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Sunday, 18 October 2015

Burn Out Versus Balance: The (Almost) Eternal Flame

I have had a wonderful week in so many respects, despite having an horrific cold. Seriously, this time I think it was man flu. I genuinely didn't get out of bed last Sunday. It was the real deal. Scary.

Last week was the week after Inclusion Week at work and some wonderful experiences speaking on a Women's Network panel, a Mental Health 101 panel and more. Little surprise then that I would perhaps get sick and need to do more self care than usual. I wrote a long post about taking care (both of ourselves and one another) when we think about our mental health. Not just our mental health, in fact, but our entire health. Every bit of it. But for me I do want to treat myself as being an ordinary person, for whom depression is just one part - one - of who I am. One of the questions I was asked was: "What are some things that you do to take care of yourself?"

I have never been good at this. I've been hopeless at it in fact. If I set myself a goal, I'll want to achieve it, even if it means studying for longer, training for that marathon just a little bit harder, working extra hours, skipping breaks, all to get those goals checked off.

In reality this is not sustainable. To use the same sports metaphor I tell my colleagues - particularly the graduates coming in - life is a marathon not a sprint, whether at work or away from work: we have a long way to go and if we're going to have the best chance of making it to the end we have to take care of ourselves and find that balance between being ambitious and stretching ourselves, and trying to make sure that we don't achieve that (too often named) condition that affects every bit of us: "burn out".

I hate this phrase because it suggests that there's nothing left; a blackened match with no fire power left, completely useless. In some very extreme cases of burn out I imagine that people would need months (years maybe) to recover, depending on the personal circumstances of whatever led you to be there.

I have probably only burned out during a project in the USA where the clients were challenging, the hours punishing and the goals almost unattainable (I say almost because I attained them, but at tremendous personal cost to my health and wellbeing.)

Even in the above circumstance however, it wasn't as if there was nothing left at all: I could still go out for a meal, go for a run, visit a museum, walk in the park. I could even write my blog and carry on working. This is why I am so adamant that even with a mental health condition I can still be 'resilient' and why I'm working to make sure we have those conversations to #RedefineResilience : and not equating the word 'resilient' with bouncing back better and stronger than ever and never ever again having a slight off moment. Ever.

I don't bounce. I think I established that last year when I broke my back.
but I. Come. Back. Eventually.

Now, had I been a lottery winner, I'd be the first to admit that given the choice I would have just left work and booked myself at least a year of recovery time. But unfortunately, knowing that the chances of winning the lottery 1 in 32,441,381,280. 32 Billion - thanks Lotto for adding those extra numbers - I think I'll focus on a little thing I like to call REALITY.

So here's my a view of what balance looks like for me:

  1. I eat some fresh juices courtesy of my own recipes and those of +JuiceMaster Jason Vale and @Joethejuicer Joe Cross) because the juices give me the vitamins I so need as well as reducing my anxiety levels and helping me to maintain a healthy weight. I also eat burgers with fries, onion rings and coleslaw. Because. I. Love. Them. And no matter that I will never have the waist of Kate Moss (that ship has sailed so far out I can't even see it. In fact I can't even see the horizon. Because I'm in a town.) I love good tasting food and for me it makes me happy to eat nice food.
    Yes, not my usual ingredients for a glass shaped like this. But juices help
    And NOW we are talking.
  2. I see friends and go into the office because seeing people and having a chance to be social is good for me. If I'm in a slump it gets me out of the house and if I'm not it's energising. This assumes that I surround myself with people who are nice, mostly positive (or at least realistic!) and who are caring, kind, generally lovely and smart. In these cases my life is made immeasurably better by spending a few hours in their company. If, on the other hand, the people are rude, negative, life-haters, like Stuart the Virgin Trains man on the train from Manchester to London who once gave me a ten minute lecture for asking for the sandwich which (as someone who had a first class ticket) I had already paid for, finishing with "You know you're wrong. You ask your mother if I'm right..." then no, I won't feel better, and I tend to avoid these people like I would the currently rutting stags in the park.
    Yep. I'm not keen on these types of people.
    I might not die, but I'll certainly feel worse. On the other hand, I can't have too much contact with people because it is very tiring to be face-to-face all the time, so I have a couple of days at home each week at least, go to bed early and don't socialise too much, and spend a lot of the weekend having 'quiet time': hello Netflix and Kindle.
  3. I exercise - for me it's running - a few times a week. I channel my inner Paula Radcliffe (the non-peeing-outside-part-of-Paula-Radcliffe, just to be clear)
    Did she or didn't she?
    and take to the streets or park for fresh air and fitness that will provide natural endorphins to boost my medication. I also walk up the escalators on tubes and walk around as much as I can. But I do not do too much. So I'm not currently running every day - more like 4 days a week (although clearly, see above, not with a flu no less!). And on those rest days I do, really, rest.
  4. I work and love to work, but I don't work much outside of my 40 hour week.
    I also 'don't work'. I.e. I have a life outside of work. And I'm not just talking about writing this blog or talking about mental health. I'm talking real life outside of work stuff - whatever that is. Rest, painting, drawing, talking to people, watching Grand Designs and Bake Off and so on. I might make an exception to this, (the work, not Bake Off)
    Do. Not. Mess. With. My. Bake Off.
    but if I do, then I compensate for it. E.g. I recently went to a two day training course which completely shattered me. I therefore (suspecting this would be the case) took the day off the next day and spent it recovering. Eating, meeting my mum, sleeping. Feeling a bit better. I do make myself write a blog post every week because it makes me feel so good to be writing and - especially if I reach just one person and help them know that other people like me are also feeling a bit, frankly, rubbish, and that they deserve help, then that just makes me so happy. (Crying happy, smiley happy. The whole thing.)

Selfie fun with @Dawnoporter and @NimcoAli

For the last one - I should add that fun is in the mix. So with this in mind I went to Stylist Live on Thursday. I practically tackled Nimco Ali to the floor when I saw she was there, I pouted while taking selfies with Nimco and Dawn O'Porter (who I confirmed to that I didn't know who she was - or at least I didn't recognise her by sight!) and I told Stella I didn't know who she was, and then found out that Stella was Stella Creasy. And of course I knew! Surrrlightly embarrassed.

Dannie and Stella Creasy. 

But I did talk to all of them about mental health. I managed somehow to stand up in a room full of people and simultaneously 'come out' about my mental health (again, but this time...) to Caitlin Moran while I asked her what the last taboo was (that we could talk about) and she said she said 'everything' was still taboo - so a lot more work to be done! But the best thing about the day was talking to all of the great people there: Mosama, Zoe, Nancy, Fareeda, Linda, to @ThisWorks sleep and other beauty products) and to @YullShoes,

to Katie at Stylist Magazine and all the other amazing women (it was all women on this occasion) I met and who shared their mental health stories with me. Their brothers with anxiety, their husbands whom they call at lunch to help him get through the day, the antidepressants we've taken, the therapists we've seen, the bereavements we've had...everything. I always feel honoured by every person who shares a story about themselves or someone they know with me - it's like getting a present - and I hope that by talking about it myself I'm making this easier to talk about, and that we will make it easier for others too, and enable people to get help and feel that they deserve it.

This stuff really works by the way. Ahhh, a good night's sleep. 
A real rarity for me now less rate thanks to this!

I'm really tired now so signing off but please take care of yourself, and whatever you've got lined up for the week ahead, maybe consider a little balance. It can help.

Love xxxx Jessica

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