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The guinea pig diaries: part 1

We asked Vice-Columnist and unreformed cynic Alison Stevenson to try Headspace. This is her first piece.

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The way I see it now, meditation is not for me. I’m not the type to engage in any practice that involves words like “mantra” and “nirvana.” I’ve always been the anti-hippy. Not in a conservative political or religious sense, but more in the sense that cynicism has taken over every fibre of my being. I enjoy hating things. I barely want to hug people, let alone a tree. I eat red meat, drink a lot of whiskey, and think yoga mats are perfect for floor-naps. Meditation, whether it wanted to or not, has been filed in my mind as “hippy shit.”

This is another reason why meditation does not appeal to me. People who also suffer from my kind of anxiety claim that meditation has helped, but I can’t bring myself to believe it. For me, silence is terrifying. It just doesn’t seem possible for someone like me to find peace in it. How can one turn off their thoughts? How can one concentrate on nothing but their breath? How can one sit for the amount of time it takes, without their leg falling asleep? I gave up on meditation the day I tried it. Admittedly, my attempt was half-assed. I sat in the middle of my living room, and gave the practice less than five minutes. Within those few minutes, I told myself I couldn’t do it. My mind wandered, and eventually lead me to the dark places I try to avoid. I couldn’t focus on my breath. I couldn’t focus on anything but the destructive thoughts. Rather than power through, I gave up and quickly turned on the tv.

I’m not a spiritual person, and am under the impression now that for meditation to work, one has to be. I don’t believe in past-lives or reincarnation. I don’t see auras, or believe that I have one. As of now, meditation feels just as fabricated as these things do. If you really want to believe that meditation is helping you achieve some sort of higher state, you will. I am not desperate to believe this. In all honesty, my openness to give meditation another go is largely because Headspace are willing to pay me to write about the experience. If they think they can convert me to a life of daily meditation, I’m willing to give their offer a genuine try. What’s the worst that could happen? It could work, and I could rid myself of my obsessive thoughts? And even if it doesn’t, it’s a pretty easy gig: all I have to do is sit there. Let’s see what happens.

Regardless of this, meditation has been recommended to me, and I reluctantly tried it just once. Earlier this year, I came to terms with the fact that I have severe anxiety. I specifically have a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder known as primarily-obsessional OCD. This kind of OCD does not leave me worried about keeping my life strictly organized and clean (one look at my apartment and you’ll know for sure that I do not have this kind of OCD). This form of obsessive-compulsion is purely mental. It’s characterized by having catastrophic thoughts. These thoughts are often extreme, and while I know that they’re ridiculous or unlikely, I can’t help but feel that they’re real. I’ve put fears and images in my head spanning from accidentally murdering someone to convincing myself I have a brain tumor that can kill me at any second. When these thoughts come on, nothing I can think to myself is able to stop them. I’ve always relied on distraction. I can’t sleep at night unless noise from a television show is playing next to me. I rely on outside noise to keep me out of my head. My solution has always been to keep me out of my head.

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Meditation, whether it wanted to or not, has been filed in my mind as “hippy shit.”

Alison Stevenson

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