Why I will always vouch for Mindfulness
How I recovered from being constantly anxious and eventually suicidal to get back to functioning normally — TW: Depression, Anxiety, Suicide
Towards the end of June 2021, I was convinced that my world was coming to an end and I felt walls closing in on me. My days would see me lying down and rolling around in my bed, with no energy to do things despite wanting to. And it was a slow build-up since the beginning of the year — I was just in denial. I was binge-drinking, chain-smoking and exploring the depths of rock bottom while being constantly anxious and depressed — two opposing poles of emotions, a terrible combination. I used to get triggered by anything and everything and get caught in thought loops that made my situation worse. Until one Saturday afternoon, where I was triggered into a suicidal episode(I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 2019, suicidal episodes are an actual thing). It was something I’d never experienced before. “My chest felt like it was on fire, and my limbs felt like they were jelly, and I couldn’t move or do anything about it” was what I wrote in my journal while recounting my experience. I had two options: Either pack my bags, preserve whatever money I had, leave town and start over somewhere in a place where nobody knew me. Or Die. I picked the latter. And I failed.
Post the attempt, I met my psychiatrist and got prescribed medication. I got off all social media including WhatsApp, took a break from work, and actually got down to realizing that I cannot go on like this and desperately needed to make changes to my life. The medication helped me stay afloat, and I decided to get into a routine, doing everything that I had the energy to do. And I picked one habit for the routine that ended up changing my life over the last one and a half months — and that was meditation.
Meditation is something I’ve practised on and off for a while now. I’ve never really stuck on to it as a habit. The last time I did, it was for a small bit when I’d quit smoking earlier in the summer and stopped when I got a hang of getting through my day without cigarettes(And didn’t restart when I started smoking again).
The thing about suicide attempts is how the gravity of the situation hits you after. You go “I actually, almost died” and you’re either grateful you survived or regret surviving. I was somewhere in between, and being there made me rethink the importance of how much I needed to change. I use this app called Youper(This is not a paid sponsorship) that helps me track my mood and the severity of my symptoms — and unlike the cryptocurrencies I’d invested in, my depression and anxiety levels hit an all-time high when I checked during my recovery phase. That sealed it for me. I reopened my journal that I shared an on and off relationship with, subscribed to this app called Headspace(Again, not a paid sponsorship) and decided to turn my life around. This was around the 25th of June. And between then and now:
1. I’ve quit smoking(again).
2. I’ve quit drinking.
3. I’ve journaled every day, introspected and understood more about myself in this short period than I have in the last 22 years of my existence.
4. I got over many mental blocks — the main one being that which was stopping me from realizing my dream of launching my own start-up. (We’re launching soon. This is not paid, but definitely a promotion).
5. I am not depressed anymore
6. I’ve regained focus and my attention span has gotten better(Better enough to get back to a reading habit)
7. And I’ve bid goodbye to excessive anxiety and triggers.
I felt a wave of relief when I tracked my symptoms again, after just two weeks of meditation, and the all-time high dropped to an all-time low. How did this happen?
No, mindfulness doesn’t solve your problems, it doesn’t make your anxiety disappear overnight either. What it does is that it teaches you to accept your feelings as they are, redefines your relationship with them, and helps you process reality a lot better than you probably are right now. And like I said, it doesn’t happen overnight — Consistency is key.
I’ve been meditating every day for a month now and I can vouch for the fact that it has contributed to me feeling better and I still feel myself getting better gradually, with time. And you start noticing these changes as your behavior gets altered. One afternoon, I found myself reading and before I could notice, I was halfway through the book. This kind of focus has been absent from my life for at least 10 years now. On workdays, I found myself checking off things without getting distracted and I realized that my attention span returned from the long exile it took. I went from taking pointless breaks every 10 minutes to actually taking breaks only when I needed one. In the first week, I could feel myself being proactive and getting out of my bed with regained energy to actually indulge and participate in activities, even the most mundane ones.
When it came to dealing with anxiety, in particular, the instructions that are delivered to you in the pack ‘Managing Anxiety’ becomes a habit with enough repetition. It teaches you to create space between your self and your racing mind. This is the core idea — Feelings are brought about by thoughts, and you feel positive or negative based on the thought behind it. Both thoughts, and feelings, are impermanent.
If you just notice the thought and not resist the feeling behind it, you will find yourself watching it as it passes by like a cloud and you come back to feeling balanced. The duration of the thought and the feeling gradually decreases over time too. After 3 weeks, I found myself welcoming these thoughts and feelings and watched them dissolve within seconds, or maybe a minute. And I was relieved. The key was acceptance and not battling reality.
And this was the result of the symptom tracker after close to a month of meditation:
What it’s like:
“It feels liberating” would be an understatement to describe what I’m going through. Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows and I’m not breaking into song every 10 minutes like I’m in a Disney Musical. A great way to measure your progress wouldn’t be to see how happy or positive you feel but by your ability to handle your lows. In my case, I used to get thrown off by a single thought and the rest of my day would be ruined. Sometimes, these thoughts used to hit me right when I wake up and would pin me down to my bed for the next couple of hours. I’ve been handling these lows way better than before, and it has improved my relationships with the people around me, the work I do, the way I think and most importantly, has improved my relationship with myself.
It feels great to step out onto the balcony and have the cool breeze hit my face and actually feel and appreciate the moment as opposed to being lost in thought. It feels great to plug in and listen to music and appreciate the song for what it is and how it makes me feel as opposed to getting caught up in a sad memory associated with it.
I associated my ideal self with the person I was three years ago, in 2018, when I was focused on building a career, without toxic habits like smoking and was ‘killing it out there’. In my memory, that was the last time I had a sense of self and a basic idea as to what my identity was(An unstable sense of self is a common symptom in people with BPD). But the person I am today, in the present, seems different. Of course, those parts that I’d cemented back then still exist, but it almost seems like I’m being introduced to an all-new person that I need to get to know better and I’m both excited and curious to explore.
Yes, mindfulness is a healthy practice, but use it to support your progress as you go through therapy, not replace it. Nothing can replace the support of Professional Help.
You don’t necessarily have to subscribe to the app I mentioned. There are tons of free guided meditation videos, free apps, and Balance, an app similar to Headspace, is offering free subscriptions to people for a year. Do check it out!
One problem I’ve noticed with myself and a few others is that often, we resort to meditating only when we’re anxious or overwhelmed. Yes, it does offer relief and it’s a healthy way of immediate gratification as opposed to other unhealthy habits. But remember that the most effective way in which it can help you is if you make it a part of your routine and your lifestyle. Be consistent with it and make it a habit.
I hope this helps!