“Are you or your mother scared you may take your life?”

This thought was in my head, until I saw my friend look at me and I heard the silence that followed. I had asked aloud.

We sat at the dining room table of her parents’ house in the town we grew up. This table has seen us through more than 35 years of friendship and this evening, provided its strong surface as we took comfort from our tea and the unspoken agreement to embrace the conversation inevitably presented before us. On my fleeting and unexpected visit, we knew time was limited. Polite updates of life’s progressions seeped in and out of the conversation, almost teetering like the Libran scales which has bonded us over the years – we celebrated dad’s 80th on the weekend, child one is teaching, child two has just completed the HSC. Now back to what really matters. You are in your darkest days.

In addition to our conversation, I felt as if the silence had paused time. I was looking in my friend’s eyes – eyes which were so often shining with laughter during our times together – and saw a glaze. It was almost like a protective barrier, stopping the perceived ugliness of the world from entering her mind. I searched them, willing myself to see a fragment of that light. Or was the glaze, in contrast, keeping something in? If so, what was it – fear, vulnerability, sadness? Could it have been resignation, a feeling of defeat, I wondered, and hoped not.

“There were times, yes. I was jealous of the dead and dying.” The tears flowed.

‘Hold a space’ I repeated to myself mentally. Be here for her. Don’t over-react.

With her only days home from a three week clinic stay, I was grateful for my friends vulnerability and rawness as we dove into the reality of her life. There were tears from my friend and her mum and information sharing of the strategies being learned during her recent treatments. I heard of the physical body pain that comes with anxiety, the ringing in the ears, the pounding of the head, the peaking highs, followed by the desperate lows, and then the need to sleep. Maintaining a job was not possible. With the awareness of the finite period of time we had together, it was as if an unconscious frequency of urgency was flowing between us (‘I’m sure I’m talking much too quickly for her medicated state to comprehend’ I thought as she sometimes appeared to be slow motion to me). Our souls embraced this opportunity to once more, support and extend the friendship we began as nine year olds, this time, one seeking healing, the other offering hope. We shared our views of life and of faith – that magic and unknown entity designed to carry us through the darkest moments, the hardest days and the loneliest nights. ‘Hold onto your faith’ I silently urged her.

As I embraced my dear friend on our farewell, we held each other longer than normal. ‘You’re one of my favourite people’ we reminded each other. As we held each other, I wondered if she was implementing the practice of being present, a focus from her recent Clinic stay? We had discussed this strategy earlier while viewing her work-book. While my friend was thinking her own thoughts during our farewell, I was willing my emotion, intention and hope to cover and embed itself on her being and in her mind. I wanted her to feel my feelings so strongly, they would see her safely through the night… and selfishly, through her days.

Mindfulness.

Being present.

This was the first chapter in the Clinic’s workbook as a strategy for supporting and treating those living with mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression. Leading psychologists are using mindfulness as a significant Cognitive Behavioural Therapy strategy. As I returned to my childhood bedroom that night, I pondered the evening with my friend. I didn’t just ponder it, I could not erase it from my mind and was unable to deny the need to share this story with you. In my role, I am witness to varying levels of anxiety, in a range of ages and an array of people. This includes children. With my friends’ blessing, I urge each of you to understand the enormity of this practice. If research demonstrates the benefit of practising mindfulness when living with diagnosed mental health conditions, what would be the benefit for the remainder of the population?

Can I suggest we take at least one learning from the strength of my friend? May we embrace the practice of presence for the purpose of rewiring our brains, reconnecting with ourselves and rewriting our consciousness? Who will benefit if the mother-collective is able to make this shift? Can you imagine the impact of this movement on the young children standing by our sides or leaning in for support? If we are present and mindful in their moment of emotional need, would this energetic space be all they required to feel, process and positively transition through the emotions life will inevitably provide them? Could this reduce the alarmingly high and increasing rate of childhood anxiety?

As I send a silent wish for my friend, I send it also to you, the mother who has lost her identity, feels isolated, overwhelmed, scared and fatigued. This is my wish for you:

May you know your strength.
May you find gratitude for your worries and appreciation for your busy mind, understanding these have both protected and supported you thus far in your life.
May you now transition trust into your world and peace in your heart, believing in a far greater purpose than our meagre minds could ever conceive.
May you find wellness again, so you can shine your light on the world.

With all sincerity and utmost gratitude,
Catherine