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There is such a difference between theory and practice, between knowledge and experience. Working as a family doctor I was proud of my knowledge about conditions like diabetes and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Then, I found that I had developed diabetes. It felt like walking through a door into a new world; the world of the patient, or as we now say the person living with the condition. I discovered that the Specialists did not agree with one another about the best treatments for me; that the dietitian could not give me answers to the specific questions I had about my shopping list; that the practice nurses wanted me to take charge. The real experts were other people living with the condition. How they laughed at my mistakes and ignorance!

My first panic attack came completely out of the blue. Then another in a crowded store that I could not easily leave. Later, depression crept up on me and I thought that I was falling off a cliff without a landing. I tried to apply what I knew from books and lectures; the advice I would trot out to my patients. It did help a little. With the support of colleagues, friends and family I did return to better wellbeing but there was always a sense of vulnerability as I recognised the return of the early feelings in mind, body and spirit.

Some years ago, two books were published that helped me greatly. Spiritual Intelligence by Brian Draper and Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Professor Mark Williams. They both provided examples of simple exercises that I could incorporate into my day-to-day life. I discovered that with practice, the recommended activities really did make a difference.

  • becoming more aware moment-by-moment of how I was feeling
  • knowing that I could find relaxation and peace by breathing, listening or looking
  • realising how lovely the world around me was in each moment
  • choosing how to respond so that I did not get road rage, or if I did, I could calm down quickly; accepting supermarket queues and smiling at the checkout often elicited a thankful response from a busy, pressured shop assistant.

Anxious feelings still happen; low mood and fearfulness with dark thoughts come and go but I am now more confident that I can do things that will help me quickly. Once I became involved in supporting the work of Valleys Steps, I learnt so many hints and tips from the stress control course. I had some horrible work experiences and the thinking exercises mentioned on the course made a big difference. By the time I had got home after one particularly unpleasant meeting, I had the problems in a better perspective, had an action plan to change the things that were in my hands to change and a way of approaching the next steps.

There is a great deal of ?common sense? in the Mindfulness Course. Meditation does take practice but the rewards are so rewarding! Understanding how the body responds to situations, thoughts, relationships and to bad things; understanding how negative patterns occur; learning that I am not powerless because there are things that I can do that make a difference in moments. I wish that everyone could attend a Valleys Steps course and discover the benefits as I have done. I love volunteering because I can observe how people respond to the practical tips and helpful stories that the Practitioners share each week.

I read recently that ?our thoughts go backward and forwards all the time. To the past that we cannot change, to the future that is unknowable. Stay in the present moment. Be still. Be here, now.?

By Volunteer and Trustee Jonathan Richards.