, , , , , , ,

Epiphany in Pink

Last Saturday my friend invited me to a ’House of Honey’ rave in Shepherds Bush. The theme was pink so I decided to come as Penelope Pitstop.

As we wandered down the Uxbridge Road people gave me funny looks. ”Do I look like a man?” I asked my friend. ”Course not,” she said. ”They just don’t have Penelope Pitstop in Mogadishu.”

Before the party, we went to a swanky bar and quaffed espresso martinis like players. Then we sashayed back up the Uxbridge Road towards the venue feeling sexier than we had for a very long time. As the thump-dee thwang-dee-diddle-dee-zoink of house music got louder, I flashed back to one of the most euphoric moments of my life; dancing on top of a float at the Sydney Mardi Gras, twenty years old and the most beautiful I’d ever be, in a chain mail minidress and killer heels, with thousands of party people cheering me on.

Would I be loved like that again tonight?!

On our arrival, we were greeted by a small bald man in a pink glittery skirt and matching nipple rings. He had the same facial architecture as Nosferatu and his breath was so fetid that I sprung backwards into two women in pink play suits with fluffy pink unicorns horns and long sparkly tails. They looked about 60. Now let me clarify that there is absolutely nothing wrong with looking 60 but not I repeat NOT when you are dressed as My Little Pony. Why no one had the heart to tell them how ridiculous they looked, their crepey flesh, perpetually tanned from too many Ibizan summers, crammed into lycra, I can not fathom.

Not knowing where to look I fled to the ladies loo which was filled with wasted revellers who had been taking drugs for so long that their entire faces had collapsed. Too jaded to bother with discretion, they snorted cocaine right off the sink from a shared plastic straw, their dessicated mouths twittering like demented chaffinches.

After politely refusing a sniff of Amyl Nitrite (Amyl Nitrite!!!) I headed for the dance floor where a throng of gurning Gollums and haggard women in flammable fabrics whooped and whirled. Here Penelope Pitstop was definitely a thing and I was kissed, pawed and photographed from every angle before being dragged towards the stage for optimal viewing. Now if this was 1988 I’d have leaped to the highest platform, pulled my micro dress over my head and jiggled my bottom for all the world to see, but as a 50-year-old housewife and mother of two teenagers, dancing on a podium felt WRONG ON SO MANY LEVELS.

Suddenly wanting out, I elbowed my way through the heaving mass of white middle class ’gravers’ and felt relieved that I am no longer compelled to jiggle my bottom at a crowd of strangers in order to feel loved, but free instead to pass the ’jiggling’ baton to my beautiful teenage daughter. (This is the kind of epiphany that would normally have cost a fortune in therapy fees so at least I was quids in).

As I sat on the stairs wishing I was at home with my husband watching Blue Planet II, things suddenly started to get weird. First, my tongue went numb and then my arms felt like lead and I was convinced that my knuckles were dragging along the floor. ”Oh my God I’m having a stroke,” I said out loud until I remembered popping a tissue pouch of magic mushrooms into my mouth at the beginning of the evening.

People’s facial features began to stretch and shrink and slowly but surely my reality morphed into Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, the horrors of which have haunted me since my high school art class. I watched the carpet come alive with human ears and broken lutes and white dismembered legs all travelling to some unseen destination. One woman’s nostrils were streaming with ants and there was a man in a big hat with half an eggshell for a body who scuttled up to me enquiring as to whether I’d like to do ’a cheeky half’ with him.

Desperate to flee this nightmare, I ran to the back of the room and perched on a little pink stool. Wanting nothing more to do with Penelope Pitstop, I pulled off her helmet, goggles, wig, scarf, gloves, belt, and boots. Now I was just a 50-year-old woman in teenage clothing with blonde highlights and far too much makeup, whimpering ’heeeeeelp.’

Thankfully a man with kind eyes came to the rescue. He took my hand and led me outside but I baulked at the packed balcony. ”No more gargoyles, please” I begged. ”Don’t look at them” he said ”look at your feet” so I did, but they were four foot long! My friend tried to make me laugh by doing mad dancing. This worked for a bit but then things got dark again. ”Oh God” I moaned. ”I can hear my daughter’s voice telling me how embarrassing this whole scene is. I feel old and tragic and I don’t want to be with these deluded people all desperate to be young again” The kind man agreed but my friend wasn’t having it. ”Oh for God’s sake Rosie, you’re just tripping! See it for what it is and laugh” but there was no laughter to be had. Only my daughter’s voice begging me to grow up and be normal.

What seemed like a geological era passed before my friend finally agreed it was time to leave. As we stepped onto the Uxbridge Road I was elated to be back in multicultural Britain. Me and my friend and the kind man strolled arm in arm to Woody’s Grill, a middle eastern restaurant populated by real people acting their age. Our Armenian waitress did not approve of my request for fennel tea so I had Fanta instead. By now everything was incredibly funny and we laughed until our sides ached. Then we went home.

Later in my friend’s sofa bed, I thanked God for my not particularly exciting but grown-up husband and my relatively conservative teenage kids and our mediocre house in the country with its difficult, sloping garden. When I consider the alternative – living with addiction, bad hair and an unpublished Peter Pan called Nigel – I am the luckiest woman in Christendom.

Rose Wadham

,

Rose versus the void

Mindfulness is said to be so life-transforming it’s prescribed by the NHS for depression. But can meditation really turn a stressed-out near breakdown into blissful mental clarity? I did it the hard way with Vipassana, an intense meditation retreat involving 12 hours of meditation every day for 10 days.

Several years of 15 hours in the Andaluz heat with two kids under five sent me into the arms of Lorazepam, an anti-anxiety drug you should never ever take, not even when you are convinced that The Guardia Civil have been trailing you for weeks because you failed to get planning permission for your patio extension. I popped this drug meekly and daily for nearly a month until one night my husband found me hiding from under my neighbour’s Peugeot 107.

It was time to read the contraindications:
“….hypomania, coma, closed-angle glaucoma, metabolic acidosis, gradual neurologic deterioration, seizures, intracranial hemorrhage, hematologic abnormalities, skin breakdown, renal failure, bradycardia, intraventricular hemorrhage, cardiovascular collapse, tachypnea, tachycardia, diaphoresis, incoordination, psychosis, and something called ‘gasping syndrome’.

The next morning I looked in the mirror and noticed that I had transmogrified into Peter Cushing from Star Wars.
My husband agreed and checked me into a 10-day Vipassana programme.
Vipassana is a meditation retreat based on the concept of seeing things as they really are, a.k.a swathes of time spent alone and in silence with the conference of demons that live in your head.

Meditating almost 12 hours a day for 10 days in a remote Spanish town in February had all the allure of stage-four pancreatic cancer, but it was too late. In an effort to see me off, my husband had packed my suitcase, driven me to the bus stop and booted me on. On the bus I dared to read the timetable, then wished I never had:

4:00: Morning Wake Up Bell
4:30 – 6:30: Meditating in the hall
6:30 – 8:00: Breakfast & Toilette (Toilette?!!)
8:00 – 9:00: Meditating in the hall
9:00 – 11:00: Meditating in the hall
11:00 – 12:00: Meditating in the hall
12:00 – 1:00: Rest or interview with the teacher
1:00 – 2:30: Meditating in the hall
2:30 – 3:30: Meditating in the hall
3:30 – 5:00: Meditating in the hall
5:00 – 6:00: Tea Break
6:00 – 7:00: Meditating in the hall
7:00 – 8:15: S.N Goenka’s Discourse
8:15 – 9:00: Meditating in the hall
9:00 – 9:30: Teacher’s lecture in the hall
9:30: Retire to your room, lights out.

I stared out of the window at Castile-Leon – Spain’s largest, flattest and bleakest province – and longed for 1985. Life was simple then. Maybelline mascara, fluoro rah-rah skirts, whole days spent smothered in Hawaiian Tropic on Bondi beach, dancing on night club podiums to Wham and being chauffered around in Ferraris by swarthy restaurateurs. Simple. Now the sky was end-of-the-world grey and all I could see was gouged out fields, piles of builders’ rubble and electrical botch jobs laced through towns populated by blank faces squinting into the sun, each going nowhere.

Eight hours later the bus dropped me outside a beautiful church of white stone and blue mosaic with automatic glass doors that hugged me in. In the wood panelled reception area I danced a jolly jig to I Just Called To Say I Love You which some sweet soul was playing on a Casio organ next door.

“Bienvenido hija,” said a Joni Mitchell-looking nun in a blue nylon bow tie, her eyes slick with joy. “Welcome to Jesus’s home.”
Joni led me to a pristine bedroom with apricot walls where an ecstatic teddy bear perched on a candlewick bedspread. There was even a minibar.
But something was up. This looked nothing like the website.

“Vipassana?” I asked nervously.

Clearly not. For next minute Joni gasped, grabbed me by the jacket and practically hurled me through the glass doors. “Next door,” she whispered so Jesus couldn’t hear.

“Quickly!”

Next door looked like the building where the Ceaucescus were executed. There was a concrete forecourt with coils of barbed wire and horizontal windows like slits. This was definitely not Jesus realty.

The ceausescusA vast iron gate opened and me and a sorry clump of depressed, circus-looking folk shuffled in. A man started playing handball like Steve Mcqueen in Papillon. He was asked to stop.

“Put your things in a bag.” said a voice behind a wall. “Mobile, books, photos, reading materials.”

I wasn’t taking any chances so I included my belt and shoelaces.

Later there was an orientation meeting.

“This is not going to be easy,” said a gaunt man with a conquistador’s beard to the 140 of us gathered round a big electric fire that gave out no heat at all.
“You will feel sad, lonely, confused and desperate, but this will pass and you will feel happy…”
280 eyes lit up.

“…but then you will feel sad, lonely, confused and desperate once more.”

And dimmed again.

We were to sleep in a dorm with bunk beds and blankets that smelt of pee. It felt like the women’s prison of an Almodovar film. I quickly ceased to be Rose Wadham and became just one of 77 women all snoring, rustling and moaning the night away. That first night insomnia set in and I cursed myself for ever leaving Bondi Beach.

At 3am I read the rule book again just to make sure I wouldn’t break any laws and end up in a penal colony in French Guiana.
The rule book said:

No talking
No stealing
No sexual activity
No telling lies
No drinking
No revealing clothing
No sensual entertainment
No body adornment
No looking at anyone’s faces
No eating after midday
No reading
No writing
No mirrors
No phone calls
No singing
No dancing
No jogging
No eating (other than the designated one meal a day)
No exercising (other than strolling round the quadrangle)
No high or luxurious beds

I imagined myself defiantly pushing a mahogany four-poster bed into the meditation hall and then can-canning around it in a yellow fringed bikini whilst swigging a bottle of Jack Daniel’s shouting: “Rule Brittania, Brittania rules the waves!” down my mobile phone.
I read on: “Vipassana is neither entertainment, nor a rest cure, nor a holiday, an opportunity for socialising or an escape from the trials of life.” I wondered where the author went for his holidays (I guessed either Chernobyl or Gdansk). “Vipassana is a technique that will eradicate suffering, a method of mental purification that allows one to face life’s tensions and problems in a calm, balanced way, it is an art of living.”

I could not see anything purifying about shuffling around an asylum for 10 days communicating with ones peers via their bedroom slippers.
At 4am the bell went. We dressed in silence and dragged ourselves to the meditation hall. Men and women were separated, we had a cushion each and that was it.

Clive was our teacher. A New Zealander. Tall and thin as a Masai, he wore a long hemp dress and sat on the stage with a terrifying look in his eye like he had just committed some terrible terrible crime. His accent did not lend itself well to lulling us into a meditative state. “Yoo must ruleex und sunse the un breeth (sense the in breath) and thin surunder ind sunse the air-t breeth,” (the outbreath) and focus the mind on ubzoooorrrrrrrveeng (observing) the breathing no matter what comes up.”

Big Beardy CarrottClive’s accent made me want to shout shut up shut up for chrissakes stop talking about the hid and nik and the upper lup, I just want a coffee and an almond croissant and a whisky chaser NOW. I had to grip the sides of my cushion to stop me hitting him with it. Finally he rang the bell and the first meditation session began.

OK, OK I thought, I can do this: Japanese water gardens, orchids, bamboo in the wind, kittens playing, a bubbling brook, a sunny day at the seaside, yellow fringed bikini, march to the front of the stage, rip Clive’s dress off and… No! No! STOP IT! Palm trees, flowers, puppies, Cath Kidston fabrics…

This mental topiary went on until breakfast by which time I was so faint I fell back into the lap of the woman behind me who was weeping so uncontrollably she didn’t notice.

In the breakfast queue, you could hear people’s thoughts sniping through the strip-lit silence.“Look! She’s pushing in. How RUDE!”“What? FOUR pieces of toast! what a LUSH!”“That’s way too much chickpea puree you’ve got there woman. You’d better not sit near me.”“Please don’t take the last hash brown…please don’t take it…please don’t…please…”I wondered how long it would take before we all started stabbing each other with nail scissors for the last hash brown. With this gloomy thought in mind, I retired to the dorm where I studied the rule book again. It didn’t say anything about No Wine Gums so I comforted myself with one final act of evil before dragging myself to the hall for round two of Rose vs The Void.Breakfast calmed my mind a bit but did nothing for the torturous pain in my left hip. For the next eight sessions I used all my yogic training to try and merge with this pain but nothing touched it and the more I tried the worse it got. Days two and three were just as bad.On the fourth day I felt my last ally – humour – slowly slipping away. My shoulders were no longer heaving at the fashions of the other inmates: multi-coloured pantaloons, ridiculous distribution of facial hair, incomprehensible ethnic jewellery etc. Now all I could think of was the sensation of molten lava ripping up and down my spine and all over my pelvic region.Not surprisingly, I was the first to put my name down for an interview.“I can’t handle the pain, Clive.”

“Hmmmm. I should till you thit eighty per cint of physical pain is mintal rusistince. Stick wuth it, you’ll staaaart free flowing soooon.”

“Look I’m not sure that I want to be equanimous with everything, Clive. What if I just become boring?”

Clive looked genuinely shocked. “Hey! What about me? Do I look like a vijtuble?”

Well yes, Clive you do actually, I thought. A big beardy carrot.

“Miditation doesn’t make you boring,” he continued, “ut just makes you more aloive and if you’re a comedian then you’re just gana be funnier ut the ind.”

 

From then on I began to relax. That afternoon, memories of my lovely Grandma Nancy bubbled up into my conscious mind. The smell of her hair stiff with Harmony hairspray, the saintly way she gave us strawberry Angel Delight every single night, and the little O of envy her pink lipsticked mouth made when The Galloping Gourmet chose some lucky lady from the studio audience to share his Filet van Zeetong Nerleoise.

The 5:00 tea bell tore me from my reverie. Tea time at Vipassana was purgatory. There was a harrowing race for the six or seven bananas that lay seductively atop a pile of rock-hard pears. Six or seven bananas for 77 women! It felt wrong to race but with no hope of sugar for the next 15 hours what choice did we have?

“Gottagetthelastbanana, gottagetthelastbanana, gottagetthelastbanana,” was the mantra going through everyone’s hids. Being the youngest of five greedy daughters meant I had the advantage as I was genetically primed for competition. However Clive was onto us and reminded us daily at 4:55 that “Greed is the manifistation of an awt of contruul ego.” I chose to ignore this particular teaching and always got the banana which I hid under my pillow to devour first thing in the morning. Without these bananas I would not have made it to the end.

On day 5 I developed intense feelings for my fellow inmates. There was this one girl with tiny feet in tartan slippers. For some reason, I was compelled to take care of her. One morning in the quadrangle I noticed her hands were freezing so I offered her my gloves to which she gave me a look of pure hatred probably because I had broken the law and drawn her into crime by proxy. Maybe she’d tell Clive. I never went near her again.

Another girl, Sylvia, wore slippers with a Gold Crown motif. Every morning at breakfast she reflected my own greed back at me by gobbling more hash browns than anyone else with her mouth wide open. I loathed her with a black passion I have never felt before or since.

By day 6 the pain in my joints were so bad that I cut my losses and prayed to both God and Satan to make it stop. But the worst thing of all was loneliness. It dogged me at every step. Being silent with 77 women felt like the most intense group therapy ever. To relieve the boredom I wrote an entire operetta in my hid about what Clive did on his days off. Mostly online gambling, Paypal fraud and dealing in Cambodian mail order wives.

On day seven, seven of the 77 women had gone. 3 had cracked, 2 American exchange students from Ohio had been caught eating something called Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, the weeper behind me had dissolved into a pool of tears and a guy who looked like a Spanish version of Catweazle lost it one breakfast, flipped the buffet table over and was dragged off like poor Billy Bibbit. No hash browns for him.

The only exercise permitted was walking up and down and around a small featureless field. In a pathetic act of rebellion on day eight I slipped behind a bush and found myself out of bounds in a field where I chanced upon a slow moving convoy of caterpillars. They were yellow and black and hairy but we soon found a common language and from then on I confided in them my every joy and sorrow. I can’t tell you how happy I was just knowing that they were there for me: receptive, attentive, hungry for my news.

That afternoon on Day nine, I experienced the free flow that Clive had promised. Comforted by the fact that I was no longer alone, my mind surrendered completely and I was now fully present throughout every session. Moreover, I had transcended the boundaries of my body and I was just a free flowing mass of energy sensation. This must be what heroin feels like.

‘Don’t get attached to it, it will pass.” said Clive. Well hooey to that. This was even better than bananas. At tea break I didn’t even queue, I just lay in my field blissing out with the caterpillars.

Then, disaster struck. Next break time I rushed over to share my latest joys and…THEY WERE ALL DEAD. My reaction was to snap back into ego mind. I blamed Sylvia and vowed that night to fill her beloved Crown slippers with their delicate, blameless corpses. But that was madness. Whoever was responsible for this holocaust would have to live with their karma and that would be punishment enough. I stumbled back to the hall to offload my grief but, amazingly, acceptance quickly followed. It was obviously their time.

On the last night Clive congratulated us for making it through. In our final interview he included a couple of jokes which were not particularly funny and yet I could not stop laughing. I was just so happy to be alive, to have made it through this ordeal of sense deprivation. The last meditation we did was called Metta Meditation whereby you transmit love to yourself, then to your fellow meditators, then to your loved ones, then to those whom you feel indifferent and finally to those you despise. I thought of Sylvia and wished her a mountain of hash browns.

Last breakfast. I didn’t feel like eating so I had a mint tea, buried my friends after a short but touching address, and then lay in my forbidden field soaking up the chlorophyll before my bus arrived. As I lay there, I felt absolutely loved, absolutely safe, absolutely held. I was invincible and so was the life within and around me. All I had been and done in my silly little existence had led me to this one sublime moment and I was just so freaking grateful to be alive and human with all of its torments, because as humans we are lucky and sentient enough to experience unconditional love and that sure beats Lorazepam.

http://www.dipa.dhamma.org/

,

Sober as a drudge

“I’d rather die than give up alcohol,” said my father, five years before he did die of alcohol-related cancer of the everything, a bottle of Cab Sav wedged between his hospital bed and the wall.

Since then I’ve been faithfully knocking it back, night after night, like tens of thousands of wistful middle-aged mothers faced with another evening of cooking along to those hateful Archers. Then came a letter from the NHS announcing that my red blood cells were mysteriously enlarged stating that the haematologist ‘strongly recommends’ I quit alcohol altogether.

BAM!!!!!

I considered death in my family. Father. Death by whisky, Uncle. Death by whisky, Grandfather. Death by whisky, Grandmother. Death by sherry.

Was this the gift my spirit had been whispering for since the day I kissed my father’s sunken cheek goodbye? “OH COME ON!” said my inner Richard Burton. “ITS ONLY ONE OR TWO OR THREE GLASSES OF FLEURIE. ITS NOT LIKE YOU’RE NECKING BLOSSOM HILL FROM A PAPER BAG!”

But now look.

Doctor God had spoken and here I was at Johnny’s birthday party – stone cold sober, grinning like a Stepford Wife, desperately searching for a quirky quip to amuse the Very Cool Person in front of me. I felt like a hovercraft whose air cushion had been punctured midway across the channel. On the dance floor I shifted self consciously from side to side like my shoes were filled with toothpaste and whenever someone spoke to me I responded in monosyllables like Saga from The Bridge.

“You seem distant Rose. Whats wrong?” said a gurning dilated-pupiled friend.

“I’ve stopped drinking,” I said. She strained to hear. “I’VE STOPPED DRINKING.”

“You WHAT?!”

The friend dollied backwards like a demonic child in a horror film. Then she lunged forwards, grabbing my shoulders. “Oh good for you, darling!” she commiserated, the way you would a friend who’d given up a lucrative job at Apple to volunteer for the National Cats Protection League.

All evening I was standing on the wrong side of an invisible Perspex wall. People could see me but, without the sledgehammer confidence that alcohol once gave me, I was just a walk-on extra. And for someone who normally leaps onto the tallest podium and dances with her dress over her head, this was some climb down.

To mask my anxiety I drank far too much cherry juice and was nearly sick in the car park. Then I went home and binged on the entire season three of Transparent until I felt whole again.

But three weeks later there’s been a shift and I am no longer anxious in alcohol-fueled company. This is due to ‘coping strategies’. Last weekend, for example, I explained to a kind nodding woman about how it felt not to drink, thus driving her to drink three glasses of wine, which I enjoyed by proxy. Then I counted how many glasses each person drank and at what speed, and how their facial expressions journeyed from a young, taut Felicity Kendal expression to the gormless droop of an elderly bloodhound.

One man volunteered his teeth as an interesting topic of conversation and I played beat the clock to see if I could keep him on this topic for 40 minutes. I stretched it to 36 until, having run out of obvious questions I asked him whereabouts in his fridge he kept his teeth bleaching liquid. “Now you’re laughing at me,” he said. And there it was. The prick of shame.

My radiant sober sister warned me about the perils of alienating myself through judging others. “This will only make you lonelier,” she said. “You have to find a way to connect without judging.” Of course she’s right. Playing the conversational puppet master is a fool’s game.

So now I have a new tactic. I get people onto a topic that I find fascinating or want to learn more about. Like how to sail the Atlantic in winter and why the wings never fall off an aeroplane.

Of course my last glass wasn’t my last. On Sunday everyone was ill and since my lovely cleaner left without warning, the house is drowning in e-coli and dog hair. I moved tons of furniture around so I could get at the filth with my hoover and mop and at 6’clock (L’heure de L’angoisse) Richard Burton leapt for the Fleurie but fumbled the bottle which spilt all over the floor.

“I thought you’d given up wine mummy,” said Lucas.

“I have, Lucas!” I barked. “That was just…” I was about to give him some flannel about cherry juice but amazed myself instead with: “A mistake, a silly mistake.”

“Well don’t do it again, mum, otherwise you’ll be a secret drinker.”

Yes, I thought. Just like Great Granny Elspeth…

,

How to make friends with the bully in your head

head bully

I felt as perky as Victoria Beckham’s breasts when I read that the Coalition have pledged to place treatment for stress, anxiety and depression on a par with physical illness.

I’m so TIRED of asking my acquaintances how they are and being fed a lily-livered “Fine thanks” in reply, when they clearly resemble Nosferatu with M.E. How I wish we could all stop being so bloody British about how well we’re ‘bearing up’ and share our mental burdens with our friends as much as we do our GP’s. It takes nothing for a person to disclose their Coeliac condition or their Angina and yet we read again and again how that man hanging from a tree seemed as happy as a sandboy the last time we checked.

For years I have struggled with negative thoughts, or what I call ‘the bully in my head.’ Somedays the bully’s voice is so vicious that I have to shout ’STOP IT!’ as if to a handbag chihuahua who just jumped out and shat on my shoe.
If I spoke to other people the way I spoke to myself, I’d have no friends left. My shrink told me that most of the negative messages I give myself come from my ‘inner critic’ i.e.) ‘What are you crapping on about now woman?’ or ‘Your hair looks like Jimmy Saville’s mother’s corpses mullet.’ or ‘Everyone already thinks your nuts. Best not to admit you’re hooked on Quavers’ Alternatively, they come from my inner child i.e. ’Don’t offer her your last Quaver you idiot. What are you? Nuts?’

And it really shocks me how few of these messages come from my conscious adult i.e.) “The reason why that old lady is taking so long to find her oyster card is that she is old. Be patient. Your cystitis isn’t that bad and giving her daggers (at her) won’t get you to the loo any quicker.’

Know Thyself said Socrates, Aeschylus, Buddha, and Jesus. Or more accurately perhaps – FACE thyself – which is easier said than done when most people spend their lives texting, tweeting, wanking, driving, (sometimes at the same time, I’ve seen it) googling, tidying, posting, chewing, quaffing, running the length of England, anything to escape that nasty wining voice that tells them how utterly shit they are at everything.

The Office for National Statistics reports that one in five UK adults experience anxious or self deprecating thoughts all day, every day. No longer prepared to share my head with Judge Judy and Nelson from The Simpsons, I went on a mini odyssey in an attempt to evict them. I spoke loving words to myself in front of the mirror like “you are beautiful, you are kind, you are a special person” but all I could hear was Joan Rivers saying “Oh for God’s sake! Get off it, you FREAK!”. Then I tried giving my mind over to the healers from The White Eagle Lodge but their light blue nylon robes and the spangled lighting in ‘the inner temple’ reminded me of Star Trek and I ran away. The worst one was the barefoot doctor who put his chest against my chest during an acupuncture session and said in a deeeeeeeep voice ‘yoooooooooooooo arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre looooooooooooove’ The room was so hot and patchouli stinky that I passed out.

But at least I tried, as (are) more and more secretly tortured women (who) are starting to ‘fess up and seek help, hence the stellar rise in recent years of the lady-centric yoga retreat. Once considered alternative, it’s now a mainstream holiday choice. Men have it far worse, as most of them have Lord Kitchener’s voice in their heads telling them to buck up and go paint balling.

During my stint as a yoga retreat director I learnt that after a couple of days (of) pretending to be Stepford Wives (“I am just so grateful for my husband and my children”), the women felt safe enough to admit to the internal bully that (stops them from not) commands them to drinking a nightly bottle of Chardonnay (a night), sleeping well, or doing what makes them happy. Most shared the fact that somewhere down the line they had been offered antidepressants by their doctor- more than 13 million prescriptions of the most common antidepressant Citalopram were administered in the UK in 2013 – but after having read the possible side effects of these pills – panic attacks, nightmares, sexual dysfunction, improper bone development, improper brain development, blood problems, gastrointestinal bleeding, loss of consciousness, hallucinations, anaphylactic shock, hostility, mania heart problems and something called galactorrhoea – thesey women very sanely opted for a more positive, active route to recovery.
So if we reject the the scary pharms, then what else is there?

My neighbour Pete who looks like Richard Briers has been meditating for 20 minutes a day for the past 40 years. He thinks that psychotherapy is a waste of time and only serves to empower ones internal bully to wallow in victimhood. He says that mental disorders are all about brain chemistry imbalance caused by a variety of psychosomatic circumstances which is effectively what the pharms are trying to redress. “Meditation beats Prozac for happiness and has none of the side effects.” he says. “People who meditate regularly manage to successfully re-programme their mind into feeling safe again and then the nasty voices will stop because they no longer Fear of rejection, abandonment, fear of loss of freedom, or whatever it is that caused the low self-esteem to start with. Don’t forget that all bullies are fearful. When the bully feels safe, s/he will have no more reason to bully.”

“Yes but sitting still is so very boring Pete” I said, “especially when there’s bacon sandwiches to be made, box sets to watch, old boyfriends to google.” “Look, its only boring until you start to see results. When you feel more stable & less depressed or anxious, then, unless you’re a masochist and want to revert to feeling miserable, you’ll keep doing it right?” Pete’s blood is up. I always know when his blood is up because he starts dancing about like the dwarf in Twin Peaks. (But he’s not a dwarf. And even if he were a dwarf, that would be FINE. OK?).

“OK.OK. I’ll try it. For 40 days as you suggest. But how?” “Right. All you need is a warm, quiet space, away from your phone & other people, and a comfy cushion. And whatever you do, don’t (‘)empty your mind into a void of calm(‘) like some cartoon Zen Buddhist character would tell you say, as it is the nature of the mind to wander. Allow it to wander but the most important thing is not to judge your thoughts. Just let them come and go. Watch them come and go without judgement and every time your mind gallops off into a story, gently bring it back to the natural rhythm of your breath as if you were leading an adorable but slightly wayward child away from the roadside”. I love it when Pete gets on a roll. His passion for meditation makes me come over all John Lewis Christmas Ad. “And the most important components to becoming a successful meditator is patience, focus and consistency. Lttle and often is best. 10 minutes every day is better than 90 minutes once a week”. Pete should be mediating for Dave and Nige. They’d be dancing round the immigration maypole in no time.

Transcendental Meditation has certainly worked for Russell Brand, the old devil. I was at drama school with him. He used to turn up an hour late, swigging a bottle of Johnny Walker and shouting out whole paragraphs from Rimbaud & Verlaine until we all shouted ’Oh shut up you wanker.’ Then he got expelled and we honestly thought that that was the end of him. Turns out that after years of sex and drug addiction, Russ started practicing TM (transcendental meditation) which gave him the confidence to become an uber-prolific comic dervish. And despite the horrible press he receives for having the confidence to stick his head above the parapet to say what he thinks, through the desire and determination to outrun his demons by sitting still, Russell has transformed himself from a hopelessly addictive narcissist into a highly disciplined and highly creative narcissist.

With any luck, he’ll become mayor of London and make meditation compulsory, like taxes.