The White Bear

“Think of the sounds in the room; the clock ticking”, he says.

“Remember, I don’t want you to think of the white bear”.

As he says this a polar bear looks up at me from an iceberg in the middle of the ocean. The bear is gaily gadding round and round in circles. It’s mouth is open, almost as if it is laughing at me. Can polar bears laugh?

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“Then think of the sounds outside the room” he continues.

♫  Forty years on an iceberg, over the ocean wide.

A song about a white bear worms its way into my thoughts. Great. My mind never does at it is told. That’s why I’m here. I’m at the crisis day hospital, practising mindfulness with four other patients, as a nurse talks us through the exercise. My eyes are closed. I’m trying not to think of a white bear.

I’m here to rest for a few days. Work has become futile, and failed attempts at it, exhausting, and at home, all I can do is rock back and forth on a chair, and think about self-harm. And worse. When I’m emotionally empty, that’s OK. But sometimes tides of emotion, sadness and anger catch me, and then I’m not OK.

There’s something calming and Taizé-like about being at the hospital. I’m with others, but no one really talks, apart from the nurses, and we do pottery and painting, and meditation. We also do recovery planning – but that’s because this is hospital, it’s not Taizé, even if I want to pretend that it is.

I am resting. I’m trying not to think about work, about all I haven’t done over the past few months, and to go with the activity at hand. The nurses tell me that all will be well with work.  A Catholic nurse tells me that I am precious; that God is in control. She says that I will get better, and I’ll be able to catch up again.   If I rest and live in the present for a while. If I don’t think about work: if I don’t think about the white bear….

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