Duncan’s foreword
Words by Duncan Woods

I reach out to place my hand on the wall. The surface feels cool on my palm and I try desperately to focus on the texture, on the small yet distinct ripples in the patterning of the tiles. I need to ground myself. My heart is racing and I feel delirious, hallucinatory – like I’m slipping into a void where I will never feel happiness or joy again. What the hell is happening to me?

According to internationally renowned authority on anxiety, Reneau Peurifoy, one thing everyone who suffers from panic has in common is “an initial panic attack that appears to occur for no apparent reason”. However when the same people are later asked about their life events in the months building up to the attack, they almost always list off a number of substantial changes and stressful events from break ups and bereavements to mounting career pressures and financial obligations. I can relate to this.

In 2016 I made the huge decision to move to the other side of the world and take a full time job in Melbourne, Australia. I could talk for hours on what happened next but, to cut a long story short, the job was not what I had expected and within just a few weeks I began to grow concerned. Outside of work I made new friends and began to explore the city — I took trips to amazing natural landmarks and attended ‘meetups’ in an effort to be sociable.

But as the months went by I felt more and more trapped by my work situation — my new role was unfulfilling and despite my best efforts to open a dialogue with my employer nothing was changing. I wanted to leave but my visa was dependant on their sponsorship — leaving the job meant leaving the country. I agonised more and more over what I should do and slowly it began to overshadow everything else. Eventually the stress of it all became too much to bare and I had to a make the toughest decision of my life — to give up my sponsorship and leave the job for which I had relocated across the world. I was devastated by how things had turned out but now I had 90 days before I had to leave the country and I intended to make the most of it.

Travelling around Australia was amazing in so many ways, but at the same time I felt bitter about my time in Melbourne and I and just couldn’t escape the feeling that I had somehow been cheated. As a result, everything that didn’t go my way — the cancelled flights, the overcast days, the two weeks I spent in Bali where it rained non-stop — I took these as a personal attack on my happiness. “Why is it always me?” I would think, “Why does nothing go right for me?” On those days I felt angry and helpless. The changes I had chosen to make — to leave London, to travel, to try and work abroad — had led to uncertainty and insecurity and I worried increasingly that I had made a huge mistake.

I returned to London just before Christmas and it felt fantastic to be home and see everyone again, but under the surface I felt self-conscious about my ‘failure’ in Australia and I worried what people thought. I also discovered that things had changed while I was gone — where previously my friends were tight-knit, our group was now spread thin as people moved further afield to buy their first properties. Some were still renting but several had moved in with their girlfriends, a few had recently got engaged and others were pregnant.

In contrast I felt like my life was unravelling. Less than two years before I was happy in a relationship, I had a good job for a well respected agency and a nice flat in a trendy part of East London. Now I was single, broke and staying in my old bedroom at my mother’s house with all my stuff in boxes.

So as the weeks progressed I tried to force things to be the way I wanted them. I took a substantial paycut just to get working again and when my day in the office was over I would run five miles home as part of my manic fitness regime. I worked evenings and weekends on either completing issue one of SATORI or on freelance projects to earn extra money. My alarm was set for 6am four mornings a week so I could get some time in at the gym and I flat hunted, dated and socialised whenever I could. By the time issue one of SATORI went to print in mid-March I was physically and emotionally exhausted.

So yes, with the benefit of hindsight and I can now see how these things may have contributed to that first panic. I say first as it was both the first in very long time and the first of several I would come to experience over the following weeks.  

By mid-April I was in the interesting position of having just published a whole magazine on the benefits of Stillness and all that I felt was agitated and anxious. I was receiving heartfelt letters and words of support from people who were telling me how our magazine had helped them and yet I felt like I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t know what to do to make these unwanted feelings go away.

Peurifoy goes on to state that for many people that first panic attack is “simply a very strong message that you are trying to do too much”. This makes perfect sense in my case, but what surprised me is that when  I spoke to friends and colleagues about my experiences, how many of them had been getting this very same message about their own lives. It seemed like everybody I spoke to had either experienced anxiety themselves or knew someone who had.

It is not entirely clear why more and more of us are suffering with mental health issues, but what is obvious to me is that, finally, more of us are beginning to talk about it.

Lately I have watched with interest as anxiety, panic and related depression have increasingly entered into the public consciousness. From the fantastic charity work of Prince Harry and The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to the honesty of UK Grime artist Stormzy and the candour of Chris Hughes on the TV show Love Island; social influencers from all walks of life are starting to dismiss the stigma which once surrounded the subject and speak out about their own struggles.  

This willingness to share is an incredibly important tool — I know first hand how isolated and crazy anxiety can make you feel and how powerful it is when you finally realise that you are not alone, when you hear someone else talk honestly and openly about something you previously feared was unique to you.

And in essence that sentiment is the foundation of SATORI — a platform where people can share their thoughts, fears, opinions and inspirations. To create something from the things that we love, which in turn might help spread greater understanding, appreciation, tolerance and peace of mind.

And so here it is, issue two — the Issue of Change.

It’s ironic how the theme of Change, which was agreed upon before that first panic, came to be the theme of my own life just a few short weeks later. But I believe strongly that the best thing I can do now is to share my experience in the hope that what I learned may benefit someone else in some way.  

For me it was only through allowing myself room to slow down and accept the changes in my life, rather than fight them, that I started to shift my focus to more positive narratives. Yes, I suffered some dark moments but it was this same darkness that has led me to invest more time in my own wellbeing. It has resulted in me spending more time in nature and more time with my family. It has led to me rediscovering my passion for martial arts and taking photos. It has motivated me to read countless books, listen to fantastic podcasts and share more openly with others. But most of all it has made me realise that the anxiety I was feeling was based on the negative self-belief that I was somehow failing — failing to be perfect, failing to be happy, fulfilled and successful, and that I needed to ‘fix’ it all at once. And that this quite simply isn’t true.

As Pema Chödrön said, “We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

The shadow of that panic still hangs over me and every now and again I can still feel demotivated, but it is in those dark moments that any small bit of inspiration — an interesting idea, an eloquent sentence, a view, a beautiful image, any small moment of satori — can be enough to get me back on track.

So with that in mind, I would like to say that we hope you enjoy issue two of SATORI and, no matter your situation, that the words and images contained in these pages help you in someway to accept and process the changes you may be facing now or any that you may face in the future.

This essay was the foreword to Issue Two of SATORI. Duncan is the co-founder and creative director of SATORI which he started with his childhood friend and creative partner Seb Camilleri in 2016. To find out more please visit findsatori.com or follow us on instagram @find_satori. If you were affected by any of the issues raised in this foreword please speak to your doctor and visit mind.org.uk to find appropriate support.

Discover Issue Two here >

Created by Duncan Woods & Seb Camilleri