The early twentieth century gave us psychoanalysis, the late twentieth century gave us cognitive behavioural therapy, and then came mindfulness. Stemming from the meditative practices of Buddhist monks – a demographic who experience very little depression or anxiety – mindfulness has been lauded as a treatment for myriad conditions, including but not limited to: depression, anxiety, insomnia, ADHD, chronic pain, and yes, Tourette’s.
As someone who’s prone to mental health wobblies, professionals have been advising me to take up mindfulness for years, initially with my depression in mind.
Please believe me when I say I tried. I downloaded the apps and even paid for subscriptions. I put up with Headspace’s Andrew telling me to have a “nice soft gaze” for the umpteenth time. I sat down at the same time every day, trying to be aware as possible of my breathing.
Through it all, my friends, dizzied by their recent mindfulness epiphanies, raved about the benefits to me: mindfulness increases concentration and focus, decreases stress, eliminates anxiety.
And I’m sure they’re right. I sure they did feel more focused, less stressed and less anxious, because there is concrete evidence that mindfulness is the way forward for treating depression, anxiety and its related symptoms.
But whatever it is, mindfulness isn’t a panacea. As someone with Tourette’s, it is so hard it’s basically impossible. After all, a requirement of the practice is sitting still and shutting up: a challenge for someone with a condition that makes you speak and move randomly.
Much to my dismay, when I did try mindfulness, I actually found that meditating actually exacerbated my tics instead of alleviating them. I would writhe, twitch and yell when I was supposed to be quiet and still.
Thankfully, I have found plenty of things which have helped my depression which aren’t mindfulness, and a couple of things which have even helped my Tourette’s too.
Things that have helped my depression which aren’t mindfulness:
- A gentle jog or leisurely walk
- Sitting in the sun, even if it’s for five minutes, and even if it’s cold out
- Cooking a healthy meal and then eating it
- Having a good old chin wag with a friend and a glass of wine
- Being creative: writing a little story, blog post, drawing a picture, colouring in
- Taking a bath
- Dressing smartly even if I’m not leaving the house
- Getting a haircut
- Sleeping well
- Kurt Vonnegut
Things that have helped my Tourette’s which aren’t mindfulness:
Of course, none of these things have cured my depression or Tourette’s, but that said, they have helped a bit, which is more than I can say for mindfulness. I think the truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to treating these conditions. After all, each person’s brain is different, and just like some people respond to certain medications but not others, it’s only logical that some people are going to respond to some therapies and not others. And that, I would suggest, is quite alright.