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  • Writer's pictureClaire Wortley

Breaking an Anxiety Cycle.

“Within the cycle of anxiety, the joy of being alive is lost. Our world gets smaller and smaller.”

Creating the cycle

I was 20 the first time I decided to get a tattoo. Many of my friends and colleagues had a small tattoo someone where on their body and I decided I wanted to be part of that gang. Little devils and butterflies were very poplar. This was years before sleeves and much larger tattoos became fashionable for women.

Me being me, I didn't want to be like my friends and so opted for a tiny Pegasus. It was to go somewhere on my back so it could be hidden on my upcoming wedding day.

Being young and somewhat naive, I booked my appointment for a Saturday morning at a popular place Walthamstow.

I had over done the wine the night before and was a little worse for wear as I sat alone on the bus wishing I had been a little more sensible. I arrived at the shop and was greeted by Paul (I can't remember his name) covered from head to toe in tatts. I think he found me amusing because I really had no idea. I talked tough but certainly didn't look it. The design I chose was colourful which meant it would take longer than a basic outline. Not much larger than the old size 50 pence pieces, Paul told me it shouldn't take long. I lent sideways over the counter so he could get to work just below my shoulder blade.

It didn't seem too painful at first but then it began to nip as he worked over a rib.

That is beginning to feel sore. I hope he doesn't stay in that spot for too long. Shit, that is really starting to hurt. It's making me sweat, a lot! Come on Claire, you can do this. I feel really hot and it feels like there is no air in here. Keeep breathing. It's OK! Ooh my head is starting to spin. I don't like this. It's not good. I think I might faint. Don't think about fainting. Why did you have to think about fainting ? There is no way you're gonna..........

The next thing I remember was looking up and seeing a huge tarantula right in front of me. I jumped but then realised it was in an aquarium on the counter top.

I could hear Paul laughing as he continued to work away. In a rather wobbly voice I asked if he could just do the outline and to forget the colour. He said he wouldn't be long and berated me for not having had any breakfast.

As it turned out Paul had started the colour and was just finishing it off when I fainted. I felt such a wuss and was more than little red as I left the shop with Paul's giggles ringing in my ears.

Enforcing the cycle

After my first tattoo I didn't feel the desire to get anymore. Funny that? However at around 30 I decided I wanted another one. Having remarried with the hope I had found Mr Right, I was gutted to find the cracks were showing in the relationship. We were very different people and he had no tolerance of the anxiety disorder I was living with. Desperate to remind myself that I was lovable and that everyone deserved to be loved, I decided I wanted something that symbolised love. I looked online and came up with a Chinese symbol which, I hoped, meant love.

This time I took myself into town, to a reputable Tattooing studio and asked for something similar. As I look at it now, I have no idea if it is even a real symbol but the purpose was that I would know it was there and so feel that love was with me wherever I went.

I had my bottle of water with me and had eaten before the appointment so should be fine. If my brain and body had no memory of what happened before I may well have been OK.

I sat on the chair as the lady placed the transfer on my lower belly. Again, the tattoo was not much bigger than an old 50 pence piece and with no colour or shading should be done pretty quickly.

I was nervous, of that there was no doubt. I was nervous that my husband would be cross, nervous that my reasons for having this tattoo were stupid, nervous I was wasting money and most of all, nervous I might faint,

The room was rather hot and very noisy. Several people were in various positions on other chairs around the studio.

It is quite hot in here. I did tell them I had fainted before and they laughed but I am sure they will be kind to me. They also said to tell them if I needed a break so that's what I'll do.

I asked the lady to wait a moment as I took a gulp of water and a couple of deep breaths. I then nodded to let her know she could carry on.

Right that water has helped. I AM feeling better. I am still sweating but that could be down to it being the time of the month and crazy hormones. Actually I do feel faint more often when it's 'that time'. Shit it is so hot in here and so noisy! So much buzzing and people talking loudly. I really don't feel good. I won't faint though. I can't faint. Stop assuming the worst! I feel sick, like before I faint. I think I should ask for another....

The next thing I heard was someone saying to grab my bag and make off with my money, to which I replied 'take what you want but leave my tampons!' This was met with a roar of laughter.

I opened my eyes to discover that I had slipped off my chair and was now on the floor with various members of staff fanning me and splashing water on my face. I had could feel a pain in my leg but was so embarrassed that I got myself up and brushed myself off. Everyone was very friendly but I felt so stupid. How did I let that happen again? There were people in there having the equivalent of the Bayeux Tapestry on their bodies and none were fainting or making a scene!

I drove home feeling so pathetic and stupid. When I checked my leg I discovered the most enormous bruise which must have been caused by my humiliating slide to the floor. I now associated tattoos with fainting and would never have another one.

Breaking the Cycle

Today tattoos have become very popular and far more visible. My daughter has a fair few, all of which are very pretty. We have talked about getting matching tattoos for a while but circumstances kept changing. To be honest, I wasn't sure if I wanted to have tattoo with someone there watching. What if I fainted and embarrassed them? I would make a complete fool of myself!

A woman with her head in her hands because she is embarrassed
I am so embarrassed.

Last week I was working on marketing my business, Claire's Chair, when I found myself totally overwhelmed. I was probably trying to do too much for a newbie in the business world and found myself thrust from thought to action before I had a chance to check if it was what I wanted. I had lost my 'why', my passion. I was losing myself. Should I just give it all up and accept defeat?

I didn't give up. I sat back and reconnected with my passion for the services I offer. I recognised that in offering a new type of service I would have to educate the market to understand the need and benefits of this service.

My relief was huge. I didn't want to give up. I am stubborn, well, tenacious and I will see this through. I WILL help others and I WILL use my years of experience for good!

So what does this have to do with me breaking an anxiety cycle?

After feeling that way last week, I wanted to do something that would forever remind me of my beginnings and my 'why' and what better way to do it than with a tattoo?

As I mentioned before, my daughter and I had been looking at designs but never taken it further.

I looked over the designs I liked but this time with a new intention. I wanted a reminder of the moment I realised I could still feel joy, all those years ago. It was the moment that inspired Mood Manager. I began to create a diary of tiny moments of feeling OK, the tiny 'glimmers' of hope. If you have read any of my other blogs you may well have come across this moment.

What was this moment? It was the moment I spotted a butterfly land on our balcony. So beautiful, so delicate and yet it managed to survive. It took my breath away and for the briefest of moments I forgot how damned awful I felt. I was free from the anxiety that wracked my mind and body for days, weeks and months. I was free.

The design must have a butterfly and, as previously decided, I wanted my daughter's name too. With that name I wanted it to show that I would love my daughter forever and that my love would be with her for eternity.

Having found the design, the next step was finding a local tattoo artist, which might not be so easy where I live. After reaching out I was put in touch with a lady based in Fort William. After my many questions we arranged a day and time, which is when I felt the twinge of nerves appear.

What if I faint again? I might chicken out at the last moment and look a right wuss! Maybe I won't turn up. What if my partner thinks I am stupid for even trying? Imagine if we get half way through and I run out with an incomplete tattoo. How stupid will that look?

I decided not to think or talk about it until it was done. As I lay in bed the night before, I became aware of my heart going much faster. The hairs on my neck were standing up and I had the sudden urge to pee. The latter happens a lot these days!

Come what may, I was going to have my tattoo done. It meant an awful lot to me and would be a forever reminder of how far I have come.

The next morning I was sure to eat breakfast and stay hydrated. By the time I had driven to Fort William I was a little sweaty. I had to keep rolling my shoulders as they kept making their way up to my ears.

After a short walk I was in the shop next to the beauty salon and I was shaking. I pretended to look at Lego models as I practiced my favourite 7 11 breathing technique. I popped some herbal remedy under my tongue as thoughts of running back to car filled my mind. I was already sweating and feeling very warm so there wasn't much else left in the formula of fainting other than, to faint!

Do you really want this tattoo? Yes. Are you prepared to risk fainting for it? Yes, hang on. NO. I will not faint. Breathe. I will be lying down so there will be nowhere to fall. I have had a drink and a biscuit so my blood sugar should be fine. I have my neck fan to keep me cool and stop that feeling of there being no air. I want this. I can do it. I can do it .

I walked out the shop and opened the door to the salon. It was very quiet. I was told to take a seat until my appointment. In no time at all I was in the room where it was going to happen. I was immediately encouraged when I saw a chair that laid back so I would be able to be more horizontal that vertical. The first few minutes were spent filling out a form and chatting about my past experiences. I could feel myself getting hot so popped on the neck fan and felt immediate relief.

Jenni, the tattoo artist, was so kind and understanding and talked me through the whole process. I felt nervous, but not panicky, as the needle touched my skin. I had been worried that we wouldn't find anything to talk about but conversation came easy. We talked about everything from 80s music to mental health. Jenni asked what the tattoo stood for and, as I explained, I felt the emotion behind it which left us bot a touch emotional.

There were moments when the process felt nippy but it was nothing I couldn't handle. In fact I was so calm that when the mind chatter started it sounded a little different.

This is really not so bad. Jenni is so easy to talk to and seems genuinely interested. It does hurt sometimes but it will be so worth it by the time its done. I'm not shaking. I am hardly sweating. In fact I am OK. Mind you I mustn't get too happy with myself . I could still faint. Nope that is not gonna happen. I will sit up slowly and take my time.

Once the tattoo was complete and I heading out the door I felt so elated I could've hugged everyone in the street! I had bloody well done it! I not only had this beautifully delicate tattoo but I had obtained it without a panic or fainting spell. Sure the build up before hand was wobbly but once it was happening I was fine!

I had just broken a cycle that had stayed with me for over 30 years.

Infinity loop with butterfly and name tattoo
My beautiful new tattoo

The Anxiety Cycle

Anxiety - The first part of this cycle in this particular situation was the anxiety that developed after I fainted during my first tattoo. In my teens I had a few fainting spells, mostly around my physical health. Blood tests were a nightmare and anything associated with a needle was terrifying. So even though I wanted a tattoo, a part of me registered the use of needles and pain.

Avoidance - Over the years I could avoid tattoos because they were not an essential part of life but blood tests were. I now lie down for blood tests even though I haven't fainted during one for 8 years or so.

There was a time when I associated fainting with being a passenger in cars, trains or planes. As a driver I could pullover and take a break whereas as a passenger I couldn't make the plane or train stop. For a while this meant I would only go places if I could drive there. Another place I struggled with was supermarkets. Bright, noisy and busy, these locations were made worse if I had to wait in a long cue. In fact waiting anywhere was not easy.

Brief Relief - If I successfully avoided the situation by using online shopping or making an excuse not to travel, I felt huge relief. This would have been the same if I had run away from from my appointment with the tattoo artist or made an excuse to cancel. Having lived with anxiety for so many years I know how the wee beastie works and all his tricks, but I wasn't having it this time.

Anxiety Intensifies - If I had run away from my appointment I would have been confirming that my fears were correct and so enforcing the idea that the whole situation is too terrible to handle. In a sense I would be shutting a door with the belief that whatever was behind it was more than I could deal with. This is not so bad if it is only one or two doors to relatively unimportant situations. The problem occurs when shutting these doors is applied to almost anything we have to deal with. Soon we no longer live a full life because we are shut away in a world that resembles a corridor, too fearful to open the door and face what is there.

While I agree that to run away would not be helpful I understand that to move forward needs to be done in small steps. Deciding to have a huge tattoo or several in one day would be too much. This is where each step needs to be achievable. Setting ourselves up to succeed is where we gain our power back. Small steps, achievable steps with doses of compassion and understanding are our weapons against the fears.

Diagram showing how anxiety can be intensified
A diagram of the anxiety cycle

If you are living with anxious thoughts and behaviours there are methods to overcome them. The key is finding what works for you. This is where Claire's Chair can support you. If you want a quick chat click here to book a free Discovery Call.

Anxiety doesn't have to rule your life.

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