An honest and vulnerable share…

Yes, this is my second post in as many days.

I sat down to write this post late last night after having dinner with a friend and only a few hours after my last post – which was all about non-negotiables and self-care. It feels kind of ironic in a way.

I was unsure whether to publish this post, but I decided to, and sooner rather than later – before I changed my mind. Because it’s always easier to talk about past struggles once they have been overcome and things are feeling better. It’s much more difficult and vulnerable to admit in the moment that things are hard.

I decided to post this because I am a huge advocate for mental health and I am always banging on about how important it is to share our difficult and challenging experiences in order for them to become accepted and so that we can know we are not alone – and I feel nervous about posting this. I feel like maybe I shouldn’t. But that isn’t what I aspire to, I want an open conversation and I’m going to have it. I believe that it really should not be a big deal to say you are struggling or that you’ve lost your way.

Colleagues have sometimes said that I always seem to have things sorted and balanced, I rarely seem stressed and that I cope really well. That my experiences on my blog paint a picture of me having it all figured out. And the truth is, yes, I do cope a lot better than I used to, and for the most part I tick along nicely but I want to make it completely crystal clear. I do not always have my shit together. I am not perfect. I am not able to cope brilliantly all the time. Now is one of those times.

Yes, I’ve had my non-negotiables in, I’ve been reaching out for social support, I’ve been having counselling, I’ve been trying with self-care and I’ve been continuing to do things in a way that works for me. But somewhere along the line, things have still managed to go a bit awol.

I guess what I’m saying that is sometimes, despite our best intentions, we can still lose our way. There will be times when what we are managing becomes a bit too much, and our normal strategies for coping don’t help.

I won’t go into specifics but I’ve had some challenges lately, emotionally and physically. I’ve had to get my head around some health issues, deal with some shifts and changes socially and work through personal stuff. I’ve shared before in my work addiction series (1,2,3) about over-working being a coping mechanism and distraction for me, and I’ve also done the rounds with a number of other unhealthy coping mechanisms, more recently identifying new ones. Add in some fear about my next PhD study not being successful and it’s safe to say there are some difficult and at times quite painful emotions around. And in some ways I’ve been distracting myself from them.

And what has repressing these emotions and distracting myself led to? A brain that feels like mush and doesn’t want to concentrate and a body that doesn’t want to cooperate with me anymore. An array of stress related flare ups. Complete exhaustion. Plus, unsurprisingly some low mood and anxiety.

What is the point of this post? It’s not for sympathy or to complain. It’s to walk the talk, be up front and practice what I preach – put my hand up and say “you know what, I don’t feel too good, and things are hard. But it’ll be ok and I am going to take steps to ensure they are”.

The point of this post is to show that everything and everyone is a work in progress. We never know what people are dealing with. And sometimes your capacity to cope in a healthy way just goes out the window.

So what am I going to do? I’m going to try to practice what I preach here on my blog, even though it feels hard to do so in some ways:

  • I’m going to try not to beat myself up. My first thought upon realising and admitting how I was feeling was “damn, I did it again” and “I talk about all these ways to cope and I can’t even do it myself”. But I am going to turn that around. I will endeavour to congratulate myself on catching myself before a full-blown spiral. I will congratulate myself on having the awareness to know when things aren’t good – so that I can begin to make things feel better again.
  • I will remind myself that I have been tuned in enough and aware of my body to know that it was signalling to me that something isn’t quite right. That I need to stop and slow down, before my body tries to grind me to a halt even more than it already is.
  • I will give myself time and space to feel the emotions I have been avoiding. Knowing and trusting that I can cope and manage whatever comes my way. I am going to remind myself that I am strong and brave and capable, that emotions, when allowed to flow cannot hurt or harm me. I am going to remind myself that though this might take away time from my PhD it is important, for my overall health and well-being, and therefore ultimately my PhD too.
  • I will to reach out for further support. I will be honest with those around me and selective about whom I spend my time on and share my energy with. I am going to take time to focus on myself.
  • I am going to give myself flexibility with my PhD, even though I am worried about my next study and even though I ‘should’ be trying to put as much effort and energy as possible into recruitment. It feels counterintuitive but I know that sometimes that is the way things need to be. The energy isn’t there, so there is no point trying to force it.

And perhaps most importantly, I am going to remind myself that it’s ok not to be ok. That we are all human, we struggle and we should be able to share that without fear of judgment, stigma or negative repercussions.

This is a rough patch, and I’ll work my way through it. Like we all do.

My name is Tam, and though it might not seem like it from the outside, I do not always have my shit together. Sometimes it is hard to admit that to myself. But I am so committed to breaking down barriers to talking about these kinds of things. So much so that I am willing to be vulnerable and honest, to take a risk in order to let other people know that it really is ok to struggle and it really is ok to admit to that struggle. It is not a flaw or weakness.

My name is Tam, I’m strong, I’m brave, I’m honest and I am doing my best to walk the talk. Will you join me?

I’ll be taking care of me, and I really hope you can take care of you. Until next time 🙂

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