I know it’s been a while since I’ve written. On the face of it all, things have been going well. My resilience has been better, even though people I love have been going through a tough time. I got my first lot of feedback from my Masters – which reassures me that I’m on the right track, as well as the privilege of meeting some incredible people. My coaching practice is growing and maturing, and January introduced me to some new opportunities and clients which has been very exciting. I’m surrounded by people who love, care and respect me.
Over the last few days, I’ve been in a real funk. I can’t concentrate or focus. I seem to have a million thoughts and none all at once. My heart feels heavy and I can’t seem to feel grounded. And I had no idea why.
After distracting myself on social media, it dawned on me. The persistent news and climate had been overwhelming my subconscious. It wasn’t until I was having my monthly business catch up with a friend that I was able to finally be vocal about what the issue was. I am scared.
As a British Born Chinese person who lives in Norfolk, UK, my social media and news feeds has been full of people’s stories and experiences of racism following the news of the Coronavirus and of Brexit. The stories of British Chinese people’s experiences of racism in the past week has been relentless. People, including young children and the elderly, have been spat at, sworn at, laughed at and told to “go back to China” up and down the country. Although I haven’t experienced this personally this week, I realise now that it’s impacted me more so than I initially thought.
I was in London this week for a meeting. I’m there quite regularly and usually enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city. It felt different this time though. I was uncomfortable being surrounded by so many people. On reflection, it’s because I didn’t feel safe; I didn’t know what the danger might by or where it would come from. This is a feeling that is always there in the background, developed after years of experiencing comments, catcalls, threats and harassment as a woman of colour. But now, right now, I am so aware of it and there are people who have been emboldened to behave in this way.
I’m sad because I want to be optimistic about the world.
I’m afraid that my young sister will have to endure some of the bullying and harassment that I hoped was left within my own childhood.
I’m worried that my grandmother might get abused in the street as she goes about her day-to-day.
I’m anxiously assessing the risk has on my family’s businesses.
I’m frustrated that this still happens – and that there are people who experience this more often than I do, who are told to just get over it.
I’m angry that this hatred is creating a bigger chasm in society.
I feel helpless because all of this is bigger than myself.
It IS bigger than me. There have been some incredible responses to the racist behaviours and actions that have taken place, such as this response to the “Happy Brexit Day” note left in my local area and hearing stories about active bystanders who intervene on public transport when abuse is happening.
This IS bigger than all of us and, in my current state of vulnerability, I want to say a heartfelt thank you to each of you who advocate, defend, and support others. The fact that you understand that the emotional and mental load of always being the person to stand up against the hate and ignorance (especially if it’s directed at them), and are willing to be an active and vocal ally means a great deal to someone who, at that point in time, doesn’t have the energy or courage themselves to deal with it – that is the work of a superhero.
It’s OK if you don’t know how, yet. But try. Ask questions. Use your kind intention and the skills you have to-hand. Please try.
I know it’s been a while since my last post. You know what it’s like. Life gets in the way and I’ve been sooooooo busy. Hang on… where have I heard that before?
As you may have heard, I’m a recovering workaholic. After two too many burnouts, I made the decision this year to take responsibility to and for myself. This year, I started this blog, my own coaching practice and my Masters. I know, I know. It doesn’t sound much like recovery, but I promise, to me, my partner, loved ones and friends, that it IS different this time. How so? Well – let me tell you…
Here’s the test – next time you’re at a work thing, whether that’s in the office, a social, or doing “one more email/report/phone call/ presentation” at home – do you tell yourself, your friends or family “I just need to get this done.” Need. How about another one? Have you ever cancelled plans with friends and family because of work? Maybe you even lied about it. Guilt. Shame. One of my personal favourites – have you ever resented taking annual leave because it takes more time and energy preparing for your absence and spending three days catching up on ALL the things you didn’t do whilst you were on holiday. Dependency.
You might have heard me say this before – when I was signed off work by doctor and work refused to have me on site, man – that was the hardest. I was heartbroken. Devastated. It took a couple of weeks to deal with that – not the delayed grief of my divorce, which was what I believed was the initial trigger. Withdrawal.
It took me a couple more years before I realised that my relationship with work was crippling me emotionally as well as physically. How did that happen?
I denied that work was a problem. I told myself that I loved and enjoyed my job. I believed that there would be dire consequences if I didn’t do the things that needed do. I told people that I got more stuff done when there wasn’t anyone else in the office. I told myself that it’ll slow down in a few days/weeks/months/a year or two – I just need to make it until then. As a result, I slept badly, ate badly and relationshipped badly. This in isolation is bad enough but I can’t be the only one to get caught in a weird, unhealthy game of one-up-manship with colleagues after bouts of staying late… can I?
Which isn’t always easy since my commute mostly consists of five steps from bedroom to the office. I know it doesn’t sound like it – considering my list of new in the introduction – but here’s how I’m maintaining a more balanced approach to work.
Being unashamedly me
As the title of this blog suggests, I’m ambitious. I want to change the world – even if it’s one person and one day at a time. Winding down would just be settling – and I’m not OK with that. I’m happiest when there’s an abundance of activity to satisfy the different Lous. Slowing down or stopping completely will not actually sustain my wellness – so that’s not an option. The caveat is to have a range of activities that nurture and appease all the aspects of me.
Know where it comes from
As part of my recovery, I’m trying to be honest with myself – and allowing me and others to call out my unhelpful bullsh*t. This includes the motivations behind my workaholic behaviours. As a people pleaser, it became too exhausting to try and please everyone. And attracting Fakers became an occupational hazard. Now – I choose who I want to please – and I rank them. You’ll be glad to hear that I am pretty high up on that list! This means that I’ve learnt to say no and not yet to more people.
As someone who has a minor dose of saviour complex, it’s not my job or responsibility to fix or save anyone else. I can help; I can empower, and I can advocate. I cannot take on the world’s evils all by myself, all of the time.
Finally – in the past, when things went wrong, my go-to optimistic statement was “at least I know that I know what’s going on at work”. I know now, that in all aspects of my life, I always have options. There are always some things within my control. I don’t need to use work as an excuse to get lost away, or as a distraction, or to combat loneliness, or to exercise some control at a time where I feel like I don’t.
Know what works for me
When my work addiction was at its peak, I averaged around 70-80 hours a week. It took six months to plan anything social. It resulted in more than a few conversations with my partner and friends about how absent I was. Even when I was physically there, my mind would be working out how to resolve that conflict in the office, or how that would be helpful for my team to learn, or figure out how that would impact our membership.
Protecting my time takes a lot of effort still but that’s more chance to practise! In this space of new projects, it gives me a chance to assess what productivity tools works for me. I use the Most Important Task (MIT) method, which allows me flexibility and more opportunities to be spontaneous, whilst getting my essentials done. Flexibility is important to me so things like the 90-minute focus sessions or the Flowtime Technique really appeals to me and my ambitions. My most favourite productivity tool is the priority axis; on those days where I don’t know which way is up – this is my map.
Making and breaking the rules
My busy brain means that I struggle to jam it into a typical working week. I thrive in busy-ness, on one proviso. Like a vampire waiting at the front door, it has to be invited in. The MIT method above is powerfully effective for me. Instead of setting myself up within a widely recognised work schedule, each day, I pick two or three things that I want to focus on. That’s it. If I’m having a brilliant day, I’ll tick off the additional one or two tasks that were allocated as extras for that day. If more stuff comes off my priority axis – then I’ve wooden-staked it through the metaphorical heart! These get set each day, once I’ve assessed what mood I’m in. This staves off the guilt and, when taking appointments, it prevents me from overbooking. This, and working in blocks, allows me to communicate more clearly with my partner, friends, clients and peers on my focus each day and to move things about as needed, which liberates me from the 9 to 5.
be such hard work, and it doesn’t have to be. It does take practise and I might
slip up but that’s what being human is about right? But I am trying, and I am
learning– and so far, it’s working!
Hello– before we get into this, today (10 September) is World Suicide Prevention Day. I just want to give you heads up that this article touches on suicidal thoughts, self harm and attempted suicide. If you need it, whether you read it or not, here’s a hug from me! We’re going to jump straight in and then come out of it real quick OK? Here we go.
There will only be a couple of handfuls of people in my life who knew me before my first suicide attempt. If you do know me in real life, it’s unlikely that you’re one of them.
I was 12 years old when I took my first overdose. I was still 12 when I took my second and third. I was 23 years old when I took my last. I was self-harming from the age of 11. I arguably continue to do so to this day. My last suicidal thought was about three months ago.
During my first hospital admission, I was kept on observation overnight and told that I would need to see a child psychologist before I could leave. I got up the next day and was taken to my appointment. As I walked in, my psychologist was there with each member of my immediate family, including my young brothers. My session involved the psychologist facilitated each of my family members telling me, one by one, how my actions made them feel. How I disappointed them. How selfish I was. I had no opportunity to respond or follow up. I was then released. This was after my second attempt on my life. My third came quickly after that – and remained a secret, like the first and like every attempt after that.
My fight with suicidal thoughts, self-harm and attempted suicides has been with me most of my life. On those very days, it has literally been a fight for my survival. A fight that I wasn’t always sure I wanted to win.
On most days, I’m great. Since I am lucky enough to be here to share my stories and have a platform to do so, I’m using it to say some of the things that someone else closer to home might be thinking, that they can’t vocalise themselves right now. Because I can, and because I care.
Because depression, especially to the point of suicide, is incredibly lonely. And as scary as hell. The feeling like everything is out of control can make anyone do things that they wouldn’t normally be capable of.
Each person reading this can save someone else from grief. Because these thoughts and actions do not happen in a vacuum. It’s not entirely all in a person’s head. Thoughts and beliefs are influenced by external behaviours. And vice versa.
If you believe the worst about yourself, and it’s reinforced by other people’s perceived behaviours around you, it does just that – it reinforces those thoughts and beliefs. If it’s been lived a long time, it becomes that person’s reality. And we all know how hard it is to change and challenge your beliefs. Suicidal thoughts and actions are built over years.
In my long road to recovery, there have been many people involved – directly or indirectly. My instinct of serving others has given me families who nurture, support and build me up. Where I’ve met adversity or someone taking advantage of my kindness, whether that’s another gamer in a relevant scenario or working with a competitive, self-serving colleague, my relationships with those I’ve nurtured and celebrated always stood by me. Even when I’m not there.
But you, yes you – you can change the trajectory of that person’s fate. Be the kindness that is missing. Be present in your interactions. Show others that it’s OK to slow down, take care and put your well-being first. Be honest about your feelings, needs and expectations. Be generous with your praise. Be constructive in your feedback. Build confidence and self-esteem in others. Be the advocate when they can’t represent themselves. Embrace uniqueness, community and diversity. Own your own sh*t, instead of projecting onto others.
But you do need to do it. Unless you’ve been through it, you’ll never really appreciate the impact that a well-timed cup of tea, or a statement of praise, or a surprise phone call can make. For me, each of these have saved my life at different points of my life.
So, to conclude – Mum, I love you. But you were wrong. My sensitivity isn’t my weakness. It is my strength. My superpower. Because now, after years of harnessing it, my vulnerability and honesty is what gives me the drive and power to help other people who are fighting for survival. Now and in the future.
Hello– before we get into this, I just want to give you heads up that this article touches on suicidal thoughts. If you need it, whether you read it or not, here’s a hug from me!
I’ve previously written about how it important it is to nurture different aspects of your identity – and I stand by that! As workaholic who found myself in a place where I couldn’t work, this shook my very core. In the past, when everything else went wrong, I had my work – my constant. Leaving my job, feeling like a failure – it put me in a long-spiral that I hadn’t been in before. My usual tools and techniques weren’t working, and I found myself in the darkest place; a place I moved away from as a young adult. A place I managed to avoid during my divorce; after my grandfather’s passing; and after being told that I couldn’t have children. A place where I felt like there was no way but out. The Demon Pit.
Here’s how the Demon Pit works. Its special power is the ability to distort your thoughts. The walls are built from external factors, messages and observations that’s been internalised. Its narrow walls bounce those morphed and mutated ideas over and over, unceasing in its echo. “It’s too hard.” “You’re not worth anything.” “You’re a waste of space and time.” “There’s no point.” “Everyone would be better if you would just disappear.” “Just give up already.”
In order to work through the unrelenting darkness, I took time out to be still, to listen, to decipher. I started to spot themes and to name them. I identified them by their own needs, passions, concerns and origin stories. And now, I’d like you to meet them.
Little Lou (AKA Geek Lou) – she’s usually involved in some form of discovery, whether it’s practical, creative or non-nonsensical. She’s curious, enjoys puzzles, loves to laugh and likes to experiment and play. She’s a bit of a mischief, will play really crap but harmless pranks, and is competitive as hell! Even if she is rubbish at something, she’ll do her damnedest (go ask the other girls on the school netball team!) She is a joy seeker, with a rare but deadly tantrum tendency. Her love language will involve some form of crafting, puzzle, or pop quiz.
Warning – being the youngest, she’s mostly likely to get neglected. Her boundless enthusiasm but flighty nature tends to grate against some of the more mature personalities. She’ll also ask A LOT of questions and will eat ALL of the cake if you let her.
Mumma Lou – she’s usually lurking about but will make a grand appearance when around vulnerable, drunk and/or lost people. She’s pragmatic, sensible, and unashamedly a feeder. Will always have a handy pack of everything on her and is frequently heard to shout “make good choices” at people she deems in her care. Her love language is pretty much exclusively food and servitude.
Warning – she will absolutely put you first, at the cost of her own needs or wants. This will likely result in her inability to decide where or what to eat. She does not know how to look after herself anywhere near as well as she looks after others. Also, you’ll know by the tone of her voice if you’ve done a bad.
– mostly dormant but will take over the gears when things get too difficult.
She’s focused, pragmatic, capable, and a bit of a control freak. Her role is to
take over the day-to-day stuff when there’s too much emotional clutter in the
way and box them away for you to deal with later. Her love language is taking
on the load, so you don’t have to.
Warning – she doesn’t turn off automatically so you must remember to do that, otherwise she might just run, say, ten years of your life! The longer she’s in charge, the more emotional clutter you must deal with when she’s gone.
Warrior Lou (AKA Super Lou) – like Ms Marvel (spoilers!), she’s busy battling bad guys all over the show, so isn’t always present but is about as much as she can and certainly when it counts. And when she is, she’s unmatched! She’s strong, independent, strategic, and empathetic – a champion for the underdogs and oppressed. She will fight to rid the barriers to opportunities, equality, and happiness that people face, with superhuman endurance and classic comic-book sass. And she tends to show up just in the nick of time. Her love language is to challenge you to a duel of some kind.
Warning – like the X-Men’s Dark Phoenix, even Warrior Lou needs to refuel (hopefully not instigating casual genocide in the process – Uncanny X-Men #135). She might not think it most days, but she really does!
Worrier Lou(AKA Anxious Lou) – she’s really struggling in the Demon Pit. She’s fiercely protective and a bit of scaredy cat. She just wants people and things to be safe. She struggles to keep up with the other personalities, hates thinking she’s being a party pooper, and just wants to know there’ll be somewhere to rest at some point. Her love language is doing her best to protect you from harm.
Warning – like her mythological counterpart, the prophet Cassandra, she’s sounding the alarm but no one’s listening. Ignoring her just makes her worse, desperate for someone to believe her. You comfort her by acknowledging her and listening to what she has to say, so she doesn’t feel so invisible. Remember, she’s only trying to help. She also loves a good risk register!
In my twenties, I was told it was important to distinguish the two. Especially as people were getting used to the implications of social media. Even I have spoken to students about managing their external brand. In my thirties, I realised how ridiculous this was. As a manager, I could see clear examples of how this could be detrimental to staff, especially in a membership charity, led by collaborative values. As a leader, I wanted my teams to trust me, to understand my motivations and to come with me on my ambitious adventure. It’s too much work to drag people along with their defiant dead weight! To do that, being an authentic version of myself was key.
because they saw that I was a complex human like them and that we’re all in it
together, but that being myself made me a happier, more optimistic, and more
productive. Ergo – a much more pleasant and positive influence. By celebrating
my own quirks, interests and peeves meant that one, they were prepared for them,
and two, that it was safe to celebrate theirs. Unsurprisingly, I’m not actually
that much different at home or with friends.
Work Lou will have a stronger leniency towards Warrior and Worrier Lous but actually,
Little Lou allows for unabashed celebration and praise, innovation and creativity
that the others don’t really bring to the table. Robot Lou can calmly navigate any
situation, whilst Mumma Lou will nurture, support, and bring in cold medication,
tissues and a bucket of vitamins come flu or Freshers season.
Life Lou is really not all that different – she’s been running a successful gaming community with her friend for over four years; she’s convinced that she’ll learn Dothraki one day – just because; she’s excited by travelling but terrified of things that might try to eat her; she hangs her laundry just so, to minimise creases before folding them away; and she will whip you up three course banquet because you looked like you had a bad Tuesday. To be fair to my patient partner, on those days that Warrior Lou’s done a full shift, I’ve been known to completely forego decision-making responsibilities at home.
Despite being in deepest, darkest abyss at the end of 2018, despite being overwhelmed by a thousand seemingly terrifying voices, feeling all alone in that despair, it is this group of amazing personalities that gets me through. When we first landed at the bottom of the pit, each of them fought to be heard, each of them scared of the unknown. In time, I learnt to listen carefully and learn from them; to learn to love them for the individuals that they are. Because they really do make one hell of team.
Together, we’re climbing towards those outreached hands trying to pull us out of the darkness. Some days, even now, we slip and fall but we’re still making out way up together.
IF YOU DON’T FEEL THAT YOU CAN KEEP SAFE RIGHT NOW, PLEASE SEEK IMMEDIATE HELP. YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY WORTH IT! CALL SOMEONE: A FRIEND, A FAMILY MEMBER, AN AMBULANCE, A LOCAL CRISIS NUMBER… SOMEONE.
“You’re so lovely.” “You’ll never meet a nicer person.” “Have you met Steve – he’s great!”
All these sounds like compliments, right? Absolutely! I pride myself on my my level of agreeableness. I like the positive impact I can have on others – in fact, I thrive on it. It makes me happy that that’s how my colleagues, staff and stakeholders see me. My last 360˚ feedback contained the most comments on my approachability, empathy, personability, and positive approach. So why am I making a case against agreeableness? Why am I arguing against something that’s integral to my own nature?
We make decisions about who to trust and who to work with based on how well we get on with another person. We avoid interacting with people who make us feel uncomfortable and awkward. We make assumptions on individuals based on how they make us feel – if they smile at us and seem excited to see us, we assume we can trust them and that they will open and honest with us. Most of this is decided almost the instant we meet someone. My fellow people-pleasers, this works well for us. We’ve had years of practice putting people at ease and building an atmosphere of trust and safety. Do you know who else masters these skills?
For those of you unfamiliar with organisational psychologist Adam Grant’s work, his video here and book, introduces to us the concept of Givers and Takers. Super quick summary – Givers help others, usually at the expense of themselves. Takers will trample on everyone else to meet their own needs. There is another group – one where most people fall into; the Matchers. These are people where help is transactional.
As a Giver, who is now in my third burn-out in my career, there are some lessons to be learnt by this Ted Talk. Here, Adam explores how agreeableness skews how we identify those people. We assume that if someone is approachable, they’re likely to be Givers. Let me just elaborate on Adam’s point on why this is incorrect…
I can safely say that *spoilers* the demise of Games of Thrones’ Petyr Baelish, more commonly known as Littlefinger, was joyous and cathartic. Why? Sorry if you’re not a GoT fan. To catch up, this video explores the methods he uses to be the absolute worst.
He was hateful character – manipulating the key plot points in the
whole series, without guilt or remorse. And he got away with it because he was
agreeable; he was able to win people over and influence those around him. He made
sure he was in the right space, at the right time, with the right people. His
focus was laser-sharp, and his favourite tools were concealment, misdirection
and his disarming smile.
If this reminds you of someone, trust that instinct and create
some distance, especially if you’re a Giver. Fakers thrive off Givers, more so
than disagreeable Takers. We’re likely to stay away from people who are difficult
or create strategies to deal with them. We’re not so good at identifying people
like Petyr Baelish in real-life. Have a strategy that protects you from that type
of person. Distance yourself if you need to. Or join me in Adam’s revolution to
move them out.
On the other hand, there is a final group who are unsung, hidden
allies. The disagreeable Givers. I’ve made friends with a few of them in my
time – the ones who are grumpy, difficult and critical; they’re usually quite sweary.
They seem to be the cause or in the middle of conflict. If you take a deep
breath, close your eyes and listen – their argument will always be focused on
the problem; it doesn’t get personal (unless the conflict’s been allowed to continue
for too long). As Adam says:
What I’ve learnt through this talk and book has been threefold:
1. Even though I want to help others succeed, I can’t sacrifice my well-being to do that – especially when there are people who will take advantage of that
2. I now understand why I found connecting with some people who were perceive as disagreeable quite easy – disagreeable doesn’t mean that they are a selfish person
3. I absolutely want to work and influence the world of work where people can contribute in the way that is best for them, without being taken advantage of – or the fear of that happening.
Overcoming anxiety and depression is hard work, particularly
if you have an aversion and cynicism to therapy like I did. I had a traumatic
experience as a child, which took me well over a decade and some convincing
from work to get over. When things got bad a few years back, I tried whatever
therapy I could, mostly because I wanted to avoid medication. I worked with a
counsellor and I was also introduced to a therapy, commonly known as the heart
and mind method.
The Rosen Method, it’s official name, was one of the
strangest experiences of my life.
You get undressed so that you’re in your pants/briefs/knickers/boxers/etc
– like you would do for a massage. The therapist then touches you lightly as
you go through talk therapy. What happens next is weird – but not in a
safeguarding kind of way. Despite practising yoga on and off for years, it was
the first time that I really understood that my body’s been trying to tell me
about my feelings.
In my first session, the therapist was able to tell that I had a long history of being burdened with responsibility – just from looking at my shoulders. As I laid on my back, she asked me a bit about that, and as I spoke, she put her hand on my chest above my heart and observed how much emotion I kept locked up, in my chest. Well, that did it. The dam opened and I cried like never before.
And so embarrassing. Luckily, she’s seen it all before and
reassured me that people react very differently to different things during
therapy. Some cried like I had; others laughed uncontrollably. Throughout the
course of my programme, I discovered my armour – the things my body did to
protect me. For example, it helped me understand why I would make myself as
small as possible during a panic attack, balled up and clutching my chest. It
helped me to realise how much moving, having my feet on the floor and dropping
my shoulders would help me fend off an incoming anxiety attack.
It helped me understand that whilst my depression and anxiety
felt like it was all in my head, my body was trying to help, and it would
suffer too during a panic attack. I frequently had knots in my neck and
shoulders, particularly after I’ve managed to unbunch myself after a panic
attack. It’s why my therapist was able to see that I had a history of ill
mental health – my broader shoulders indicated the number of panic attacks and
stress I carried. That’s not to say that if you’re broad shouldered that you
should get help, but it was interesting to see. My frame isn’t naturally so, and
my therapist’s experience could see that.
After every session, my body felt heavy, grounded. For those
who practices/d yoga, it was the same feeling as coming out of a yoga session.
Just with some damp tissues and runny nose (in my case anyway). My mind felt
less cloudy and my heart felt lighter. It didn’t fix everything straight away.
I saw my therapist for eight months. There are days where I feel I should
probably go back. It did, however, give me some insight and tools that I only
really forget when I’m having an incredibly bad day.
I’m not saying it will work for you, but I am saying that if you have panic attacks and/or some really old stuff hidden in there, maybe give it try. What’s there to lose? For me, it was some of my insecurities and ignorance to how much I really do beat myself up. And a couple of quid each time. But do you know what, I’m worth that investment. And I have sneaking suspicion that so are you.