What to do when meditation is hard

Photo by Lua Valentia via Unsplash.

In the past two months I have only missed a single day of meditation. Every other day I have, even if it’s for as little as a minute, done some form of meditation.

I first started meditating a few years ago. I use Headspace (not sponsored!) and did the basic course before moving onto a course for depression. It was fantastic – and then I just stopped. I can’t remember what it was that made me stop. I just did, and I never picked it up again, except on rare occasions when I thought hey, this could calm me down right now.

A bit over two months ago, I picked it back up.

Honestly, it was great. I did the second basics course, which felt like picking up a skill you’ve not used for a really long time. In a nice way. Then I did the third basics course. I got back into the swing of it and I remembered how much it helped me to have that sense of space.

(Space being, this month, the important thing I’m striving to get).

I could never quite get past 10 minutes at a time but, honestly, I was happy with that. I think I did 15 on occasion but that sometimes felt like a bit too much. 10 was my happy spot. It was enough to give me the benefits but not so much that I became overwhelmed.

I used meditation when I had panic attacks, and when I was nervous, and when I was I’m-about-to-vomit level anxious whilst flying. It’s honestly the only reason that I got through flying to Edinburgh and back.

And then I entered this relapse and suddenly meditation was horrible.

Here’s what happens when I try to meditate right now, and every time I’ve tried to meditate over the past 2-3 weeks.

Empty space to connect with myself only serves to make me connect with my disordered thoughts. Whilst meditating, I’ve had self-harm flashbacks and desires, I’ve thought about suicide, I’ve got stuck in negative thought cycles. Trying to let the thoughts come and go, as you’re meant to, just makes it worse.

When we do body scans (which you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever used Headspace), I’m okay until I get to my abdomen. Then the part of my mental illness that struggles with my body image becomes really loud. You’re still so incredibly fat. Look at that ridiculous stomach. You don’t even drink alcohol and you’ve got a beer belly. You’re a terrible person.

Understandably, I became much less keen to meditate.

But I’ve still done it.

Granted, I’ve mostly switched down to doing 1 minute a day. Or 3 minutes. I tried once to do a longer session, a bug in the app meant that I selected the 20 minute version instead of the 10 minute, and it was so unpleasant that I almost had a panic attack after it.

Here’s the really weird thing, though: meditation is still helping. Or at the very least, I’m still aware it can help. Or it’s simply that the regularity of the practice is helping me feel I’ve achieved something.

Whatever it is, it’s something I want to keep going with, and not just because I dumped a load of money last month on an annual subscription. It might just mean doing some shorter ones for a bit, like I have been, and trying to go longer when I feel I can.

The most important thing is not to give up.

As long as I’m trying, even that 1 minute a day, I will feel comfortable that I’m going the right way forward.

Have you ever experienced this with your meditation practice? How do you find space in your mind without leaving it open to disordered and traumatic thinking patterns?

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