Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Deirdre Cartmill, Writer in Residence for St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Deirdre Cartmill, Writer in Residence for St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast

Deirdre Cartmill

Deirdre Cartmill


Up and at it - what is your new morning routine? How has it changed?

I hit the snooze button for 10 minutes, then get up and start the day with a meditation, before doing 10 minutes of cardio and jumping in the shower.


What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

I'm vegan, so I usually have a bowl of fruit followed by a bowl of porridge for breakfast.


I'll have oat pancakes or pitta and hummus.

Evening meal?

I love Indian food and often make a home-made curry in the evening.


Have you been able to work from home - if so, how have you found it?

I've worked from home for the past 13 years, so it's normal for me. It was hard not to be able to run face-to- face workshops, but since I've got comfortable with Zoom, I've been enjoying running meditations and writing workshops that way.


Best/easiest lockdown meal?

Best meal has been home-made gf (gluten free) apple and choc chip pancakes for an indulgent weekend breakfast.


Weekend treat?

Takeaway vegetable biryani and onion bhajis, while watching a supernatural film.


How have you kept physically and mentally fit during lockdown?

I've started to do 10 minutes of cardio in the morning and I walk in nature whenever I can. My meditation keeps me sane. It's been a lockdown of two halves for me - during the first half I was meditating twice a day and going for long walks. During the second half, my meditation slipped to a short meditation in the morning, the walks waned off and I felt disorientated. I think I was so busy helping others to get through lockdown, through my meditations, healings and YouTube videos, that I was starting to neglect myself. I've had to make an effort in the last two months to redress that.


What has been your daily outdoor exercise?

I love walking in nature, especially near trees or water. I've spent a lot of time in the Billy Neill Country Park [Dundonald], walking by the lake.


How do you relax?

I love dancing, reading, walking and watching fantasy or sci-fi dramas and films.


Teetotal or tipple?

Teetotal and have been most of my life. I think the writer in me loves to watch, listen and take everything in, so I like to be fully ‘with it'.


What book are you currently reading?

I'm dipping between Manual of the Warrior of Light by Paulo Coelho and rereading The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I usually have two or three books on the go at one time. I know it's bad, but I can't help it.


Best Netflix?

The Haunting of Hill House. A chilling story and some beautiful, poetic writing.


Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself?

Just how tenacious I am. No matter the challenges, rejection or difficulties, I've realised I will never quit if I'm doing something I believe in.


On a scale of one to 10, where have you been in relation to cabin fever and where are you now?

I was two out of 10 at the start of lockdown and I'm at eight out of 10 now.


What are the three things you missed most during the beginning of lockdown?

I missed seeing my family and friends and having them around to the house. I really missed going to my favourite sacred sites and tuning into the energy. I'm into Latin and ballroom dancing and I missed the classes and the social dances at the weekends.


Where will you go and what will you do when restrictions are fully lifted?

I'll go to Beaghmore stone circle near Cookstown and just lie there enjoying the beauty and wildness and energy. I'll get back to Latin dancing and hope I can remember some moves. I'll head out to the cinema as often as I can.


Biggest gripe?

I know it can't be helped, but it's awful to not be able to visit people in hospital or go to wakes or funerals. My mum was diagnosed with cancer near the start of lockdown and she passed away shortly after. We were lucky she was able to come home for her final weeks as it was heartbreaking when she was in hospital and we couldn't visit. The whole grieving process has been interrupted for so many people.


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

Losing my mum, especially during lockdown, has made me re-evaluate what is truly important. It's brought me even closer to my family. It's made me look at the things I hold onto that I don't need. It's reminded me to stop putting things off until ‘some day'. I've always wanted to live near the sea and we're currently in the process of buying a house and making that move.


Any new skills or hobbies?

I think lockdown has made me more proactive in going out and finding opportunities rather than sitting waiting for them to come to me.


What would you like to see change for good when this is all over?

I feel the world is going through an awakening and transformation, similar to my personal journey after my heart attacks; I hope people continue on this journey of self reflection, healing and independent thinking when this is over. I hope the sense of community will continue afterwards, that shared bond of going through something together. I'd love people to be able to continue to work from home at least some of the time. I think less travelling will be better for stress levels and mental health, and of course it's much better for the environment.


Has coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

I already faced my mortality after my heart attacks so, no, it hasn't, but it's made me aware of the mortality of all those around me and made me appreciate my loved ones even more than before.

Deirdre Cartmill is running a writing workshop at St Anne's Cathedral on September 25 -, phone 02890 328332. Weekly meditations via Zoom run on Wednesdays at 8pm and Fridays, 3pm. Further info at

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