Why DO I blog?

I asked myself this very question one morning recently when I realised that in the last few weeks that I had written more for my blog than I had done in the past few months.

It seems that taking a break has reignited my desire to write, which I see as a good thing!

In terms of interest and motivation, like with my most of my hobbies, writing/blogging follows a rough pattern much like a bell curve. I go through periods where I am staring at the laptop screen with a vacant expression on my face, wondering where the words and ideas originate, before hitting a high and churning out either a few blog posts or some fiction writing only to then come back down to earth with a bump and I am left feeling vacant once more. Although I don’t write for a living, I do wonder how productive I could ever be with a career that required this, but then at least right now I don’t rely on writing full-time to pay the bills.

The reasons I blog and the reasons that I write are not necessarily mutually inclusive. I write and have always written for the enjoyment of doing it, the process itself and for the end result. Conjuring ideas in your mind and then seeing an interpretation of them in black font on the screen is something that I do truly get a kick out of, and getting lost in the writing itself, although this occurs less when I write fiction, is something quite powerful. And I believe that the vast majority of fiction writing that I produce will never see the light of day – thank goodness! A lot of it consists of rambling unfinished sentences and paragraphs where an idea sparked and then died just as quickly.

I blog for the same reasons but much of the writing that appears on this blog is a manifestation of more immediate thoughts/values that come to my mind, what the American psychologist William James referred to as a “stream of… consciousness”. And much like a stream, I try to catch some of those thoughts and produce something that just about conveys them as best I can. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

When I first started blogging a few years ago, I was all about getting my blog/s out there. I read widely about how to promote one’s writing and how important it was to have ‘an angle’ or purpose to your blog (and if you had a few angles then multiple blogs were better than one). I posted links to recent articles on Facebook for a handful of friends that would take the time to read them, joined various blogging communities (including ones outside of the WordPress sphere) and even entered a small number of blogging competitions (I actually came third in one). And I realised pretty quickly that although I gained a lot from reaching out in some areas, it was also a lot of work. It felt like everyone was blogging and my voice was lost in the crowd, that was, unless I did more and more in terms of marketing. I was on a self-promotion treadmill and I put an increasing amount of pressure on myself to seek followers and likes. But at the end of the day, it just didn’t feel like me. Partly due to laziness and also being pulled in different directions for work and so on, my writing gradually came to a standstill. And when I did sit down to do something, I felt bitter. I realised that I didn’t enjoy writing anymore.

So when I first established this blog nearly two years ago, and even as recently as a few months ago, I made public commitments to write more regularly. I hoped that by making such a bold statement, then not only would my writing improve but I would get past the hurdles I had faced previously, where I lost that loving feeling about writing. But it has dawned on me that I have experienced similar feelings in the past few months once again. I was in effect chasing a similar idea, admittedly on a different treadmill this time, where it was all about getting posts written and published, and less about enjoying the process of writing.

So now I make a different commitment to myself. I will write when I have the time, energy and inspiration/motivation to do so. Sometimes it will come in fits and bursts and other times, it will feel like I am clutching at straws, but I am okay with that. I am taking the pressure off myself. I don’t blog for money or for fame (although let’s be honest, who doesn’t like a ‘like’ or some feedback on a piece, preferably positive and/or constructive). And certainly if these were the two main criterion that I was measuring my blog by, I would have deleted this blog some months ago. Some of my favourite and most honest pieces of writing have received minimal views or certainly ‘likes’. I still sit sometimes with the intention to write with a vacant expression on my face and a brain lacking focus and ideas, but I now enjoy the process of writing much more than I have done in some time.

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A Love Letter to Vietnam

There is an undeniable spirit about Vietnam, whether you are in one of the sprawling fast-paced cities, trekking in a rural wilderness or relaxing on one of the many stunning beaches that the country has to offer. In the three years I lived in Vietnam, I witnessed this spirit within its people and their approach to everyday life, but I would also argue that I only scratched the surface with what the country has to offer. To that end, it would be utterly impossible for me to condense three years of living in this remarkable country to one post, so, I have summarised a few of my experiences here and I hope to write more in the future.

If I had to describe Vietnam in a few words; aspiration, vitality and warmth (and not just in terms of the tropical climate) would be some of the words that first spring to my mind.

In contrast, it took me a few months to warm to Vietnam when I first moved to Ho Chi Minh City back in the summer of 2014. It wasn’t as though I hated my initial impressions by any means, but I had completely underestimated the culture shock I would experience. I had gone from living in the UK, then Spain and then upping sticks to move to the other side of the world. To a large extent, the culture shock stemmed from fear. When I initially moved to Spain, it felt ‘safe’, what with relatively quick and cheapish flights to and from the UK and additional comfort provided in that many locals (at least where I was living) and amenities provided assistance in English. I hasten to add here, it was a priority of mine to integrate into the local community and so I did take Spanish lessons both in the UK prior to the move and once I arrived.

In comparison, moving to Vietnam meant that I was required to stand on my own two feet and here I was, an early 30-something-year-old woman who had actively chosen to leave her then partner for a job pretty much on the other side of the world. Part of me wonders if perhaps consciously or not, many of my decisions up till this point had largely been based on what was deemed ‘safe’ or not.

For the first few months, I found myself conflicted about the move to Vietnam. Work was busy, having received a promotion early into my contract together with planning new courses. I was also struggling to establish and foster new friendships (partly because I was stressed from work), my then partner was based in another country and I was miles and miles away from family and friends. I was lonely and felt as though I had made a terrible decision.

However, much like my initial feelings about when I went to university where everything is SO BIG and SO SCARY at first (well, that might have just have been me), once I started getting out there and exploring, I began to find my feet. Thrown together through the same circumstances, I connected pretty quickly with another newbie at the school and we would regularly explore restaurants and coffee shops at weekends with her partner. Slowly, other new friendships formed and, although I enjoyed being able to investigate on my own, sharing these experiences helped provide me with the grounding that I needed to feel more at home.

It was only when I opened my eyes and started to look outside of the walls of the school and head into the metropolis that is Ho Chi Minh City, that I felt drawn in by the vitality and warmth of the Vietnamese people and its culture.

I have read in a few travel guidebooks that Thailand is known as the country of smiles, but I would argue that Vietnam is a strong contender for that crown. One of my lasting memories will be the kindness of the vast majority of people I met. Even if words failed both parties (I did learn some basic Vietnamese, but gave up after six weeks as I found it incredibly hard to get to grips with the different tones…), a smile, a brief nod together with various hand gestures and my basic Vietnamese, usually meant we could all be understood, plus a great deal of patience from my Vietnamese counterpart.

I recall thinking early on about how different my previous life had been in Spain to that of being in Vietnam (as if I thought they could in any way similar!). When I had first moved to Spain it was still suffering the effects of the economic crash in 2008; such as high unemployment rates and a high demand of people seeking social support. Another noticeable facet of this in the coastal area where I lived, were the countless abandoned building sites in which companies had either gone bust or had chosen to cut their loses. Concrete shells dotted the landscape that originally had been intended for residential use but now acted as a graffiti artist’s paradise.

In contrast, the building sites I saw in Vietnam were enormous and appeared never ending. High-rise luxury apartments cover swathes of land, and in the south, these are predominantly built on swampland. A concern certainly for the future if sea levels rise as they are expected to with climate change. And of course, with an average Vietnamese person receiving a salary of less than USD$7000 a year, I wonder who is going to be living in these luxury apartments… but despite this, I can’t shake the feeling that Vietnam has ambitions to ‘go somewhere’ after nearly a century marred by war and conflict, and this boom in construction is one way of illustrating this.

FINDING INSPIRATION IN SHAKESPEARE

A little over a year ago I participated in some teacher training that provided me with an existential experience. A dramatic statement I know, but it was and still is perhaps the best and most useful training I have ever had in my teaching career to date.

The training was focused on developing effective leadership skills, but its audience was to the teacher and not specifically aimed at the higher echelons of management. We are, as teachers, leaders of a sort in our classrooms and the organiser wanted us to reflect on our own leadership skills and to see how we could link some of the work of Shakespeare to our role.

I was dubious at first and naively, I thought to myself, what could Shakespeare teach us about how to improve our leadership skills in the classroom? For example, one of the set texts for my GCSE English Literature exam was Macbeth and we all probably know what happened to him.

Well, it turned out (surprise, surprise) it could teach us quite a lot.

At the beginning of the day and for those who didn’t know a huge amount about the story of Henry V, including myself, we were given a synopsis of Shakespeare’s play including a few (amazing!) direct readings, most notably the St. Crispin’s Day speech where Henry motivates his soldiers on the morning of the Battle of Agincourt. The rousing speech along with Henry’s evident clear direction of goals is believed to have helped the English defeat the French despite being vastly outnumbered. But the purpose of the training wasn’t to provide a history lesson, although that was an added bonus, it was to illustrate how some of the themes Shakespeare used in his depiction of the story of Henry V could be utilised inside and outside the classroom, in particular, the importance of how effective leaders inspire the troops.

The troops in my case are students and one of the key message that was emphasised from the very beginning was that despite what the government, the media and some members of school management may say, the kids are not the most important part of a school. It’s the teachers. If teachers are largely happy, confident and feel supported in their role, then this will translate into their job of actually teaching, ultimately leading to hopefully happy, confident students who feel supported in their own learning.

And it was also at this point that I felt something unfurl within me, as though a part of me was stretching and waking up from slumber. It struck me that I knew I couldn’t stay much longer at my current school and it even raised larger questions about whether I wanted to remain in teaching. The realisation shook me to my core and at various points throughout the day, I was holding back tears as for the first time, in what felt like a long time, I felt as though I was being listened to but without having to say anything at all.

The organiser made the point a few times throughout the day about the importance of a supportive work culture that begins from the top (the organiser illustrated this point using Henry’s St Crispin’s Day speech which he read in its entirety without prompts) and it was during this time that I noticed a few disgruntled faces amongst the management team. I believe that the shit hit the fan for some as this guy was inspiring us. He was waking most, if not nearly all of us up from a compliant and passive slumber.

I couldn’t describe the school as having a supportive culture. There are shades of it for sure, but unfortunately blame and fear ring closer to the truth. I certainly don’t want to paint all of the school management as completely unsupportive but I learnt quickly that to speak up about something was akin to branding yourself on the forehead. And those who stood out generally didn’t last long.

This was what I have always found a bit odd and disconcerting about some of the schools that I have worked in and I am sure that I am not alone in thinking this, we like to encourage our students in the hope that they will be inspired to study and think about the content they learn,  admittedly some of this motivation may come in the form of sweets or other extrinsic reward to simply get a piece of work finished, but teacher motivation is something that is rarely given as much consideration. It is assumed that working with students is reward enough. But sometimes it is quite nice to be simply told, ‘Well done, you’re doing a great job’, something that rarely happens in my school from upper management.

It obviously hasn’t been as straightforward as experiencing this realisation and then leaving. The training was over a year ago and if simply due to contract requirements I have been required to provide nearly a year’s formal notice of resignation. But I am now in my last term working at my current school and it feels incredibly strange to think that I won’t return there come the end of summer. I have learnt a great deal over the past three years and this realisation is one of the bigger things, work culture matters and a school that doesn’t value its staff will eventually lose them.

WEBSITE REVAMP

I recently followed through with something that I have been reminding myself to sort out for a while now… a website revamp.

It has been a long time coming.

Although I loved the simplicity of it how my site looked previously, where the landing page consisted of bold featured images, after some time of trying to figure out why it just wasn’t working anymore for me, I realised that the images took centre stage more than my writing. It was more ‘style than substance’ in terms of first appearances. Plus I was ready for a change, I think that is one of the wonderful things about creating content and finally hitting the publish button, you are releasing a little of yourself out there, into the world and that includes how the content appears.

So the overhaul included a biggie – a change of template.

I believe that my site now appears fresher, bolder and I, myself am feeling reinvigorated by the revamp and ready to crack on with producing more content 🙂

JUST ONE NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION THIS YEAR

It’s December 31st, 2003 and I am in a wine bar in my hometown. Unfortunately, I am not there to drink or party, instead I am working. The bar provides a paycheck and therefore a vital lifeline to some much-needed funds during my holidays whilst studying at university.

It’s the second year that I have worked on New Years and here in actual fact. It’s a ticket only event so although it’s busy, the faces are the same, which adds a nice level of familiarity to the evening. Plus, I get paid double my usual hourly wage and the sneaky glasses of wine (paid for by some generous and drunk customers) help the evening run pleasantly.

The big boss is also here. He runs the wine bar and the restaurant next door and so he can usually be found barking orders at people there. I don’t particularly like him and I think that the feeling is mutual, though he is gruff and obstinate with everyone – who work for him that is.

He makes me nervous and when I am nervous I make mistakes. A case in point was on my first shift at the bar a little over a year earlier; where the manager of the wine bar had asked me to take some drinks around to the restaurant via a connecting tunnel between the two buildings. On my arrival to the restaurant I am greeted by the big boss of whom at this point I was yet to meet. He glares at me and rushes me to provide the drinks to the guests, it turns out that one of the waitresses is sick and so I am helping to cover when the restaurant was busy. It was heaving. I duck under the bar and turn to grab the tray. Except I didn’t. In my haste I had put the tray on the edge of the bar and the tray along with its contents come crashing and spilling to the floor. The noise reverberates around the restaurant and I swear the music momentarily stops. It leaves the big boss and I staring at one another. Me, feeling like an absolute idiot and wanting to crawl away. Him, wondering who idiot was who hired me. He shouts at me in one of those ways where he doesn’t actually raise his voice, it’s more body language and facial expression and I practically run back through the tunnel to the bar to make another tray load of drinks.

If it wasn’t for that incident, in my time since I have also locked myself out of the cash register so that he had to help me out, failed miserably at a cocktail training class (which he organised and was present for also), shattered more glasses and just generally messed up when he’s been around. I really didn’t make a good waitress.

And now back to New Year’s Eve in 2003. Despite the big boss’s presence; things are going ok: he hasn’t glared at me or even spoken to me for that matter, as much like our first encounter, the place is heaving. However, my optimism is short-lived when we have our eventual but inevitable clash. I am serving a customer when I manage to lock myself out of the cash register again. This isn’t an issue that happens solely to me, but in my rush (seems to be a pattern here) I fail to input my login code twice and it freezes. This creates a hold-up and he charges over and shouts at me. From what I can recall he says something like:

“I thought it’d be you, it’s always you.”

It was my turn to freeze as he continues to berate my crap skills as a waitress in front of customers. I say nothing and when he finishes fixing the register he marches off. As I hold back tears and continue to serve customers, a dark bitterness overcomes me, I make a resolution that I would never return to work at the bar after I head back to university.

However, much like many of my other New Year resolutions throughout the years, it didn’t stick and I was back at that wine bar at Easter doing my best to avoid the big boss again and because I needed the money.

Throughout my 20s, I usually made grand New Year’s resolutions. Epic you might say, including things like buy a new car, lose weight, buy a house, go travelling, quit my soul-sucking job (whatever it was), just for starters. Anything that would take me away from where I was and who I was at the time. And back in 2003, I didn’t know who the hell I was and it couldn’t have gotten more epic than sticking two fingers up at my boss, metaphorically speaking rather than literally.

Losing weight, getting a ring on it or going travelling are all worthwhile if they are truly what you want, but in my case I was making grand resolutions to help me escape myself.

I hate to sound like a cliche, but both time and age have made me realise two things; making grand resolutions are a bad idea and if you are going to make any then you have to keep working on them. So this year, I just have one resolution and I see it more as a work-in-progress for hopefully years to come: to stop being so hard on myself.

This is in regards to the things that I want to achieve and to acknowledge the things that I do manage. If I manage to finally finish the book that I’ve been working on for the past two years? Amazing! But I am going to try and not let the fear of not achieving this ruin me. If I manage to make a move finally out of teaching into something new? Yippee! But I acknowledge that this is a road that I have been on for some time now and like many paths there are quite a few turns on the way.

AND WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?

It’s been a good few weeks (cough… months…) since I last posted but I have good reason or at least that’s what I am telling myself.

Life kinda got busy.

The new academic year began in earnest and in what seems like a blink of an eye I am already a whole two months and a bit in. And whilst I have welcomed new students, greeted those returning, and got stuck into my planning, I have been reminded of some of the lessons I learnt as I worked through the course with Careershifters. Primarily, I have been wondering where do I want to be, as I have felt myself sink pretty quickly into a familiar malaise with my job once more.

I expected this. But it doesn’t mean that the discontent gets any easier to experience. 

The malaise is nothing new, the chain of thoughts attached are relatively similar to those that I have experienced for some years now but once again I am finding myself struck by some familiar thoughts bubbling to the surface associated with frustration by what part of me sees as a lack of tangible progress.

But if was only one thing that the careers course taught me and it’s that I have made progress. And a few events recently at work as well as the general malaise have led me to make a pretty bold decision. I am finally ready to try something new.

TIME FOR CHANGE

In my current teaching position I am required to provide one years notice to my employers of my future intentions. One. Whole. Freaking. Year.

I can certainly see it from their side, they want to advertise early, interview candidates, essentially find the right people for the job. Be organised and all that.

But a lot can happen in a year! And unless you are sure of wanting to stay (in which case it’s a case of signing on the dotted line and handing in that intentions letter immediately) then it leaves you in a conundrum. For me, it was a case of do I let them know that I have intentions of leaving hoping that something does come up, or do I hedge my bets, see what jobs arise and then hand in my notice if something significant comes up? And potentially have to stay a further year before I can hand in my notice? 

Well, I opted for the former. And I have discovered that my job has already been advertised! A cynical part of me screams, ‘You’re dispensable! I thought you knew that already?!’

So that’s me, dispensable but oh so very happy with the decision. Freaking nervous to the very core. But grinning from ear to ear.

A JOB OFFER AND AN ITALIAN WINDOW

I have just returned from a short vacation where I was originally hoping to carve out some time to write this post earlier. But the tourist bug caught fast and my days were mostly spent touring temples and seeing the sights in the wonderful city that is Seoul.

My head was full of trying to navigate my way around the capital of South Korea and nail some of the basics of the language, so I was grateful that the day before leaving I had made a decision about what to do about an offer presented to me a few weeks ago.

I said no.

No to the offer of a role that could have shifted me in a whole new direction that of a website developer and contributor.

My reasons for declining were built on a multitude of factors, but my main recurring thought was that I wasn’t hungry for it. To be more specific, hungry for that particular position at this point in time.

Fear did play a large part in my decision, but not in the perhaps obvious reason that I was scared to take a chance on something unknown to me. But rather it was the fear that was in my gut of ignoring what I truly feel inspired doing – writing that has meaning to me. There is a strong possibility of sounding arrogant here, as though my writing is ‘better’ than the website I could have been writing for. But this couldn’t be further from reality. Having taken the time to consider the offer actually made me acknowledge the cold hard truth, I have been skirting around what I enjoy doing for some years now.

AN ITALIAN ADVENTURE

A little under ten years ago I went on holiday to Italy and spent nearly three weeks touring some of its great cities such as Rome and Florence and then switching to a car for a journey through the magnificent countryside of Umbria and Tuscany. The trip left a lasting effect on me in more ways than one; it certainly affirmed my love of Italian food, art and culture. Those were given. But it was when I was staying in a relatively remote village near Perugia, Umbria where I would say that I received one of the loudest calls to arms I have ever received in terms of inspiration. Through the haze of my long-term memory, I’ll paint the scene:

I am sat leaning over a circular wooden table with what was a cumbersome and impractical laptop. It was heavy, bulky, and took up the vast majority of my day rucksack, but I had been determined to bring it with me on my travels.

I was doing some work for my relatively new teaching position (only one month before I had completed my teaching training and I was due to begin my first job in the forthcoming September). Academic books were spread out around me like a fan, covering the table and chairs and I was dipping between them trying desperately to focus on one thing and failing miserably, I had a great deal of work to prepare. Initial visits to the school had been exciting, I had met new colleagues and seen what was to be the classroom where I would spend most of my day. But I was also left with a large ball of anxiety in my stomach; brand new courses needed to be planned, existing resources needed updating and I couldn’t shake the feeling that perhaps I was in a little over my head. I was keen to be prepared or least to obtain a degree of preparedness, hence the reason my laptop had originally come on holiday with me.

At one point, I stood frustrated and decided to take a short break. White-washed walls gave the kitchen the illusion of space, but in truth it was tiny. Adjacent to a metal sink and drainer was a tall corner cupboard that was in turn next to the only window. I went to grab myself a drink and when normally, well at least for the past few hours I would have gone to sit straight back down this time, I took the few steps to look outside. The image was a mirage of green rolling into the distance, the colour varying in intensity as fields were divided by roads and cultivated land. The scene was occasionally interspersed with buildings with some obscured by trees and the hills beyond.

It was as I stood here, that I felt like my brain had been struck with a burst of energy that I had never experienced before. The image that I was looking at was also somewhere else. I was still standing in that kitchen but the scene that played out in front of me and the sensation of standing there conjured a vivid scene in my mind. A male, a boy, an explorer, lost? They were the first things then; adventure, a family member could have gone missing? His father perhaps? As I write those words, they appear abstract and but loose threads of an idea. But for me at the time, as cliche as it may sound, it was as though I was seeing the world around me with eyes that possessed a whole new vibrancy. For the next couple of days, I was lost in a world of my own with a view out of that window writing furiously on my laptop.

The Italian countryside was the inspiration for what came to be my first book. Now I say ‘first book’, as though I am a published author. I am most definitely not (for the moment at least) and I would say that I am also very far away from being anywhere near that. But that feeling of inspiration made me realise that I absolutely LOVED writing stories and in turn, it also made me hungry for more of those moments of absolute clarity and conviction over my creative thinking.

So the offer presented to me a few weeks ago, as amazing in its own ways as it could have been, ultimately deep down wasn’t right for me. I had to sift through a lot of my mental clutter to find the answers, but I knew I had made the right decision when I thought of how much of my time would have been spent doing the job, whilst also working full-time and therefore sacrificing precious time to write for myself. The hunger and the drive both weren’t there in the same way that writing fiction is for me or even the feelings created when I write posts for this blog.

So it was a no for now for a small career shift, but a big step in reminding myself of what I want to do in the long-term.

ME, MYSELF AND MY GREMLINS

I recently watched an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert where she described how people frequently approach creativity with either a martyr or trickster mindset. The martyr is someone who believes that they must suffer for their art and for the creative process. The strongest indicator of someone with this mindset is that the closest adjective to describe their creative process is frustration. Frustration at the words that hang just out of reach, at the blank page, at the deletion of hundreds of words that you spent an entire morning writing, the pen you write with (as it must be the pens fault for the lack of words) or even your computer screen.

The worst part of acting the martyr is that what actually helps fuel creativity can actually hinder the process. You experience the buzz that comes from creating ideas and content, but when the ideas dry up or become stuck in a no man’s land somewhere in your mind it becomes easier to get caught up in a negative spiral. You are quick to criticise and pass judgement on your own abilities. Martyrdom results in your ideas becoming stuck in the mud, so a lot of the fun is lost. So why do it at all?

But there is another way, Gilbert asserts and this is to view inspiration and creativity as though it were a trickster. Whilst the martyr wants you to self-flagellate for your creativity, the trickster, on the other hand, wants you to play and specifically dance. Dancing in this context is unless you prefer doing it alone, a two-way process and importantly it’s meant to be fun!

Gilbert believes that the trickster is a bit of a shady character too, dropping by for a matter of moments before exiting through the backstage door, or hiding just out of view before pouncing (probably when you are in the middle of doing something else). Viewing the creative process in this way opens your mind to the fact that the way you are thinking shouldn’t be a burden or at its worst painful.

That is partly why I created some metaphorical gremlins to describe a part of my creative thinking. Although at times it’s as though I am training a group of unruly puppies. At times they are the most frustrating things in the world; they pee and crap everywhere, they chew up important stuff and even at their most basic they can annoy the hell out of me. But on the other hand, like puppies my gremlins can sit patiently, coax me along, encourage even providing support and purpose.

My gremlins have to a large extent kept leading me down the martyr route for many years. But working through the careers course, discovering and meeting other people with a similar mindset has forced me to realise that that road sucks, and I need to head in a new direction. This isn’t about turning back or fighting against the gremlins, far from it, it’s about creating a new path where the gremlins and I work together.

9U4HOT0AOU

References:

BURNOUT OR DEPRESSION?

Melancholy, the darkness, the blue funk… just a small selection of the ways to describe depression but for me, the most appropriate is how Winston Churchill related depression to that of a black dog. Although he wasn’t the first person to describe the mental illness in this way, it is certainly something which I can relate to. Much like a dog, depression can be brought to heel and controlled. Other times you feel like it’s running rings around you.

I know when the dog has one up on me when I feel completely and utterly drained, almost devoid of energy. I feel like I am walking around in mud, and the harder I try to move the faster it holds. The most challenging aspect to grasp is that I genuinely don’t know how to feel, or how I should feel during these times – as I struggle to feel much.

Roughly five years ago, I went to see a doctor during one of my darker times. I had felt down before, sad even but I assumed that like all of our emotions they ebb and flow depending on our current situation, our experiences with those around us and our hormones. However, at this point in my life something felt different. The mud was thicker, the rings being run around me were created faster, and I simply kept falling over.

So I made the call and booked myself in.

My experience however wasn’t wholly positive; upon describing the reason for my visit the doctor asked me some standard questions about my recent medical history and emotional state and then recommended… doing more exercise.

Yes, exercise certainly can help. I know.

I enjoy exercising and it was something that I did quite a fair bit of at the time. Working in the field of psychology, I was already familiar with the symptoms of depression, which include prolonged periods (at least more than two weeks) of low mood, tearful, lacking motivation, change in appetite, lack of energy and sleeplessness (or conversely, sleeping a lot more). And I was also aware of the things that could help alleviate these symptoms such as exercise, spending time with loved ones, getting outside, taking up a hobby and so on.

I left the doctor’s practice feeling misunderstood and a little angry. Had I not explained myself sufficiently? Perhaps my symptoms weren’t ‘severe’ enough to be anything significant? Simply, I doubted that there was a problem in the first place and so I tried to put it to the back of my mind and tried to get on with my life.

At the time I was coming out of an emotionally challenging relationship and with few other choices I had moved back into my parent’s house (in my late-20’s, not fun). Initially, it provided familiar comforts but at this point, I had turned inward and aside from going to work and seeing friends, I shut myself away and therefore I shut my parents out. My mother had always been fond of my ex (I truly believe that she thought we’d get married, live ‘happily ever after’ that sort of thing) and she couldn’t understand what had happened. She wanted to know more, demanded even at various stages. I knew her questions were only out of concern, but I couldn’t even muster the energy to retrace the steps in my mind to address my unhappiness.

At its worst, I broke down at work. Initially behind the closed door of a toilet cubicle and then it became larger and I was holding back tears whilst in the office. I knew at this point I needed to do something more. Doing more exercise wasn’t going to cut it.

I revisited the doctor (the same one in fact due to no-one else being available) and this time, he recommended speaking to a therapist. He provided me with a few numbers, but it transpired that all but one no longer practised in the area. The remaining one had a full client list for the foreseeable future. It could have been easy to retreat further at this point. However, something pushed me on and a Google search provided me with some contact details for another private practice in the city and I managed to get an introductory appointment for the following week.

In all, I attended only a handful of sessions with the therapist. Unfortunately, they ended due to the therapist moving to another area of the city. At the time I couldn’t afford the additional transport costs on a regular basis. Looking back, I wish I had made more of an effort to continue to see her. She did more for me in those few months than she probably ever realised.

So why is now familiar to my experiences five years ago?

With the benefit of hindsight, I have been able to pinpoint one of the main reasons for my current state and that it relates to a degree of burnout regarding work. I feel utterly uninspired by my job for a variety of reasons and have done for some time, although it was in a recent training session with colleagues (which coincidently focused on motivation and importantly understanding how to stay motivated) that was my wake-up call. So although the time and situations were very different, I was experiencing similar symptoms as to before.

However, unlike five years ago where I kept a large part of myself hidden away, this time I reached out and spoke to a couple of close friends to let them know what was going on. Their support was invaluable as has help from a local therapist whom I connected with through Facebook.

Like depression, burnout has some similar characteristics such as loss of appetite, anxiety, lacking energy, forgetfulness and so on. Researchers from the US and Switzerland led a piece of research to address the link between symptoms of depression and traits of burnout through a study on teachers. In short, the researchers found a pattern between the two, with women more likely than men to experience both*.

This doesn’t come as much as a surprise. Whether you are burnt out by your job, family commitments or money worries, for instance, the result is the same – you are not able to ‘function’ at a level you were at an earlier period. Therefore, some things have to give.

One of my first steps to regaining a better sense of myself was to get back into writing (i.e., spend more time doing it!) Writing is perhaps one thing that provides the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, where I am able to express and explore aspects of myself and my environment. Furthermore, the support that I have received since speaking out to close friends and a therapist have reminded me that I am not alone. Although both not panaceas in themselves, I am becoming more aware of what I ‘experience’ and so I can address the symptoms in a healthier way.

I am not in no way out of the woods yet, but I am now in the position of considering how to address my burnout and other symptoms. And I have also slowly accepted that the black dog may follow me around for the rest of my life. It’s how I deal with it that makes the difference.

* A greater proportion of women were surveyed 75%.

References