Music, massage and man’s best friend: my current ways to mental wellness

When you wake up in the mornin’, baby, look inside your mirror
You know I won’t be next to you, you know I won’t be near
I’d just be curious to know if you can see yourself as clear
As someone who has had you on his mind

A beautiful soul in my life who sends me a song every morning and evening recently shared Jeff Buckley’s cover of the Bob Dylan song Mama You Been On My Mind and the above lines from it have trickled through my consciousness since.

Something about people sometimes seeming to know us better than we know ourselves, and ‘how?’ we might ask… not me; for me there is no question about what this feeling of connection is, and I’ve written about it slightly here.

The lyrics directed me back to one of the fundamental darknesses underlying the Great Darkness that tickles us all around the back of the neck with its shadowy fingers from time to time. Self-loathing, not feeling adequate, seeing only the negative aspects of ourselves.

But if we’re lucky, or if we’re paying attention, there will be people, places, songs, synchronicities that nudge us gently and seek to draw us towards a different direction. The direction of liking oneself, accepting oneself whatever state we find our mental weather systems in.

Another prominent aspect of my life these days fulfils a similar purpose: working with dogs. DOGS!!! A friend said one time it’s no fluke that ‘dog’ is ‘god’ backwards and I concur.

Oscar: ‘I am alive and I wish to celebrate this. Every day’

So grounding, so very, very grounding being in the company of these awe-inspiring creatures with their personalities, cuddles and mindful mode of existence.

At this time of year especially, it is glorious to cycle along the River Lea from where I live in Stoke Newington down to Hackney Wick to walk dogs in east London’s parks. Animals, nature, the good energy of fellow dog-loving souls: these weren’t my priorities when I perused university courses many moons ago.

Nor was rubbing people’s bodies and shifting their energy fields to facilitate self-healing, but somehow that has become another way I earn a living after a degree, a postgrad and years sat at a desk musing on career ‘ladders’.

It also grounds me, brings me back into my own body again and again, and makes me feel connected to every single being in the universe.

I look around me now and I am grateful for the life that has arranged itself and risen from the ruins of what went before it.

Dog therapy included in price

In the weeks following my sizeable overdose of prescription drugs last July, coming up to a full year ago, the ‘problems’ that led me to it were showing no signs of abating: constant anxiety and overthinking, inability to sleep, all-pervasive sense of terror.

My mum’s 67th birthday was imminent and she told me that all she wanted on it was for me to get out of bed, get dressed and come with her to my younger brother’s house to spend a few hours with my niece and nephew, have lunch together and come home again.

I had travelled to her house in Northern Ireland from my crumbling life in London (job breakdown, relationship breakdown, all the breakdowns) to help her dogsit for a few days and ended up staying the whole summer, zombie-like, as months of building panic reached a head and the proverbial wheels came off.

Zombie attempts yoga with Tilly’s help

Ahead of her birthday, my dominant feeling was ‘I’m no company for anyone’. But also: I’m simply not capable of this getting up, getting dressed and facing the world notion.

Have you ever had a shite night’s sleep and consequently had very little to give the following day? Multiply that by weeks, months of it to the point you are physically incapable of much more than lying curled in a ball with your head in your hands.

Trapped in a derailing rollercoaster you wish would just hurry up and crash (maybe then they’ll give you morphine and that will be release, of a sort).

The morning of my mum’s birthday: it’s been another long, agonising night, my skin is breaking out badly (inevitable) and I don’t want to upset anyone though I know they Just. Don’t. Get. It. I tell my mum to go ahead to my brother’s, I’ll be fine by myself. She won’t hear of it, of course. She will absolutely not be leaving me on my own.

There is so much riding on this, it’s palpable. But the point is: I can’t. Face the day, face myself, face the gaping chasm where my semblance of a life used to be.

My father has arrived at my mum’s house, he’s sat on the bedside asking me could I not just get up, get in the shower, ‘for her’. He doesn’t get it.

And then. A scream from the kitchen. He runs down.

A bird has flown in, a first for my mum’s house.

I have to see this bird, something about supernatural somethings. It gets me out of bed, it then gets me thinking a shower wouldn’t be so difficult, actually. Just don’t look in the mirror.


‘Aye, a sign your mother left the back door open.’

And that became the day, over lunch in an empty pub in Belfast, that my desperate younger brother Jamesie proposed paying for ‘a retreat’ if that might help me. The spirit of our older brother Niall, who passed away in 2011 as a result of mental ill health, ever present.

Days and weeks of researching followed: Googling ‘mental health retreats’ threw up all kinds of results, with the overriding theme of those within our affordability range seeming to be lots of stillness. Meditation and mindfulness by the seaside or in the mountains.

They didn’t speak to me, somehow. Something about timing, maybe. The need, at this time, to not necessarily be so still. Then I happened upon a retreat in Devon revolving around a massage training course and it was so obviously the thing.

The only graduation I ever attended

Throughout my crisis, I came at my symptoms from every angle: medication, vitamins, therapy, diet, tapping, acupuncture, EMDR, walks in nature, dogs (ALL THE DOGS), days and nights in the wilds of coastal Donegal with my siblings.

By the time of the retreat, I was getting back into something of a sleep pattern with the help of an antipsychotic tablet at night (did I ever think I’d be taking an antipsychotic…)

I had no massage experience other than what I’d gathered from those I’d received: I knew I recognised a good one. The days on the retreat started with yoga and meditation, followed by class then practising on each other. Vegan food, swimming pool, hot tub. The environment was supportive, and I learned as much by being massaged as massaging.

The group was small: eight of us from varied backgrounds, from project manager to personal trainer, interior designer and psychotherapist. Everyone had their story, as these things go.

Massage and aromatherapy may be the oldest and simplest forms of medical care, and they address our emotions as much as our physical being, things which are inextricable anyway.

As a result of my training, I feel like I’m now passing on the healing that I first had to learn to apply to myself. Getting back in touch with the body and the messages it always carries has been key and remains key for us as humans as we navigate through the beautiful chaos that is this life.hands

What I now know for sure is that fundamental to my recovery has been making contact with what the psychoanalyst Carl Jung metaphorically referred to as ‘the two million-year-old man that is in all of us’.

The ancient lineage running through our deepest layers that, beyond where modern medicine and the pharmaceutical industry can reach, needs connection to the Earth and the five senses to breathe life into itself and make sense.

It was Niall who got me into Jung and it’s like he passed me a baton: my turn to walk into the Upside Down, armed with my tools.

Incorporating Reiki energy healing as well as aromatherapy, the massage I now practise (here) and have made my own is individualised and speaks to the whole of the person on my table: body, mind, spirit. Because when something is awry with one, there will be no solution without communicating with the others.

We are ancient beings in need of ancient healing methods, as well as the rest, to become whole again when we have been fractured.

But also: something about purpose, something about passion, something about becoming one’s true self. The signs are there all the time, trying to guide us back to ourselves, and that is the reason we are here.

It’s a lifetime’s work, and it’s beautiful to experience it to a personalised soundtrack. Do this for someone! And smile widely when it is done for you 🙂


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