All posts by annamalgam

eye contact

Do soulmates exist?

It’s hard to say. I don’t know. But what I do know is the first time I laid eyes on them, I felt drawn to them. And of all the people I met that day, theirs was the name that stuck in my mind. Theirs was the face I recognised when I returned months later once the summer sun had dimmed behind reddening leaves. Theirs was the leg mine brushed against as I thought, “is this what people talk about?” and theirs was the hand I held bravely in mine. Theirs were the lips that pressed to my cheek and hatched butterflies in my stomach, and later tenderly met my own. Their face was what beamed at me, frowned at me, cried with me until the rainbows melted down our faces. And I haven’t seen it in years but I can’t forget that first meeting and how, somehow, some part of me – my head? my heart? – knew that this was a person who would be important to me.

What was the question again?

For this piece we were given the prompt of eye contact, specifically imagining two people seeing each other for the first time. I have been at home so much lately with the lockdowns etc. and I realise I’ve really missed seeing brown eyes. They are so warm and beautiful and nobody in my house has them.

Photo by fotografierende on Pixabay


love heart

Two curves and two straight lines

Meeting in a kiss

That melts them together

Into something that is both them and not-them.

Gently closing into existence the space inside

That is both a vessel

And soft dark earth.

This is ours to farm and fill;

It will be what we make it.

This was written at my creative writing group. It was the day after Valentine’s and so our prompt was a love heart. The emotional side of things felt like too much for me to get into that morning, so I went with a rather literal idea for this poem.

Picture by Congerdesign on Pixabay

teddy bear

Your black eyes blink open. You are in a cave. It feels cold against your furry back and legs. There is a window, large and round. The light it lets in glints within the cavernous space, reflecting off the ceiling in sparks that could be stars if they weren’t so menacing.

The inside of a washing machine drum, shiny and silver

You push up, barely enough room to stand, and step towards the window. You push against it with all your might and the world outside looks blown out as if seen through a fish-eye. But there is no movement of the pane. You see something looming outside, coming closer, and you fall back onto the ice-cold floor. Has it got even colder? You don’t want to be seen.

Then the floor begins to rumble. You hear running water – at first a trickle, but then suddenly the floodgates open and you are drenched in a deluge of cold water. It fills up the cave from the bottom. You do not know what is going on here.

You try to stay upright but the water catches you, lifts you clean off the floor. You feel cold to your bones . Could this get any worse?

Yes, it can. The rumbling turns to a rocking, turns to a rushing, and now the floor is up and the ceiling is down and you are caught, caught in phantom currents that seem to have come from nowhere. You screw your eyes shut, not from the sting of the water but to try to take yourself away, anywhere that isn’t here. The crashing continues and you are thrown every which way, into the walls and up against the window. You can’t face the fright you feel here – so you start to think of something else, something kinder.

You think of being dragged along the floor, riding the bumpy landscape of the living room. Which changed to dare-dangling centimetres off the ground, being flung along without care and yet feeling cared for. Being clutched tight to someone’s chest, crushed in a way that could crumple your bones. And you feel held, and you feel safe.

And then, the tumult stops. You crash to the floor and the cave drains as fast as it had filled.

What was that?!

You lie, exhausted, and then freeze as the window is pulled away by some phantom means. Fresh air rushes in, revives you as you are grabbed round the ankle by fingers small enough to comfort. You are rudely hoisted out, and stolen away, even as you here Mum’s voice call out.

“You can’t take Bear back yet! He’s still wet!”

But you are carried up and to the bedroom. To a calm place. You are with your child, and you are safe.

This is the piece I wrote at the first Mind group I attended, based on a prompt of a teddy bear brought in. I haven’t really edited it but I still feel proud for writing and sharing it.

Photos by Marina Shatskih &  Alex Blăjan on Unsplash and Viktor Hanacek on PicJumbo

hi again

Well hello again!

It’s been a few years. Lots of things have changed but I am still learning about my mental health and trying to understand and take care of myself.

I have found out relatively recently that I do something called dissociation. It is normal for everyone to sometimes “zone out” to a degree. The description I’ve often seen is one about driving: that sometimes you arrive at your destination with no real awareness of doing the journey. This kind of “autopilot” seems innocuous enough. In my situation, at some point in the past my emotions or situation felt so big and dangerous and impossible to handle that my brain just detached from the reality of it all. Since that worked to protect me, it has continued to do so since.

This makes it hard for me to connect with and understand my emotions. It stops proper memories from forming or being accessible to me. It keeps me out of touch with my body. It makes it hard for me to be sure of who I am. It takes a lot of energy from me and leaves me tired. It makes it difficult to be present with people in relationships.

I still don’t know quite what set me on this path of dissociation, but here I am with an unspecified dissociative disorder (UDD). This diagnosis is what I’m stuck with – there’s no expectation that it will be “specified” later as I don’t fit other diagnostic criteria.

Here I am with an unspecified dissociative disorder

This has felt very confusing. Most of the information I can find online is oriented towards people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). So it helps me understand to an extent, but there are aspects that I don’t relate to and it has left me feeling like there is something I do not understand still. I don’t know anyone else who has dissociation like I do (although I know they must exist!) and I have only been able to find charities that deal with DID, not other forms of dissociation. I understand it’s important for people with DID to have support but I can’t help feeling that I wish there was something out there for me too.

Mindfulness is still something I do from time to time and it is helpful, but I find it hard to stick to. Any kind of routine is a struggle for me.

Today I went to a creative writing group at my local Mind for the first time. The people there were nice and open to sharing their work and ideas, which I found made me feel comfortable. I was a bit nervous about going but I still went. I had lost my necklace on the way in and only noticed as I sat down but I managed to not get carried away into worried thoughts about it. After the session I went to retrace my steps and found in in the road – a chain link to the clasp had broken as I got out of the car. I feel grateful to have found it but also grateful to myself for not letting that take away my presence in and enjoyment of the session from me.

We began by looking at an apple as a group. We all contributed words that came to mind as we looked at it. Some were descriptive of its image. I was struck as I held it that in places it looked as if small red brush strokes had been gently applied before it left the orchard, so delicate was its colouring. Some words we thought of were about how it would be to eat – the russian roulette you play every time, unaware whether it will be crisp or smushy, sweet or sharp. And we also discussed all manner of things that link to apples in other ways. Newton’s discovery of gravity; an apple tree struck down during a storm in childhood; an apple a day keeping the doctor away! It was nice to hear everyone’s ideas but it was hard to push my voice out there to speak mine aloud. Hopefully I’ll get better at it with time. We were then introduced to a teddy bear, and invited to spend some time inspired by it. I wrote a piece and then read it to everyone as we all shared our work at the end. You can read it here.

I feel proud of what I wrote today and with myself for sharing it with the group. They were all very kind about it too, and I enjoyed hearing what each of us had come up with. I don’t want to just lose the piece I wrote today, so I thought I would resurrect this blog and try to have a space to gather together the mishmash of my continuing recovery. After all, isn’t that what an amalgam is!

I thought I would resurrect this blog and try to have a space to gather together the mishmash of my continuing recovery

Photo taken by me

emotional awareness

Following my practices last week with Sharon Salzberg’s loving-kindness meditations, I have been looking online for information on the loving-kindness meditation.

I came across the website Wildmind, which is a website on Buddhist meditation. It has a section devoted to metta, the Buddhist name for loving-kindness, which I have found really helpful.

So far I have read the first sub-section, Introduction to lovingkindness meditation, which describes what the loving-kindness meditation is (and isn’t!) and the benefits that can come from practising it. While I’m not a Buddhist, I am very interested in their meditations as the well-acknowledged roots of modern mindfulness, so I’ve found the guidance on the website really interesting. I plan to work through the remaining sub-sections on the website in order, trying out the meditations offered wherever possible. This was what formed the basis for my mindfulness practice today.

This evening I began reading the second sub-section, Ways of Cultivating Metta, which discusses the importance of not forcing feelings of loving-kindness or expecting instant results from meditation, but instead allowing it to develop naturally, however long that takes. It is important to develop emotional awareness as a basis for the organic cultivation of loving-kindness, and to that end the web-page features an Emotional Awareness practice.

The practice began with a body scan of sorts, where I moved the focus of my awareness around my body, starting at the feet and releasing tension from each body part before moving on to the next one. I have to say I enjoyed this and found it really relaxing, which I know is not the aim of mindfulness practice but is certainly a welcome gift when it comes! I could feel the tension in my body disappearing as the practice progressed, and I felt like I was sinking into soft goo as I moved the focus of my attention up my body.

After the body scan element I was directed to bring my attention to my breath, just to see what I felt there. I continued to feel relaxed and calm. In fact, I think I felt so relaxed that my concentration began to drop off. I think this could be because I was tired, as I did the practice at about nine thirty at night, and it meant that my mind started to wander and I have relatively little memory of the end of the practice. I do know that I continued to do slow, calm breathing after the guided meditation had ended, which left me feeling very drowsy. I do think that writing this practice up has revived my brain up a bit!

Overall I really enjoyed this practice and I’m keen to listen to it again and hopefully remain more alert so I can get more out of the meditation; perhaps that will be tomorrow’s goal. Beyond that, I’m excited to read further in the Wildmind section on loving-kindness!

Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel on Unsplash

practice during the night

For my practice on the 24th, I decided to revisit the Core Breathing practice from the Stop, Breathe & Think app. I was interested to see how I would fare with a familiar practice as lately I’ve been changing up what I do quite a bit.

I did this practice lying down when I woke up in the night. I had to focus on breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth, and I found it very helpful to picture the movement of air in and out of my lungs as I did the practice.

My thoughts became a bit distracting towards the end of the practice, but I did manage to bring my attention back to my breath to finish. I think this mind-wandering could have been at least in part because I was so sleepy.

I’m not sure if I’ll try to do this type of practice again when I wake up in the night. It did help me to get back to sleep but it was also harder to maintain a sense of awareness because I was drowsy. I’m not sure whether I should try to lean in to the way it helps or if it will make practising at other times harder. If any of you use mindfulness to help with getting (back) to sleep I’d be interested to hear your experiences!

Photo by Krista Mangulsone on Unsplash

morning mindfulness of the breath

For my mindfulness yesterday (it’s just gone past midnight!), I listened to Core Breathing from the Stop, Breathe & Think app.

I did this practice right at the start of my day, before I got up. It involved sitting up and imagining the movement of air in and out of my body as I breathed.

I’ve really enjoyed bringing my attention to the breath during the last few practices I’ve done, and it was no different today. I experienced a sense of grounding from focussing on my breath and I also noticed that I was still aware of my breathing even after the practice had ended!

It’s interesting to me how the awareness cultivated through mindfulness continues outside the boundaries of formal practice. Indeed, I know that since being introduced to mindfulness I’m better at noticing when I’m tensing certain body parts or sitting in a way that causes me discomfort, and I’m learning to allow myself to make adjustments based on what I feel.

Today, I felt calm and alert at the end of the practice, which put me in a good place for starting my day in a positive manner! I was particularly pleased by this because in the past when I’ve attempted practices in the morning I’ve ended up falling asleep. I think that sitting up for today’s practice helped to avoid this, and I’m keen to explore morning mindfulness further as I progress in my mindfulness journey.

What are your experiences of practising mindfulness right after you wake up? If you’ve had more success than me, I’d love to know!

Photo by Brian Gonzalez on Unsplash

catch-up post: mindfulness of breath

I’ve been a little busier than I anticipated these past few days, so this post holds updates on how the First Month Challenge has gone for days 7-9! I made notes after my daily practices and have only been able to write them up for the blog today. I’m hopeful that keeping this blog will allow me to develop the time management skills that I’ll need to update regularly, but for now I’ll summarise in this catch-up post.

Day 7, 20th May 

Today I completed Day 4 from the Days of Calm series on the Calm app. Entitled Pulling Out of Autopilot, it encouraged me to pay attention to my breath so that I wasn’t just breathing automatically but instead noticing the steps that made up the whole process.

I found the practice easy to follow and I had lots of opportunities to practise bringing my attention back to the breath after it drifted away. After the practice ended, I felt the urge to extend it so I continued to do some unguided focused breathing.

The practice left me feeling calm and grounded, and so far I’d definitely recommend this series as a gentle introduction to mindfulness.

Day 8, 21st May

I had a long day today, with a busy volunteering session during the day and then helping my friends with revision in the evening. This left me with little time for a formal practice, so I decided to do some mindful breathing as I prepared for sleep.

I did this lying down in my bed and brought my focus to the slow movement of air into and out of my lungs. It was very relaxing and settled me down for a peaceful night.

Day 9, 22nd May 

I did my practice for today lying in bed at 1pm, having gone back to bed to lie down after a slow morning.

I decided to continue with the Days of Calm series on the Calm app, today listening to Day 5, The Value of Non-Doing. It involved paying close attention to the breath and noticing where I could feel it most strongly in my body. Today that was around my nostrils, as the sensation of air moving in and out felt particularly strong.

I did get pulled away by thoughts a little as the practice went on, but I kept going and continued to bring my attention back to the breath. I ended the practice feeling calm and refreshed.

mindfulness for distress

It’s day six and I had a bit of a weird day today.

I’ve been binge-watching the series UnREAL, which has been a bit hard as it features someone who is dealing with poor mental health. I struggle to see depictions of depression etc. as it sometimes hits too close to home with how I’ve felt before. At the same time, I feel compelled with this series to keep watching and find out what happens to this character.

I haven’t been in the head-space to do a proper mindfulness practice today but I did bring mindfulness in when I took  a shower earlier.

I tend to get stressed by showering at the moment, as with the constant sounds and sensations it all gets a bit overwhelming. I paused midway through and brought myself back to my breath, which helped me to be able to make it through the shower without needing to sit down and take a break.

I think this is a good example of how using moments of mindfulness can be helpful during short periods of distress where it isn’t feasible to do a formal mindfulness practice.

Now I know I have this in my mental tool-belt for next time I take a shower!

my brain is a box in a house

Sometimes I describe my brain as a box in a house.

When I’m feeling okay, the box is in one of many bright rooms in the house. There’s plenty of space to think. On days when I’m feeling low, the house has shrunk to just one dark room and I have much less space to think and cope.

But on some days (I don’t even have to be feeling particularly low), my head feels so blurry that it’s as if the house has shrunk to a single black room that is only barely the size of the box. I don’t think it even counts as a room any more! I don’t have any space to think and I struggle to maintain a pattern of thought and hold conversations. Everything feels fuzzy and slightly wrong, and I am powerless to change this. For a long time, I’ve simply had to wait it out.

Everything feels fuzzy and wrong, and I am powerless to change this

I went into today’s practice feeling like this. I had been feeling a bit off all day, like my head was stuck in treacle and I couldn’t think fast enough. I also felt quite negative about how I was managing to cope with this blurry head, which led me to feel low as well.

I decided to try some short mindfulness practices to see if they would have any effect on this head-space.

The first practice I used was Belly Breathing from the app Stop, Breathe & Think. It involved placing my hands on my belly and breathing deeply. It was fairly simple, but that was all I could manage whilst in the difficult head-space. I ended the practice feeling like I had a little more room to think, but my head was still fairly blurry.

Next I tried another app called Calm. It has a meditation series named 7 Days of Calm, which is an introduction to mindfulness meditation. Having previously completed Day 1, today I listened to Day 2, Returning to the Here and Now, which involved sitting up and focussing on my breathing. I finished the practice feeling calm and a little more clear-headed.

I then tried Day 3, Paying Attention. I was led from my head to my feet in a quick body scan. I managed to maintain my awareness for most of the body scan and ended the practice feeling relaxed and calm. I felt like my head-space had grown and I could think again. The box of my brain was at least in a room bigger than it now, if not in a whole floor or house. I also felt less negative about my mood than I did when I began today’s practices.

Nothing else has had such an impact on my mood and ability to cope in as short a space of time as 30 minutes

This effect of clearing my head and giving me back some mental capacity is what continues to draw me to mindfulness. Nothing else I’ve tried has had such an impact on my mood and ability to cope in only 30 minutes. I really think mindfulness practice refreshes the brain.

Do any of you have unusual ways that you use to describe your head-space on difficult days? I’d be really interested to hear how you find mindfulness effects you when you’re in that place.

Photo by Francisco Gomes on Unsplash