Real life

“Hyp­nother­apy helped my mother over­come panic at­tacks.”

Friday - - Society Living Leisure -

As my mother was wheeled into the emer­gency ward, I clutched her hands tightly. “You’ll be fine,” I whis­pered, al­though I wasn’t sure. She was pale, breath­ing fast and had been com­plain­ing of feel­ing un­well all day. I hadn’t taken her se­ri­ously un­til her blood pres­sure be­gan to go all over the place; she had been suf­fer­ing from hy­per­ten­sion – high blood pres­sure – for 30 years, so we rou­tinely used to check her blood pres­sure at home. “It feels as though my whole body is burn­ing,” she said.

I was halfway through my two-week hol­i­day in my home­town Rawalpindi, Pak­istan, where I’d gone to visit my mother, Ru­bina Asad. She’d said she felt ill the night be­fore and I now felt guilty that I hadn’t brought her to Shifa In­ter­na­tional hos­pi­tal in Is­lam­abad ear­lier. Her blood pres­sure was dan­ger­ously high and she was rushed for an ECG test to check her heart.

I paced the cor­ri­dor, will­ing her to be OK, but this was noth­ing new. My mother was rushed to hos­pi­tal time and time again with the same symp­toms and al­ways dis­charged af­ter test re­sults came back nor­mal. But this time I was scared. What if this was some­thing se­ri­ous? I was so deep in thought I didn’t re­alise a doc­tor had come to speak to me un­til he tapped my shoul­der. “Your mother’s OK,” he said. “Ev­ery­thing came back nor­mal and I’ve given her some med­i­ca­tion to bring down her blood pres­sure.”

I slumped, re­lieved. “So it wasn’t a heart at­tack?” I asked. He shook his head. “I’d say it was a panic at­tack,” he replied. I nod­ded, my re­lief tinged with frus­tra­tion. My mother had suf­fered from them for the past 12 years and had even been hos­pi­talised be­fore, but we could never find a so­lu­tion. Of­ten, she would be con­vinced she was hav­ing a heart at­tack be­cause the symp­toms would cause her to have tight chest pain, and rapid breath­ing, and the anx­i­ety would raise her blood pres­sure, caus­ing a gen­uine health prob­lem. Her at­tacks were trig­gered by fa­tigue, travel or any stress­ful sit­u­a­tion.

She had been re­ferred to psy­chi­a­trists who gave her symp­to­matic treat­ment – they treated the symp­toms, not the cause, which I guess they were un­able to pin­point. So she was pre­scribed anti-anx­i­ety and an­tide­pres­sant medicines to help her re­lax.

She wasn’t a hypochon­driac be­cause she suf­fered from anx­i­ety, which ex­ploded into panic at­tacks, set­ting off all her symp­toms, which were ter­ri­fy­ingly real.

It meant that she be­came more and more of a recluse, scared to go out in case she had an at­tack. In­stead she would stay in bed, slug­gish from the an­tide­pres­sants, and avoid ev­ery­one but fam­ily. She also be­came overly sen­si­tive and was eas­ily alarmed and up­set about even mi­nor is­sues. A loud sound or a child crying in the neigh­bour­hood would be enough to up­set her. She would panic over what was mak­ing the child cry, or fear that some­thing ter­ri­ble had hap­pened to them. A loud bang or noise would be enough to give her a headache.

Now, look­ing at her, I had to fight back tears. Where was the mother of my child­hood – the woman who loved look­ing af­ter me and my four sib­lings, who was an ac­com­plished cook and loved so­cial­is­ing? She had been the cen­tre of the house and the fam­ily when our fa­ther was busy with his govern­ment job. Now, she had shrunk into her­self and didn’t do any­thing any­more. She was only 53 but it was like her life was over, she did so lit­tle and wor­ried so much. For the next four days I helped my mother at home – the medicines the doc­tors gave her to re­lax turned her into a vir­tual zom­bie. And then it was time for me to go back to my job at an oil com­pany in Dubai, but I hated to see my mother suf­fer­ing.

“There must be a cure for her,” I thought. Then one day, flick­ing through Fri­day, I came across an ar­ti­cle on cog­ni­tive be­havioural hyp­nother­a­pist Rus­sell Hem­mings. I found from his web­site that Rus­sell has treated child­hood anx­i­ety, stress dis­or­ders, life­style changes to treat obe­sity, in­som­nia and bu­limia, among oth­ers. He seemed to be the most pop­u­lar be­cause his name popped up in al­most all my on­line searches.

Af­ter speak­ing to my cousin, who is a psy­chi­a­trist in the UK, I was con­vinced Rus­sell could help my mother, so I con­tacted him.

I was sure this was the an­swer but first I had to get my mother to Dubai to see Rus­sell. This was tough be­cause anx­i­ety had made her wary of fly­ing and she de­tested trav­el­ling. “What if I’m un­well dur­ing the flight?” she wor­ried. “I might get lost at the air­port.”

Al­though she was ner­vous, she was so de­ter­mined to be cured that she fi­nally agreed to come. Luck­ily the trip was has­sle free and we went to meet Rus­sell the day af­ter she ar­rived. He stud­ied her med­i­cal re­ports and spoke to her in de­tail about her worries and fears, and what she felt and thought dur­ing

her panic at­tacks. He ex­plained she was ac­tu­ally trig­ger­ing the panic at­tacks by wor­ry­ing about hav­ing one. Only by break­ing that vi­cious cy­cle would she be able to re­gain con­trol over her anx­i­ety us­ing a range of be­havioural strate­gies that are con­di­tion-spe­cific.

In­stant change

Rus­sell be­gan treat­ment by hyp­no­tis­ing her. He made her re­lax to­tally and then got her to talk about her prob­lem.

Rus­sell ex­plained that a cog­ni­tive be­havioural hyp­nother­a­pist tries to un­der­stand a per­son’s trig­gers for panic at­tacks. Through hyp­nother­apy th­ese trig­gers are ad­dressed and thought pat­terns are changed to al­le­vi­ate the cause of anx­i­ety. He spoke to her in de­tail, un­der­stood the is­sues she was fac­ing, ex­plained the process and dis­pelled all her doubts.

He also taught her re­lax­ing breath­ing ex­er­cises and played hyp­nother­apy record­ings – 20 to 40 min­utes of re­lax­ing mu­sic in­ter­spersed by his voice ad­dress­ing her sub­con­scious mind to change the way she thought.

The change in my mother was in­stant. She ap­peared calm, com­posed and cheer­ful. One evening we went for a long walk. She was fine through­out, but as we were near­ing home, I sensed a change. “I’m not well. I don’t think I can reach home,” she said, look­ing like she was about to have a panic at­tack. “It’s OK,” I told her. “Just do your deep breath­ing.” She took a deep breath in, then out and re­peated it again and again, and soon she felt bet­ter. It worked. Once we reached home she did a brief self-hyp­no­sis ses­sion – lis­ten­ing to record­ings and prac­tis­ing deep-breath­ing tech­niques, which im­me­di­ately helped. She saw Rus­sell for a to­tal of four ses­sions and she be­came more con­fi­dent.

Be­fore she was to fly back to Pak­istan she wanted to thank Rus­sell by treat­ing him to home-cooked kadai chicken, one of her spe­cial­i­ties. It took her four hours to pre­pare the dish – in­clud­ing shop­ping for the masalas, chop­ping the veg­eta­bles, cook­ing and then clean­ing af­ter­wards. It had been sev­eral years since she had spent so much time in the kitchen and she en­joyed it – she was smil­ing and chat­ting as she cooked and there wasn’t a hint of anx­i­ety. I was so happy – I had fi­nally got my mother back.

Now, four months later, she is back in Pak­istan happily lead­ing a life that she deserves. She has trav­elled more in the past two months than she did in the past 10 years. She hasn’t had any panic at­tacks and con­stantly lis­tens to Rus­sell’s record­ings to keep her calm, en­er­gised and believ­ing in her­self.

Rus­sell (left) cured Ru­bina’s panic at­tacks af­ter her son Ovais (right) read about him in an ar­ti­cle in Fri­day

Rus­sell helped Ru­bina deal with her anx­i­ety in just four ses­sions

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