I live an hour train ride from London. I used to live there whilst at University during my first degree. I worked there for years, before I was self-employed and I studied there for my Masters degree. I have spent a lot of time there, it’s clear but I haven’t been there for three years since getting ill, until today Aug 24th 2015! She does a little dance…
I planned a short, easily achievable trip for my first time. I chose a good goal, to have lunch with my lovely sister, and at a place nearby the end of my line, Fenchurch Street. St. St Katherine’s docks was the venue, I knew it was a suitable walking distance and now I just waited for a good enough day to go.
It was raining, but hey, less people out to lunch so that’s a bonus! I was a bit fluey, it comes and goes, but I knew it would boost me to go, plus I could rest both ways on the train, little did I know what the universe plants in your way for some kind of weird scnychronistic test. I’ll get to it later!
I felt so elated inside to be riding the train all the way to London. I have been able to do a few train rides now, over the last six months, to nearer stops around where I live. It’s been great feeling my independence again. It’s been a bummer I don’t drive because when I went down into the dark tunnel of ME/CFS, I’ve been dependent on others to get places further afield.
As the train approached stops in East London, where I used to get off daily for various jobs before I was self-employed, I began to get a strange sense.
Mixed in with a feeling of joy from the familiarity of it all, was an odd sense of looking back, being back, but as a new person. I knew that the last few years had really stretched me. It has forced me to evolve, summoning up huge amounts of courage. All of this digging deep to come through it, now seemed to have birthed more within me than I’d realised.
I felt tears trickle down my face, as I took in the immense reward that I had been given by going through this experience, and little did I know that just arriving at a goal to return to a place I love, would offer me so much confirmation.
This insight taught me a valuable lesson, that this journey is not just about ticking things off my list, to feel that I’m living properly again. It’s about so much more than physical functioning, it’s given me greater psychological wellbeing and an ability to connect with a whole other layer of living.
As we passed Barking train station, it was as if I could see the old Hanna, marching off the train to her old job at an environmental charity. I wish I could have told her, to slow down, to be kinder to herself and to go toward healing the things she wants to suppress by all that outer achievement and busyness.
I didn’t feel all that whole back then, or even in the years after. I took to helping others in my work, because that was the familiar role from my childhood. I was told I helped and touched lots of people with my counselling, coaching and energy healing, yet I couldn’t take it in and I didn’t know that deep down I probably needed more attention and inner healing than the individuals who visited me. I remember wishing I could feel more solid inside. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was missing but despite my various successes and triumphs in the outer world, I always felt inadequate.
When I yerned for this to change, I had no idea what it would take to get there. Only, almost four years of my life to experience a psychological breakdown, a complete physical breakdown and then an altogether incredible breakthrough. I may still be healing my body, but psychologically, I’m feeling whole.
Once I stepped off the train, still feeling a wonderful sense of holding and completion within me, I joined the bustle of people and said kind words to my tired muscles and swollen glands.
Everything had changed at Tower Hill, in the three years since I’d visited. My inner child was revelling in this outing and she felt so much safer with me than she used to.
Seeing my sister was touching and onward to the docks, we found a lovely Turkish restaurant to have some breakfast. After a couple hours of chatting about various bits and bobs including moving through challenges it was time to leave. I perhaps should have foreseen how this subject matter may pose a scnychronistic life validation, as I soon found out.
Once on the train I was in great need for a snooze and a chill. With the warm feeling of achievement filling me, I didn’t so much notice my painful glands or burning arms. I’ve always found it better to deal with physical discomfort when living, or at least being out of the house, rather than sitting in and succumbing to having nothing but the discomfort to be with. I hadn’t planned on this next entry of activity though….
All of a sudden I heard a frantic voice. There was a man in the back of the carriage, nearly screaming, that he needed to get off the train. He kept repeating the same line and his voice was filled with anguish. I wanted to ignore it and move to a calm space and even this bit of pause time was new to me. But through conscious choice and self-preparation, I didn’t.
When I made my way to this crying young man, I was glad I’d made the decision to help because the young woman trying to assist him looked quite scared and unsure. Others in the carriage were staring and likely annoyed, although the carriage wasn’t busy. I’ve always jumped quickly to help in emergencies and conflict, it comes naturally I guess and largely because of the training I had in my dramatic and sometimes challenging childhood experience. But I’d never felt that equipped, I just did it. For the first time in my life, this experience was to be another indicator of how solid and more capable I’d become.
I put my hand on the man’s shoulder and told him he was having a panic attack. I asked him to focus on on his breathing and explained that this could begin to change his physcial state if the body could calm down. I asked him a few factual questions about his name, where he was heading, and if he he’d had panic attacks before. At first he became more distressed, which is common for a person to do once they have someone to attach to. I was just remembering what my sister had told me about a woman having a panic attack on her plane journey home from a recent holiday and I marveled at the universe for bringing our conversation to life for some reason.
I sat the man down and at this point he was shaking and holding my hand like a small child. He said he suffered from a bi polar condition and I asked about his medication. Funnily enough he was on an anti-depressant which I was also tried on before my ME/CFS diagnosis, when I was in a very continually anxious state, (it didn’t work for me), there were other things at play, but that’s another post.
I used this to our advantage and told him I knew personally about the medication. I laughed as I recounted the thirteen different drugs I had been tried on, (this coming from a person who wouldn’t even touch an aspirin!). This information to give him some common material to to start grounding himself. I used personal experience as well as clinically to empathise with him about how horrid panic attacks are and I told him that this was just a physiological response, where his sympathetic nervous system was sending signals that he was in danger. Even though he was crying through his words still, he was beginning to calm and was making eye contact more.
An adult, in the midst of a panic attack becomes very regressional and much like a small child. This is why other adults can find it so hard to witness, and likely why the others on the train tried to discount what was going on, for this may raise fears around their own mental health, and no-one likes this area being caught in the spotlight.
The young woman, named Marla was clearly more able to hold onto herself and try to help this person in distress and I was thankful for it. While I was with Michael we devised a plan to contact a parent or friend for this thirty-five year old man on his mobile phone so he could touch base with some security, whilst we remained with him for a few more stops until he could disembark at Leigh on sea station.
It turns out he had began feeling unwell at work and they sent him home. It sounded to me like he had tried to hide the panic attack from his work colleagues and had perhaps experienced some form of separation anxiety panic attack, by which time it had reached the full blown stage on the journey home.
When we reached his step dad, he agreed to meet him at the station. Michael was still distressed and most upset at the people staring at him. I tried to bring humour and a calmness to it all by telling him they couldn’t understand and that he was privy to an experience that not everyone can relate to but that it makes him special but that I’m sure he’d rather not be experiencing these things!
In any difficult situation distraction technique can be useful, so I asked him about his favourite movies and told him about my tough time over the last few years, and about my first trip up to London. He kept saying thank you over and over and I could tell how ashamed he was of not being able to manage his emotional and mental state. This brought back similar memories for me and I knew how unhelpful this feeling of inferiority is. It simply creates a cycle of insecurity, and the only way out is to come to find that safe place within and our own loving inner parent, which doesn’t beat us up when we are scared. If we are having panic attacks there is a reason for it. We all do the best we can with what our childhood has given us. This poor chap was clearly lacking some inner safety. He was like a little puppy holding onto my arm, as if waiting for the world to implode. It did make me feel like bit of a mother, but I reminded myself of my own position.
The young girl was getting off at Leigh so she said she would walk with Michael to find his step-dad. As much as I wanted to help if I could, I wasn’t going to go over my own boundary and I needed to get off a few stops past this and REST!
With a hug and a slight smile, Michael left the train and I slumped back in my chair. I was surprised at how mature and capable I felt during that intense encounter. Of course it stirred me up a bit as it would seeing anyone in deep distress, but this time I never took the feeling off me whilst it was happening. I was present and was able to manage my own emotional reaction to his experience and separate them out so that I didn’t become so lost.
Ahh, I thought, so this was another thing this journey has awarded me; the art of being helpful without being a “helper” or sometimes put, a rescuer. An essential skill which had never quite fully formed in me with my previous situations in the psychology room or even in my relationships. Even though this was not what I had planned on the way home from this adventurous day, and not what I felt I would have needed most, I trusted that it was somehow all part of the giant puzzle. When we can identify our patterns, whether it be a “rescuer”, “achiever”, “anxious or adrenaline junky” then we have more space to exit the type and just be whoever we come to be in each moment that presents itself. It seems that this day was providing me opportunities, to observe many previous patterns within myself and get feedback on how far I have come in terms of moving beyond the conditioned self, or at least with ability to put it aside at times.