Like many Queenagers, I worked hard at my career – in my case in the City – for several decades. In my late thirties I met and married James and we had our daughter, Maddie soon after and by the time I was in my early 40s, I was a global director in a large organisation, working long hours and travelling frequently whilst juggling childcare and supporting James as he set up his business.
But I was finding life increasingly difficult and struggling to keep up the pace. My anxiety levels had risen considerably, sleep was proving erratic and a level of weariness engulfed me like a fog that wouldn’t lift.
What I didn’t realise was that not long after having Maddie, I had started to go through early onset peri followed by full-blown menopause. Despite seeking medical help, the impact of my menopause went largely unsupported. The medical establishment had little to offer at the time. Eventually I felt I couldn’t go on, and took prolonged sick leave from work. The anxiety and fatigue underpinned by my sense of failure and disappointment and my frustration at no longer being able to do what I always had, left me feeling empty and lost.
Something familiar and yet new
I reached out to a friend who is an experienced mindfulness teacher and she immediately found me some support. Little did I know that I was going to be one of the early cohorts to benefit from Mindful Self Compassion (“MSC”) teaching in the UK.
I had had quite a bit of exposure to mindfulness in the workplace and was aware of the growing number of mindfulness apps on the market, and whilst I knew the benefits it could offer, I was sceptical that I would be able to prioritise my time, given all the demands I was facing, in order to practice mindfulness in any kind of structured or meaningful way.
But MSC opened up something entirely new in me. It helped me to access the workings of my mind and body in a way I never had before. Through it I learnt to listen to what my body was trying to tell me and in particular to give space to the inner critic that was so strong in me (as it is in many women), Slowly I learnt to recognise and identify it and change the narrative to a kinder, more understanding and supportive one. Over the course of the 8-week MSC programme I discovered what I needed to do to manage my health and wellbeing, and particularly my menopause symptoms. Gradually I emerged from my burnout state.
Keeping it up
Once the MSC programme ended, I continued to embed the practice in my everyday life, whether that meant spending as little as 1 or 2 minutes a day breathing mindfully, especially when difficult things were happening, or devoting time to the more formal, longer practices when I could. One of the best elements of MSC is that you can practice it anywhere and at any time. One MSC saying that resonates most powerfully with me on a daily basis is: “If it’s a struggle it’s not self-compassion.” So that’s how I approach my practice as an integral part of living.
By the time the pandemic began, and as part of my recovery, I had already made some fairly substantial life changes. I left large organisational life behind and set up my own business coaching, mentoring and counselling business, Wise Sherpa.
Through the long months of Covid I helped James pivot his events business and Maddie needed home schooling for the best part of 2 years. My MSC practice came into its own and with the global MSC community running two virtual sessions a day for programme alumni, I was also able to access a wonderful community where we all carried each other through those deeply challenging times.
Silence is golden
Even so, the pandemic took its toll on me as it did on so many others, so when things just started to open up in autumn 2021, I took the opportunity to take part in a residential silent 5-day MSC retreat in Dorset. Plenty of my family and friends didn’t believe it would be possible for me not to talk for 5 days and there were lots of jokes. By day 2 of the retreat I was exhausted and felt wrung out, but the presence and skill of the MSC teachers was transformational and by day 5 I felt better than I had done in a very long time. On the drive back, I decided to explore the possibility of starting the long and intense journey to becoming an MSC teacher myself.
So, on a wet and stormy day in November 2022 I drove to Ammerdown – a magical community setting outside Bath – where 14 of us embarked on the lengthy and rigorous teacher training together. And now, I’m finally ready to co-facilitate my first virtual MSC programme. (It starts on 9th June).
Ultimately, my desire is to run MSC programmes and workshops virtually, from home and as part of bigger retreats. I’ve also found many of the fundamentals of MSC useful when I’m coaching female clients (a number of whom are high achieving professional GenX women with similarly strong inner critics) and who, while they may not necessarily know it’s MSC I am talking about with them, find it resonates and has value.
Going through the MSC experience, both personally and then training to become a teacher training in midlife, I feel I’m truly living the Queenager spirit that Noon is so passionate about, and am making the leap into doing something I really feel passionate about. It’s taken me many decades to work up the courage change my life. But I’m so glad I have.
Reflecting back over the past 6 years, MSC has been a powerful support to me on my journey through burnout, the menopause, the pandemic and setting up my business. It has given me a way to create space, to breath (literally and mentally) and get some perspective, to make sure, in everything I do, I’m putting my own oxygen mask on first.
By Rebecca Hill
If you’d like to know more about MSC and the programme(s) Rebecca will be running contact her HERE