A Week Off My Birthday and Foggy

I always book the week of my birthday off. I rarely do anything, but I just like having the time off with nothing in particular planned, a week of chilling out.

Well there was certainly a lot of chilling with ‘The Beast From The East’ arriving in the Monday. I had the first few days by myself, which was perfect, some time just for me, apart from a short meeting at work on Monday. To be honest both Monday and Tuesday were largely taken up with work. With the first day of the coaching course starting on Monday I wanted to do some preparation. I needed to refresh my memory of some of the reading materials and feel comfortable with what Anthony has planned. I didn’t have to do it, but I wanted to. I don’t see coaching as work, it is as much a hobby. I enjoy it so much.

If I am honest I have spent most of the week, reading about coaching. Well the weather was so cold there was not much else to do. I spent some of my time writing some notes about my story. This is s project I have written a lot about and published a blog the other day based on those notes. I find writing about and dissecting my early life quite helpful understanding why I react the way I do.

The cold weather prevented my Mum coming for my birthday, which was a real shame, as we were all looking forward to seeing her. We will however being seeing her at Easter, which is not that far off.

Saturday was my birthday and the last day of the cold weather. As Birthdays go it was quite low key, with just a trip out to the pub for lunch. It was lovely spending the afternoon with my family, eating drinking and laughing.

The highlight of the day was getting a flat cap and a pair of doc martens. A man of simple pleasures. It has been about 20 years since I last owned a pair of docs, and I have wanted a cap for about a year. The kids think it is hilarious, simultaneously having a middle aged crisis and embracing middle age at the same.

This morning I was woken up by Foggy. God knows where he came from, I have felt really positive and optimistic for weeks. Then all of a sudden he fills my head with negative thoughts and pessimism. I woke up with a pit in my stomach and a feeling of hopelessness. I was at a loss to why this was happening. Now previously I would try to fight it or start to feel sorry for myself. This time I just let the feeling sit there. I concentrated on the physical feelings I was experiencing. My jaw was tight so I focused on my jaw and it started to relax, the same with my neck and shoulders. Just by focusing on them, they relaxed. This is something I read again recently in John Whitmore’s book Coaching for Performance. The first time I read about it a year or so ago, I thought it was interesting but didn’t actually give it a go. After reading about it this week again I thought I would give it a go. It works! On top of that it helped turn Foggy’s volume. By concentrating on my physical symptoms the negative thoughts gradually dispersed. I am certain it will not chase Foggy away, but it does help turn him down, more quickly than just letting him act out. No doubt he will be back tomorrow before the course starts, amplifying my anxiety so I will give it a go again.

Delving into my childhood whilst writing my story

As you will remember I have been writing my story, to help me make sense of myself as I get older and leave a legacy for my children.

Regular readers will also remember that over recent weeks I have been struggling with January blues. In fact according to the media this week is the week where people feel their lowest, and Monday was labelled Blue Monday. As you will remember exercise has helped chase away those blues, but this week those blues have been harder to chase away, so I decided to jump back into my story.

I have been delving into my memory banks, bank to when I was a toddler, like my memories of making Christmas decorations, going cockle picking with dad and my uncle George and auntie Sheila. That made me smile, in fact it gave me warm feeling. A feeling of love and happiness. Now my childhood was by no means perfect but there was a lot of love. That love has helped me chase those blues a little further away.

Restorative powers of exercise

Since completing the 50km challenge in Movember I have done very little exercise.

I have noticed that this has had a detrimental effect on my mental health. My resilience had been much reduced. Foggy has become a regular companion on my commute to work and he has hung about filling my heads with negative thoughts.

Now couple that with the self imposed need to appear positive and happy to everyone. This had been exacerbated during December with starting a new role and it being Christmas. To me that meant that I must be positive at all costs and not show any frailty. Trying to be unerringly optimistic when you actually think you are a useless piece of shit is quite exhausting. I had a couple brief runs but never really sustained it.

Trying to break the viscous cycle is not always easy, and it is all too easy to find reasons why you can’t break that cycle of self pity and feeling so low. The thing is when you find the right excuse, you start to feel guilty which confirms your self-loathing.

This weekend I decided to give it a go again. I went for a short 1 mile run on Saturday. The feeling it produced was quite profound. As I started to plan how I was going to return to running up to 5km again. I could now see that the feelings I was experiencing are transient. I went for another 1 mile run today with a plan to run a further 5 miles over the next week, then slowly increase the distance I run in one go. I started giving myself the opportunity to succeed rather than fail. I feel so much more positive.

Now during the runs I felt like my lungs were going to explode, and Christmas really had taken its toll. But very soon after the runs I felt incredible. The feelings exercise evoke are quite amazing. I feel so much more positive, the anxiety in the pit of my stomach is going and so is the tension in my jaw. I feel happy again.

If you are feeling blue, or useless, or cannot see anything positive in your life, then consider exercise, it is remarkable. I know that all I have to do to pick up my mood is go for a run. It makes me feel safe again.

A Week of Coaching Old Friends

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It has been a funny old week at work. It was another short working week, with New Years Day being on Monday. By Tuesday though it was as if the Christmas holiday had never happened. That was probably because for me and many others at best Christmas was just two long weekends.

So it was back at work on Tuesday, feeling a little deflated that Christmas was over and the long dark, and cold month of January was spread out in front of me. I tell you Foggy was having a field day on Tuesday morning, filling my head with negative and destructive thoughts on the bus on the way in to work. I desperately needed some positivity to get me through this first week of 2018.

As mentioned in last week’s blog I had briefly reviewed last year’s progress. So once I was at work on Tuesday I started with a brief look back at last year and looking at what needed to be continued into this year. This gave me some momentum helping me look beyond the seemingly cold and gloomy month. So I had plenty to get my teeth into on the first day, including working on the meta-ethnography research I am working on with the university, arranging reviews of the rotation of new staff and arranging to catch up with some of my longstanding coachees.

I have been coaching 3 nurses in leadership roles for some time now, and I had not met up with them for a few months. It was therefore important that we met up to allow them to provide an update o what they had done and what was left to complete. I must admit I did instigate the catch-ups, by wishing them a Happy New Year and asking them if they wanted to meet. All 3 were keen to meet up, either to provide an update or to discuss new and emerging issues for them at work.

Just before each coaching session I always get very nervous and quite tense. I am sure I am not the only coach that feels like this. It is the desire to provide the coaching session the coachee needs that drives my anxiety. I find that I need to empty my mind just before the session and fight the urge to rehearse the session in my head before I get there. Otherwise there is a risk that I run the session as per my rehearsal and it is not run by the coachee. I am always fearful of making the coaching session about me the coach and not keeping the focus on the coachee. It is not that we might spend the whole session talking about me, but that I start to get seduced by the subjects that we are discussion and move into problem solving mode. This can be an easy trap to fall into when coaching people who are from the same professional background.  I must admit that on a couple of occasions in 2 of the sessions this did happen. Luckily I recognised what was happening before I started to problem solve. On these occasions I declared to the coachee what was happening to me. I said told them that I had, had previous experience of this and then told them what I had learned from my experience. By declaring what I was doing, I was making t very clear that this was my experience and what I learned about it, and that it may help them, but it is up to them to decide. It is Ok to provide direction from time to time as long as you declare it.

So what I learned from the coaching this week is that becoming anxious about the upcoming session is very important to me as it raises my self-awareness of my occasional tendency to internalize the subject matter, and that if I recognise this is happening then I need to declare this to the coachee.

Now I must say I thoroughly enjoyed all 3 coaching conversations. All 3 of them are doing some amazing things and truly do make a difference to healthcare. I always come away from the sessions inspired, having learned something. As I have been coaching them for a while, I have a good relationship with them all and they are definitely equal relationships where we feel we can challenge and support in equal measure.

Meeting up with and coaching 3 old friends has definitely improved my mood this week and put Foggy back in his box. I am now looking forward to the rest of January with a renewed vigour.

Taking Foggy for a run

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As you will know Foggy has been quite active over the past couple of days. This morning was not much different. The feeling was more visceral than before, with a tight jaw, pains in my chest and a feeling of impending doom (yes it did cross my mind that I was having a heart attack) This stayed with me all day. Working today was like running through treacle. Worst of all I was like a bear with a sore head.

After being a miserable git with Lisa, I said to myself, ‘enough is enough, you need to do something about this’. As mentioned yesterday I went for a run on Monday which had some effect. Up stairs I went and got my running gear on. Well it took me about 10 minutes after talking myself out of doing it twice, but eventually I got myself ready and did my warm up.

I do a couch to 10k app which involves slowing building up the amount of running you do. So I put my headphones on. The app gives me instructions throughout the run, and in between I put my music on. Quickly I am in a world of my own listening to my playlist and concentrating on not falling over. For the first 5 minutes I did my 5 minute warm up walk, then I started 10 minute run. 2 minutes into the run those visceral feelings had gone. As I was running I let my mind wander to where ever it wanted to go. The only thing I focused on was not stopping and remembering to breathe.  After 10 minutes there is another 5 minute walk, this is normally a struggle, but this time I kept the same focus as I did during the run, and before I knew it I was back running for another 10 minutes.

No doubt me feeling more positive, is down to an accumulative effect of taking action firstly by exercising more regularly and writing my feelings down, and all the wonderful messages I received last night.

When you are beginning to struggle with your feelings do two simple things, talk to someone about how you feel and get outside and do something active. If you don’t yet struggle with your feelings, treat your mental health like your physical health and look after it, if you don’t it might just sneak up on you and cause you problems in the future.

I certainly wish I paid attention to my mental health years ago.

Many of you know me, so know that I am built more for comfort than speed, so if I can get active then so can you. Go for a run and look after your head.runners

Return of the Fog

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I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write this today. I thought it might come across as a bit self-indulgent. Then I thought that I have been trying to encourage people to talk about their mental health so I should feel comfortable doing it when I need to. It will help me and it might just encourage someone else to be more open about their struggles.

The past few days have been particularly difficult. Foggy has been particularly active. Doing the usual, like making me feel generally shit about myself. He has also managed to put a cloud over my thoughts, literally making my feelings foggy. Everything has required effort.

So it started Monday morning with a feeling of despondency, I felt completely useless, and everything I did was rubbish. Luckily for most of the morning no one was around, as not only was I intolerant of myself but everyone else as well. When everyone else got I up I decided to go for a run. It worked as it always does, I felt lighter and more positive when I got in. It didn’t last, by early afternoon I was back to being a bear with a sore head.

Tuesday morning was the same on the way to work I hated myself, nothing I was going to do was going to be any good. I did what I always do I let Foggy do his worst on the bus , by the time I got to work he had gone to sleep. While he was quiet I wrote my plan out for the day and the rest of the week and got busy before he could sabotage my day. My mood remained positive for the rest of the day and I was able to be quite productive. In fact when I got home at first I felt really positive and had forgotten how low I had been in the morning. I managed to catch up with Line of Duty after tea and then when it had finished it hit me like a brick wall. I was exhausted, for no obvious reason, as well as feeling so tired I just wanted to cry, I was so desperately sad, and I had no idea why, as well as sad I was intolerant and angry. I went to bed and slept soundly until 3am, then he woke me up telling me how shit I was.

Today has been difficult, all day I have had no confidence in myself. I attended a meeting this morning, and it was torture I just wanted to curl up in a ball for the whole hour and half. I managed to speak and I certain no one noticed, over the years I have got quite good at hiding it. When I got back from the meeting I bumped into a Staff Nurse I needed to speak to about a development plan, that was excruciating, I struggled to think of what I needed to say, it was like pulling teeth (on my part) just to say anything that made sense. Once I got back to my office, the waves of despair and hopelessness started. Thankfully my boss emailed me with a question, and that set my off on a new task that occupied my mind for the rest of the day.

Once I am engaged I can get myself into a mindful state that keeps Foggy at bay without trying to do battle with him.

Now I am home, and he has been back with a vengeance. That is why I thought I would try to write how I feel down.

I am not sure if any of it makes sense. I hope it does.

I think I understand a little more how this Foggy affects me. Normally I can only objectively look at him after he has gone to sleep, but this evening I have been examining him whilst he is awake.  As an exercise of getting him to go to sleep it definitely worked.

The hardest thing is accepting the feelings that are generated without any good reason, the only thing I can do when he is around is to grab those moments of mindfulness and know that he will go away again.

That is the difference between now and a year ago, I have a level of optimism that I have more time without him than without him. I just wish he wasn’t here at all.

If you have managed to read this far, I thank you, and anytime you want a sympathetic ear I will be there to listen. Don’t suffer alone.

Heads Together

Today the news has been covering the #headstogether campaign, showing celebrities talk about their mental illness or poor mental health. I found it immensely helpful.

Yesterday I shared a story about my own experiences. I now find it liberating talking about Foggy and his unhelpful habits, but I still have that worry that I shared too much at the back of my mind. Its probably Foggy being a prat. But it still gives me that slight unease. So hearing the likes of Andy Flintoff and Professor Green share their feelings is so helpful. It means I am not alone .

If you are suffering, don’t suffer alone, we all care about how you feel. Reach out to someone, talk about it.