Today I am in a good place. I have a job I love, I am passionate about mindfulness and wellbeing, and I have loving family and friends. Four years ago it was a very different story.
My marriage had broken down. I had a three year old child and I was alone, exhausted and emotionally over-reached. My mind was constantly sluggish like it was filled with treacle, yet it always seemed to race. It would not shut up and was always asking me questions. “Why has this happened?” it would say. “How are you going to cope?” it would demand. “What could you have done to have avoided all of this?” it would scream.
I felt like my independence and my confidence were fading away. I adored cooking and baking, walking, going to the gym and socialising with friends but I became so exhausted and so detached that I couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to do anything. My only energy was focused on making sure my son was looked after. I felt like a burden to people, a sad story that was told over and over again. I wondered where the happy, sparkly Natalie had gone. I really wanted her back.
Eventually, on the insistence of a friend after yet another meltdown, I sought some professional help from my GP. As soon as I walked into her room I broke down, burst into tears, and sobbed my way through my story. I expected her to tell me to shake myself up and get on with life, but she didn’t. I apologised over and over again for being so upset but she allowed me to do what I needed to do. She was non-judgmental and understanding. She suggested some medication and the help of a counsellor, both of which I grabbed with both hands.
I began to research calming methods and through Facebook I found the CALM app and began using meditations at night. I then began using them during the daytime if I found myself in a situation that left me feeling challenged. I would sit quietly at my desk, earphones in, and just take five minutes, as others would take a coffee or cigarette break.
I had once been super fit and loved spinning, yoga, swimming and step class but now I could neither afford the fees nor the time. I had gained weight and I was so lethargic. My saving grace was that my place of work had absolutely no parking so I had to leave the car a good half mile away from the office. It was a lovely walk, down leafy roads and through a park. I started to notice things around me again, the trees, the leaves, the grass, the people and the Sheffield skyline. I had forgotten what a beautiful place I called home. I started taking a walk around the park in my lunch break or sometimes if the weather was nice I sat on the grass with a cup of coffee. That, coupled with my meditation practice, really started to have a positive effect on my mental wellbeing.
I continued following the meditations and wondered about finding a yoga studio to combine relaxation with some physical movement. I heard about some new yoga studio close to where I live. I went and spoke to the teacher and explained that I wanted to start moving more and getting some of my suppleness back and that I had been suffering from stress and depression but that I wouldn’t be able to come each week due to child care and would that be an issue? Did I need to sign up for a course of lessons or could I come ad hoc. She was amazing and offered me the chance to bring my son along as long as he sat quietly in the back room. My son and quiet behavior don’t necessarily go hand in hand and I knew that keeping him quiet whilst trying to practice would just exacerbate my stress so we rethought that idea and she offered me a private 1 to 1 lesson as and when I could afford it. She also said that my son could join in if he wanted to and that really killed two birds with one stone.
A few months after I found yoga I was introduced to Mindfulness. I knew of being ‘present in the moment’ through yoga practice and meditation but nothing of the principles behind it or how to use it as an everyday way of life. I knew nothing of the ego and the power it has to draw on past experiences or project them forward. The more I learned the more I understood myself.
When I decided to take the Mindfulness Diploma it was a huge step, but the course I chose offered me the chance to study at home at my own pace. From the outset I loved studying again and I found that the course put together so many more of my own puzzle pieces on why I felt and behaved like I did. Each time I started a new module I was constantly saying, “That is me, I now know a bit more of what has been going on”. As I put into practice what I learned I found myself being more mindful in my everyday life.
I also started journaling – not every day but I have a note book on the side of my bed where I sometimes jot down a few notes before I go to sleep at night. While I often look back over what I have written, getting my thoughts down on paper seems to set them free and stops them spiraling out of control.
As my holistic learning continued I slowly began to take more of an interest in cooking again, my son is now 7 years old and enjoys cooking so it is an activity we sometimes do together. I had forgotten how much I loved and missed the process of choosing meals to make, combining the ingredients and enjoying the finished product. My snacking at work though was really bad and despite my efforts to make lovely meals at home, I was still lethargic and quite often felt dehydrated. I had a wellbeing check and the nurse shared concern over my cholesterol levels. It was quite a shock. I don’t want to be an unfit 40 something year old, being medicated for preventable lifestyle disease.
Mindfulness and yoga had helped me so much. I was in a job that allowed me to channel my passion for wellbeing, and I trained to be a Mental Health First aider. I really felt my life was building up so you can imagine my shock when I fell back down again.
My son had been struggling in school and I was finding it hard to deal with his own downturn in mood and unpredictable behavior, but unlike before I was now better equipped. I recognised what was going on and how bad it could get unchecked so I took myself straight to my doctor, who put me back on my medication and advised that I go back to see my counsellor. I took her advice and rather than this debilitating illness flooring me for months as it once had done, I got myself back on my feet relatively quickly, back to work and back on with life.