Getting The Anxiety Under Control

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Odd, but true …. Since the scuba diving experience (Scuba Diving With Anxiety) I appear to have control over my anxiety. (My left ear is deaf as a post, but this I can live with.)

Just because scuba diving was quite frankly an opportunity for me to impersonate a mermaid whilst jumping into the Finding Nemo film doesn’t make it any less of a moderately extreme activity. One teensy mistake, and oops, out of oxygen and poof! You’re dead. Yes, I know what you’re thinking and I agree, I’m sure there are safety procedures galore, but the fact of the matter is, we need oxygen to survive. Personally I’d put it up there in the dangerous category alongside jumping out of an aeroplane with a parachute that one of my children has sewn together.

Now, this having been my first dipping of the toe into the scuba diving world, I was unsure as to whether at 12 metres down, if trouble arises, one can just bob back up to the top or whether eardrums burst and a case of the bends follows … no clue, but in fact, my ignorance probably worked in my favour. Because, it meant that there was no option but to use breathing techniques to get my panic attack under control, and under the expert tutelage of the rather delightful ‘French Kevin’, I did.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve practised my breathing during yoga whilst down-dogging with the best of them; bottoms in the air, the huffing and puffing from neighbouring mats sounding rather like a maternity ward; but in truth I’ve only breathed on a rather superficial, shallow level.

Realising the gravity of the situation and understanding fairly smartish that I HAD to deal with something deeply uncomfortable, and potentially life threatening, I didn’t faff around with pretending to blow on a little piccolo, oh no, I took on the entire brass section of the orchestra. I was no longer Katie, wife of the Colonel, cake maker, gardener and peacekeeper, I WAS KING OF A SODDING GREAT TUBA. I huffed, I puffed, deeply, slowly, deeper, slower … all I could hear was air moving in and out. I focused, I concentrated, I breathed.

And erm … I hate to say this … but it worked.

We’re talking less than ten minutes.

A bit like going out for a walk in the fresh air when you’re feeling a bit blue does make you feel better (even if you want to hit the person who suggested it with a shovel). Annoyingly, it does work.

Why is it annoying? Because it implies that my depression and anxiety have been ‘in my head’ if you’ll excuse the pun. And they haven’t … It’s a disease, a proper disease in which medications, therapy and doctors have had to intervene. So how does something so basic as breathing beat every pill hands down?

You see, the breathing and focus took over the fear. The breathing and focus were stronger than the panic. The breathing and focus won.

So when being in a tiny cramped minibus with a low ceiling and a claustrophobic panic attack found its way crawling up again, I started blowing on my tuba again. (The Colonel did look a little quizzically at me, I can live with that and the deaf ear). Minutes later, all was fine. The moment had passed. The rest of the journey was unremarkable, not particularly comfortable but frankly no more so than for anybody else. I suspect that it’s also slightly a case of having done scuba diving, taking a bath with a mask and snorkel on is simply child’s play.

There have been a couple of other moments since, and again blowing on my tuba has each time, more and more quickly reduced the anxiety to nothing, no more than anyone else has on a day to day life.

It works.

It’s hard work fighting a war with yourself, your mind, but we’re so much stronger than we actually give ourselves credit for.

Remember, it has to be done with gusto … passion … intensity. Put down your piccolos, pick up your tubas and remember, the purpose is to make the breathingand focus win the battle against the panic and anxiety. Give it a go … a really loud, pushing out a baby, blowing on a tuba go. Happy days!

Katie xx

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Scuba Diving … With Anxiety … Really?

 

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I’m sitting here with a large fresh juice, on a ridiculously comfortable sun bed on a ridiculously beautiful beach feeling as though I’ve simultaneously conquered Everest, become the next JK Rowling and saved the human race from drowning in a sea of plastic. In a nutshell, I’m feeling a teensy bit pleased with myself.

I have scuba dived, or is it dove … frankly I don’t give a hoot.

I was a mermaid. I was a mermaid for forty minutes on a coral covered reef surrounded by every imaginable and remarkably-coloured, shaped and sized species of fish, darting here and there, feeding, playing, whatever it is that fish do, whilst they were apparently oblivious to the presence of a couple of visitors in their habitat.

I knew it would test me. Suffering from anxiety, I knew there was a strong possibility of a panic attack or six. I knew that a panic attack under water would most probably be the end of my career as a mermaid. However, on a more positive note, if I was able to control this, I would indeed have conquered my very own Everest, to say nothing of being a superhero.

A video, a lengthy instruction in the pool, lots of information later and before I know it, I am perched on the side of the pitching boat, and being expected to just drop backwards into the sea. I understand that I am safe. I know the logic, I know the drill. But dear God!

It’s like that horrendous game where someone stands behind you and you have to fall backwards into their arms with the belief and trust that they will catch you. I’ve never done it and never will do it, trust not really being my forte. However, I am now having to believe in the knowledge I have been given, the experience of having done it in the swimming pool and I simply have to have faith in myself. Flippin’ marvellous.

Ordinarily, this would have been the perfect situation for a minor meltdown. However my instructor ‘buddy’ was waiting in the sea, my husband (aka the Colonel) was watching with a look of delighted anticipation and the other group of divers were waiting for me before they could go. No pressure then. I took one final look of unadulterated terror at the man helping me, and closing my eyes, holding my breath, (both completely unnecessarily of course) and dropped backwards into the heaving dark water.

Its quite a surprise really when you think you should be dead and in fact you’re most definitely alive. Kevin, my French (and alarmingly good looking) instructor was there, as promised, and I was apparently unharmed, also as promised. Quite extraordinary.

Together French Kevin and I made our way slowly down the line into the depths, with much stopping, starting, squeezing noses (well, really just mine) and sorting out of ears refusing to equalise, alongside trying to keep the emotion under wraps. Despite the multitude of shells with goodness knows what creepy crawlies living inside them and some rather slimy seaweed all attached to the line, I was not letting go. I was beyond getting squeamish over a few beasties … I was so out of my comfort zone I’d need a train, a plane and a bicycle to get me back, for I had bigger fish to fry … I had Betty the Demon to contend with.

Finally we reached the bottom where Kevin had previously explained that we would just sit for ten minutes to adjust. Without the task of equalising to focus on, the panic started almost immediately, roaring around in my brain wanting to take over. Betty the demon is screaming with laughter, heart racing, fear taking over, fear winning. I need to escape. I need to get up, get out. I am afraid. I am desperate. Panic has successfully gripped me by the throat and my shallow, fast breathing is making me nauseous, faint, hot …

Kevin’s hand touches my arm. I hold onto it tightly. He understands. He holds me and with his free arm indicates for me to look into his eyes and mimic his breathing. It is slow, it is controlled. In slowly, out slowly. Repeat. In slowly, out slowly, repeat.

His unwavering stare is reassuring, but odd because it’s not the Colonel’s and he’s awfully close, but hell, right now he’s lucky I’m not sitting on his lap and clinging to his neck like a limpet (thank God for small mercies). My breathing is copying his rhythm, the panic is subsiding, Betty is stomping off, muttering obscenities at a lost opportunity to come back into my world and my head is starting to nod that all is getting better and I finally manage the O.K. signal.

I start to look around, I start to see the wonderful underwater world around me. And the more I look, the more I relax, and the more the breathing becomes normal. We head off, everything is slow and peaceful. Together, we point out the weird, the wonderful, the unutterably beautiful. We share the experience and though this is a normal event in his day to day life, he clearly expresses delight in showing me the glory of this unexplored world.

The corals, the constant movement, the peeping of eyes from deep within a crevice, the darting movements of the fish alongside an overall slow waving motion of the current moving everything in its path and of which one has no control, during which all you can hear is your breathing.

In slowly, out slowly. Repeat. In slowly, out slowly.

This is mindfulness, this is real breathing, this is living in the moment.

The grinning Colonel was waiting for me. In truth, I don’t know which of us was the more exhilarated, the proudest.

And now the sun is dipping down over the horizon, the light is changing and the fishermen are moving slowly across the water in their narrow boats. What a day. Yes, what a day.

Katie xx

Have you scuba dived?

How did you cope? Did you find it easy or not? Any tips?