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Sunday, 10 January 2016

Please Mrs Butler...Do I Have To Go Back To Work?

In the latter part of Christmas, this was me...

In fact, they were a mixture of small and large plates, 
jugs, pouts and more in my refrigerator.

One of the walking routes I grew particularly fond of is the path from sofa to fridge to sofa to bed to sofa and back to fridge... Ahhh. But through my #12DaysofXmasMH as I mentioned in my reflection blog post, I learned a lot about myself and the importance of checking in with myself about how I feel on a regular basis. I found myself getting the itch to go back to work in fact, in a way best expressed by one of my favourite poems:

Alan Ahlberg, this has been completely relevant
for me through school, university and work.
After adopting the useful check-ins I ended up realising that sofa-to-fridge and back is not the best way to sustain reasonably good mental health. Christmas is challenging for me for many reasons I've already written about in previous posts, but what I hadn't realised was, that while rest is important, activity is also important. I guess I should have been hitting myself over the head with one of those  foam mallet things to remind myself that the word "balance" defines everything that helps my mental health, but clearly I was in some kind of major food coma after consuming at least four packets of those yummy cheese and bacon bites that Marks and Spencer needs to stock UNTIL I DIE because it is key to my Christmas Staple Foods.

Ah yes. Must remember!

You may noticed that there have been a few changes to the blog since you last saw it - and this was part of my activity list. Sort non-work stuff out. And because I can't do jigsaws since I still have to keep the house looking like I don't live in our flat.Conversation with myself: Not only was I telling myself, "You have a campaign to run. Do something about it!", I also noticed that I if I did fill my days with some low-level activities and also kept running or walking, my mood would stabilise. Thank you! And for all the resolutions I made, there was still this persisting thought in the back of my mind.

Yep. Smells the same. Looks the same. Is, in fact, the same.

So in some ways I was dreaming about going back to work and very excited for it. There are loads of projects going on that I'm eager to get involved with about and the Learning Academy is such an exciting place to be right now. When I have time to reflect, headspace if you like, I finally have time to think through everything that goes on when I'm in back to back meetings.

I can think of fewer situations this *doesn't* apply 
to than ones to which it doesn't. Oh dear oh dear.

But there is one aspect of going back to work that I absolutely loathe. It's totally ridiculous, I know, but this is the reason I have a slight sense of dread about the first day back: it's because everyone will ask how it was.

"How was your holiday?"
"It was good, thanks, how about yours?"
"Great thanks, so relaxing, really good."

I'm the person in the middle here. I'm okay for the first few of these - one or two exchanges. After that, with each one my stomach starts to tighten because I feel confused and under pressure to have had a brilliant Christmas.

Every week. Every single week.

I feel incredibly self-conscious about it. I can't help thinking in the back of my head that my answer should be a lot more impressive, and worse, that I should feel absolutely amazing about it, for example: "Thanks, it was the most amazing holiday ever. I won the lottery, we flew to Lapland and met Santa, then we dined on caviar and drank Champagne every day, we went on several holidays abroad and at home, staying in luxury five star resorts where we were waited on hand and foot, oh and by the way here's my resignation note since we won the lottery I shan't be coming back. Have a lovely year." With no mention that in addition to all of the above very much not happening, it's now Broke January, and the immense joy of being paid on 22nd December is now replaced with intense panic that I will run out of money by next week.

I will be more assertive. If that's okay?

At the same time I know I shouldn't worry about it, so based on being more authentic and not feeling like I have to conform to any kind of (completely self-fabricated) notions of what Christmas should be like. I noticed this (thanks Mindfulness and check-ins!) so I changed my answer to be more honest, Everytime I'm more honest I feel like a weight is lifted off my shoulders. It is such a relief to be myself.

Yes, Jessica. Yes.

I said "Good thanks. We didn't really do much." And it was surprising how many people answer, "Same here", or - alternatively - "Oh God, the total opposite, I've come back to work for a rest!". (Those are the people with young children.) It's another one of those humps that I have to get over.

I was one of the people thinking this at the end of this week.
And some people were probably thinking it over Christmas too.

Reality check: lots of people are feeling the same or have had a Christmas that is normal - i.e. up and down! Stop beating yourself up about the fact that you've had a normal Christmas and nothing dazzling or amazing has happened. Just because Orlando Bloom and George Clooney did not decide to leave their partners in order to beg for your hand in marriage does not mean that I'm a total failure as a human being.

Fair enough George, you're married already, it would be complicated.
Orlando? You've got no excuse!

And then there's the stuff that comes next. I took Monday off because I was hoping this would ease me into the year more gently. What actually happened was that I had to make myself not check emails that day as I saw the number against the mail box growing and growing. The temptation to look was very strong, but I had to gently remind myself with a stern word that I had taken the day OFF so I should be NOWHERE NEAR my emails.

Yes, clearly I should have been ignoring emails and focusing on 
this much more urgent activity!

Now I've been back at work a week and yes - I could do with a breather - no surprise there then. Christmas feels like it was a year ago, my best efforts to start the year with everything organised are just plain unrealistic.

Speaking of which...
*Food break*

On the positive side, I've made some progress and have organised a large number of things to do with my campaign and the year ahead at work, increased my exercise and have limited my meals containing either the word 'burger' or 'pies' to only about one a day rather than a wall-to-wall-pastry-fest. There are good things.

Is it working?

I have to keep working at telling myself to check in, see how I am and I have to keep telling myself that I can't possibly achieve everything in a single day, maybe not even in a year. But I can do something. And dealing with 'challenges' (which, by the way is work-speak for "WTF. Seriously?" moments)... there are always the nice email replies.

I actually don't mean this when I say thanks. 
But 'outstanding' is my favourite word to describe a day. That Has Gone. To. The. Dogs.

So, yes, a week back at work and I could do with a holiday. In the meantime there are weekends. (Thank you. THANK YOU, the inventor of the weekend. You are awesome.)

Evening schedule. And weekend schedule.
And possibly schedule at other times too. 
You won't tell anyone, will you?

In the meantime, with at least a few hours of my weekend to go, I might just go back and have a read of some of the other poems I love. Eat a nice meal, go for a walk, Just enjoy the weekend. And on poems, the headteacher of my primary school, Mrs. Evans, taught me to love poetry with her expressive performances of many of the poems she read to us - aged five. Although she was incredibly strict and not terribly nice to the older children, she let herself be seen for the passionate literature lover she clearly was when she worked with the smallest children in the school. My love for her poems (as that is how I remember them, even though other authors had written and published them) remains and is testified by how vividly I remember those readings. Humour and creativity - whether music, writing, reading poetry or prose - make a huge difference to my mood, and a lot of poems are small enough to fit into even a really busy day.

Please Mrs Butler. A Poetry book everyone, 
children and adults should read. It's brilliant!

So that will be what I do before this starts again...

Whatever you're up to, take care and take it one breath at a time. (And for more on that, read this article on mindful breathing at work, I really enjoyed it.) See you soon! x

*A very big, #redefiningresilience thank you to VeryBritishProblems (@SoVeryBritish) for the tweets I used in this post. Your tweets are often the #smallthings that make a #bigdifference to my #mentalhealth. Thank you.

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