Rachel Blackwell talks about how she got into mindfulness and why she thinks it is a useful part of any police officer’s kit – especially now as we face Covid-19 both in our professional and personal lives.
I am a DC working in Cheshire Constabulary. I started my career in the Metropolitan Police in 2004 and transferred to Cheshire in 2019. My career has taken me from response in Hammersmith and Fulham to working with victims of domestic abuse and rape across London. I am currently working in the Major Investigation Team at Chester. I’m not sure if that makes me a career detective, but I continue to enjoy the job I do, despite the difficulties we all face, particularly now with Covid-19.
This is not the first life-threatening situation I have faced. In 2013 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 41. My diagnosis and treatment really did challenge everything I had ever known about myself and the world. When I was told the news at Guys hospital, it felt like my whole world had fallen apart. It’s a familiar story told many times, but it really did feel like a giant crater had just opened up from underneath me and I was free falling into it.
I received neo-adjuvant treatment at Guys & St Thomas’. My breast cancer was triple negative (TNBC) and oestrogen positive (ER+), which I was told was “quite unusual”, not a phrase you want to hear from an oncologist. I worked through my treatment with the support of my line managers at the Met and took time off after each chemotherapy session. This was a tough time. I remember when I was loosing my hair, a nurse telling me, “this is only temporary, it will grow back.” She was right, it did.
During my treatment I was referred to a charity called The Haven for people with a diagnosis of breast cancer. I had a variety of complimentary therapies including acupuncture, massage, Qigong and mindfulness. I completed an 8-week MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) course, which wasn’t easy, but really helped me reframe how I saw my life following breast cancer. I had to find my ‘new normal’, which is another familiar thing you hear people say following grief. It gave me permission to ‘just be’ with the good and the bad things.
Mindfulness has really helped me come to terms with uncertainty in my own life and I want to share the techniques of mindfulness with everyone through Oscar Kilo. We can still help people who need our help, but also give ourselves some care and compassion in this uncertain time. This pandemic will also prove temporary, so as we cross this difficult terrain, why not give yourself some time and space and try some techniques that have really helped me.
I have delivered some taster sessions in London and more recently to my colleagues in Cheshire who were willing to give it a go. A few weeks ago I met with a group of people, a few of the participants had heard about it through friends and relatives. We sat in a meeting room and I guided two meditations; one short breathing exercise and one longer practice called the body scan.
The feedback I received was pretty positive. One participant said that they “hadn’t realised how stressed they were” and how they wanted to use the techniques I had taught to good use “for myself and my 10 year old son.” Another likened the practice to “stepping out of a sauna and feeling really refreshed.” One participant also said “this should be part of our working lives and should be encouraged by bosses.”
I see mindfulness as a tool or a new language to use when you are facing uncertainty or feeling a little fragile or vulnerable and to be able to pay attention on purpose in the present moment without judgement. Since my diagnosis and my return to work and my new normal, I decided to get a qualification in Mindfulness. In 2018 I started a post-graduate qualification in teaching Mindfulness at Bangor University and I’m now completing my second year of the 3-year course.
Mindfulness is a kind of mental exercise for your brain. Based on meditation, it helps you to focus on the present moment. All you will need for it is a pair of headphones or speaker and a device to connect to the internet. There are plenty of online resources to listen to, but this is something I wanted to share with everyone working in the police, in whatever capacity: Police officers, Police staff, anyone.
I suspect we can all benefit from a moment just to notice how we are feeling and how we can look after ourselves along side colleagues and the communities we serve.
Rachel has kindly produced two mindfulness sessions.
This short two minute breathing exercise can be done anywhere and at any time. If you are feeling overwhelmed or things are getting a bit much it will help you to calm down and refocus.
This 12 minute mindfulness session is designed to help you ground and anchor yourself, through breathing techniques and relaxation.