Thoughts: Mental Health and Wellbeing

Ok. We need to talk. I know I’m strong and resilient. I also know that I am severely impacted by the events of 2020 and now.

I know that most people are also impacted, and many people are simply unaware that they are impacted.

I work in a business that provides mental health support. I talk to people everyday about how to support their people, so I’m acutely aware of the world and also acutely aware of self.

I am not quite right. And this is Ok. It’s important to acknowledge. It’s important to be able to talk about it.

I’ve noticed a few things that are subtly dictating my behavior and how I interact.

I am struggling with going ‘out’. I can’t do crowds at the moment. For example, I lasted an hour at the Sky City 90’s party last week. The crowds sucked, Annie Crummer was cool. She’s still got it. Go Annie!

I have increased frustration with my friends. Plans made get cancelled or rainchecked at the last minute so there’s no time to make new plans. Therefore I end up staying home. I can’t take myself out solo to see the Viaduct. Side note: What the hell does one do solo in the Viaduct anyway? Especially when one struggles to interact. (NZ culture looks at single, middle-aged white men out and about with a certain unhelpful filter).

My self-diagnosis (note: I’m NOT a clinically trained professional) would suggest I’m not depressed. My day-to-day is fine. I’m not anxious. I’m just not that interested in being in the world.

I do have friends that care. I could have seen Russell Howard tonight (for example) but the idea of being in a closed room full of strangers? Nope. Couldn’t do it.

I’ve been invited to watch the SuperBowl on Monday with an American colleague. Would love to. But there are strangers there. I don’t have the energy. So I’ll stay home, make chilli and drink Budweiser, and watch it alone.

My tolerance levels have reduced. I get grumpy with friends who tell me about their fun evenings out (having not invited me) with people they’ve told me about, introduced me to, and then actively prevented me from getting to know. And then when I point this out I get ghosted for a week. So that’s cool.

It’s not all a self-involved whine though. Tomorrow will be a good day. I’m going to have fun with a new group of friends. And I’m actively forcing myself to lower my guards. Be open to new connections.

Mental health is a weird beast to manage. As we all have varying levels of physical fitness, we have varying levels of mental fitness.

The key for me is to recognise that I’m not 100%, to focus on what I can manage and improve, and to be kind to myself about the rest.

Oh… and happy Waitangi Day fellow Kiwis!

Thoughts: What the fuck is wrong with me?

Ok people. This one is a bit raw.

Some of you may be aware that I work in a business that provides support to people dealing with various life challenges. My role is fairly frontline – I help and guide managers and business owners dealing with some fairly tough situations within their staff.

(Side note: business managers and owners care deeply for their staff. They’re not dicks)

I’ve never finished a work year so utterly broken and empty. 2020 was a bitch. And we all need to be aware that 2021 will be challenging as there are lingering effects. Don’t be complacent. Don’t stop caring for each other.

This year started. I was prepared to resign. You know, brokenness, emptiness… not a good way to start a year. Actually, it took me ten days in the break before I was able to actually have a normal human interaction with another person. God, I have been so impacted.

However, as the company I work for was acquired in December, things are changed. My conversations with new GM, new CEO, give me optimism.

I’ve noted today that I’m feeling happy.

It’s not a feeling I’ve had for many many months.

As I write this, I’m optimistic. Honestly I’ve become a bit of a recluse… avoiding people where those catch-ups would probably have been helpful. I’m now forcing myself to go ‘out’ because I’ve realised that in the last two months I’ve only been out of my apartment past 7pm only a few times. Not ideal.

So, I guess to all you readers, feel free to challenge me. Get me out.

Thoughts: And 2020 is done

It’s done.

Looking back, I have to say that I have learned much about myself this year. I’ve had to dig deep – deeper than ever before. I understand my strength, my resilience. My vulnerabilities.

It has been a year where the sources of support I’d usually expect to be able to draw from were reduced or absent. It’s been a year where I finished utterly broken.

I’d love to venture into more detail about my work but that really isn’t a great idea. I can however say that in 8 days of recovery I’ve gotten from 0% to about 50% of where I need to be.

This has been a year of some significant milestones and achievements, and whilst I do take time to pause and reflect on these, my residual energy levels aren’t yet high enough to properly enjoy these moments. These accomplishments.

This year, my Christmas celebrations were muted. A few hours with my teenagers was great, but unusually for me – no decorations. No excitement. No anticipation. Nothing really to look forward to. Plans fell through. And so I’m doing everything I can to rest up and recharge. I’m doing everything I can to clear my head and my more importantly, my dreams. I have been replaying and revisiting work conversations which isn’t helpful. I can report that with the acquisition of a new pillow, my rest last night was full. No work dreaming.

I will be ok (I’m very self-aware) but it’s taking a lot longer to recover than the few days I thought it would take. Which highlights how much care I need to take.

So, what am I doing?

Focusing on gratitude is key for me.

I’m grateful for my few close friends who kept a watchful eye on me who this year. I’m grateful for my colleagues who checked in on me – and I checked on them. The mutual support has been so so important and so very good.

I’m grateful for the new people that I’ve met this year. I’ve noticed that people in my circle have slowly exited – through isolation, busy-ness and distraction mostly – so I’ve had to breathe and start again. It really is quite tiring getting to know people enough to trust them with ‘Simon-world’… but to those I’ve let in, thank you. Thank you. My guards are coming down slowly and you have helped me immeasurably.

I’m grateful that this year I’ve developed some better habits: regular walks, smaller portions. I cancelled my gym membership (after 18 months of only using their bathrooms). Perhaps 2021 will see a re-motivation… but knowing me it’s unlikely. Gyms really aren’t my natural environment.

I’m grateful that I’ve ticked quite a few things off my various life to-do lists.

I’m grateful that my teenagers have thrived and are succeeding. It’s good to see them happy.

Continuing the family theme, watching my adoptive parents having to deal with enforced change due to age in the last few months has been draining and impactful, but seeing their grace and dignity through these challenges is also inspiring. I do need to acknowledge the effort my sister has put in to help them through. She has definitely gone above and beyond. Being able to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary a week or so ago was great.

Seeing this makes me appreciate the time I have.

So here’s to the New Year. The trick is to recognise that it’s pretty much going to be more of the same. So I’m planning accordingly. I will continue to tick things off my lists. I will re-open myself. I will continue to explore. Explore nature, explore food, explore New Zealand. I will continue to Dad.

Thoughts: Level 1 and Back in the Office

Ugh. Grown-up clothes…

Goodness. I’ve just finished my 7th work day back in the office.

It’s been strange. Whilst it has been good reconnecting with my people (note: our work lives are incredibly important for our purpose and mental health), I’ve found myself still needing to create space.

So I go home for lunch. I’m lucky in that I live a 1 minute walk from the office. I’m sure it would be fine eating in the office but I just need the space.

I’ve enjoyed starting to reconnect with customers. Having meetings offsite. Driving around again. The fact is, we are really busy right now and the mental health of our ‘team of five million is frayed’. Supporting my customers to look after their teams amidst making some challenging calls is draining.

I’m very conscious of the need to protect my own health.

How have you all found things? Happy to chat if you need. Be kind to yourself and each other. Be tolerant.

^sd

Thoughts: Isolation 2020 – 13

I think this will be my last reckons on isolation. We are now at level 2 so things are a bit more relaxed.

It’s been hard. The last 7 weeks or so.

My day job is in mental health and wellbeing. Every day I have had conversations with managers and business owners. Hearing their stories. Their pain. Their concerns and worries. Talking to people with their voices full of emotion. Full of tears.

My problem has been that I have been giving of me. Pouring out my emotional tank to encourage others. The lockdown has prevented me from actively refilling it and by the time Level 3 ended, I was spent. Drained.

I can honestly say that I have been impacted by my isolation.

Thursday night I made an attempt to go ‘out’. I made it as far as buying food (ya gotta support local) and then dashing home.

Friday night I went to a ‘welcome back’ gathering at a fave place. It was actually really good. Met some people. Got a hug. The first physical contact with a human being since March 23rd. It was sooooo very good.

I only managed 90 minutes.

Reintegration to society and people contact will take time. As strong as I am. As resilient as I am, I’ve been impacted.

And I know that every single person in this country has been impacted.

We need to be aware of each other. And kind. And tolerant. We are not going to be reacting to things normally for quite some time.

When you talk, listen. Hear the underlying story if you can. And just care. And love.

So, here’s to us. We now have a tale to tell our grandkids in a few decades hence. Be strong and be vulnerable. Allow yourself time to heal. You will.

As I will.

Thoughts – Isolation 2020 – 12

I’ve run out of words.

The days are blurring in to each other.

I’m now surprised when I learn that the weekend has started.

I still find weekends tough going.

I get my long walks in – I am aiming for 10k steps on Saturday and Sunday, and I’m achieving this. So that’s good.

Apart from that it’s the same. Wake, chores, read, watch TV, and wait. Wait?

Yep, I’m waiting for an appropriate time to go to bed. God I’m bored.

On the plus side I’ve been able to plan my future obsession with Le Creuset cookware. So that’s something to look forward to.

How are you all doing?

Stay kind. Stay safe. Stay home. Level 3 is still lockdown. Ask the Minister of Health about that if you have interpretation questions.

^SD

Thoughts: Isolation 2020 – 11

Yep. It’s official.

Weekends are the worst.

I’m absolutely fine during the week. I have my work routines and tasks. I’m having good energy meetings and phone calls, and feel like I’m helping people.

But then get to the weekend, and I am finding it incredibly difficult to distract myself from focusing on the fact that the last human contact I have had was a month ago. A handshake.

I miss handshakes. And hugs.

On the plus side, I’m better at calling people for a chat. Video-calling people to see faces. I’ve had some fun and interesting conversations.

It’s really hard reprogramming yourself. Reprogramming behaviours, expectations. Switching from drawing energy from connection with people to drawing it from connection with solitude. I’m fortunate in that I seem to be able to move from extroversion to introversion when needed.

But it’s not easy.

It will be interesting to see what the Level announcement will be today. I suspect it will be staying the same until after Anzac Day. Mainly because people are starting to relax their lockdown behaviour in Level 4, and a move to Level 3 will trigger more behaviour that is contrary to the spirit of New Zealand’s response: Stay at home. Stay local. Don’t drive anywhere.

I could be wrong though.

At any rate, Level 4, Level 3 makes no difference to my bubble-of-one. So what will be will be.

I hope you’re all doing ok.

Be kind to each other. Wash your hands.

^SD

Thoughts: Isolation 2020 – 10

For those that aren’t in New Zealand, we shut down from (including) Good Friday through to Easter Monday. It’s traditionally the last significant long holiday weekend and marks the entry in to Autumn and Winter.

Easter is the last opportunity to travel, camp, relax and reflect with friends and family. And this year, that opportunity was lost.

Easter Sunday was the hardest day for me so far, psychologically speaking.

I woke at the usual time. Made my bed. Went for a decent walk around Auckland city. Saw the people out and about, exercising, spending time with loved ones.

And I remembered that I was alone. Doing this lockdown, alone.

I’ve been so good in my isolation up until Sunday. My resilience has been evident and I’m drawing strength from the sources that are available to me. Until Sunday.

None of my usual go-to’s were working. The books I’m reading didn’t interest me. The Netflix documentaries that usually educate and inspire, bored me halfway through. The movies I love made me yawn.

This wasn’t a good sign.

I wasn’t even in the mood to chat, to message, to communicate.

Bedtime couldn’t come soon enough.

And today, Monday, I’m back to normal. Woke up. Made the bed. Cleaned. Did laundry. Played some PlayStation. Watched some Netflix.

It is like yesterday never happened.

On reflection, I have missed connection and intimacy this weekend, but I’ve come through the other side quickly. I have shifted my focus.

There will be an end to this lockdown. Covid-19 will be either contained or will become a part of global life. Things will return to a semblance of normality. There is HOPE.

And hope is what gets me through. Those of you who are close to me know that I’ve had three years of challenges, and that season of challenge ends in May. So my hope-focus is all about what next. Where will I be travelling to (and yes, I will be travelling)? How is my next life stage going to be framed? I’m desperate to explore cultures I’m not familiar with. Desperate to explore their food and learn their histories. (And yes, I’m watching ALL the Netflix food shows).

Where there is hope, there is also anticipation. There are the little things, as well as the big things that I am looking forward to.

I’m looking forward to being able to invest in a Weber kettle BBQ. I want to learn/understand low/slow cooking with charcoal.

I am looking forward to being comfortable having guests over for a meal. Well, I just need to buy three more dining chairs, but I have a plan in place for that.

Actually I have a plan in place for many and most things. Which is why I’m just waiting.

I have learned over the last three years to utterly let go of the things that I can’t control and pour focus and planning in to the things I can control. To line things up so when the time is right, I can press go.

Sunday? It’s in the past.

Sunday was a gentle reminder that I need to ensure I pay enough attention to my own care and well-being.

Make sure you do the same.

Love to you all.

^SD

Thoughts: Isolation 2020 – 9

So, a few days ago (weeks? I have no idea… I’m really losing track of time), I was challenged on Twitter to make Beef Fudge. Someone had found a recipe that (I believe) originated in 1960’s Montana.

Challenge Accepted.

Note: I’ve reached that point in lockdown/isolation where I’ll do many things to amuse myself.

First I needed to obtain the roast beef required. I have to say, I’ve eaten well this week. This roast has a mustard and pepper rub in case you were wondering. It worked really well!

The recipe also gave me the opportunity to use some kitchen equipment I acquired a couple of years back when I was dabbling in learning the craft of sausage-making. Also, I have a lot more to learn in the craft of sausage-making. But that’s for another time.

Marshmallow Cream isn’t readily available in NZ (unless you go to places like Martha’s Backyard close by). I made a substitute by melting a pack of marshmallows (put them in a mixing bowl, above a pot of boiling water) and adding 2tbsp of syrup. You’d usually use corn syrup but golden syrup works also.

The end result? Actually surprisingly good. It’s fudge, and it’s not the abomination I thought it might be. Of course, this recipe and resulting product reminds me precisely why I don’t do baking. It’s lethal for those wanting to lose weight.

Thoughts: Isolation 2020 – 8

I decided for this one I’d focus on the things I am looking forward to (as opposed to focusing on the things I’m missing out on). Please note the positive framing.

In-sink-erator – Oh. This is a biggie. On day 1 of lockdown mine stopped. It hums. I know I can fix it, but do I have the tools? No I do not. They are in storage – a non-essential business. So… no mulching food waste for me. When life is less restrained I will be delighted to be able to correct this enormous inconvenience.

BBQ – I have plans for a Weber charcoal BBQ. Good plans. And it’s on my ‘to-buy’ list. And has been for some time. I was just about to push ‘go’ and then… So after lockdown I am really looking forward to exploring the joy of slow-cooked charcoal-heated meaty joy.

Long drives and walks – I have grown to like these. Being able to drive a distance to places around Auckland I’ve not been to and getting out to see what I can see. To enjoy nature, and to get to understand this place in which I live. Soon. Normality will come back. Soon. Company on such walks always welcomed. Call me.

Teenagers – Mine are largely ambivalent. For them it’s been life as usual albeit without the usual demands on their time around music practice and church commitments. I have to admit that I am rather looking forward to seeing them again. In all their hairy, smelly, teenagery goodness.

Work colleagues – Oh do I have to? Fine. I’m missing my colleagues. It turns out that I’m the annoying guy in the office that checks in on everyone and tries to bring joy. I am really looking forward to that collegial interaction. Professional with some, extremely rude with others. I can’t wait!

Physical touch – All I’m going to say is that there is only so much self-touch one can indulge in without going a bit odd.

A note on gratitude: I have found that for me, whenever the world around me spins out of my control, it’s important to centre. To focus on only that which I can control. Which, of course, may be only focusing on controlling how I react and respond to what is going on.

I’m grateful for this time in isolation. I’ve reflected that I have come a long way in the last three years. The challenges I’ve faced have prepared me perfectly for this current climate.

I’m doing ok.

I hope you are also.

As always, if you need to talk let me know – I’m here.

^SD