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Tag: mental health

Rules to live by

I have a number of things printed out and blu-tacked to the back of my home office door. The most recent addition has been a four-point list entitled ‘Rules to live by’.

  1. Avoidance is rarely the correct option
  2. Transparency is the best policy
  3. Perfect is the enemy of done
  4. Listen to what people actually say

This list came out of the CBT sessions I’ve been attending since last September. A combination of things made me realise I needed some help:

  • Death of a good friend
  • Stressful situation at work
  • Burden of volunteer responsibilities

As I’m sure most people say after going through therapy, it’s something I should have done years ago. Not because I’m weird, broken, or had anything other than a happy childhood. Just because as I approach middle-age, it’s good to be able to jettison some mental baggage and ways of thinking that aren’t helpful.

The list seems simple, but follows some fairly deep excavations into the reasons why I act the way I do, and the causes of anxiety flare-ups. The four points are my response to a prompt by my therapist to think first of all of the implicit rules I’m teaching my kids, and then writing down explicitly the rules I’d want them to live by instead.

My 10th therapy session is on Friday afternoon. After that, we’ll be moving to maintenance sessions every few months. I’m spending my own money on this, because the NHS had too much of a backlog. I realise I’m in a privileged position to be able to spend money on my mental health, but it’s definitely been money very well spent. The sessions have made a tangible (and hopefully long-lasting) effect on my life.

If you’re reading this and dealing with some stuff, I’d highly recommend a course of CBT. That’s especially true if you already think you should have the tools / strength to deal with it by yourself. Therapy has made me a better person.


This post is Day 12 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com

Slow down or I’ll do it for you

A couple of years ago I wrote a post entitled Where migraines end and I begin:

It’s difficult to explain what it’s like to have a migraine to someone who has never had one. They’re whole-body experiences and, although people often point to the crushing headaches, it’s actually impossible to separate them out as a distinct ‘event’. They come at you like waves, gentle at first, but increasing in ferocity.

A migraine, I’ve learned, is my body’s way of telling me to take my foot off the accelerator pedal. Otherwise, it quietly threatens, it will apply the handbrake no matter how fast I’m going.

I’ve come to know the warning signs: chewing my fingernails, loss of muscle tone, mood swings. These signs usually happen 24-36 hours before. And depending on how I respond, the migraine can be relatively mild, not much more than a persistent headache that painkillers can’t shift, or it can be cataclysmic.


I pride myself on my speed of work, with a lot of this down to the singular focus I can maintain when standing or sitting at the desk in my home office. For example, I can count on the fingers of one hand the times over the last year when I’ve been working at less than 95%.

But this comes at a cost, and yesterday, after the Moodle drama, the pandemic, a local planning application I’m helping organise against, and the daily grind of seeing no-one other than your close family, my body decided I could do with some time out.

So last night I slept and wrote and slept and wrote and read. Then this morning, after a single meeting with my webcam turned off, I went to the beach for a couple of hours without my family. I’m feeling a lot better.


So my conclusion to all this? Well I guess it’s the platitudinous exhortation to ‘self-care’. You and you only know your limits, how you feel, and what’s a priority at any given moment. Ensure your life mask is in place before helping others.


This post is day five of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com


Header image by Ryan Johnston of the covered bridge going over to Glasgow Exhibition Centre. I’ve crossed this many times going to and from the Scottish Learning Festival.

World Mental Health Day: my story

Note: This is a slightly modified version of a post I made to the Moodle HQ forum earlier today as part of our Wellbeing Week.


According to Heads Up, an Australian organisation focused on mental health at work, there are nine attributes of a healthy workplace:

  1. Prioritising mental health
  2. Trusting, fair & respectful culture
  3. Open & honest leadership
  4. Good job
  5. Workload management
  6. Employee development
  7. Inclusion & influence
  8. Work/Life balance
  9. Mental health support

Just over a decade ago, I burned myself out while teaching, spending a few weeks signed off work and on antidepressants. It was undoubtedly the lowest point of my life. The experience has made me realise how fragile mental health can be, as other members of staff were struggling too. Ultimately, it was our workplace environment that was to blame, not individual human failings.

These days, I’m pleased to say that, most of the time everything is fine. Just like anyone who identifies strongly with the work they’re doing, it can be difficult to put into practice wisdom such as “prioritising family” and “putting health first”. Good places to work, however, encourage you to do this, which is part of what Wellbeing Week at Moodle is all about.

Currently, I work remotely for Moodle four days per week. I travel regularly, but have been based from home in various roles for the past six years. While others might find it lonely, boring, or too quiet, I find that, overall, it suits my temperament.

When I worked in offices and classrooms, I had an idea of remote working that was completely different from the reality of it. Being based in somewhere other than your colleagues can be stressful, as an article on Hacker Noon makes very clear. I haven’t experienced all of the following issues listed in the article, but I know people who have.

  • Dehumanisation: “communication tends to stick to structured channels”
  • Interruptions and multitasking: “being responsive on the chat accomplishes the same as being on time at work in an office: it gives an image of reliability”
  • Overworking: “this all amounts for me to the question of trust: your employer trusted you a lot, allowing you to work on your own terms , and in exchange, I have always felt compelled to actually work a lot more than if I was in an office.”
  • Being a stay at home dad: “When you spend a good part of your time at home, your family sees you as more available than they should.”
  • Loneliness: “I do enjoy being alone quite a lot, but even for me, after two weeks of only seeing colleagues through my screen, and then my family at night, I end up feeling quite sad. I miss feeling integrated in a community of pairs.”
  • Deciding where to work every day: “not knowing where I will be working everyday, and having to think about which hardware I need to take with me”
  • You never leave ‘work’: “working at home does not leave you time to cool off while coming back home from work”
  • Career risk: “working remotely makes you less visible in your company”

Wherever you spend the majority of your time, the physical environment only goes so far. That’s why the work the Culture Champs are doing at Moodle HQ is so important. Feeling supported to do a manageable job in a trusting and respectful culture is something independent of where your chair happens to be located.

So, I’d like to encourage everyone reading this to open up about your mental health. Talk about it with your family and friends, of course, but also to your colleagues. How are you feeling?


Image by Johan Blomström used under a Creative Commons license

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