Tamsin Bishton, Brighton

In 2008 I was doing a job that I loved in digital communications and working with people I counted as friends. But there was a culture of overworking, pressure and burn out. I kept going by taking anti-depressants, but I stopped them because of the side effects. I hardly slept and when I closed my front door at night I was swallowed by panic attacks. One day I realised I just couldn’t make myself go back to the office without something changing radically.

My CBT counsellor suggested a course of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, and it changed my life. From the first shaky breath, I felt the possibility of reconnecting with my breath, body, thoughts, and feelings. There was something inexpressibly powerful about just stopping and, having felt trapped and powerless, a pathway opened up. It led me away from my depression, fear, and anxiety by taking me right up close to them. It wasn’t an easy path to follow. It’s hard to look your demons in the eye and say, “I’m afraid of you, but I am more than you”. But instead of feeling overwhelmed I felt in control for the first time in years - and it all came from stopping, sitting and breathing.

Anu Gautam, Manchester

I was a dynamic 26-year-old high-achiever when I was diagnosed with advanced stage Hodgkin Lymphoma. I never imagined this would happen to me. My health deteriorated and I underwent several years of intensive treatment. It was hard to cope with the physical impact. But I also lost my independence and ability to function, and I felt angry and desperate.

Once the treatment was completed I tried to get back to what I’d been doing, but health problems kept getting in the way. The Breathworks mindfulness course showed me how mindfulness applied to the difficulties I was facing. The caring environment was important and so was the inspiration of the teacher, who had really embraced her own health situation.

I learned to get a distance from my thoughts and see that they weren’t necessarily true. That had a massive impact. I also saw I didn’t have to be pushed around by the ups and downs of illness. I started to experience a kind of peace that was always accessible, whatever was going on. A couple of years later I was asked to choose between a bone marrow transplant which could end my life, or having just a few years without it. It was the hardest decision of my life. After the treatment, I spent six weeks in isolation knowing my life might be ending, but I just stayed with what was going on, including the prospect of dying. It was an amazing time.

My cancer came back last year. That was upsetting but I knew that it was OK to be upset. I still can’t lead a very active life, but my priorities have changed. The most important thing for me is continuing this journey. I feel happier and more whole each day. And it’s great.