Finding Peace: Andy's Journey Through Mental Health Struggles and Buddhist Meditation

Andy is a dedicated meditator, a loving husband, and a compassionate professional working with autistic adults. He pursued his passion for philosophy at university and is also known for his talents as an artist and poet. Inspired by his wife, he started attending meditation classes, weekend retreats and day courses at Kadampa Meditation Centre, Kent few years ago.  Classes. He generously shares his own meditation journey and candidly discusses his past struggles with mental health.

Andy, thank you for being willing to open up about your struggles with mental health. Could you walk us through what you experienced during those challenging times?

Absolutely. My journey with mental health began quite early, around the age of 16, when I started experimenting with substances and immersing myself in that lifestyle. However, things took a darker turn around age 26 when I began experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia. It was a terrifying period marked by hallucinations and overwhelming thoughts of suicide.

Interviewer: Can you elaborate on what it was like to live with schizophrenia?

Living with schizophrenia felt like being trapped in a perpetual nightmare. My thoughts were fragmented, and I found it difficult to derive any joy from life. Despite trying various treatments and medications, the road to recovery was incredibly challenging. Additionally, the stigma surrounding mental health only compounded the difficulty of the situation. The medication prescribed, like risperidone, often had unpleasant side effects, making the journey even more arduous. Ultimately, it drove me to the point of suicide.

Can you tell us more about one of your lowest points?

 At my lowest, I found myself contemplating ending my life, and I even drove to the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol with that intention. However, the thought of my brother stopped me in my tracks. My love from him reminded me of the importance of holding on, despite the darkness I was facing.

The point where you could have taken your life and you decided because of the love you have for your brother, you didn’t?

Yes, love is what saved me. Meeting my wife was a huge part of my recovery. Despite not being initially attracted to my lifestyle, she embodied a Buddhist outlook and encouraged me to be the best version of myself. Her love and support inspired me to make positive changes in my life. She is the one who encouraged me to look into meditation. Then it was a gradual process. Through meditation, studying Buddhism, and cultivating compassion, I found peace and purpose in my life. I realized that happiness comes from within and is not dependent on external factors.

How did meditation help?

Through kadampa meditation I learnt practically that happiness is a state of mind. But we spend so much time trying to chase after things, trying to fill this void in our heart. That is why I was trying to get high a lot, trying to fill this void. Just escaping pain and meaninglessness, which was a root cause behind my relationship with chemicals.

It sounds like part of your experience of mental health struggles is that there was a sense that there was no meaning, no purpose?

Yes, but through meditation, I feel through meditation, I understand there is meaning in the true nature of our consciousness is peace. The reality is actually very cool; your subtle nature is peace. And just going beyond the surface and really experiencing that peace in my heart has shifted my sense of who I am, what the world is, and who the people are in this world.

Every morning through my meditation practice,  I find happiness and determination within me. Over time, it becomes ingrained in my heart. This determination allows me to face life’s challenges head-on. Each day is unpredictable, but I embrace it with confidence, knowing I can overcome whatever comes my way. I believe in my ability to find solutions and maintain purity in my intentions. This power is inherent in everyone.

I love Buddha’s teachings on the interconnectedness of all things. My actions ripple out, impacting my family and beyond. We possess the ability to uplift each other through kindness and care. Before, I felt disconnected from others, unable to find joy in life. Now, my heart is open, and I cherish connections with others, finding beauty in my life. As I’ve transformed my mindset, so has my life. Kadampa meditation has given me practical wisdom, guiding me along this journey. I feel immensely grateful to have found my wife and Buddhism, both have played a huge part in my recovery.

How did meditation contribute to your healing process?

Meditation, particularly through the teachings of Kadampa Buddhism, was transformative for me. It taught me that happiness is a state of mind, and chasing external validations only leads to temporary satisfaction. By delving into meditation and cultivating compassion, I found that peace I was craving. By tapping into the peace within my heart, I gained resilience in the face of adversity. This practice not only helped me overcome feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness but also instilled in me a sense of purpose and interconnectedness with the world around me.

If you have to give advice to someone who is struggling with mental health issues right now, schizophrenia or deep depression or anxiety, crippling anxiety, what would you what would you what would you tell them?

Firstly, I would say what you are paying attention to becomes your reality. You are not solid and fixed as you think you are. You don’t have to feel boxed in. First thing is learning to be kind to yourself, stopping the self-hatred and self-judgement.

Can you say a bit more about being kind to yourself?

Being kind to yourself involves showing compassion, understanding, and acceptance towards your own thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It means treating yourself with the same level of care and gentleness that you would offer to a friend or loved one.

One of the powerful meditation I learnt in Kadampa Meditation Classes is learning to sit with painful feelings, without judgement, with gentle acceptance. This has been incredibly healing for me. Slowly, I can see that I don’t need fear or push away painful feelings. Geshe-la says in How to Solve Your Human Problems, that there is an enormous difference between saying ‘I am feeling bad’ vs ‘Painful Feelings are arising in my mind’. This has been life changing for me. Knowing painful feelings and thoughts can’t destroy me.

The changes are subtle, happening every day, every moment, constantly arising. Meditating in a group, is incredibly powerful for me. You can’t get the same feeling meditating on your own or by using an app. When I attend Kadampa classes on a Wednesday evening in Maidstone, you truly feel it. It is powerful being part of our like-minded spiritual community. There is love and care, that makes a difference. Listening to the prayer and then diving into the first meditation—it’s just the right environment.

Andy with James

James, our KMC Kent principal teacher speaks beautifully at the start, and I thought, ‘This is it, this is the nectar I need.’ I could feel the energy in my chest throughout the whole meditation – the feeling of overwhelming peace, the inner purity—the most essential aspect of our nature. These pockets of peace keeps me inspired and gives me confidence.

It seems like you have a profound connection with what we call our Buddha nature (peace in our heart). Did this relationship with the peace in your heart through Kadampa Meditation contribute to your mental well-being?

Yes, it was soothing to my inner turmoil, dissipating feelings of self-doubt or worthlessness.  Especially during moments of darkness when thoughts turn bleak, questioning the point of existence and one’s own value.

So, what’s the purpose, right? When everything seems pointless and you feel worthless? When you have skills that you learn at Kadampa classes on how to tune in to our true nature, the heart of peace, it is truly extraordinary.  This ability helps you navigate through dark moments. The relationship with the true nature of the mind is crucial. It’s about being in tune with reality.

You mentioned about the meditations on compassion and kindness. Can you speak a bit more about this?

This perspective introduces a new reality, shifting the focus from one’s own happiness to the happiness of others. While it’s natural to prioritise our own happiness, this training aligns the mind with the importance of others’ well-being. This is the truth, everybody wants to be happy and not suffer. Through, the Kadampa meditation on kindness of others and compassion, I feel, my heart is more open and I can see beyond my own suffering and reach into other’s pain and maybe ease their pain in some way.

 You told me about finding joy in your work, particularly in your role with autistic adults?

Creating a positive and loving heart through a daily meditation practice helps me in my work. I am present with my clients and they sense this. Also I feel I am demonstrating that happiness isn’t merely an external pursuit but is deeply rooted in our relationship with reality and our own minds. I hope this inspires the people around me.

Thank you, Andy, for sharing your remarkable journey with us. Your story is a testament to the power of resilience and the transformative potential of love and compassion.

Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to share my experiences. I hope that my journey can offer hope and inspiration to others facing similar challenges.