Gemma’s Wellbeing Story
Gemma David, SOL team member and founder of The Quiet Heart, is committed to helping people achieve a state of balance between the body and mind.
She believes that by practising and applying mindfulness, we can improve our relationships, cultivate creativity, increase quality of sleep, encourage openness to learning and nurture general feelings of happiness. She’s learned the importance of this technique first-hand and has used mindfulness to navigate a variety of major life events.
Today, Gemma’s taking over the SOL blog to share her own, deeply personal wellbeing story…
When I was small, I knew what made me happy: my red bike, cycling in the countryside on my own (down hills, with no hands), the smell of pines, climbing trees, singing, horses, sticking my head out of car windows and running along wild Welsh beaches.
Wellbeing is exactly this: a delicate sense of happiness from joy in the small moments, the feeling of freedom, the elements, love. It is subjective however, and changes constantly, but a fundamental state of wellbeing is usually felt when we have balance in our lives, both mentally and physically, it’s usually a state of being best cultivated with gentleness and intention, fuelled by self-acceptance, compassion and self-belief.
In my early years, I developed my innate sense of wellbeing from the natural rhythm of our family life. I spent a large amount of time outside, with my dad in his allotment, in woodland foraging for seasonal produce, then hanging out with my mum in the kitchen while she cooked, sneaking little bits of raw veggies when I could.
We ate seasonally and used herbs to heal/treat ailments alongside western medicine. I was swimming and running competitively, riding horses and playing the flute, I was embracing life; but this changed dramatically when I hit my teens.
My hormones played havoc with my skin and my emotions; I didn’t like my changing body at all and developed crippling migraines, digestive issues and experienced periods that knocked me off my feet. I dropped many of the activities that I had previously enjoyed (except running) and began a period of blurred non-presence that lasted well into my 20s.
My intuition constantly tapped on the window of my conscience, but I couldn’t hear it, let alone feel brave enough to deal with stuff I had buried for years. But, at 28, a toxic relationship was enough to trigger an emotional breakdown (or breakthrough, as I prefer to call it), and my healing journey began.
At the time, I had a successful career in London, and was commuting daily. Life was fast, stress constant and I was mainlining cortisol to keep me going. This lifestyle, coupled with the issues in my relationship, was unsustainable.
So, I saw a therapist, started practicing yoga and yoga nidra, and worked with a nutritionist to help me with the digestive issues and migraines that were still plaguing me. Within 2 years, I became more present in my body and, in doing so, naturally prioritised my wellbeing. I ran the London Marathon, got married and landed a great promotion.
One year later, my husband decided to have a career change which meant relocating from London to Nottingham. We moved to the beautiful countryside close to Market Harborough. I was in heaven. I started cycling again (no-handed down hills), went for long runs and walks in the surrounding area and became a serious practitioner of mindfulness meditation.
However, the distance from London meant I needed to change my job, so with the skills I’d learned from my training as a coach and from leadership courses, I embarked on my first career change and started working for a large multinational.
I was responsible for millions of pounds of turnover and large teams of people. This was all fine, except that the dose of cortisol increased in correlation with the (often) 14-hour days. My sense of wellbeing gradually declined, and I lost the balance of work and life. Within 12 months of moving to Nottingham and starting the new job, I had a miscarriage.
I was utterly exhausted and grieving, yet the culture at work meant I was back at work a few days later with a ‘well, it was early you know’ chat from my boss. I was 14 weeks pregnant.
One month later, my husband’s step-father, Sean died after a battle with cancer. My husband was extremely close to Sean and we were with him during his final moments. It was devastating. I found both experiences emotionally and physically traumatic, and this prompted a profound and deep reflection of my life.
After a beautiful holiday in Cornwall where I was able to reflect and journal, I saw through the mist that was my treadmill life. My career didn’t align with my values at all; I was working in a culture that perpetuated greed, vanity and profit over people.
Experiencing loss and the subsequent grief process, was (with hindsight) transformative for me and it was during this time that I found the strength to gently expand from the deep contraction that is pain and unhappiness. One month later, I resigned from corporate life (best. feeling. ever.) and enrolled at University to study Chinese Medicine.
Connecting with My Values
To fund my career change, we put our London flat on the market and were days away from exchanging when the financial crash of 2007 hit. Our buyer reduced his offer by almost half and we were at checkmate. If we continued with the sale we would lose a ton of equity and with it, the ability to fund my time at university. If we kept the flat we were in the same position.
We gambled, and decided to keep our flat and rent it instead. We decided to open up our home and rent rooms in our Nottingham house to international students studying at the University. We had zero savings, but my strong work ethic kicked in and between lectures I worked on burger vans (getting promoted to the bar van was a particular highlight), and looked after the students.
But chasing my career dream wasn’t the easy transition I’d envisaged. In my second year, I was smacked in the face with anxiety which manifested in a very physical way. I was struggling to cope with the change in identity and the feeling of reliance on my husband. My house was full of strangers and I felt lonely.
To cope, I focused on meditation, yoga and running and threw myself into my studies, but I chose to ignore the constant feeling of dread lurking in my body. I didn’t have the time to explore the emotions behind the anxiety, I had a career change to ‘do’. Despite this, at the end of my second year of uni, I became pregnant with my daughter. I was 36 and thrilled.
I completed my final year heavily pregnant, graduated with a first class degree and was the student speaker at my graduation ceremony when my daughter was only 6 weeks old.
A few months later, I started a private acupuncture practice in Nottingham while attempting to settling into motherhood in a city where I barely knew anyone. Exhaustion paved the way for the return of anxiety and with it, a large dose of self- doubt. I was beginning to struggle with daily existence. FORTUNATELY (yes, in capitals), my neighbour, Claire, had a baby three months later, and we would take it in turns to camp at each other’s house. Together, we forged a beautiful friendship, holding hands while we navigated the storms of the early months of parenthood.
This wonderful woman intuitively sensed my issues with self-doubt and her encouragement helped me feel a sense of support that was lacking. I went to a local post natal group and was able to expand the business, even appearing regularly on BBC Radio Nottingham to discuss health issues. During this time, I met a small group of amazing women in my neighbourhood and it was with these women, that I established a base of solidarity that proved invaluable in supporting me through the next chapter of my life: leaving Nottingham and ending my marriage.
When my daughter was 18 months old, my husband decided he wanted to move to Bristol to expand his career. I wasn’t in love with Nottingham, but I was devastated about leaving my friends. I applied my work ethic to my feelings, sold the house and left with a mixed bag of emotions.
Quickly, and with the help of the fantastic Sarah Cook, a social media strategist and business mentor, I set up an acupuncture practice and began the process of settling in, but due to the cost of living in Bristol, we had to share a house (again) with other people to help pay the rent. This proved too much for me with a small child and a growing business.
I felt suffocated and lonely. I missed my friends desperately and couldn’t reach my husband emotionally. Once again, the tools essential to my wellbeing were abandoned and I spiralled into sadness. The anxiety returned, and my marriage broke down.
It’s difficult to articulate the process of my separation, mainly because I want to respect the privacy of my ex-husband and the sanctity of our (now) friendship. That said, my decision to end this relationship, while being horrific, was transformative.
In the depths of sadness and despair, I heard and listened to my intuition and found the strength and the courage to believe I could create change. I truly felt that I had a responsibility to my daughter and I did not want to remain in a marriage ‘for the children’. My wellbeing was of paramount importance in my role as her mother.
I didn’t expect to be floored (literally) by this process. I returned to therapy and the practice of mindfulness, yoga and running, yet the process felt excruciatingly slow. I experienced a vulnerability so raw I had no option but to reach out to people who hardly knew me. I had to stand up, remaining floored was not an option.
Three years on and I am through the other side. Along with my incredible support network of friends, neighbours and family, there is no doubt that mindfulness meditation has had the most profound and incredible impact on my process of transformation; this is the skill I am most excited to share with you all. Through it I have developed a sense of equanimity and self compassion that is quite beautiful, yet still a focus for me with my daily practice.
Mindfulness is a state of awareness of the present moment, without judgement and through my training, I have learned to apply it to almost every aspect of my life. I look forward to sharing these skills that have helped me connect with myself, nature, and the beauty of life that is available to all, at any time.
Love Gemma xx