Mindfulness: the sexy cure-all for the nail-chewing ailments of my anxiety-ridden generation

Or, how I ended up plucking the seeds off a strawberry at six in the morning.

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It’s six in the morning. I’m on the sofa, hunched over a strawberry. One by one, I’m removing all of its seeds with a pair of tweezers. Each one makes a satisfying “thuck” when disconnected from its fleshy socket.

I hear some footsteps and my dad appears, wearing a dressing gown and a look of profound concern. I’ve been expecting him. He usually gets up about now; I haven’t even been to sleep yet.

“Are you…OK?” he says.

“Shh!” I reply, barely looking up from the strawberry.

I feel like all of my 25 years have been leading up to this; me, sleeplessly, lovingly, painstakingly assaulting fruit. Although I appreciate (and completely understand) my dad’s concern, this isn’t a cry for help. Not exactly. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been making a concerted effort to achieve mindfulness. The strawberry thing happened organically.

Any of my fellow depression and generalised anxiety sufferers have probably been told at some point that mindfulness, the ability to mentally exist in the present, is the answer to absolutely everything. Stress? Mindfulness. Panic attacks? Mindfulness. Huge, pulsating haemorrhoids? Anusol, and mindfulness. Mindfulness is, if we’re to believe its exponents, the sexy cure-all for the nail-chewing ailments of my anxiety-ridden generation.  

Recently, my mental health took a dive. So I bought a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. The most sickeningly florid one I could find. My reasoning was that if I’m going to take up a pensioner’s hobby, I might as well go all out and do a puzzle of an English country cottage with a thatched roof, next to a stream littered with the most serene looking waterfowl you’ve ever seen. One way to achieve mindfulness, I’ve heard, is to engage in the kind of intricate task that requires all of your focus.

Ten minutes into the puzzle, I’m on my knees, sweating onto pile upon pile of its mean little pieces. How, in the name of bad art, am I supposed to differentiate between pieces of sky and pieces of lake? It turns out that negotiating the subtleties of the colour blue does absolutely nothing to alleviate my weltschmerz. I want to put all of the pieces together, just so I can punch them back into a giant mess. Take it from me, wanting to complete a puzzle out of spite is a bad place to be, both mentally and physically.

The puzzle has only added to my stress. I shove the pitiful amount of it that I’d managed to complete under my bed, and promise that I’ll give it another try one day (like shit I will). It’s time to simmer down to the sound of Eckhart Tolle, the world’s most soothing German. I have his 1997 mindfulness instruction manual, The Power of Now, on audiobook. I press play on Tolle. He’s saying a lot of words, and I quickly stop caring what they are – they’re just so freakishly calming. It’s like being whispered at by a lovely wise horse.

But back to the strawberry, and how that happened. Insomnia always makes me hungry. I was hunting cheese, but a punnet of strawberries caught my eye. Have you ever looked at some fruit and wondered… “what if?”. I usually avoid eating strawberries, because the feeling of a seed stuck in my teeth makes me want to saw off my face from the nose downwards. So why not just take out all of those bastard little seeds? Early morning sunlight glinted off my tweezers. If I wasn’t feeling drained of all life, I would’ve laughed maniacally.

So here I am now, plucking a strawberry. “Thuck, thuck, thuck.” My dad sighs and wanders off. As soon as I realise that I’ve achieved mindfulness, I’m back to square one. You’re not supposed to be aware of it. Still though – fuck puzzles – I’ve found my thing.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist.