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.
Yesterday (and don't worry this isn't just going to be full of Beatles quotes) I really struggled in a work meeting.
I went into my shell.
I could feel myself doing it and I hated it, but it happens sometimes and it's a symptom of living with depression.
The MIND website days that with depression you might feel:
Yesterday I flipped from being in quite a good place to within minutes feeling down, completely worthless, an empty shell of myself with no self confidence about the things I believe in that I was talking about.
I felt like someone had turned on a tap and drained out all my value, all my confidence. It's a horrible feeling to be empty like that.
Fortunately I found some people to talk to after the meeting to help top up my value tank a little and make me feel like I am doing something worthwhile, that my views and experience are worth listening to.
I'd like to understand why I flip like this. Why when I get some negative feedback or criticism that it affects me so much. I think it might be because I am a people pleaser and I want to be perfect, so anything that someone else doesn't like feels like a personal attack on who I am and on my core values.
It's bloody horrible.
At the end of the meeting we were each asked to give a single word to describe how we found the meeting. I was last. I declined to give an answer.
If I had it would have been easy to choose.
Some people say its ok to fail.
But I don't want to if it makes me feel like this.
I'm my own worst enemy, but that's who I am.
I'm trying not to feel lonely
I'm trying hard not to feel sad
but sometimes I feel so alone
sometimes I feel like Jen without Brad
I'm working on not feeling down
I'm working hard on not feeling low
but sometimes I'm feeling the depths
sometimes I'm feeling I have nowhere to go
I'm imagining a brighter future
I'm dreaming of better days
but sometimes my imagination fails me
sometimes my dreams fade away
I'm crippled by the voice inside me
I'm paralysed by what he says
but sometimes he can't reach me
sometimes he doesn't get his way
I'm wondering how it feels to be happy
I'm wishing the daylight away
but sometimes the sunlight embraces me
sometimes the clouds aren't so grey
I'm hoping I'm laughing on the inside
I'm hoping my heart has not turned black
but sometimes I think it's broken
sometimes I fear there's no turning back
My mask is starting to show some cracks.
The cracks are letting out some of who i actually am.
I'm not pretending or acting so much anymore. Well not all the time like usual anyway.
I've started having a bit more fun at work. This is a good thing because I find that the fun can be hard to find these days.
The problem I am now facing is that following previous feedback about what the authentic me is like and the effect i can have on people I am becoming increasingly anxious that someone will get upset, offended or dislike someone I say or do.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not doing anything bad here, i'm just having fun, but the work world today feels like it can be hard to have fun and be your authentic self as there is always someone who may not like that you.
Fun is good for your health. It helps you connect, let off steam, laughter is good for you, you enjoy work and motivation levels stay higher.
So why is it so hard to have fun now?
I think the answer is fear. Fear that your fun will upset someone else.
The opposite is true too, and something I have been accused of. Being 'grumpy' and not having fun can upset people as well.
So it's a fine line and you can be walking a tightrope. I especially seem to have highs and lows of mood, i am more often really down, but if I'm up it can be a big up. So I'll probably be upsetting someone however I am.
Being my authentic self is therefore very difficult and can take an awful lot of energy to maintain some sort of middle ground where I am noticed less. The trouble is I don't do my best work in this place, I'm better at the extremes. I either want to be in the centre of the conversation or not involved in it at all. Playing a bit part is hard. The Oscar for best supporting actor won't be coming my way.
Hot desking doesn't help my authentic self. Neither does working remotely from the rest of my team. When you sit with the same people you get to know them, you know their good and bad, their highs and lows. Working remotely and at hot desks means that is hard. You're sat next to strangers, how authentic can you be?
So how much should I let the mask continue to crack?
How much should I be me?
And if someone doesn't like the authentic me is that ok? Does that mean I've actually done something wrong or that I'm a bad person. Or does it just mean that people are all different and some people just don't connect.
It plays on my mind a lot this.
Because of things that have happened over the last year I feel like an empty shell a lot of the time at work, or perhaps hiding in my shell. Scared to come out for fear of upsetting someone. But the essence of the authentic me is to step forward, to volunteer, to push for change, to raise my head above the parapet. And if I'm scared to do that then you're not getting the best of me, and that's not good for me, or you.
Believe in yourself, unless it upsets anyone else, because in my experience you then get judged and labelled as a problem.
So it's better to keep quiet, and stay in your shell, and fix your mask.
It's not supposed to be fun.
I can't wait for 2019 to be over. It's been a(nother) shit year.
It's been another year where I have questioned who I am, what value I add and why I bother to try so hard.
It's been a year of snakes and ladders. I think i'm doing better and doing well then i tread on another snake and go sliding back down again.
It's also been a year of project 'I told you so'. Lots of the things I have been saying for a long time that I think need to happen (at work) have started to happen, this is of course good, but still makes me feel that I'm not valued as I was on the right path but struggled to be listened to, or not listened to enough.
Work has a huge impact on my mental health. It's more than a job for me, it's a representation and a reflection of who I am, what I do, what my values are and what I deliver is my legacy, if that's not too grand and conceited a word to use.
Valuing those who think differently, work differently, even behave differently is really important.
Perhaps changing how (and how often) we value those who (like me) have very low self worth is really important too.
Sometimes (usually / often) the people who think differently, who can't help but be passionate in meetings (perhaps over passionate) have value to add but sometimes (usually / often) they can find it hard for their voice to be heard, or the way they make their voice heard can be misinterpreted or shut down.
I'm rambling now I know, but you can probably tell this has happened a lot to me in 2019.
It's 22.50 and after unsuccessfully laying in bed for half an hour overthinking i'm now laying on the living room floor flouting all DSE assessment rules typing this.
I'm not in a good place today. I was until this afternoon when circumstances at work made my anxiety go 'crazy' and now I am overthinking, catastrophising and analysing everything in minute detail.
I genuinely believe I am a good person and the things I do are with good intent. But I can be and have been misunderstood because of how I have sometimes delivered my message. I can be blunt, I can be direct, I can be sarcastic and I openly admit to that but I never ever try and hurt people. I can get this wrong and it makes me feel terrible, really terrible.
And right now it is making me catastrophise, a lot. It is making me over harshly judge myself.
Evening time and nighttime is hardest for me. I live alone (apart from with my thoughts) and this the time they start to spiral, the time they start to scare me and the time I feel most lonely.
I have come to the following conclusions:
That's a tough mindset to be in at 23.05.
At this moment I can't see positives
At this moment I really want to cry but I can't
At this moment my mind feels foggy
At this moment I can't feel anything apart from the anxious churn in my stomach
At this moment I am surviving not thriving
I'm trying so hard everyday to be the best me I can be
Why do i get it so wrong
Why am I so useless
What is my point
It's international mens day today. It's also world toilet day but I don't think the two are linked, unless the toilet seat has been left up of course.
I have 2 boys, who will one day go from being boys to men, and I try my best to be a good example to them of what being a modern man is about.
I'm sure I do things wrong and have done, i'm sure I'll continue to but I am certain that by being as open as possible about being sensitive, not having to be the strong silent type and even (shock horror) crying that I'll help my boys turn out alright.
These are some of the things I have done recently as a man.
Um that's it really. Happy international mens day.
The result was interesting and i typed the scores she had given me up as we went along and then sent it to her at the end. It looked like this.
So within 10 minutes we had gone from "I can't think of any more of my good qualities' to the scores above.
We don't need to be perfect, but if we're not perfect that doesn't mean we don't score and don't have the quality and should not recognise it.
Thinking in black and white about things can be exhausting because life can either be good or a catastrophe. The balance comes somewhere in the middle with accepting sometimes it will be good and sometimes not so good.
Next time you or someone you care about is feeling down, try the scores approach. You might surprise yourself
Mr Paul Wyse