A Healing Journey:
Anxiety & Me
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.
When I was a small child, I suffered from chronic hypochondria. I spent my days and nights feeling wound up tightly like a ball of elasticated fear, contracting and expanding with anxiety 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, a little girl I went to school with developed a brain tumour behind her left eye.
She was 8 at the time, and she swam in the same team as me. 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. When she came back, she had lost all her hair, and she often fell ill in the playground; a side-effect of the treatment regime she was on no doubt. She was no longer able to take 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 transparent, personality-less mask 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 actually happening to her. Nobody talked about fear, conflicting emotions, or grief. Nobody talked about how to be a supportive friend.
At age 9, I dealt with it the only way I knew how; to rely on my openness, and extreme empathy, identifying with her story to the point where I saw me as her. There was a sense of melding, almost like stepping into her skin in order to make sense of the trauma, from my 9 year old perspective.
(I learned much later in my adult life that this way of ‘coping’ was not a healthy – nor sustainable – use of my empathic gift.)
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.
As an adult now, I recognise these symptoms as classic indications of a Highly Sensitive child under extreme stress, but at the time, I didn’t know how to articulate that, and I didn’t have the tools to manage that stress effectively, 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 admit.)
I existed in a cycle of heightened anxiety; 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 sit in my car during my lunch break and call the NHS 111 number about the latest set of symptoms I’d noticed. Desperately seeking comfort and peace of mind.
I would tell my GP my symptoms, and voice my fears in a pale, cold sweat, and 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; living in a state of constant perceived catastrophe and mayhem, and relying on the short-term relief administered by the doctor telling me I was OK, to then begin the cycle all over again in two weeks’ time.
Fast forward to 2014, I decided to learn Reiki.
During my Reiki Shoden (level 1) course, I started to notice something about the anxiety cycle I’d lived with for most of my life, and how it was triggered in me.
I realised that fear of the unknown 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 learned how I had unconsciously been gravitating towards people who reflected back to me the internal chaos I was projecting.
And I was ready for that to change.
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 will never abandon you, ever again. You are safe, now. I love you.”
I began to listen to my body, and my intuition. Trusting what ‘No‘ felt like, and ‘Yes,’ for that matter.
I began differentiating between my story and their story, so that I no longer felt drawn in to absorb and transmute other people’s pain and suffering, and was able to offer support and kindness with compassion, instead.
I began understanding that sometimes the body gets sick. If that happens, I have not failed. I am not weak. I am still, unconditionally and eternally, lovable.
And so I return to 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 the universe all around me and within me.
I have a sense of peace and calm from deep inside the core of my being.
I create a new story 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 of life, and for teaching me to trust, as she did.
She’s been with me a long while, and it’s time now to release her.
image by Valeriia Miller from pexels.com