Finding my 'happy'
It's the end of 'International Mens Health Week'.
It seems like there's a day or a week for everything these days, doesn't it?
For this week's blog, I want to talk about something deeply personal. It seems a good time to do it. I've typed many posts before that I just delete amongst thoughts that, at best, people wouldn't be interested and, at worst, it might damage the reputation of my business and as a result impact the people I work alongside.
I've worked hard on my mental health over the past two years.
So here goes…
Around 2 years ago, I was feeling the lowest and most unhappy of my life.
The reason I don't need to elaborate is because I want to focus on what I've done since, and the steps I take everyday to make sure I never feel like that again.
When you reach a point of such deep unhappiness, it can be really difficult to see how life can be better or how you can cope with what you think is going on around you. Despite my outgoing character and general extroversion, I don't really talk about how I'm feeling. It normally gets to a point where people will think I'm just really moody or standoffish... maybe even quite rude. That unwillingness to talk normally manifests into a giant eruption of temper. It's never meant as such, it's simply releasing the pressure valve of my thoughts and emotions. I'm very aware of the impact that has had on people very special to me in the past, and continues to have when it shows itself again.
Two years ago was a turning point. after a particularly awful eruption, I went to the doctor and was referred to a group to be able to talk about what was going on. The referral never came. I chased it twice and then I realised that I would need to take some steps myself to overcome how I was feeling. I know I was lucky that mentally I was capable of that at the time.
I’m open to trying most things.
What works for me may not work for you, but I'm going to share it in case there is anything there that will help.
I'm talking more
Only a bit more, but it is still more. It seems a bit of a cliche to say talk about it, but I'm doing it a bit more often and feeling better for sharing how I am feeling. Even a few days ago, I heard myself saying to David, 'I'm feeling really low today, and I have no idea why'. That might not sound groundbreaking to you, but trust me - two years ago, that would have been one of the eruptions. I still haven't shared this with my friends, it will be no surprise to them that I've communicated something important in this way. I've got a track record for that. I came out by text because I just didn't know how to have the conversation.
'I've no idea why'
The last part of that comment to David is probably the most powerful part of my learning. I have learnt that I probably don't know why I'm feeling low, and that's ok. I'm acknowledging how I'm feeling and that's the catalyst for either doing something about it or allowing myself some space to live with it for a while.
I can be grateful, but still unhappy
This is definitely linked to not understanding why I feel low sometimes. I'm happily married, we've got gorgeous Bo who is a joy, the business is doing well and I have a fantastic circle of close friends who I know are always there for me, as I am for them. I'm very grateful for that and I acknowledge that all the time. I wouldn't want that to be any different.
That doesn't stop me feeling low sometimes. There's no pattern, no trigger - it's unpredictable. Understanding this helps me deal with it.
I make a conscious effort to go out more. With Bo it's easy to go for a walk (as long as his favourite Daddy David is with him, otherwise he cuts his walk very short indeed). We live and work by the sea in Brighton so there is no shortage of opportunities to go for a nice walk and breathe in the air. It's seen as another cliche probably, but fresh air and nature are a great healer.
Living and working with your partner takes a great deal of compromise and effort. Anyone working from home over the last 18 months will probably testify to that. I look forward to and enjoy the small amounts of time that we spend apart. I do the supermarket shopping, and it's an hour or so to myself every week where all I have to think about is how fresh the bread is.
Yesterday I joined a gym close to the office so I get some time to myself - and exercise is supposed to be fantastic for mental health too.
Controlling my external influences
I don't know if this has anything to do with a place of better mental health, but I've reduced my intake of news and social media. The only one I really pay attention to is TikTok now, not because I want to be young and trendy, but I just like a giggle and the content that I follow gives me just that.
I don't watch the news anymore. I hear snippets of news on the radio and from people in the office, but I choose not to watch it. Sorry Boris - I don't watch your updates either.
It’s really tempting to sing that word to the ‘Record Breakers’ theme tune (for those of us who grew up a while ago…) but on a more serious note, a friend gave me a 21 day meditation programme and it was simply wonderful.
Some calm time to myself where I can switch off from everything around me. Bliss.
Here’s something else that helps me.
Overwhelmingly, I'm grateful for the low moments because they help me value the happy times. There has to be dark for there to be light. In talking about it, I hope others will embrace that conversation too. It was an induction project we did about light and dark, hedonism and spiritualty (we get some amazing gigs, right?!) that put that into perspective for me. One cannot exist without the other.
Another part of my 'happy' has come from working on Leadership Wellbeing with colleagues and I expect that will become part of many organisational learning pathways over coming months and years.
Now I feel I must address the impact of me speaking about this. There are some of you reading this that will think I should be quiet and keep it to myself. There are some people that think it will damage the business, so I should keep quiet.
There may be some reading this experiencing extreme discomfort about the content. Maybe there are a few of you championing these conversations too. Whatever your reaction, it’s fine.
That’s your story. This is mine.
I’ve written this post so many times. there are many different drafts that have been deleted.
So how do I know I’m doing well? Recently we had a really difficult situation with a client, whose behaviour towards my colleagues was disrespectful at best, bullying at worst. It was also a lot of money.
That would normally send me over the edge with anxiety but something was different. I sat and got the full story from my colleagues, I discussed it with David and very calmly we made the decision to walk away. Not only walk away but not invoice for any completed work. We also made the decision to be explicit about our reasons why. We also had to speak to other clients in the same company to let them know what had happened and why we were terminating that project.
I’m making well-being choices - that’s how I know I’m mentally healthy.
Will I want to talk about this with friends right now? No. You don’t need to message me about it.
Will I always be happy? No, that's just not possible. We do need that element of contrast in our lives to appreciate the good stuff and recognise the lows so we can work through them.
Am I still an absolute a@@@ to be around when I'm not feeling on my top game? Yes, and I'll always be sorry for that. That’s one bit I’ve not worked out how to influence just yet.
Am I happy right now? Yes I am.
Will I be happy tomorrow? I expect so.