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Blog by Vivian McKinnon

Welcome to our brand new Hydro-ease website. I really hope you like it. We’ve refreshed the content, uploaded new videos, added new pictures and rebranded our blog with a title that means the world to me.

I’ve called it ‘The Magic is Within You’ because I truly believe that deep beneath the protective layers of ego, experience and human programming each of us has a true authentic self made up of wisdom, courage, creativity and infinite possibilities.

For many of us, including myself, life’s hard knocks can really get in the way of stepping into your unlimited power, of living out your purpose and from having the courage to be totally and one hundred percent, your real self.

I’ve built Hydro-ease, Northern Ireland’s first floatation and wellness centre on the belief that you can not only survive illness, mental health issues, grief, trauma and addiction, you can thrive by consciously choosing to move away from pain towards life’s pleasures.

Believe me. I’ve been there and worn the T-shirt.

Before I tell you some more about Hydro-ease and the healing and restorative services we offer, I want to give you a ‘not too pretty’ account of how I transformed a traumatic child and adulthood into a thriving home life and business with the sole aim of helping others do the same.

I’m not ashamed to say I have suffered every abuse imaginable or to admit I made some unhelpful decisions in life that landed me in deep shit.

I am unapologetic about the abuse I suffered, the addictions that drowned me, the drug dealing it took a long time to admit to or the near death experience I had when my body finally gave up and gave in.

I’m not sorry because it has made me the person I am today.

I now know I am not my story. I have the ability to choose the life I lead, to create new pathways, to build new relationships and to live my best life despite the hand of cards I was dealt with in early life.

Hydro-Ease owner "Vivian McKinnon" as a baby being held in her mothers arms
Hydro-Ease owner "Vivian McKinnon" during her teenage years
Hydro-Ease owner "Vivian McKinnon" on a trip to China in 2001 where she walked over 100 miles of the Great Wall of China

My name is Vivian McKinnon and this is my story. I was brought up in Roslin, Midlothian in Scotland.

My mum was of Irish descent, desperate to be a psychiatric nurse. My father, a Scottish coal miner and the president of our local Miners Club.

I’ve been told at eight months old, I fell down 30 concrete stairs in a baby walker setting the tone for a traumatic and confusing childhood.

My mum wanted me to be a boy.

She lived with and later died from mental health and alcohol problems because of her own abusive past marked by a violent and scary childhood, multiple miscarriages and the death of a son.

Sometimes, as a kid, when I saw my mum, I was so afraid I used to wet myself. She used to scream, shout, lift her hands and scare the shit out of me.

There were times when I was a teenager she wouldn’t let me into the house and my dad would tell me to go out for a walk until she calmed down. This would be one o’clock in the morning and I would have school the next day. I was always a very anxious child and remember my forehead being covered in sores when I was seven or eight years old because of stress.

Our family secret left me vulnerable to suffering every type of abuse you can imagine. Not at the hands of my parents but with strangers and in relationships.

In 1999 when I was 28-years-old I woke up in the intensive care unit of the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh having never really decided to go to sleep. My body and mind had decided enough was enough.

You see when I was 13 I discovered alcohol. My dad was president of the local miners’ club and mum worked behind the bar, which gave me access to it. She used to give me carry outs. I was smoking cannabis at 14, ran away from home at 15, got pregnant at 17, married and became a mum at 18.

By the age of 20 my mental health was seriously compromised. I was in a troubled relationship and found myself homeless on the street with an 18-month-old, drinking too much, smoking cannabis and taking amphetamines to get through the day.

I had been staying in a B&B after my marriage broke down, but my violent ex-partner found out where I was, beat me and took my son. When I got my son back I had nowhere to go and we slept on the streets for a few nights, as at the time it was the safest place to be.

I was taking drugs as at that point I was truly addicted to avoiding the pain of the past. Drugs were a really good escape for that. I was having nightmares, panic attacks and sleep paralysis, which I now know are all the symptoms of trauma.

I always had this negative voice telling me I was no good and would never amount to anything. I used to get drugs for my friends. It took me a really long time to admit I had become a drug dealer and come to terms with all that lifestyle entails including my house being raided by the police and drug squad on many occasions.

The reality of my early years, through adolescence and into womanhood was a haze of alcohol, drugs, parties, relationships, dance music, black eyes, abuse, violence, abuse and more violence.

My lifestyle led to a ‘near death experience’ with the pressure becoming so much I ended up being ‘blue lighted’ to hospital where I was put on life support in her late 20's. It was what I needed to change my life and for the better.

My life had become heavy and overwhelming. When I opened my eyes after being unconscious and on life support I knew I had two choices. Keep going as I was and die or change. Back then change was scary and unknown.

At least if I kept going the way I was I knew that dark heavy place well and it had become comfortable, or should I say comfortably numb. It was a huge wake-up call and I knew I had to change my life but had no idea where to begin.

I began to volunteer for a charity called Move On helping kids in care and within three months was offered a part-time job, which six months later became a full-time post. I had found purpose but still struggled with mental health issues.

I also threw myself into a series of challenges to try and discover who I really was.

Even though I didn’t know how I was going to do it, I was committed to creating a better life, both for me and my children.

I signed up for anything that scared me. I walked over 100 miles of the Great Wall of China, abseiled off the Forth railway bridge and jumped out of a plane.

It was about challenging every belief I had about myself, other people and the world in general to create the very best version of me and I did eventually start to move more towards pleasure and away from pain.

So I decided to opt for change unsure what to do or how to but committed to staying alive. I started the process and had lots of ‘oops’ moments. Some people called these relapses but I felt ‘oops’ was a kinder way of punishing me, my internal critic seemed to like that more and left me alone for a bit.

One minute I was determined and serious about recovery, the next I was sobbing, hiding from the world and looking for the answers at the end of a line of cocaine or the bottom of a Jack Daniel’s bottle.

Then life changed. I was introduced to Floatation therapy in Edinburgh in 2004.

It involves simply floating in 25 cms of body temperature water and half a tonne of Epsom Salt and allowing our body and mind to rest, recharge and reconnect to the authentic self in a gravity free environment.

I had been told about it by a colleague when I was working for Move On. I didn’t know anything about it. I saw this pod like coffin and thought for fuck sake how is this going to be good for me. It’s like a coffin with water. For the first few minutes, I thought what am I doing in here? I can’t believe I’m doing this.

I thought I’m not getting in there and then I decided to give it a go. For the first few minutes, I thought what am I doing in here? I can’t believe I’m doing this! This is a bit strange and a bit different and then silence and suddenly my inner critic was gone. I had residual fibromyalgia type pain and soreness in my muscles and I had none of that when I was floating. It was gone too

I knew instantly I could help other people with this, especially people with addiction and mental health issues and I dreamt up this whole plan to open my own flotation centre. Then I heard a knock and my time was up and I remember getting up and thinking WTF just happened there?

I remember it so clearly. It was a real turning point for me. It was 2004 and it made me realise there was magic within us all, we can all heal and change should we choose too. It was such an amazing experience that I decided to spend the rest of my life helping people heal from the pain of their past.

I visualised opening my own floatation centre and at that moment understood what an amazing mental health intervention it could be.

It was the escape I had been looking for from the abuse, from the trauma, the disconnected childhood. I found myself floating and reintegrating, pulling that troubled little girl back towards me once again.

Despite my chaotic lifestyle, I was never shy of work and always held a job.

My first was in Dolcis shoe shop when I was 13 when my mum made me give her half my wages.

I then went on to work in a chemist, the quality control department of a local factory before finding my way into the Roslin Institute as ‘Experimental Worker in Molecular Biology and Immunology’ during the controversial cloning of Dolly the Sheep.

That basically I meant, I was a laboratory cleaner.

I suppose I always had a work ethic and it’s no real surprise then that I eventually became an entrepreneur.

Hydro-Ease owner "Vivian McKinnon" Speaking at the Dungannon Enterprise Centre
Hydro-Ease owner "Vivian McKinnon" appearing on Radio
Hydro-Ease owner "Vivian McKinnon" speaking at an event showcasing her entrepreneurial skills

When I was a kid I would also go round the doors selling macaron bars or a tablet of fudge. I would buy a box from the local confectionery factory and make a profit of about 10p out of every bar. 

Having left school at 15 with O-level grade Maths and English as qualifications, I began educating myself and devoted the next years to studying.

I’m now qualified in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Time Line Therapy, Hypnosis, Clinical Hypnotherapy, the Havening Technique, Laughter Yoga, Auricular acupuncture and I am the only Spectrum performance and emotional coach in Ireland. 

I’m also the NI regional co-ordinator for SMART Recovery and have recently been asked to join the board of the International Floatation Association. 

At 48, I’m now married to the legend that is Tommy McKinnon from Irvine Ayrshire who owns his own sheet metal factory in Belfast.  

His unconditional love for me has been another major factor in my healing journey. I’m also a mum-of-three and have my son, Gary (29), a daughter Hayley (21) and a seven-year-old with Tommy called Sonny.

I met Tommy in 2002 in a chance encounter at the races in Ayr but dumped him a few months later because ‘he was too good to be true’. 

I didn’t hear from him again because he had moved to Northern Ireland. Then in another co-incidence in 2010, I saw a comment from him on a post on Facebook. I moved here and the rest is history.

He knew how much I wanted to open my own flotation centre so applied for funding as a surprise to help me draw up a business plan. He offered me his £27,000 life’s savings so i left my job, placed myself £66,000 in debt and set up Hydro-ease.

Now I am devoted to helping people cope with trauma through solution based therapy and flotation, helping the world to heal one float at a time.

I didn’t want the small coffin-like tanks and the larger two person tanks were more expensive but my vision was to have two of them so that I could remove the barrier that almost prevented me from giving it a go, added RGB lighting and speakers for music.

I didn’t have a clue about business and no one knew about flotation here, but I decided to keep my eye on the goal which was to help the world to heal, one float at a time.

I’m now working with researchers in the Sports Science Department of the Ulster University, who are conducting a study into the benefits of flotation. I’ve also participated in a global research study and brought the data to NI to be analysed.

I would like to think what I have developed at Hydro-ease is something truly different. I’ve built a suite of unique therapies and techniques that help people in so many ways. 

Floatation, otherwise known as Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy or REST, promotes a state of deep relaxation, allows the skeletal structure to align, increases the release of endorphins and enables the mind and nervous system to completely unwind. 

It can be used as a stand-alone service or combined with the latest techniques and advances in neuroscience to enable and enhance well-being.

Therapies include Havening Therapy, Hypnosis and Clinical Hypnotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Time Line Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Auricular Acupuncture and a dedicated Smart Recovery programme to assist in overcoming addictive behaviours.

Our RAFT (Reconnection Recovery and Floatation Therapy) programme combined with the Havening Technique has so much potential and is already proving its worth on a daily basis. It is Hydro-ease’s exclusive approach to trauma recovery and emotional regulation. 

I’m really proud of RAFT. It’s an approach to remove the emotional drivers and triggers that hold us back in life from a loss of motivation to a lack of resilience. I support people to ‘wake up’ and live instead of just existing.

The Havening Technique is a process that is scientifically proven to eliminate the consequences of emotional stored memories through the encouragement and development of a more resilient mind.

When we have an event in our life that we give meaning to, based on how we process the information coming in through our five senses, we can sometimes develop phobias, traumatically encoded memories (PTSD/injury), pathological emotions, anxiety, grief, somatic pain and many other conditions. The Havening Technique is proving very effective in removing these responses.

In unison with floatation, my brand of change work is quick and effective with permanent outcomes. I like to work with the whole person and the root cause rather than the symptoms of personal experience.

Wellness for me is about life and living. 

It’s about what you do from your first breath until your last breath as i see this as the process of creating the legacy you leave for others. That may be in terms of wealth and possessions but more importantly it’s about the way you serve yourself and other people and the inspiration they gain from your existence.

The legacy I would like to leave is that it’s OK to let go and just trust that what is meant for you will always find a way to get to you, that you are always exactly where you are meant to be in life, it’s all about how you work with these opportunities and not against them. 

Floatation and wellness therapies at Hydro-ease will help with emotional and psychological trauma, anxiety, fears and phobias, PTSD/Injury, depression, grief guilt and shame, anger and rage, chronic pain and illness, cravings and emotional eating, insomnia and sleep issues, compulsions, obsessions, addictions.

Because what I am doing is not the norm and is based on the latest research and developments in floatation and neuro-science, all I would ask is that you keep an open mind and come and try it for yourself.

You really won’t regret it.