Finding the Time to Just Be


I work at Manchester Airport serving burritos to ungrateful holiday makers who are about to miss their flight. Six or seven days a week, nine or ten hours a day. I have a need to be emotionally, intellectually and creatively stimulated. Do you know what doesn’t allow that? Working over fifty hours a week. I joked with a friend the other day that ‘all millennials have to do our time in customer service’, but it is truly mind-numbing to realise the only conversations I have consist of asking someone if they’d like to pay £1.20 extra for guacamole. The other day, I accidentally squirted hot sauce into my eye and it felt good to have a sensation that wasn’t complete emotional numbness. We all need time off to rest, and grow, and gain some kind of satisfaction from life. Recently I’ve been struggling with that, and I had to do something about it.

I’ve always been skeptical of yoga, meditation and mindfulness. The stereotypes that come along with this particular brand of ‘self-care’ often make it feel alienating. Slender, attractive, flexible women doing perfect yoga poses and being totally at peace - it's unattainable. It’s also very difficult for someone with anxiety and depression to drag themselves to a yoga class; the sheer prospect of being in a room full of strangers and trying to contort your body into different shapes when you’re overthinking everything and becoming increasingly self-conscious is my own personal nightmare.   

After (sensibly) deciding that yoga classes aren’t for me, I did yoga at home, hoping it would clear my mind and the movement might make feel better - happy body, happy mind, right? Right. So, I followed a 35-minute yoga video on YouTube called Yoga for Anxiety and Depression. It made my muscles ache and I cried mid-way through. I felt so defeated. I don’t think I was quite naïve enough to imagine that one YouTube video would cure my mental illnesses, but I really hoped it’d be part of the answer to my problem.

I’ve downloaded meditation and mindfulness apps. I feel like I’ve tried them all. The result is always the same - perhaps it’s the guilt of not doing anything that makes me restless, or my inability to stay ‘in the moment’, but I always end up frustrated and agitated. I tried to go to a meditation class once, but I got lost, ended up running around the Northern Quarter in a total panic, trying and failing to follow Google Maps. In the end, I got the bus home and cried down the phone to my mum repeating “why can’t I do anything right?’”

A big problem for a lot of us who suffer from anxiety is the feeling of being trapped in our own bodies. Obsessive and intrusive thoughts take over and spiral. It’s claustrophobic to be unable to take time out from your thoughts - it feels as if your brain is constantly working overtime, cascading into catastrophic thinking. 

Last year, I tried cognitive behavioural therapy for my anxiety, and my therapist said I should physically schedule in time for myself, set it aside, write it down on a timetable, set a reminder on my phone, to just be. This was something I’d previously struggled to put into practice but always liked the idea of. Since stopping therapy and finding myself at a loss, I thought it was a good time to try it again.

A couple of days ago, I called in sick and took myself to the mindfulness exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery, ‘and breathe…’, it invited me to download the accompanying audio, walk around, look at the art and listen to the sounds. This was something I’d done before, a guided tour around an art gallery? Sure, safe territory. 

I put in the earphones, and a softly spoken Scottish woman told me to take a seat, to look at the painting of the sea. To take it in, the shades of blue and think about nothing else. 
          She told me I shouldn’t feel guilty for doing nothing in this moment, to bring all of my focus to the painting. My eyes welled up and began to sting. My vision blurred as she told me to look for a little red boat on the horizon. I couldn’t believe I was taking this time purely for the art and myself, I was alive and viewing a painting, and right then and there, that was enough. She told me to focus on my breathing, to be conscious of inhabiting my own body. I was aware of my hands and their placement, my feet - grounding me, holding me up and helping me to experience this moment. I was at peace with myself, my surroundings and most importantly, my thoughts. Any intrusive thoughts or anxious feelings that had previously taken over were washed away when I brought myself back to the painting of the sea. I’ve been to The Louvre and I’ve seen the Mona Lisa. I’ve been to Florence and bore witness to all of the most famous Renaissance art. I’ve seen 20th century Expressionism in the Tate’s and yet, nothing has moved me to tears. I love art and I love crying but the two had never before crossed paths. I have never had such a pure and full-bodied experience of art.

I still don’t know if I can put mindfulness to use in my everyday life - on the bus or in the supermarket, or whether it has the lasting ability to soothe my anxiety - I’m still skeptical. To try and regularly put it into practice seems difficult as anxious thoughts can often run away with me. Part of me still believes it’s reserved only for the smoothie drinking East London elite. But I do know that I’m more open to it, and I will try. That experience showed me that sometimes mindfulness is the answer and most importantly, I know that I needed that day off, to just be.