Tuesday, 8 December 2015

What Happens When We Invite Fear In?

Yesterday was not a good day. Fear arrived uninvited. I was aware of a build up of anxiety across the day that had begun before I had even woken. Of course my fear actually crept in through the back door on Friday and just waited for an opportunity to burst its way in and go ‘Surprise’.
On Friday we had an appointment with a new ‘expert team’, this time neuro-psychology. Whilst I knew they would ask a few questions I hadn’t prepared myself for the depth of the questions. When asked if anything significantly traumatic had happened in the first five years of my child’s life fear woke up and found an excuse to carve its way through my heart and mind once again.
I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the premature birth of my twins and the events that occurred in the first three years of their little lives. I never know what will be the trigger, some days I can recount things without a flash back at other times a memory and anxiety is triggered that plays out its full force of terror a couple of days later.
I thought I would be fine as I explained that my had stopped breathing while I was breast-feeding him. I spat the first couple of sentences out OK, then I looked towards my husband to describe how he had given mouth to mouth resuscitation while I was talking to the emergency services operator. And that was it I felt my voice crack!
Most of the time I recount this story without my husband there, so I guess my mind has become selective in what it sees as safe sharing. But on this day my husband was there, and I couldn’t miss him out, how could I, he is a bit of a hero in our house. He kept my son alive for an anxious 15 minutes while we waited for the ambulance crew. 
Ethan a few hours before he went in to respiratory arrest.
 It is hard not to remember the scene. It was almost midnight when I tried to settle my son down to sleep. He had been agitated for much of the evening, but hadn’t seemed unwell. I tried to feed him lying next to me, rather than sitting up; this in itself is a safe posture. The room was dimly lit to create some calm in the hope my son might fall back to sleep. I was aware after a couple of minutes that he had stopped suckling and in my head I thought at last he had fallen asleep. Then a split second later I realized I couldn’t hear the sound of his breath. I picked him up and there was an absent stare. At that point I screamed for help, and when my husband switched on the main light it was obvious by the greyish blue complexion that my son in that moment was going to die if one of us didn’t start CPR. My husband grabbed him quicker than I could catch a breath and put this fragile rag of a body on the floor to begin chest compressions. I dialed 999, and I remember at that point feeling so completely out of control. All I could do was listen to the words of the emergency services operator and relay them back to my husband and listen again. Meantime I see the light in my little boy’s eyes come and go. At one-point blood seeps from his mouth and we both panic. I tell the phone operator what is happening and she says to carry on. ‘Whatever you do, don’t stop’, she said. Chest compressions followed by breaths, chest compressions followed by breaths. The light of his eyes would come and go, a signal he was holding on in there.
Once the ambulance crew arrived they looked in shock at the tiny body in front of them. They had never worked on a baby so small. My sons soft clothes were cut from his body and chest pads applied to shock his heart. We wait anxiously to know if his heart will start beating. In that moment I prepared my self for the loss. What if it was too late? The next few minutes were a blur. My husband raced off in the ambulance with my son, while I attempted to put a bag together of things I might need should we make it through the night.
As I got in the car I looked over at a neighbours house where the light was on. She waved at me, her face could see the terror on mine, and in that moment I envied her the safety of her home and her four healthy children.
On the way to the hospital my husband called me to say that Ethan had started crying in the back of the ambulance, he was alive. I am not sure how I drove to the hospital much of the next few hours remains a blur, we tried to catch a little bit of sleep, in between times I attempted to express breast milk. Stress and breastfeeding are not a good combination; no milk would come from my exhausted body.
In Britain, tea becomes the stable medicine when in a state of shock. So at 6.30am I made a cup of tea and put two sugars in. I made two difficult phone calls, one to my Buddhist temple to ask if they would pray in morning service for my son. The next call was to my mother and father, I wondered how much their fragile ageing bodies could take. They had already endured months without their grandchildren, and while their granddaughter remained critically ill on a neo-natal unit in Leicester their grandson was now seriously ill. I sipped my tea and tried to put on a positive voice. ‘I will call when there is more news, try not to worry’, I said.
As I walked on to the High Dependency Unit I could hear the crash alarm. It had become an all too familiar sound. Cup of tea in hand I turned the corner to my son’s bed only to discover it was my son crashing! I hand grabbed my as I started to bend forward to the floor. All I could hear myself say was this couldn’t be happening. But it did happen, and as I watched a tube being put down my son’s throat I had to prepare myself once again for the beginning of the end. Unable to keep an intubated child on the ward my son was transferred to the intensive care unit of the same hospital my daughter was in. I walked exhausted between buildings for three days, my daughter ventilated and critically ill, and my son this same. Over the course of those three days I was aware that both my babies could of died just three months after they were born.
But the world turned in our favour and both the children started to improve. My son spent a month in hospital my daughter another eleven. 
Intensive Care after respiratory arrest.

When you are faced with relentless trauma for months on end, the brain chooses to block it and hide it because there is no time to process it before the next trauma occurs. Over the last two years my brain has chosen to relive those traumas again. Fear rushes in the moment I try to figure out what happened to our lives. Yesterday I was stuck in the memory of my son without his breath. In the present moment my son was baking cookies with me and arguing with his sister. But my head was stuck in the trauma. My body began to lock up. First the muscles of my neck, then my shoulders and finally by 5pm my lower back had decide to give up too. Then there was the stomach pain and the tightness of my solar plexus. There came a point where I couldn’t take it any longer. Fear had me in a vice like grip, so while my husband made a cup of tea and sat with the kids I went to my bedroom to scream and cry.
At the moment that we feel intense fear from trauma, we try and hide from it, like choosing to bake with the kids (big mistake) or running to my bedroom as a place of safety where I could scream and cry without the kids seeing the mess I am in. Both of these might seem like a good way to push through the fear, but actually they are not. Even after I had screamed and cried I felt no better. What I really should have done at that point is meditated on my hearts experience. I am sure if I had caught fear as it first appeared then I would have had enough clarity of thought to meditate but yesterday was long past a friendly chat with fear. 

Ajahn Amaro in his article on fear suggests that there are two ways to meditate on fear; the first is to wait until it appears, and the second is to invite it in.  "Fear is not the enemy – it’s natures protector; it only becomes troublesome when it oversteps its bounds. In order to deal with fear we must take a fundamentally noncontentious attitude toward it, so it’s held not as ‘My big fear problem’ but rather ‘Here is fear that has come to visit’. Once we take this attitude, we can begin to work with fear".

Today I feel the fall out from my trauma symptoms yesterday. In the middle of the night I was woken by nightmares, and the familiar hot sweats that fear creates. This morning I felt as if I could barely see or speak. I feel on the outside looking in again. I think it is a sort of protective mechanism, disengage with the world around you because it’s all just too much. I feel the guilt of my behavior yesterday. I was not a nice person to live with. But this afternoon I found Ajahn’s meditation on ‘Inviting Fear ’ and I thought now the worst of the fall out was over maybe it’s time to say hello to fear on my terms.

I centred myself with my breath on my heart space, as it is here that we need to feel safe and strong. I then recalled my difficult memory of the awful evening when I nearly lost my son. I got in touch with where my fear was, sitting in my solar plexus. Using the breath I came to a place of acceptance that the feeling was there. I allowed the scene to run in my mind and to begin with it felt uncomfortably close but as I used my breath and came to a place of acceptance the memory sat further away at a more comfortable distance. Every time the fear came closer I used my breath as a point of focus and imagined the fear like a wave washing over me rather than it holding my heart in its vice like grip.  Using the breath I was able to focus the heart on remaining empty of fear. It is important to focus the hearts attention on the emptiness and let it know the cycle of fear has ended.

The more I practice this meditation the greater awareness my heart will have of fear when it comes knocking at my door. Rather than letting it creep right in I can stop it in its tracks and remind myself that while fear can make a lot of noise I don’t have to panic. The feeling of fear is not pleasant but it is only a feeling and with the support of meditation I can get in touch with the Buddha at my heart. From this foundation I can approach my fear from a place of wisdom, kindness, and sensitivity rather than filling myself with pain, guilt and misery. 

Feeling blessed that he was able to stay with us.
(Much gratitude to Ajahn Amaro for his article Inviting Fear published by Tricycle in the E-book enititled ‘Fear’. Available by subscribing  to Tricycle at http://www.tricycle.com/wisdom-collection/teachings/tricycle-teachings-fear

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