My first blog for a month. A number of lovely people have been in touch to check if I am ok. They know that going quiet can be a bad sign with me.
The reasons for my recent radio silence are several. I admit that I have had one or two days of lower than optimum mood. Nothing terrible, just feeling a bit bleurgh. This came as no surprise; my mood tends to reflect the lack of daylight at the start of the year. As usual, I am perking up with the lengthening of days.
I have also been busy. Family stuff, domestic projects, volunteering and my coaching work.
As a coach, it is important that I practise what I preach, and develop non-preferred ways of thinking, doing and being. By nature I am an extraverted thinker; I tend to work things out by writing about them or talking them through. What comes naturally to an introverted thinker, ie working out ideas fully before expressing them, takes considerable concentration and effort on my part. But I can do it when I need to. And I have felt that need recently.
Something I have been pondering is the personal cost of sharing, specifically in relation to the book I have written. It is a memoir of my NHS career as a leader, including a how-not-to-do-it guide plus a bit of polemic about the future. The style is similar to many of my blogs. It is ready to be published this year. But I have been wavering. What added value might publication bring? Maybe the benefit was in the writing of it? Some may find the stories of interest and the lessons useful. But there will also be criticism and negative comments about difficult stuff from the past. Can I face this? Do I need it? I grow increasingly unsure. Thoughts on a postcard please…
I have also been thinking about the nature of mental illness, and how some of us are prone to it while others seem to have greater immunity. I tend to agree with those who say that that there are few people, if any, who, faced with enough mental trauma, would not crack under the strain. Some of us simply experience mental distress more readily than our fellow humans.
But despite all the evidence about the impact of genetics, other inherited traits, early experiences of trauma and loss, plus environmental factors, to have a tendency to experience mental illness is still seen by some as an indulgence, a weakness, even a personality flaw.
Those who, despite all that has come their way, have learned to tame their mental health, are heroes in my opinion. They should be admired for their assets, not pitied or shunned for their deficits. Many are the kind of people you would most want to be stuck on a desert island with. They are kind, resourceful and patient, and often less prone to judge others than those at whom life has thrown less excreta.
I have also been thinking how lucky I am. When I was last off sick with depression (from my old job as an NHS chief executive), I didn’t want to be alive. But I wasn’t worrying about paying the bills, losing my job or being made homeless. A few nameless folk were judgemental, but the ones who mattered most were hugely supportive. I got excellent treatment when I needed it from a wonderful psychiatrist and GP. When I was ready, I had the wherewithal to pay for psychological therapy. And as I got better, I didn’t have to waste precious emotional resources fighting a hostile benefits system. Nor did I find myself in accommodation where I felt unsafe, or removed from a caseload because I no longer met their treatment criteria. And I had no fears of deportation or having to hide from an abusive partner, people traffickers, drug dealers, pimps or lone sharks.
It is true that mental illness can happen to anyone. If we can find the strength, most of us can do something to help ourselves. But people who are lucky like me have many times more chance of a meaningful recovery and successful management of relapses than those who have been dealt a less favourable hand.
It was always so. And as austerity sinks its vicious fangs ever deeper into public services, it is those who already have the least who are most negatively affected. Instead of achieving their optimum, they are diminished and disabled, not necessarily by the condition itself, but by the need to fight battles every day, the lack of immediate and ongoing support, and by not having all the other things people like me take for granted.
And that is why I have been quiet. I have been thinking about this a lot. I am privileged in so many ways, including having a voice. And I feel I have a responsibility to make use of it.