A few people have been asking why I do the work that I do, how I started and what life was like before! So, I thought I’d answer the question here, and of course, it’s turned out to be longer than I expected!
It’s funny as I would never have described myself as being particularly anxious, and it’s only now with the absence of the anxious thinking (or huge reduction) that I realise how much of my time was spent in anxiety and overwhelm. Funny that.
So, here goes. Part one. You might need a comfy seat and a cup of tea to stay the course.
It all starts some place; thoughts become beliefs
I was raised, as most of us were it seems, to have respect for the future and to be prepared for any eventuality, because ‘you never knew what’s around the corner’ and ‘disaster can strike at any moment’.
Living in the now was deemed irresponsible, foolish and even dangerous by the grown ups around me, or that’s how it looked to me.
It was also felt that if you were prepared for the fall, it wouldn’t hurt as much. Mmm, not in my experience. A fall hurts, full stop.
‘What if (fill in the blank)’ was a familiar refrain in our house, or at least that’s what I heard. From ‘what if it rains?’ if I was going exploring to ‘what if he doesn’t want to go out with you anymore?’ if my teenage boyfriend was late coming to see me! ‘What if’s’ were everywhere it seemed, ready to trip me up, make me doubt myself and put me off stepping into the unknown without a fair bit of project planning beforehand!
Now while not knowing what’s around the corner is of course true, and life is definitely a roller coaster of ups and downs, we all respond to that knowledge in different ways, some more practical and sensible than others!
Here was my seemingly sensible response to imminent danger that soon led to habit and then anxiety and overwhelm!
Habitual thinking: it starts to make sense to us
Now, because I believed that disaster could strike at any moment I decided that I should make the effort to be prepared at all times. This made complete sense to me. Why wouldn’t it? How could anyone deal with the fire breathing dragon if they didn’t have the armour piercing heavy duty spear thrower? And of course the asbestos suit (fire retardant you see).
So, in order to be properly prepared I had to really focus, to dedicate time and energy into picturing potential problems, big and small, and then work out how I would deal with them.
Luckily for me (or so I thought then!) I had a vivid imagination and had always loved making up stories so this was easy for me.
As a teenager for example, I remember lying in bed feeling really pleased with myself for working out how I would escape the house in case there was a fire – climb out of the window onto the flat roof and then climb down the apple tree. Simple, I gave into sleep. But, hang on a minute, what if the tree had caught fire because someone had left the kitchen window open and the fire had leapt onto the tree! I was then wide awake as I had to rethink the whole event and plot a different escape, and that was accompanied by a whole cocktail of anxiety hormones coursing through my body.
You see, I really lived these disasters, albeit in my head, as the more creative I became – Tarrantino move over! – the more that seemed to allow me to focus harder and come up with even more amazing solutions.
And, because our physical bodies are perfect responders to our thinking, my perfectly tuned fight or flight system would react exactly as requested and I would start to feel scared and panicky and ready for battle. (Flight wasn’t an option at that point as I didn’t yet have a passport)
Now, some people would develop OCD type responses to such thoughts. I know someone who has to check that her windows are shut multiple times before she can settle for the night. I didn’t do that, I don’t know why, I guess it just never occurred to me (or I was just too lazy!)
Anyway, this disaster planning continued to seem like a good idea and I carried on perfecting the skill for years. At the same time I felt increasingly anxious and scared by life but, unfortunately I didn’t see how the two were connected. I saw life as scary and so upped my disaster planning strategies. In fact, in my understanding the world was becoming more and more dangerous and the more that I believed that, the more intense the feelings and so the more planning was needed. A never ending loop!!
I also developed physical symptoms such as IBS and flare ups of sinusitis and eczema. I went to the GP many times about my physical symptoms but they didn’t make any connection with my emotional state, probably just as well.
When I was eighteen I moved to London and trained to be a nurse. This was the perfect breeding ground for my ever increasing anxiety state. I now had city living to add to the danger list and, you would not believe how many terrible diseases and conditions there are that I of course could catch, develop and grow!
Interestingly, my reaction to all of these new fears was not to try to avoid them at all. I developed a fatalistic approach and drank, smoked, substanced and sugared my way through my nurse training whilst planning what to do when the inevitable disaster struck. No clean living for me then. Those years felt terrifying, dangerous, exciting and often out of control and yet there was always ‘something’ that seemed to protect me from going too far, and it wasn’t fear. In fact those times when the quiet voice whispered ‘stop’ were often the times that I felt the most peaceful and empowered.
I’ll talk more about that quiet voice in another blog I promise. Now back to me!
And then there were three
So, fast forward a few years and our first baby was born. Gorgeous, delightful, an absolute joy! (and he still is by the way) But, do you have any idea how much danger is around for a tiny baby?! My disaster planning went into overdrive as I imagined all the possible ways that my baby could come to harm and I spent so much time plotting and planning to avert said disasters.
For example, we need more nappies so I need to go to the shop. Should I walk or drive? I should walk, it’s not far, but what if it rains, what if the neighbour sees me and wants to chat, what if J cries, what if he’s too hot, too cold, what if the buggy wheel comes off, the buggy tips and J is thrown onto the road! (yep, it would be that crazy)
Okay, I’ll drive then. But what if there’s no parking outside the local shop, I’d better go to Sainsburys, it’s further away but I’m guaranteed a parking place, that means I’ll be gone longer so better take formula and nappies, that’s a busy road though to Sainsburys, some crazy drivers, dangerous really, what if I get involved in an accident, is my AA membership still valid?
I know, I’ll ring B and he can pick some nappies up on his way home. Safer that way.
And so the pattern continued, with me going out less and less and my world becoming smaller and smaller.
And then; a new understanding
And then I was introduced to a new understanding, a new way to understand my anxiety, a new way to make sense of life! This understanding was simple, profound and life changing and so now I teach others, in order to help them to make sense of their lives and therefore to live easier, happier lives.
What I learnt was that nothing outside of me; no things, people, circumstances or events could possibly do me harm, because fundamentally I can’t be harmed. The scary world that I was seeing, believing in and then protecting myself and my loved ones against was actually created by me!
When I first heard about this understanding aka The Three Principles I thought I was probably going crazy and yet I knew there was truth in it and I kept listening and reading and experiencing that truth for myself.
I heard that I was powered by something called life force, universal energy, chi, prana or god and that we all are, in fact everything is!
I heard that yes, stuff happens, sometimes bad stuff and sometimes scary stuff but that I was resilient and capable and responsible (able to respond!).
I heard that thoughts appear to us and, as we become aware of them we then have a felt experience of them.
I heard that I will always know what to do and, if my mind isn’t full of scary ‘plotting and planning’ thoughts then wisdom and common sense will always be there for me.
I started to realise for myself that all of this three principles stuff was true! If I pay attention to scary thoughts and think that I need to work on them, change them, even push them away then they will grow thought babies and my head will become full and I will feel anxious and scared and desperate.
I started to realise that if, when these thoughts appeared, I saw them for what they really are, little wisps of energy showing up as thought, I could let them float on with no effort needed.
I started to realise that thought couldn’t hurt me and, with a mind not cluttered with tunnel-visioned thinking, when stuff happened I would be able to respond in creative, compassionate and empowered ways.
All this became the norm, not all of the time of course, I am only human. I still have anxious thoughts, scary thoughts and worried thoughts. But so less often and the power within them is so less potent.
Now how cool is that!
Just to be clear though – I am of course not saying that planning is a bad idea. I’ve been planning what time to leave in the morning as I’m going away. What I’m not doing is imagining the ‘what ifs’. What if my alarm doesn’t go off, what if the car doesn’t start, what if I run out of petrol, what if I forget my purse, what if an elephant has slept on my car overnight and flattened it?
I’m just planning what time to leave in the morning, and that’s it.
I realise that this may make no sense to some of you, but I suspect you might well have heard something a little bit familiar as I did when I first heard about this understanding. If this does makes you a little bit curious and you want to hear more, please do get in touch, I’d love to chat.