As I continue down my healing path from my anxiety, I will share my journey here with you. This is the second installment. If you didn't read the first post, click here.
The therapist said that I was going through a "quarter life crisis", and that diagnosis sat well with her. It sat well with my family, and now that turned into "it's the only answer." However, that still didn't answer why I had anxiety throughout my whole life, and such debilitating anxiety that I couldn't even leave the house at some points. Was I going through a life crisis at 14? 12? 8? I doubt that. I was determined to get through this and get over the anxiety, so I did the next best thing I knew: I wrote. I took to Facebook to post in a private group of mine about my latest journey. That turned out to be the best choice because a friend reached out to me shortly afterward offering her services. What was that service? Hypnotherapy.
Now I've done hypnosis before with this friend, so I was comfortable working with her. She worked with a lot of clients that were referred by their doctors for chronic ailments. I, for one, am open-minded about most things (except I will never try pineapple on pizza), and I had always found hypnotherapy interesting. I knew hypnotherapy is considered a pseudoscience in many circles, but I didn't consider it psuedo at all. I was desperate and trying almost anything to get this anxiety to leave. Plus, there has to be some truth to it because why else would people continue to use it? Whether it was just a placebo effect or not, I needed answers. Deep down I knew what it was, but my heart was afraid to realize it. I was afraid for the subconscious to become conscious, and that was why I accepted a hypnosis session.
You have to face your fears head on. You can't cower away from things, especially if it deals with your own shit. People say strength comes from not showing emotions-- burying it down deep and going on through life as though nothing could touch you. Don't show it. Don't allow it in. You're stronger than the pain. That's highly unrealistic because you are human; therefore, you are naturally an emotional being. I find it takes TRUE strength to face your inner demons. Anyone can run away by shoving it down deep, but it takes a true warrior to face themselves. Before my first hypnosis session, I went to see my therapist again. I told her about my upcoming appointment with my friend along with all the other things I was doing to combat against my anxiety (diet change, yoga, meditation twice a day, new coping mechanisms). She was quite surprised by my dedication, and I told her, "I'm done living like this. I've decided I'm done with it, so it will be."
She eyed me as she took in a deep breath. "You like to have control."
Is that all you took from what I said? "Obviously everyone likes to have control. I get to decide how I feel and when. Not the other way around."
"What brought about that belief?"
I knew she was asking things only to get me to dive deeper, and I allowed it only because I needed it. "You can't control what happens to you, but you can control how you choose to respond to it."
She nodded and wrote on her notepad. "When was the first time you felt anxious, but decided you didn't want to let it control you?"
I carved into the deep crevices of my brain. The first thing to pop up was an incident when I was in elementary school. School was rough for me in general, but elementary school was my worst years in terms of bullying. It was when the stomach aches first started. However, I was able to push through it enough to get through school. Mornings were always the worst, and I spent a good chunk of class time in the bathroom. Having said that, there was one event that took place, which made my anxiety debilitating for the first time. "When I was twelve, I was almost kidnapped."
The doctor widened her eyes as she shifted forward in her seat. "Do you wish to talk about what happened, or--"
I got defensive. "It isn't something hard to discuss. It isn't painful."
She nodded with the utmost patience. Why her assumption that it'd be a hard memory for me to discuss irritating me I had no idea.
I took a deep breath to rid myself of my annoyance. "Nothing happened. Obviously. It happened in the morning as I was walking to school. I had drama practice because we were putting on a play, so I had to leave earlier than usual. I lived right down the street, and I enjoyed the walks. I live with such a big family that any alone time was like heaven. At the corner where a 4-way stop was, less then a block from the school, a man in a jeep stopped. I waited for him to drive past so I could cross, but he stared at me instead. I figured he was waiting on me, so I decided to cross. He gestured for me to come towards him. In that moment, I instantly knew something was off. You know you get that feeling that something is wrong? Your instincts just tell you."
The therapist nodded.
"All I could remember was to never talk to strangers. I took that literally thinking I couldn't even say no. I had no idea why, but I didn't even want him to hear my voice. I shook my head instead. That pissed him off, and it looked like he was about to open his door to get out."
"How did you respond?"
"I was frozen. I couldn't move, which was dumb because I needed to run more than anything. But then another car came to the cross walk, and the guy said, "Never mind" and sped off."
In a soft, almost monotone voice, she asked, "Then what did you do?"
"I ran. It was all I was good at." I laughed. "I ran cross country, and that was about the only sport I could do half way decently. I was afraid he was going to chase me down once that car was out of sight of both of us. I was afraid he'd turn around to try to snatch me, so I sprinted."
She nodded. "And then what? Did you ever go to your parents?"
"I remember my stomach hurting when I got to school."
That made her write another note.
"I told one of my classmates, and they walked me to the principal's office. The police were called. My dad was called. My dad cried. I cried. I remember wanting to be strong and not show any weakness."
I shook my head. "I don't know. I wanted to show I could handle it. I could be strong."
"But you were so young, and something serious just happened."
"I know," I snapped. "I didn't want to act how people usually did when something traumatic happened. He didn't touch me or anything, so I shouldn't have cried. I was frustrated I did. I wanted to make things easier for the cop who was asking me questions. I knew he needed to do his job, so I tried my best to make it as detailed and as easy for him as possible. I wanted my father to see I was okay. I didn't want him to worry. I wanted to show I was grown up enough, and that I was okay."
"But you weren't."
I rolled my eyes. "I guess not."
"Did the stomach aches continue the rest of that day?"
"No. I was numb for the rest of the day. It was my first time feeling numb like that, and it was nice. Comforting."
"You were in shock." She said it as though it were some groundbreaking diagnosis.
"I didn't know that was what it was at the time."
The therapist sat up straighter. "So you fighting your tears was you fighting your anxiety?"
I shook my head. "No, that wasn't until after. From then on, every morning, I was scared to walk to school. Sometimes I'd pretend to leave to school and sneak back into the house until I could work up the courage to actually leave. When nobody was around as I walked, it made me so nervous it made breathing difficult. I wanted to see at least one other child walking to school at the same time as me because it brought me comfort somehow, but hardly anybody ever was. If a car came driving nearby, my chest would tighten, my body would shake, and my stomach twisted to the point that I couldn't move. I'd pray over and over in my head for it to be a woman in the car."
She furrowed her brow. "Why a woman?"
"Because women don't kidnap children."
Her lips formed into a tight line, and her eyes were shrouded in sympathetic sadness. It irritated me.
"Walking scared me," I continued. "Being alone scared me. Going outside frightened me. It'd make my stomach hurt so bad I couldn't leave the bathroom."
"Did you ever tell your parents?"
"No. I needed to show I was okay, and plus, I figured I was being a big baby who just needed to suck it up. The event was over and done with, so I didn't need to feel like I was in constant danger. I figured I was just being overdramatic because my mom would sometimes say I was. I forced myself to go to school no matter how hard it was. No matter how much my body shook and how badly my stomach ached. Sometimes I'd practically run."
It was quiet as she took her notes. "And since then have you felt this generalized fear of leaving the house?"
"Yes, but not as bad. Eventually those stomach attacks stopped. I forced them to somehow. However, recently, and the reason why I'm here, is because it's as bad now as it used to be then. But all my life, I always had a generalized anxiety about leaving the house. I try to avoid it if I have to go alone. I am always afraid of being raped or something."
"Yes. Men still scare me. I don't trust them."
she titled her head to one side. "Not even your father?"
I laughed. "Of course I trust him. I trust my boyfriend, but I find that my first jerk reaction to any male that approaches is to assume the worst about him. I know that's not fair to them, but it keeps me safe. It keeps me alive."
She nodded. Her frown more visible now. She wrote in her notepad, and then paused as she clicked the pen. At first she looked away. When she faced me, she said, "I do believe you have PTSD from this event, and I know you don't wish to be on medication."
I knew what was coming next. I was just waiting to hear that "but".
"People believe PTSD only happens to those that have been to war." She shook her head. "People get it from any type of traumatic event. Again, I know you don't wish to be on medication, but--"
Ah! There it is.
"I do believe you'd benefit from it. At least for a little bit as we work on coping mechanisms. This way you can continue to go to work and live a somewhat normal life. I'd need to reference you to a psychiatrist, of course."
The look on my face must've told exactly how I felt, which was: This is bullshit. Fuck off with those damn meds. She immediately closed her mouth and didn't mention it again. At the time, I saw meds as just a band-aid over the real issue. I couldn't rely on it my whole life. I needed to deal with it and not hide. I knew what happened to people who ran away from their issues. Now I'm not talking about people with Bipolar disorder, Schizophrenia, DID, or anything like that. Some people really do need the medication.
I'm talking about those whose mental illnesses stemmed strictly from past experiences and them not dealing with the emotions that surrounded those experiences. Someone like me. I've seen it happen too many times to count with friends and family members. Eventually they'd plateau from the meds, and then what? You switch to another medication. You up the dosage. You go through a rough period in-between the change in meds. I've seen the people I love fall apart. I've seen them lose jobs, get divorced, and even kill themselves. I refused to follow in the same footsteps because the meds will only take you so far. You just hope and pray that the meds' usefulness will outlive your permanent plateau. That isn't dealing with your issues. That isn't meeting them head on. I refused to be weak like that. The therapist said, "I will contact your primary doctor about your IBS symptoms so we can get you started on treatment. Does that sound agreeable?"
I nodded. That was fine enough.
This all led up to my first hypnosis session. I was on the IBS meds, which I was pissed to find out it was an anti-depressant. However, it did alleviate my stomach symptoms, and it didn't change my mood at all. Again, I wasn't depressed, so it did nothing for that. It was a small dosage of 10ml, so it was barely anything. I had been on anti-depressants before, and they were always so much higher in dosage than that and made my brain feel fuzzy. During my first hypnosis, the practitioner wanted to tap into the moment my anxiety first started. I figured it'd be something big like my almost-kidnapping. However, once I was under hypnosis and diving into the subconscious, I was surprised to find that my first anxious moment wasn't the incident when I was 12. It wasn't even when I was bullied for the first time at 8. It was when I was four, and I was with my family at my great grandmother's house for breakfast. I had forgotten all about those memories. My family used to go see my great grandma Gonzalez every Sunday after church. I remember hardly ever seeing my great grandfather because he'd always leave outside to the backyard immediately when we arrived. I never cared why he did that when I was younger. In fact, I never noticed it. I was just told to never go back there to his shed. Being four and naturally curious, I did one day. I ran past some trees, which were lined up like a small orchard. In the back, I found the shed and entered it. I didn't touch anything as I looked around, but my great grandpa saw me. I knew I was in trouble. He grabbed me by both my arms and said sternly, "You're not supposed to be back here. Go back inside."
I ran inside scared that he'd tell my father, but nothing needed to be said because my father saw me sneaking back inside the house. "Heather Marie!" He yelled. I knew I was in trouble once he called my middle name. He was just as stern with me and told me to never go outside there alone ever again. Little four-year-old me broke down crying, and I was so anxious at having been in big trouble for the first time. In my hypnosis session, I was told to embrace my inner child. I needed to talk to that small version of me. I was told to pick a place I felt the most peaceful, safe, and happy. The place I chose was made up in my head because every place on Earth gives me anxiety. It was high up in the mountains, and there was a cabin nearby with a small lake. The grass was lush and a dark green color. In the middle of the lake was a bridge. The air was warm, and a slight breeze would blow through. The hypnotist had me call in someone that'd bring me comfort. I immediately called in Jesus, which despite not practicing Catholicism anymore (or any religion for that matter), I still found great comfort in Jesus. Perhaps because he was part of my childhood, and it was my childhood we were dealing with.
He had his hands on my shoulders as I was guided through the hypnosis. I called in the four-year-old who got scared. The hypnotist said, "Invite her in for a hug to she knows to feel safe."
She didn't want a hug, though. She shook her head, and I felt that same icky feeling whenever any family member used to force me to hug and cuddle them. I hated forced physical affection, but I'd never voice my discomfort because it would hurt their feelings. It was seen as disrespectful to not hug your grandparents, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. I respected four-year-old me's choice to not want a hug. She took a step closer to me as a result feeling a bit safer around me. However, she still kept her head down slightly like I always did because I was too shy to meet anyone's gaze for too long.
The hypnotist had me speak to the little girl in front of me. I told her, "I am you. I came here to see you."
"Now invite her to ask any questions if she has any," said the hypnotist.
The little girl was quiet as she studied me biting her nails like I do. "How old are you?"
She said with her fingers in her mouth, "You're old now."
That made me laugh. "But you're still in here," I said cusping my hands to my chest.
She kept bending her right knee nervously like I do. "Are you married?"
She put her head down visibly disappointed. All of this was strange. Wasn't I technically talking to myself? Perhaps some part of me was disappointed by my choice to not be married.
"But I'm in love. I am with a man I love."
Her head popped back up all smiles. "Is he nice?"
"Yes. He is our perfect idea of prince charming."
She was full of grins. "What is our job?"
"We do a lot, but I am published author now."
She wasn't too impressed, but I understood because writing wasn't a passion just yet.
The hypnotist said, "Now tell her why you're there."
"I need your help with letting go of our anxiety. We need to heal ourselves so we can have a better future."
The hypnotist then had me ask her if she'd be willing to help me.
The little girl nodded her head.
The hypnotist had me bring up the memory with my father and great grandfather. "It's okay now," I said. "They weren't mad at you. They were just concerned for your safety."
She finally pulled her hand out of her mouth. "They yelled at me," she said in a shaken voice.
"I know, but only because sometimes when we love someone and they almost hurt themselves, we get so worried that we accidentally yell. They didn't know how to properly express themselves in their concern."
The hypnotist had me repeat: "You are not in trouble anymore. You are safe. You are loved." The little girl walked towards me and cuddled into my lap, which told me she felt safe. "I will take care of us," I told her. "Whenever you are scared, just call on me and I'll be there. I love you, and I will always be there for you."
She nodded her head as she buried her head deeper into my chest. She just needed someone to hold her and tell her that she was okay and that she was loved. I felt that in my core, so that's what I did. I cried as I held my four-year-old self. She just needed to be loved. That's all this was. It was so simple, and yet so painful to realize.
Then the hypnotist had me face all the ages I felt the most anxiety, and almost every age approached me. It went even younger than four all the way up to my twenties. There were a lot of me's I needed to deal with, but I'll save that story for another day.