With a history of mental health problems, Rose remembers feeling depressed as a child which was compounded by the bullying she experienced; leading to the migraines that kept her away from school.
She missed so much time at school that she was convinced she would not get the grades needed to get into university and had difficulty living in the present. She did get the grades but what should have been a cause for celebration proved to be a factor in worsening her mental well-being. She felt unprepared for university and in hindsight feels that she just followed what her friends were doing. Where she lived acted as a barrier to building friendships and she felt increasingly isolated. Once at university she was struggling with the course content but felt like she had nowhere to turn to for support, other than at home.
Perhaps unsurprisingly when she met her partner she made the decision to leave university and after a few months she moved in with him, describing the early months as a very happy time in her life.
After a short period of unemployment and temporary jobs she started working in a call centre responding to customer complaints, often in difficult circumstances. Rose was good at her job and was quickly promoted until a cost saving initiative increased pressures to cut call times. This compromised not only the quality of her work but also her core values. She also felt strongly that the time and effort she put into helping people often saved time and resources in the long run.
The final straw came when she was publicly humiliated for not meeting the targets for cutting call times. The pressures and demands of the job led to a complete breakdown and she has not worked since. She has also suffered from severe anxiety and is unable to go outside the house alone. This was 4 years ago and since then Rose has tried various therapies and up until recently has been on different medications which made her feel numb “I did not feel like me.”
When Rose’s mum showed her an advertisement for a free 8 week mindfulness-based stress reduction programme she decided to give it a go and to commit to attending all eight sessions. She described the first two or three sessions as being, “…horrible, I felt uncomfortable in the group, I didn’t want to speak, I felt anxious, started sweating, that I didn’t belong there and that I couldn’t do it.” It was during this time that Rose’s mental health difficulties started to put a strain on her relationship with her partner. As the teacher I was aware of Rose’s difficulties and had agreed that she could come along with her mother for support, that she could stay with her mother during group reflection activities, and that she did not have to speak until she was ready. In those early weeks her discomfort was very obvious but I felt that my role was to show Rose that I was willing to accept the situation and to allow her to develop at her own pace…acceptance, not judging, non-striving and trusting in the process.
Slowly, as the course progressed Rose began to contribute to the group discussions and demonstrated an ability to engage with and then reflect upon her direct experience. Rose then began to see how some of the ways in which she reacted to people and situations were causing her distress e.g. reacting rather than responding, judging people and ruminating excessively over past problems. She says she learned a lot about herself during the course and started to accept that she had both strengths and weaknesses and that this was ok. She learned to let go of things that previously bothered her “I learned how to bring my mind back to the present moment when I began to worry.” What she learned on the course also helped her to open up more to her partner and to work with him to address their relationship difficulties. She also began to see how mindfulness was improving her concentration and focus, this led to her having to confidence to take on responsibility rather than leaving everything to others.
“I learned how to bring my mind back to the present moment when I began to worry.”
Rose now handles all the family finances, something that would have been too challenging before learning about mindfulness. Rose says she now feels much closer to being ready to go back to work and she is exploring the real possibility of starting up her own business, building upon an activity that she knows will support her mental well-being. Being better able to cope with stress, pressure and recognising her emotions and physical responses has helped Rose with living in the present.