A Safe Place
This week I attended my first in a series of coaching sessions aimed at helping me cope with the challenges that I face when I am at work. My first of several 3-hour sessions. All aimed at giving me some tools to help me manage my anxiety and depression in the office. There have been times when I have been struggling. Yet despite my manager’s initial scepticism, she agreed that some in-work coaching would be beneficial. Now, not every employer would do this. Luckily the company I work for has strong links with a mental health charity. This in turn means that sometimes they are willing to go the extra mile and get things for their staff to help them cope. For me, it meant getting out of the comfort zone of what I am used to.
One thing I have never really realised is how important a safe place is to me. Getting out of the comfort zone of home is one thing, but I hadn’t realised how much I needed to feel safe. Even at work.
Getting Out of The Comfort Zone and Progress
Sometimes it can be challenging to see the progress we are making. It’s easy to get wrapped up in what we see as our failures and short comings. But very time we stretch ourselves, doing things that make us uncomfortable, we are making progress. So for me, this was doing this coaching session. I was having to be very open and vulnerable about how my mental health impacts me in the office with a complete stranger. I’ll be honest, I found it really hard. When the course was first recommended by the DSE representative, I really couldn’t see me doing it. For want of a better word, it seemed another bit of fluffy nonsense that really was just there so employer’s can be seen to be ‘helping’. But it wasn’t.
What it highlighted to me was one of the places I feel least safe is at work. I often feel exposed. The feeling of everyone judging and looking at you as you crash into a panic attack is terrifying. The logical thinking would be that no-one is ACTUALLY looking at you, but it’s still palpable. Some of that comes because there is that fear in my head of ‘what will people think?’. It’s been hard enough when colleagues have glimpsed my self-harm scars and asked about them.
But here’s my challenge to all of you. When you’re next asked about your self harm scars, or about your mental health, try getting out of the comfort zone and be honest. It is a challenge, but it also helps you progress.
Now it doesn’t have to be anything huge (my son recommended base jumping off a bridge to really push those boundaries!). But do those little things. If you struggle getting out of the house, try each time you go to be out that little bit longer. Without even thinking about it, I’ve been subconsciously doing this with Alex for a while. He struggles to be out of the house for long. Yet we’ve managed excursions that have been for 3 or 4 hours, when previously he could only have coped with 1 or 2. Yes, it’s exhausting, but it’s progress.
Only yesterday I found myself in the middle of a hugely busy Ikea store. I could feel my anxiety ramping up, I was cursing myself for not thinking about how Saturdays are awful in there. So many people, so much noise! But I coped. A few months ago I wouldn’t have. The reason I coped was I have been bit by bit pushing myself. Getting out of the comfort zone of home and into environments that, while I still feel reasonably safe are still busy and potential triggers. Practising the breathing techniques I have learnt from counselling in a moderately busy supermarket. Having my fidget cube on me when I went for an interview. Having people with me who help those feelings of safety. Just little exercises to try to push me that bit more.
And if I couldn’t cope? That was okay too. I tried. For every time we achieve a little win against whatever mental health condition we have, it will only because we have tried dozens of times before. Sometimes we will have failed outright. Others, we will have been able to cope for so long, then fell apart over something small. It happens. And it’s okay! Each time we try getting out of the comfort zone we are a step closer to , if not recovery, at least managing the condition. The important thing is to try.
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