“The optimist sees the doughnut; the pessimist sees the hole.”
I am a worrier, I always have been, and I always will be. Many see me as an enthusiast; self-confident, in control and optimistic. The truth is I try to be, but I sometimes lie to myself. Like so many, I hate that feeling of a loss of control; of factors and events that I don’t appear to be able to affect. There are times when I can keep it under control and times it just runs riot.
Over the last few months, indeed years, I have felt the intense anxiety of uncertainty that has impacted on all our lives. Professionally, it has been
a challenging time, work fluctuating and changing in its nature and frequency has left me feeli
ng vulnerable and exposed.
I am writing this not to garner sympathy but it in the hope that it may resonate with you and help reassure you that you and your feelings are not alone.
Thankfully we are slowly moving away from the frankly archaic era where emotional vulnerability was seen as weakness. However, too many of us still feel that it is almost taboo to discuss our mental health with others. On reflection, I too think it something that I’m guilty of, often hiding behind that enthusiastic and confident front I so often project in public.
I hope that I am coming out of my latest ‘funk’, and it has made me reflect a little. Some weeks ago, I came back from a fantastic run of events and speeches and returned to an empty diary and a work vacuum. I started to catastrophise, mourning the end of my career, driving my management team crazy, and withdrawing into myself.
I was becoming increasingly self-centred and most crucially losing all sense of perspective. My wife, an incredible school principal was dealing with the intense pressure that all educators and education leaders are juggling with
right now, yet when she came through the door of an evening, I would immediately tell her about my anxiety and my problems, many of which were constructed in my head, often borne out of exhaustion, too much time with my own thoughts and the dive into an increasingly black hole.
The objective truth of the situation was actually very different from the narrative I had constructed. My life was OK, especially in the wider context but I had lost all perspective.
I had not discussed my anxiety in its earliest stages, I hadn’t looked for a counter view. As a result, I had developed a self-fulfilling story, one where I only saw the bad stuff that was coming my way, I used them to reinforce my misery and sense of foreboding. I couldn’t see any brightness and that meant that for a while, I allowed myself to be a victim, to sit and wait for the shit to hit the fan.
My wife, Lynne and I, are about to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary, which is an incredible testament to her patience, but it means that she is, my best friend and fortunately, knows me better than anyone. She has seen this behaviour in me before and knows when the time is right to intervene. I often wonder where I’d be without her.
What she does, is help me redraw the perspective of my constructed situation, which in turn helps me to find levers I can control and slowly, I find myself moving from a position of passivity to one of activation. So
here I am sharing my feelings with you, smiling, and knowing, with renewed belief that I’ve been through tough times before and that I will be OK.
If any of this relates, then please know that it is:
· OK to feel down (don’t let guilt make it worse)
· Talk to someone you know and trust ASAP!
· Ask them to be objective and to point out what you could do, rather than reinforce what you can’t.
· Remember that you are not alone.
· Know that it is something we all go through.
· Try to do something constructive, that you can control, for me it’s writing, sometimes in my private journal, sometimes for public consumption.
· Always be honest, don’t lock yourself or your emotions away.
· Help is always there!
Until next month, more optimistically yours,