Thoughts of an Overthinking Parent (Part 3)

As you might expect of a perfectionist overthinking about anxiety, actually finding the right words to speak honestly about my struggle was an obstacle at first. Even after I knew I was ready to talk, it depended on who I was talking to and their initial reaction/response as to whether I could have a conversation at all. And if I did, then how long I’d be thinking about it afterwards.

Talking to people I wasn’t close to always felt easier, probably because then I wouldn’t spend the following days wondering whether I’d been understood or if I’d burdened people. Or if someone I cared about would think I was losing my mind. Some people I’d imagined might be a struggle to open up to were really helpful and present for the conversation, and some that I hoped might be able to hold space for me, weren’t. One thing is for sure, in the end I was always glad that I’d tried because, if nothing else, I was sure I was finally being myself.

We’re all at very different places with our understanding and experience of mental health and we just need to practice those difficult conversations if we want to get better at them. I think back over previous conversations I’ve had where I failed to be what someone needed. It’s a skill to actively listen and empathise without making the conversation about you; to support without trivialising; to share advice or experience without telling people what they should do or feel or to ‘cheer up’ and ‘look on the bright side’. Communication around mental health is a constant learning exercise, and now I’ve experienced being unable to cope and how that can affect every part of your life, it’s a skill I’m determined to become adept at.

A word I’ve noticed I use a lot more these days is ‘journey’, it always sounds false for some reason and like I’ve lost sight of my extreme privilege in life. But other synonyms either feel too literal or even more pretentious – I know I haven’t been on a voyage! So, let’s just say, for want of a better expression, that I feel like I’ve been on quite a journey in the last year or so. As well as accepting my anxiety is real and seeking out help, I’ve had my work and social life turned upside down due to the virus, and have been locked down with a pregnant and clinically vulnerable partner throughout the pandemic. I am fully aware though of how much more tough this has been for so many other people, and it would be wrong of me to do anything other than be honest about how fortunate I am right now.

My family has avoided the virus so far. I’ve kept my job and been gifted time to think and work on my own wellbeing which clearly had been needed for some time. I’ve also been lucky enough to connect more closely (albeit digitally) than ever with some incredible humans around the subject of self-awareness and personal growth, as well as reaching new levels of honesty with my fellow overthinker and hero of a partner, Anna. I’ve had the chance to try my hand at creating content that might be able to help others who are struggling.

Now I’m much more able to talk about what is really going on with me, I’ve learned to listen to those around me and understand what is actually going on with them. It’s, unsurprisingly, way more interesting and engaging than general small talk. It’s also affirming and enlightening to follow someone else’s struggles as they almost always have an overlap with my own, and providing support on each other’s journey can solidify a relationship on a deeper and more profound level.

I’ve found sources of support which have been catalysts for personal growth and inspiration to push even harder to connect, create and grow. Menfulness was already out there, but presented itself exactly when I needed it. After attending the activities and getting to know the people, I’m becoming a trustee, to work with four other local men to run and build the organisation up to achieve its full potential. The same thing happened several years ago with my community cinema – Film at the Folk Hall. Almost as soon as I realised I needed to be of service to my community, there it was, round the corner from my house, in need of the sort of help which I could offer. These networks have helped me to accept and understand myself while directing me closer to who I want to be.

There’s a safe and unspoken permission you get in such a support network which means that you’re already allowed and accepted: the reactions are kinder; more time will be given to get your thoughts out; you won’t be told how to feel, or what you should be doing to defeat your demons; or what you should be grateful for instead of working on yourself. You can practice some of those more complex conversations before you speak to family, friends and loved ones. I recommend everyone go out and find your support network. If it doesn’t exist, why not create it? There is support and funding available to help you. Trust people enough to ask for help. Talk to me, if I can assist you, I will. Just remember, however much you might feel it, you are not alone. I can assure you we are all craving connection in some way or another. 

The Menfulness Team

I believe this connection is available to us all, because we are all capable of owning our own vulnerabilities and speaking our inner truth. I know this is not new to many of you reading. I imagine that many women reading this already understand the benefits of this kind of connection. Historically and traditionally men have not felt able to learn about and share their more complex emotional struggles. This leads to repression of painful or uncomfortable feelings and a deterioration in overall mental wellbeing. We all know people who are, right now, struggling through their own silent battles. People who could be empowered from us vocalising ours. For some reason, despite recent progress generally, this mutually beneficial transaction still remains a big secret from a large part of society. So many people are suffering inside while talking about the weather or what they’ve been watching on TV. 

Opening up about my mental health might well be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I say that now because I’m about to become a parent, which is likely to be both the best and the hardest thing I’ve ever done. So this acceptance of struggle and commitment to growth has come at the right time for me. The more I think about the timing of all this anxiety, the more certain I am that it is precisely because of this journey to parenthood that these things have bubbled to the surface.

To me it has always felt like a race between having a child and arriving at the point where I feel psychologically ready to have a child. It’s like, I know it’s not real or helpful, but I still can’t shake off the baggage from the stories we’re all told to ‘protect’ and commodify us in this uncertain world: Don’t say that; Don’t do that; Don’t wear that; Man up; Be more like your sister, your friends, that rich or ‘successful’ person; Get better grades, cars, things; Don’t over share; Share more; ‘Meet my expectations of the persona I’ve created of you!’

I can’t help but (over) think about what this all means for my daughter. Completely innocent. On her way into this turbulent existence without consent. Near limitless potential, divided by the sum of our collective fear and judgement which will be taught to her through the stories she is told. My stories need to be better, stronger, more inspiring or perhaps she’ll end up like me: Playing a role defined not purely by my own ‘destiny’ or capability, but by the limitations my own stories, beliefs and anxieties have set before me.

The way our needs are met in our early learning phase, the way these evolutionary fight-or-flight chemical disturbances play out, our countless and cumulative experiences over a life-time; all this enables us to cope, or not, with what this world throws at us. So here we are. Here I am. Thirty five years old, weeks away from parenthood and I feel like I’m just getting to know a huge part of myself that I’d been taught I was supposed to repress. But instead of continuing to conform, I’m attempting to reframe as best I can.  ‘Struggling with your mental health is a weakness’, becomes ‘Challenge is what makes the strong rise up’; ‘If we talk about it people will think we’re mental’, becomes ‘We are all mental beings, and we connect the most when we talk about it’; ‘Being honest will affect my future opportunities’ becomes ‘I am capable and can create value despite my struggle’.

So what now? Well, I know I’m not out of the woods yet by any means. I’ve been at home. I’ve had the perfect get-out clause for avoidance. While this has given me time to work on some stuff, there will surely be a challenge to now find what ‘normal’ is for me, especially as I’m about to be thrust back into it with a new baby human in tow. So I’m not going to pretend like everything is fine all of a sudden because I’m finally ‘owning it’. Or even like this version of me I’m aspiring to no longer responds to external validation and criticism. Of course I do, but at least I can fully recognise it for what it is. It’s not just bubbling away in my subconscious, governing my behaviour.

I’m taking positive action to assist my progress. I exercise, not because I enjoy it, I don’t. But it does wonders for my head. I keep my social media accounts at a safer distance, which might slow any potential business ‘growth’, but I’m beginning to prioritise my mindset above such things. I keep some people at a safer distance, which might limit my connections. Again, it’s a matter of learning to put my wellbeing first, it’s a steep learning curve around who and where I can really be comfortable being me and that finally feels OK to say.

From the work I’ve done coaching others, and the progress I’ve made coaching myself, I’ve learned the benefits of not ‘settling’ and always striving to get 1% nearer to where you want to be, despite any self-limiting beliefs. But since parenthood has become a reality, I’ve realised that acceptance is equally important. Otherwise growth is just another hurdle/fight towards an unreachable perfection. You can’t always justify the time and resources to push, or ever fully know which direction you should be pushing towards. Sometimes you have to sit back, relinquish control of the outcome and just allow things to be.

Finding the balance between progress and acceptance will be key for me as a parent. As will accepting that I may never completely ‘defeat’ my own programming, but that I do have some control over the experiences I create for my daughter. And that these early experiences can have a profound impact on her understanding of reality, her feelings of fulfilment, her acceptance of who she is and what her place in the world might be. Perhaps that’s how we truly escape our childhoods and defeat our shame: By not passing it on. This is fast becoming what I believe is my true calling and maybe even, if there is such a thing, the meaning of life. 

(EDIT: Well I finished writing this weeks ago but of course needed time to have a characteristic overthink about the grandiose ending. The truth is, of course I can only speak about my truth; the possible meaning of my life; how I feel at this moment in time. While terrified of the prospect, I for some reason always knew I wanted to have a child one day and the fact we were able to makes us incredibly lucky and, while I may have struggled with many things, I am grateful every day for that.

I’m also aware that not everyone wants to have children, and I completely believe this should be a personal choice. I also strongly believe that women should have complete autonomy over their own body and reproductive decision making. I certainly do not propose that anyone needs to have a child to find the meaning in their life. But I suppose I do float the idea that regardless of your feelings/circumstance around parenthood, there could be some deeper meaning in the way we set an example in our lives, if not directly for the next generation, then for each other. Perhaps by leading with vulnerability, self awareness and honesty we lay the foundations for a more empowered, inclusive and open society in the future).

To be continued…

Thoughts of an Overthinking Parent (Part 2)

I’ve been spending the additional time this last year has afforded me to step back from some of my unconscious behaviours and witness them as a spectator for the first time. While it has felt uncomfortable at times I can honestly recommend it. Like a workout for the brain, it’s felt exhausting yet ultimately enhancing and cathartic. It’s like I’ve kind of known me for years, but only to chat about the usual top level stuff. I’ve finally taken that next step and invited me over for dinner, then stayed up all night talking about what really matters. I’m finally trying to get to know myself properly and understand some of what makes me behave the way I do. For me this has been primarily working out why my coping mechanisms failed me, why anxiety and panic has become such a part of my life lately, and how can I ensure that this does not impact the way I will parent.

What is it about our minds that makes us wait until something goes wrong before we learn how to look after them? Our species tends to err on the side of caution, it’s what has kept us evolving for millions of years, but for some reason many of us neglect looking after our minds and instead accept coping over thriving; repression over ownership. Why is it, for example, that diet and exercise to keep our bodies in shape is so normalised, but articulating how we really feel can still be so uncomfortable?

Perhaps not all of us need to reach breaking point to push the fix. What if we just need to have the right conversation or consume the right content? Maybe there’s the perfect formula of words to help each of us realise that we are all worthy of allowing our mental health some TLC once in a while. This idea is what has spurred me on to talking and writing more about my thought processes. With the hope that if you can relate to what I’m trying to convey then we might be able to make some sense of it all. Then perhaps, between us, encourage others to do the same.

It’s stigma that makes us believe having these conversations shows weakness. At some point in history male vulnerability began being mistaken for, or reframed as, weakness and this has kept many men from discussing their struggles. It’s this stigma that has us creating realities and coping mechanisms around us to help us hide the tough bits away. Conditioning ourselves to keep our own needs at arm’s length and hold back what’s really going on. Silencing important parts of who we are for fear of failure and judgement or, perhaps even more frighteningly, success and self-actualisation. It’s hard to unlearn the idea that you’re a burden and that you have to pretend to be OK all the time for everyone else’s sake, especially when you’re struggling. Be honest, what would you be like if you took off all the different masks you wear for the different roles you play? What would your truth be?

It’s a slow process but I’m gradually learning that being validated a bit for who we truly are is infinitely more affirming and rewarding than being validated a lot for who we’re burning ourselves out trying to be. I know it’s not going to be easy, but I do think we can change if we have the right motivation. So, who’s with me?! It’s OK if you’re not, or if you can’t relate to anything I’m saying. I appreciate you taking the time to read this all the same. For the first time I actually feel like I can travel this path on my own. It’s genuine progress for me to accept that people don’t have to agree with the things I say. Just knowing I can put honest things out and have a go, without it being perfect or knowing if it’s going to work is a step in the right direction.

I’m coming to terms with the fact that some of my relationships have diminished as I deviate from my usual path. Perhaps Covid can be blamed; perhaps it was just the right time. As I’ve pulled back from certain people and situations which seemed to compound my anxiety, I’ve realised that perhaps I was doing much of the heavy lifting anyway. Undoubtedly this was from that part of me that needs to know people are always happy with me. Even though I still feel it in there somewhere, I know I don’t need that validation anymore. Of course, like anything addictive, there can be withdrawal and relapse. For me, this comes in the form of seeking reassurance, assuming people’s motivations, avoidance, guilt, shame etc. At least though I now recognise that these things are not grounded in reality. They are not the fault of any other person, nor do they need to be a permanent feature of me. They are patterns and scripts which I have unknowingly developed over a long time. Mechanisms which keep me hyper-aware of what I need to do to keep the semblance of ‘happiness’ going. Now I can see that they don’t serve me well, I can no longer justify spending my limited time and resources on them. If I’m to be truly effective and of service to the world and as a parent, then I must start working on delaying gratification, writing more positive scripts and holding onto healthier habits. The more I commit to these improvements to my mindset, the more I seem to connect with the right people and action. And as this cycle (hopefully) continues, I’ve found myself ever more fascinated by the wellbeing of myself and those around me. I want to understand our motivations and goals and try to learn more about what’s holding us all back from talking about where we want to be.

I know the subject of ‘mental health’ can put some people off. It can be triggering and it can direct conversations deeper down the iceberg to places people aren’t comfortable opening up about. Plus it’s always seemed to me like people are either all about it, or not about it at all. I know these are my own previous misjudgements coming to the surface, but that’s my point – It is possible to change those judgements. The reality is that once you realise there are undiscovered parts of you that need work, and that discussing those parts can encourage those around you to do the same, it can become paramount. Of course I don’t commit to this being my only topic of discussion, but I do hope that I’ve shown we can talk about our difficult times, without it being too upsetting or self-deprecating. I’d like to think that as we continue to tackle the stigma, we can approach the subject on a much more natural and conversational level. As well as it feeling less upsetting, being casual about mental health if we can, allows us to include those who may otherwise feel they must avoid the subject. Maybe because they can’t find the words or they don’t have the experiences from which to draw the presence required to be there for someone in their hour of need.

We all have mental health. It affects us all. Granted some are in such a good (or perhaps oblivious) place that they genuinely believe we’re all just a making it up. There are also many who still think that people should just ‘get a grip’ or ‘man up’. Or that mental health is just some distant problem that their weird uncle had. Or something that only those in asylums need to worry about. But as I’ve found out, any of us can join the 1 in 4 people in this country affected by a ‘mental health problem’ each year. I went from a sociable, albeit overthinking, extrovert to a socially anxious panic attack waiting to happen, all within a matter of months. Surrounded by people who care, I still initially chose to hide my struggle due to the stigma and that deep-seated need to appear strong and happy. I am not alone in this, men failing to talk about their mental health remains a silent emergency – Only 36% of referrals to NHS talking therapies are for men. Men are nearly three times as likely to become alcohol dependent and three times more likely to take their own lives.

We don’t wait until our cars break down, we MOT them. We’d have no problem talking to a doctor or a friend about a broken leg. The same should be said for mental health. The truth is I didn’t practice what I’m now trying not to be too preachy about. I can’t say I was blissfully unaware, I should have noticed how hard I was working. How much I needed everything to be under my control and everyone to be happy with me or my day or week or month would be consumed by what people were thinking and how I could fix it. Or how I accepted the negativity of certain individuals because, well, it’s a small price to pay for their validation. But I didn’t see it or if I did catch a glimpse, I didn’t slow down long enough to acknowledge it. I was too busy on the hamster-wheel holding out for that next weekend, or trip, or gadget. Holding out hope that the next ‘thing’ would bring that elusive inner peace to me. I realise now all that burying this stuff does is give it chance to grow roots and come back stronger. It’s hard to have gratitude for any of the incredible opportunities life affords us while we’re using all our energy just to go through the motions and pretend we’re alright.

It’s a sobering realisation to arrive at: that if external validation, or the increasing acquisition of ‘stuff’ was ever going to resolve our inner angst it would have done so by now. And yet so many of us carry on regardless, without considering if there’s a better way. Jim Carrey said, ‘I think everybody should get rich and famous and have everything they ever dreamed of, so they can see that it’s not the answer’. 


Thoughts of an Overthinking Parent (Part 1)

OK, so I’m not officially a parent yet. But I do seem to have started talking, behaving and spending like one! I’ve certainly started overthinking like one. Anyone suffering from imposter syndrome or toxic shame will likely know what it means to be a perfectionist and an overthinker. To think so intently on a goal and all its tasks and outcomes, that it becomes something unbearable to take on. It’s often the thing which people joke you should give as your weakness at a job interview; the truth of it is that perfectionism has stifled much of my creativity over the years because I’ve not been comfortable really ‘putting myself out there’. Freaked out at the idea of failure, stressed out about how people might judge me; overthinking things has been the norm for as long as I can remember. I believe overthinking can even affect memory, I feel like I’ve spent more time thinking, about mistakes from the past or worries about the future, than I’ve spent being present in the moments where memories are made. There I go again… I already know what you’re thinking… I’m overthinking it.

Like many of us, I’m used to second guessing my decisions and doubting myself; I’ve found many coping mechanisms for this which range from positivity and goal setting, to avoidance, reassurance seeking and blaming others. The former have enabled me to push forward and step outside my comfort zone to a certain point. The latter are why many of my ideas and plans have never been anything but. One common theme through life which I’m just waking up to has been my insatiable need for control, and the discomfort I feel when I lack it. The reality is though, all of the big steps I’ve taken outside my comfort zone over the years have been ‘undoable’. After all, I could always fold a business, sell a house, end a relationship.

The undeniable truth before me is that there is no undoing this next part of my life. The gravity of giving and sustaining the life of another human has always been overwhelming for me. From an outsider’s perspective it could well seem that it’s the commitment side of parenthood that has me rattled. I think until the last few years I’d have probably agreed. But despite my fairly recent and ongoing tussle with social anxiety, and the state of the world as it is out there, I’m more aware than I’ve ever been about who I am. As a result, it’s become clearer what’s been troubling me about becoming a parent and its way deeper seated than a fear of commitment. No doubt, the permanence of it all is certainly a factor, as is the responsibility to do it as well as I can.  But the thing which really got to me, and had me trying to find reasons to put off parenting, is the idea that I might pass on these unconscious behaviours that have eluded me for so much of my life.

First of all, my need for external validation and my underlying lack of self-worth could easily have me parenting on other people’s terms. As I understand it, everyone is an expert only on their own child’s needs, because they are all so unique. So, it stands to reason that my trusty old coping mechanisms won’t work here. I will need to be my own authentic self when parenting, not doing what I think someone else would do or worrying how other people might view my decisions. While I may not sign up to the old fashioned/patriarchal viewpoint of men taking the lead role in the family, or the macho requirement to ‘man up’ and ‘be strong’, I do still of course wish to be a stable role model for my daughter.  To achieve this, I am in no doubt that I need to put in work on truly understanding my anxiety and shame. For those who haven’t felt shame themselves, or read much about it before, shame and guilt get confused a lot: Guilt is what you feel when you believe you did something bad. Shame is what you feel when you believe you are bad. The latter is much harder to rationalise and accept.

I could never really put my finger on it before but having read more on the subject, I understand toxic shame can be passed on like a hereditary illness. We tend to manifest what we most fear; we seek to bury or avoid the difficult bits of ourselves which we don’t understand, but they continue to reveal themselves in our responses or reflex reactions, ready for our children to pick up in their own subconscious and turn into their own traits. We fear what we don’t understand and what I feared and was failing to understand most was myself. Whatever I’ve been creating those coping mechanisms for. Whatever’s underneath the masks I wear, between the lines of the scripts I’ve written for myself, lurking in my blind spot. The bogeyman under the bed. It’s the ‘other’ me; the me you never see.

This might all sound fairly sinister when explained in such dramatic terms, but hopefully anyone who has been following my sporadic socials content can see that talking about what’s really going on with us doesn’t have to be sad. It can help us reframe our thoughts and feelings, empower us to own our stories and connect us with others who can relate, which has happened way more often than I ever expected. I hope those who were worried about me initially have realised by now that I’m not having a breakdown. Far from it. Despite my recent wobble, in fact, because of my recent wobble, I’m probably in the best state mentally that I’ve been in for a long time. My imposter syndrome won’t let me be sure of it, and I still can’t always show up how I want to, but hopefully it’s clear I’m not crying out for help. More crying out for hope. Reaching out in an attempt at deepening the virtual connection during these physically disconnected times. Showing up with a message that I imagine may run through everything I do from now on. A message that says, HEY! I’ve realised I’m a bit messed up and I want to work on it. How about you?


Freedom Day

This is a day later than planned but I just wanted to mark this so called ‘Freedom Day’; my daughter Luna’s first day of life without Covid related legal restrictions. In reality, not much will change for us right now, but it is a big day for the country. We have friends whose businesses can reopen, musicians who can go back to work and, more generally, people should feel able to start taking some control back around how they choose to live. Sadly, I can already sense more division coming…

This momentous thing we’ve all been through is something that connects us all. We have seen that despite our differences, every human being on the planet can be affected by the same invisible, microscopic enemy, and all our lives radically changed over night. But when countries really work together, when lives become a priority over profit, when helping another also helps us too, we can get things done we never thought possible. (Imagine if the same level of global effort now turned to climate change…)

Fist bump in clinical gloves

Of course the virus hasn’t gone just because people are calling it ‘Freedom Day’. We’ve developed a means to slow and reduce its impact, but I personally know healthy and vaccinated people who have caught and been ill with it, and the numbers suggest we’re not out of the woods yet. So with a baby and a clinically vulnerable partner, we will be continuing to reintegrate at a steady pace, but with respect for all those who are ready to get their lives back after following rules for so long. Fill up music venues again, dance, hug each other if that’s right for you. Of course I hope you try to do it as safely as you can and remain conscious of the risks to you and your more vulnerable friends and family members. Give space. Be patient. Take a test. Also try to remember people continuing to wear masks aren’t all sheep. People refusing the vaccine aren’t all selfish. We’re all handling this with our unique personal circumstances in mind and in the way our lives have conditioned us to interpret our situation.

If you are an anti-masker, anti-vaxxer or conspiracy theorist, then you’re still my fellow human. While I may disagree with you, I value your right to have a different view and make different choices to me, providing you’re not putting my loved ones or any unaware people at risk. We can stay in our lanes and still communicate with each other. If we’re ever going to bridge the gap then we have to, don’t we? Of course I’m not condoning the blatant sharing of misinformation or poorly researched theories as ‘truth’. But we get to choose if and how we respond to opposing views, and since when did insulting or belittling someone ever change their mind? All the impatience and anger just stops people from listening and learning from each other. I appreciate that fear manifests in many different ways, but seeing people taking pleasure in berating each other over their personal choices feels more dystopian to me than the pandemic itself.

Mainstream media and all the interlinked corporate and political interests muddy the waters of what ‘truth’ is ever really available to us and that is scary at the best of times, but it’s borderline abusive during a global catastrophe. At least right now, on an individual level, most of us have immediate access to the world’s information at our fingertips. We don’t have to listen to any single news source, we can do away with partisan news altogether if we choose and look to the qualified scientists. Even then, Bayesian reasoning will be needed to reach a consensus. One can always find anomalies that fit with our negativity bias or support our tendency for mistrust in the systems that govern us. Before accepting, and especially before sharing, we should at least be double checking sources. We should also pay particular attention to where the source’s ultimate interests lie, ruling out spurious or questionable information and trying to find what is the most likely and probable reality: the closest thing to truth available to us. Then we can apply that to our own personal circumstances, accepting that these differ wildly from others. We can use critical thinking to find our way, but can’t we also at least try to understand where someone with an alternative view is coming from and what led them there? We don’t have to be surprised or triggered that someone else’s path is different to ours, and we certainly shouldn’t need to force our own ways onto them.

Right now we must be extra vigilant to external forces affecting our behaviour towards each other. Despite enjoying some lost freedoms, we may still be contained by the language and labels given to us by those who wield power. As long as we see everything as a binary, we will forever remain divided. Why must the world be either locked down or free? People either good or bad, for or against, right or wrong? I’d like to call for some middle ground. I’m not talking about sitting on the fence either. I’m asking can we kick the fence down and sit somewhere we can talk to people on both sides? Somewhere we can be social, but at a distance we’re all comfortable with.

One Year On

At the start of 2020 my partner, Anna and I decided it was time to try and start a family. By March we were asking ourselves whether it was still the right time or not. Would it be right to bring a new human into the world amidst such uncertainty and worry? Knowing it could take us a while to get pregnant and believing, like many others, that things would be back to normal in a few months, we agreed we wouldn’t put our lives on hold. By April we were pregnant. 

Anna has been on the extremely clinically vulnerable list due to her lowered immune system, so as well as adhering to all the restrictions, she’s had to shield for much of 2020. She missed out on friends and family seeing her with a bump and getting the normal types of support and encouragement expectant mum’s need during such an exciting and nerve wracking time. She had to go to all but one of her hospital appointments and scans alone and I couldn’t stay in hospital with her after the long and complicated birth. She’s missed out on baby groups, cuddles with family and friends, and socialising with other parents at a vulnerable time of her life. Throughout all this she’s continued to work her tough job without the face to face support of her colleagues and while studying for her master’s degree in her spare time. Somehow, she’s taken all this in her stride. I’ve had to accept my position through the pregnancy, on the side-lines, cheering her along and doing my best to lighten her load wherever I can. Astounded at her resilience, patience and strength; privileged to bear witness to what she’s achieved. An incredible role model for our daughter.

While the last year has been tough, and there’s been much to feel stressed and anxious about, I can honestly say that now, one year on, the strongest feeling that shines through is gratitude. We have been lucky enough to welcome a new life into our home. Luna joined us on 05 January 2021 and changed our world forever. She’s filled us with a sense of unbridled hope and the potential for better days to come. She allows us to look at and appreciate the simpler things in life through new eyes.

We’re grateful that we live in one of the greatest cities on the planet and are close enough to beautiful places we can explore near our home. Over the last year we’ve found ourselves ever more present and appreciative of our immediate environment and the simple enjoyment of a walk. Despite the social distance, we’ve also looked out for and become closer to all our neighbours and so have felt more a part of our community than ever before. I hope that the positive impact on the environment the restrictions have had, and the new found respect for nature and community people have found, does not get lost in the rush to bring back the old normal. 

We’ve both been lucky enough to continue working from home throughout this time meaning we have been able to pay our bills, as well as keep ourselves safe; a privilege not afforded to all and one which we do not take for granted. As a result, we’ve spent so much more time together and haven’t got (completely) sick of each other yet! Now Luna is here, it’s meant more flexibility too, no commute means more family time, and last week I was able to rush down and catch Luna giggling for the first time, something I’d have missed if I’d been in the office. 

I’ve also spent more time on personal growth and my own mental health than ever, something which being on the proverbial hamster wheel can prevent us from ever really doing properly. With a new perspective I’m able to consider some of my unconscious behaviours and the impact they were having on my life before the pandemic hit. I’m realising the value of talking about my own mental-health and thereby giving permission to those around me to do the same. I believe working on these things will ultimately make me a better partner, father and fellow human. Things will never go back to the way they were before for me, I’m not quite the same person anymore and I’m OK with that.

I do hope we realise as a species now that all it can take is the tiniest mutation of the tiniest particle to make the entire population of the planet fear the same invisible threat. When pushed, we can be united by a common goal. So rather than live in fear of the next catastrophe or division about how this one was dealt with, I hope we can instead remember that our borders, economies and cultures are just stories we’ve learned. We can unlearn them. We can adapt them. We can learn new ones: We are one, whether we felt like it before or not; when working together, humanity can solve big problems much more efficiently; the lowest paid and previously overlooked workers are the ones who hold society together, and kept doing so at their own risk during our hour of need; one elderly veteran can unite a country with a kind act and words of hope; just because we’ve always worked in a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s right; our species is a guest here, we need the planet but it does not need us. 

So many people over the last year have sadly had to say goodbye to a loved one as a result of the pandemic. To those people who’ve lost someone or have friends or family who have fallen ill, my thoughts are with you. I believe the best way we can remember and pay tribute to them, is by learning and evolving from this experience as much as possible, by making the most of the privilege we have and using our platform to speak up for the causes we believe in. Instead of this year just being the end of the virus or the end of lockdowns, lets instead make it the start of something bigger and better for us all. 


Opening Up in Lockdown – Day 7 – What’s Next?

Who’s still on board?! A huge thanks to anyone who’s watched a video, clicked a link or got in touch. Some of the private messages I’ve had from people have genuinely brought me to tears! I cannot tell you how much opening up has helped me acknowledge what’s going on and get to a stage where I can do this. At the same time that opening up gives permission and acceptance for others to reach out over that common ground to discuss something difficult for them. And so the cycle goes on if you join in and let it – We rise by lifting others!

If anything in particular has struck a chord with you this week I’d love to hear about it! I knew it would no doubt be overload so as well as everything always being here on my FB on Mental Health Awareness Week 2020, I’ve popped the videos on YouTube too so if you search for Sam Watling Coaching then you will find them and all the supporting links in the video description anytime you might want to go back to them.

Today’s video is mostly about ‘What’s Next’. For me, I know for a fact that I’m blessed and yet I’m not at peace. That confirms to me that for most struggling with their MH it’s not about what we have or don’t have but about meeting a deeper need than that which is what I aim to work on. Oh, and most importantly to be kind! Good luck, and remember I’m always here to discuss any of this more if you’d like to!

Further reading:

I do like a bit of Derren Brown and his book Happy was excellent. Hint… The Stoics were pretty close! Here’s an article on his guide to being ‘happy’. 

Speaking of Stoics, here’s a video on their beliefs. ‘What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole thing calls for tears’. Life is difficult. Expect the worst. Accept that it’s highly likely that whatever happens, it could be worse.

What is Imposter Syndrome, and how do we deal with it?! A great article linking to research, a test and some practical ways to deal with it. You’re not weird and you are certainly not alone, estimates are that 70% of us will feel it at some point in our lives.

I love the rock! His positivity and outlook on life is infectious. The whole interview with Oprah is brilliant but his last few words on gratitude were particularly good. Keep in mind what your anchor is, especially in tough times, what or who is it that reminds you why it’s worth pushing on and hoping for change?

Here’s a lovely article on acceptance and how to apply it!

Treat yourself like someone you love – This is (almost) my last post for the week but I think it wraps things up quite nicely.

Opening Up in Lockdown – Day 6 – What’s Missing?

We all have needs and if they aren’t being fulfilled for whatever reason, it can leave us with a sense that we’re lacking or longing for something, that can creep into every-day life and affect our well-being.

What we need could be as simple as a proper challenge, more exercise or ensuring that more of our actions are aligned with our goals and development. Today’s video is a bit about what’s helped improve things for me along with a couple of simple tools to help us focus on the things most important to us.

If you feel like you’re missing something then where might you focus your efforts to get the right balance back into your life?

Further reading:

Absolutely love the idea of Ikigai! Here’s a great article about a concept we don’t have a word for in our language but which has Japanese people jumping out of bed each morning. It’s the cross section where, what you love to do, what you’re good at, what you can be paid for and what the world needs meet in the middle. Many believe that we all have one and it’s our purpose in life to find it! What might get you jumping out of bed to seize the day?

If you’re a bloke in York and you do Facebook then I’d recommend joining York Menfulness. It’s a genuinely sound group of blokes building a support network where opening up is accepted in all circumstances. It’s free and there’s no obligation to share if you’re not ready so why not? If you know someone who doesn’t do FB then there’s a meet up page which details all the events they run including circuit training and ‘Walk and talks’ please recommend for us – Members are also supported if they’d like to run their own events. This group has really helped give me the boost I needed to accept what’s going on with me and talk about it.

This book by Stephen Covey has been a game changer for many. One of the differences of this to other books on performance is that it focuses on character ethic rather than personality ethic. I.e. Rather than appearing a certain way and hoping for success to follow, instead working on basic principles for effective living to set you up for genuine success. This includes the Circle of Influence and concern which I touch on briefly in today’s video!

I was lucky enough to have some group coaching with Andrea Morrison Coaching and have since followed her facebook page and business group. Andrea has come through some incredible challenges in her life and emerged with calmness and wisdom that feels superhuman but which she now works on sharing with the world! Read more about her coaching and follow her pages here!

It may seem incredibly simple but sometimes having a visual aid can really help define what it is that you want to work on. Choose your own headings for what you consider a full life then go ahead and fill up your slices for where you are at right now. This can help to focus where our goals might be lurking and our growth most needed!

Want to volunteer but not sure where to start? Volunteering gets you closer to your community and achieving shared goals which can genuinely be a life affirming experience. It can also help you up-skill and build your network. York CVS is a social action organisation and supports lots of organisations and volunteers across the city. If you need something different and you’re not sure where to look this is a great starting point!

Today has been about looking for the gaps in our experience where we could be lacking. Don’t ever stop searching for what it is that sparks your passion. Coaching for me has opened my eyes not just to the possibility I can help others but that I can continue to change the narrative for myself and grow in the right direction, despite self-limiting beliefs. I’m excited where this journey is taking me and what else I might uncover. Where is your journey taking you?

Opening up in Lockdown – Day 5 – What are you waiting for?

Does anyone else ever find themselves knowing what they should be working on, but instead end up spending time on less important things? Or sometimes even completely wasting valuable time then berating yourself for it later?!

I’m sure we all procrastinate to some extent, and some of it for good reason! But today will be about how we can try to at least be conscious of how we spend our time and how we might be able to keep on track when we need to. Oh and, of course, eating frogs.

Further reading:

One of the things I kept procrastinating on was ‘dealing’ with my anxiety. Each of us is different so this won’t be for everyone, but if you’re feeling overly anxious and it’s affecting your day to day life then you can self-refer online for CBT here. It can be really effective and is a good stepping stone to taking back some control. If you want any more information about it then please do drop me a private message and I’d be happy to discuss in confidence.

Don’t be afraid to talk about this stuff. You won’t make anything worse or vaporise someone into dust I promise. But you will show someone you care!

An illustrated video summary of Eat That Frog! By Brian Tracy with the useful points. It’s geared up mostly to a role within an organisation but the reality is this works for personal growth too. What are you putting off?! Do the worst first!

Here’s a little more on perfectionism and procrastination as well as some great tips to break the loop including a bit on the Pomodoro technique.

For anyone who fancied a go at using the Eisenhower Matrix – Using either the web app (or apple app if on iphone) you can add your daily tasks into the 4 boxes of importance/urgency. You can re-order them in priority and you can set a 25 minute timer if the Pomodoro Technique is of interest to you.

Today has been about how to ensure we focus our action and thinking on the things we are actually able to influence and are most important to our development. How much time is left over for procrastinating after all that, I suppose depends on how far you’ve set your sights!

Opening Up in Lockdown – Day 4 – What are your goals?

When you coach others it’s almost impossible not to coach yourself. Once I began to ask myself the right questions my progress became less hindered by the opinions of others or the types of scripts we all write for ourselves that can get in the way, it was simply about how best to proceed, despite all those things.

I’m not claiming coaching is a cure for anxiety or any mental health problem for that matter, but what I can be 100% sure of is that it can enable progress despite your mental health and that progress can be a force for positive change in your life.

So tell me, what would you like to work towards and what action could get you that bit closer to it?

Today is going to be about ensuring progress on our goals using one of the most popular coaching models. For those who don’t know much about coaching, the late Sir John Whitmore was basically ‘The Daddy’ and this is what his company has to say about him.

Further reading:

Kindness is the theme of this years Mental Health Awareness Week. Why not plan in some time to be extra kind, to others and, even more importantly, to yourself. This happy website has tons of ideas for where to start if you’re not sure!

‘Are you alright/How are you?’ are possibly the phrases we speak the most to each other, so much so they have become a greeting. They are also among the most powerful questions we can ask another person. To start changing it from a greeting to a meaningful question, ask twice.

Using the SMART method to set some goals is a useful way of giving yourself the best chance of achieving them. While we might dream of the big long term goals, they can seem too distant or scary to approach. Breaking things down to more measurable and achievable tasks can set the ball rolling in the right direction. Don’t forget to write it down. That written contract with yourself means something!

Here’s a nice article on how to stay accountable. I find that the more I write down my goals the more accountable I feel to myself. The more I talk to people about where I want to be the more accountable I feel in general. Some people even post their goals on social media because they find it hard to let followers down. What do you do to stay accountable?

Here’s Glenn Close standing up with some brave, honest people talking about how the stigma around Mental Health has affected their lives.

Don’t forget to believe in yourself! Once upon a time we believed in ourselves and in everyone else wholeheartedly, just like this incredible kid! I’m slowly but surely getting that back in my life and it feels right – Thumbs up everybody, FOR ROCK AND ROLL!

Jack Woodhams  from the incredible York Menfulness group has written this brilliant poem about the importance of talking!

Today has been about progress and growth. Whitmore believed, and I can’t disagree, that to truly coach people you have to believe in their capacity for growth and look forward into what drives them to achieving it, rather than just looking back over where they may have ‘failed’ previously. This is undoubtedly and infinitely more important when it comes to coaching yourself.

Opening Up in Lockdown – Day 3 – What are you not saying?

Today I go a bit deeper into what’s been going on with me, how my anxiety seems to have developed from a more long-standing imposter syndrome as well as a useful tool that’s helped me gain some self-awareness. This has not only been pivotal in helping me start to take ownership over what’s going on with me, it’s incredibly useful for helping us own our positive traits and abilities too!

What feedback are you not using to your advantage and what are you not telling the world that might be holding you back?

Further reading:

Check out Action For Happiness and try their 10 day challenge and watch some great videos of how other people are trying to take positive action towards a happier life.

I’ve had a couple of people message me about trying my little task at the end of yesterday’s video – THANK YOU! I know it’s tough right now with all the restrictions but it’s as important as ever to reach out and be kind. Giving credit where it’s due might be just what a person needs to focus on the good things about themselves! 👍

No photo description available.

Can you remember what is was like in school? I can’t remember much of it but I do know I spent a lot of time trying to fit in. Can you imagine if we didn’t feel the need to conform and all felt able to talk about stuff right from the start – Can we encourage the next generation to be more like this ‘Stand Up Kid’.

Here’s a little visual of the Johari window for anyone interested. The idea is to keep growing our open window to become more aware of ourselves. To try and move what we can from our hidden window, and get feedback on some of the things in our blind window, in order to be able to grow and become more self aware and authentic. Remember this does not necessarily need to be the big stuff!

Tell me, what are you good at that you don’t talk about? What have you always wanted to try?! Make it real!

During today’s video you might have noticed me check my language when I said ‘I don’t take criticism well’. Definitive language can direct our thinking.

The book ‘Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes’ helped to solidify this for me. As well as a fascinating story about an Amazonian tribe largely walled off from any other civilisation, it’s a great reminder about the importance of language in our experience of life and how we see ourselves in it. With no words for ‘worry’, no numbers or grammar as we know it, the Piraha people live for the moment in the only way they know how and are found to be inherently ‘happy’/content.

It fascinated me that we’ve come to accept language as something simply to communicate our thinking to others rather than something that can actually govern our thinking. Definitive language is something we all use, but when you define yourself as ‘a terrible cook’ rather than someone who ‘needs more practice’ what doors do you close for yourself?

The book is hard going but worth the pay off if you have time – Here’s a summary if you don’t!

Here’s a fab little article on Imposter Syndrome and 6 ways to start fighting back TODAY!

Big changes, good or bad, can bring about cognitive dissonance especially if it involves uncertainty or letting go of something important to us. This is a wonderfully written article about why it happens and how we can work on coping strategies.

A bit more information about what CBT actually is and how it can be used to help focus on handling unwanted anxious feelings.

Winston Churchill used to refer to his depression as a black dog. This video from the WHO organisation is useful to try and illustrate what living with depression might be like so we can all be more aware and try to be compassionate.

Toxic shame is a fairly modern term for an age old problem. This article has some insight into where it can come from and some of the ways it can manifest in later life.

Today has been, not just about recognising your vulnerability, but your potential too. This quote reminds me, when I’m caught up in one of those unhelpful scripts about myself, that it will pass and allow me to think from a different level about the situation.

It’s also an insight into the idea that we must sometimes go to those deeper levels to try and solve a problem for ourselves. An analogy might be that you find yourself sitting in a cold room. While you could shiver and hope to warm up eventually, the next level of thinking might be to search for the thermostat. Perhaps the level further may be to try and learn the skills to fix the heating system or deeper still to accept that it’s finally time to ask for some help and there is no shame whatsoever in that.