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Anxiety, depression and the perimenopause: The Aberdeenshire wellbeing coach who is using her experiences to help others

From panic attacks and crippling anxiety to trauma and chronic illness, Susi McWilliam says meditation and mindfulness has been a constant source of strength and serenity.

Susi McWilliam says meditation and mindfulness has changed her life which is why she's helping others.
The power of meditation and mindfulness has changed Susi McWilliam's life which is why she's helping others to do the same. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Sunshine in human form, Susi McWilliam lights up when she talks about the power of meditation.

“Meditation has, no word of a lie, saved my life on more than one occasion,” says Susi, who lives in Belhelvie, a small village near Balmedie.

“Having that tool has been so powerful especially 15 months ago when I couldn’t get out of bed.”

From chronic illness and trauma to depression and anxiety, Susi has faced more than her fair share of challenges in life.

But through these dark and difficult times, meditation and mindfulness have been a shining source of strength and serenity for Susi.

In fact, the wellbeing practices have had such a positive impact on her life that Susi is now supporting other people through Be Free with Susi, the meditation and life coaching venture she runs.

Aberdeenshire wellbeing coach Susi McWilliam.
From anxiety and depression to chronic illness and grief, Susi says meditation and mindfulness has had a huge impact on her life. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

“I want people to recognise that you can have this incredible, meaningful life and find joy even through grief or illness,” says Susi.

Susi’s wellbeing journey began at the age of 15 when she started to suffer from severe anxiety and panic attacks.

“Growing up, I hid a lot of it because there wasn’t a reason for it, nothing traumatic had happened,” says Susi.

“My mum took me to yoga and we tried lots of different things like meditation and mindfulness as I didn’t want to go down the medication route so that started me off on a bit of a holistic journey.”

Experiencing a breakdown

Discovering that it helped her mental health, Susi made meditation and mindfulness an essential part of her daily life.

Susi found that she needed the wellbeing practice more than ever when, in her early thirties, she had a breakdown.

“I had a breakdown after I experienced a miscarriage,” says Susi.

“That was over a decade ago and there wasn’t, as far as I was aware, any support whatsoever at that time to cope with that.

“I left the doctors and that was it.

“Now I think there’s a lot more awareness around that which I think is so important.”

Susi meditating in her Aberdeenshire studio.
Susi McWilliam is on a mission to help others find their purpose in life. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

The power of meditation and mindfulness

During that dark time, Susi says that once again meditation and mindfulness helped her to cope.

“I just dove back into all the stuff that I had practiced before like meditation, yoga, essential oils and reiki, anything that I could try to support myself,” says Susi.

“I overcame all those things and then I developed a real desire to support other people who are going through similar things so I started to teach meditation and mindfulness and I also became a reiki healer.”

Grief turned to joy for Susi and her husband Stuart who, after being told they wouldn’t have children, were blessed with the arrival of their daughter Lili, now 13, a welcome sibling for the family including Stuart’s two children Erin, 25, and Cameron, 22.

Susi with a horse in the Belhelvie countryside, where she has opened up a wellbeing hub.
Susi opened up The Sanctuary, a wellbeing hub in the heart of the Belhelvie countryside in Aberdeenshire. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Sanctuary for the body, mind and spirit

Embracing motherhood, Susi’s mission to help others only grew stronger, leading her to open The Sanctuary, a community wellbeing hub in Belhelvie.

“We moved to Belhelvie six and half years ago to build somewhere in the countryside where people from the city to come and escape and find peace,” says Susi.

“So we opened The Sanctuary where people can do pilates and yoga and I teach my meditation and mindfulness too.

“We also do community things like beach clear-ups and we’ve planted over 1500 trees as well.”

Susi sitting on a yoga mat.
Susi suffered from crippling panic attacks as a teenager but found that wellbeing tools like meditation worked wonders. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Perimenopausal symptoms

Embracing her new life in the heart of the countryside while supporting others to find inner peace, tranquility and their purpose in life, Susi was happier than ever.

But 15 months ago, Susi experienced a severe bout of anxiety and depression brought on by the perimenopause.

“I started to experience crippling anxiety and panic attacks again which I hadn’t experienced for probably 20 years,” says Susi.

“I had all these perimenopausal symptoms such aching joints, hot flushes and night sweats but the anxiety and depression really scared me.”

Eventually Susi was put on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) by her doctor which helped.

“Literally three weeks after taking HRT I was back to myself again,” says Susi.

Susi in the countryside.
Susi McWilliam is a breath of fresh air when it comes to wellbeing. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Illness left Susi bed bound

Life threw Susi another curve ball when she was diagnosed with Persistent, Postural, Perceptual Dizziness (PPPD) a debilitating condition causing dizziness and vertigo which left her bed bound.

“I couldn’t actually walk or leave the house and as someone who is really active that was really challenging but it’s forced me to really dive deep on all the practices that I already have and to find meaning and purpose in other ways,” says Susi.

“I still have difficulties walking and driving but I’ve never felt more passionate and purpose led as I am right now – I’m living an awesome life.”

Asked what advice she would share with someone who is experiencing anxiety, Susi says there are simple steps you can take.

“It’s about looking at your basics needs as humans like are you getting enough sleep, are you drinking enough water, are you eating the right food,” says Susi.

“My number one thing for anyone with anxiety is to quit caffeine.”

Susi McWilliam.
Susi now runs meditation and life coaching sessions from her wellbeing hub The Sanctuary in Belhelvie, Aberdeenshire. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

Going forward Susi, who is also an accomplished author and podcaster, says helping others is what really lights her soul on fire as does the simple things in life.

“It’s about finding the things that hold you steady during those challenges,” says Susi.

“Meditation is one of those things for me as is being in nature and sleep.

“I know that if I do all of those things every day that my day is going to be better regardless of what is going on.”

For more information on Susi, check out her Instagram page @befreewithsusimcwilliam, facebook and website

Wellbeing diary with Susi McWilliam

Susi at her wellbeing hub in Belhelvie, Aberdeenshire.
Susi shares her top wellbeing tips. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

What are your top three tips for health and wellbeing?

1:Rest is necessary and constructive. What type of rest do you need? Physical, mental, emotional, spiritual? Do you need a walk away from screens, Do you need to get to bed earlier? Do you need a break from family to reset?

2:Awareness through reflection is key to always tuning in to what is right for you as an individual. Journaling, gratitude or just checking in with your thoughts and feelings can be a road map to your health and what is working and what’s not.

3:Nature every day even if it is a walk around the block if you can’t access nature easily. This will anchor and ground you.

Do you incorporate health and wellbeing into your diet?

Oh yes I’m a huge fan and advocate of eating right to support your body and needs. Also again these change over time so re-visiting what supports your body’s needs. I am passionate about super foods and supplementation in our modern day lives. Eat to reduce inflammation, fuel your body and heal from the inside out.

Is exercise important to you?

I used to have a love hate relationship with exercise as I grew up. I would exercise purely for physical gain. Now exercise for me is to support me mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. I love walking, pilates, horse riding and practice yoga daily.

Are there any other ways you like to switch off and de-stress?

For me journaling, gardening, time with my horses and dog, reading a great fiction book, catching up with friends and baking all help me to de-stress.

Can you recommend any wellbeing books, magazines or podcasts?

I love Psychologies magazine as there is always something super helpful and inspiring there. I use the Insight Timer app daily which is free for meditations, music and mindfulness exercises. I also love the deliciously Ella app for inspiration of recipes and exercise videos.