Lourdes 2017 – a transformation

Last time I went to Lourdes I really struggled with my anxiety and decided I wouldn’t go back. But being the stubborn person that I am, I refused to let my anxiety rule my future and decided that with the help of mindfulness I would be able to go this year.

Reasons to hike on your birthdaySunday

On Sunday I woke up to open birthday presents & make sure everything was packed. When I awoke I was really shocked not to be feeling really nervous – as soon as that thought popped into my head I noticed it – and reminded myself that there was no need to be nervous and that I would take everything one moment at a time. I opened every card and present with attention to every detail, every texture, every word, every smell and it is incredible the difference being all there makes to your gratitude and enjoyment of receiving gifts. It was as if every word meant more, I noticed all the little things and the thoughts behind them.

When it came to lunchtime I made my way to the airport and sat inside waiting for the coach to arrive with the others. I chose to get a lift there rather than go on the coach to try and minimise the travelling as I get claustrophobic. I sat on the bench and I started to feel feelings of anxiety so I closed my eyes and took deep breaths. I used a grounding technique to calm myself down and I focused on my breathing.

Once I was checked in I helped one of the assisted pilgrims to go and get something to eat and then helped her through security. Usually, the worst part of flying for me is going through security. I’ve always had this huge fear that someone has planted something on me and I will end up in prison, totally unrealistic although in my mind totally plausible. This time though, I did not have one feeling of anxiety. I went through security, smiled and I felt on top of the world.


In the morning we worked the early shift and got the assisted pilgrims up and ready for breakfast and the day ahead, we cleaned their rooms in the hospital and then made our way down to the Grotto for the opening Mass. It was pouring it down and I wish I had packed my umbrella. I could have been miserable but I decided to me mindful and enjoy the rain, taking each drop as the first.

In the afternoon we had a procession and it began to wear us down that we had been in the same wet clothes since 6am; it was then that things began to unravel for me because when we asked if we could just go and change clothes we were told we had to stay. Something just clicked in my brain; you are trapped – you can’t leave. Although we were in a huge church – the underground basilica it was like the walls were getting tighter and I started to panic. Although I knew I could just walk out of the door, although I knew I was a 23 year old adult who had the right to leave, the fear just consumed me, I began to shake, the cold spread through me and I felt sick.

I panicked – I thought “this is it – I knew I shouldn’t have come”.

Luckily, after we finally got to go back and change I managed to return myself to mindfulness and I didn’t dwell on how I had felt.


On Tuesday we took the assisted pilgrims down to the domain and did the stations of the cross and walked through the grotto. Walking through the grotto is one of my favourite parts because it is so mindful – people walk slowly through, feeling the smoothness of the cave walls and feeling the water run down. The sound of the water is beautiful. I love seeing the flowers that are left and it just feels like such a special place full of love and compassion.


On Wednesday we did the torchlight procession; it was not the best I’ve ever been to as it decided to rain! But it was still wonderful. I had the honour of pushing my friends grandmother in a wheelchair whilst a friend pushed her grandfather next to me. It was so wonderful, the whole way around their candles kept going out and so they spent half of the time trying to re-light each others candles – it was so wonderful how they laughed together and it was quite the challenge trying to push their wheelchairs at the same rate so that they didn’t end up setting fire to one another!


On Thursday we had international mass and group photographs. In the morning we got a chance to lie in (until past 7am!) so we got crepes together – but of course being the one who can’t eat gluten I decided to take some time out and I sat on a bench by the river listening to my meditation CD – I did a whole 17 minutes of meditation and I felt so proud – in the middle of all the hustle and bustle I managed to stay totally mindful for 17 minutes – this may not seem like a big deal but it really is for me!

Thursday evening was so emotional. We went down to the Grotto to light our candle – something we do every year. The candle had all of our names on. This is the time that everyone has a cry and lets out all of the emotions they’ve been holding in. Lighting a candle you pray for those who need it, for family, for those you’ve lost and it brings such strong feelings and emotions. One thing that strikes me every single time I go is how every single one of the youth supports the others, nobody is left out, everyone comforts everyone, like one big family – but a family of choice, where we all choose to love each other.

After lighting the candle, Lucy and I walked back to the hotel and on the way circled the statue of Mary three times. It is believed that doing so whilst saying the Hail Mary means that you will return to Lourdes.


Friday was a sad day -the last day! We cleaned the hospital, helped the assisted pilgrims to pack and had the closing mass. The flight was due to leave at 7pm, but got delayed until 3am – it turns out Mary wasn’t ready for us to leave!

Although I am still not recovered from the tiredness – I wouldn’t have changed getting to spend an extra 8 hours with my friends.

Until next year,

Louise x

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