Adventures in Winterland

As per doctor’s orders, I spent the afternoon studying TRE from the various YouTube videos available and in the evening I practiced, aware that there was no more avoiding what I had successfully managed to put off all day if I wished to keep my promise to both my body and the friend who had prescribed it to me as part of an energy share.

I spread a blanket on the floor, placed a pillow at its top, shut the blinds and dimmed the lights so that it felt intimate and private. Then I put on some music, (in this case Kirtan Mantras– this music is truly divine), and walked to the wall.

Step 1: the forced surrender

• stand with your back against the wall
• squat as if you are sitting on a chair
• hold this position for 1 minute

Determined to be a good student, I pressed my back up against the wall, exerting enough pressure to stay stuck. Then, satisfied I was safe, slid down, finding the described squat. The seconds ticked. I waited: 10, 20, 30… All fine, nothing too painful, nothing too hard to endure. And then, BANG!, I hit 40 and my legs complained, shaking as heat seared through them, urging me to surrender, calling me towards the floor.

Step 2: the passive surrender

• lie on your back with your knees bent, feet together
• allow your knees to fall open as wide as they can go in a relaxed manner
• relax your arms, letting them rest by your hips, several inches out from your body
• have your palms facing up
• allow quivering or tremors to express as they like
• if it gets too intense, take a break, extending your legs straight out
• at the end, lie in a relaxed position for several minutes

As before, I adopted the instructed position and relaxed, doing my best to get out of the way. It was hard; I could tell I was anxious: embracing the unknown is not something I am especially good at.

I waited, wondering what I was letting myself in for and whether I would be the exception to the rule, the first person unable to allow for the natural release. For several minutes nothing happened and I wondered if maybe I should force it. And then I felt my legs start to shake: gentle, almost invisibly, but definitely there.

Over the course of the following hour many things happened. I had anticipated the exercise taking perhaps five minutes, ten at most. But it evolved, my body taking over, and it seemed a shame to stop, to suppress what I had spent a lifetime refusing to acknowledge, own or let out.

I’m not really sure about all of it. A lot happened. And much of what happened was completely different from the examples I had watched. It was like my body took on a life of its own, taking me on a personal journey through not only this life but others as well.

I recall being a panther: powerful, feminine and proud; clawing, snarling, defending what was mine.

And I recall being buried alive, although this only became apparent when I translated what my hands and arms were expressing to me. A frantic scratching and scraping against an invisible barrier. Fear and panic in my heart. A knowing without knowing why that I was fighting for my life.

There was also a lot of flipping and flopping and twisting and turning and stretching and shaking and juddering and gliding from various body parts. At one point, I was even hitting myself: banging my chest, attempting to get something out. And I heaved too, almost hyperventilating: a physical expression of panic without the emotion attached – similar to a smile without warmth, a hug without heart, a compliment without the corresponding thought of sincerity. At times, it felt a bit Exorcist-like, but I wasn’t alarmed. I felt safe: in the space, with my body. I understood it’s needs. I knew what was stuck had to come out.

When it finally slowed, almost every part of me had moved in some undirected way, articulating something personal and private, something it had lovingly held in order to keep me safe. And I was aware, too, of how much hurt there was, how much fear and unforgiveness. No wonder I harbour the following beliefs:

• the world is a scary place
• bad things happen to good people
• it’s not safe to love
• it’s not safe to trust
• it’s dangerous to be vulnerable
• those you love will either betray you, let you down, leave you or die
• you cannot depend on anyone, least of all yourself, etc.

Obviously, there is work to do. And there’s more releasing, too. I feel like I only just got started, taking the first sip of an ocean, the first step on the mountain path. But it’s an important start and the continuation of a relatively new process, one in which I step out of the way and, from inside, really listen to what my body has to say, following the guidance of its ancient wisdom as to how to best heal and advance myself. Only then will I return to the place I used to inhabit: a place where a phone ringing is a harmless noise, a car horn just that, where raised voices do not necessarily signify violence, and an accidental bump in the street doesn’t warrant the need for me to defend against an attack. For now, there is at least recognition and knowing, an awareness of the unresolved causing me to react. And in this awareness, there is power. Wow!

In committing to a regular practice, I can safeguard against further buildup and slowly work to release all that has been held and suppressed. The body is amazing. I am truly in awe of the messages it holds and the experiences we have recently shared. And I am humbled too, for it has carried so much, protecting me from things I wasn’t able at the time to take.

I am sad that I keep on adding to the burdens it bears, that life continues to challenge and at times upend me. But I am positive too, for this is the closest we have ever been to a resolution. Previously, there was just sand.
by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Multiple layers

imageIt’s so cold outside, I might actually catch hyperthermia. Walking, my whole body has gone into shock. Where is the beautiful sunshine of earlier, the brilliant blue sky overhead? I had such a lovely walk this morning, but, somehow, as the day darkened into evening and the light disappeared, the warmth evaporated too, and now it’s nothing short of unbearable. Even in multiple layers; coat, hat, scarf and gloves: I am shivering. And my shoulders have risen so high, they are competing with my neck.

Hiding out in a cafe, I am waiting for the feeling in my fingers to come back, drinking hot tea to fast-track the warming. I have had a good day though, a reward for persevering with a weekly group. There was a large table: full; new people and old, people I knew and people I did not. I talked a lot. I made a friend. I felt at home… It’s such a change to be able to find things to attend, compared to the isolation of Mallorca, and the novelty of that is still to wear off.

However, group aside, I am drifting: my ability to write comes and goes, and with it my sense of wellbeing. Why is my whole sense of self; my identity, my smile, so tightly wrapped around something I can never hold?

As I try to figure out how to get through each day, how to get the most out of everything – being here, the chances, the opportunities… my boat pitches and I feel sick.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Growing the things that have shrunk

imageFinding a quiet place to sit and work is a challenge. London is always full, especially in the center. Walking from cafe to cafe, I spend longer than I would like, waste hours I would rather not lose, attempting to repair what has come apart. And as each day unravels, giving and taking, making and breaking, I become increasingly aware that I am trapped.

Closing my eyes and rewinding; going backwards in order to stop and process before turning around and attempting to go forwards again: I sense I ought to be travelling; ingesting new sensations and experiences, growing the things that have shrunk.

But I don’t know how to get there or where it is I ought to want to go, and every time I experiment with a different route, pick a different path or take an alternate turning, I end up returning to the place where I began.

Attending meditation classes at a local centre; sitting and listening and attempting to do: something, anything, etc… I am learning. But is it enough?

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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A creature of habit

IMG_6520-0I suffer from chronic anxiety. I’m not sure when it started, if I have always had it, or if it is only recently that I have become affected, like in the last 15 years. I do know that it plays an influential role in my day-to-day life and that it occurs with enough regularity to have become frustrating and annoying.

When I was at university I had a boyfriend who experienced panic attacks. They were a mystery to both of us, neither one of us understanding the shortness of breath, the hot flushes, the dizziness, the nausea, the blacking out, the vomiting and the lack of consciousness. He lived in fear of a repeat attack and this fear dominated our evenings. With the understanding I have now, I look back and feel guilty: I could have been a lot more compassionate and helpful if I had known what it was he was going through, if I had understood it. As it was, a part of me thought he was doing it to sabotage our evenings (it only ever happened when we were out with my friends). If we had kept in touch, I would have phoned him long ago to apologise. I would have also explained to him what they were, if he hadn’t already arrived at his own discovery, and recommended possible avenues of treatment. A rough analysis attributes them to the state of flux he was experiencing as a result of his recent uncertainty about the future and the pressures from his family. Several months later, he dropped out of a law placement and switched to teacher training. A dramatic shift in direction (provoking disappointment and anger from his parents) which helped him profoundly.

Anyway, regardless of when my attacks started (at a guess, I would place them at 8 years), the reasons were similar and the results pretty much the same. And ever since, each time there is a significant shift in circumstance: a sudden change, an enforced situation, a necessary transition from A (where I am comfortable) to B (where I have no idea), an extended journey resulting in a separation from everything known, etc., I start to unravel, my inner peace disappearing. If I fail to act, attempting to ignore the emotions and run from the reasons, the anxiety escalates until it reaches a level that incapacitates me. And even then – housebound, bedridden – there is no relief. The only solution is to turn around and face and to attempt to address.

Over the years, I have learnt that there are things that I can do. And they are things that, on the whole, are fairly successful. The challenge is becoming aware of the spike before it is too late and getting my mind to agree to accompany me on the necessary journey to solution and recovery.

Things that work are:

• self-hypnosis for anxiety, worry and stress
• meditation, ideally with a mantra
• gentle exercise (yoga or a walk with music)
• verbal expression (either by talking to someone I trust or writing in my diary)
• a solid daily routine
• safe places where I can go to relax or work
• an emergency plan (i.e. someone who can talk me down or come and collect me should the need arise)

Practiced regularly, I can keep the anxiety to a minimum and the attacks at bay. There are periods of time when I forget about them completely. It is only when the circumstances are such that I have no power to affect them that I struggle to arrive upon a cure. In these times the above list is key to my survival and, while it might not remove or solve, it does deliver a situation that is manageable.

These days I am a creature of habit. I have a routine, essentially a timetable, which I follow without complaint. At a certain time I will always be in a set type of place going about a specific activity. And, while it could be viewed as small and limiting and perhaps a little sad, sequestering my life and its experiences to the confines of a box: for me, it has actually been the opposite, allowing me to travel the world, live in different places, experiment with different things.

more information on panic and anxiety
Broken Light: photography for mental health
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