How meditation helped T1D diagnosis - and my mental health

I have always wanted to take my head off and have a break from the incessant string of thoughts rattling around my brain. You know the type don’t you?

“I should call {insert said person}”

“What’s for dinner? I must get to the shops?” Repeat daily.

“I wonder how {insert said person} is? I’ve not heard from them for ages.”

“My {insert body part} is sore, I must make an appointment with {insert relevant medical practitioner}.”

At certain points of my life this fairly basic and banal soundtrack has been replaced by a more serious undertone; imagine a shift from 80s pop to hard core metal, or a quiet afternoon ruined by the sound of a hedge strimmer.

Life events, a premature and sick baby, family stuff, health worries, sleep deprivation; all these things threw my brain off kilter, spiralling into negative self-depreciation. You have your own triggers, your own story. We are no different.

Sometimes the negativity was so loud I could barely find myself through the fog, as if there was a shadow in the distance but I just couldn’t quite make her out. We learn to live with this.

Talking to family and friends, seeing a counsellor, trying to look after myself more, getting older and wiser (or maybe not giving such as shit). These things helped to flatten out the peaks and troughs. Then I was diagnosed. After that it is all fuzzy. Starting to run was a massive help. But overall, the single biggest thing to bring me closest to sanity was meditation and mindfulness.

Never before was my need to remove my brain greater than after my Type 1 diabetes diagnosis. I was scared and tired. I wanted to hide from my body and its thoughts. Crawling under the sheets didn’t cut it. Running away wasn’t an option. Not giving myself insulin would kill me. The ‘I’ that ‘I’ was trying to escape was still there despite my best efforts to hide from her: my body and mind were at odds to cope with the adverse conditions they found themselves in, like a small fishing boat in a Force 10 gale off the Outer Hebrides.

Somewhere amid this all mighty storm, this toxic mix of physical and mental ill health, I stumbled upon meditation. I can’t remember who found who first, maybe it found its way under my duvet, but either way I realised I needed to find something within which to find some sanity. I felt awful, physically I was running high blood sugars, which caused repeated infections and mentally I was broken, struggling to accept being incapacitated by another health condition, and laden with guilt at being unable to look after my son properly, never mind work. I was broken and with pieces of myself lying around me, I had to find something to help piece myself back together again.

I’d always been keen on meditation. Well keen on the idea of it.  Just like I’d always been keen on eating healthily, not drinking so much wine, exercising regularly. All those things we promise we’ll do but just never seem to get around to doing.

So I signed up for the Headspace App, which growing in popularity at the time. Being the perfectionist I am, I spent most of the free ten day trial wondering if I was doing it right and trying to listen to the reassuring voice of Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicome telling me things like, not to try, that the most important thing was being present, having turned up and that in time it would come. Really? I felt like a fraud.

I was absolutely, let me repeat this, ABSOLUTELY shocking at it. I’d start with good intentions of clearing my mind but rigid and desperate to leave myself behind, it was as if that itself opened a cacophony of noise. It was worse than ever, thoughts, feelings, emotions, thoughts, chatter, worry, all bubbling to the surface while I was there, just trying to find peace.

But I persevered because I wanted to believe and because Andy was quietly telling me every day in reassuring tones that it would help. I needed to focus: so I mediated on Focus. I was anxious; so I mediated on Anxiety. Plus it seemed at the time there was a growing sense that there was something in it, a movement towards a quieter world. So I meditated. Amid this all I was lucky enough to go on a Lifestyle Management and a mediation course run by the Thistle Foundation, (see god awful video of me – Christina). I also read Ruby Wax’s amazing book on mental health and meditation, Sane New World.  Each of these steps taught me it wasn’t a quick fix. It needed,  dare I whisper it, patience. So I meditated on Patience. I meditated on Anger, (which I felt lots of due to you know life swimming along and then sh*t-hitting-fan) and Guilt (rubbish Mum) and Anxiety (self-explanatory) and Happiness (was it hiding under the duvet?). The list goes on.

With each day, each week, each Headspace package, each course, I got better. I got better at meditating, I got better at finding peace, I got better at saying it’s OK to spend 20 minutes a day being quiet and looking after myself. OK, so it hasn’t cured my Type One diabetes (goddamit) but it helped how I look at my diagnosis, my mental health and my life.

It also taught me about perseverance. As an adult in today’s quick-fix world it’s hard to appreciate that things take time. You have no idea how it irks me to admit this but don’t expect to be perfect. Be patient. Turn up every day. E.V.E.R.Y. D.A.Y. Spend as much time trying to perfect it as you do on Facebook. Let the thought come and go. In and out, Breathe. Listen, learn, carry it with you into your day. Turn you phone off, watch the world, listen to the birds, the traffic. Actually enjoy your coffee, rather than just drinking it.

Before you know it, there will be more and more moments of silence. And they will join together. Then you will know you have taken you head off your shoulders and placed it on a bedside cabinet while you stay for a moment in silence. Then after time that peace will stay and as you wash the dishes, even though that annoying colleague will enter your head, or your body will ache, you’ll be able to watch as the trees swish in the wind outside your window, or listen as your daughter or son or partner tells you about their day. Now. Take a moment.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

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More than 15 million people - 30 percent of the UK population - live with one or more long-term conditions according to the Department of Health (2011) and more than 4 million also have a mental health problem. Evidence demonstrates those with a long-term condition are two or three times more likely to develop mental ill-health. People two or more long-term conditions are seven times more likely to experience depression than those without a long-term condition (World Health Survey, 2007) Source Mental Health Foundation

Meditation can help! Visit https://www.headspace.com/