How hei! helped me after an assault

Dystin Johnson found that her membership of hei! helped her re-gain control after a sudden, vicious attack.

A couple of months ago, I was assaulted by a man on the street outside my flat.

It was violent and unexpected. I was left with a large bite wound to my face, also cuts and bruises to my head and upper body caused by the walking stick that he used to hit me.  Lasting no more than twenty seconds, of course the attack was shocking, however during it my mind was calm; at one point I recall feeling that I would be left with a brain injury and then a moment later I wondered if this was in fact the day I would die.

I was admitted to hospital for two days, during which I had surgery by a top maxillo-facial team.  I’ve been an actress for twenty-five years, so you can imagine the level of my concern: In the short term, I was due to start filming on a new series for itv in less than two weeks. (Moreover, in the long term, I believed the injuries to my face would mean the end of my career – that remains to be seen).  With the towering strength and help of my friends and the doctors, my main focus was being able and ready for work.  The production company were outstanding in their support, reassuring me that my job was safe.  The following week after the attack, I went for a make-up test and the amazing make-up designer had a plan of action that wasn’t just workable but brilliant – it’s amazing what you can do with a wig and a pair of prop glasses! I didn’t miss a beat of filming for the entire contract.

I felt very secure on set, however outside life was very different: I was in a high state of anxiety most of the time. I had problems walking from my flat to my car along my street; being around crowds and strangers in general.  I would be very wary of anyone who was remotely like the man who attacked me, even people who weren’t like him but used walking sticks or acted in a loud or erratic manner.  I would have flashes of the event play in my mind and try to push the thoughts away, distracting myself with excessive TV watching, often waking through the night and watching numerous episodes of a series as an escape from my own thoughts. As the days progressed, my anxiety spread; I began to see potential accidents everywhere as if I was preparing myself for worst case scenarios… What would I do if this train crashed? What if that guy had a gun and pulled it now? What if that car ploughed into that wall? What if? What if…?  I was in a constant state of alertness for danger – it was exhausting and upsetting.

I felt I needed some professional help. I contacted Tadhg at The hei! Clinic and he kindly offered to see me.  Over a one-to-one session and a couple of phone calls, Tadhg taught me about our basic instinct as human beings, that my mind was making me relive the event in order to ‘learn’ from it – that I needed to acknowledge the events of the assault and actively think what lessons could be taken from it; this would enable my inner self to progress away from the loop replying the scene.  He also helped me realise that my heightened state of alertness or ‘arousal’ was again a basic need for survival, but he gave me the tools to realise my state, and to turn down the dial on that arousal to it’s proper place.  With practise, my over-alertness calmed.  As for the hot-spots of fear, that is walking on my street or seeing someone similar to my attacker, I practised retuning my mind to be in the moment, remembering that my imagination playing possible outcomes was simply a construct that I could choose to not run. It’s still early days but I’m certainly not afraid to go out.

Tadhg used something called Essential Beliefs Super-cognitive Therapy (E-BST), which his research team created in Northern Ireland for people traumatised by sudden violence. For me, the E-BST was an informative and stimulating chat followed by some very warm, guided meditation and it enabled me to safely visit and explore the attack. I also am still meditating in order to practise the craft (if I can call it that?!) of returning to the ‘now’.  Tadhg has really helped me focus my meditation practice as, although I’m not new to meditation, I’m very new to being more patient and persistent with it!

It’s now two months down the line, my face is healing and I’m more hopeful that my scars won’t prevent me from working.  My general confidence is good and considering my attacker remains out on bail, I’m certainly more able to walk around my local area without fear overwhelming me. The attack does not soak up my thoughts and actually, I’m less worrisome about things in general.  My recovery has been truly aided by meeting with Tadhg.

I feel my journey with hei! and mindfulness is just beginning, I want to learn more about the processes of mindfulness and how it’s simplicity can further help me be more content and at ease with myself and my life.

What was emphasised to me was that as well as being a useful tool for people in our business, mindfulness practice would help to prevent the effects of the E-BST wearing off.  I was given recordings to listen to, but I want to do the proper course. So I hope to see lots of my hei! colleagues there.

The hei! Clinic specialises in supporting and advising people in the arts and entertainment industry.

It also has the only residential facility specifically for people in the arts and entertainment industry in Europe. For more details please contact us

Inner Security

hei! member Andrew Baguley reflects on the personal meaning for him of The ELK-Foundation’s new tagline

A foundation for inner security

taken from a letter written by Albert Einstein in 1950 to a father who had lost his inner security, after the death of his child, and wrote to the scientist asking for possible meaning upon which he could possibly build a future.

The ELK-Foundation, together with the Jermyn Street Theatre, runs the hei! campaign for a healthier industry for people in the arts and entertainment.

I’m rarely free from worry. “Will I keep healthy? What’s that spot? Is it cancer? Why has nobody called me? Have I upset my friends? Will it hurt when I die?”

And these are just the normal existential worries!

I also have to throw the stress of being an actor into the mix. “Was I any good last night? The Director said I was. But did she really mean it? And even if I was any good last night will I be any good tonight?” When I’ve finished worrying about those things I can always panic about where my next paycheck is coming from.

I’m not saying these thoughts cripple me. I still function. But they do degrade my happiness. I imagine a peaceful city-state of inner security floating calmly somewhere in my upper cerebellum, just waiting to flood my body with pods of lithe, sexy endorphins. But they can’t get out! They’re trapped! Surrounded by evil tentacled worry monsters like those things from the Matrix. Always attacking, crowding in.

Ok, I’m being a drama queen. It’s not just me who worries, not just me who get stressed. It’s the human condition, isn’t it? All we have to do, surely, is simply keep it in balance. And a bit of stress is good for you. I read that in a magazine. A hangover from early humans, fight or flight. That’s why we have adrenal glands. Although perhaps I could have mine removed. They probably do that in California somewhere.

But joking aside, worry and stress is a curse. And when the foundation of my inner security is breached it stops me from being the wonderful human being I could be. Perhaps I should look for someone to blame. It’s not my fault surely? My parents? Or maybe it all started when that dog barked at me in my pram. Yet the more I analyse the further I get from a solution.

Recently I’ve been reading about “Inner Security.” Inner security is described “as an awareness, found in a moment when we have chosen to pay attention to our safety, that we can cope with the uncertainty of what another moment might contain.” And that jogged my memory.

Half a lifetime ago I did Tai’Chi. I’d been doing it for 6 months and was just beginning to get the moves into muscle memory. And randomly, as I moved my body, out of nowhere I saw the whole of creation, understood everything, and realised that the universe was unfolding as it should. A second of instant total happiness, and then I was back to, what, normal?  I’ve never experienced that again, although I did come close once in a dream.

Now the universe has been in touch again. By email. It’s told me about the mindfulness course I can do for free through hei!

hei! stands for A Healthier Entertainment Industry and I think the exclamation mark stands for Wow! The money comes from a charity called The ELK-Foundation. Of course I worry that there will be no places left on the mindfulness course. But that aside, if I can find a way to bolster the foundations of my inner security through a structured programme that will be wonderful. And then, I’ll eat my worries for breakfast.