“Sooner or later, your legs give way, you hit the ground,
Save it for later, don’t run away and let me down,
Sooner or later, you’ll hit the deck you’ll get found out”
I’m not much of a shopper, Christmas or otherwise, so the cacophony of Oxford Street tends to evoke more confusion than consumerism. But I’m settling into a deep sense of appreciation for the ‘other side’ of our festive season, the part which forgets the noise and consumption, and quietly attends to family, friendship, community and simple comfort.
It’s been quite a year; regular readers of this blog will know that it was mid-summer when my legs gave way and I hit the ground.
And it wasn’t the shopping that did it.
Success, transition, grief, workload, stress and sheer, bone-deep exhaustion eventually found me out.
My body just stopped working. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think.
But these days, I’m OK; living, working, and being somewhat differently. Burnout, breakdown, depressive illness (whatever you want to call it) is a great teacher and now, six months later, I’m actually full of appreciation for the experience.
Over the year, I’ve gratefully (re)learned some important and familiar lessons:
Everyone is struggling with something. Even though we might lead ridiculously privileged, western, educated lives, we all have shadows. And, despite the ‘hacks’ and ‘hero’ hype, if you think you are relentlessly strong, resilient and indestructible in the face of adversity, that’s probably your problem.
Burnout is more common than you think. As I spoke, wrote and photographed my way to recovery, I was overwhelmed by the hundreds that stopped by to tell me their own similar stories, and the thousands that took time to read my blogs. Evidently, I was not alone. We could do with talking about mental health issues a little more; they are becoming increasingly prominent, and the associated stigma and fear simply get in the way.
People will help you. Not for the first time my life I’ve found that sincere friendship and valuable help can appear seemingly out of thin air. Previous acquaintances have become deeply valued friends, colleagues and work buddies feel like family as my sense of community has shifted. In fact, just about anyone who has suffered similarly will empathise and reach out.
Recovery is not straight forward. But it will happen. And your life can change.
As I’ve gained resourcefulness, I’ve found further balance in simplification and focus. I’m continually decluttering my diary, office, wardrobe, IT, work arrangements and life choices. I walk more lightly now.
I’ve realised that the never ending demands of ‘small w’ work are an easy, often lucrative but unworthy distraction. Instead, I’m finding ways to focus on the challenge of ‘big W’ Work; bringing my creativity to offer simple witness and connection in a world where we each desperately need to be seen and appreciated. I will be using my photography and film to coach, consult and help folk, at home or work, show up in their authenticity, vulnerability and strength as they face into uncertainty and change. And I need to be careful; that probably includes most of us…
So, as Christmas calls, I will be using the quiet time to reflect on the year. We are past the solstice and, as the days get longer, I will be concentrating on family and friends, a healthy lifestyle, creative work, learning and helping out wherever I can.
Finally, to everyone who has dropped in over the year to say ‘hello’; Thank You.
You know who you are and you have made an incredible difference.
You are appreciated.
For all the bad press the NHS gets, I have to say that, in my case, they were brilliant. Start with your GP and take it from there…
‘Depressive Illness ~ The Curse of the Strong’ by Dr Tim Cantopher is worth the read. It even has some key instructions if you can’t find the energy to manage the whole (fairly short) book.
Pretty much anything by Parker Palmer will be helpful. I found ‘Let Your Life Speak ~ listening for the voice of vocation’ incredibly valuable.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working alongside Nic Askew, developing my film craft, and I’ve been newly inspired by the life and work of photographer Sebastião Salgardo (have a look at Genesis) whose captivating TED talk is here.