I had never even heard of the word mindfulness before my son’s birth in 2013. I thought meditation was for monks and hippies and had nothing to do with real life. Fast-forward a few weeks and listening to guided mindful meditations went from ridiculous to a daily necessity. It was the only quick fix I had for getting any peace from the constant anxiety attacks and intrusive thoughts. And the concept of being more mindful and keeping ourselves better rooted in the present moment is something I’ve carried with me into my post-recovery life too.
When I was unwell, anxiety was my constant companion. And I mean constant. I feel the need to really stress this as many non-sufferers seem to think anxiety is something that comes and goes throughout your day, and for some it is. And once you begin recovering it does. But during those first weeks after my breakdown, when I had no clue what was happening to me or how to stop it, I never got a break from it. Yes, my anxiety would reach various crescendos throughout any given day, and I always felt much worse in the morning than the evening, but essentially it was always with me; the physical symptoms, the scary thoughts, the feeling of dread.
When those awful crescendos did come I found it almost impossible to remain still. I vividly remember pacing my landing in my dressing gown for around two hours straight, sweating and shaking, unable to find any stillness. My only relief came from the diazapam and sleeping pills the doctor had prescribed to force me into fitful sleep each night. Until, that is, I discovered meditation.
A friend had recommended some guided meditation recordings and the first time I tried it I was shocked by the almost trance-like state I was able to achieve. I lay on my bed, while my husband took care of our three month old baby, and began to transport myself using the images the hypnotic voice described for me. I didn’t sleep of course, it was still a few weeks before I was able to sleep unmedicated, but I was at least able to get a tiny bit of relief from my own mind and from the horrible, tense physical sensations assaulting my body. At the very least I was still, and no longer wearing a hole in our landing carpet.
Throughout my recovery, which included various treatment from antidepressants to therapy to self-help, I continued to meditate twice a day. Those ten minutes in the morning helped me to stave off the panic about what tasks I had to achieve that day, and the ten minutes of peace I had in the evening helped prepare me for better sleep.
During my various relapses I have reached straight back for regular meditation although I’ll confess I’m not always strict about meditating every day once I’m feeling better.
Why does meditation work for me?
The main purpose of the type of meditations I listen to is mindfulness and staying present. Anxiety is rooted in fears and worries about the immediate and longer term future so if you can find a tool to help you focus as much as possible on the safety of the present moment you can eliminate some of those fears and feelings.
Meditation also gives you permission to think about whatever you like. Before I tried it, I thought meditation was about eliminating thoughts but in fact it’s about getting comfortable with them. Letting them come and go through your mind whilst paying them no attention and focusing instead on breathing and visualisation.
I don’t mind admitting when I’m wrong about something and when it comes to meditation and mindfulness I’m happy to be a convert. Our minds are incredibly powerful; after all if my mind can make me as unwell as it has in the past it’s only logical that it also has the power and ability to lift and heal me too.