Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

A woman’s extraordinary fear of beaches and how she finally conquered it

... and the other lives turned around by life coach Gillian Killen.

Life’s a beach: Life coach Gillian Killen (left) helped Kelly Murray overcome her phobia

This is the moment when a 27-year-old Belfast mum took her first step onto a beach since childhood.

For almost two decades Kelly Murray was unable to walk by the seaside. The very thought of treading on sand left her palpitating and fearful.

Yet it took only one session with life and business coach Gillian Killen to rid the west Belfast woman of her terrifying phobia.

This week she posed happily for photographs on the beach at Seapark in Holywood to show how her life has utterly changed.

And now she is looking forward to her first foreign holiday by the sea in Portugal and building sandcastles with her four-year-old daughter, Grace.

Stepping onto the beach for the first time without fear was a dream come true for Kelly.

She said afterwards: “I should have been really nervous at the thought of it but I wasn't.

“It didn't annoy me in the slightest.

“It really was amazing. I walked up and down it and picked up shells from my daughter and felt dead relaxed for the first time that I can remember.

“I can't wait until the the summer now. I will be at the beach with my daughter as often as we can. It's just brilliant. I feel like a normal person now, just like everyone else.”

Kelly explained how her phobia developed. “I know how silly it sounds but I have been terrified of crabs and the beach since about the age of eight. I couldn’t even look at a crab on TV without wanting to throw up,” she said.

“We used to go to Newcastle on holiday when I was a child and my sister would pick up a crab on the beach and chase me with it.

“That’s where it all started. From then I would only go on the beach if my parents brought plenty of towels for me to sit on and even then I would be panicking and constantly looking to see is there were any crabs near me.

“I wanted to go and play in the sand and the water like other children but I just couldn’t.

“As I grew up I avoided the beach.

It wasn’t until I had my daughter, Grace, who is now four, that I realised I needed to do something about my phobia.”

Kelly said: “My partner and I took Grace to the beach when she was 15 months old and I couldn’t bring myself to go onto it. Just the thought of it made me break out in a sweat and have palpitations. It was then that I knew I had to do something about it for my daughter’s sake.

“I wanted to be able to bring her to the beach, build sandcastles and paddle in the water, and just play and be normal.

“I had one 20-minute session with Gillian just before Christmas and incredibly my phobia seems to have gone. She took me back to the time before I had the phobia and after it and to the future. She had me replay the scenes in my mind as if I was looking at a cinema screen and picture life without the phobia.”

Suddenly the future looks sunnier for Kelly: “I’m looking forward to booking my first ever holiday in Portugal this summer when I can go to the beach every day. I can’t believe after all these years that one 20-minute session has taken away my fear and I can’t thank Gillian enough.”

In the last few weeks Gillian has become a familiar face on our TV screens as the ‘no-nonsense’ expert on the popular BBC series The Last Resort.

Viewers saw the north Down life and business coach use her skills to help six volunteers battle chronic health conditions at a rural retreat in Fermanagh.

“The beauty of the programme is that it is real people helping real people,” said Gillian.

“I have been amazed by the level of interest the show has generated and by the numbers who have stopped me in the street to say they got so much out of it which has made a difference in their lives.”

It was just three years ago that Gillian, a grandmother from Portaferry, launched her business, Life Style Designers in Holywood, through which she has helped hundreds of people overcome a whole variety of personal and work-related issues.

The loss of her father in 2004 led her to make the life-changing decision to end a successful career spanning two decades in sales to retrain as a life coach.

“My dad’s death made me stop and take stock of my life. And in order to try to come to terms with his loss, I enrolled on a life coaching course in Dublin,” said Gillian.

“I loved it and when it was finished, I immediately signed up for a course on Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) with Paul McKenna (right) in London.

“The two together made a very powerful combination and really helped me to build my own self-confidence.” People suffering from phobias, weight problems, confidence issues, anxiety and depression make up the bulk of Gillian’s clients.

Business clients come to her for help to overcome their fears of public speaking and she has even coached a number of national and local celebrities whose identities she cannot reveal.

“It is a relatively new phenomenon in Northern Ireland whereas in America everyone has a coach of some sort, should it be spiritual, life or fitness,” said Gillian.

“At the start it was fairly slow to build the business up, but in the last couple of years it has really taken off quite dramatically.

“While the first year was mainly helping business clients, an increasing number of people started to ask for help with their emotional health and well-being, especially self-esteem and confidence issues.”

Gillian believes that it is most people’s self-beliefs that hold them back.

“Each person’s belief system, values and experiences in life contribute to what they are today.

“A lot of people struggle because they think that because they have had a problem for a long time that it will take a long time to change it, but the brain works much quicker than most people think.”

Gillian also works closely with community groups in Belfast and north Down focusing on the very serious issues of depression and suicide.

“It’s a very rewarding part of my work being able to go into the heart of local communities and work directly with women and young people who are struggling with depression,” said Gillian.

The woman with body issues

South Belfast mum-of-two Paula Cairnduff (46) was desperate for help with body issues.

Said Paula: “When I was 22-years-old and expecting my first child, Stephen, I put on a lot of weight. Before I was pregnant I weighed eight stone and went up to 13-and-a-half stone during the pregnancy. Someone commented on the weight I had put on and that really affected me.

“After I had Stephen, I literally starved myself and went down to seven-and-a-half stone in four weeks. I used laxatives and if I ate anything at all, I vomited it up. It was a serious problem and I got counselling for bulimia and anorexia. Since then I have had very low self-esteem and serious issues with my body.”

The problem continued when she was pregnant with her second child, Sarah, two years later.

She explained: “I was so worried about putting weight on that I didn’t eat, with the result that she weighed just 5lb when she was born.

“I have never weighed much more than nine stone and I’m 5ft 3ins, but when I looked at myself I always saw a fat person. I couldn’t look in the mirror and I haven’t posed for a picture since my wedding in 1984.

“I realised I needed to do something and so I applied for The Last Resort.

“On the show, Gillian put the fear of God into everyone but she was brilliant. She made us confront what we didn’t want to confront. She got me to look in the mirror and even though I did it with my eyes partially closed, it was a big step for me.

“I have continued to see her after the show and it has made a huge difference to the quality of my life. I still have some way to go but Gillian has given me confidence for the first time in years and, instead of worrying what people think, I now realise that there are more important things in life. If people don’t like me, then tough.

“My attitude to food is also changing. I would have gone a whole day without eating more than an apple or banana but now I am trying to eat three meals a day. Also for the first time in years the little voice that kept telling me I was fat has gone.

“Gillian has taught me techniques to deal with it and they are working.”

Paula said that other people have noticed a difference in her since the counselling sessions and have commented that she is more confident and outgoing.

“I’m not 100% yet but thanks to Gillian I am getting there,” she said.

The man who suffered from severe depression

Graham McGuire (45), from Rostrevor, suffers from chronic constipation which has caused severe depression and made him suicidal. He also was a volunteer on The Last Resort.

He said: “I have suffered from chronic constipation and irritable bowel syndrome for years.

“It got to the stage when I was going to the toilet once every four weeks. Then it would go completely the other way and I had chronic irritable bowel.

“I went to my doctor many, many times and have tried various pills and potions but nothing worked. I couldn’t cope with everyday life and it was affecting my moods. I suffered from severely long bouts of depression and felt suicidal on a number of occasions.”

In desperation he applied to go on the The Last Resort which, he said, has been a resounding success.

“The first four days we had to go without food and live on very healthy fruit and vegetable juices. As a result, I lost 18lb in weight which showed me that I was carrying a lot of debris and toxins in my body which were making me very poorly,” he said.

“All the experts really helped and made a huge difference to my life.

“Gillian pushed us in the direction of looking at why we ended up on the show and how we could make changes and turn any negatives in our lives into positives. I have continued to talk to her via social networking groups and she has really pushed my boat and got me floating again.

“I am a lot more confident and Gillian has helped me put my life back on track and showed me that if I put 100% into something I will get 100% back.

“She has also taught me not to plan too far ahead and just concentrate on what is happening on a day-to-day basis. My bowels are a lot more regular, the depression has gone and for the first time in years I am looking forward to getting back to work as an auxiliary nurse.”

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