Wrestling with Foggy

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I haven’t been for a run for 2 weeks. I had used a variety of excuses including rain, tiredness, and not enough time. I tell you this has definitely had a detrimental effect on my well-being. If you had asked me last week how I was doing, I would have said, I am fine, in fact I am doing great, and on the whole I was, but what I didn’t notice was that my stress bucket was getting dangerously full. I wasn’t emptying my bucket, effectively. I wasn’t paying attention to my daily hour of happiness, part of that is giving myself head space going for a run. Not going for a run is a double-edged sword, I don’t get my headspace and on top of that I feel guilty for not going for a run.

This past week was quite an important week for me, with a couple of things that were happening that required me to be vulnerable, and in the words of Brene Brown, dare greatly. So not being mentally on form was problematic. Firstly I was meeting our Chief Nurse to discuss Clinical Supervision with Janis, then on Wednesday I was booked to give a talk to the local Rotary Club, I was also delivering a Discovery Insights (a system we use to help individuals and team understand how themselves and others prefer to behave, to help them better connect with each other and improve team productivity) session for a team of Specialist Nurses. I was also worried about another work stream that was not going completely to plan (which ones do?).

I woke up on Monday morning at about 4 am with my old friend Foggy having a field day, beating the crap out of my self-esteem. It felt like every muscle in my body was in spasm. All morning, all I could hear was a continuous loop of negative self-talk. I had butterflies in my stomach and had no idea how I was going to survive the week.

Well I got through Monday, I dug deep and when I met the Chief Nurse, and when I went to deliver the Insights session, I showed up I dared, said what I needed to say, the sky didn’t fall in, what I had to say appeared to land how it was intended. Gladly I had Janis alongside me with the Chief Nurse, and she gave me that boost of confidence. The Insights session was just me, and to be honest at the beginning of the session I did feel like running out of the room screaming. I didn’t (obviously), I took a deep breath jumped in and trusted my knowledge and experience, it worked I did it, the nurses laughed when they were supposed asked questions looked interested and had a plan for what they were going to do with this information. In fact I got an email the next day from one of the nurses thanking me. That didn’t stop Foggy telling me they were just being polite and in fact you were just useless.

Fast forward to Wednesday, they day of my talk with the Rotary Club. To be honest the day was a complete blur. I remember having a sore throat and wondered if I was coming down with a cold. Just adding to my anxiety, I now had an image of me sneezing over everybody and having a coughing fit during my talk. On the way to the talk after work I decided to change my plan and not give the talk I was going to, as after talking to the lady who had invited me, it became evident that they were after some solutions for the future of the club. So on the bus on the way there (I always use public transport, I tell myself it is because I am eco-friendly, in fact I am just scared of driving) I formulated a new plan of a mini-coaching session. By the time I got there Foggy was stomping on self-confidence, I was barely holding it together. So after I had met all the members present we sat down and had a meal. What a delightful group of people they are. The meal and normal routines took about 40 minutes. That was possibly one of the longest 40 minutes in my life. No no matter how lovely they were, I was barely present in the room, I was desperately trying to push Foggy back into his cupboard, whilst trying not to listen to his negativity. Then it was my turn to speak, I did what I did on Monday I just jumped right in and hoped for the best. It was either going to be a car crash with no one wanting to respond to me or they would embrace it and start talking about what they needed to do. I declared at the beginning of the talk that I had no intention of doing all the talking. I think in total I spoke for about 10 minutes of the 35 minutes I was up there. They were fantastic they fully embraced it. I asked a few questions, and then they were off, by the end they had a plan of what they were going to do next and a commitment to action. I was amazed by how much they got done in such a short space of time.

Despite spending so much time in the arena and not having stuff thrown at me, and people shouting obscenities at me, I have still managed to feel completely useless all week. The only reason I am able to write this today is (I believe) because I have been for a run. Yesterday I had resolved that I would not write anything today, as I had nothing worth saying in my head. Yesterday I got written feedback from an old coachee, telling me how much she had benefited from my coaching, both personally and professionally. I so wish I hadn’t opened it until next week. All that positivity was wasted on me yesterday. I just didn’t register it as anything worth celebrating. Now today I feel so happy that I helped someone realise how vital they are.

Lets end on a happy note. I stole myself to go for a run this morning. Even though Foggy told me that I was slow and fat and that I would be laughed at by everyone down our street. I jumped in accepting that there might be some people who may be amused by fat arse bouncing down the street and by the sound of my wheezing as I struggle to control my breathing. I also know that most people will not even notice me, as they are too busy worrying about their own lives. Most people have got too much shit going on in their lives to notice some fat middle-aged bloke pounding the streets.

So I ran for 30 minutes (I walked a bit too), and it felt amazing even the pain and breathlessness was great. Foggy has gone back in his cupboard and I feel strong enough to share my feelings in this blog.

Actually writing this blog helps me put it all into perspective. I love writing this blog, so it does form part of my hour of happiness.

Even you find things getting on top of you, have a look at your day and starting adding in activities that make you happy, if they add up to an hour everyday you will start to feel better. (If you struggle to find anything positive, then please don’t keep it to yourself, share those feelings with someone who is close, also make an appointment to see your Doctor, there is help out there, don’t suffer in silence)

Being vulnerable and connected with yourself is hard, but worth it!

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On Sunday I wrote about my mental health after a while. I thought it was time to share again. Time to face a few demons that have been lingering and to acknowledge to positive effect reading Brene Brown’s work has had on me and my mental health.

I should have known though, I should have remembered how it makes me feel when I share a piece of me. Making yourself vulnerable is bloody painful. I was apprehensive on Sunday. My finger did hover over the publish button. But I said to myself, it will be fine this time round, this time you are daring greatly, you have super powers.

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Well I don’t have super powers and no it is not different now. I am a lot better than I was 2 years ago and the pain isn’t as deep and widespread, but still it’s not bloody fair I said to myself yesterday morning.

I woke up yesterday with Foggy nudging me smirking, reminding me what I had done, reminding me that I had shown my weakness to the world. Oh the shame, oh the embarrassment he told me. I reminded him that all the comments I had were positive, thanking me and letting me know how much they enjoyed reading it. That’s only because not many read it he retorted. At this point can I just point out that this is a silent discourse in my head and I am not doing a Gollum/Sméagol routine on the bus.

When I got to the office I re-read some comments and looked at the likes on Facebook, and via the reader. I did make a difference, it did help me. In fact I would say it helped me greatly yesterday, in fact I had a wonderful day yesterday having some really useful discussions about a research article I am writing with colleagues from the university, then planning a training/support day for nurses who have been qualified for a year to help them explore professionalism and compassion, followed by a lively tutorial with a coaching trainee. The energy that I felt yesterday was purely down to making myself vulnerable. I felt able to share snippets of myself thorough every aspect of the discussions I had, creating stronger connections.

Today Foggy was back, this time I gave him some space, let him air his concerns I spent some time exploring that and again feel better. Sometimes I notice Foggy can be useful, he can stop me from getting over excited and rushing into to actions that may not be wise. Today was one of those times.

He hasn’t stopped me being vulnerable though, although he did provoke me to re-share and retweet the weekends blogs. I even tweeted Brene Brown! She hasn’t replied, but then again I am sure she gets millions of tweets and no doubt she doesn’t manage her twitter anyway, but I thought what the heck, at worst I get ignored.

Then I thought I would write a blog about the vulnerability of being vulnerable, whilst being vulnerable. Mainly to piss Foggy off.

If you are suffering in silence with shame and anxiety, reach out to someone you care about, who cares about you and share your shame, or anxiety, turn a light on the dark recesses of you mind. If you care about someone sit alongside them listen to them give them some space and understanding. We all have felt shame so we understand how we all feel. We can all show each other empathy if we embrace our own shame and vulnerability.

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When somebody spares you a few minutes to listen to you and try to understand you, it has an amazing effect on you. Give it a try sit and listen to a friend, tell them what makes you feel vulnerable. Yes it hurts but not as deeply as holding on to that shame. Give them a hug (it doesn’t have to be a real hug sitting alongside and sharing is a virtual hug).

Lets change the world one hug at a time.

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Me and Foggy

My old friends will remember Foggy. For the uninitiated Foggy is my negative self speak, my dark cloud, my black dog.  He is my depression to put it simply, the dark part of my brain that likes to suck away my hope, my joy, and my enthusiasm.

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Maybe I am being a little bit unkind to Foggy. To be fair to Foggy it is not completely his fault. Foggy is just my self speak with no boundaries. If I do battle with Foggy or don’t pay attention to my self-worth, then Foggy lets rip and stomps all over my aspirations and dreams. He doesn’t just create self-doubt he takes a sledgehammer to my self-esteem and creates a feeling of self hate.

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Well he used to. I don’t let him do that to me anymore. I smother him with love and appreciation. I practice shining a light on the dark corners of my mind where he does his worst. These practices have become most successful in the past couple of months. I was starting to feel better after being open about how I feel, and sharing my feelings with you lot. However since reading the work of Brene Brown and Stephen Covey and can now make sense of what I was doing and refine it. I realise Foggy was formed way back in my childhood. Can I say now I had a lovely childhood I was kept safe, and most of all loved by loving Mum and Dad, and Brother and Sister. My mum largely brought me up alone as my Dad was away at sea in the Navy when I was young and then when I was a teenager they got divorced. Again this is not unusual, so I do not consider this a problem. Foggy did however form at this time and got stronger and stronger through my late teens and early adulthood, where he was finally strong enough to run amok. Now after reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly (this book has changed my life completely) I realise Foggy was fed by shame. Even writing that word makes me feel emotional.

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As I am writing this BBC Breakfast is doing a peace on suicide amongst men. Depression and suicide amongst men is the a terrible legacy of modern society. I am convinced that this comes from shame. None of us what to feel judged. Being vulnerable, emotional and caring are considered weaknesses. Just as I said yesterday in my blog about compassionate leadership.

I remember being a teenager and feeling ashamed for being kind and caring, for feeling emotional. Feeling ashamed that I didn’t understand or interested in playing football. I felt like I didn’t belong, I didn’t fit into the male stereotype. I now realise that most of my friends felt this to a greater or lesser extent, but were too afraid to say anything because we felt ashamed. I remember telling a female friend that I thought I must be gay, because I wanted to be a nurse, because I enjoyed talking to people about their feelings. As I did not feel masculine enough I must have been gay and being gay was a negative thing and another source of shame. Society puts us in a box and provides a set of values and behaviours we have to live up to (women and men). Most of these behaviours are impossible for us to live up to.  This shame got bigger and bigger as I got older. I have to be good at everything, I have to be successful, I have to provide for my family. I couldn’t in my mind live up to the ideals I felt society had enforced on me. Eventually to cut a long story short I disengaged with life. I did this a number of times through my adult life.

Now we don’t have to live in shame. Shame is a lie. If you do something wrong or make a mistake or you live your life differently to everyone else, you are not a bad person. There is a difference between guilt and shame. It is fine to feel guilty for your actions when they effect others. Guilt does not define you, you can make amends and redeem yourself. Shame assumes that you are flawed and unable to change. Shame implies you are less worthy. Not fitting into the male or female paradigm set by our society does not make you or me flawed. Talking about what makes you feel shame actually diminishes your shame. For me it was a bit like turning my bedroom light on when I was a child and realising the monster by the door was just my dressing gown on the back of my bedroom door. Talking about your shame turns your bedroom light on, and turns your demons into what they really are, just the furniture of your life.

So now in my post Brene life I talk about my shame openly, including crying when wonderful things happen, or when someone tells me a sad story. Foggy is now just my self talk, and that is all. I can now have a debate with myself about whether or not I should do something. He will still try to make me feel ashamed, sometimes he will succeed. But I know where that light switch is.

I find sharing some of my shame through a blog useful. Other times I will be selective who I share with. Be mindful when sharing that the person you are about to share with is ready to receive this. Sharing your darkest secrets on a first date may be ill advised.

Sharing shame and vulnerability makes you more empathetic and compassionate, therefore making you better equipped to connect meaningfully with the people around you.

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If you want to know more about connecting with yourself and others email me

matt@mattycoach71.com

 

It’s OK to Lead with Compassion

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When I started as a Student Nurse 29 years ago, my warmth, compassion and empathy were applauded, even considered a strength.

I was not the most technically capable student, my written work was not the best, and I often just did enough. My interpersonal skills however were my strength. I naturally put myself alongside my patients and colleagues. I was always looking for how I could support people, to understand their viewpoint and their experience. Rather than making a judgement on people and their behaviours, my default position is always to see good in people and there is always a reason why people do things. I am not saying I never judge or put nails in peoples coffins. I do everyday as following my default position can be exhausting. It is far easier to follow the path frequently followed, rather than the path less travelled. My preference though is to understand.

This is my point really. the majority of the time warmth, compassion and empathy are not widely valued behaviours in our society especially when shown by men. If you express these behaviours outside of the patient/carer (health professionals) relationship they are seen as a weakness. You are seen as a pushover, weak, lacking toughness, thin skinned, girly. As a teenager and young adult, when I was turned down by a girl or dumped they would always say I was too nice. TOO NICE!!!! That still pisses me off! I never realised that being unpleasant was an attribute to be proud of.

As I said at the beginning my people skills were applauded and encouraged as Student Nurse and a Staff Nurse. I am certain a lot of these attributes contributed to me eventually being promoted to Charge Nurse and given the opportunity to manage my own ward.

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That was when it all changed. My strengths were now weaknesses, as they would be in wider world. I was sent on leadership courses that encouraged my to be transformational in my leadership, to blend organisational goals with the interests of the staff. To win them over with compassion, but to have accountability. I clearly embraced this approach. However the NHS at that time was not quite ready for this wholesale cultural change. The prevailing culture was still command and control. The I say jump, you say how high culture. I was young and naïve and knew my way of seeing the world was right and everyone would applaud me and thank me for bringing this enlightened leadership to my ward. How wrong I was. I was considered weak for listening to staff and encouraging them to follow their interest. I made quite a few mistakes as all new managers do and that was not the problem, the problem was the under current, the belief that I was a push over and my leadership was not strong enough. People would say that I needed to toughen up, I needed to punish more than I praised and then I would get the respect of my staff. I was constantly made to feel ashamed of my ability as a leader. As a result I started to disengage with my role as ward manager. I could not be that manager, I just could not adapt to being a hard manager. I could not make examples of people. My values would not let be that manager. Therefore I became ineffective, deeply unhappy and eventually mentally unwell. I was just unable to adapt to a way of interacting with people that was the direct opposite of my core values. I was a ward manager for a decade, for the majority of that time I felt deeply unhappy and disengaged with leadership and management. It appeared to me that the NHS as a whole extolled an inclusive, compassionate approach to leadership and management, but actually practiced an adversarial, confrontational approach. I just could not reconcile that gap.

Now don’t get me wrong I do not blame the NHS or the people who practiced this approach, this was and is in some cases the culture they have grown up and live in. This is their paradigm it is difficult and sometimes impossible for them to see the world differently.

Thankfully I had some very supportive people around me that could see what my strengths were and were prepared to help me save my career, and helped me change direction and take up the roles I now have in the organisation, where my behaviours are again considered a strength.

Thankfully the culture not only in the NHS but across society is shifting towards a compassionate, empathetic approach to leadership and management and even living. We now recognise that we need to look after each others mental health in an increasingly complex world. Researchers like Brene Brown and psychologists like Martin Selligman and Stephen Covey highlight how compassion, empathy and happiness have a positive effect on our work and home life. If we lead with compassion your team will be more effective.

If you are a leader that struggles with a command and control approach to management. Getting alongside your staff, finding out who they really are and what motivates them. Listen to what they want and help them succeed in your team. You will reap the rewards. You will have to be brave, accept that you will make mistakes, and learn openly from them.

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If you want to learn more about connecting with your staff and leading with compassion get in touch.

matt@mattycoach71.com

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.