Covid and the lockdown, having the kids at home, being unable to get to workplaces to do any of my coaching has meant that I’ve had to take stock of what I’m doing. I’ve really had to understand the whys and wherefores of where I’m at, what work means to me and how I want to move forwards. So, I’ve been doing online training and reading about coaching, and co-coaching and having supervision and receiving coaching myself. In one of the webinars I’ve watched, I was asked to do a little exercise: the idea is, that in order to move forwards as a coach, you need to connect with your ‘why’ ie why do I coach? All coaches have a story, so the exercise involves connecting to that story. What you have to do is keep asking yourself why, until you can’t ask any more. I’ve done it a few times before and I’ve always said to myself, ‘it’s because I want to help people’. Well, yes, I do, but WHY?!
This time when I tried the exercise, I had this creeping realisation. The answer has always been there. My story has been sitting alongside me and I’ve kind of acknowledged it, but I’ve never really connected to it. I think I have been avoiding the issue.
Avoidance is a difficult one to deal with especially as it usually manifests as self-deception. You just don’t know you’re doing it. As you avoid reality, you become the actor in your own play. Moments of reconnection with yourself often come when there is a breakdown between yourself and reality. You simply cannot continue life wearing the mask you’ve created. And so, you wonder what on earth it is that brought you here. That’s when the unpicking and unpacking starts.
Here’s the thing – although some of you know my story, you don’t know the detail and why it impacts on who I am or how it effects the way I behave, nor indeed how it fuels me in my desire to connect and be honest, and drive myself to be the best, and also why I want to help.
So, briefly, this is my story…
I constantly carry with me the memory of nearly dying when I was 11. I have diabetes, and it went very wrong. We were on holiday in Wales and I had really high blood sugars, which made me poorly, so my parents took me to a GP. The GP misdiagnosed me. No, I’m going to change that. He didn’t even attempt to diagnose me – no fingerprick test was done….. he simply looked at me lying on the chairs in the waiting room and told my parents that my blood sugars were low. I was then literally force-fed glucose. The result of all of that was that I ended up in a coma and whilst in that said coma, I had some strange experiences. For example, when I was unconscious, I could still hear people. It was like being kept in a box. I also experienced a sense of being entirely myself. A difficult thing to explain, but something similar I think to surveying the view after climbing a mountain…
Anyway, I recovered and was okay, except that I think that the trauma of the experience or the nature of such a vast experience was too much for me to process at that age and when I was 15, I started restricting my food. So, you know what’s next….. I developed anorexia. But I didn’t stop there, I went through all shades of eating disorders, the next being bulimia followed by binge eating disorder. I also used too many drugs, drank too much alcohol and self-harmed.
It was pretty hellish really.
My recovery took the best part of 15 years. But interestingly I didn’t recover because a mental health professional waved a magic wand. I saw loads of psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health nurses, nurses and a clinical hypnotherapist over that 15 years. I think out of all these people, the only one who was ‘real’ and connected and helped was a psychiatric nurse called Tessa. It is an interesting idea to me even now, that for all the people I saw with letters after their name, the thing which helped me the most was someone being genuine. And connecting. I had to leave the children’s service when I was 18, so I couldn’t see my nurse anymore, but I never forgot her kindness and I think became a psychiatric nurse myself to honour that memory.
Anyway….. where was I? Oh, yes, not one of those professionals actually, truly helped I don’t think. I’m not intending to be unkind at this point, just trying to make sense of what happened. I was passed from one expert to another; went to the Bethlem hospital in London; was an outpatient; had therapy; nothing was really effective. Each time it was the same sense of sitting there feeling disconnected under the scrutiny of an expert. And it could have carried on like that.
The changing point for me came when I went to see a GP to renew a prescription for antidepressants. She happened to examine my eyes, and said there was some bleeding at the back of my eyes and that if I carried on with what I was doing, then I’d go blind.
It is at points like that in life, you really have to make a decision. It’s like the Shawshank Redemption – ‘Get busy living or get busy dying’. It’s a choice.
Long story short, I was kidnapped by my family and taken back to Yorkshire where I started my own path to recovery. This consisted of walks in the hills, home-cooked food, sleep, talking, reading, thinking. First thing to go was the alcohol, then drugs, whilst also tackling the eating with my own regime. I didn’t allow myself any exercise except walking, I threw away the weighing scales, I tried different jobs, I moved forwards. When I felt settled enough with no obvious outward issues such as bingeing and calm enough without any disordered thinking, I started nurse training. I continued to move forwards, started working as a mental health nurse, trained as a teacher, met my partner, had children, did coach training and I think the last unhelpful behaviour to go was smoking about 6 years ago.
And so, it is this process and this experience that is my ‘Why’. It has formed my belief that life is short, that life is a gift and because of this I think we should strive to be our best. I don’t think we should endeavour to be perfect, but I feel we should open ourselves to life and give ourselves the opportunity to grow. Above all, it is my steadfast belief that if you connect to yourself and have the will to move forwards, then nothing is insurmountable. And it is this, rather than any automatic statements of ‘I want to help’ which fuels me to help women remove obstacles and barriers in their life – whatever they might be.
Now we come to the part where I think about the point of all this. What am I ultimately rambling on about? Well, I think I’m reflecting on how a rather innocuous coaching exercise has inadvertently reconnected me to my values and brought some renewed meaning into my life. It has reminded me that values serve to guide us in living a life characterised by vitality and engagement. Values do not remove human suffering, but, connecting to them enables us to have a life which as Steven Hayes suggests is ‘thoroughly and whole-heartedly lived.’
The next logical question is of course ‘But how do I find my values and how do I connect to them?’ Everyone has their own individual values and this would take a whole blog in itself, so I’ll be looking at values and how to find them in my next bit of writing. As a starting point however, and as a final thought to add to this, I’d like to invite you to do what Hayes suggests: Next time you’re standing in front of a mirror, ask the person you see in the reflection ‘What do you want your life to be about? Really?’