For a long time, silence was synonymous with my misery. Being still and quiet would mean drowning in negative thoughts and self-criticism. Panicking about everything I needed to do and all that is past and won’t ever change. I constantly distracted myself, with work, TV, sport, alcohol, whatever was easiest at the time. Anything to keep me from being present, from being in my own head.
Eventually I became a danger to myself, and I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Treatment was based on medication and a timetable of group psychotherapy sessions, CBT exercises and mindfulness practice. I managed to drag myself to the process groups, even if only to sit cocooned in a blanket on the floor and say nothing. I wasn’t willing to be helped. I didn’t think it was possible for me to feel better.
But gradually, the wall I’d built to contain my miserable little world started to erode. Very slowly, I started letting therapists in. I started to talk and share what was going on for me. I participated in group and engaged with other patients. There was just that one last piece of the therapeutic puzzle I had to fit in. Mindfulness.
Finding compassion for myself was the hardest part
Almost every time I shared something in group, I would be told that I needed to find compassion for myself. I wasn’t going to recover unless I could be with myself in my suffering, I had to find the will to be kind to myself.
The sad truth is that I was suicidal. I had a nurse with me constantly, day and night, because my psychiatrist knew that I needed to be protected from myself. That is a thoroughly desperate place to be. The future felt like it was rushing toward me, a tsunami of expectations, fears and anxieties. The only thing that offered any shelter from the onslaught of my own thoughts was mindfulness.
I’ll admit, when I first heard of mindfulness I thought it sounded ridiculous. To me, it was just another fad. I wondered how on earth sitting quietly and focusing all my senses of a cup of tea would ever help me. But after my therapist shared his experience of how transformative it was for him, I tentatively downloaded a mindfulness app. I had it on my phone for a couple of weeks before I tried it.
Daring to be here, now
I started with just a few minutes, using guided tracks to focus on taking mindful breaths, and the sensation of being in my body. And right from the first time, I found it enabled me to find a tiny bit of compassion for myself. Even if it was just being grateful for my able body, or how calming the air felt as it came into my nostrils. These small, precious moments came together to give me a new awareness of myself, of my ability to just pause and be.
I realised that far from the crushing loneliness of a sea of negative thoughts, being still and focusing on what is normally mundane could be beautiful. Examining the intricacies of a spider web or the pattern of veins on a leaf can bring enormous pleasure.
That is the magic of mindfulness for me. It’s not sitting silently and meditating, or making a mindful cup of tea, it is simply being aware and being here. Now. I could just lie on my bed and be. I could feel the fabric of the sheets, the coolness of the air in my nostrils, the gentle weight of my hand on my stomach, and simply observe. It taught me that I didn’t need to be afraid to be alone.
Mindfulness showed me I could be present, feel the physical containment of being in my body, in the way my own skin holds me together. That’s incredibly powerful when you generally feel like nothing is under control. It was to be the start of my recovery, the beginning of being able to master my flashbacks and dissociative episodes.
Previously I shared some advice on how to squeeze a little bit of mindfulness into your day. Read this post for a few practical tips.
This is an edited version of my article published by Everyday Mindfulness.