8 June 2022

Showing up for my Saturn Return

Comment Mental Health

A psychiatrist attempts wellness. 


Engaging in regular exercise was one of the few benefits of pandemic existence.

Certainly, regular exercise is known to provide profound physical and mental health benefits. It also kept many of us functional, and allowed some social interaction when rules allowed us to meet friends within our 5km radius, coffee or no coffee in hand. 

I must confess I am not a fan of walking for the sake of it, and now have a bizarre adverse reaction when I think about a walk around the block when there is a multitude of other things to do in my busy day. 

However, I did alleviate some of this profound sense of uselessness and seemingly impaired productivity by discovering the world of podcasts. I recognised quickly that true crime podcasts, as popular and as gripping as they were, undid most of the beneficial effects of the walk on my sleep, so I looked for different content. 

My beauty therapist, whom I could see on those heady days when lockdown was lifted, recommended a podcast to me. It was called Saturn Returns with Caggie, and was created by a UK celebrity called Caggie Dunlop.  

In essence, my therapist explained, all of us experience something called a “Saturn Return” approximately every 27 years, as this is how long it takes Saturn to make a complete journey around the sun.  

It is meant to be a completely life-changing time, often not for the right reasons, and often only recognised in retrospect. Guests on the podcast would say they’d been unaware why their lives were total chaos in their late 20s until they discovered this phenomenon. (Because what 20-something’s life would be chaotic without celestial intervention?)

Given that, by this logic, I was in the midst of my second Saturn Return, I became determined to work out just exactly what was going on, even if it meant I had to push myself to go for that next walk around the block. 

I soon discovered links to celebrities who had embraced their Saturn Return for the better. Living “sober curious” and “clean” lives, they achieved success while staying grounded and in the moment, still on the youthful side of 30. Even megastar Adele had discovered this: her Saturn Return became the subject of her recent body art, jewellery choice and mega-return to her musical career.  

These people had everything worked out, from how to find their soul mate to how to leave their soul mate, but who also, as part of an experience of gratitude and a journey to authenticity, looked with compassion to their former selves and their inner child, owned their future and learnt to just be in the moment. 

Be in the moment. That was tough during 2020 and 2021. 

It soon became a form of self-discovery porn, where I couldn’t stop listening but knew it wasn’t good for me. The more I learnt about leaning in, reaching out, showing up and drilling down, the more I felt like a competitor in an existential Twister game – all limbs gripping on one plastic coloured spot, struggling to remain centred and grounded while in fact falling on my bum. 

Fair play to Caggie Dunlop, though, with her almost-400,000 followers on Instagram and thousands of podcast subscribers, me being one now.  

I must admit I do have a particular envy of Instagram influencers and podcast celebrities who are very business savvy, can work all their “socials” to fund their lifestyle and more. Being devoted to innovative hashtags, loving sponsorship deals and being passionate about owning their presence pays well and seems very glamorous compared with the hard work of a doctor.  

Envy slid into resentment that they could guide their audience on this healing journey, promising so much to so many, without responsibility or a scientific approach.  

After a few seasons I did start to fatigue. The more I learnt, the worse I felt about myself. When I did feel bad, I began to feel as if it might be all my fault. In the depths of the winter podcasts and walks, I did have an epiphany one day. Everything was my fault because, well, I simply wasn’t “showing up”. 

#showingup. 

As much as this wellness industry can take credit for creating an empire of financial success and fame out of absolutely nothing – except some social media platforms, a selfie stick and a DIY podcast setup – I really wish they would just leave one thing alone: the English language. 

Once I heard the term “showing up”, it seemed to pop up everywhere. It was kind of like a brand-new adverb, adjective, noun and verb, as useful as the “F” word and as overused.  

I began asking myself if I had “showed up” to my walk, being my best self, and was “showing up” to others with this intention and purpose as well. “Showing up” became a buzz term that took on a life of its own for me, before it became the demise of my wellness journey. The self that was just doing her best to survive the lockdown would just have to do. Wondering if rain would “show up” for me along my path to home because I didn’t wear a raincoat was, well, stupid. 

I hope I have never come across to my patients over the years as somebody who relies on vacuous buzzwords or catchphrases, or sells a promise of happiness based on such. If I have, I hope they didn’t go away feeling completely invalidated when actually experiencing distress. Indeed, the wellness industry has taken on a brand new form in lockdown life, a variant if you like, where positive experiences abound via our listening devices, internet memes, and our follows on the ’Gram.  

As for me, I am clawing back to my reality. Me, who simply loves visiting a book shop, or sitting down in a café and enjoying a coffee. Or a glass of bubbles because I can’t embrace sober curiosity. These experiences will define my second “Saturn Return”.  

We do what we can, amid the uncertainty, knowing what we know each day. Nothing more can be promised.  

So, as a commitment to myself, I will retire the tracksuit pants and the daily walks just for now. I will never embark again on a crazy existential phase of journeying around the sun and will stick to a literal one. I’ll also remain devout about the correct use of the English language. 

Even if that means I might dump on your feels. 

Dr Helen Schultz is a consultant psychiatrist with almost 20 years’ experience in doctor mental health, who now offers complaints outsourcing – practical assistance for dealing with a regulatory or professional third party. Contact her at helen@drhelenschultz.com

This piece was originally published at medium.com.