A beautiful, bubbly and bright 27-year old, Caroline Foran is far from the anxiety-ridden stereotype. Yet, like so many others, she found herself crippled by this debilitating condition. Here, she explains how she fought back and came out smiling.
Anxiety. It’s a word we use daily, and an emotion we’ve all felt at one time or another. But until you experience it in its most crippling form–when it begins to govern all your thoughts and all that you do–you can know nothing of its possessive power. When I found myself both physically and emotionally on the floor, unable to leave my house, and petrified at the thought of how I’d face the day, the word “anxiety” took on an entirely new meaning.
If you’ve been there, you’ll know; it’s truly terrifying. “What’s wrong with me?”, “Why can’t I snap out of it?”, “Have I lost my mind?” were just some of the questions I grappled with as I began to suffer from acute anxiety early last year. Meanwhile, “I’m going to lose everything”, “I’m never going to come out of this” and “I simply can’t cope” were a few of the catastrophic thoughts that came along for the ride.
Despite the image you may have already conjured of an introverted submissive without friends or family, I am a physically healthy 27-year-oldsurrounded by wonderful friends, a supportive family and a boyfriend who would do absolutely anything for me. I’m an online journalist and madly passionate about the work that I do, so on paper, my life looks pretty good right now! I’ve always been what you’d call “a bit of a worrier”, but as any healthcare professional will tell you, a certain amount of anxiety is good for you; it drives us forward in life, shows that we care, and it’s a vital bodily function should risk present itself. But when your “fight or flight” response is permanently engaged in the absence of any axe-wielding serial killers, you know you’ve got a problem. In fact, one in four of us will suffer from anxiety during our lifetime.
I’ve read round this subject for the past few months, consulting countless books and professionals, and I’ve learned that if you find yourself suddenly caught in the eye of an anxiety storm, it’s probably because you’ve endured a period of extreme stress for too long, and ignored your body as it tried its best to communicate with you that all was not well –these days, we’re conditioned to endure stress. Eventually, life snowballs, forcing you to jump off those train tracks. If I’ve learned anything, it’s to always trust my gut.
If you look closely enough, you’ll find there’s always a trigger for stress. For me, jumping from a secure job that I loved to one that I wanted to run a million miles from was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Quicker than I care to remember, I went from being a generally happy and contented woman, blissfully in love and excited about all that the future might bring, to losing all confidence, crying more tears than I thought humanly possible, feeling physically unwell, and suddenly suffering panic attacks in situations that previously wouldn’t have knocked a feather out of me.
It wasn’t long before I was forced to listen to that inner voice I’d been ignoring and quit my job. I faced unemployment, social welfare woes and mounting bills, so as you can imagine, my anxiety didn’t disappear with the toxic job. For too long, I couldn’t understand how I was feeling, and I just wanted to get over it. In the absence of a magic pill that would make it all go away in one fell swoop, I went down every available avenue, from hypnotherapy to antidepressants, to spending hundreds of euro on anything that promised speedy results. But I soon realised that patience is the key to overcoming anxiety; it’s a process. You have to accept that it’s happening, face it head-on, give yourself time to come out the other side, and most importantly, know that you will.
The Path to Recovery
Just as no two experiences of anxiety are the same, no two paths to recovery will be the same. For me, acupuncture has been a godsend. As explained by acupuncturist Hannah O’Connell of Castlewood Clinic, Rathmines, “One of the excellences of acupuncture is that it’s tailor-made to each patient. Rather than looking at ‘anxiety’ and inserting ‘anxiety points’, it looks at how anxiety is affecting the individual specifically – what signs and symptoms are present forth is individual at different times throughout their condition? I may treat three people with anxiety using entirely different acupuncture points and treatment principles. Their diagnosis within conventional medicine maybe the same, but within traditional Chinese medicine, it can differ hugely. The specific focus on the individual and their experience is key.”
The aim of the acupuncturist is to help restore the Qi (energy), on which our health is dependent. “When in good health, Qi moves in a balanced way through a chain of 14 pathways that flow throughout the body. Intense emotions such as anger and anxiety act like a traffic jam, blocking this flow, as seen in people with stress who suffer upper back, shoulder and neck pain. “Acupuncture points are situated at specific anatomical locations on these path ways. By inserting needles into these points, we stimulate the body’s Qi to begin the healing process and assist it in restoring its natural balance, explains O’Connell. “Acupuncture points can help energy flow smoothly and alleviate not only the symptoms of stress and anxiety, but the stress and anxiety itself.”
Along with acupuncture, I’ve found relief with regular therapy sessions, guided meditation, yoga, a caffeine-free and low-sugar diet, and a range of natural supplements to help restore hormonal balance. Even something as simple as focusing on my breathing has helped. And never underestimate the healing powers of a bath or a walk in the park.
Follow Caroline Foran on Twitter @CarolineForan
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