‘Can’t you just get up?’
‘Take a shower, it’ll help.’
‘You’ll be fine, the world isn’t ending.’
Not quite honey, it doesn’t work like that.
On Wednesday night I was one of the lucky SCA students to receive tickets from Gemma Greaves to attend an event hosted by the really truly amazing Ruby Wax and equally amazing Sue Baker, two OBE-ers who are championing Marketing for Change. The purpose of the campaign is to remove any stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace by creating safe spaces for sufferers to talk about their illness and to ultimately get businesses to work towards implementing the correct strategies to support their employees. I can’t remember the stats but I know I learned it’s more expensive to lose an employee than to offer guidance and support. So, duh, just help lift the black cloud. Simple right?
Well, no not really.
In fact, no not at all.
It isn’t about listening for just a few minutes over a quick coffee break to a struggling employee and then ‘getting on with the day’. Time for Change is reminding us it is about gaining an understanding of mental health. Ignorance isn’t bliss. And if it comes knocking on your door one day, you’ll surely be glad you have a deeper understanding of the disease.
Mental Wellbeing. Mindfulness. Hippie Stuff. (trying to insert some lightheartedness like Ruby here). But all of the above is simply the opposite to depression. And what I learned on Wednesday is that it’s not about learning how to lift yourself back up into the light to smell the summer sun on a late afternoon or how to taste the marmalade on your burnt toast on a Monday morning. The strength lays in practicing damage control. It’s about learning to listen to your mind. Understand when things are starting to unravel. Ruby told us her hair starts to feel wirey. Literally, she can feel her illness creeping up on her just as you can sense a cold coming on in the back of your throat.
Marc introduced us all to mindfulness and meditation before we even stepped foot in SCA. It was mentioned in an email and by the first week we had all taken a shot of Muse and discussed our own techniques around meditation. I love Marc’s analogy of swiping closed the apps on your iPhone to save battery for the day. I can literally imagine swiping through all the different layers of thoughts and worries until you come to just a quiet layer of nothing-ness that allows your brain 5 minutes to recharge. And guess what, the apps are still there – you can tap right back into your thoughts (and all the worries too) after meditating.
And the critical point of this reflection? To tell myself off. Here I am, feeling a little shaken up after hearing Ruby and Sue’s honest conversation, actively reminding everyone else around me to practise mindfulness, preaching on about the importance for the un-sufferers to try to show patience and understanding and agreeing that it is every business’s duty to take the disease as a legitimate need for a sick day (or however many sick days it might be). And here I am, going on and on. And what am I doing for my own mental health? I’m racing through each day, pushing myself to different levels and failing to take any time out to switch off. I know it’s not cool or clever.
However, I do agree with Ruby that stress is a good thing; it is necessary to find fifth gear and to get yourself going. But of course, it has to be managed. And whilst I experienced peaks in my stress levels during my final year of University which saw my best work being created, I also know the day I graduated I was a shell of myself. I was burnt out, mentally exhausted and it took me a little while to recover. I worked in a beautiful little artisan bakery and I couldn’t even smell the bread anymore (probably needed an aromaloaf). And the world had lost a bit of its color, and not just because I was living in Edinburgh.
So with this reflection, I make a pact with myself. I will take 7 mins out of every morning to practice mindfulness. I’m planning to be in this game for the long run, so for me, it’s not just about surviving the year at SCA. It’s about getting good at managing those exciting stress levels to push work forward but also allow me to sleep soundly at night.
Thank-you for the tickets, I think Wednesday was one of those nights I’ll remember.