In my previous profession, I spent many years treating patients with, amongst other issues, insomnia, anxiety and depression. After a lifetime of being an ‘easy sleeper’, I never expected to find myself in the same position.
Life always has a way of throwing us all a ‘curveball’. Back in 2008, I’d heard rumours of something called a ‘credit crunch’. Those rumours turned into what became the most stressful period of my life to date. Of course, all these things are relative but, to each of us, we can often only focus on what’s happening to us right now. By the end of 2008, the business that I had grown from seed started to come crashing down around my ears. All I could think of was the look on the faces of my wife and children when I told them that we were losing our home. As I was an employer, this had the potential to affect twelve other families, as well as my own. All this at what was to become one of the most difficult recessions for almost a hundred years. This only heightened my concerns. So, the prolonged worry over what turned out to be at least a two-year period, eventually started to take its toll on both my body and mind. The chronic anxiety that developed was eventually partnered by depression, both of which I had plenty of experience treating in the clinic but very scant first hand personal experience.
I didn’t want to worry my wife, my parents or my young family. That felt like it would just make things worse. I didn’t want to worry my employees, either. So, I just ended up bottling it all up. A recipe for disaster. The insomnia, night-sweats, palpitations, nervousness, worry, anxiety and depression started to take hold.
I didn’t consult my GP because of the terrible stories from my patients of the lack of help they received and my witnessing the side effects of the medications they were prescribed. There was a sheer pointlessness to the approach, as I saw it. I didn’t want to consult my own colleagues for treatment because I felt I needed to appear as if I was holding it all together. I was convinced that the only real solution was to ‘get a grip’ and change my circumstances. That’s no mean feat when one can’t think clearly for long because of feelings of anxiety.
Fortunately, I was equipped with a tool kit to help me manage my symptoms: Tai Chi and various meditative techniques had been a part of my life since I was a young man. They’ve long been shown to have a profoundly beneficial effect on both body and mind. I’ve been teaching these ancient arts for the benefit of other people since 1996. Now, it was time to walk the talk for my own benefit.
The significant turning point came when I realised I had only two choices:
- Getting a grip
- NOT getting a grip
I didn’t fancy the latter because it meant continued suffering; and I’d had quite enough of that, already. I had to get through this crisis using careful, considered thinking and develop a plan.
I got myself a coach to get that invaluable third party, impartial perspective and worked consistently to follow my plans. I accepted my symptoms as part of the challenge and included their management in my overall plan using:
- positive affirmations
- regular Tai Chi practice to regulate my body and mind
In time, my mental state started to improve, my body started to relax and my business started to turn around.
Ten years or so on, that business is not only still alive but has prospered without me since I sold out to my employees in 2015 to pursue a new career in coaching, myself. I’ve always believed that there are practical solutions to most any healthcare scenarios and managed to prove it to myself through this experience.
I can’t say that my symptoms disappeared overnight. Inevitably, there is a practised behavioural element to these things. Now and then, I would still wake up in the middle of the night with a feeling of panic and sense of impending doom. However, in time, I became able to transpose these feelings through conscious choice and practised process. Just like anything, it’s a skill that is honed gradually over time.
Life is never without it’s worries. Buddhism teaches that ‘life is dukkha’, which is often translated as ‘life is suffering’. However, I prefer the translation ‘life is challenge’. Indeed, it is only through challenges that we develop and grow. One thing I have learned, with time, is to show my vulnerability. It takes a great weight off one’s shoulders.
Sean Barkes is an Executive Coach, Mentor, Business Consultant, Strategist, Thought Coach, Unconscious Assumption Identifier, Faulty Thinking Detective and Habit Analyst at Refinity.