Mindfulness is a funny word. It brings to mind 21st century hippies and wacky alternative lifestyles. But mindfulness is actually the simple act of being present in the moment.
Imagine that you’re sitting standing in your front doorway. It’s a frosty morning and you’ve got a cup of hot milky tea in your hand. You’ve just let your dog out for a wee and he’s enjoying himself sniffing around the grass. Being mindful is being aware of all your senses.
Touch – how the hot cup of tea feels in your hand, how the biting winter air feels on your skin, how cosy your pajamas feel on your body.
Sound – the early morning bird calls, the sound of your dog sniffing
Taste – the taste of the milky tea – and this can link into touch and smell – how it feels as it goes down your throat, the familiarity of the milky tea smell
Smell – the scents in the early morning, the smell of your tea, the contrasting smells of your house and the outside as they meet in the doorway
Sight – everything that you see around you – the sparkling frost, your dog moving about, the steam rising from your teacup, the clouds skidding across the sky.
Depression for me manifests itself in a deadening of the senses and a lack of interest in my surroundings. I could be stood in that doorway and all I will notice is how black my world seems. I will be consumed with thoughts of how I will get through my day. I’ll contemplate calling in sick, or dragging myself into work. Or I’ll simply feel absolutely nothing. I’ll look, and see, but not really experience what is going on around me. I’ll just exist, as emptiness.
It’s the most horrible feeling in the world. The worst of it is that I don’t even feel that it’s the worst feeling in the world cos I can’t feel anything. When I’m like this, simply getting enough breath to speak seems like too much effort to cope with. When I’m like this I can lock myself away in my house, detached from everything, and just sleep. Sometimes the sleep helps. But mostly I just need more and more of it.
What does help is mindfulness. It’s excruciatingly hard to drag myself out of my head for even a short amount of time to engage with my surroundings, but when I do, it helps. Sometimes I’ll walk down the street and touch everything – I’ll run my hand along the rough brick wall and I’ll touch the trees. I’ll walk through the park and make myself breathe in deeply to smell the flowers. I’ll walk in the torrential rain, just to feel a sensation that’s outside of my head. I’ll sit on the steps in the cold morning or evening air and drink a cup of tea, just to feel the hot cup in my hand and the cold steps beneath my bum. Or I’ll sit in my window seat and look at the trees. I’ll try to follow the movement of the leaves as they blow about in the wind, and I’ll look at the sky and follow clouds or birds with my eye, right through to the end of the movement or until I can’t see anymore. Walking on grass or sand in bare feet helps.
When I feel at my worst, mindfulness, even just for 5 seconds, helps to keep me going. It stops the spiral of hopeless thoughts and helps me to feel like there might be a purpose in living. When I’m scared by my own thoughts, late at night, when I can’t stop crying and I just want it all to end, I sit outside in the cold, drink a cup of decaf tea, and sob to my heart’s content until it’s all out. Sometimes it takes a few hours. But Nature helps. And Mindfulness helps.