Featured Artwork: Sonaksha
Trigger warning: very brief mentions of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicidal ideation.
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In January, I started a 9-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) group course. Following the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, I finished the course in my bedroom via Zoom. I’d spent about 7 months on the waiting list before being allocated a specific course, along with a start time and place. MBCT uses mindfulness to help chronically depressed people avoid relapsing into a major depressive episode.
I’ve dealt with mental health issues for much of my life. Anxiety has been a lifelong problem, having grown up somewhat timid and fearful, and I had a full-fledged anxiety disorder by the time I was a teenager. Depression followed not long after, mainly stemming from low self-esteem after gaining a lot of weight in a short amount of time. My peers and family noticed the weight gain and did not hesitate to let me know, some more harshly than others. During my teenage years, I developed a combination of an eating disorder and experienced self-harm and suicidal ideation. I eventually realised that I needed much healthier coping mechanisms, and fast. I also realised that I deserved to be happier and that going to therapy was inevitable and something I would have to do in order to get better.
At my first session in January, I was incredibly anxious. I had no idea what to expect in an MBCT group with 5 other participants and 2 psychological therapists. I was the youngest and only Black person in the room, which didn’t help. I felt out of place for the entire 2-hour session. This discomfort persisted and I didn’t say much for the first few sessions, unless prompted by one of the therapists. But by the time I finished the course I realised I had become less anxious. I was less anxious around the people in my group and I had actually come to enjoy our mindfulness practices.
MBCT taught and gave me a lot. Mindfulness taught me how to look out for certain signs that my mental health is deteriorating. It also gave me much healthier coping mechanisms. Now, instead of ruminating in any negative feelings, I can use a guided meditation practice to acknowledge my feelings and respond appropriately. It means I’m constantly more aware of, and in touch with, my feelings so I don’t push them to the side as often as I used to. While MBCT did not solve all my problems or magically cure me, it did provide me with the tools to cope in a healthier way when I’m not doing so well.
Everyone can benefit from mindfulness as a concept, not just within the context of therapy. Mindfulness allows you to consciously take time out of your daily routine and the worries and stresses that often come with it. It helps you sit with and confront difficult feelings that you might otherwise avoid. This is done through doing mundane, everyday tasks mindfully; taking the time to really think about and acknowledge what you are doing, how you are doing it, and how this makes you feel. This can also be done through guided breathing and meditation practices in which you focus on yourself and your feelings. Mindfulness can be an eye-opening yet peaceful experience that helps you deal with the ups and downs of life in a healthier, calming way. You might not even realise how much you need it until you start practicing it, like I did.