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Friday, 2 October 2015

Just Take Five...and Five...and Five... :Can I Become an Executive with Mental Illness?

About a month ago, late August, early September, I don't exactly know when, I felt myself sinking towards rock bottom with my depression. Again. I came to my therapy session with my wonderful, patient, CBT therapist and couldn’t stop crying. For practically the whole session. A few things had come at me at once the day before, and the morning of that day, that winded me, and I fell straight down into deep depression. All we ended up doing during that session was trying to help me to stop crying, because I just couldn't. 

Rock bottom. Yeah, I liked this photo too. Ha.

I was kept at hospital that day, while my therapist, my therapist key worker, the doctor on shift, other therapists and a locum psychiatrist assessed my level of risk at various stages of the day. Were they prepared to let me go home? Would I harm myself, while I felt so completely that there was actually not much point of going home, of going anywhere in fact? During this limbo hospital time. Waiting in the purgatory of numbness and pain in equal measure, I shuffled along to my day patient groups but didn't talk. I wasn't just numb, I was mute. I am not someone who usually struggles to express what's going on, but all the words had drained out of me. I was dry, desolate, lifeless inside.

Dumbed by Depression

After speaking to several of the staff at hospital and confirming that - in fact - I would prefer to go home and promised that I wouldn't harm myself rather than be admitted to hospital again. (Which would have meant I'd have to deal with all the stresses that would have brought (pay caps from work because of my last year's absenteeism record, worries about bills, worries about whether friends would just give up on me because, clearly I was a lost cause)) I went home and to bed. I still felt numb. I took the doctor's advice and upped a couple of the over-the-counter things I take to help me to sleep / be sedated, although I was - frankly - fairly appalled that this was considered to be the only option - i.e. "Let's make you more of a sleep walker, less engaged with the world than they are; in fact let's put you to sleep so that you just pass through the days without engaging with anything at all." 
"Great," I thought. "More zombie like. What is the difference between this and being put into a coma? Really, why am I bothering? Is this what the next thirty years will look like? No thanks. No."

Stunned and Stunted by Sedatives

On Woman's Hour a couple of days ago, Jane Garvey helped radio 4 reach "peak radio 4" by making fresh pesto with Sally Clarke. At the end of the show, Jane remarked something like "It is absolutely lovely, it really does [taste as if it's just been made]..." and even Jane (apparently not a born chef?) thought she could manage this pesto: "even I could do that in probably not much longer [than five minutes]".

But that is not the point.

Think of all the things that 'only' take five minutes: getting out of bed? Well, that only takes 30 seconds if you shove away the duvet, kick your legs out and leap out. Have a shower? That takes 3 minutes if you're in Melbourne - or less, or maybe five if you're not exactly luxuriating in the bubbles. Getting dressed? 

5 minutes must be enough for that, if you don't count makeup and styling. Add another 5 for those, go ahead, be generous. Then 5 to pack up your lunch, grab your keys and leave the house. 5 + 5 + however many other five minutes to get to your car, the bus, the station, the taxi, the airport, and off to work, or wherever you're headed that day. 

How many fives is that? And that's just the start.

This week I heard on Woman's Hour (in a different episode) that fewer women are applying for senior positions. According to a study conducted by Harvard Business School, women associate power with conflict and don't want it. (And by conflict they mean conflicts - like family, for example. Board level executive versus CEO of mummy.) Some female leaders like Sheryl Sandberg tell us to 'lean in', that is, to move towards ambitious career opportunities and not say to ourselves, "I will not go for that position / that promotion because in a couple of years I might want to have children and..." But what about for mental health?

In my therapy session this week, I discussed with my therapist my current exploration of what I could do to make life better or easier. To make life liveable. You see, on that day above, when I was so low, my therapist didn't lie to me and tell me that everything would be completely better one day. In fact she said that I might always have to manage these feelings. That it might never get better. Never. Never ever. I might always have days when all I wanted to do was to not wake up the next day, when I felt that I had utterly failed (contrary to any rational proof) and that I was a ridiculous burden to everyone. And in any case, I wasn't having any fun. None. And so what was the point?

So, on that day, when I was wondering about whether I actually wanted to live at all, I went for my natural response to all situations: practicality. "What can I do to make my life better, if I'm going to have to get through the next thirty to fifty years (or, goodness knows, even longer) with this diabolical illness?"

I saw a locum psychiatrist as mine was away on (much deserved) holiday. (I say much deserved because, for goodness sake, even I can see that psychiatrists and all health professionals are people, and that they need time off, just like everyone else, so they can be productive.) He suggested I might like to see a life coach with an understanding of psychiatry so that I could explore options for changing my life and what I filled it with so that, on those terrible, awful days, I could at least look at the essentials and think: "Well, you're doing some good. You're helping someone, you're supporting people, you're trying to make people's lives better. And you're being creative. So, you see, Jessica, there is a point to your being here, even though you just want to close your eyes and never open them again."

However, seeing my therapist this week - after a month of getting used to new medication, and of making a couple of changes (and, for those of you who missed it, completely freaking out with massive anxiety at being named on the @BrummellMag (Brummell Magazine) list of 2015 inspirational women of diversity and then being shortlisted and having to attend a judging panel for the 2015 Women of the Future Award in the category for Community Spirits) I learned an alternative perspective. 

(Incidentally, this is the last year I qualify as a WOF @womenoffuture, #wof10yrs. Next year, I become a Woman of the Past. I'll be launching those awards very soon. Ha.)

My therapist said to me, "You have really changed. you're so much better than you were last year. You can't see it, but I can." And: "I'm not sure that you need to add more things to your life. your life is full of good things - your job, your blog and mental health work, your husband. You are already doing a lot!"

Finally, she said: "Your problem is not that what you're doing is bad; it's the feelings that are bad."

She is right. Those five minute activities described above, I can do about 150 of them, of those things that 'only take five minutes' in a relatively normal day, maybe 190x5 on a very full on day. I can do a lot, and I generally try to select meaningful things to do, because I know how hard it is for me to break through the numb wall of antidepressants and reach some kind of contentedness with life.

But on a bad day? I can still do 150 five minute things. I can maybe do more. But I don't want to do a single 1 of them. In fact my body and mind are fighting me against every. Single. One. Of those five minute activities. "Stop. Go back to bed. Close your eyes. Shut everyone out. Shut down."

So what does that mean for me? 

Am I one of those women referenced by the Harvard Business School? HBS studied 4000 men and women in total and "concluded that women are less likely to apply to rise up the corporate ladder because even though they feel they could get the job, they don't want to deal with the 'conflict' (my single quotation marks) that comes with corporate power." [Jenni Murray, Woman's Hour, 25th September 2015]. This means conflict against life goals / choices - trade offs and sacrifices that women would have to make at a higher level, rather than face interpersonal conflict on the job and at home as they juggled various enormous pieces of their life towards having a very successful career and a very enriched home life.

The 30% club is about to change its focus towards board-ready women, that is, women ready for the executive. Clearly I have some way to go here as I'm at best a middle-senior manager at the moment. However, my firm KPMG co-published a study - Cracking the Code - which showed that it's really a lack of promotion rather than attrition which explains why women aren't making it to the top. Women are twice as likely to leave jobs on the way up because of the opportunity cost those higher level positions bring.

So am I one of those who are eschewing power because of the conflict associated with it? Not at the moment. At the moment I'm managing to do all those things above - I complete all those five minute activities. Like showering. Which, FYI, is not on the job descriptions of positions I've been looking at for over the last five years or so. Or so. 

But I don't know whether I can succeed or even survive in a job (anymore, or maybe not ever) where I consistently have to work 15+ hours in a working week day, every day. I know I have a smart mind, a willing heart, and a passionate drive to make a difference. I know I have the commitment to try to keep succeeding, to keep 'leaning in' and progressing. 

But working all hours is not - and never will be - good for my mental health (let alone my physical health). Can I still succeed in business on my own, balanced, healthier, terms where my five minute activities never reach the point where I've used up nearly every five minutes in that day, to the detriment of future health, the success of my ambitions, the satisfaction and transformative changes for the clients I work with, or the benefit of the mental health charities I am committed to supporting?

Do I have as much choice as I think I should have? Let's see...

The answer to these questions needs to be "Yes", but I really don't know if "yes" is the answer. My progress should be judged on outputs rather than the count of the five minutes I dedicate to my work. But one could argue that others with more stamina to put in more of those five minutes, just as productively, are going to overtake me in the career stakes (male or female) just based on their ability to go another five minutes. To do another thing when I had to stop to keep myself from becoming ill.

If I stay in business I imagine I will find out the answer to these questions. For now, I'll just try not to worry about them, which might cycle into anxiety or depression, and prevent me from doing those basic five minute activities.

So for now, I think I'll just go and buy a jar of pesto. Take care this weekend. x

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for remaining me again what it is really important. I like "life is a marathon not a sprint" I need remind myself that every day :)