I begin my Reiki precepts every morning before I get out of bed.
“Now, I am gentle and calm.
The one I always linger on for a fraction longer than the rest and the one that catches in my throat.
The one that is deceptively simple, that I have struggled with the most in my life.
For years, since I was a small child, I suffered from chronic hypochondria; wound up tightly like a ball of elasticated fear, contracting and expanding with anxiety, seemingly without control, around the thought pattern that anything and everything would go “wrong” with my body and my health, without a moment of warning.
When I was 9, I went to school with a little girl who developed a brain tumour behind her left eye.
She was 8 at the time; she swam in the same team as I did and occasionally we talked and shared jokes, like 8 and 9 year olds do.
She went away from school for a while to have surgery to remove the brain tumour and to receive aggressive treatment and when she came back after a while, she had no hair. She was often sick in the playground, a side-effect of the treatment regime she was on, and she stopped taking part in the swimming team.
One day she brought her radiation mask to school, to show the teachers and the other students. It looked like a see-through copy of her face and there was a piece of tape stuck across the forehead with her name written on it in black marker pen.
Other children talked about her, like children often do. Teachers gave talks about “acceptance” and “tolerance of differences” in assembly, but nobody talked about cancer and what was happening to her.
Nobody talked about what to do to support her, or her family.
Nobody talked to her.
At age 9, I took what I perceived to be happening to her to heart, identifying with her and seeing me as her, to make sense of the story. There was a sense of melding, almost like stepping into the situation in order to fully understand the trauma, from a 9 year old perspective.
I played the story of how her illness was discovered over and over again, “by chance, during the Christmas holidays” in my head as a self-imposed bedtime mantra, adding to my convincing inner dialogue that illness was something that would spring upon me, without warning.
I began to obsess over every minor tweak or pain, twinge or spasm I felt in my body. I got acquainted with a heightened sensitivity for anticipating the very worst.
I must have run to my mom a thousand times or more that year, in a flat panic, tears streaming down my face and heart thumping, convinced I had found something bad; that my symptoms were a sign of my body failing me.
“B” passed away a year later and we had a small service for her in assembly.
Then we continued to play and eat sandwiches and giggle in class, like nothing had changed.
Except it felt like everything had changed.
I carried her story with me all through my life, in some form or another; playing the loop around in my mind, sometimes with different characters, always with the same outcome.
Living in a state of anticipated catastrophe; being prepared and ready for the worst.
Lack of trust. Anxiety. Terrified of failure of any kind.
A cycle working in the background, buried deep.
Lack of trust. Anxiety. Waking nightmares. Evenings spent obsessively gazing at moles or bruises on my skin, imagining lumps and bumps and working myself up to ask my mom to take me to the doctor, preparing myself for the worst.
Headaches, tummy aches, periods of nausea and exhaustion.
I recognise these now as classic symptoms of stress, but at the time, I didn’t know how to articulate that stress and so my body did it for me, in the only way it knew how.
Years passed and I completed high school with flying colours.
No one discovered my hypochondria and so I felt safe to continue obsessing.
Safe to cancel plans with friends, so I could stay home and google my symptoms…
Yes, I did that more times than I care to mention here.
I existed in the cycle of heightened imagining, checking, googling, panicking and taking myself off to the doctor, all the while with the story re-playing in the background of my timeline as if it were still happening now:
“B got sick suddenly. One day when she was on holiday it looked like her eye was bulging and the doctors discovered a brain tumour behind her eye that had been growing there for months without her knowing.”
As a grown adult in my twenties, the cycle continued undercover, until it gradually started affecting my productivity at work.
I used to call the NHS 111 number about the latest fear I had about a set of symptoms I’d noticed.
I would tell my GP my symptoms and voice my fears in a pale, cold sweat.
Once they had had a look at me and pronounced me well, occasionally with a minor infection to treat, a familiar, overwhelming sense of relief would wash over me. Like a drug of a thousand sunflowers infused with bubbles of hit-me-bliss and lala-land.
It was a highly addictive and debilitating way to live.
Holding my body and mind to ransom, creating chaos and mayhem only to rely on the short-term relief administered by the doctor telling me I was OK, to then begin the cycle again in two weeks’ time.
And so it continued.
Fast forward to 2014 when I was recovering from surgery to remove an ovarian cyst, I decided to learn Reiki; something I’d been interested in learning for many years.
During this process, I started to notice something about the anxiety cycle and how it was triggered in me.
I learned that the fear of the unknown, usually associated with a change in circumstance, triggered me into an obsessive personal investigation into my health, as a means of gaining a sense of control.
I learned I had little to no personal boundaries established and I had been living my life walking around like an open sponge, absorbing and transmuting anything and everything that affected me, positive or negative. I’d also gravitated to people who, consciously or unconsciously, reflected back exactly what I was projecting.
You’ve heard stories about and read about energy vampires? Well, I was one.
Depleted in my own source of inner energy, seeking nourishment from any external source available.
I learned I had no idea what ‘No’ felt like, in my own body. Or ‘Yes,’ for that matter.
And so this is where the work began. To heal my own self first and to finally, after all the years, tell 9 year old me, “I hear you, I see you, I’ve got you.”
I learned to begin to listen to my body, my intuition and my mind, body and soul connection.
I learned how to differentiate between my story and their story, so I didn’t absorb and become, in order to understand and have compassion for pain and suffering.
I learned to understand that sometimes the body gets sick and holding on to the story of the other person’s perceived suffering does not serve me and it certainly does not serve them, or change the outcome.
And so I find myself here, three years later, with the Reiki precepts.
Every morning before I get out of bed.
“Now, I am gentle and calm.
I am humble and grateful.
I am focused on my spiritual development.
I am kind to myself and others.”
“I trust” fills me with the beauty of surrender and allowing myself to receive love and trust in return.
I accept my body as whole and complete just as is, in this moment.
I trust myself and my energy, the universe around me and within.
I have a sense of peace and calm from deep inside the core of my being and the ability to align to True North;
to create a new story loop that involves healing and joy in self-awareness and forgiveness.
And finally, I am ready to release B.
I am forever grateful to her, for being one of my greatest teachers; for being gentle and calm, for being humble and grateful, always; for being kind to herself and others throughout her 8 years and for teaching me to trust, as she did.
She’s been with me a long while and it’s time.
Thank you for showing me myself.
Please share this post with anyone you know who has experienced anxiety.