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Thursday, 10 December 2015

A Change is No Good Without a Rest: Seeking Balance Through Sleep.

It's been a few weeks since I wrote, I know. I've started two or three posts but haven't been able to follow through and finish one, largely because I've had to prioritise work over everything else because I've been on business in India. More on that in the (finished) future posts.

The fact is, that I had to address serious 'balance' challenges in my life to keep going.

I was supporting the launch of a completely new process, including creating a suite of documents to be used, sessions explaining the process to Indian colleagues so they could deliver it, and making improvements to the materials as they were tried and tested in different ways so that the whole process could be run successfully

And it did run successfully. I should probably add, though, that creating new ways of doing things in big companies is not a small thing.

It's hard for me to explain adequately what my work comprises, because 'management consultant' is a meaningless title unless (and even, sometimes, when) the company you work for has decided to change something and they've asked in consultants to help them with it, whatever it is.

I admit that it's hard to explain what I do, but the easiest way to explain it is that it's about helping people (sometimes a few people, sometimes hundreds of thousands) go through a change that is being made by the organisation that they work for.

For example, imagine if in your company the head of technology decided it was time to upgrade to a newer version of a system. The old one is out of date and has lots of glitches and bugs. It doesn't really allow the business to keep up with the world of 2015. The people you work with, including you, have used it for the last twenty years. You don't particularly want to change because your job is pretty straightforward the way that it is.

Here's where I come in. It's my job to work with others - hopefully a team made up of people from your work and colleagues from mine to help make the change happen. Together we figure out how we need to make everyone understand why the change is happening (in whatever way works best - information sessions, emails, webinars, videos and so on). We also take a look at training requirements and figure out what training is needed to make the new system understandable and a success.

Gradually you move the employees - the people going through this change - through the 'change curve' from not even being aware that something is happening, to the point where everyone has been through the training, has started to use the new system and eventually it's as if nothing ever changed.

Helping people change inspires me with hope that the world can be positive and worthwhile. I hope I use the skills I've learned as a teacher and in business when I speak up about mental health, when I write about it, in my campaign, so that people do change their negative attitudes to mental health. Also, I should note, I hate change. I'm terrible at going through changes myself, and this makes me a sympathetic and empathetic ally when it comes to supporting changes. I 'feel your pain'.

What comes alongside this, though, is that even the decision makers from the business have to reconfigure themselves to accept and adapt to the change. So change affects everyone. Everyone has to understand what the change (whatever it is) really means so that everyone can play their part and explain why it is needed help others 'get it' as well.

Anyway, the upshot of all the above is that I spent the last month trying to make a change happen starting on the inside of a part of my business and then using all the documents in the process in anger.

We did it, working all together in our different roles. However, a success like this comes at a cost: work life balance; anything like it.. I got up at 5 most days to get in two-three hours of work before taking a taxi to the office from the hotel, where after another nine or so hours I'd come home and keep working for at least another couple of hours before or after dinner (or during) and then crashing down for a sleep. I chose it. I wanted to do this. But if Mrs. Robinson taught me anything during Economics GCSE lessons, it was that everything you choose has an 'opportunity cost'. You have to give up something else for every choice you make. I had to give up something.

I don't advocate working like this. I decided to do it because it was a challenge I wanted to see through, and I don't see why I shouldn't accept challenges like these if I want to even if I have depression. However, I have to focus on keeping me healthy outside of work, and nothing else. It's a little bit like training for an athletic event. You put everything into your physical exertion, and you have to make sure that you are eating and sleeping appropriately to be successful.

Work - Eat - Sleep. That's it.

The French say it best

This is the only way that I could operate to have a chance of carrying on. No mental health advocacy, no preparing for the launch of my campaign next week, no blogging, not much reading, no TV or film-watching. Just a few hours out for dinner with my colleagues once in a while.

I couldn't and wouldn't compromise on sleep. At the weekends or any other day when my work schedule permitted, I slept early and long, going to bed at seven or eight and waking at seven. Without nightmares (which are a different challenge) sleep totally rejuvenates me. Decent sleep matters so much. It's sleep I notice going wrong when I'm ill - and I do have to take medication to sleep, because my depression interrupts my sleep (and so do my anti-depressants, ha).

So sleep,

Macbeth knew a thing or two about insomnia.
And murder, but that's another story.

Sleep made it possible for me to get through the time away and its intensity.

It was worth focusing on sleep to see the process through.  I made it through the 15 hour days and at the weekends without flagging too much (although I admit that I had to down a few diet cokes on Friday and Saturday last week to keep going...and now I'm handling some 'interesting' caffeine withdrawal symptoms).

I drank all but one of these. Ouch!

I'm now back and back to normal. Normal working hours again, a nightly long sleep and back to blogging, reading, watching and finally speaking up about mental health. I'm still wearing a little makeup to cover up the tiredness.

I may possibly look like a poor impression of Joan Cusack in Working drag...but other than that, I'm fine.

Or maybe, if I'm being honest, I look a little bit more like this...

Yeah. This is definitely me right now. 

Tomorrow is my friend Lucy's funeral so I'll continue to reflect on loss and what life means. What is worth living for. I have one answer: mental health advocacy, so that people have a chance at gaining confidence to be themselves, getting help, finding respect for themselves and requiring it of others. Next week is a big week for me and mental health. Thursday is the launch event for my campaign Redefining Resilience,

I'm also launching the Twelve days of Christmas: a video diary per day which you can look at on the campaign Facebook page if you so wish.

 I find Christmas wonderful and difficult in equal measure, so the video diaries will document the different ways I'm feeling and what I'm doing (or trying to do) to take care during that time.

Music helps, friends and kindness help. Whatever you're doing, I hope you are finding balance somewhere, and I hope that you and your loved ones are taking care. Till soon. x

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