Twenty-One Days with Andy

I started meditating to try to get more focus and ease some of the edgy anxiety that’s always been native to my personality. I used HeadSpace, an app created by Andy Puddicome, to try to get a handle on it. I wasn’t a natural. I’d sit still. Breathe. But my brain jumped relentlessly from one set of thoughts to another. I was distracted by everything from the rumble of my stomach to the singing birds outside my window. I thought about bacon a lot. So much so that I started to worry that at the very core of my identity that’s who I am, a longing for bacon. 

In spite of this and some unfounded and unkind judgments about people who meditate- you know, sanctimonious vegans who jog to the farmer’s market, bikini clad women gazing off to sea- after the first ten days or so, I started to feel like I was making some progress. There was an ease after I meditated, a slight release in pressure that allowed me to feel more awake and serene.

By the second week, I was surprised to find myself settling into the rhythms of the guided meditation. I was breathing deeply and audibly before Andy told me to. My eyes would close just as he gave the cue. Scanning my body with a certain amount of objectivity, identifying my underlying mood without getting too attached to it, these things acquired a brush of effortlessness. True, I laughed out loud when Andy said things like, “Your mind is a clear blue sky,” but the static slowed, allowing me to see the substance of the clouds in my atmosphere. 

The airspace of my head is largely filled with garbage. That static I mentioned falls into three major categories. The first set are hamster in a wheel worries about routine tasks; finances, appointments, household chores, and schedules. The feeling that there is not enough time, that there will never be enough time, is persistent. The second category is communication of all sorts. I fixate on the specific wording of texts, emails, and phone messages as though they give Pulitzers for this crap. The third is an almost clinical horror around social relationships, especially casual or new ones. The banality of my mind is terrifying. But seeing it for what it is feels like an opportunity. If I can parse it, maybe I can change it.

Then there’s an unexpected turn around day twenty-one. When I take to the floor and start breathing, tears come. What am I crying about? I don’t understand it at all. I remember, a while ago, Andy said something about this, how emotions can arise, and you should just let them come and go without too much judgment. Okay, I think, that’s fine. I can just sit through this, be with this. It will pass and Andy and I’ll go on to the next phase.

Except that it doesn’t. And I don’t. Instead, I wake up on day twenty-one with a heavy dread in my chest; my throat closed and taut. I recognize these familiar signs the way you would the cold you always get in April, the ache in your lower back after heavy lifting. I start to put together the pieces that have been falling into place, but like a bad detective, I’ve been slow to see the picture they form. In the grey light of morning, it comes clear. The obsessive writing and rewriting of insignificant texts and emails, the sweat at my hairline when I’m talking to someone new, the shakiness in my hands and face at school drop-off, the way the laundry feels sinister and personal, and the nightmare quality of my to do lists. I know my demon is back. He’s been sneaking around the dreamy edges of my mind, snaking his way into the ordinary, sucking out the color and leaving grey dust in his wake.

I experience a disappointment so deep it’s almost panic. Being back in this black hole of panic again, when so much in my life is so right, means that I will never really escape this. No matter what I do, no matter what I accomplish, I will always end up back here. I can run and meditate. I can raise my children thoughtfully with great care. I can write with discipline and purpose. None of it will protect me. 

That mental static I was experiencing was like one of those heavy metal songs with a secret message, when you slow it down and play it backwards it says something about how the devil is coming for your soul. Sitting on the floor with Andy in my ears and counting my breaths slowed me down enough to hear the music I’ve been dancing to. It’s frenetic and harsh.

It will take energy and time to make it to the other side of this. I assess resources that appear scant. I’d like to blame meditation for getting me into this mess, but I realize that seems petty and irrational. I keep meditating. I breathed my way into darkness; hopefully I’ll breathe my way out.

In the last few moments of the guided meditation with Andy, he says, “Now let your mind do whatever it wants.” Set loose, my mind does what it always wants to do, it writes a story, spins a dream, or, in this case maybe, casts a spell. This is it: There is a woman- well, there’s me, but I prefer to think of myself in third person in this space. She isn’t an ordinary woman. She is a heroine, a warrior. She is sleeker and stronger than me, more resilient. She is imprisoned in a cave. It’s dark and dank. She’s running through the tunnels, looking for light. Any glimmer of light. She’s running with urgency, but on instinct. She doesn’t know where to go. She comes to an opening, her breathing loud and ragged in the cavernous space, tunnels radiating on all sides. Metal bars slam down, blocking all of the exits. Some combination of the terrible noise of metal against stone, and exhaustion from all that running, brings the woman to her knees, then rolls her flat on her back. The cold and wet of the cave seeps into her clothes, stealing through skin to bone. Something is coming. Something colder than the stone she’s lying on, something large that slithers on its belly, breathing hate and lies. But, she can distantly feel the calm of her body. The slow breathing in the dark allows her eyes to adjust. The walls are lined with familiar weapons. The beast, too, is known, its cruelties and its tricks. She can’t prevent its arrival. But when it comes this time, she will be ready.

-Emily McNally


Emily McNally is a writer and teacher who lives in Half Moon Bay, California with her family. Her personal essays have been published in Salon and Red Typewriter Magazine. She is currently working on her first novel.