Once upon a time I was known as The Woman Who Stands In Doorways. I was 25 and living in a house share with three wonderful actresses and a lovely engineer who was dating one of the lovely actresses. We had all recently graduated from drama school and were working in various bars and restaurants to pay the rent while we hustled for auditions and our first big break. Number 3 Maunder Road was a big multi-story house with a large cosy living room furnished with a big squishy sofa and armchairs. And every now and then, when we all happened to have the same day or few hours off, ‘the family’ would gather in the living room to catch up, chill out and recharge the batteries watching crap TV. Except I never actually gathered ‘in’ the living room, or really chilled out in any way shape or form. Instead I hovered restlessly in the doorway, neither in nor out of the room. I’d get involved in the chat, alright, see how everyone was doing, what the latest gossip was (three of us were single – there was always gossip) but I could never bring myself to actually come in, sit down and RELAX. I just didn’t know how to. There was always something else I needed to be doing, somewhere else I needed to be. ‘There she goes, the woman who stands in doorways,’ my friend Noella would say, shaking her head ruefully.
The problem was I just didn’t know how to relax, I didn’t know what it meant to truly unwind, drop my shoulders, let all the tension flow out of my body and just be content in the moment. It wasn’t part of my DNA. I was a very anxious little girl, always worried about something, always in ‘fight or flight’ mode, so this became my default state. I was never at ease and never fully present or ‘in the room.’
This manifested itself in many other areas of my life. I was flighty, I was impatient, I found it difficult to focus, I was always looking for that ‘something else’ that would bring contentment or fulfilment and my reckless pursuit of the next big thrill soon began to take its toll. I partied too hard, I didn’t sleep enough, didn’t eat properly, and working frequent double shifts in a very busy restaurant meant that my body never knew whether it was night or day. I was frequently ill, and always exhausted.
By the time I got married, however, I had calmed down considerably. I had started running, staying in more, enjoying time alone with my husband and actually – shock horror – relaxing! He had the fine art of chilling out down to a tee and was determined that I should learn from the master. So, one night, as I tapped away on my laptop, very busy being ‘busy’ he stood by my shoulder and informed me that I was going to shut the damn thing down and we were going to watch Rome. It was the start of a beautiful relationship with great TV box sets, and though watching TV is certainly not what you’d call truly tapping into deep relaxation, for me it was a good place to start. And hey – I’m an actress, of course I’m going to love great TV 🙂
The problem was, while an hour of TV gave me a much needed escape from the chatter in my head that threatened to drive me insane, there were twenty three other hours of the day when my brain was still in overdrive; ideas whirring around like autumn leaves in a gale, anxious thoughts making me tap my foot incessantly and pick at my cuticles, and that ever present voice that told me ‘I wasn’t working hard enough, wasn’t putting enough into my business, wasn’t going to be successful’ and on and on and on etc. etc.
Things got worse after my son was born as now I had a whole new set of anxieties to chew over. I wasn’t being a good mother, he was going to pick up on all my stress, I wasn’t making enough money, I wasn’t working hard enough, he didn’t eat the pureed veg I made him for his lunch, his eczema was flaring up – was he stressed too? – I wasn’t paying my fair share of the household expenses, our flat was totally unsuitable for a baby, what if he smashed his head on the stone floor (this actually happened), I was doing it all wrong and he’d be in therapy by the time he was 12!
By then I had realised that the love affair with London was over, and I really needed to get away from the madness and frantic pace of the city. So, just before my son’s 1st birthday we packed up our belongings and our three cats and left London for good, moving 60 miles south to the wonderfully vibrant yet chilled out city of Brighton and Hove. I immediately felt at home and a lot of things started to slot into place for us. Ollie started at a really great nursery, I got more regular work and, after a year of renting we bought our first home. Things were looking good. However, my anxiety monkey was never far away, and though some days were better than others, but there were still times when I would find myself in tears at the kitchen table – again – past hurt as raw and painful as it had ever been. My husband suggested that I find a new therapist in Brighton but I absolutely did not want to go back to therapy. I just didn’t see the point. I knew exactly why I was the way I was, what I didn’t know was how not to be how I was! I couldn’t seem to move on, let go, build that goddamn bridge and get over it. And then, after another tearful session where I despaired of ever feeling ‘normal’ (whatever that is) my husband suggested meditation. He believed that meditation might help me access the ‘calm’ layer of my mind (I doubted I even had one) and teach me how to get that all important distance from my negative thoughts. I might still have them but I wouldn’t be so emotionally attached to them. I was sceptical but, at that point, open to anything that might help, because, quite frankly, I was bloody tired!
A few days later an ad popped up in my Facebook feed promoting an exploratory talk hosted by the Brighton and Hove Transcendental Meditation Centre. The ad hooked me in with a quote from Hugh Jackman.
And I knew right then that I needed to be at that meeting! Find out what happened next.