I had been sent home from work in a ball of tears and I had made myself a duvet tent. Duvet tents are great, they are warm and nobody can see you. But I knew I couldn’t stay under my delicious duvet tent forever, my flatmates would be home soon and I had a chicken kiev in the fridge that needed eating. I also knew that I had missed the (very small) booking window for a doctors appointment that day. Though I needed to speak to somebody professional, so I called Mind.
What happened next was a conversation with a very straightforward, no-nonsense lady. That conversation might have saved my life. I blubbed and I blubbed, she didn’t falter because this was OK. It was good to cry and it was brave of me to call. I had made the first step, she said.
Months later it was through Mind that I learned the art of Mindfulness. I count this as a crucial moment in my recovery.
My stomach churned and hands sweated as I waited in the reception of Hackney & City Mind for the first session. I was very close to running out of the door as my all too familiar fight or flight instinct kicked in. ‘I don’t have to put myself through any more embarrassment, I can leave’ I thought. I just couldn’t think of anything worse than sitting in a room full of strangers, discussing my mental health. I really needed the comfortable solitary confinement of my duvet tent.
But as the first session wore on and I got to know my classmates, I felt a lifting sense of relief, and my crushing loneliness began to dissipate. Although I felt exposed and still a little nervous, I actually felt normal for the first time in ages. The notion that there were other people in the same room dealing with anxiety or other mental health conditions whilst holding down jobs, families, and busy lives in London was the comfort that I needed.
Over the next 8 weeks, as a small group, we learned to be mindful together. Gwen Williams, our teacher, was calm and self-assured and she would take a silent moment to ‘gather her thoughts’ when she needed. I had never seen anyone do this before, to literally stop, close their eyes and compose themselves in front of people. This left a lasting impression on me and gave way to my own ‘moments to gather’ which I use whenever I feel jumbled or overwhelmed by pressure. This is about self-worth, the permission to take a pause, even if people are waiting on you.
Gwen taught me to breathe. The biggest anchor us humans have in connecting with ourselves and with the present moment. I was (and still am) a terror for running away with my thoughts, my mind on an endless stream of vivid imaginings of painful experiences, or situations going terribly wrong. But Gwen taught me to catch myself, to wake up, and to look at my thoughts objectively – like passing clouds – instead of getting bogged down in what I call one of my ‘epic thought films of despair.’
You are not your thoughts, thoughts are passing guests in your guest house. This notion works for me. If I could get away with having it tattooed on my forehead I would.
Mindfulness has given me permission to enjoy life thoroughly. It is OK to stop, to sit quietly and to breathe. In fact, for me it is essential.
Have you ever sat down to your dinner mindfully? Focusing completely on the aroma, the texture, the multitude of flavours, the way they dance on your tongue? I dare you – it is mind blowing.
Thanks to Gwen, and to Mind who made this free class possible, and for teaching such a brilliant life-saving skill.