This article was sent in by Kevin Mullen, 42, from Scotland.
My first taste of anxiety
I remember it like it was yesterday, and if I really focus on the intensity I could certainly re-live it. Anxiety was something I hadn’t felt before. And what triggered it? My fifty-two-year-old mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. That was the start of my relationship with anxiety.
I was in a city called Ghazni in Afghanistan at the time and it wasn’t the best of places. I received a phone call from my mum – an unheard-of occurrence – and I knew this was serious. I remember her words. She asked when I would be home, and I said I had around five weeks to go before I was back. She said I needed to come and see her when I returned, as she was not very well and needed to talk to me.
I asked a million questions and all she said was, “It’s ok, son; it’s nothing serious, but you need to come here.” She asked me to promise that I would come, so of course I promised. My mum was a fighter and never let anything stand in her way. The fact that she needed to see me as soon as I got home started me over-thinking, and then I entered the whole catastrophic mind-set.
My base had a really limited phone and internet service. We were allowed one call and thirty minutes of internet time a week. Due to the time difference, every time I tried to call my mum, I was told she wasn’t feeling great and she would be resting. The negative thought system really kicked in then. The last time I saw my mother was twelve months before this. We lived five hundred miles apart and only had phone contact for the previous six months due to my work and life commitments.
I remember her as happy and healthy, having a normal weight for a woman her size. Nothing could prepare me for the sight which met me when I arrived at her door. It felt very early and quiet. The street and the house had never been so silent. In my mind, I felt like I was walking into an ambush. That was my gut feeling letting me know something was amiss. It wasn’t wrong.
My beautiful wee mammy was sitting wrapped up on the sofa, with a blanket over her legs and her tiny frail feet sticking out at the bottom. Her wee West Highland white terrier curled up by her side. The second I walked into the room, the breath left my body. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t believe what my wee mammy looked like. She was lucky if she was six stone wet. Her face was drawn. She was pale and weak, and her jammies didn’t fit anymore. It was a moment which will haunt me for the rest of my life.
That moment I had my first ever anxiety attack.
My wee mammy had cancer. It had ravaged her body. She was a different person from the one I had last seen. I fell to my knees and begged God not to let this be true. Please God, I am begging you; don’t let this be my wee mammy. I knew in a heartbeat that she would be taken from me. I started crying hysterically and my wee mammy forced herself to sit up.
She said, “Come here, son. It’s ok, I am ok. Don’t be silly, I am ok, I promise.”
I curled up and put my head on her knee. I could feel her kneecap pressing on my temple. She put her hand on my head and said, “Don’t be upset, son. It’s ok, I am going to be ok. I have you back now; everything’s going to be ok.”
The fire from her once-sharp temper and voice was gone. It was peaceful. I couldn’t tell you how long I sat with my head on her knee but it felt like it a lifetime. My wee mammy knew she was going to die. She knew and I knew, and the only thing I could do was cry. I couldn’t get off my knees. I couldn’t breathe. She asked if I wanted my sister to come over and sit for a while. Maybe she could explain everything, and let me go outside for a wee bit to see if I could calm down. I agreed and my sister arrived.
A look says everything. My sister knew the same as I did. This was a fight my mum wasn’t going to win.
I said I needed to go. I just kept saying it. I ran out of the front door and threw up. My eyes lost focus. It felt like someone had stolen the breath from my body. I couldn’t regain control. I remember feeling panicky and agitated. It felt like a brass band was marching up and down inside my chest. I struggled to breathe. I panicked. My mum’s neighbour thought I was having a heart attack. I held onto my chest and tried to breathe. This was a full-on anxiety attack and it wasn’t going to be my last one. I would suffer these attacks for many years. In the short gaps between my rapid breathing, I kept asking:
Why is this happening? Please God, take me instead. Please take me! I am not afraid of death; in fact, I welcome it. This is not fair! But it wasn’t my time and he didn’t answer me that day. I couldn’t even stay in the same street right then. My partner picked me up in the next street and drove me to the place I was staying. I thought I was about to die. The more I thought about it the worse the feelings became. They wouldn’t go away. That lasted between six and seven minutes. It felt like a lifetime.
One of the most memorable things that day was feeling physically and mentally drained. I felt as if I had gone ten rounds with a heavyweight boxer.
Every muscle hurt. Even my eyes were sore. Panic and anxiety attacks can be so powerful that they leave you washed out. But I had no choice. I had to face reality. The woman who cared for me, loved me unconditionally, and made me the person I am today was six weeks away from death. She was being taken from me and I wasn’t ready. But the stages of grief were not to be played out yet. I remember thinking, if this lady has six weeks to go, then I need to be focused. I need to be strong. I can’t have her last memory of me as a nervous wreck. I can’t show anxiety, panic and fear.
She was my wee mammy. I was about to fight my anxiety on a level I didn’t think possible. But I was also fighting hers for her. We had lost my brother a few years before and my mother died inside that day. No question. She never recovered, and the fire and sparkle she possessed faded and was replaced with sadness and dullness behind her eyes. She never shone brightly again.
One of the most amazing things I saw was the acceptance she had. She didn’t try to fight it. She didn’t say, “No, this is not over.” She held my hand tight and whispered “It’s ok, Kevin, my time here is finished; it’s time to go and see your brother now.” I realised then that it was that easy for her. The comfort she took in her faith was so powerful and amazing that I have yet to see it repeated.
This was the calm before the storm.
First I had to deal with the daily anxiety attacks. I never switched off. I didn’t sleep properly for the next six weeks. This was something I was going to get used to. But I didn’t want my mother upset by my sadness and constant anxiety, so I remained in a mode that served me well. I remained calm in front of everyone. I was focussed and very protective of my mother. I made sure no-one cried in front of her or got too sad. She felt only pure, unconditional love for her remaining time.
When she slept or after everyone had gone, I let everything wash over me. The physical and mental symptoms of anxiety took hold. I think I held out quite well. For most of the time I would try and hold my breath. I would ground myself and hope that the feelings would go. At other times I would pretend I heard the front doorbell and escape to the hallway. There, I let the attack come. Then I would recover and go again. It continued like this for the next six weeks. Having anxiety as a new friend didn’t worry me because all my thoughts lay with my mum.
She was always on medication. One of those medications was an anti-anxiety tablet she had taken for years. She was ok while she was still capable of swallowing a tablet, so the doctors kept her on these. They also increased a beta blocker to try and enhance her last stages. She refused all other options. The most painful part was when my mum wasn’t capable of oral medication and had to have automated injections. Two medications which couldn’t be give any more were the beta blockers and the anxiety medication. These stopped and the change was instant. It was like someone had flipped a switch on the anxiety overdrive.
My mum’s anxiety and behaviour changed overnight. She couldn’t settle. She lost focus. The agitation was something I have never seen before. The medical practitioners said it was part of the final process. She was on a care pathway and this was normal. Let me assure you this level of anxiety was not normal in any way, shape or form. No one could help.
I remember thinking, I wish I could just add her anxiety on top of mine. I would gladly have taken the discomfort, panic, and agitation for her.
Watching someone suffering with that level of anxiety and being unable to help was heart-breaking. Now, if I am helping anyone with anxiety, before I meet my client, I close my eyes and remember my mother. I begin helping with her memory foremost in my mind. This levels me and reminds me why I am so passionate and focused about anxiety treatment and therapy.
As strange as it may sound, the fact that my mother was given six weeks to live wasn’t a big deal. It didn’t affect her in any way. At first. But when anxiety came calling it ripped her last few weeks on this planet to pieces. She was either too hot or too cold. Lack of noise would send her agitation into overdrive. Too much noise would do the same. Everything made her agitated and anxious. No-one could help, or even tried. Crippling anxiety tore her apart every hour of the day.
I will never forget the impact anxiety had on the last few weeks of my mother’s life. I haven’t said this before. During the first stages, I hoped, wished and prayed for more time. I prayed for it not to be true. But towards the end, when anxiety became so painful for her, I hoped, wished and prayed that enough was enough. She had fought her own fight in her own way. I prayed and hoped for the opposite. I wished that she would close her eyes and find peace. I wanted her to be with my brother.
After a few more days like this, my mother passed away in her sleep. I had nothing to be strong for. I was numb and empty apart from one simple emotion. Anxiety. It would remain in my life for many years to come, with one twist after another.
ABOUT KEVIN MULLIN
Kevin Mullin enlisted in the British Army aged fifteen years and eight months. He served in several conflict areas and operations around the globe, then, at the age of thirty-four, he left the service and became a private military operator. Kevin was contracted to the United States Department of Defence; securing and protecting US Military bases and assets in Afghanistan. Kevin worked there for four years before moving to one of the most valuable targets in Afghanistan – in the heart of Kabul – The Serena Hotel. Kevin Studied NLP within the British army and gained a wealth of knowledge and experience, training the trainers in the methods of approaches to NLP. Having suffered the loss of both his brother and mother, he was crippled with anxiety for many years. Kevin searched relentlessly for new, dynamic ways to beat it.
Having taken an apprenticeship with an NLP master, Kevin finally found what he was looking for. He understudied and role modelled NLP to great effect. In June 2017, Kevin opened his very own NLP practice based in central Scotland. The practice has received rave reviews about Kevin’s new, dynamic and direct approach. He has helped thousands of clients become anxiety-free. Kevin has gained plaudits from Italy, Dubai and America for his dynamic and enthusiastic approach to motivational speaking and helping businesses and organisations flourish and grow. He is also a full-time parent. He raises his children with the approach he takes in life and in his crusade to help everyone in the battle with anxiety. Drive, determination and a vigour unparalleled in this modern age.
Follow Kevin on Instagram at @serenity_nlp to keep up with his mental health journey.