Hello you, how are you, long time no speak....
I have had a couple of conversations this week about people’s anxiety with doing things (in this case painting and driving lessons – not at the same time) and their challenges with perfectionism.
Perfectionism and it’s constant nag in your ear to be better and to be amazing at everything you do immediately is in no uncertain terms a bastard.
During my excellent and free counselling advice I suggested the following….
It was excellent advice and I really should charge for it. But it’s taken me a long time to realise that you can enjoy the mindful moment, the process of doing something and the journey and that unless you're a rocket scientist the end result may not matter as much.
After all we’re all going to die and they do say life is about the journey not the destination.
We also talked about how anxiety, avoidance, procrastinating and how looking for someone else’s permission or approval before doing something can be exhausting and are also all bastards.
If you’re trying something new or difficult start small. Don’t look at where you think you should be, break it down into manageable steps and take them one at a time, go backwards if you need to. But start. Action creates motivation, not the other way round.
Think of it like a journey too. If you are anxious about a decision or an action you can stop and pause at some mind traffic lights. You can take a slightly different direction, just a slight tweak to what you do and in time you could be in a very different place.
The mind is a bit like a super tanker (full or terrible transport analogies today) and just half a degree change in direction can make a huge difference to where it ends up. And you can always steer back to a different destination if you want to or if the waters get choppy.
So um that's it. You don't need to be a super tanker, a good one, average one or great one is ok, as long as you enjoy the journey.
Well clearly it isn't or I wouldn't be writing....
I just saw something online about people telling people to be positive and it really annoyed me and reminded me of a couple of significant times last year I was told to do that by managers, so I thought I could write about it during Mental Health Awareness Week because that's the week we're allowed to talk about it before it drops back off the radar.
My mind spends all day telling me I'm messing things up, that things may go wrong, overthinking and knocking six bells out of any self worth I have managed to build up. Is it any surprise then that I struggle with positivity when my mind is wired to automatically go negative.
If your car wiring wasn't working and the indicator switch worked the wiper would just telling the car to do what you wanted and to do things 'properly' work or would you investigate the cause and see what you could do to get the outcome you wanted. It's one of my crapper analogies but still works I think.
I think a lot of people may be getting an insight into what this type of mind is like to live with during the current crisis. Positivity can be knocked out of you and that's likely happening to more people than would care to admit it at the moment (bloody stigma).
I wish I didn't have this mind and you telling me to do something which is really really difficult for me doesn't help, it makes me feel even more useless than I already do.
I hope that helps you understand a bit, and if not I'll just re-write this in a foreign language that I find really really hard to understand, because that will probably be easier than 'just' being positive.
And recognising that those who point out the negatives are as valuable as those who point out the positives is worthwhile, my weakness is my strength, or something like that.
I read this excellent article from BLURT about feeling exhausted
You should read it too. Or listen to it if you're feeling too exhausted to read right now.
It was written before unprecedented global events had happened, but it's even more relevant now they're happening.
I for one am absolutely knackered, i'm physically and mentally tired out.
I'm too tired to write anymore about this, just read the article, or listen, or do it later when you're more awake.
Four weeks into lockdown, one lockdown beard grown then shaved off because it got too itchy, how do ZZ Top manage it?
A mixed 4th week for me, with long periods of silence and physical isolation. I'm not socially isolated thanks to technology but it's not the same as physical connection, face to face conversation, seeing someone's smile, laughing together or having a hug.
Yesterday I travelled all of 3m into the garden, I'm glad I don't have a fitbit anymore. I know I'm lucky to have a garden and this is making people appreciate the environment and open space more than ever. But I haven't seen anyone face to face for the last 48 hours and that's difficult.
The kitchen remains the office, some people have kitchen diners, I have kitchen office and that's not an area I'd ever seen mocked up in IKEA.
The kitchen office is weird. It offers both a view of the temptation of the garden, but also a view of the washing up I haven't done yet. The office part has made the kitchen table redundant for any other use. I still have grand plans to get the kids sitting back round the table to eat together and connect, but its a physical impossibility.
Working from home affects so many parts of your life. You obviously lose the connection to others but you also lose a physical part of your home. The computer screen is always there staring at you, reminding you about the work you have to do, you can't just close the office door and leave it there.
My house is small, 2 rooms downstairs, 2 beds and a bathroom upstairs. It used to just be somewhere that I relaxed, cooked, cleaned and slept. It's now also a school and an office and a warehouse for stockpiling toilet rolls.
Its function has completely changed and with that change my mind is having to adapt. It prompted me to look at a list of life's stressors and take a view of where I am with both worry and reality. I've done a red amber green thing with green being all is good, red its bad and amber in between.
Reality is less bad than the worry column and it's important to look at reality. But that does not stop the worry, it can ease it yes but not stop it (in my experience).
And one of the worst things for worry is your own company, is a lack of interaction, is spending too much time alone and just with your thoughts.
Happiness may have hit her like a train on the tracks but there are a lot of people out there who have too many stressors going on to be happy at the moment.
Maybe look at your stressors, which ones are worries and which are actual and see if you can do anything about them, even if the thing you do is give yourself a break for feeling stressed in the middle of these strange times.
I'm worried about my kids education but I should give myself a break.
I'm worried about the new job I started 3 weeks ago and me not performing but I should give myself a break.
I feel lonely but its likely so does everyone else, this is not a FOMO thing, there's nothing to miss out on.
I should just go 3 m into the garden and feel the sun on my face and be grateful i've got that.
Just over two weeks into lockdown and the view from the the area formerly known as the kitchen table is becoming very familiar.
The back door is open, the birds are tweeting, the roads are quiet but my mind is full - like usual.
I'm just on a work call about the current situation with 'the virus' and listening to a useful run through from one of the Mental Health First Aiders about what you can do to try and stay sane.
It's a good call. But I'm still concerned about what longer term impact this is going to have on people's longer term mental health, on their anxiety, on their ability to cope with uncertainty and the effects anxiety cam have on your mind. Like these from the MIND website.
I've seen a few things in the media recently about this being one of those times in life when the special skillset the anxious have been blessed with comes to the fore.
We are after all some of the most experienced people in society at struggling with the challenges of anxiety and what to do to ease it and make things easier to cope with.
In fact you could say we're experts, woop woop, i'm finally an expert at something.
I actually feel remarkably well equipped to cope, i'm not saying I'm enjoying it and I don't feel anxious, lonely, scared, uncertain, frustrated and a million other feelings, but anxiety is not a new thing for me so I have learned ways to cope. You probably have too if you've struggled in the past and maybe now is your time to help others.
If you've done some CBT maybe explain it to a friend who seems to be struggling more than normal, if you've found a coping mechanism to distract your mind and give it a rest (like when I paint) then tell someone or if someone simply needs you to listen to not judge, offer solutions or mend them then offer to do so because you realise how important that is.
You have a special skillset, use it to help others, it will help you too.
Uncertain times at the moment and uncertainty is not a good thing for many people. It can make them anxious, make them react in certain ways and make them do feel and do things they might not normally do.
It's a really important time to take care of your mental health, especially if you are having to isolate yourself and especially if you're not used to it.
I am isolated a lot, I sit alone at work and I live on my own apart from the 3 nights I have my kids. So I spend a lot of time with my own thoughts and it's important to have coping strategies.
So if you're suddenly more isolated in life what types of things could you do which might help:
Listen to music (embrace having your own office). If you listen to the radio recognise that constant news reminders may make it difficult for you to focus on anything else
- Do some lunchtime exercise. Yoga with Adriene on YouTube is an excellent 30 min per day guided session which will help you in all sorts of ways
- Create your work space to be how you like. If you like to look out of a window and have natural light then try and sit there, if you like tidy be tidy, if you like messy be messy.
- Switch around your working area to keep it 'fresh'. Try a standing desk using the ironing board if that helps.
- Dress down / dress up, but try and make a distinction between work and home (e.g. PJs 4 days a week only)
- Call people more often than you normally would. Check in. Call just for a chat and not about work.
Embrace physical isolation but not social isolation
Look for the opportunities. Own it. It's going to be like this for a while so adapt and make it work for you.
Yesterday I was thinking about buckets.
And more specifically how to get the right amount in my work bucket and the right amount in my life bucket.
The not very amazing revelation that I only have a certain amount to give and need to decide where to put my efforts has been on my mind. It came into focus yesterday on my first day back at work after being off sick and trying to decide when I had done enough work.
My 'normal' mind tells me that I should work at least an 8 hour day. That there is always more to be done. That sometimes that involves working through lunch and regularly involves even longer days.
So in these situations work gets 8 hours and I get the other 16, with half of those being asleep.
The challenge at the moment is that I don't feel like I can give 8 hours to work, I'm fit, but I'm not match fit. I'm a bit rusty, i'm just coming back from an injury and I should be used sparingly as a substitute until I'm better.
The dawning realisation that I'm not ill enough to be off work but I'm not yet back to match fitness has been an interesting one. It's helped me rationalise things and it's helped me feel more comfortable with working a shorter day, or not tackling the trickier tasks which I would normally do.
So the message from this ramble. Be kind to yourself. Be comfortable that you might not be able to do the things you normally do if you are feeling unwell or are working back towards being match fit.
We wouldn't expect our broken arm to be better as soon as we are able to be back at work, we'd take things easier and not push it. Why do we think our minds can recover just like that?
We need to give ourselves the time, but most importantly need to be comfortable with doing that.
Accept that sometimes you can't put the 8 hours into the work bucket and you need to put a bit more into the life one.
it's all about balance, but also all about acceptance.
This week I’ve been off sick. Not physically sick, but mentally sick. I haven’t felt well enough to work.
It started manifesting itself last Friday when I wrote my last blog and had spent the whole day suffering from a bad case of presenteeism, when I was at work but I should have not been. I was ineffective, inefficient and a waste of works electricity. I’ve written about presenteeism before and how the absences that we record from work are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the impact of mental health, and that presenteeism is somewhere around 4 times the cost of absenteeism.
We record absenteeism, but we don’t record presenteeism. How many other people were at work last Friday when they shouldn’t have been. I’m going to ask for mine to be recorded when I get back to work.
So…. I had a shit Friday, but got through the weekend focussing on my kids and on a night out with an old mate. But then Monday morning came….
I just couldn’t bear the thought of going to work. I felt useless, I felt like I wouldn’t be able to make decisions, to achieve anything or to add any value. And couldn’t bear the idea of another day like ‘present’ Friday. So I called in sick.
I ended up having four days off. I’ve never had more than a day off for mental health before.
I do loads at work to promote people taking time off, for mental health to be on a par with physical health and to try and break down some of the stigma.
But oh my god I felt so guilty all week.
Today I can feel the tears in my eyes but they won’t quite roll down my cheeks
Today I am sat at my desk unable to concentrate
Today I feel useless, worse than a failure, I don’t see my value
Today the darkness has crept up on me
Today I am scared to be alone
Today my gremlins are in charge of my thoughts
Today they have filtered out any of the good and only let through the bad
Today I question myself why I bother, why I care, why I try so hard
Today I am not kind to myself, I know it but it still happens
Today I need a hug, some company, not to be sat surrounded by empty chairs
Today I could just drive with no destination
Today I feel trapped, unable to break the downward spiral
Today my chest pounds and my stomach flutters but I don’t know why
Today I am a waste of space, I should go home but there is only silence there
Today I just want to eat badly, drink too much and find the comfort
Today catastrophising is my default, there is no hope
Today I miss love, someone who is there
Today I feel so much but I also feel empty
Today I compare myself to others too much
Today I just want to listen to others so I don’t have to listen to myself
Today my confidence has drained away, the plug pulled out
Today self worth is an all time low, I contribute nothing, only take and burden
Today I miss friends, laughter and understanding
Today I hold my head in my hands and stare unable to take action
Today remote working and its flexibility are my enemy not my friend
Today reminds me why I used to self harm, to feel something, to feel anything
Today I feel like I am failing, failing people, failing work, failing myself
Today my only solace comes in my words, my view is a lonely one
Today I could crawl back under the covers, but I know sleep will not come
Today the lights have been switched off, the blue sky does not seem so blue
Today my black dog is in charge and he will not leave my side
Today is a long day
So I decided that one way to help bring about the change is to pull together stories from colleagues so it's not just me boring people (i'm not suggesting my colleagues are boring of course).
The result looks like this. It's a load of individual stories from people that people will know. The type of stories that will make them say 'oh I never knew that' or 'thanks for sharing that was really interesting' and maybe even 'oh my god, i'm like that too.'
Talking and sharing stories is so important:
Lived experience leadership is central to breaking the stigma and people with experience of mental health challenges play a key role. So that’s the document will be helpful with work colleagues sharing the challenges of mental health.
It's important to show that it’s ok to talk about mental health regardless of your place in the organisation and career progression isn’t affected.
Unfortunately this is the area I have struggled most with.
I've approached people for their stories because invariably they have shared with me when I was open. Sharing creates sharing, it's amazing. But I don't know of many senior leaders who have had struggles. This may be because they don't want to share, that there is a stigma amongst leaders of sharing or perhaps none of them have had any struggles. But let's face it, it's unlikely to be the latter because all of our leaders are people, so I guess it must be stigma related.
It is inspirational and gives hope that things can improve if you can read one of your colleagues stories. Could it be even more powerful if we could get more of our leaders to share?
If we hope to normalise mental health conditions then we need to show that it can affect anyone, regardless or your experience, seniority or grade.
Mr Paul Wyse