Maryam Meddin is the founder of a new, innovative behavioural health clinic in London, The Soke (the name is taken from its location – South Kensington), a first-of-its kind clinic bringing together mental health and wellbeing services with professional development support, all under one roof.
Maryam attributes her interest in mental health to a personal history that includes an interrupted education, growing up in a war zone in Iran and Iraq, an attempt to resettle as a refugee in the UK aged 16, destitution (she came to the UK with nowhere to go and would sleep at Heathrow airport) as well as experiencing the horror of suicide among members of her immediate family.
But it was Maryam’s life experiences that then led her to embark on a Masters in psychotherapy & counselling which led her to work part time in an NHS clinic for a couple of years, offering psychotherapy to severely traumatised refugees. Her idea for The Soke stemmed from there, as she felt the industry needed to change.
Here Maryam tells us about setting up The Soke during the Corona crisis, and how humour, iced coffee and dogs help get her through.
Tell us about your work…
“I’m the founder of a new behavioural health centre called The Soke. We’re making psychotherapy, psychiatry and other non-acute mental health services more accessible and more comfortable – literally & metaphorically –for everyone.
There are about ten of us (including a clinical board of five) turning the wheels backstage, and then of course numerous other practitioners offering different specialties to make sure we pretty much cover every type of expertise that could be helpful to our clients.
What I love about what I’m doing is that it’s universally relevant. There isn’t anyone whose mental health doesn’t factor into their life, it’s just a question of where they sit on the spectrum of wellness, and we can make a difference to them all.”
Where do you physically work currently?
“I work in an iconic building – which used to be the Queen’s Elm pub – in South Kensington. Directly outside sits The Flower Stand which is also a bit of a Chelsea landmark. In this otherwise completely urban corner, I’m greeted every morning, and bid farewell every night, with the view and fragrance of nature’s finest.”
What is the best thing about your work?
“Without question it’s my colleagues. I’m part of an organisation where people are required to bring their brains, their compassion and their ethics to work in equal measure and it makes for a really unique culture. Also, our COO, George Broke, is one of the funniest human beings I’ve ever met, so there’s never a working day when I’m not doubled over in hysterics at least once.”
What is the worst?
“Well, I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I can change things if they’re not working, so I have no complaints.”
What has been the most pivotal point of your career so far?
“There have been more than one, but in each instance I’m going to point to friends and the moment that they said “Of course you can do it” which spurred me to take leaps of faith, knowing that they’d catch me if I didn’t find a soft landing.”
What is the best advice you’ve ever had?
“My dad always said it would serve me better to know a little bit about lots of things than a lot about a single thing – his view was that this would make me equally conversant with a prince or a pauper, which he interpreted as a sign of both intelligence and humanity. There have been times when I’ve watched or read things that have been deathly dull, just because I have his words ringing in my ears.”
What’s your context outside of work?
“I’m single and live in London. Since I lost my boxer, Casper, a couple of years ago, I’ve become a very popular dog sitter for all my friends who, rather dubiously, are now militantly opposed to me getting another dog of my own.”
What was your ‘normal’ day to day life like pre COVID-19?
“When you’re trying to get a new business off the ground there isn’t really a ‘normal’ day or routine. The only thing that was consistant was that there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing from one meeting to the next. I confess, moving the meetings online was absolutely fine with me.”
What is your day-to day life like now after Lockdown?
“The renovation of the Soke building was completed during the lockdown so now that we’re able to work from work (mental health is an essential service so we’re fully operational), my daily life is very different than it had been for months during which I’d been working from home. That said, I think that like everyone else, we’ve now incorporated Zoom into our standard practice for meetings, and on that side of things I don’t imagine that things will ever return to the way they were.”
How has the Corona crisis impacted you personally and professionally?
“On a personal front: my mother and my brother are abroad and I haven’t seen them for 12 and 10 months, respectively. On the professional front: I’m definitely one of the lucky ones – I have a job and my sector isn’t under threat. The benchmark for good fortune doesn’t need to be very high these days.”
What are you finding challenging right now?
“The weight gain that comes with menopause. Covid had nothing to do with it.”
What has got you through? What have been your coping strategies?
“Humour has generally been a useful tool throughout my life, which has had its fair share of twists and turns. I’m a survivor of revolution, destitution and significant bereavements – but I still haven’t come across that thing that isn’t [darkly] funny.”
Do you feel that Lockdown has changed your outlook and if so how?
“I suspect that, like many others who were lucky enough not to have had everything upended by the pandemic, I used enforced isolation as an opportunity to purge my life of activities and people that weren’t bringing me joy.”
Personally how have you managed your mind and wellbeing throughout Lockdown?
“My inner peace is fuelled by time spent in the company of dogs. This isn’t a flippant comment – I’m genuinely at my most content when I can spend a few idle hours in a park with a dog, I find their natural euphoria to be contagious.”
What are your thoughts on travel right now?
“I’m not travelling and have no plans to travel. The threat of quarantining and the uncertainty around the rules don’t make it very appealing.”
What are your current handbag essentials?
“My glasses. I’m becoming increasingly helpless without them.”
What gets you through Working from Home?
“Ice cubes. I’ve developed a habit for iced coffee & tea.”
What is your work wardrobe like now from what it used to be?
“I now wear a jacket with my jeans.”
What are your current 5 essential items of clothing?
“Jeans. A scarf. And three layers of anything.”
What is your vision for the future of your business?
“I hope that a time will come when everyone takes a proactive interest in their psychological and emotional wellbeing and that when they do, they view The Soke to be a trusted champion for good behavioural health.
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