It took a brush with death to shock Wellness Consultant Vivian McKinnon into choosing life, writes Janine Cobain.
In 1999, she was rushed to hospital with suspected meningitis and over six hours her body shut down as hospital staff ran a barrage of tests as she was unconscious in intensive care, unaware that she had been abusing substances and living in fight or flight since she was a teenager.
The 47-year-old mum of three, believes the route of her mental ill health and addictions were as a result of childhood trauma.
“My mother was expecting to have a boy, after three miscarriages and the death of a much-loved son at just 6 weeks old, and then she got me. I was a disappointment from the outset” said Vivian.
As her mother’s mental health deteriorated and alcohol consumption increased it cast a shadow over the whole family. Coming home from school in Edinburgh, Vivian quickly learned how to read the energy in the house on entering and how to behave depending on her mother’s state of mind or drunkenness.
Vivian began smoking cannabis and drinking at 13, feeling like she hated her mother and crossing the street to avoid her when she was with friends. To the outside world Vivian was a feisty, care free party animal, yet underneath it all drug and alcohol use, sex, abusive relationships, and self-sabotaging behaviours were all her speciality.
She explained: “I married my first husband at 17, already pregnant, and by 20 I was in police protection and then living on the streets with my son.”
In her late 20s, Vivian was in the grip of alcohol and drug use, including amphetamines, ecstasy, and cocaine, binging on an ever-lengthening weekend from Thursday to Monday and spending the rest of the week trying to ease the guilt and give her children a better childhood than her own.
“Over the years, I had developed this negative inner critic, who consistently chipped away at any self-esteem I had left. On waking in intensive care, the voice in my head berated me with a destructive commentary ‘look at the state of you, no wonder your mum never loved you, no wonder she drank’. I realised I had two choices – to live, or to die” revealed Vivian.
Although unsure how to begin the changes she needed to make, Vivian vowed to try.
She started with a visit to her GP “who gave me anti-depressants and referred me to the Royal Edinburgh Hospital “It was official,” said Vivian: “I was crazy”.
At one point Vivian tried traditional therapy and met with a counsellor who matched her every move: “Occasionally she asked ‘So, how did that make you feel?’ In truth, I felt like poking her in the eye but kept that to myself.”
After two sessions Vivian McKinnon didn’t go back.
Vivian then received an invitation to walk the Great Wall of China: “My ex-partner told me I’d never do it, which was just the motivation I needed and despite having panic attacks every day, I faced my fears and walked over 100 miles, raising over £40,000 for charity”.
In an environment where there was no judgement, and no one knew her, Vivian decided she was going to learn how to help people who had experienced the same traumas she had.
Vivian returned with a renewed enthusiasm for life. but was knocked sideways by the death of her mother.
It was around then she experienced floatation for the first time. “I expected it to be nothing more than a nice way to relax,” explained Vivian, “but it was life changing.”
Alone in the dark, her usual frantic thoughts and inner critic were silenced and in that moment Vivian was free. Cut loose from the daily noise and pressure, she became excited by the possibilities floating offered and visualised opening a centre and offering treatments to people with trauma and addictions or who were simply struggling with their daily life. When the lights came back on, in that zero-gravity environment Vivian realised something in her had changed.
“When my mother passed away, she eventually escaped her demons and as a family we were no longer in the shadow of her addiction.”
As Vivian continued on the path to heal herself, she began to suspect the answer to feeling better wasn’t in the good job, or fancy house, or flash car, but in connecting with the person within. She enrolled in college and studied the fundamentals of health and social care, before moving on to university and exploring social science. Vivian studied various therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Neuro Linguistic Programming, yoga, and clinical hypnotherapy, always searching for answers to strengthen her own mental wellbeing.
Things finally began to fall into place, as Vivian, now living in Northern Ireland, unlocked the reasons of why she behaved the way she did, and she re-connected with a former partner after eight years apart – a good relationship which Vivian had sabotaged with the help of her inner critic – and got married. With nudges from her husband, Vivian McKinnon enrolled in the go for it programme ran by her local council to give her support to create a business plan and she began to explore the possibility of offering people her own brand of personal therapy and recovery.
She said: “I was driven by an idea of creating a safe space for people who were living with trauma.”
With some financial help from her husband, and by putting herself in £66,000 of debt Vivian gave up her job and became comfortable with being uncomfortable as she pursued her dream. While others in the industry thought Vivian was mad to attempt to set up a float centre in a 6-month time frame, Hydro-Ease opened on schedule in September 2015.
While on a training course in England with Paul McKenna, Vivian spoke with him about the Havening Technique – an evidence based psychosensory approach to removing the emotional drivers from stored experiences – and enrolled in a rigorous training programme. By combining her learnings with the floatation environment, Vivian was able to offer a way of achieving and maintaining personal balance.
Vivian acknowledges her story is not pretty: “It’s my story and I own it. There’s a great healing in that”.
Vivian’s own experience of trauma and the journey to be the best version of herself that she can be has given her the knowledge to help others achieve the same for themselves.
“Wellness is more than being free from physical illness” said Vivian McKinnon: “It’s the active process of become more aware of and making decisions towards a more balanced and fulfilling life and unlocking your potential.”
For further details on services provided by Wellness Consultant Vivian McKinnon please visit the website www.wellnessconsultantni.co.uk