Blog 8: Anxiety & Overwhelming Feelings Part 1

Written by Jim Sheehy

Before I begin, I want to thank Clara Ferry, aged 16 and from Arranmore Island off Donegal, for composing the artwork inspired by the words in this blog. 

If there is one dominant mental health epidemic rampant in our world today, it is called anxiety.  As a therapist, anxiety presents itself in almost every third client, particularly as my practice includes children and young persons.  The zones where anxiety deeply intrudes on a person’s capacity to enjoy life are many: home, school, finance, addiction etc. 

Anxiety tends to creep up and develop legs.  There is always a beginning, a time when the inner self was terrified and became numb.  Until this traumatic experience is processed, a consequence in later life is that the feeling world, when triggered negatively, goes numb again or reacts inexplicably in order to survive.  The current episode provokes and demands a whole set of behaviours to keep the self safe and away from anything and anybody who might potentially cause it harm.  That list is what I mean by anxiety ‘growing legs’.  By the time it establishes itself firmly as the ‘default mode’ in life, a person doesn’t attend school, college or work; loses all interest in pursuing the interests that once thrilled them - sport, music, friendship; becomes depressed and isolated. 

And so, we all have a vested interest in managing this epidemic. We have to go where the anxiety starts.  If the source of the anxiety is their birth home experience, the person, at whatever age life screams to a stop, must return to where the ‘well of my life’ was poisoned.  So many people who never step inside a therapy room carry an inner limp.  They have endured pain at its initial source and bravely soldiered on through the years of life, never really tasting the ecstasy of being truly loved, managing the triggers that they know only too well upset their physical and mental health.  Only in older age when their ‘defences against pain’ weaken and crack does the hurt and loss become apparent: the retired man whose work occupied his mind now shivers first thing in the morning with severe anxiety; the woman in the early and middle stages of dementia rambles irrationally back to early childhood episodes of trauma.  The man is back in the kitchen 9 years old, alcoholic father screaming at Mum; the woman whose face contorts with sadness as she speaks again and again of Mummy dying, her siblings divided between neighbours, her brother abused physically and she hears him crying out in the field.  The man is 70, the woman 85.  How sad I feel that they had to carry this internal ‘crap’ while still being amazing and much loved parents and grandparents.  We are innately programmed to survive but we deserve a chance, with the right help, to thrive. 

I use two metaphors to describe how anxiety flows through our systems.  The first is that of the river at four stages: the spring and source up the mountain, the flow of gravity carrying it down to sea-level, the meandering through fields and town and its meeting the ocean.  The first and most important stage imagines  what goes on in your head when you’re triggered and anxiety is sprung - the belief activated that screams ‘stupid, ugly, failure, invisible, trapped, helpless’. The second stage that flows naturally from this belief are the crippling feelings - ‘terrified, lonely, numb’.   The third stage, meandering along ground level, is your body experiencing and reflecting your emotional distress through rash, headache, bowel malfunction.  Finally, the river meets the ocean your inner self meets the outer world and you dread interacting with people, making crucial decisions, leaving your room and house.

We need to lay out in full view the journey of our anxiety: track where it started, manage and soothe the feelings, recognise what our body is saying and supporting it, go bravely and wisely into the worlds of people and work with fresh beliefs about who you truly are.  In therapy, I am privileged when the client’s eyes water and glisten; some part inside has been touched and warmed.  I marvel at their courage when the 21 year old woman, trapped and recently escaped from a toxic relationship, decides to skydive for charity - she’s terrified of heights. 

The second metaphor is the train.  An engine and three carriages: engine - beliefs in your head, three carriages - feelings, body, behaviours.  The mind needs to decide the route of your daily journey, giving you purpose. Feelings carry the fuel and energy to motivate and sustain.  The body is what you and people use to interact - chemicals and hormones, voice and eye-contact, touch and signal.  The last carriage are the behaviours - the intimate cues, the raising of the fist, the curling up in the corner.  So the engine needs to be the captain and the team needs to follow in order to make our dreams come true.  With anxiety, what’s happening the train when our head resembles a lightning storm, fear and apprehension dominate our feeling world, our body immobile or in pain, our interaction with the world practically non-existent?  The train needs a good service, maybe parts replaced. I often say to young clients: ’95% of you is perfect but that 5% of shit is driving the train.  Let’s get you on the track and rocking.  The world wants and needs you.’

Very often, anxiety gets mixed together with depression but I will always accompany the client on ‘the detective trail’ of where the sadness and loss was overwhelming, when life stopped and nothing seemed to have colour and taste.  The inner part of them that freezes and runs away is waiting for another inner part - strong, resourceful - to envelop  and contain the terror.  An 8 year old child described his terror as he tried to sleep: a 2 ton, black, furry pirate with chopped off leg.  The resource he chose was his favourite animal, the whale.  In the room, he he held the puppet of the whale in one hand and it gobbled the pirate puppet.  He doesn’t call out for Mummy any more as sleep calls him to rest.

I will be doing other presentations around managing anxiety in upcoming podcasts and blogs.


Presentations on the 4 zones are also available on video and podcast through the website – see www.reallyhuman.ie

If you enjoy the material, please get the word out there among those you care for.  You can contact me with comment or suggestion via Facebook at Jim Sheehy Therapy and on Twitter @jimsheehy2017

Take care,

Clarifying Disclaimer:  While the material I am presenting is well-researched and suitable for the general population, I believe each person’s issues and needs are unique.  I encourage you to seek medical and/or therapeutic support if you struggle with an issue or condition that negatively and seriously impacts your life.

Presentations on the 4 zones are also available on video and podcast through the website – see www.reallyhuman.ie

If you enjoy the material, please get the word out there among those you care for.  You can contact me with comment or suggestion via Facebook at Jim Sheehy Therapy and on Twitter @jimsheehy2017

Take care,

Clarifying Disclaimer:  While the material I am presenting is well-researched and suitable for the general population, I believe each person’s issues and needs are unique.  I encourage you to seek medical and/or therapeutic support if you struggle with an issue or condition that negatively and seriously impacts your life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Contact me:

Jim Sheehy M.Ed. MIACP
Leitir
Kilcar
Co Donegal 
F94 WV99

087 2137922

jsheehy@hotmail.co.uk

 

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