Santa’s Little Helper

“I going to punch you in the face,” she shouted at the elf before grabbing him violently and bopping him on the nose.

At the Ballantyne house we had slightly misunderstood the concept of “Elf on the Shelf”. We thought that our job was to stop the elf doing naughty things and report back to Santa at the end of the advent period. But apparently the elf is actually watching the children. Any bad behaviour and he grasses them up to Santa who redistributes their gifts to more worthy infants.

I can’t believe I missed such an excellent opportunity to get them to behave. What a fool. However if I change it now I will have to return all of Georgie’s gifts. You see her treatment of the naughty little elf has been bad enough that not only would Santa refuse to give her any gifts he would probably take his evidence to the police and have her serve a prison sentence for assault. Continue reading “Santa’s Little Helper”

Dust busting and other adventures

In a bid to determine what is making my 7 yr old cough, sneeze and stream from the eyes whenever he is in the house I’ve been cleaning like never before. And anyone who knows me knows that this is not my forte. I have followed the Allergy UK advice on allergen avoidance and sprayed the whole house with flea killer in case the culprit is our dog.

Freezing and washing all of my son’s soft toys and his bedding seems to have helped him stop coughing at night but he is still struggling in the mornings. So I decided to call in an expert. My neighbour Nathalie who as well as being a fountain of knowledge on all things allergy related, shares it with people through her website The Intolerant Gourmand.

“I bet it is your sofa,” she said. Having spent many hours in my house drinking coffee and prosecco (not at the same time – usually) she was well aware that we’ve had a fabric sofa for as long as we have had the dog, three years.

“Here try this,” she said thrusting a golden pyramid shaped device into my hand. I assumed was a hoover of some description. “I’ve hoovered the sofa already,” I protested. “Just try it,” she said knowingly.

I bowed to her superior knowledge. Her son has severe allergies and she has to work really hard to stop him reacting to things so if she says it worked then I believed her.

I wish I could tell you what it was like to use but I can’t. You see the second I stepped through the door with a new gadget in my hand the husband grabbed it. “I’ll do that,” he said and got to work on the sofa.

If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the proof of the vacuuming is in the filter. This filter was full, even though I had already hoovered the sofa with my Miele.

“What do you think?” I asked the husband.

“The filter is really good and it gets all the fine dust. But the suction needs to be further forward so you can get deeper into the corners and I kept turning it off with my hand.”

Did I mention that he is a perfectionist? With massive hands.

I am hoping that the build up of dust and dog hair due to my crap cleaning is to blame for my son’s runny nose and that he is not allergic to the dog or developing asthma. He’s currently puffing into a peak flow morning and night to monitor it so time (and the doctor) will tell. He does seem a lot better now that I’ve killed all the dust mites in his room.

Meanwhile the sofa is much cleaner. The hoover is a Philips anti allergen dust mite handheld vacuum cleaner and I will be buying one after this little episode. Or perhaps I’ll get the husband one for Christmas – he does love gadgets.

The missing keys…..

Norm has lost his car keys. This is a MASSIVE problem for me. Because even when I tell him exactly where something is he still can’t find it.

“Dette where are my boots?”

“In the shoe cupboard.”

“No they aren’t”

“Yes they are”

Because they are. Admittedly there are about 100 pairs of other shoes in there too but they are there.

“Oh yeah, under the other ten pairs,” he huffs like it is my fault that we all have feet.

So in respect to the car keys I am clearly going to have to find them because there is no way that he will. I have looked in all of the usual places, then I looked under them and then I looked in the unusual places – next to the toilet, in the bins (gross), in the kids rooms, in Norm’s pockets, in the garden, in all drawers in the house. No keys.

Naturally at the time of seeking the keys I needed to go out and the clock was ticking. I had one hour. Every 15 minutes Norm would call and say helpful things like:

“Have you looked on the sideboard where I always put them?”

I’m not a moron Norm.

Then 15 minutes later:

“Have you looked under the sofa?”

Stick to building state of the art race cars Norm and leave the tricky shit to me.

The keys did not reappear in time for me to go out. “No spare?” asked a friend. This made me smile because Norm wouldn’t buy a spare key. “For £300? No chance,” he said.

I continued to pull the house apart checking all the washing baskets (we have many – too many), under all the beds, in toy boxes (just in case), on bookshelves, even in the Halloween sweet buckets but the more I looked the less convinced I was that the keys were in the house. We had established that Norm was the last person to use them and I suspected that he still had them somewhere. Somewhere like in his pocket. I could imagine him shouting down the phone at me “For the last time Dette they are not in my pocket”while the keys sat there in his pocket laughing at him because they had been there the whole time.

A couple of hours later Norm barged in waving the keys with a huge grin on his face like a kid waves a medal. “They were on the drive Dette. They must have fallen out when I was lighting the pumpkins last night. Feel how cold and wet they are”

Yes they were cold. And wet. But Norm is no fool. He clearly rolled them in the wet grass after he found them where they had been all along. In his pocket.

“They were not in my pocket Dette,” he keeps saying every 5 minutes.

The lady doth protest too much methinks.

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The mysterious keys. I plan to hide them from him tomorrow so that he can spend 3 hours searching the house…..

 

Sibling battles: car wars

“Mum can we sell her?”

This infuriated Georgie so much that she took off her slipper boot and started hitting her brother with it.

If the kids are in the same room, or even if they are not, they will definitely have a row. I’m getting so sick of it that today when they were arguing in the car I threatened them with no snacks after school. It worked for about 5 minutes. Their car row was about which of them was the blue power ranger and which was purple.

“I am blue Archie,” said Georgie firmly.

“No you are purple and I am blue,” said Archie defiantly.

“I AM BLUE” yelled Georgie fiercely almost leaping out of her seat to shout in his face.

“No Georgie you have to be purple because I am blue,” said Archie more loudly puffing out his shoulders and showing her that he was bigger so he must be right.

“You can both be blue,” said Grandpa diplomatically. He had the bad luck of being in the car with us that morning.

This row came a few minutes after Archie had yelled at Georgie for looking at his privates when he went for a wee. “I’m not looking at your winkie,” said Georgie primly (who was clearly looking at his winkie). “I looking at your feet.”

However all of this pales into insignificance compared to the car argument of last night. It started off with Georgie throwing a massive tantrum because I wouldn’t buy her skittles from the vending machine at the swimming baths. I offered her a bag of crisps instead (inferior) which she rejected and then hit me. I bundled her into the car where only the threat of telling her teacher that she was naughty made her hold still enough for me to fasten her seatbelt. Then she began kicking the back of my seat. “I want my crisps,” she yelled. This made me laugh. “No chance. And you are going straight to bed when we get home. You don’t hit Mummy”

She wailed and then turned on her brother who was enjoying the show while contentedly munching his way through his salt and vinegar walkers. “Not fair,” she yelled as Archie gloatingly scoffed his crisps.

“Mum can we sell her?” asked Archie

This prompted a burst of laughter and infuriated Georgie so much that she took off her slipper boot and started hitting her brother with it.

“Perhaps we could just leave her in the forest like Hansel and Gretel,” I responded.

“Noooooooo, don’t do it,” she cried.

“I’m joking, I wouldn’t do that. But you are going straight to bed,” I said.

Georgie decided she was not getting anywhere with violence. So she stopped whacking us, composed herself and then said: “I want my crisps please.”

But after attacking her Mum and brother this was closing the stable door after the horse had bolted.

By now Archie had devoured his crisps and turning to Georgie with a twinkle in his eye, he said “You can lick my fingers if you like,” which brought about a fresh bout of uncontrollable laughter and another whack with the slipper from his sister who was also trying to scrape him with her nails.

There was nothing else I could do but put her straight to bed when we got home and of course when she woke up in the morning she was an angel. The mild row they then had over Mr Bean seemed like nothing.

Georgie: “Mr Bean doesn’t have a Mum does he?”

Archie: “Yes he does Georgie, she is just not in the programme.”

Georgie: “No Archie, he doesn’t have one.”

Archie shouting: “He does Georgie. Everyone has to have a Mum or you can’t get born.”

Georgie: “Mr Bean prays for a Mum.”

*This was 24 hours. There are sooooo many more. Like the fight over a sick bucket, who gets in the bath first, who has the best belly button and so on. In fact there is nothing that can’t become an argument and at 4 and 7 years old I suspect this is just the start……

Holiday Business

But alas, beneath the facade of a content, laid back, chilled out, well groomed holiday maker is a woman on the edge of launching her 4 year old daughter into the sea.

 

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See the calm and relaxed lady waiting for a ferry to take her from one idyllic holiday spot to the next. See how carefree and happy she looks with her shiny hair, cool shades and bright as a button summer’s day jacket? See how cute her son is sitting in front of her obediently wearing his sun hat and waiting patiently for the next boat. But alas, beneath the facade of a content,  chilled out, well groomed holiday maker, is a woman on the edge of launching her 4 year old daughter into the sea. For lying by her feet is a child who just spent the last 20 minutes crawling along the floor, hanging on to Mummy’s ankle and screaming for “a carry”. Even when the family reach the queue for the boat the child refused to stand up and spent another 20 minutes lying on the floor in protest. Every now and then she would look up at her mother and fill her with hope that the stand-off was over but instead she spat out the immortal words “I hate you Mummy” before giving her brother a good kick.

It was all his fault you see. If he hadn’t been sick several times, needing lots of love and attention from Mummy who was taking him home to rest and drink water and watch films, then she wouldn’t have felt so neglected and then refused to walk anywhere. Unfortunately stupid Mummy only has one pair of hands so with Daddy carrying Archie and Mummy carrying two scooters, helmets and a beach bag there was simply no way Georgie was going to be lifted up. And that was quite simply unacceptable, especially as Archie had been carried for ages and he was 7.

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“I don’t care if you are carrying the Olympic fucking torch. Put it down because I want a carry RIGHT NOW.”

Fortunately the sickness didn’t last long and it didn’t spread so the holiday was not a disaster. We spent a lovely week in Mudeford, Dorset renting a fabulous house called Lazy Days, the name of which just about sums up our week. It was within walking distance of the beach and the weather was lush. We spent our days catching crabs, surfing (on our bellies!), swimming, walking and obviously eating A LOT. We visited Moors Valley National Park which was amazing and FREE (£9 to park) and spent a morning at Quomps  Splash Park in Christchurch which the kids totally loved as it involved water fountains, sprinklers and lots of screaming (also FREE). We went body boarding on Boscombe Beach (again FREE). We took a tour of Highcliffe Castle which overlooks the Solent and had afternoon tea and tried on the traditional clothes (Norm loved it), as well as a lovely day out in Lymington with some of our family who live there.

Norm and I even had the chance to abandon the kids and sneak off for a date one night. Christchurch Harbour Hotel is walking distance from the house and we demolished the six course tasting menu at the Upper Deck restaurant.

So despite the vomit and tantrums we had a lovely time. Next stop France where the blog will mainly be about wine and falling off my bike. Conveniently Norm’s bike doesn’t fit the child seat on the back so I have to pedal Georgie around. I predict trouble…….

 

Car talk

“My farty face looks good”

Driving home from a friend’s house tonight and the kids decided to make history by not having a massive fight in the back of the car. Instead they began a conversation that you could not ever imagine.  Unless you are under 7…..

Georgie (4) “I am ready to do my name changing now Archie.”

Archie  (7) “Paaaaa haaaa haaaa. Your name is Georgie.”

Georgie “My name is Rainbow Dash Rainbow, because of all the beautiful colours” 

Archie “Paaaaa haaaa haaaa. Look at my two nipples Rainbow Dash. They look good.”

Georgie “My farty face looks good”

Archie “Baddy punch farty face is coming” (Baddy punch face is the “baddy” in all of our made up stories)

Georgie “His underpants are too tight”

And they both become hysterical. And so do I. 

Bedtime……

“Mum get me a sick bucket”

It’s been a peaceful few weeks in the Ballantyne house with both children going to bed beautifully. Yet as I write this my 4 year old daughter is wailing from her bed that she needs a wee (she already had one) and she needs Mummy.

I should have realised we were in for it when she chose the longest and most complex of her books for her bedtime story. The collectors edition of “Wizard of Oz” which has pop up pictures and about 14382990 pages. Thankfully she can’t yet read anything with more than  one syllable so I edited it down. A lot.

After giving me kisses and cuddles then demanding I give her kisses and cuddles then asking for me to blow her a kiss to catch, and then blowing me a kiss, and then sending me a cuddle, then demanding I cuddle myself before sensing it to her…. she said goodnight. 

Five minutes later:

“Mum I need a drink”

I sigh and get some water. Now that she mentions it I don’t know when she last had a drink and immediately feel like a crap parent. I trudge back upstairs and hand her the bottle. 

“It needs to be colder,” she says thrusting it back at me.

“No that is all that you are having”

“Is it from yesterday?”

“No its from the tap,”

“But it’s isgustin,” she protested dropping the first consonant as she tends to do with big words. “It’s making me sick,” she says and then starts pretending to vomit.

I ignore her and go downstairs.

“Mum I need a sick bucket. Get me a sick bucket,” she moans.

I continue to ignore her. So she changes the demand and yells “I need a wee”

She is still shouting……

Beating the panic

Recognising that it is a stress response, that you are not about to die, and that there are things that you can do to beat the anxiety, will give you more confidence, and that will help you deal with it.

It is July, six months since I started to feel unwell with a git of a respiratory virus, panic attacks and chronic fatigue. The good news is that today I feel 90% better and having shared my experience I am very grateful to all of the lovely people that have been in touch to tell me that they have had similar issues. Some of you have managed it into submission, others are still struggling and for those in the second category I decided to write down some of the things that I’ve done that have helped – starting with talking about it.

Don’t suffer in silence!  Almost everyone that I’ve talked to about this has felt better once they realised what it was. And to do that you have to talk about it. Panic attacks have less power once we know what they are. Recognising that it is a stress response, that you are not about to die, and that there are things that you can do to beat the anxiety, will give you more confidence, and that will help you deal with it. But unfortunately that won’t be enough in the long run. It takes a long time to undo the damage, uncoil the spring and unlearn the responses that have led to these reactions.

For me there were two things I needed to do. First was deal with the short term issues like the panic attacks. Second was the long term stuff – making sure that I made changes so that I didn’t end up back at square one as soon as I started feeling “normal” again.

Short term

BREATHING – Breathing through the panic attacks was the only way I could stop them. I think its called circular breathing. When the panic started I’d breathe in for 5, hold my breath for 5, then slowly exhale (for at least 5). Doing this for maybe 10 breaths would be enough to stop an attack. Simple but effective. The doctor said a paper bag also does the trick because you are reversing the effects of hyperventilating by inhaling the carbon dioxide. I preferred the circular breaths.

REST – I reduced my workload massively and spent A LOT of time on the sofa. I didn’t do anything physical at all. My lovely friend (you know who you are and you were brilliant) walked my dog for me and my family helped with the kids. My husband stepped up a gear admitting that he had just left me to do everything – because I never asked him to help. A partnership of one is not very effective. Only after a couple of weeks of resting properly and demanding more from my husband, did I start to feel like I could breathe normally. The boa constrictor that had wound itself around my chest had stopped squeezing. I was not going to be eaten by a snake.

NUTR20160615_122859[1]ITION – I drank lots of water and swapped the caffeine and sugar that had habitually powered me through the day (until dinner), for a diet full of meat, veg, fruit, and dairy products. I ate every couple of hours. My brother got me a brilliant recipe book “The Power of Three” by Dale Pinnock and I really recommend it. Eating like this just felt right. My body knew what it needed*.

Long term

This was more tricky. I was offered a beta blocker called propranalol to help deal with stress, but I decided not to take it. I instinctively felt that the cause of the issues was having too much on my plate. I felt like I needed to unwind myself. If I could unpick the stitches that had drawn me in too tightly then surely the pressure would ease and I would start to feel better? This turned out to be true. But one of the reasons that I could “unwind” was that I work for myself so I was able to reduce my workload and only work from home for a few weeks. I appreciate that for some people this isn’t the case and more immediate treatment such as propranalol is invaluable in order to regain normal function. Everyone is different.

Blood tests also showed that I had severely low Vitamin D.

“I don’t want to get your hopes up but a lot of people with very low levels of Vitamin D feel a lot better when they take supplements. I am giving you a big dose,” said the doctor.

“So what you are really saying is that I need to go abroad and lie in the sun for a month,” I said. “Can you give me a prescription for that?”

“Sunshine would certainly help,” she said.

I became more organised. Living in a state of chaos makes all of this worse. We (instead of I) write meal plans, create lists of things that we need for the week, we plan ahead. Lots of people do this already but for me it is new ground.

I stopped running. Because I was doing it to go faster, and further and to push myself and because the dog needed walking so I was multi-tasking. But I wasn’t getting any better at it, which is not surprising really. I had nothing to put into it. I was quite literally running on empty. So I’ve started trying to build myself up slowly. At first, after about two months of doing absolutely nothing, I went to pilates and walked a bit. The first time I went to a class all my muscles were shaking and I couldn’t do it all. A year ago I had found it too easy and decided that it was boring. Now I appreciate that it is building my strength up slowly from the inside out. I am grateful that I can do it. I go once a week. Then I started doing a few weights, once or twice a week. And more recently I’ve reintroduced a bit or run/walking, but only when it is sunny and I feel full of energy.

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Low vitamin D? Get out into the sun. I look like a vampire.
I nap. I work from home so I am lucky enough that if I am struggling then I can take an hour and sleep. It helps a lot.

And finally I was advised by the doctor to spend time doing things that I enjoy. Oddly this one has been perhaps the most difficult to achieve. The past 7 years have mainly been about obligation and necessity. Looking after the kids and working took up all of my time. Like many (most?) parents I had forgotten what I enjoy. My hobby was facilitating the hobbies of my family. And even the rare social events that I was invited to felt like another stressful obligation. I’m still working on this one but I started small – picking TV box sets that I liked and books that I enjoyed. This week I’m trying out a new martial arts class which was a hobby I enjoyed 10 years ago and tonight we are going to a party.

Thanks to all of this I feel sure that the last 10% recovery will, eventually come. After a few good days I feel 95% better but after a few days of overdoing it I can quickly slide back to 50%. The moral of this story is that if you don’t look after yourself, you won’t be able to look after those that you love. And those that you love should look after you too. So look at your routines. Do you really need to do everything? Put down the washing, stop thinking about work, tell the kids that the word “Mum” is banned for half an hour, and do something less boring instead. And finally don’t suffer in silence. Talk to your friends and family. It makes it better.

*My body will always need cake too. I would never advocate giving that up. Life is too short.

 

 

 

Panic attacks: what the doctor said

“When you are stressed you start to breathe using shallow breaths and this leads to hyperventilation. When you hyperventilate your blood chemistry changes significantly and that has all sorts of effects,” said the GP

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The Scream, by Edvard Munch  is understood to depict the Norwegian artist’s own panic attacks (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

After the trip to A&E I went to see a GP that my brother (who is a mental health nurse) told me was good at dealing with stress related issues. He diagnosed me immediately. “These were classic panic attacks, brought on by hyperventilation, brought on by stress. You can’t get over a simple virus because you are too run down. You need to make some changes.”

Excellent. Whilst there can be no doubt that I was delighted to hear that I didn’t have a heart condition, pulmonary embolisms or some kind of persistent lung infection,  the news that it was something associated with stress and mental health was hard to hear. It wasn’t medicine that I needed, it was to make some lifestyle changes.

Continue reading “Panic attacks: what the doctor said”

Trying not to die on the way to football

I am sharing my experience because a lot of people suffer from physical manifestations of stress and anxiety and until it happened to me I didn’t think it was real. Now I know better.

I had been slightly breathless all morning but I didn’t have time to dwell on it. The mild respiratory virus that had been bothering me for a few weeks was refusing to shift but there wasn’t much I could do about that. Life sped on. I needed to file an article that I’d finished the night before; my 7yr old son needed to be ready for his football tournament which was starting at 9am (where were his socks – arrrggghhh); my 3yr old daughter needed getting ready for nursery (“I not going to nursery today,” she yelled) and I had planned to throw some food in the slow cooker before we left (it wasn’t going to happen).

But by the time we were on our way to the football, 20 minutes later than planned and struggling to find the ground, the breathlessness demanded my attention.  Every inhalation felt inadequate. There just wasn’t enough air getting into my lungs. My chest was tight and sore in a burning, itchy kind of way. I put my head back and inhaled harder. Only when my lungs were fully inflated did it feel OK. I did it again and again. But the dizziness and disorientation were getting worse. There were pains in my chest, high up near my left breast.  I opened the car window and the cold air flooded in. It felt better, a bit. “Mum it’s cold,” shouted a voice from the back. I ignored it.

I was so dizzy that I thought I was going to faint. I gripped my car seat and looked straight ahead hoping that I wouldn’t pass out. We were running late as it was. My son did not need to see his Mum fainting. My husband stoically kept driving. I don’t know what he was thinking.

A few minutes later we arrived at our destination. I couldn’t get out of the car because I couldn’t stand up on my own. I was too weak and I was shaking too much. “What the fuck was happening?” Surely a virus couldn’t cause a heart attack? Was I going to die? I didn’t know what to do. I used the car door to pull myself up. My husband took my arm and helped me out. My son ran ahead oblivious, excited about his match – I was glad that he hadn’t really noticed. We walked over to the pitch slowly and I leaned on my husband like I’d lost a leg. “Phone the doctor,” he said.

The duty GP at the surgery told me to go to the nearest A&E. “I had a chest X ray last week because of a respiratory virus and it was clear.” I said not wanting to waste anyone’s time. “Things can change in a week,” said the GP.  “It is not worth taking any risks.”

Luckily the grandparents had come to watch the football too, so we were able to get me to hospital without ruining the day for my son. By the time we walked into A&E it was all starting again. As I struggled to breathe, the dark patches in front of my eyes got bigger and I had to cling to the wall to stay upright. I was helped into a wheelchair and I wasn’t even embarrassed about it. I knew I couldn’t stand up. Then the shaking started. The only time I had ever had the shakes was when my body reacted badly to all the drugs I’d had when I was having my first baby. But it was happening again.

A nurse took me into the triage room and started to monitor me and ask questions. They did an ECG. My heart was galloping and I had an arrhythmia “But that can be normal,” she said gently.

They would take blood and monitor me for a couple of hours they said. I was put on a bed. I felt bad that I got a bed when there were some very frail and poorly people in that waiting area. “I am healthy. I am only 38. It was my birthday last week. I go running.” I said more to myself than anyone else. And to be honest I hadn’t run for weeks now.

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Norm being his usual sympathetic self

Next to me a lady was crying as she sat in her wheelchair. Blood from her hand was slowly dripping onto the floor. The man next to me was vomiting sporadically into a bag, you could hear that his stomach was empty from the empty wretching sounds. A drip was attached to replenish him. The girl opposite looked like she had been beaten up, her face was swollen and she was crying. Two police officers sat with her, two more were by the doors. In the corner a man sat coughing, hacking up flem into a cup every ten minutes or so. The woman next to him yelled “for God’s sake” every time he did it and sat with her back turned to him in disgust. An elderly man nearby was yellow and quiet, he told the doctor that he had the runs. They told him that his kidneys were struggling, he was very poorly and he needed to be admitted.

There is no such thing as privacy in A&E.

“Hello Sweetie,” said a gentle voice, so kindly it brings a lump to my throat to remember it. “I’m going to put this cannula in so that we can take some blood,” she said. Her name was Maria and despite the full waiting room, the police, the hacking, the bleeding, the crying and the relentless pressure that she was undoubtedly under, Maria still cared enough to make eye contact with me and be kind.

After 4 hours of tests and waiting the results were normal. I was not having a heart attack, there was no fluid in my lungs. But the score for a protein related to blood clots (D Dimer) was on the high side so they decided to do a CT scan to check for pulmonary embolisms. That too was clear. There was nothing wrong with me. I wasn’t dying. I should go home. But what was going on?

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CT scanner: the drugs that show up any clots make you feel like you have wet yourself – odd

“These were classic panic attacks, brought on by hyperventilation, brought on by stress,” said the GP that I visited a few days later to try and make sense of what had happened. “You can’t get over a simple virus because you are too run down. You need to make some changes.” he said*.

*He said a lot more than that and I’ll give more information in a future post

**I am sharing my experience because a lot of people suffer from physical manifestations of stress and anxiety and until it happened to me I didn’t think it was  real. Now I know better.