'At just 42, I'd two heart attacks in one week...I'd faced death and knew I needed to make changes'
When Deirdre Cartmill lost her dad to cancer, then had a miscarriage, the ensuing stress took a huge toll. On World Heart Day, she tells Stephanie Bell how she transformed her life to open a healing centre in Belfast.
Writer Deirdre Cartmill has opened a whole new chapter in her life and now hopes to help others to turn over a new leaf in theirs.
It might seem an unlikely leap for a published poet and scriptwriter to launch a new career as a healer, but to Deirdre, who has had her fair share of drama in her personal life, it really has been transformational.
And the change she has brought about in her own life is now one which she is hoping to help others achieve through the opening of a new healing centre in Belfast.
The White Feather Clinic in North Street is an oasis of calm in the heart of the city where Deirdre (48) and her colleague and co-founder Helen Logue (35) are working to bring happiness and fulfilment to people through transformational workshops, meditation sessions, healings and one-to-one sessions.
Deirdre describes it as life healing and says her aim is simply "to help people live to their full potential and express their true self".
It was a near-death experience which put Deirdre on her own journey to self healing and inner contentment, which has led to the radical change in her career.
She has enjoyed great success as a poet and is the author of two poetry collections, Midnight Solo (2004), and The Return of the Buffalo (2013), both published by Lagan Press.
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In 2011, she received an ACES Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and spent a year affiliated with the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen's University, Belfast, where she started work on her third collection.
She has received four Literature Awards from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, been shortlisted for a Hennessy Literary Award and been a finalist in the Scottish International Poetry Competition. Meanwhile, her poetry has been widely published and anthologised. She has given many poetry readings at events and festivals, such as at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris, the Belfast Festival at Queen's and the Belfast Book Festival.
She's also an award-winning screenwriter, penning scripts for theatre, film, television and radio.
Her writing talents are not completely on hold, as she teaches creative writing part-time, but her career has radically changed direction since two heart attacks at the age of 42 led her to completely reassess how she was living her life.
When she recovered, she found that she couldn't go back to the busy and stressful working life which had consumed her up until then.
She began to search for a deeper meaning in life and her journey to inner peace and contentment has changed everything for her: "Out of the blue, when I was 42, I had not one, but two, heart attacks in the same week and my life was turned upside down. It stopped me in my tracks.
"I felt like I literally faced death.
"I had one really powerful moment when I had my second heart attack and felt that I could choose to pass on, or choose to stay.
"I chose to stay and it wasn't until a couple of weeks later that I really stopped and thought about it.
"I realised that I could have moved on to somewhere else. My body would have been gone, but I would still have existed, albeit in a different form. I was not afraid and it was a beautiful experience, and I knew I had to change my life and search for a deeper meaning and purpose.
"At that point in my life, I had endured 10 years of emotional heartache and was stressed out and miserable."
Deirdre had lost her dad to cancer and then miscarried at a time when the one thing she wanted more than anything else in the world was a baby.
She describes it as a devastating time, which left her feeling like a "wreck". Work, too, was stressful and she knew she needed to make some changes.
She says: "I was working so hard as a scriptwriter that I wasn't seeing my friends and family, but I had to the pay bills and it is hard to get off the treadmill.
"After the heart attacks, everything changed for me.
"I hadn't been afraid of dying - but I was afraid of not truly living and I realised I was not living, I was existing. That moment gave me a glimpse that there was more beyond the everyday."
Deirdre wanted to tap into what she describes as a "higher guidance" and a "higher realm of consciousness".
To her, it was like starting all over and learning to live again.
She signed up for meditation classes and devoured self help books, immersing herself in anything she felt could help her find an inner peace and a way of living which was true to her.
It didn't happen overnight and she advocates that to bring about life healing, you have to take it one step at a time. It has taken Deirdre four years and she says her journey is still continuing every day as she strives to make each new day better than the last.
The inner peace she has found during her own journey is now something she wants to help other people achieve through her healing centre.
Deirdre explains: "I want to help other people to learn to live again, to truly live rather than exist. Sometimes to learn to be your true self, you have to stop and look at the truth of how you are living now.
"It takes courage and strength and practical tools to achieve that, and we want to give people those practical tools.
"It is something that has to be done step-by-step and day-by-day, gradually building a solid foundation."
Deirdre is not suggesting that we all simply give up on our stressful lives in search of inner peace and happiness.
She knows that most people feel trapped and, despite the stress, the reality is that bills have to be paid and deadlines met.
As a writer, she knows the pressure of deadlines and the reality of turning your life around: "That's what puts people off thinking that they can't just give up their old life, but for me, I tried to go back into my old life and I couldn't, it was tearing me apart physically, mentally and emotionally.
"I had to look at what skills I had and as a poet and a writer. I decided to give up my job and use those skills to teach creative writing and that had a deeper meaning and a deeper purpose for me. I think when you open yourself to it, you will be surprised at the opportunities that come your way.
"I had 10 years of emotional heartache, my heart was broken and I had loss heaped upon loss and I just knew I had to change things.
"I trained as a healer myself and started by doing a little bit of healing at home and then in different premises in the city. I had this grand vision of setting up my own space.
"I met Helen, who is an energy healer, teacher and counsellor, who was coming from the same place, and we complement each other. Together, we decided to open the new centre."
The centre offers a range of therapies - lunchtime meditation will be held daily for those who want to escape the stress in the middle of their busy day.
The women will also be offering six to 10-week transformation workshops, offering practical tools to those who want to change their lives.
Energy healing sessions and private one-to-one sessions are also available.
Once a month, they will also be offering free 10-minute healings on a Saturday, for people who want to drop in.
I wonder what can be achieved in 10 minutes, and Deirdre, who has already put the sessions to the test at a special one-off event during Culture Night recently, enthuses: "We were surprised ourselves by how much could be achieved in 10 minutes. Even to just stop and be still and find that peace inside you at the very least can be healing.
"It is like a catalyst for change. We found in those 10 minutes we were able to light a little spark in people and when they left, it would just grow and grow.
"What we want is to enable people to do it for themselves.
"People who come to us know something needs to change in their lives and we are helping them to explore and try to find the key to doing that.
"If you are tired of just existing and want to truly live, then come and see us.
"It is not about being perfect - but about embracing being perfectly imperfect. I think there is such pressure on us to be perfect.
"I feel I have been given this amazing gift to help people access the higher guidance within themselves. I know it works because I've done it myself. Money, ideas and opportunities start to flow to you and to find more peace, you have to let go of stress.
"I have a new career and I am a completely different person. I'm not perfect, but I am a thousand times better than I was four years ago. I have got the magic back in my life again and every day I go 'wow'. I can't get used to the magic and I want to help other people to find it."
The White Feather Clinic will be holding a special two-day event this weekend called The Power of Surrender, which runs from 11am-4pm on Saturday and Sunday.
The event will focus on how a radical rethink of the act of surrendering can help you find your true happiness and live in the truth of who you are.
The sessions will involve guided meditations and teachings and cost £30 per day or £50 for two days.
To book, contact Deirdre on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07786 304948.
How you can protect yourself
Almost 1,800 people die every year in Northern Ireland from coronary heart disease (chd) and today, on World Heart Day, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Northern Ireland is calling on locals to look after their hearts.
Statistics show more than one in seven men and nearly one in 10 women here die from CHD. With an average of five deaths each day, CHD kills more than twice as many women as breast cancer does in the province.
BHF Northern Ireland is currently running a hard-hitting TV campaign to highlight how heart conditions such as coronary heart disease can suddenly devastate families every day.
Head of BHF Northern Ireland Jayne Murray says: "Most heart and circulatory conditions can be prevented by making positive changes.
"By giving up smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, leading an active lifestyle and monitoring your alcohol intake you can make some small changes to your daily routine and make a big difference to your heart health. BHF Northern Ireland is dedicated to fighting for every heartbeat and for over 50 years we've pioneered research that's transformed the lives of people living with heart and circulatory conditions."
BHF top ten tips for good heart health are:
1. Give up smoking
2. Maintain a healthy weight
3. Lead an active lifestyle
4. Ditch the salt
5. Eat your 5-a-day
6. Cut the saturated fat
7. Always read the food labels
8. Don't drink too much
9. Watch your portion sizes
10. Watch your stress levels