and very protective of my mother. I would ensure no one cried in front of her or got too sad or down, to make sure she didn’t feel anything but pure unconditional love for her remaining time.

Then, when she slept or everyone went away. I would let everything wash over me; the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety. I think I held out not too bad, for most of the time I would try and hold my breath, ground myself and hope that the feelings would go. At other times I would pretend I heard the front door go in the hallway and just let the attack come and wash over me, then recover and go again. For my mind and physicality, it would continue like so for the next six weeks.  Having a new found friend in anxiety at this moment in my life wasn’t really a worry for me because all of my thoughts lay with my mum.

She was always on medication, and one of those medications was an anti-anxiety tablet she had taken for years. She was ok while she was still capable of swallowing a tablet, so the doctors kept her on these and also increased a beta blocker to try and enhance her last stages, as she refused all other options. Again, the most painful part of all of this for me was when my mum wasn’t capable of oral medication and had to have automated injections (or the driver as it is known.) One of the medications that couldn’t be given any more were the beta blockers and the anxiety medication, and the change was instant. It was like someone had flipped a switch on the anxiety overdrive.

My mum’s anxiety and behaviour changed overnight. She simply couldn’t settle, she couldn’t focus and the agitation was something I have never seen before. Nurses, doctors, all said it was part of the final process and she was on a care pathway and this was normal. Let me assure you this level of anxiety was not normal in any way, shape or form and no one could help. I remember thinking, I wish I could just add her anxiety on top of mine and I would gladly take the discomfort, panic, and agitation for her.

Watching and being unable to help someone with that level of anxiety was truly heart-breaking for me, and to compound it, she was my mother. If I was ever in a position to fix anyone with anxiety, or help them, or guide them, then before I looked at any client, I would close my eyes, remember my mother, and start to help with her memory foremost in my mind.  This levels me and always reminds me why I am so passionate and focused when it comes to anxiety treatment and therapy.

Now, as strange as it may sound to you, the very fact that my mother was given only 6 weeks to live wasn’t a big deal, or affected her in any way; but the second the anxiety came calling it totally ripped her last few weeks on this planet to pieces. She was either too hot, too cold, the lack of noise would send her agitation into overdrive; too much noise would do the very same, and everything – and I mean everything – just made her agitated and anxious on a level that no one should really have to cope with. The worst part was not one person could help, or even tried, in relation to this crippling anxiety which ripped through her every hour of the day.

For that I will never forgive nor forget the impact anxiety had on the last few weeks of my mother’s life. Now I haven’t ever said this; and it seems strange that at the first stages I hoped, wished and prayed for more time, for it not to be true – but towards the end, because the anxiety was so very painful for her, I found myself hoping and wishing and praying that enough was enough, she had fought her own fight in her own way and I prayed and hoped for the opposite; that she would close her eyes be peaceful and just go to see my brother.

After just a few more days like this, my mother passed away in her sleep and I had nothing to be strong for; I was numb and empty apart from one simple emotion – anxiety. It would remain in my life for many, many years to come, with one twist after another after another.

No matter how hard you try and outrun, ignore and focus on other things, the anxiety – unless it is dealt with – simply won’t go away. You can mask it and dull it with medication from your GP, but that won’t fix it. It’s like covering a clock to stop it telling the time; when you lift the cover the clock is still there, ticking away, and that’s the very same for anxiety.

I think, if I’m being honest, that if I had actually attempted to learn what it was and deal with it, in turn I could have become anxiety-free many years before I did.  But I guess having had it, and on such a severe level, aids this process of helping and showing you how to defeat it, re-train your mind, and adjust your behaviour to ensure that when it’s gone, it’s gone, and it doesn’t come back.

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