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How hats saved me from burnout

It was May 2018. As I was hobbling across the park to try and catch the train my brain was buzzing.

How could this have possibly happened to me? A fully trained yogi, just about to get her teaching certificate.

The pain was so intense, it was spreading to the back of my thighs and I could barely walk.

I would have wanted to stay in bed and rest but the court case was in progress, they needed me in the Jury otherwise it would all be delayed.

The Old Bailey looked majestic. I had never been inside a building like this. The ceiling was so high, frescos, plaques, paintings everywhere.

Once we got into the room for the hearing we were told to sit across two narrow rows of wooden seats, which were just as old as the building.

I was nearly in tears from the pain every time we had to stand for the Judge and sit down again.

It was a complicated murder case. A man violently stabbing another man to death in the chest. There was CCTV footage of it, which we had to watch in detail. Over, and over, each day we were in court.

The man was sitting there with his head down, he looked meek. In fact, he had never hurt anyone before in his 52 years of life.

We had to send him down in the end. Self defence didn’t stand. Life sentence with no parole. It was a long and hard deliberation; the night before I had dreamt that I was drowning. I went back to the rest of the Jury begging to go through the decision tree again carefully. But that was it. We debated it until we could not see any other answer. There were tears and upset.

At the end of the trial they gave us a leaflet with the Samaritans number on it, in case we were upset, and sent us off home. Back to normal life.

Going back to work with a slipped disc wasn’t easy, but I did not want to be home with my thoughts.

I had my Yoga assessment in a month and wanted to get myself back on track.

The doctor said the pain would get better with time. By that point I wasn’t on good terms with my Yoga trainer, who claimed that I should not listen to my physio, doctor, nor take any painkillers. When my hypermobility diagnosis came through, she didn’t comment.

Easy to see how I failed the assessment. Up until that point, Yoga had been everything to me. It was a sacred space where I could deal with anything. When my brother was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, or when my mum was taken to hospital with liver failure, Yoga had been there for me to help me stay grounded. My Yoga mat had been my only refuge.

When the doctor told me that the possible cause of the slipped disc was the excessive practice in preparation for the assessment, I was in shock. My whole world went upside down. I had been so zealous in my practice and broke my back permanently as a result.

I had nowhere safe to retreat to mentally. By July, when I got the assessment results I was in a real low.

I started suffering from IBS, so much so that I could not fit in any of my clothes. I had to buy large dresses and could not sit down for a meal for too long.

I felt ashamed of my body and my failure.

The summer came and went.

Fast forward a few months, it was world mental health day. A colleague had organised a series of wellbeing events in the office and I had volunteered to run a millinery workshop. This was based on what I had previously learnt from workshops with milliner Katherine Elizabeth.

It was a really fun and rewarding day. My colleagues were so excited to make their own hats, I felt at peace. Afterwards, everyone asked me how I had learnt and why I had kept this so quiet until then. I didn’t know why. Why had I pushed this to the side?

Once I got back home I had a surge of creativity, I ordered materials, a new set of hat blocks, and immersed myself in hat making. It was so rewarding and calming.

Once I had made a few pieces, I decided to go for a market stall, and the rest is history. I never looked back.

I am still working to get my Yoga certificate, but with a different school and with a different approach. My back will never heal from the damage but it has become my teacher. It reminds me to go for mindful walks or to breathe with awareness.

My brother defeated the lymphoma, although he still has Ataxia because of it. Mum also managed to recover, and we found a good set of doctors to look after her.

Millinery is where I take refuge now when life gets tough. I have my own studio at home which I cherish like a temple. But most of all, it makes me happy to be able to create pieces that other people will wear, and be happy wearing, at parties, in parks, with friends.

I would love to hear your thoughts, where do you find refuge?