Morning Rise

I found this poem in the back of my notebook. I cannot remember writing it. I did but I don’t know when. I know it is about foggy. It is a positive poem. If your foggy is troubling you, take heart you can rise.

Morning Rise

When the noise gets too much I rise,

When the poking and prodding gets too much I rise,

When the darkness gets to much I rise,

I rise,

I rise,

To escape his judgement,

I rise,

To escape his sneering,

I rise,

To escape his laughter,

I RISE!

Thank you Foggy….I think

I have not felt great this week, it has been one of those weeks, where I have just felt out of sorts. Nothing I could really put my finger on, just a bit down on my self.

I didn’t notice my mood until Thursday when I reached the bottom of my mood. This is often the case with my funks or low moods, I generally don’t pick up on my journey down there, however everybody around me notices my descent. I had a few people ask me if I was OK and a few wishing they had avoided me.

So Thursday morning I really did not want to face the world, on Wednesday I had been like a bear with a sore head, and on Thursday morning I just felt terrible about it. Foggy was having a field day, by the time I was on the way to work he had managed to drag up all my shortcomings and exaggerate them, to the point that I was despicable human being who was not fit to be a father, husband, educator or coach, and I was definitely not fit to deliver Human Factors training. According to Foggy my credibility was shot. Wow that escalated fast I thought (no doubt so are you). That is what happens when you let you thoughts run away with themselves.

I did though manage to deliver Human Factors training on Thursday and Friday and as far as I can tell my credibility is intact. In fact I am quite grateful to Foggy for escalating things as dramatically as he did. He made me realise that I was not paying attention to myself as much as I should. I had been too busy concentrating on the future and not paying attention to what is happening to me know.

So on Thursday by the time I had arrived at work I had brought myself to the present, and was beginning to set myself free from my thoughts. I spent the next hour and half concentrating on preparing my room and materials for the training session. Now don’t get me wrong this did not get rid of those unhelpful thoughts completely, but what it did do was diminish them and as the day progressed they got smaller and smaller. So by the time I got home I was able to apologise for my grumpiness with sincerity.

Since Thursday I have been practicing a mindfulness to keep check of the negative self-talk. Nothing too dramatic, just noticing when my mind is either wandering off to the future or past and rather than dwelling on those thoughts, just bringing myself back to the present, either by paying attention to my physical self (my breathing or noticing sensations) or paying attention to my surroundings. It reminds me that those thoughts are not real and not necessarily helpful, and what is real is what is happening here and now.

Now I do not want to get rid of these thoughts completely, as they are part of me after all and can be useful (as described earlier). So I accept them as part of me and know that they will raise their heads quite dramatically from time to time, but that is OK because I know how to quieten them.

If your self-talk is getting in the way and you want support turning down the volume so you can get on with being successful get in touch either by email, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

Outline of Chapter 1 of Connected Living (Your Well Being)

Connected Living

As a lot of you will know,  I have been talking about writing a book about connected living. Yes another book about success. Although I shy away from defining what success is and leave that up to the reader, other than suggesting if you want to have a life that is positive and fulfilling you are less likely to be able to do that alone. Therefore we need to start making meaningful connections with the people around us and beyond. Before we can make these meaningful connections, we have to connect with ourselves and that starts with making sure we are healthy and remain healthy, both physically and mentally. This chapter outline concentrates on our well-being that can often be left by the wayside. If you have read my blogs before, you will know that this is a subject close to my heart.

So below is the overview of that first chapter. Enjoy, and feel free to offer me feedback.

Your Well-Being

Since becoming an adult I have struggled with my mental health and well-being. Over the years this has manifested itself in a number of ways, ranging from general anxiety, self-hatred and physical symptoms. I was going to say I manage to avoid a dependency on this journey, but that would not be strictly correct. From the age of 16 until I was 44 I had an addiction to nicotine and I definitely used that as a crutch. Throughout my adult life my depression manifested itself as a physical ailment, generally I would present with joint and back pain. The pain I was experiencing was very real, however maybe not as severe as I felt it was. All the diagnostics came back negative each time. Eventually I was referred to the community pain team. This team was made up of a nurse, a physio a doctor and a psychologist. Each member of the team would take it in turns to triage new referrals. I was triaged (luckily for me) by the psychologist, who ended up continuing to see me. He started me on my journey of recovery from my back and joint pain and on my journey for managing my mental health and well-being. I recognised that my back pain was a useful framework for my poor mental health to take hold of my life, it also provided a shield for hiding my shame.

I had 4 sessions with the psychologists where we talked about how it all started and eventually how I found the pain useful, actively seeking it out to give me something to hide behind. When the negative thoughts were too much I would concentrate on pain in my back, telling myself and all those around me that is was the pain that was too much to cope with, allowing me to withdraw from the world. In my eyes it gave me a legitimate excuse not to be at work, to be grumpy and sit in front of the TV. Being away from the world does not help your depression however, the pain is still the same, the only relief is that you don’t have to interact with people.

As I said though these sessions changed my relationship with my back pain. For the first time I had permission to talk about the real reasons for my pain. It was just like shining a light on those childhood nighttime demons that lurk in the corner of your bedroom. When you shine that light you realise it is just a dressing gown. I started talking about the triggers for my pain, that made them somehow smaller. This was not an overnight sensation, however it showed me what was triggering my feelings of anxiety and how that manifested itself in me becoming tense and therefore creating that pain. Some of the anxieties were connected to unhelpful habits, others were reactions to what Professor Steve Peters would call my Gremlins. Gremlins are unhelpful negative memories associated with certain situations, places, sounds and smells. These gremlins would trigger those anxious feelings. By recognising these triggers I could start rewriting those memories with benign memories. Most of these gremlins were not based in fact but came from assumptions I was making about my relationship with the place I worked and the people I was working with. This was a long slow process but I did start to rewrite those memories. I now do not experience anxiety when I approach my work place. I still experienced pain for a good 3 months after being discharged from the pain team, but my relationship with the pain had changed and I no longer used it as a shield, I was beginning to manage my feelings by facing them. I stopped catastrophising the pain and accepted that my back was hurting because of the tension I was creating and once I relaxed,  the pain would subside. I was then able to carry on with whatever I was doing and eventually the pain would diminish.

With regards to my anxiety I still have episodes of anxiety and low mood, sometimes on a weekly or even daily basis. The difference now is I do not deny these feelings, I am now willing to accept that this pain is psychological. It is still pain and I feel it as I would any other physical pain. Pain killers are not going to work, I once tried antidepressants when I first acknowledged that my mental health required attention. I am no longer on antidepressants, I came off them under the supervision of my GP. So far in this chapter I have been reluctant to call what I was suffering from depression. Now in my blogs I have called it depression, but then when I here about what people who suffer from depression go through I am more inclined to think I have low mood and anxiety as a result of not paying attention to my mental health, which is very different from having a diagnosed condition. My GP called it mild depression, and prescribed antidepressants for a few months in the first instance with regular check ups . In the end I was on them for a year. In hindsight I was grateful for them, they gave me the time and space to get use to paying attention to my mental health. Once I had come off them I felt able to be open about my feelings, and start looking for ways to look after my well-being. As I said I do not believe I was depressed or mentally ill, I believe I was mentally unhealthy, just as I was physically unhealthy. Essentially I had been neglecting myself and was paying the price for that.

This chapter is not about mental health or ill-health it is essentially to help you pay attention to your well-being. If you believe that you may be depressed or suffering from anxiety, then speak to a health professional. If you think you are suffering from any illness that is having a debilitating effect on your life then you need to be assessed and diagnosed by a Doctor, whether that is appendicitis or depression they are both potentially life threatening illnesses that require assessment and treatment immediately, take it seriously and get yourself checked out.

If you are feeling essentially well or just a bit clunky and under the weather then this chapter may well help you stay mentally healthy and even make you feel significantly better.

When I was looking around for ways to help me,someone suggested I have a look at the work of Martin Selligman. He is one of the founders of positive psychology. Positive psychology looks at the psychology of a healthy mind and the behaviours and conditions that encourage that state. I discovered his book Flourish in which he describes what extensive research in the US suggests are the conditioned required to mentally healthy. The research suggests if you have an abundance of the following then you will flourish and be less likely to access mental health services;
Positive emotion

Engagement

Relationships (that are positive)

Meaning  (in your life)

Accomplishment
Positive Emotion

I remember looking at this measure and thinking that is easy, I have always had an abundance of positive emotion. I love a good laugh, I am always cracking jokes. That was true but when I looked deeper I asked myself how often I smiled, I mean really smiled. How often did I look at the world and see more than just my surroundings, how often did I see my beautiful surroundings. I remembered being on holiday in Thailand and having my breath taken away by the beauty of the country. I asked myself since then, how many times had I felt that. I struggled to be honest. I can tell you now every time I take my dog for a walk, go for a run, or just look up at the sky I feel joyful and grateful for living in a beautiful country. I listen to music and smile, I laugh out loud daily. I feel joy when I see family and friends. I smile when I see or hear that a friend is doing well.

Ask yourself do you smile, feel joy and laugh on a daily basis?
Engagement

Do you find yourself during your day taking part in an activity that requires no effort or thought? An activity that you enjoy for the sake of it, for the pure joy of it. Whilst writing this I was wondering, what I do that is engaging. I suppose once I get out there,  running is engaging, but I have to get out there and I have to get into the rhythm of the running before it becomes mentally effortless. Reading a good book I suppose creates the most engagement for me, and most of all researching for this book, reading about how the mind works, how we behave and what makes us successful and effective. I love reading about this, I love talking about it as well, I love giving masterclasses and lectures on this subject. That creates the most engagement for me. I can spend hours prattling on about how to empty your bucket, understand your stressors and connect with each other. I love it, it energises me and the better the response from my audience the more engaged I become. So there we are that is my engagement. This stuff, my passion provides me with engagement.

Do you look up and realise hours have gone? One commonactivity that creates engagement is catching up with a best friend over a coffee that leads to several coffees and then a race across town to pick the kids from school, because you completely lost track of time, catching up on old times. Some of you might get engrossed in a good book, sometimes that might be a new book or an old favourite. Whenever there is a new Jack Reacher story I will pre-order it and devour it as quickly as possible, I will binge read it in about 2 sittings.  Other people love to curl up with a favourite book, something they have read over and over again, it gives them comfort and transports them to another time, without any effort or too much thought.

Music is another way to create that engagement, either playing or listening. Music like many engaging activities also creates a positive emotion. It is obvious really that for you to be engaged in an activity that you enjoy it.

So do you take part in engaging activities regularly?
Relationships (Positive)

Loneliness is a real problem in modern society. In 2018 The Office for National Statistics  released a report on the characteristics and circumstances that are associated with loneliness. The findings are not unsurprising but stark all the same. 1 in 20 adults reported feelings of loneliness between 2016 and 2017.

You are more likely to experience loneliness if you, are single or bereaved. People with long-term illnesses are also more likely to experience loneliness. If you live in rented accommodation, and feel disconnected with your community you are more likely to be lonely. What was quite striking for me was that people aged between 16 to 24 are more likely to be lonely than any other group.

Being single or bereaved, having a long-term condition and even disconnection with the community are unsurprising causes of loneliness. At first glance though the fact that young people are more likely to be lonely than older age groups is surprising. I don’t know about you, but when I imagine lonely people I think of a little old lady or man sat in a flat, not a young adult. In fact over 75s are 63% less likely to report loneliness. That really surprised me. The ONS provides a couple of explanations; a) older people have developed a resilience to loneliness, as a result of adverse life events; or (and this will make you sit up and notice) b) most of the lonely people are already dead before they get to 75%! According to the ONS loneliness increases mortality by 25%, so being lonely reduces your life expectancy. It is vital not only to your state of mind, but to your life that you seek out positive relationships. You won’t only be having an impact on your life, but the life of the person you are connecting with.

If you see the same person everyday, on the train or the bus, or in the lift, start with a smile, then progress to a hello. Now not everyone will respond, but there will be people willing to connect that will say hello.I can think of a number of people who I have connected with, and have a positive, friendly relationship with, that started with a smile and a nod of the head. If you think about it all our relationships start with at least 2 people who have never met before (even your mum and dad). Be bold give them a smile, let them know that you believe there is more that connects you with them, than disconnects you.
Meaning

Does you life have meaning? Is there a purpose to what you do everyday? Putting it another way, what gets you out of bed in the morning? What gives my life meaning in the first instance, is being Dad to my boys. Being a father is an integral part of my being. Next is caring for people. For most of my adult life nursing has provided me meaning. Nowadays I do very little hands on nursing and spend my days as a nurse educator and internal coach.

Essentially all of these roles (Parent, Nurse, Educator and Coach) all provide the same meaning for me. That is caring for and supporting my fellow human beings. I hope I have a positive impact on the people I meet. Being an active positive member of the human race is my meaning. It is as simple as that.

When I had poor mental health and spent time away from work, I was disconnected from my meaning. I didn’t feel I made a positive contribution to the people around me. At the time I was a Ward Manager and was deeply unhappy with what I perceived my role to be and started to disengage with the job. There was a clear gap in my view between my values and what was expected of me. My job no longer had meaning as far as I could see. When I was a Staff Nurse I was caring for my patients, using empathy and compassion, something I felt comfortable doing. I assumed that being a Charge Nurse meant that I would extend this care to my staff as well as my patients. However at the time these attributes were not valued for managers. Coming to work and not being valued had a terrible effect on me and I could not see any meaning to what I was doing and who I was. My mental health suffered and eventually I became so unwell I went off sick. I was not ready to be open about my mental health at the time. My poor mental health manifested itself as back pain. Nurses notoriously have bad backs, so the normal aches and pains became unbearable pain. I would find myself in unguarded moments holding myself with so much tension to create more pain in my back. I couldn’t stop it, I needed the pain so I did not have to engage with the world. Being of sick removed nearly all meaning to my life. I only had being a parent to hang on to, but I didn’t always recognise it. It was a vicious circle the more time I spent off work the less meaning my life had. The less meaning my life had the worse my mental health became. At the time I was not aware that any of this was going on in my head, I had convinced myself that my back was the problem.

As you know there was a happy ending for me. The psychologist who saw me and helped me realise that my poor mental health was driving my back pain, gave me a way back into the world and reconnecting with my meaning. This didn’t happen overnight as you know the struggles with my poor mental health continued for a while longer. My journey to good mental health is relatively recent. Since combining both my nurse educator role and coaching role, I have developed a clear sense of meaning in my life. Becoming an internal coach has given me the confidence to start a blog and do some life coaching, which have all added to this sense that my life has meaning because I contribute positively to the human race.
Accomplishment

What have you achieved? It doesn’t have to be a dramatic achievement, like a first class honours degree or running the London Marathon (although there are plenty people I know who have done this). Accomplishment means you have achieved what you set out to do. It does need to have been challenging though. It needs to have required effort on your part. We have all achieved something in our lifetime. Can you remember that feeling you got from that sense of accomplishment, being able to complete something you have never done before?

On many occasions this accomplishment comes along side the other PERMA components. For instance learning to play a musical instrument or singing in a choir creates positive emotion, engagement, possible positive relationships if you are in a choir or a band, even meaning as music entertains others. Then when you can either play a piece of music that is recognisable or you sing with your choir at a concert, you have accomplished something.

The question is do you challenge yourself to accomplish something most days? It does not have to be really hard, but should challenge you. I go for a run at least once a week I don’t run far or very fast but I do it, and every week I accomplish running at least 1 or 2 miles and even 3 miles. I always aim to exercise for 30 minutes and push myself each time to be out for a little longer. Every week I write at least one blog, to me I have accomplished getting my message across, hopefully bringing some light to someone’s darkness. When it is published on my website I look at it and think, I made that. What have you made this week?
Often all we need to do is take stock of PERMA to realise what a full, and rich life we lead when we actually break it down. As Brene Brown says in her book Daring Greatly, we often live in a world of scarcity, where we never have enough of anything, we could all do with more of something. If you do a quick inventory of your life using PERMA it can often be evident that you have enough and you are enough.

Another little checklist I like to use comes from Brene Brown, and that is her BRAVING checklist. Often when our well-being is low it is because our self-worth and self-esteem has taken a battering. It is however nearly always ourselves that is the main assailant. It is then worth considering how much trust we have in ourselves. This BRAVING checklist helps you address any trust issues you may have with yourself.

Boundaries: Do I respect my own boundaries? I am clear about what is okay, and what is not okay?

Reliability: Am I reliable? Do I do what I say I am going to do?

Accountability: Do I hold myself to account?

Vault: Do I respect the vault and share appropriately? I am sharing too much? Am I sharing something that is not mine to share?

Integrity: Do I act from integrity? Do I do what is right over what is expedient?

Non-Judgement: Do I ask for what I need? Am I non-judgemental about needing help?

Generosity: Am I generous towards myself?
Before we can even think about connecting successfully with others, we must pay attention to our well-being. When we strive for success it can be very easy not to pay attention to ourselves. If we do this we will pay the price. Paying attention to your well-being is not just vital to success, it can be the difference between a long and happy life or an early death.

Our well-being is heavily dependant on our relationship with shame and vulnerability.

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