The night before I returned to work after Christmas, Anthony asked me if I was ready. I said, ‘well my work clothes and bag are sorted’. ‘I meant psychologically’, he said. ‘Well in that case, no, not at all’. The thought of facing that man (just before my Christmas break I had a horrible meeting at work with a very confrontational man) again was unbearable. ‘Surely you must have a strategy for dealing with him?’ Anthony asked. ‘Only the ultimate one’, I muttered. ‘For God’s sake Rachel, you can’t kill yourself over someone at work. You aren’t a depressed Goth teenager anymore. I really think it’s about time you got some help with this’.
I had been thinking about it. The idea of getting help had come to me in meditation. I had never sought help before, although I had had suicidal thoughts on and off since I was fifteen.
I had even imagined myself doing a talk about it, at some kind of mental health event, about being in that lonely attic office at work where no one came to see me without an appointment, and then my knee started really hurting so I had to move to a downstairs office that is much more public and you can’t hear people coming from a distance, they just appear. Just before I was moved downstairs I was having very strong suicidal urges. I had brought a craft knife in from home for an art session, but it sat on the top of the filing cabinet screaming ‘method’ to me.
So on the 12th January 2015, coincidentally (i.e. I hadn’t done it intentionally) one year to the day since I had driven to Wells-next-the-Sea with my swimsuit on under my clothes and bathed in the cold North Norfolk sea as a commitment to the spiritual path, (described in my previous book How to Find Heaven on Earth, which is for sale super cheap on Amazon) albeit my own eclectic and ever-changing made-up spiritual path, but still, I meant it, I picked up the phone and rang the work telephone counselling service.
The phone was answered with a lovely softly spoken Spanish accent, by a man called Jaim. Talking with this calm, gentle man every Friday morning… I sat on the floor of my office with a Do Not Disturb sign on the door and an A4 pad in front of me and as he talked I scribbled down as much of it as I could.
Gently, he dismantled the strange framework I had built inside and around me. Rachel, he said, ‘Thoughts are not real; they are just like when you are watching a film or reading a book, there is no obligation to engage with them.’
No obligation to engage with them? Are you sure? The idea of letting them go and letting myself off was tantalising and delicious but I felt conflicted and guilty at the same time. Surely, if I have an idea as serious as killing myself I should give it some attention? I mean, I must be thinking it for a reason? Or at the very least, the fact that I have thoughts like this surely means there is something very wrong with me and that I am not like everyone else. And if I did give up the suicidal thoughts, I wouldn’t have an ultimate Plan B or anything to hang onto In-Case-Of-Emergency.
But Jaim helped me see that the thing I’m hanging onto is unhelpful to the extent that it has become the problem itself, rather than a solution to the problem. The original problem has gone and all I am left with is the original solution, which has now become a problem: The Problem. I used to think it was a safety net for when I got all freaked out and scared about things that I found difficult. But what if I just say fuck off to it as it as it arises? And what if instead of freaking out over challenges and fears I just get on with whatever task is in front of me? But what will I do without all that to fall back on? Answer: Probably manage quite well or even better: suicidal thoughts do not actually help.
If thoughts and what I think isn’t really who I am, then who am I? How do I know who I am? Is it rather what I do, and the reflection of myself and my actions in the people around me? Question: What to think about instead? I don’t want to stop thinking, I like thinking… Jaim said: ‘Why should you stop the activity of the mind? But you can direct it more consciously to what you want. It’s a myth that stopping the mind, that that is what meditation is all about. Imagining, creation, ideas, are all good things!’
My mind is working better- not thinking unhelpful thoughts. I am learning not to fill my mind with noise except when chosen: a subject of interest on Radio 4, music for pleasure, choosing consciously, rather than ‘filling without knowing’ in Jaim’s words, when you don’t allow yourself any silence or space to choose:
‘If you work too hard and fill every moment with purpose in a rush of doing you forget to just be. Allow yourself times of silence and moments of non doing. It’s in these moments that you realise who you are.’ Jaim said: ‘Accept who you are, warts and all. You have been afraid of showing yourself to be weak, forever trying to please someone else, to be ultra efficient, perfect and invincible but nobody is that. Ask when you don’t know. Tell yourself that it’s okay for me not to know. It’s okay to sometimes not be on top of things. Your previous assumption- ‘I can’t cope’- meant you had to demonstrate the opposite and that was the cause of much stress. The need to prove is a constant source of nervousness.’
I told him about the man I had the meeting with, and that I was scared of facing him again. Jaim said calmly: ‘In my experience there is something simple that will perhaps help you; to be aware, preferably in real time, or if not as soon as possible after, of how you are feeling. Monitor carefully your changes of mood. This is the first indicator that something is happening. If you feel upset, sad or worried, just notice, enquire with an open mind, what is going on, not criticising, not should, not should not, just: Why? What is the reason? What is actually happening? Outer event? Memory? Interpretation as threat? Understand your interpretation: what are you thinking? I’m not good enough? I won’t cope? Deal with these asap- of course I am good enough, I can cope.’
‘Watch out for winter and being tired.’
‘The more you cultivate and develop the ability to observe yourself (your thoughts, feelings and behaviour), the more you will be able to deal with adverse circumstances without panicking.’
‘Your observing mind is the wise part of you that is there to keep an eye on things in the control room, ready to respond to any variations: red lights= respond quick. Observe the dashboard of your life, trust you have the ability to deal with it. Choose to take appropriate action instead of panicking and giving into depressed or unhelpful thoughts. There is usually a way out.’
‘Every half an hour, stop and check in, how I am feeling and why, very simple. You have been so scared of not coping but don’t pre-empt it, don’t assume. Whatever comes to meet you you will find time and a way to deal with it.
You have done it so far! (You have been around a while)’.
‘Being aware stops you being on autopilot, and when you are on autopilot your subconscious mind takes over and can lead you astray.’
‘When we are well we feel well, it’s an inbuilt gauge telling us life is going well. When you get an uncomfortable feeling, that is a warning light: use your feelings to help you. Sometimes it will be a simple solution, sometimes it will be more complicated, that’s okay, we will never understand everything. Feelings are valid: they are telling you something.’
‘You are making decisions every minute, you start afresh every minute: life unfolds in the present.’
Then as I began to get better: he said: ‘The difference is, you are not beating yourself up. You might be doing something wrong, if so, you can correct it. You are walking through life with your wits about you, paying attention to yourself and what’s around you. Observe your thoughts and behaviour, watch the dashboard, watch for changes in mood and take action accordingly. Do you realise how important this is? Feels life changing!’
Replacement coping strategies:
- Help is always available, all you have to do is ask
- Whatever comes your way you will be able to deal with it, as you have always done thus far
Thank you very much for reading