I was talking to a friend recently. I was saying how hectic my week ahead was going to be. Knowing what I was up to he queried how a 4 day week could possibly be classified as being busy. I gently pointed out that my ongoing recovery still involved therapy and regular bouts of mindfulness study alongside working for myself. He graciously conceded the point but I also felt a little awkward, after all I’ve been lucky enough to work relatively steadily when many are struggling under highly pressured environments or out of work entirely – 4 days, surely that’s easy.
The reason I was so busy this week was because I had 4 days of training delivery. Routinely I wouldn’t book my time like this but I had an existing client to honour and I also wanted to get the new Mental Health First Aid Training off the ground for myself and my friend / colleague Charlotte Walker.
I’m pleased to report that the MHFA went really well. I was concerned about how my own mental health would hold up under delivering a subject so close to home but actually with Charlotte’s support (and a really eager group) I got through both days albeit very very tired afterwards. Unfortunately I still had two days of delivery left in the week.
Having been very aware of the physical and mental toll the week was likely to take I planned plenty of steps towards self care. I watched my diet, kept on with my yoga practice and drank plenty of water. Additionally I took the decision to draw back from social media. I even stopped answering non-urgent emails in the business (something which it pains me to do). Basically I went “missing in action” for several days whilst I concentrated on the important tasks.
By the end of Thursday I was really struggling and had to face up to the reality that I had maybe bitten off more than I could chew. I regrouped and headed out on Friday aware that I didn’t have much left to give. It was a tough day and I resisted the groups request to work through lunch citing that we all needed a “mental health break”. A few hours later my week was over.
As I sit here on Saturday afternoon slowly recharging I’m facing up to a few hard truths about how far along I am in my recovery. When people connect with me on social media, during my sporadic forays in to London or in the course of my limited amount of work they don’t realise the effort it takes for me to be consistent and focussed. I’m doing my best but it occurs to me that after a busy week I’m missing “inaction” and by that I mean the inactivity, the time to reflect and process, to build my strength and resilience. I really need those periods of rest in order to function well in the world.
Next week promises to be a little more relaxed, therapy Monday followed by blood donation Tuesday and a meeting on Wed before two days of training delivery at the end of the week. It’s a more balanced week and hopefully will allow me more space and time to recover. However if you see me out there on social media please feel free to tell me to take a rest.
I’m a great believer that you can’t manage / inspire / lead a person with a graph. Time and time again I’ve seen people’s eyes glaze over in meetings as charts are analysed, dissected and assessed. However it’s probably a truism to say that what gets measured gets managed.
The image above is a graph which reflects my mental health in the last 18 months. I’ve removed the key deliberately as it’s pretty personal stuff. The scale is broadly immaterial for you too. What is important for both me and the Complex Needs team is that it shows an improvement. It’s also worth noting that it is still far above what they would like to see.
I was discussing this with my therapist and she was saying that the figures only tell part of the story. What’s going on inside me is what is more important. The questions remain, am I better? Am I well?
I’m “in the world” more though that exacts a fairly heavy toll. I can’t imagine working a full week, even 4 days will knock me over. I’m managing without medication though recently I’ve been struggling with anxiety disturbing my sleep and waking me early. The graph shows me when I first presented in 2012 through to now – some of the change could reasonably be the ebb and flow of my condition not the therapy but that conclusion does my therapist a disservice. Talking to her has been cathartic and in my heart I know that the conversations have had a healing effect.
In reality I’m unlikely ever to be “cured” and get that graph to zero, that’s not the target here. That graph is merely a guide for my medical notes, a distillation of observations and responses to questionnaires. It doesn’t reflect how I “feel” each day.
Which leads me back to where I started this blog. The hypothesis that you can’t lead people with graphs. You can report and reflect, you can predict and project but they are only a guide, a snapshot, a brief capture of time and they rarely reflect the culture and emotions inside an organisation (& yes I include many “engagement” surveys in that sweeping statement).
I’m not sure what this blog is meant to be, business focussed, an update on my mental health or a fusion of the two. What I would like it to achieve is to encourage you to look behind the figures in your organisation, go out and talk to people about what is going on for them. Get their feedback on the direction of the business, on your policies and perhaps get some ideas from them too.
I made the call as requested. Spoke to the HR manager with a brief outline of available dates. I was surprised that it was such a rush job, that wasn’t the impression I’d been given by the senior manager who had initially approached me about the work. That conversation had been broad, inclusive and led by the needs of all levels of staff within the organisation. It also seemed to be a conversation about values and empathy, learning and discovering
Conversely, this conversation seemed to be about process, structure and delivering a tick in a box. I was told that the training needed to be split into managers and staff because they needed wildly different things from the training. This rang my alarm bells so I queried the specification and who in the organisation was commissioning me. I was told that this was solely an HR project. I was also told that managers needed to be trained separately so that they could talk openly about their staff without the fear of any comeback. My heart sank.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are plenty of meetings in numerous organisations up and down the land where staff get talked about, where decisions are taken behind closed doors and where good policies go out the window. I guess I had just hoped that HR weren’t encouraging that behaviour.
You see it seems to me that if you invite people on a training course, setting the expectation that they can gossip, engage in making derogatory comments and generally pass the buck then that sort of behaviour filters out in to the wider organisation. By colluding with poor managers you allow that sort of thing to become the norm – thereby creating work for your already overstretched HR team, maybe even condoning the idea that it’s somehow acceptable. We all talk about operations not being prepared to have the difficult conversations but charity starts at home……….
In my studies I’ve come across the idea that you often can’t solve a problem with the same level of action that caused it. So, a problem in behaviour must be approached at the level of capability or perhaps values / beliefs, and if it worked for Gregory Bateson then I for one am not going to argue. I also tend to believe that you get the organisational culture you deserve – a point made beautifully by Gemma Reucroft this week.
So what have I done? I’ve asked what the capability gap is, asked what they value and what they believe to be true within the organisation. It’s not an easy or comfortable conversation right now, which is as it should be when you’re dealing with such precious resources – your people.
So that’s it then, 7 days of pretty detailed and involving training are completed. All that remains is to carry out a couple of courses and then the stabilisers are off.
I’ve blogged after every module of the Mental Health First Aid instructors training. I’ve shared how friendly and supportive my fellow aspirant instructors are, I’ve talked about the deep levels of knowledge in the room that I’ve been able to draw on. Knowledge which has been freely given.
The course is packed full of information and it has been a challenge to assimilate it all to enable us to take our assessments. We’ve had our heads in textbooks, busily researching and learning. If you weren’t careful you could get carried away with all the resources.
Which is why I was grateful when one of our trainers said that to deliver this course you need to combine ability with compassion. I asked her to elaborate
“I have recently returned from delivering mental fitness training in Africa. I was working with the Ugandan People’s Defence Force on deployment in Somalia. They were approaching the course in a cerebral way. Worried about making a mistake – not least because they are soldiers and used to following orders exactly. I explained to them that to deliver this sort of training you need to engage your heart as much as your head. This sort of training doesn’t work if you don’t connect with compassion.”
Speaking as someone who lives and works with variable mental health I found this perspective empowering. I will have to refer to the textbook, check the slides, ask for help from colleagues – and that’s fine because I will also bring my heart and soul to the delivery. It’s also a good reminder for all the other training courses I deliver.
Our trainer then went on to talk about love in this context but that’s a whole other blog for a different day…………..
When I first started training to be a coach I was obsessed with having the right question, a killer enquiry which would lead to a huge breakthrough for the client. I was sold on the idea that there would be Damascene conversions based on the power of my question technique.
I’m pleased to say that I managed to get that out of my system early on and these days I’ve put aside any agenda or ego and placed myself solely in the service of my client.
Recently I’ve started a number of coaching contracts and again and again one word kept cropping up. The client would hold forth about what was going on for them, they’d spend some time explaining and perhaps justifying their position / approach. I would ask something along the lines of “Is it really that way?” Or even just “Really?” in a quizzical tone and they would pause, think and then start the conversation afresh. This time they would appear properly in the room, not a version designed for public consumption. They would be frank, open, engaging and present in a way that moments before had seemed impossible.
Recently Julie Drybrough wrote a great post about dealing with the thing that’s a little bit ugly in your life. I’m with her in that one has to approach the tough stuff and yet it never ceases to amaze me how often we shy away and present a sanitised version of ourselves or a situation (yes me too, took me over 20 years to speak openly about my own mental health battles for example).
And whilst that is understandable I find it fascinating that the simple act of listening well, acknowledging the other person and showing a bit of empathy can transform someone’s perspective of their own life.
Fascinating, yet also
- reassuring because it offers hope,
- inspiring because I see clients breakthrough on big issues and
- humbling because I get to learn from their courage
As I read back on this post I’m smiling to myself because when I started it, it was going to be a post about the power of one word but by having that word in the text it became about something more – the essence of coaching. Am I surprised by that? Not really.
I’m writing this from a crowded train after an exhilarating ride through London’s busy streets. Unfortunate to have a training course in the middle of a strike but actually my enforced ride on a “Boris Bike” was a good way to process the past two days.
Regular readers will know that I’m qualifying as a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) trainer. We’ve just completed module two. The format for these days is that we each present to our fellow trainees on a specified subject. The idea is to share a lot of underpinning knowledge because not every aspirant trainer will have extensive mental health knowledge. Also it allows our assessors to see how we facilitate a group.
I don’t think anybody knew what to expect. Not least as our facilitation experience varied wildly.
What we got was a masterclass. Not just in terms of the quality of content which was universally excellent, (informative and thought provoking too) but more in terms of the sheer variety of styles employed. We had everything from PowerPoint to Prezi, flipcharts to fun games. There were listening exercises, quizzes and films. People explored statistics by voting with their feet. We even got to make a poster (superb choice by the trainer closing out day 2 as energy was flagging).
There are only a handful of us on the course who would describe the bulk of their work as a trainer but everyone really took on the challenge to make the content come alive, exploring new and unusual angles on by now familiar topics.
The MHFA course has to be more prescriptive by the nature of it being a nationally standardised course with a certificate. However these two days have shown just how creative you can be when approaching some pretty tough topics – could you make a session on psychosis or suicide an engaging uplifting experience? My colleagues certainly did.
In two weeks time we have to deliver a chunk of the full course to our peers, a daunting task in prospect but tonight, I’m just going to let my mind rest and process an amazing two days.
Tomorrow is Time to Talk Day and I urge you to start a conversation with someone around mental health – yours or theirs – I don’t mind which.
P.S. My first course for MHFA is now booked out but we are hoping to set one up for May. Please contact me through the normal channels to be kept informed.
Next week something big is happening in the world of Mental Health. Thursday the 6th of February is Time to Talk Day
Normally you’d expect me to dive in & get involved, bang the drum, wave some flags & lead the debate. Not this time.
I’m issuing a challenge to my followers on twitter and to readers of the blog. I’m going to ask you to start the conversation. If you tweet me using #timetotalk or comment on the blog I will happily engage with you but I will only be responding to your approach, not broadcasting.
If this seems odd then bear with me. The idea of Time to talk day is about starting conversations – and you know what, I’ve become an expert at that.
What I’d like to do instead is offer a friendly ear for anyone who is a bit nervous, a bit unsure of where to start, what to say or even who to talk to. Start your first conversation around mental health with me – who knows where it could lead us both……