When I meet new people and they ask me what I do I initially tend to get one of two reactions. Either they lean forward and ask if they heard me right or they lean back in surprise and give me a strange look. In fact, in either case, I tend to get a strange look! On the odd occasion, I meet someone who has had experience of hypnotherapy and they are usually very positive about it and go on to share their experience and tell me how much it has helped them, which is lovely to hear. The other thing that happens is that people ask me how on earth I got into hypnotherapy.
So...Here is My Story
I suppose it all started many years ago when I was diagnosed with a condition called endometriosis. At the time I was teaching in a Primary school but found that the pain I was in was making life very difficult and I was relying on stronger and stronger painkillers to get me through the day. I was also struggling with infertility and the combination of the stress from that and the pain I was constantly experiencing eventually led to depression, anxiety and fibromyalgia. Eventually, I had to give up my job and spent my days at home focused on the pain and depression. I also felt very guilty about the fact that I wasn't working, feeling that I had let the school, my lovely little pupils and my husband and family down. I even began self-harming to try and cope with all the negative feelings. I was lost.
I was still determined to try and have a family as it was something I had always wanted and I had decided that having children would somehow make everything better! Looking back now, I am not sure what led me to think that or how I would even have coped with a baby at that time, but my husband and I tried IVF nevertheless. It was very stressful!
The first attempt didn't work at all and the second ended in miscarriage. As you can imagine, this just made the depression worse. My husband eventually left me and I lost my home on top of everything else. I ended up living back with my parents who scooped me up, took me to their house and looked after me while I tried to work out what to do next. It was not a good time but I am so thankful they were there for me.
With the help and support of my mum and dad, I took the decision to have a hysterectomy to try to cure the endometriosis and now I am really glad I did. I am still bothered now and again by pain from the internal scar tissue that couldn't be removed, but on the whole, it made a big difference to the amount of pelvic pain I was experiencing. Of course, it didn't help the pain from the fibromyalgia or the associated depression. I was still struggling on a daily basis, had stopped going out and seeing friends and spent a lot of my life in bed just trying to sleep the days away.
The doctors put me on Fluoxetine to try and alleviate the depression and anxiety and I was sent for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I was diagnosed with Depression, General Anxiety Disorder and Social Phobia, so I was building quite an enviable list of ailments! I found that the CBT helped a little at the time but as soon as I had had my prescribed six weeks of therapy and was left to my own devices again, my motivation went out of the window and I rapidly went downhill. I think I had CBT three times in all.
My prescription list was getting pretty long, too, what with the number of other drugs they had me on to try and help my pain levels. Nothing really seemed to help, so they just kept adding new drugs to the list and upping the doses of those I was already on. The more drugs I took, the less energy I had and the less motivation I had to help myself. Just waking up in the morning became a struggle, let alone doing anything else. I lived in a fog of pain and depression which tainted everything.
Eventually, probably around two years ago now, I decided that I didn't want to live like that anymore. I knew that if I couldn't improve my quality of life then I didn't want to continue with it any longer. It was then that I found hypnotherapy which, it is no exaggeration to say, saved me. I am not sure exactly how I stumbled across it as it wasn't something I had ever heard of or thought about before. My only experience of hypnosis was going to see Paul Mckenna on stage back in the 1990s and I wasn't particularly impressed! I think I was searching the internet one night when I came across a free hypnosis download on YouTube. I can't even remember what it was for but I found it very calming and relaxing so I searched out more and more. I began listening to downloads for depression and anxiety and found that slowly I began to feel a little better. It was as if the hypnosis was reaching a part of my mind that the CBT couldn't reach. I now like to think of hypnotherapy as the "Heineken" of the therapy world! If you are confused by that reference (perhaps you are under the age of 40!) this old TV ad might help.
I have always been fascinated by how the brain works, about how we learn and develop and where thoughts, feelings and emotions come from. I think it started with my psychology A-Level all those years ago. So, I started looking into the psychology of hypnosis and I also came across NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and began to practise some of the techniques I read about. I found that they, too, just seemed to help to change the negative thoughts and self-talk that I had become so good at. I knew quite a lot about CBT by then, too, so I dragged out all the old notes that I had forgotten about and began to practise the CBT techniques alongside self-hypnosis and NLP. Slowly but surely things began to improve. I took courses in NLP and Hypnotherapy and eventually earned my diploma.
Along the way, I used my family and friends as case studies (guinea pigs!) to help me gain experience and I realised that they were really benefitting from the techniques, too. I was amazed at how effective the hypnotherapy was at helping with all different kinds of issues. I started "Laura Culley Hypnotherapy" in October 2016 so that I could help others out there who may be suffering like I was not so long ago. I use a combination of NLP, CBT and hypnotherapy to help my clients and teach them the little tricks and techniques that I use myself so that they can practise them at home.
My Pain Today
These days I rely much less on the drugs and instead use my mind to control my pain levels. Some days are better than others and I have by no means cured the Fibromyalgia. I am still in pain, but I cope with it. I still wear a Fentanyl patch but I am on just a quarter of the dose I was on two years ago and I am still hoping to reduce that further until I can come off it completely. I know how to relax my body and use breathing exercises to stop myself tensing up when the pain is particularly bad. As I learned to relax I realised that I used to hold my breath and tense my muscles when the pain really kicked in, which just exacerbated the pain and led to a snowball effect which would put me in bed for days.
My Depression and Anxiety Today
As the dark fog of depression has lifted, I use daily self-hypnosis and positive visualisation to relax and calm my busy mind. I practise visualising the future and seeing good things happening rather than letting the automatic negative images take over. Whenever the horrible voices start nagging at my mind, I have learned to notice them so that I can stop them and replace them with positive messages instead. I feel that after all those years of suffering, I have at last regained some control over my life and my body.
My Weight Loss
I put on a lot of weight whilst I was ill. I had very little respect for my body after the way I felt it had let me down, so I had little thought for how the food I put into it would affect me. I ate more for comfort and to try and distract myself from the negative thoughts and feelings than I did for nutrition. Also, the side effects of the drugs I was taking slowed down my metabolism and I wasn't moving around much, so anything I did eat was not being used as it should have been.
I have used hypnotherapy to change my relationship with food and as a result, I have lost over three and a half stone in weight in the last two years. I still have a few stone to lose before I hit my target weight, but it is going in the right direction! I am sure the weight loss and the improvement in my diet have also helped to reduce my pain levels.
Below is a picture of me at my brother and sister-in-law's wedding in 2013 before I lost the weight. I can still remember the pain I was in and how I was struggling to even stand for photos.
It Takes Effort, People!
None of this comes easily or naturally to me and I have to work at it daily. After all, I spent years and years becoming an expert at being anxious. I don't mean to brag, but I am very good at being depressed, too. Automatically seeing the negative side of things and panicking over the slightest little thing also comes very easily. However, with time and lots of practice, I am getting much better at looking for the silver lining in all aspects of life, no matter what happens. I try to find at least three things a day to be grateful for rather than continuously regretting all the things I have lost along the way. I make plans for the future but I try to live in the moment as much as possible rather than putting my life on hold and believing that "things will be better when...".
I really believe that everything I have been through has made me the person I am today and I think that goes for all of us. The illnesses, losses, pain and struggles I have faced (and continue to deal with daily) have taught me so much and led to my new found career and my passion for hypnotherapy. I would never have known all this or been able to help the people I have without first going through all that I have.
Can I Help You?
If you are struggling with any type of chronic pain, depression or anxiety, I really hope that my story gives you hope that things can get better and there are things you can do to gain back some control. Please do get in touch if you want to know more or if you would like my help. I am always happy to hear from you.
Call me on 07577 485250 to arrange a free initial telephone or Skype call.