Open Thinkering


Tag: mental health

All aboard the U-shaped curve

Part of the reason I’ve got a blog is to document my life and to share those details with other people. For example, I’ve had at least three people who have mentioned how writing about dealing with the death of a friend, going through therapy, and dealing with anxiety issues prompted them to seek assistance.

A chart entitled 'The shape of happiness' showing a U-shaped curve when self-reported happiness is plotted against age across different countries.

A glance at this blog’s archives shows that this time of year absolutely batters me. I’m not sure if it’s the nights closing in, the change of seasons, the run up to Christmas, or lingering PTSD (Post Teaching Stress Disorder) but October really sucks for me. In addition, we’re about to move house, and I haven’t quite got enough work on at the moment.

One of the things that I learned in therapy was that, behind everything else, I’ve essentially got some self-esteem issues. As my therapist showed me on a whiteboard several times, I get stuck in a loop of not thinking I’m “good enough”. Hence wearing a ‘mask’ of being successful, in a professional and academic sense. And in addition to people thinking I’m good at things, I also have a need for people to think I’m a morally good person.

All of this coalesces into quite a large metaphorical stick with which to hit myself over the head when things aren’t going so well. But finding solace in my academic credentials or professional achievements doesn’t actually solve the problem. It’s a temporary salve rather than a long-term fix. What actually helps is to remind myself that I’m not playing the same game as everyone else: my role isn’t to cosplay a successful middle-aged executive from the Home Counties.

I guess part of the problem is that it feels very much like I’ve lost my tribe. Enough pixels have been wasted with people typing eulogies for the death of Twitter, but that platform made a huge difference to my life. My career and life path has had twists and turns, but the network I built up now seems scattered to the winds. I made IRL friends via Twitter, some of whom I’m still in touch with. The trouble is that it feels like there are conversations that are happening in which I’d be really interested (and to which I could contribute!) but I don’t know where they are.

It’s not just me. I’ve heard others complain about the decline in decent online discussion and debate. I’ve seen people being laid off and freelancers wondering where the work has gone. I know plenty of people with mental health issues.

They say that your early forties are some of the worst years of your life from the point of view of happiness (see that chart at the top of this post!) Things apparently improve from here on out. I’m not depressed, and I can deal with my anxiety levels. I’m just a bit disillusioned. Let’s hope my upcoming MSc helps mix things up a bit.

Image: World Economic Forum

Who are you without the doing?

A podcast I listened to recently took the structure of a Q&A hosted by Jocelyn K. Glei. The theme was ‘tender discipline’ and another episode was referenced where she asks the question someone once asked her: who are you without the doing?

Earlier this week, I wrote a personal email to my wife for the first time in a long time. While we live together and are in constant communication either verbally or via a Telegram backchannel, sometimes things (kids, events, stuff) get in the way of having important conversations.

I kept the email short, saying that I’ve been talking for years about taking December off work. I told her that I’m done with 2020, that I don’t want to put any more energy into this year of all years.

As a result, we’ve worked out that Team Belshaw will be OK if I finish up my work next week and take three weeks off to stop… doing. That’s such a relief! I’ve spent the last couple of days checking with others that my gently downing tools won’t affect them too much.

The funny thing is that I’ll probably still end up doing things that look a bit like ‘work’. I’ll no doubt still head over to my office to do some writing. There’s a bunch of work-related reading I want to do. I’ll probably occasionally check in on the multiple Slack instances of which I’m a member. But mainly I’ll walk and think and just be.

I need to recharge, and realise that I’m privileged to be able to decide when to pick up and put down my work. Nevertheless, effective care for others starts with caring for ourselves. So I’m looking forward to spending more time with myself without the… doing.

This post is Day 71 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

Are you OK?

I wanted to share a couple of things that I found via Jason Kottke. The first is this infographic made for healthcare workers in Colorado:.

Infographic with column ranging from green ('Thriving') through to red ("In Crisis ")

The reason I think this is helpful is that it’s sometimes difficult to spot in yourself and others when things start slipping from “Surviving” to “Struggling”.

If you do find that someone you know needs some help, Kottke links to an article published by Kathryn Gordon this time last year entitled How to help a friend through a tough time, according to a clinical psychologist.

She points out how difficult it can be to help others if you haven’t been thought what they’re suffering:

When we are not equipped to support loved ones through a hard time, our discomfort can compel us to point out a bright side or offer a simple solution, which may come across as dismissive. Sometimes, my patients say they walk away feeling judged or burdensome. While putting ourselves in other people’s shoes and treating people how we want to be treated are generally useful principles, they are not always the most effective ways to cultivate compassion. It is hard to imagine being in a situation that you have not actually been in, and people differ in what they find comforting.

Gordon goes on to give five pieces of advice:

  1. Ask them how they are feeling. Then, listen non-judgmentally to their response.
  2. Show them that you want to understand and express sympathy.
  3. Ask how you can support them and resist jumping in to problem-solve.
  4. Check in to see if they are suicidal.
  5. Reassure them, realistically.

I found these resources really useful, so thanks to Kottke for sharing them. I hope by re-sharing these resources here means they reach a few people who otherwise wouldn’t have seen them.

This post is Day 69 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at