Project HeatherED

Live your happiest, healthiest, and emotionally wealthiest life

Tag: work

The Back to the Future Post (or how I’m planning a mentally healthy return to work)

This morning I spoke with my line manager to arrange going back to work from the middle of next week. Just mornings, to start, and – only if they go well – then slowly building back to my usual full-time hours.

Phone calls, I find, are particularly challenging when I’m unwell. I think most people my age and younger feel the same way, though this is amplified when my mental health isn’t tip-top. Today it felt especially hard to speak on the phone. I didn’t know what to say.

When you’re mentally unwell, being asked “how are you?” takes on another level of meaning. Even when you’re physically sick, it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint how exactly you feel at any given moment. You can 10X this for someone with a mental health issue. Honestly, it feels like I have to find something positive to tell the well-meaning inquirer at the other end of the line. I find myself saying something that boils down to “Look! I’m getting better!” I can almost feel the forced smiles. Reassuring others that I’m going to be okay, when I don’t actually know this myself, is scary.

It’s over an hour since we spoke. Whilst I know that my planned return is rationally a good decision, I feel anxious about it.  Not having felt much of anything in the past few weeks, it’s unsettling to suddenly feel familiarly unpleasant sensations. The tightness in my jaw and my chest. I realise I’m not breathing properly – I’ve been holding my breath – so take a few deep lungfuls of air and relax a touch as the oxygen revitalises my brain.

For the first time in a few weeks, I’m overwhelmed. Plans to walk to the shops slowly disintegrate. It feels too much to put away the washing, to bake pretty pastel-coloured cupcakes for my nieces, even to tackle the washing up. I just don’t want to do anything any more. No, thank you.

I don’t like how this feels. I remember that this is what it’s like to have a mental meltdown. I need to stop; be still and see what comes up for me. Wait for my emotional self to catch up with the rational part. Knowing my back-to-work plan is the right thing to do motivates me to take action. I’ve metaphorically opened my mental first-aid kit, tapping into tried-and-tested tools at hand that I hope will help me become better. I’m here writing to you, for one.

Immediately after hanging up the phone, I went to take a shower (and yes; I’m aware that this is lazy behaviour at 10.30am, but I have been writing for much of the morning). I find this to be a perfect place to tune into what’s happening in my body and brain. With the sounds of the shower drowning out my self-consciousness, I talk to myself aloud, heart-to-heart. Talking myself down from the metaphorical, anxiety-fuelled ledge, so to speak. Like any conversation with someone I love, I literally ask myself questions out loud – and I answer from the heart.

To anyone else, this talking to myself would look like utter madness. It feels that way to me, too. However I’m learning to care less about what others might think. If anything helps me feel better – closer to a healthier, happier version of myself – then I’ll give it a try. Taking the decision to be completely open about being on sick leave for mental health reasons helps. It feels authentic; to be true to myself and my values. And as far as I know, so far, so good.

This week I’ve sought comfort and companionship from Russell Brand’s book, “Recovery”, on Audible. Logically, I know I’m not alone in experiencing common conditions like anxiety, depression, and disordered eating. In practise I find I need to remind myself over and again that I’m not the first to struggle this way – nor will I be the last – and books like this helps. I recognise myself in their stories – and those of others, who also find themselves in a dark place.

More than ever, I find myself drawn towards self-help and recovery stories. Right now, I need to hear tales of people who’ve come through the other side of mental meltdown. Russell is an extreme example of this.  I accept I’m a little obsessive about this stuff. C finds the whole genre uncomfortable and would rather I read something else: a bit of sci-fi or fantasy, perhaps? However I find I enjoy spending time technically on my own, but via books and podcasts, simultaneously surrounded by people who’ve walked a similar path.

These “non-experts” – “leading learners”, as described by the Fizzle guys – are especially interesting to me. With experiential – rather than academic – expertise, these people successfully manage their minds. A mental mind-field, they’ve dug themselves out of the proverbial dark hole that bit sooner than the rest of us. We keep scrabbling at the sides of said hole, getting a bit of traction, only to find ourselves sliding back.

Ahead on the road to recovery, these Leading Learners choose to turn back and offer us a hand, sharing said experience and strategies which have worked for them. As I tentatively step forward, I hope to become someone who can, in turn, offer this crucial support to someone else, whether in person or virtually, via this blog.  It’s a virtuous circle, I suppose, and one of which I’m striving to be a part.

As a responsible adult, I know it’s important that I return to work. I’ve got a mortgage to pay, a partner to support, and two kitty mouths to feed. Still, I’m scared. Not of the work itself, but of what being in work might do to my fragile state of mind. Taking time out has shown me how imperative it is that I prioritise my mental wellbeing. I’m conscious of not going back too soon and sliding backwards.

Though I’m returning to the same environment – the same job – I don’t want to return to being the same person who left, a shadow of herself a few weeks prior. I’d incrementally become disinterested, despondent, depressed. I recognise this person from previous troubled times and I’m afraid that this version of myself might be back for good.

I still don’t know why I had this mental meltdown. I’m not yet able to pin down exactly what’s not working, other than my mind. It’s a complex knot to unpick, and it’ll take time to unravel. Whilst I’d love to resolve any and all issues immediately – perfectly – first time around, I accept this isn’t how things work. I’m learning to be okay with slowing down, being patient, and creating more balance.

I’m confident that I’ve devised a sensible strategy to get back to some kind of normalcy. As the person who knows me best, I’m taking the lead on my return to work, at a pace I can handle. I know it’s a good plan; I’ve checked with those who love and understand me most. Although I’m trying to cut out reassurance-seeking as part of my recovery, it’s a hard habit to break.

So I’ve made an exception in this case because work matters, not only financially but emotionally, too. It’s an important factor when it comes to self-esteem. I want to feel like I’m contributing; like I’m pulling my weight and making a positive difference. I have to make clear here that paid work isn’t the only way to do this. It’s only one part of the bigger picture when it comes to living a happy, healthy, and emotionally wealthy way of life. Volunteering, creative work (blogging anyone?!), and taking care of those we love are all valuable ways to contribute.

Yet work continues to be an important part, which is why I’m trying so hard to go back to work sooner rather than later. In any case, right now I feel better about my return to work after a liberal application of the Three Ts – hot tea, toast, and telly! Sometimes I find that the best way to take good care of myself is by doing the most simple things.

P.S. I sense that I’m starting to drift off-topic, so if this particular post feels rather disorganised, then that’s most likely because it is. I hope you’ll forgive me – after all, I’m still a bit mental, remember?!

Much love,

Heather x

 

The First-in-a-Fortnight Post (or why I’m struggling to share my experience of a mental meltdown)

As anyone who follows me on Facebook already knows, I’m currently on sick leave for mental health reasons. Though there’s never a simple explanation for these things, in my case, depression and anxiety are once again on the scene.

It’s the first time I’ve ever taken time off work like this. It’s not at all like I expected.

I imagined that if I were to ever “give in” and stay home – and yes, that’s how I’ve thought about it; at least as it applies to myself –  I’d have to be at my very worst.

Emotionally uncontrollable; my life falling apart at the seams; borderline suicidal.

Closer to self-destruction than ever before. More so than even my twenty-something self who found herself standing at the platform’s edge at a Parisian station wanting so badly to put an end to her pain.

You’ll be pleased to hear that nothing so dramatic brought me to this place. I simply found myself overwhelmed and overloaded by everyday life.

Eventually, it’s like my mind simply switched off. Refused to reboot.

Long story short, I tried to carry on as normal. I briefly existed in a zombie-like state, staring at my computer screen. However I couldn’t keep up the pretence of being okay. After a meeting with my manager, we agreed I needed to head home, rest and relaxation to temporarily replace to-do lists.

Turns out that sick leave after a mental meltdown looks rather different from that of any other illness.

Unlike being home with the flu (or, more likely, a cold), being absent from work for mental reasons doesn’t mean you’re housebound. On the contrary, getting out and about is a sign of being en route to recovery. Coffee dates with friends, going to gym classes, taking long walks in the countryside.  In theory, I can do whatever I like, whenever I like, and go wherever I wish. Sounds idyllic!

Yet this is at odds with the reality, at least in my experience.  

Whilst I’m not technically limited as to what I can do, I’m mentally restricted by how much I feel I can handle. Which isn’t anywhere near as much as I’d like. Effectively burnt out, my brain seems to have gone into hibernation. Physically, I might not be tucked up in bed, but my brain seems to have retreated, metaphorically tucking itself in with a hot water bottle to wait this thing out. 

Like when a computer hasn’t been properly shut down, I feel like I’ve restarted in “safety mode”. Only the most basic programs are running , and even they have limited functionality. Sleep, eat, read, TV, repeat. 

Concentration compromised, I can only focus on one thing at a time. Single-tasking is the order of the day. This I’ve found to be frustratingly slow going. Like most women, I’m a prolific multi-tasker so it’s positively painful to have to relearn this skill – and it is a skill – which isn’t as easy as you’d think.

Even then, my brain refuses to entertain anything complex. This thwarts any ingenious ideas as to how I might maximise my time. Learning anything new (like much-needed skills in web design) falls to the wayside, requiring a depth of thought of which I’m not currently capable. 

Instead I’m forced to stick to the most simplistic, surface-level subjects. Superheroes series are proving to be especially soothing to my tired mind. I can escape into Marvel (always, over DC) movies for a few hours.

Reading about recovery from depressive illness, it turns out I’m unintentionally doing the best thing to give my brain a break:

“The answers are to find any way that you can of keeping your brain just idling, to avoid any challenging activities wherever possible and to do what you have to do in very small chunks. Best of all, be passive. The ideal would be an undiluted diet of Australian soap operas, if you can stomach that sort of thing. They allow you to sit and not ruminate – a sort of mental wallpaper, filling up the space and covering over the cracks.”

Dr Tim CantopherDepressive Illness: The curse of the strong

(2003, p.38)

 

Whilst I’ve zero intention of reviving my interest in “Neighbours” or “Home and Away”, I am partial to a bit of reality TV.  “Made in Chelsea” is currently topping the bill of tolerable TV trash, but other firm favourites include anything “Housewives”, and pretty much everything on TLC (“Say Yes To The Dress”, anyone?!).  This is one time when even C deems reality TV acceptable, though I’m saving him from the very worst of this by indulging during working hours.

On a more serious note,  I’m finding it frustratingly difficult to do the things I love most. Ironically, these are the same things that are most likely to help me heal. Take writing, for example. It’s taken me more than a fortnight to create something I feel comfortable publishing. This is the longest I’ve ever left between blog posts. Not feeling able to put words to my experience hurts more than just about anything when it comes to being mentally unwell. My throat tightens just thinking about it.

So, in an effort to overcome this particularly painful obstacle, I’ve pushed myself to publish this imperfect post today.

To give you an idea as to how challenging this has been, I started to write over a brew that C Kindly made for me before leaving for work. On a Monday morning whilst the rest of the world is working, I’m still sitting on the sofa, typing away on my Mac, unwashed in my PJs.  I finished the first draft around midday – over three hours later! Honestly, it’s taken me most of my day to create something that spans just a thousand words.

As you can tell, it’s frustratingly, painfully, s-l-o-w progress and it certainly isn’t the best piece I’ve ever written. (Those you can find here and here!)

However it’s important to me to write and share this with you. By putting my words into the world again, I’ve achieved something today for which I can feel proud. I’m not back to my best just yet, but I am making moves to counter my mental meltdown. I’m working towards become better, which is ultimately the essence of the recovery process.

In publishing this very post, I’ve taken a tiny step in a positive direction – and Reader: 

I’m grateful to have you with me. 

The Twentieth TWIG Post (or making a mental health confessional this week)

So, I have a confession to make before I get into my gratitudes.

My mental health isn’t in the best shape at the moment.

IMG_3431I’ve been able to tell for few weeks now that I’ve been sinking a little. Some signs I’ve picked up on include:

  • No motivation to get into the gym. Something pretty standard for most people, but not for me. I’ve described it as my “happy place” on many an occasion since I found it helpful for my mental health. It’s therefore ironic that the first thing to go the moment I’m a little low is my drive to work out.
  • Disproportionate tiredness. Not only do I feel super sleepy, nearly falling asleep on the bus on my way home, but my body feels physically heavy. It’s a cliche but it I’m getting the whole “walking through treacle” thing as I drag myself leaden-like about my daily life.
  • Irrational irritability. C might argue that I’m always a bit annoyed (or is that annoying?!), but I’m especially ready for a fight just now. Even if only in my head.
  • More frequent negative thoughts. I can tell in conversations I’m a bit more moody; more likely to bitch and moan over otherwise insignificant issues.
  • Getting especially teary when watching movies. Okay, so I’m a cryer when it comes to watching telly and am likely to burst into tears at the sight of a small animal or human in crises. However I’ve noticed I’ve a particular propensity to water-works of late, which given my medication suppresses my emotions in that regard, says there’s something up.
  • Inability to focus. I’m not great at paying attention at the best of times, but I’m especially scatter-brained just now. My least refined communication skill – listening  – is proving to be an extra effort.
  • A generally “noisier” brain. Prior to taking mental health meds, there was a permanent undertone of chatter murmuring away in the background of my brain. Since then, it’s been much more library-like. Yet recently I’ve heard a few rebel voices in there, piping up without my permission.

Honestly, it sucks. I hate feeling this way.

Frustratingly, my mental health isn’t entirely within my control. Sometimes depression rears its ugly head. If I’m particularly unlucky, it brings anxiety along with it and they work together to make me miserable.

What’s more, mental illness affects not only me but those around me. Even when I mostly keep to myself, the people closest to me usually sense there’s something wrong. Their sadness at my suffering only makes things worse, adding guilt to the emotional mix.

IMG_3447Yet I am genuinely grateful to be able to share this with you. I don’t want to bring you down, but I do want to be unapologetically honest here. Besides, I can’t be bothered to cover things up. It’s taking what little energy I have left not to beat myself up for my broken brain.

As you can probably tell, the tone of this post feels different to others I’ve written. I’ve worked hard to train myself to pursue a positive perspective on life. For the most part, this strategy has been successful. Yet becoming better is not a linear process. As I’ve said repeatedly, I’m a perfectly imperfect human being. I don’t have all the answers to becoming mentally fit and healthy, but I am working on it and I can promise to share the results of my experimentations here with you.

So, yeah. I’m having a sh*tty few weeks. And I’m still here, with a long list of reasons to be thankful.

This Week I’m Grateful for:

Another whole day to myself. Being fortunate enough to have more annual leave than my partner, C, I’ve spaced random days off throughout the Summer. After I heard about this idea of operating from different styles of thinking, I read a little more on the Fizzle blog about what it means to be in “CEO” versus “worker bee” mode. This meant I could declare a “CEO Monday”; devoting my day to the kind of “big picture” thinking most of us normally skirt over in the course of everyday life.

A timely reminder about a helpful way of Getting Things Done (GTD). Intrigued by the CEO-worker bee dichotomy, I took an online productivity course. I know: “work about work” – the basic premise of productivity –  doesn’t exactly sound thrilling.

Yet it’s something I’m surprisingly grateful that I spent a few hours of my hard-earned leave doing. I’d recently given up on GTD; a productivity management system proposed by David Allen in the early 2000s. It started to feel more work than the work I was meant to be doing itself. Learning from this course, the creators made it far less complex, more flexible, and easier to implement. It inspired me to tweak it for myself. Just because something didn’t work for me in one way, doesn’t mean it can’t work for me in another.

IMG_3425Treating myself to ice cream. A small – but not insignificant -development, one of the “quirks” of my eating disorder has been not allowing myself to eat particular foods when alone. In spite of being in recovery for many years now, I’m still sometimes plagued by food fears. In this case, I’m afraid of opening Pandora’s box and binging my way back to obesity.

Recognising this irrational thought-process, I keep working on becoming better. Turns out this includes buying myself ice cream even though there was no one else around to join in with me. It’s kind of like the whole “If a tree falls in a forest…” thing; if I eat ice cream by myself, does it mean I’m destined for an unhealthy future?

So when I left my local cafe last Monday on a scorcher of a day, I bought a scoop of Bakewell tart-flavoured ice cream (in a waffle cone, of course – none of that soggy wafer nonsense). I sat on a bench outside, listening to my podcast, and enjoyed every short-lived lick. De-licious! Admittedly, I do still feel a wave of guilt wash over me around this food stuff. I’m not sure if that feeling will ever go away entirely. However being able to do these things  – even just sometimes – feels like a win.

Good questions. They lead to good answers, after all. Over the past week I asked women within various Facebook groups a few questions about working whilst managing their mental health. Within moments, I was inundated with replies and within twenty-four hours I had over fifty replies. I’ve been wondering how I can use my experiences and interests to actually make a difference, and this boosted my confidence in my idea no end!

On a similar theme, I’m chuffed that my questions have appeared twice in recent newsletters, giving me a little confidence boost. It’s proof that I’m asking interesting questions that provoke conversation with other entrepreneurs,  too, which feels good. I’m finding my place in this community and it’s lovely to feel like I belong.

C being a total hero – so much so, I think he deserves his own TWIGlet list:

  • Awesome partner that he is, C took charge in the kitchen when my mental energies weren’t up to it. Having taken it upon himself to do the weekly supermarket shop, C came home with several exciting dishes planned, including this new concoction: Fish goujon tacos. Neither of us have had fish tacos before, but being fans of the ol’ classic fish finger sandwich it made sense to give the Mexican version a go. He’d even gone so far as to lovingly prepare his own salsa for us! They were yummy.
  • C has been a bit of a hero when it comes to meal planning of late. He made us dinner more than once so that I’d be able to get other things done. For example, responding to all the Facebook messages I received. Knowing how much these connections mean to me, he quietly played chef without comment, where he’d otherwise have been tempted to chastise me for spending too much time on the Internet.
  • Last Wednesday C drove out of his way to give me a lift home after work. I’d mentioned that I was feeling off that afternoon, and the next thing I know, there he was. It was a hot day, and it turned out that C just wanted to be kind to me! C even affectionately called me “wifey” as I got into the passenger seat, complimenting me on my sundress. He’s got a real talent for giving me an emotional lift.
  • C being willing to sacrifice TV time to make me happy. As we get closer to the “Love Island” final, he’s been so good about watching it real-time that I’d almost assume he liked watching the show himself…  Sitting through two hours of ITV2 catch-up sounds really trite, however it means so much to have a partner who is so kind and considerate of my needs – however bonkers –  when I’m feeling low.

IMG_3445Attending my first Fizzle Office Hours. Beforehand I wasn’t entirely sure how this would differ from the usual group coaching. It was more of a quick-fire session, by the end of which I’d made four pages of notes and learnings, so it was an hour well-spent.

An awesome annual appraisal. It was worth investing time and energy to writing-up all I’d achieved over the past year at work. A productive conversation with my line manager helped me better understand myself. It confirmed I lack confidence in being perceived as an “expert”, even after seven years in my job.  Emotionally, I don’t connect with the confidence this experience ought to provide.

Though technically negative, this self-knowledge is actually a positive revelation. Coming away from my meeting, I felt hopeful and optimistic. I’ve ideas for strategies to start to challenging this self-depreciating self-image, and good people around to support me in becoming better.

Rain – and lots of it. We’ve had buckets of the stuff after what’s felt like a desert these past few months. Opening our patio doors and being able to smell the deliciously fresh atmosphere has been a real joy for C and I. I love the sound of thunder and lightning; stormy weather somehow brings a sense of cosy comfort.

Making new friends when you’re thirty-something. After sharing with you the story of my sudden gym-phobia… and the conversation I had with my colleague that convinced me it was okay to take it easy on myself,  To be frank, social anxiety is a b*tch. I’m grateful this only really kicked in for me in adulthood. It’s made making – and keeping – friends hard work, which sometimes really gets me.

Still nervous, I met my colleague, M, for coffee and a catch-up as planned. Rather than a quick half-hour meeting, it was over an hour later before we headed back to our respective offices. We still had tons to talk about, and I’m so thankful she was brave enough to invite me out. Next time it’s my turn.

Making my first-ever home-made nachos. Memories of “Bungalows and Bears‘” nachos playing on my mind, I decided to experiment with cutting up and baking our leftover corn tortillas. With cheese, salsa, guac, and jalapeños, it made for a deliciously crispy,chewy light Friday-night meal.

Being there for my nephew’s first birthday party. Okay, so he’s too young to understand the significance of the occasion. He was mainly grumpy; overwhelmed by us overly affectionate adults. Honestly, it’s highly unlikely he’ll have any memories of the event at all. Still, I’m grateful I could be there – for him and for my sister – after having difficult family relationships in the sort-of recent past. It means a lot – to them and to me.

Speaking of which, I’m thankful for birthday cake. In fact, any cake, really. As anyone who follows the blog will know by now, home-made cake is my most favourite food of all-time. Luckily I had the common sense (read: shame) to pass on the gorgeous-looking garden centre blueberry cake prior to baby G’s party. My brother-in-law had baked deliciously moist chocolate cupcakes, each covered in a generous swirl of buttercream frosting. I ate two.

IMG_3441Relaxing in a clean and tidy home. Pulling together as a team, C and I worked hard to get our house in shape  this Sunday. It’s mentally soothing to live in a clean, calm environment. The external organisation does something to my brain, creating a sense of calm.

Finally, I’m grateful to have spent my Sunday afternoon on the sofa with C to watch a movie. Admittedly, “Dunkirk” wasn’t my choice of film, but I got sucked into the story, sobbing my way through to the end. Finding it especially hard to focus of late, it felt good to be able to concentrate because it’s lovely to connect with C over a bowl of popcorn and a healthy cry.

Until next week.

x

The Nineteenth TWIG Post (or why it having good friends and happy cats matters more than a flat stomach)

After much debate I’ve decided to go on hiatus from the gym. This has come as a bit of a shock – especially to me! For over four years now I’ve been regularly attending classes, reliably turning up, rain or shine (or snow) at least three times a week. But over these last few months I’ve skipped several sessions, too tired to be bothered.

fullsizeoutput_596I’ve lost my workout mojo.

With nothing specifically sparking this change of heart, my immediate worry went straight to my mind. As anyone who’s ever experienced depression will appreciate, that’s one place I never wish to return to, if I can help it. Still, I don’t think I’ve felt particularly down about anything of late. On the contrary, I’m more enthusiastic about life than ever: I’ve several exciting projects on the go, we’re about to conclude our house sale, and we’re enjoying our first long, sunny Summer in the new garden.

So why this sudden turnaround?

Why does the thought of a workout leave me feeling… well, meh?

Okay, so I have to point out the elephant in the room here: me. C would be really cross if he heard me be so self-flagellating, and I don’t actually mean it, but I’m acutely aware of having gained a few pounds. I can’t deny it when I look in the mirror, even if it’s only really noticeable to those closest to me.

Gaining weight obviously doesn’t make me feel great about myself – but neither has it brought me down in the way I’d have expected. My self-worth being tied so closely to my body image for pretty much my whole life, this apathy feels weird. I don’t care as much as I think I should and I have to admit – it’s unnerved me.

Overwhelmed by this gym guilt, I reached out to my colleague, M, to enquire whether she’d be attending class this week. Since my house is en-route to hers, she’s kindly been giving me a lift home and we’ve become friendly. Moaning about my lack of motivation, I learnt my fitness pal is actually recovering from an injury. After telling my tragic tale I felt myself blush, embarrassed to be making a massive fuss over nothing. After all, I wasn’t the one who was hurt, was I?

Well, actually yes; I was hurting. The difference being that my mind was the specific cause of my pain.

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Emotional pain can be as acute as anything we feel physically.

Both reside within our bodies.

Whilst our capacity to feel physical pain is limited (admittedly, it can get pretty physically painful), our minds have no depth of darkness to which they cannot sink. 

Empathising with my mental health worries, M suggested I consider taking time out from workouts. A break might help me figure out my feelings about fitness; build a better relationship between body and mind. Whilst we agreed a regular routine benefits an anxious mind like mine, it’s sometimes healthy to step back and reassess things.

There’s no rule that says I have to do, or be, anything – let alone “make up” for my lack of interest in exercise just now. At least, none other than those self-imposed rules we use to hold ourselves up to impossible standards of perfection.

M suggested getting rid of guilt by thinking about how I’d prefer to spend my time. What matters most to me? A flat stomach or having fun with favourite fluffs? Given the brevity of their time on this planet, wouldn’t I rather spend more of it playing with my feline friends?

When I look at it this way, I’d much rather cuddle my cats than spend an evening sweating in a stuffy studio. Decision made, I cancelled my class, breathed a sigh of relief, and planned to head home.

Before I logged out for the day, M suggested we catch up over coffee and immediately booked a time in our calendars. As it’s me who usually has to make plans with friends, it felt good for someone to invite me out for a chance. I’d been feeling so bad, this small kindness actually brought tears to my eyes – despite my medication making crying a challenge!

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I’m touched and tremendously thankful that someone has seen my vulnerability, recognised my pain, and still wants to befriend me. 

Even talking about making new friends feels a bit uncomfortable. In our modern Western society it seems we’re conditioned to feel embarrassed about our having needs. Yet it’s in our nature to need human connection.

What’s more, as adults we meet fewer new people in general so making friends becomes even harder. Hence whilst I’m sure social anxiety will creep in when it comes time for that coffee, I’m thankful for the chance to  get to know my new friend.

This Week I’m Grateful For:

*The velvety texture of C’s hair when it’s just been cut. Running my hand the wrong way up the back of his head, it feels soft and spiky against my skin. For the next week it’ll look that bit too short, but it’ll feel fantastic. C has what he himself describes as Chinese hair: straight, dark and ridiculously dense. Unlike the majority of his peers, C’s got a full head of hair. – something for which we’re both grateful!

*Still another new dress from the Fat Face sale. It was meant to be two dresses, but it looks like perhaps my credit card has been saved by the other selling out. Oh, and a cardigan. You never know when I might need one.

*A mid-week Paperchase binge. Aware I’m nervous about the impending office move, my colleague K asked if I fancied a trip to town to treat ourselves to some new stationery.

She returned with lunch boxes for her little girl, whereas I came back with a whole new organisational system (in co-ordinated pastel shades, of course).

IMG_3383

My former desk buddies have returned home after seven years.

Given this chance to change my work space, I’m re-decorating. Going for more grown-up vibes, I plan to update my vision board.  To help me manage my mental health at work (where it inevitably sometimes gets stressful), I created my board to remind me of all that I have in life which brings me happiness.

I’ll be working on this for the next few weeks, collecting new inspirational quotes and images, and updated photos of all those whom I love. Next weekend it’s my nephew G’s first birthday, so I’ll take new photos with him, my sisters, and maybe even C. Our nieces will soon be moving into their new Sheffield home (it’s even got a treehouse!), so I’ll be able to add their pictures to the pile.

I have to admit, it’s kind of exciting, which leads me perfectly onto my next thanksgiving.

*Coming into work of a morning and finding postcards left  on my desk. Turning them over, I found a message from K bestowing positivity, love, and luck for our move. I’m so lucky to work with such kind-hearted people, and it’s times like this when I’m reminded to be thankful for my job.

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I found these on my keyboard. I think I can re-home them on my vision board. 🙂

*Building confidence in my business skills. Taking advice from those further down the road success, I put myself “out there” and offered my help for free. Volunteering to read, review, and feed back on other women’s work has taught me so much about my own strengths.

Creating anything of value takes confidence; something I sometimes admittedly lack. However helping other women make their businesses better actually helps me – and myideas – feel more worthy. It reminds me of the point of pursuing my passions and gives me hope that I’m moving in a positive direction.

*Being brave, I switched on my webcam for my first “Fizzle Friday”. I was anxious about asking my early-stage questions, given that most participants in these weekly coaching sessions are so much further ahead in creating their businesses.

Yet I need not have worried. Not only did Corbett reassure me that I’m on the right path,   but combining his comments with others’ feedback will help me make constructive, positive progress in the coming weeks.

*Freshly-squeezed orange juice. It’s impossible to ignore its delicious scent when walking into our local grocers. I have to admit – it’s incredible! I can’t recall when I last drank anything this good. We’ll definitely be keeping our refillable bottle to go back for more.

*Guido’s chocolate flapjacks. How the topping stays Nutella-like runny – never going hard – I don’t know. Honestly, I’m not sure I want to know! Still, they’re totally treacly and utterly umptious. Served in tiny fairy cake cases, they’re slipped into a paper bag, the flapjacks’ sheer stickiness turns it transparent.

*Magazines as my weekend treat. Ever since I can remember this has been one of my most favourite pleasures. Popping open the plastic, I love to smell their glossy pages packed with promise before anyone else has touched them. Odd, but true, I’m afraid.

*An extra day off this week. Whilst I’d prefer proper holidays with C, his lack of leave means I’m taking some time off work alone. Still, I’m feeling rather smug about having several extra-long weekends over these Summer months.

*C and I have booked our September staycation in Seahouses, Northumberland once again. Wearing waterproofs to wander across the sand to Bamburgh Castle, browsing the shelves at Barter Books, and cosying up in a pub sharing a bag of crisps: These activities may sound rather dull but for us, it’s one of our happy places.

*An unexpected visit from a rather smiley, sticky little boy, and his equally messy mother. My sister and my nephew, baby G, came for lunch today. I’m definitely biased, but I’m 100% convinced that G is the happiest, loveliest child in the Universe.

x

The Musical Chairs Post (or how I’m coping with change at work)

IMG_2966On Tuesday morning I got a lift into work with C, feeling slightly sick at the prospect of the day ahead. It’s been a while since I felt this bad about going into the office. I felt disappointed in myself, irrationally so, and then got cross with myself about that, too.

So why was I worried when I woke up? Well, we had a team meeting scheduled for that morning. Nothing unusual about that, but this particular meeting was to discuss our upcoming office relocation announced last week.

The prospect of imminent change to my “work home”, so to speak, has triggered my anxiety.  After five years’ sitting at the same desk I’m literally moving up in the world. Currently divided over two floors of our building, my colleagues and I are destined to go higher and join the rest of our team. A move has been on the cards for some time – so long, in fact, that I’ve settled into my space over the years.  As such, I presumed talk of reuniting my team was simply another public sector promise; a “nice to have one day” but not likely happening anytime soon.

Anxiety is a funny thing. Admittedly, it’s not so funny when you’re in it. However by “funny” I mean that it’s strange how anxiety appears and disappears so quickly. Sometimes coming on suddenly, and at other times, it seems to sneak up and catch me unawares. Like fire, anxiety rises seemingly out of nowhere. Also like fire, if left unchecked it can cause some real damage. I’ve already spoken about this on a previous post where I talk about my worst Summer ever.

Though this nascent nervousness around moving desks is relatively mild on the anxiety scale, I’m conscious about needing to take care of myself. In writing about my most acute anxiety attacks a few Summers back, I couldn’t help but wonder how things might have turned out had I been better prepared to take positive action earlier on.

As you’ve probably picked up on by now, in creating Project HeatherED I’m looking for ways to become better, which I define as becoming happier, healthier, and emotionally wealthier.  Drawing upon my experiences with stress management strategies over the past ten years (well, thirty four, technically, but you catch my drift) I made it through what could have been a really rough day relatively unscathed.

Reflecting back on what I did to achieve this, I’ve devised the following plan of action for anyone looking to become better at managing their anxiety. This is exactly what I did in the space of twelve hours to work through my own anxious feelings around my upcoming office move. I hope this helps whomever else might be reading this and feeling similarly stressed out.

IMG_2892My Seven Strategies to Stick-It to Stress

#1 Tell someone I trust how I’m feeling.

This was the very first thing I did. Only slightly from a place of of panic, I carefully crafted an email to my managers to tell them I felt worried about the pending move. I think I managed to come across professional (I read, re-read, and edited before pressing send). After that terrible, anxiety-filled Summer, I made a resolution to be honest abut my feelings, with myself and others. Basically, I learnt that I must stand up and risk sharing what I feel – and what I want to feel – if I wish to be helped in the precise way I need.  

As expected, my managers have been nothing but supportive and kind. I received a thoughtful reply from the big boss later that day, which straight away helped me feel loads better. Rationally I understand that the Greek philosopher Heraclitus’ is correct in saying “change is the only constant in life“, however this knowledge doesn’t seem to get through to my nervous system. As anyone with anxiety knows, reassurance only does so much to stem the nerves. It’s a temporary fix and it doesn’t take long for the unease to resurface.

#2 Be mindful and stay as present as possible.

My personal experience of mental illness is that it takes me away from the present moment. Depression dwells on past mistakes, whereas anxiety makes negative assumptions about what the future may hold. As yogis and modern-day “mindfulness gurus” like to remind us (frequently condescendingly IMO), the present is the only moment that counts. Reminding myself of this as often as necessary helps me from wandering in the maze of my mind. If I do disappear, then as soon as I’m aware of this, I can choose to returning my attention to the here-and-now. This whole “bringing yourself back to the moment” is the essence of mindfulness. No candles, incense, or mantra required.

#3 Play up the positivity.

Admittedly, it sounds cheesy (because it is cheesy), but I have repeatedly make a conscious choice to adopt an “attitude of gratitude”. Contrary to appearances, I’m not a naturally “glass-half-full” kinda gal. Of course, if you’ve known me for some time, you’ll be guffawing as you read this blog, or watch my vlogs over on Facebook, and wonder what’s happened to me. I get it – it still surprises me at times – but I’m learning that underneath the veil of mental illness, I’m much sunnier than I ever really knew. I’m discovering new elements to my personality; things like my inherent hopefulness, positivity, and gratitude for the small things in life.

IMG_2900Getting back to the whole office move scenario that prompted this post in the first place, one of my best strategies for neutralising my nervousness is to intentionally focusing on what’s good about the move. I came up with the following within a few moments of seeking out the positives:

  • sitting near my best work buddy again,
  • a fresh start at keeping my workstation clean,
  • a reason to clear out my clutter (which inevitably helps me get into a better headspace),
  • I’ll get to know the girls upstairs better by proximity,
  • an opportunity to redecorate – to go for a more grown-up look and update my cork board with pictures of the people I love, and symbols of my hopes and dreams,
  • and, being higher up, we’ll have better views of the park.

There’s always more than one perspective we can take on any situation and we can choose to take the most positive. Consciously focusing on the positive assures me that there’s plenty of good to be gained from my move, too.

#4 Take my medication. That’s what it’s for, after all.

Prior to our Tuesday team meeting, I took an anti-anxiety pill which I carry in my purse for such occasions. Again later in the day I took another. It sounds overly dramatic – to medicate for meetings. I feel silly even talking about it, envisioning eye-rolls from those who might reasonably wonder why I’m medicating to manage general life situations. My partner, C, would have been with them, too, before he took one of my meds (without asking me or his doctor – not to be recommended, folks) seeing the effects for himself.

Medication helps me. Accepting this has helped me learn to ignore the voice of the inner critic so I can do what works for me. I still clearly worry about what others might think of me, but it doesn’t prevent me from acting in my own best interests. These days it’s a rare occasion when I need to take one, but knowing there’s medicine I can take which will “lowers the volume” on my physical symptoms is a real life-saver in emotional emergencies.

 #5 Write my heart out.

When I feel anxious one of the things I regularly rely on to help is to write things down. Writing is an excellent tool that works well for most people as a way of untangling thoughts and feelings, likely because there are so many ways of making it work. For me, I journal by hand, type thoughts online at 750 Words, or list gratitudes. It’s another tool which helps me stay mindful, taking copious notes in work meetings (that I’ll never need) to focus my mind on the here-and-now. Bonkers maybe, but it works.

#6 Get moving. Literally

Quite frankly, I’ve been pants at sticking to my regular workout routine of late. Not so unusual – pretty normal, in fact – for most people whose commitment to their monthly membership peaks and troughs with the seasons (i.e. upping their game before Christmas party season and Summer swimwear). However for me, I’m usually at the gym to where it borders on obsession and so I’m feeling a bit out of sorts.

Having habitually attended class on a Tuesday after work for four years, I try to turn off my brain and follow my feet. This way, I’m getting into the gym at least once and it’s helping me to remember why I go in the first place: for fun, friendship, and freedom from my racing mind. Logically I know that once I’m there I feel fine. Chatting with classmates beforehand puts me at ease and helps me get into a happy headspace.

Unlike so many other experiences in life, I’ve never regretted a workout and this week was no different. Coming back to what I know works, exercise genuinely calms both my mind and body.  It’s a healthy way of channeling nervous energy into something productive, releasing muscle tension along with any frustrations. Back home I’m tired – but no longer wired – and I feel grateful for having trusted in what I know at heart is in my best interests.

IMG_2914#7: Let go of perfection. I’m perfectly imperfect.

Giving myself permission not to be perfect is one of the most important acts of self-care and compassion I can imagine. It seems so simple – and it is – but it’s certainly not easy and, for me at least and recovering perfectionists like me, is a perpetual practice. It’s an on-going challenge to scale down my expectations and be happy with “good enough”. This makes ever-more sense in reading “The Four Tendencies” by Gretchen Rubin. I’ve learnt that I’m an Upholder personality type, meaning I live up to the expectations of myself and others pretty easily. It’s great for when I have to get stuff done, but not so much for engendering a sense of personal happiness and fulfilment. I’ve always got that nagging feeling that I could do or be more. Choosing to consciously release myself of this perpetual pressure – particularly when already anxious –  is another way I can practise being kind to myself.  

Still shaken by the prospect of changing desks, I decided I’d allow myself to eat whatever I wanted for my post-gym dinner. Rather than eating a pre-planned, balanced meal of an evening when I’m anxious, I instead find it soothing to turn to childhood comfort foods. Namely, eggs, soup, buttery toast, rice pudding, kids’ cereal, chocolate, and  – of course – cake. Admittedly this doesn’t sound particularly grown-up and healthy-minded of me, and it’s probably not.

There’s a part of me which still feels guilty for not making a “proper” evening meal. I’m hesitant to admit to having these 1950s mental mantras of “I’m a poor excuse for a housewife”, “I’m neglecting to care for my man”, and “what kind of woman are you?!” amongst others playing on repeat.. Despite C being a way more capable cook than I, on days when I’d rather eat cereal these kinds of thoughts inevitably race round my mind.

Still, I went with my gut – literally – and had eggs on toast for Tuesday tea. Fighting the feeling that I’m somehow letting C down, I knew it felt like the right thing to do for me in that moment. Over time I’ve learnt that sometimes when I have a mini-mental health wobble – which will happen, no matter how hard I try to prevent it –  being a little bit selfish is okay. Indulging in a self-centred whim once in a while releases feel-good hormones, providing a much-needed quick-fix to feeling happy.

So there you have it: My seven strategies to stick-it to stress. When used together this helped me better handle my anxiety around our upcoming office move. I’m sure I’ll need to refer back to several steps of this self-care strategy to staying sane. Hence having it here – in writing – will undoubtedly act as a reminder for me, as much as I intend it to share what works with you.

Perhaps sensing that something was up (I’m terrible at keeping my feelings to myself), C offered to pick me up from the gym; an offer which I gratefully accepted. Throwing my bags into the boot, I sat beside him and began to tell him about my day.

When we pulled up the drive, I could see D running from the far end of the back garden to greet us. Shouting in his loudest kitty voice (don’t ever underestimate the power of a 4.2 kilo ball of fur with teeth), he shared his kitty news, pleased to see us home. As much as he’s a pain in the furry butt, that cat brings me so much joy I couldn’t help but feel better.

IMG_2890I came home feeling pretty pleased with how I’d handled my nerves around the whole change of scene at work. Yet still, something felt off; I didn’t quite feel myself. Hair sticking to my neck, my overheated, lycra-clad limbs just desperate to get out of my gym gear and jump in the shower, I understandably felt icky. So much for self-care strategies, eh?

As I walked in the door, bags sliding off my sweaty shoulder, there C stood, his arms wide open and welcoming. “Come here,” he said in a tone I recognised as being genuinely sympathetic, pulling me in for a bear hug.

It was perfect; turns out a hug from the person I love most was exactly what I needed.

Suddenly everything feels alright again.

 

 

 

 

The Worst Summer Ever Post (or my experience of living with acute anxiety)

Two years ago I experienced the worst bout of anxiety in my life. It started with my (not unreasonably) becoming upset at what I later learnt were massive, allergic reactions to flea bites which appeared all over my body. Thanks to an unfortunate combination of humid weather that Summer, and Frontline’s failure to work in an area overpopulated by cats, not only was I in physical pain but I was also hurting mentally.

IMG_3018Much like my body, my mind itched and burned. I felt like there was always something irritating me; prickling just under the surface. As I scratched my brain trying to figure out what was causing these hideous hives, I tied myself in knots with worry. It wasn’t long before this grew into a series of regular panic attacks. I recognised them from their occasional appearance during my university years, only this time the anxiety was on a whole, new, nasty level. Not only did I feel sh*t, but I then developed obsessive tendencies which made my anxiety all the worse.

OCD for me was an incessant need to check and re-check, assure and reassure, and then start again because I couldn’t trust my own judgement.

It was unlike anything I’d been through before. I was permanently tired, it was so mentally draining.

As is often the case with mental illness, mornings especially became nightmarish. Waking up already dreading the day, the first words to run through my head -before I’d even really opened my eyes – were “oh God…” At the time I couldn’t imagine not feeling that way at the start of the day. Frequently C would have to coax me to the car, me frantic, late getting out of the front door.

Simultaneously crying and trying desperately to keep my mascara from running (“waterproof”, my arse!), I’d drag myself out of his car and into the office. It hurts my heart to say it now, but C would sometimes have to literally push me out of the car door so he could get to his work.  I know for a fact he felt terrible about it. It was a hellish time for us both. For me, worse still than how I felt was knowing the effect I was having on the man I love, and yet feeling utterly hopeless about being able to stop it.

Once in the office I wasn’t much better. At least, not until the day got going and I was able to imitate some semblance of normalcy. For the best part of a year I couldn’t speak first thing for at least a half hour. It took time to choke out even simple words like “hello”. “How are you?” would send me into meltdown. Some days I cried for an hour before I opened an email.

I mistakenly believed that I had to push myself to keep going in. No matter how much it hurt – both myself and those around me – I felt pressured to keep showing up. Like many people who are mentally unwell, I was afraid of what other people might think were I to “give in” and take time out. Buying into the rumours, I was terrified that being signed off for “mental health reasons” would somehow blacklist me as a hopeless case.  I had a sinking feeling that, if I were to stay home from work, I might never go back.

IMG_3032It took a long time for me to recover from this particular episode. From the bites alone, my skin took a few months to start to heal. The house took us at least a month of exhausting, repetitive, after-work cleaning routines to get it back to normal. My mind took months to feel something like my own again. I was prescribed anti-anxiety tablets to be taken three times a day for several months to restore my “fight or flight” response back to something resembling a regular reaction to stress.

Unfortunately, it’s only in retrospect that I can see just how unwell I had been. In my last round of therapy with a rather special NHS therapist I finally understood what happened. I’ve since been able to articulate to C what I felt at the time; he regretfully says he should have seen it coming – especially as he’d through similar experiences with a previous partner.

However it isn’t so easy – mental illness is cruel that way. From the outside you seem to be alright much of the time, and yet you’re incapable of decision-making. I’d be processing millions of pounds worth of payments at work, and would break down over whether to have cheese with my beans on toast.

What I hope he now knows – and indeed anyone else going through something similar – is that it’s almost impossible to see a mental breakdown coming until it’s well and truly here. It’s an incremental process whereby those closest to us are also often unable to see it happening. Still, it’s important to remind him – and others – of the role they played in my becoming better. Testing their patience and kindness often, I look back and feel lucky, knowing so many lovely people genuinely care for me.

Even so, I wish I’d had the wherewithal to be able to see that I needed help sooner. Specifically, I needed someone to help me to allow myself the time, space, and patience to recover. I dug my heels in and insisted I kept going “as normal”, despite being anything but. Well-meaning colleagues tried to persuade me to take time out, but I couldn’t hear it. Sadly, in my anxious state of mind I wasn’t able to differentiate between a suggestion and a recommendation. I felt blinkered to anything other than what was most obvious.

 

It took longer than necessary for me to recover, but I did recover and I’m here telling you this tale in the hopes I can help someone else become better, too.

To give this story it’s sort-of happy ending, I’d like to share some of the lessons anxiety had to teach. Despite the darkness around this particular life phase, there are still several positive take-aways I’d like to share. Thankfully, there always are.

Regular readers of this blog may have been a bit thrown by the tone of this piece. If so, I hope this will bring you back on board. As you know, my becoming better sees me looking for gratitudes in just about every area of life. As such, I’ve come up with the following:

IMG_3037The best of things I learnt from the worst of times

#1 Never give up. If you look around you’ll see that us humans are capable of awesome achievements. Whilst mental illness undoubtedly sucks a**, it’s possible to come out of this period of time. Not only this, but it’s true that our struggles shape who we become and the influence we go on to have in the world. Had I not had such a sh*tty time with anxiety, I’d not be writing this blog, which brings such happiness and joy to my life today.

#2 Trust in the inherent goodness of people. Given half a chance, most will do their best to be kind and supportive. You just have to give them a chance, forgiving the stupid mistakes we all make as we fumble through the mental health minefield. My mind told me that people were only being nice to me because they felt they “had” to do so. Yet my mind wasn’t well, and so why was I listening to it?! Instead, I could have taken others by their word, accepted their help, and felt grateful, rather than guilty.

#3  If you can’t make a decision, then don’t. Ask for help. Like I said, when you’re mentally unwell – however that may look for you – it’s only rational to place your trust in those whom you believe to be more emotionally stable than yourself just now.  The pressure to choose often threw me off, proving the last straw in a day filled with last straws. If you’ve got people you love and trust around you, then let them love you and trust them to help you choose what’s in your best interests for now.

#4 Act. I implore anyone in the kind of mindset I was in to take action and do something – anything – other than stand still, and to do it as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter how small the action to begin with – small is good; it’s a great start. Just don’t let it go on without trying to change the situation, and if you can’t see how, then ask for help. It’s everywhere if you’re looking for it – so look!

#6 Take your health seriously. No matter how much you love your job, your family, your home, it’s no good if you’re falling apart. Before you can truly live, you need to make sure you’re at your mentally most fit, and doing that might mean taking time out from regular living. Whether it’s a visit to the doctor, regular therapy, a holiday, or being signed off sick for a while, it’s worth considering all available options and leaning on whatever help you can get to decide what’s best.

#7 Also, consider how much you’re willing to tell your employer about what’s going on for you. Despite having my manager present during times I was falling apart, I’ve never formally gone “on the record” with my own mental illness. I feel embarrassed admitting to it, but I’m still nervous as to what the implications may be. However I’ve known people who’ve sworn by it as having helped them to get back into work after some tough times.

#8 Finally, a practical tip: Always go for the prescription flea treatment and buy from the vets. Seriously. It’s worth the extra money and effort it takes to go pick it up every few months. We spent weeks – months! – spraying the house with Indorex and vacuuming like crazy people (literally) to get rid. Whilst it did the trick in the end, it was exhausting. Add this to the pain of being bitten, fear of sleep, and shame at being covered in ugly blisters, coming home from work to clean the house top-to-bottom over and again was truly testing.

So that was my most terrible Summer. Pretty sh*t, if I say so myself. What’s most sad to me is that C and I spent that time together, and yet apart, lost in our own minds. Changing the past isn’t an option, and in truth, I don’t actually regret it having happened this way. What I learnt that anxious Summer ultimately played an important role in my becoming better. In time, I hope I can use my experiences to help others live happier, healthier, and emotionally wealthier lives, too. Or at the very least to remember not to scrimp on their pets’ flea treatments.

The Integrity Post (or how I’m learning to become the person I want to be)

Nervously clutching my cup of tea, I waited for my manager to arrive for my mid-year review. Subconsciously, I’d primed myself to be on the defensive. In my mind, I’d already seen the meeting go badly and expected to walk away, feeling overworked, overloaded and underappreciated.

And then, guess what?

Nothing bad happened.

Nothing! In fact, the meeting couldn’t have gone much better! Not only did I receive great feedback from my manager, but also from other team members and company partners. Instead of being burdened with extra tasks I didn’t want, I walked out excited about my new projects! Furthermore, I gained some genuinely helpful suggestions for how I can grow, both professionally and personally.

Coming out of the meeting, I was elated with how well it had gone – but I also felt terrible!

How could I have thought this meeting would end otherwise?! What on earth made me think that someone – who has always been kind and supportive towards me – would be any different today? What’s wrong with me?!

I felt so guilty! Urgh.

After giving myself a mental kicking, I stood back and tried to look at the situation objectively. Like everyone, I’m a perfectly imperfect person. This was a simply prime example of how we, as human beings,  should know better, but still sometimes behave badly. Inevitably, there are going to be times when I’ll mess up like this again, so deciding to forgive myself had to be the first step to getting out of this mental funk I found myself wallowing in.

Preferring to think of myself as an enlightened and evolved self-help junkie (try saying that after a gin or three!), I made a further decision to take whatever lessons I could from this experience. If I can’t always be the better person, at least I can be in the process of becoming better.

In the spirit of sharing my new-found knowledge, upon reflection, here’s what I learnt:

Lesson #1: Take responsibility. My thoughts, actions,and emotions are always mine to control. 

Emotions often feel unmanageable, as they seem to arise spontaneously.  An unconscious reaction to a given situation, we can fall into an emotional habit loop. Before we know it, we’ve spiralled into a state of self-hate.  Going into this meeting feeling anxious and apprehensive, I’d unwittingly set myself up for a negative experience.

While it’s true that many emotions seem to “just happen”, it doesn’t mean they have to stay this way. My morning Hour of Power ritual has taught me that I’m absolutely in control of my mindset. In the time it takes to walk to work, I create my emotional state for the day, whether that’s feeling energetic and excited, or creative and caring. Taking responsibility for my mindset is a choice I’m making regularly, by applying the skills and knowledge I’ve taken from Tony Robbins’ books and videos. Though Tony insists that he’s not our guru, thus far I’m finding mounting evidence to the contrary!

What’s more, I’ve learnt that I can change things in a moment. There’s no need to wait. Before I even finished listening to Mel Robbins‘ audiobook, “The 5 Second Rule”, I’d already used her simple technique to help me break free from my disempowering preconceptions about my appraisal. As I relaxed into the conversation, I made a conscious effort to focus on the positive and it changed how I felt almost instantly. Whilst I didn’t literally count 5-4-3-2-1 to myself beforehand, it was a moment where I chose to act differently, and this choice turned the experience around.

Lesson #2:  Choosing and living by my own values all areas of life, I’m genuinely being myself.

Another of Tony Robbins’ top tips for self-development is to make decisions about the person I want to be, rather than the person I think I am, or think I have to be. Having always held very firm boundaries between “work me” and “home me”, I was surprised to be praised by my manager for qualities and skills I thought I’d kept well under-wraps.

“From quite early on, I had this idea of compartmentalised identities – ‘this is how you are when you are with your mum, and this is how you are when you are with your dad’ – so it seemed like I could never absolutely be myself. And the image of myself as compromised and inconsistent made me want to withdraw from the world even further.”

Russell Brand

I can relate to the quote above from comedian Russell Brand. Rather than living by my own values, rules and beliefs, – and being the person I want to be –  I’ve accepted those which evolved unconsciously over my lifetime. Also like Russell, I’ve been plagued with an uneasy sense of incongruity; never fully being myself and instead, only showing those parts of me I thought people would find acceptable.

Taking Tony Robbins’ advice to consciously choose the values by which I want to live has changed who I am in every area of life. Creating my new values lists, has shown my true self to be someone who prioritises my physical and mental well-being; values giving and receiving love; and living with integrity above all else. What’s more, I’ve learnt that values permeate boundaries, and so in focusing on living my values, I’m no longer wasting energy in trying to build false walls between myself and others.

Not only is a values-driven life significant for its positive impact on my self-esteem, it’s also crucial in setting a positive example to the people I manage at work. More importantly still, I don’t ever again want to be anything other than a brilliant role model to the people I love. Years ago, my sister told me she never wanted to be like me, and while I know she feels differently today, I’ve never been able to forget it. I want to be the kind of person of whom my sisters, nieces and nephew can be proud.

So while I’m certainly not here to preach positivity, I’ve definitely found myself feeling happier thanks to practising self-development. Other people are also noticing it, too.  In my appraisal, my manager told me how pleased she was to see me feeling excited and enthusiastic about work, and life in general. It’s boosted my confidence in risking a little more vulnerability, and through living my values, sharing more of my true self – even at work.

Lesson #3: You become like those with whom spend most time, so choose your friends (and colleagues) wisely. 

Whether via the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame, binge-watching reality TV, or in hushed whispers by the photocopier at work, it seems that we’re all sometimes tempted by the magnetic pull of gossip. Working in an office, it’s pretty standard to have a natter,  and an occasional moan, at the tea point.

By creating connections between colleagues, who often have little else in common other than work itself, gossip can perhaps be justified as helping build relationships. But I don’t want to be someone who can only connect with others in a negative way. Bonding over bitching isn’t cool. I may sound a bit like a broken (BBC Grange Hill) record (Just say no! Anyone?!), but it’s true. I’m ashamed to admit my part in gossip, to , despite rationally knowing that it’s immature, unprofessional and it’s generally shady behaviour.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Jim Rohn

Before I went to my appraisal meeting, I made the mistake of chatting with disgruntled colleagues. As Jim Rohn’s quote above states so succinctly, who you spend time with influences the kind of person you become. Allowing myself to be carried along by the tide of negative influence certainly affected how I felt. Reflecting back, my pre-appraisal anxiety and apprehension was totally unjustified. Unconsciously absorbing other people’s bad vibes, adopting their worries as my own, I’d shaped my expectations of the meeting around the unhelpful attitudes of others.

To truly live my values, I realise that I need to choose my company more wisely in future. Selecting the people by whom I want to be influenced by is my decision and my responsibility. Looking at the mindset I took into my appraisal, I’d made a bad decision to engage in gossip with people living in a negative state.  So while I’m trying not to be too hard on myself, I’m taking this opportunity to draw a line and “raise my standard”, as Tony himself so often says.

Lesson #4: When in doubt, feel grateful.

“Without gratitude and appreciation for what you already have, you’ll never know true fulfilment.”

Tony Robbins

Hearing news of colleagues facing redundancy got me thinking about my own good fortune at work. As I’ve mentioned before, gratitude is key to many self-improvement programs. My appraisal reminded me how lucky I am. I have a job where I’m valued, I can make a real difference, and my being there matters.

Not only am I appreciated for my work, but for how well I manage and motivate my team. Overcoming social anxiety, I decided to focus my energies on showing I care; that I’m genuinely interested in my employees as individuals. Making their days better makes me feel like I’m doing a good job, and more importantly, I’m being true to myself.

Further proof I’m making a lasting, positive impact arrived in the post this week: a parcel from a former student. I’m touched that she thinks enough of me to keep in touch, even in such a busy new phase of life. By helping people progress to bigger and better things, I’m able influence their future positively, if only in a small way.

Personal development requires appreciating my existing skills and qualities, as well as the contributions I’m making through my work. As a professional adult woman, I know I’m more than competent at my job.  With years of experience in my sector, I’ve tons of market knowledge and have developed excellent relationships with key stakeholders, who regularly feedback to colleagues how efficient, effective and helpful I am.

What’s more, I’ve grown to become a brilliant teacher, presenter, and motivator. Whether I’m speaking at training events, or working one-on-one, my personal passion for self-help shines through. Looking at my work from this perspective, I’m proud to have made what I love part of my regular day job. I’m excited to explore opportunities to grow and expand my skills, with the support of kind colleagues. Whilst I dream of future career greatness, for now at least, I figure why not be the best person I can be in the job I do now?

Self-development is ultimately a process of becoming the best version of ourselves. By taking to heart these lessons, this experience has taught me that I can feel like the best version of myself right now. My thoughts, emotions and actions are all within my control. It’s a scary yet empowering concept that I’m still getting my head around.

In seeking self-improvement, I’m always going to be a work-in-progress. I’m grateful to be surrounded by people, like my manager, who want to help me build my confidence and grow. By learning from my mistakes and accepting my flaws, at work and in all other areas of my life, I’m already making progress towards becoming a better, truer version of myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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