At the weekend I planned to write a piece on authenticity. As a business woman I am exploring what this means. We all have our work personas, and our others. One of the most interesting things I've read is that we can change - we won't stay the same and shouldn't expect other people to either. It's part of our evolution. That's why we do performance development and change management. Because we need to change. However, one thing that isn't going to change is my list making...(see below!)
I don't believe we have to show everything to be 'authentic', but at the same time, being able to be honest about the part of me that has depression and anxiety.
Today I'm feeling really unwell, so this is what I can do. I'm hoping to write more on authenticity - especially in business. For now, here is a blog about how I've made changes to try and combat Monday morning anxiety.
Five years ago, if you asked me what Sunday night looked like, I'd say this:
- I would pack my suitcase for the week ahead, make a note of all the things I needed to remember to do (that I hadn't remembered to make a note of on Friday)
- I'd look forward to a cold, crisp glass of sherry and a delicious Sunday dinner.
- I knew I probably wouldn't sleep well because I'd be thinking of all the activities ahead of me (which despite taking careful note of, were whirring around my little head like a carousel whirring and blurring at 100 MPH).
- I'd be aware of the earlier-than-normal time I needed to wake up to ensure I got the train to wherever work was taking me, and this would mean my sleep would be broken - I'd wake up half a dozen times to watch the clock, even though I would have set an alarm.
- I might have dreams about work - often - and I might think of new things to add to that to do list. All in all, I'd have a fairly rough start to the week, which I'd treat with a bottle of diet coke (or two), a fair breakfast bought at the station and a blurry Monday trying to get through various meetings whilst not falling asleep or seeming manic because of the amount of caffeine I'd consumed to make Monday working even a possibility.
What has changed? It's Monday morning. I woke up feeling horrific, but now I know that I can employ various things to try to ease this and help me get through the day.
I feel terribly anxious after a nightmare-filled broken night of sleep where I dreamed of a wider to-do list including both life things (like trying to sell the house, tidy the flat, clean, and a long list of work activities). This means that I'm feeling physically sick, with bile present in my chest and rising in my throat.
There is nothing I can do about that, or my bad dreams if I've practised healthy behaviours before bed. Here are my best behaviours. I try to do these every day.
- I go to bed in time to be awake for a decent amount of time getting comfortable in bed and 'finishing' the day in my head.
- I drink water with my tablets and only drink water (and plenty of it) after bed and beforehand. I don't drink any caffeine at all but I used to not drink any after 2pm
- I read something that is not too challenging and not upsetting before bed on my Kindle, on the lowest possible light setting that I can manage during the dark. I find that looking at my ipad or iphone before bed can disturb my brain with the backlighting and make it harder for me to get to sleep.
- I put on a programme to listen to before sleep which my brain will focus on (meaning not on the 1000 alternatives possible) and this concentration relaxes my brain and usually is the magic silver bullet to make me go the f*** to sleep.
Having done these last night, I'm feeling just as tired as I would have been five years ago, and have a list in front of me that I'm crossing things off from. A list is helpful to me for these reasons:
- It helps me to realise that it's unlikely I've forgotten something, and stops my mind from racing around trying to repeat the things I have to do the next day / in general again and again.
- When I cross things off (even if it's just writing an email) I feel like I'm making progress and it makes me feel more in control. (And yes, I am one of those people who even puts things already achieved onto that list...it's good to remember that you've achieved something already!)
- I can build on it throughout the week and decide to allocate some of the items to other later days depending on how my health is.
On the other hand, I didn't have anything to drink on Sunday night (or at any time on Sunday in fact); I didn't have a suitcase to pack because currently I don't have to work on client work away from home, because of the project types I'm working on. I didn't eat a Sunday roast.
I went to bed at around 6-7pm because I wasn't feeling at all well. I also now have a host of drugs to try to help my depression and anxiety and the medication that I take to allow me to take that medication, that is, to help with side effects of insomnia, restless leg syndrome and, yes, anxiety.
What else do I do to make myself feel better? There are quite a few things that I know can work (even though they don't always). Here is a view of what I do to try to combat anxiety and depression and allow myself to work and get through the week ahead. Let's start with work things:
- I decide to work from home (or I give myself the option to do this). I know this is not possible for everyone, and I feel that my current employer KPMG is absolutely essential to allowing me to do look after myself when I'm feeling really unwell. For some of the #selfcare activities I'll need to do, working from home for me is - today and on many other days - the difference between being able to work and having to take the day off sick. I'd much rather work if possible, especially because I enjoy my work and work is a welcome distraction from feelings of depression and the ruminating / worrying voices in my head, so, for me, this is the best possible outcome.
- I make the list (hahaha, now you know I make lists!) (see above) both for work and for my non-work activities. It's really important to me that I set up my teams for success and that I set myself up for success (in spite of mental illness) by making a plan which I can put in place to support everyone I work with through the week, and enable me to be useful, work effectively, and not hold people or projects back (which would make me feel worse).
- I am open with my colleagues about how I'm feeling. Today, for example, I can't take phone call after phone call as the constant contact might increase my anxiety levels, so I've made some calls and rescheduled others for tomorrow, ensuring we still make progress but not to the detriment of my health.
- I arrange some critical meetings face to face for tomorrow, so that I can prepare for useful meetings on one day, in a reasonable (2/3 day) space of time to give me breaks to sit alone, quietly and have food and water between these. I need breaks to enable me to keep going.
- I use technology (which is my business anyway!) to help myself to stay connected with colleagues and support them: Skype for Business (which allows desktop sharing and collaboration on group calls between India, USA...the world). I can review many of my fab team's work products through our online document storage options and lots more. It's good for my mental health if I can stay in touch with everyone - stay connected - and feel a part of my team even if I'm not well enough to go into the office.
And on the non-work front, here are the things that I have done (and do) to try to help myself feel as well as I can:
- I get up and go for a run. My energy levels are better in the morning and if I manage to complete a run then, that's the best chance I'll be able to do exercise because after a day of work I'll be shattered.
- I don't drink caffeine of any kind except very, very rarely (I've had 6 diet cokes this year). Caffeine can have an impact on my medication and make me high / then low after the post-caffeine crash. It's a mood altering drug so I'm avoiding it to try to give my medication the best change of working. This might mean I am more tired than normal in the day, so if I am shattered, I build in breaks (as above).
- I make myself (or buy) juice from breakfast (beetroot, carrot, apple and ginger). More from the Mayo clinic on anti-anxiety nutrition guidelines here.
- I drink plenty of water all the time. It's great that I don't like coffee, tea etc. but I do miss diet coke. I love the no added sugar fizzy drinks from Marks and Spencer and I certainly am not a perfect diet person - it's just some things I can do, but I'm not a paragon of nutritional virtue - far from it.
- I eat nutritious food, but also nice food. Crisps are a non-negotiable. I also can't give up bread. I. Love. Bread. And I will eat cookies too. Refined sugar might not be the best thing, but it tastes nice.