Once upon a time you were a little monkey, running around without a care in the world. Full of light, full of spirit and connected to the Universe in a way that was so pure, so true and so incredibly trusting. I vaguely remember living that way. I didn’t know what anxiety meant, I didn’t worry and I wasn’t scared. I never lay in bed thinking about tomorrow, or worrying about yesterday. I didn’t judge people, or myself. I didn’t look in the mirror and question my beauty. I just fully accepted myself as I was without a second thought. I lived in the moment, I played with my barbies, sang along to Westlife on my karaoke machine, pranced around my plastic kitchen, pretended to own a restaurant, talked to my giant teddy bear and practiced snogging boys on the back of my hand. My parents took care of me, I had people to feed me, to clothe me, to make sure my socks matched and that I brushed my teeth twice a day. I appreciated my life for what it was without an ounce of self doubt. This approach didn’t make me weak, it made me more powerful than ever.
As I grew older, I started to soak up the ideas, beliefs and fears of the people around me. When I was 6 a little girl at the swimming baths called me fat, and I suddenly became very insecure about my little pot belly. I fancied the pants off Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer because my older sister loved him. I fell in love with gherkins because my whole family ate them with every meal. I started to get scared of small spaces because my Mum was terrified of being in lifts and would always take the stairs instead. I copied people, admired people, changed myself every day to fit in with what was ‘cool’. I started starving myself at school because the other girls around me looked better in their PE kit and they only drank diet coke. My taste in music suddenly changed with every boyfriend I had because I wanted to be more relatable and accepted.
When I went to uni, I tried drugs for the first time. I was so excited and apprehensive but I finally felt independent and free. I suddenly had money coming in and I had to figure out how to feed myself properly and budget well. I had a turbulent first year, impulsively spending all my student loan on hair extensions, Urban Outfitters and Nando’s. I had no sense of self-love or self-care. No routine, no regard for my health or my body. I just lived fast and wrecklessly, drinking, smoking, partying and staying up for days on end doing drugs.
One night after a huge bender, I found myself in the middle of my first ever panic attack. I’d heard the words ‘panic attack’ before and assumed it meant someone was just a bit stressed out and needed to take a moment to breathe. But I’d never felt fear like this before. I thought I was dying. My heart was beating out of my chest, so quickly that I thought it was going to exlode. My hands and feet went numb, my left arm was tingling and heavy, I couldn’t breathe and I didnt recognise my own bedroom or my friends. I had no idea what was going on and screamed desperately for people to call me an ambulance.
Ever since that day I’ve had anxiety. I could recall that feeling of dread at any moment, and the thought alone would send me in to a frenzy worrying that it could happen again. The more I fought it, the worse it got. It became like a gremlin that would follow me around and jump out at me in the most inappropriate moments. The surge of panic would rise up at any time. In the cinema, in the car, the middle of Tesco, and the worst was on my graduation day when I literally clawed at my skin to distract myself from wanting to run outside in my gown and hulimiate myself in front of hundreds of students and teachers.
After a while the anxiety I was feeling forced me to dig deeper. I became curious about what was happening to me and why. How had I learned this feeling and adopted it as part of my story? Why couldn’t I let it go or forget it ever happened? How come once upon a time I never even knew what that this feeling existed, yet now I felt it every day? Was it real? It sure felt real.
I discovered that we learn fears in two ways; by example and by experience. It’s that simple. If as a four year old child you witnessed your own Mother crying hysterically, arms flapping, cowering in the corner of the living room, all because she saw a daddy long legs… there’s a strong chance you’ll now associate spiders with Satan himself. You quite literally soaked up her emotions like the tiny little sponge that you were, and adopted them as your very own.
Alternatively, when we physically experience a traumatic event, we then quite naturally assume all future experiences associated with such an event will play out in the exact same way and thus develop the fear of it happening again. This is exactly what happened to me after my panic attack. I literally formed a new chemical reaction in my brain, and exercised the experience over and over in my head until it came a habit and a very annoying pattern.
The point here is that we LEARN our fears. If as children we lived as care free spirits, running around and enjoying life without stressing about every tiny little thing, then surely we can return to that state. Surely it’s physically possible to come home to ourselves, recognising that we spent some time away, wandered off our true path, and we could return to our most natural state of unconditional love and total trust, but this time feeling more wise and empowered than ever before. Maybe going off track and feeling so terrified was all part of the plan, and actually you were ON track the entire time. Maybe it was life calling you to dig deeper, to feel more, to learn about fear, to learn about yourself.
My entire path of ups and downs, highs and lows, ins and outs, has lead me to this very moment. Sitting here sharing my story with you, encouraging you to be breve, to feel safe and to believe in your TRUE self. The self you once were. Returning to that state of total trust, happiness and freedom that you once felt as a child.
If you didn’t face challenges, you would never evolve. Embrace them all, and know that underneath every feeling, emotion and belief, deep at your very core there is home. The safest place on earth.