One in five UK adults experiences anxious or self-deprecating thoughts all day, every day, according to the Office of National Statistics. Rose Wadham has had enough of it. No longer prepared to share her head with Judge Judy and Nelson from The Simpsons, she went on a mini-odyssey in an attempt to evict them. Here’s how she fared…
I’m so TIRED of asking people 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 with our GP’s. It takes nothing for a person to disclose their Coeliac condition or their Angina. Yet we read again and again how that man found hanging from a tree seemed as happy as a sandboy the last time we checked.
For years I’ve struggled with negative thoughts, or what I call ‘the bully in my head.’ Some days the bully’s voice is so vicious that I have to shout: “STOP IT!” as if it’s a handbag chihuahua who just jumped out and shat on my shoe.

If I spoke to other people the way I speak to myself, I’d have no friends left. My shrink told me that most of the negative messages come from my ‘inner critic.’ It goes on and on at me all day:

“What are you crapping on about now, woman?”
“Your hair looks like Jimmy Saville’s mullet.”
“Everyone already thinks you’re nuts.”
“You better admit it – you’re hooked on Quavers.”

And it really shocks me how few of these messages come from my conscious adult. Know Thyself said Socrates, Aeschylus, Buddha, and Jesus. Or more accurately perhaps – FACE thyself – which is easier said than done. Most people spend their lives texting, tweeting, wanking, driving, sometimes all at the same time (I’ve seen it), Googling, tidying, posting, chewing, quaffing, running the length of England, anything to escape that nasty, whining voice that tells them how utterly shit they are at everything.

I’ve tried speaking loving words to myself in front of the mirror: “You are beautiful, you are kind, you are a special person.” But all I could hear was Joan Rivers’ voice saying: “Oh for God’s sake! Get off it, you FREAK!” 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 do, I’m sure, 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 paintballing.

During my stint as a yoga retreat director I’ve learnt that after a couple of days of pretending to be Stepford Wives (“I am just so grateful for my husband and my children”), when women feel safe enough they’ll admit the internal bully makes them drink a bottle of Chardonnay a night, keeps them awake all night and stops them from doing what makes them happy. Somewhere along the line, most have been offered antidepressants by their doctor. More than 13 million prescriptions of the most common antidepressant Citalopram are administered in the UK each year. 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 – meant these women decided to try yoga as a route to recovery.

I also decided to reject the scary pharms, and try something new.

My neighbour Pete who looks like Richard Briers has been meditating for 20 minutes a day for the past 40 years. He thinks psychotherapy is a waste of time and it only serves to empower one’s internal bully. 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 re-programme their mind into feeling safe again and then the nasty voices will stop because they no longer fear rejection, abandonment, 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, it 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, it’s only boring until you start to see results. When you feel more stable and less depressed or anxious, then, unless you’re a masochist and want to revert to feeling miserable, you’ll keep doing it. Right?”

“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 and 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. 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 judgment 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,” he continues. “Little and often is best. Ten minutes every day is better than 90 minutes once a week.”

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 and 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 Transcendental Meditation (TM) and it changed his whole life.
It gave him the confidence to become the uber-prolific comic dervish he is today. And despite the horrible press he receives for having the confidence to stick his head above the parapet and say what he thinks, through the desire and determination to outrun his demons, Russell has transformed himself from a hopelessly addictive narcissist into a highly disciplined and highly creative narcissist just by sitting still.

With any luck, he’ll become Prime Minister and make meditation compulsory, like taxes.

Image of Russell Brand © Jessie Essex