It's ok to be open about Mental Health.
I have found the courage to finally share my story of my Mental Health journey below. By doing so I hope to normalise this topic and inspire more courageous conversations about what mental health and its effects and challenges has on both you the sufferer and those close to them. Everyone has their own unique experience and this is mine.
Just over 12 years ago I experienced something so frightening that I thought in the moment I was going to DIE.
What was so scary was the intensity of my body’s sensations and the way I interpreted them.
It went like this from memory: After an evening socialising with friends (I may have had one beer – not a big drinker) I was the first to make my way up steps to bed.
I settled in to go to sleep just like any other night, when suddenly out of the blue I felt a surge of adrenaline course through my body that forced me to the bathroom with extreme diarrhea, my body drenched in sweat, my heart pounding so hard I thought it was going to explode, and then the most intense feeling of being suffocated followed as I felt a gripping, tightening around my neck. The share terror I still can’t really describe.
I later found out I had experienced a Panic Attack (the first of many) and was diagnosed by a mental health nurse who I called to the house the very next day with Generalised Anxiety disorder. I ended up in my GP’s office who offered me a script to which I politely declined.
Having studied numerous natural health modalities over the years from Massage therapy, Naturopathy to Reiki, I chose the natural route to find tools to add to my tool kit each time I had an episode. (And there were lots.)
I am an explorer of knowledge so immediately went into why it happened and how to fix it. I wanted to go deeper. Why had my body given me this message? I looked into my past and child hood, found nothing. I looked at my lifestyle, diet, stress levels, excercise and I was a very conscious and so I thought healthy human being at the time.
Then slowly I came to my truth and the Why. I am a very deep thinker by nature (this has only been shown to me the past 5 years ) and quite possibly I had done my own head in literally, and this was wake up call. My bodies innate way of telling me to get out of my head and start feeling life more from my heart.
I continued to explore naturally as a explorer and deep thinker does and ignored teh message and tried to get on with life pretending that these panic and anxiety episodes would resolve themselves on their own.
I tried splashing cold water on my face to divert my attention. I tried not to sit still when I felt the sensations arise and kept moving. I played music. I ate apples. I did anything to distract and run away from the fear without realising this was only exasperating my symptoms.
It got to much trying to do it alone. I finally took myself off to a CBT (cognitive behavioral therapist) /RBT (Rational behavioral therapist) and came to understand that it was the irrational fear of my own feelings, discomfort and bodily sensations that was triggering the said panic/anxiety as time went on. Yep I was still in my head and worst i was actually creating this cycle of terror myself. That was a real truth bomb right there.
I worked on one specific core belief: “I shouldn’t have to feel discomfort and pain. I can’t stand them and must avoid them at all costs”
And replaced it with something more calming and rational “I know what it is, it cannot harm me. These feelings will pass. If I do have a panic attack it won’t matter because I have had one before, it was very unpleasant but it didn’t kill me.”
I wrote on small Que cards and carried them with me repeating this new belief 100’s of time per day. It was a transformation tool for my mind that was much needed and gave me some much needed peace between each panic attack.
And then I found the most powerful tool of all for me, my BREATHE. I traveled to Christchurch to work with a wonderful women Rosemary, whom taught me the Art of Breathing and it changed my life!
Little did I know at the time, my normal breathing pattern was out of whack and contributing to my anxiety in a big way. I was over breathing, otherwise known as hyperventilation syndrome.
I drove home to Wanaka feeling the most relaxed and at ease for the first time in 3 years.
It was like instant calm. My safe haven and something I have continued to work with to this day. Every day pretty much without fail I practice some form of breathing exercise, guided mediation, progressive body scan to surrender and let go. But more importantly to accept that these feelings are neither good nor bad and they too will pass.
And lastly I am so grateful for the unconditional love and support from my beautiful husband and family (even when they couldn't make sense of what I am describing and how I was thinking.) J you are my rock and I thank you for walking by my side through the good times and the not so good.
Sure there are days where I feel the familiar sensations of old creep back into my body, when I am pushing or trying to juggle too many balls in the air. The difference is, I now have the knowledge and tools to anchor and ground me back to the here and now.
I have chosen to accept this experience as a gift. It has enabled me to go deep within myself and reconnect to who I am and to slowly accept the sensitive side of who I am as a golden thread not a weakness, which only eroded my self worth and confidence for many years. I am still a work in progress and now enjoy the simple things in life that truly matter to me in all its messiness.
May this be a gentle reminder to check in with your friends and loved ones more often, as you cannot see mental health issues on a person’s face. Happy people suffer to.
For those experiencing any kind of Mental Health issue. Please ask for help!
Below are resources and books I have used in working through my own mental health experience over the years. I'd love for you to share what has worked and how you have been supported with your own story?
With Love Nicki x
Hyperventilation Syndrome by Dinah Bradley
Wherever You Go There You Are, Mindfulness Mediation Everyday - Jon Kabat-Zinn
Breathing Matters A New Zealand Guide by Dr Jim Bartley & Tania Clifton- Smith
Choose to be Happy by Wayne Froggatt
Change your Thinking by Sarah Edelman PhD
Natural Relief for Anxiety by Edmund J Bourne PhD
Nicki Hanning is the founder, chief skin alchemist & dreamer of TRUE certified organic skincare based in Wanaka, New Zealand. She is a holistic therapist, natural skincare formulator and mother of 2 who has lived and breathed health and wellness for the past 20 years. She is passionate about empowering women with the knowledge to make self care a part of their everyday.
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