Talking FreEly – Reflection on the first year since launch


Its now been a year since i launched Talking FreEly, a local initiative to breakdown the stigma of mental illness by talking about it.  In this video I reflect on how far we have come and where we need to go to next

Stepping back from the stress


Today I am travelling into London for a meeting, a journey that I made daily a few years back in a haze of numb misery.

Looking around me. the stress is palpable. Too many people, not enough space. Rubbing salt into the wounds, I look out of the window and the sun is shining, reflecting off rivers winding their way through green fields and trees. The train is full of people travelling to jobs that aren’t fulfilling and away from lives they’d rather be having, enjoying the simple pleasures that life has to offer us.

I only make the journey every few weeks these days and I enjoy the experience, not because I like the heat and bustle of an overcrowded train but because I can reflect on why I removed this from my life and indeed how fortunate I am.

At its most basic level, human existence has very few requirements. Eating, breathing, resting pretty much keeps us going. All of the other rules are created by humans and work on the basis that we consent to follow them. Some of these rules are positive and allow us to exist harmoniously together. In the main these rules are written. Some of the rules however are unwritten, the accepted norm that we follow because its what society expects of us like working 40 hours a week, having a mortgage etc. In fact these are not rules, they are choices and we have far more control of these rules than we think.

I doubt anyone really enjoys commuting to work but for some, the life it affords them outweighs the sacrifice. When this position is reversed and the sacrifice outweighs the benefit its time to step back and question what we could do differently.

The UK is currently in the grip of a mental health epidemic. Medically, the causes of mental illness are poorly understood, hypothesis rich, evidence poor. Genetics, biology and psychology can all be at play but the link with stress, when considered alongside the typical lifestyle in the west, would seem the most likely driver behind the recent surge of common mental disorders like depression and anxiety. Its also the one cause we have the most control over.

I broke the cycle 7 years ago now and whilst my life is not plain sailing I’m way happier than I was sitting on this train everyday. What I sacrificed in money and “stuff” was invested in the one thing that money simply cannot buy. Time.

Happiness


I start most days with a nice cup of tea and a scroll through the various news and social media platforms to see what is going on in the world of wellness.

This morning it was twitter that caught my eye with the hashtag #InternationalDayOfHappiness which was trending as I started planning the day.

When I say caught my eye, this hashtag was one of those things that immediately invoked a response, something I felt I had an opinion on. Of course the problem with snapshots like this is that they don’t give you any context so on the surface my interpretation of this hashtag is that the intention is that everyone should be happy today. As someone who changed their career to the pursuit of better wellbeing I feel that there are few problems with such a simplistic view, however well intentioned. My intention here is not to pour salt all over happiness, but to explain why I feel its pursuit as a life goal is potentially flawed and offer a different perspective that will enhance our sense of wellbeing.

So is International Day of Happiness all about making people happy?

Its not that simple. The principle is that the world is such a negative place, for one day, it is nice to flood our periphery with joy and happiness.

 

Sounds great, what wrong with that?

All over the world, thousands of people will feel the benefit. There are many others who wont. For some people, happiness is simply not within their grasp and certainly its not going to happen by telling them to be. The problem with flooding their world with happiness is that it simply reinforces their own unhappiness. We see this already at Christmas time, when our community feels an overwhelming pressure to feel joyful. Its well documented that those suffering from depression, loneliness or isolation will feel the effects particularly at this time of year.

 

Let’s just make them happy then!

If someone is unhappy, no amount of tom foolery or coercion is going to make them happy. The problem is that happiness is not a perpetual state of mind, its an emotion just like anger, fear and worry. Emotions when expressed appropriately are a normal response to situations we find ourselves in. For example, we feel fear when faced with danger. This is entirely appropriate and triggers a hormonal response in our bodies that alters how we function in preparation for responding to the threat. The natural expression of a broad range of emotions is normal, healthy and part of living a well balanced life. It becomes a problem when these emotions cant be switched off or become overly expressed. Happiness is no different. It would be highly inappropriate to feel happy when faced with a dangerous situation or grief.

So you don’t want people to be happy then

That’s not what I’m saying. I think people should express happiness, sadness, anger and all of the other emotions freely and appropriately without fear of judgement or ridicule. Setting your sights on “acquiring” happiness however is fundamentally flawed in the same way as being motivated by money.

What I consider to be problematic is how we define happiness. In our modern world, driven by consumerism and, lets be honest here, greed, happiness as some understand it is inexplicably intertwined with the acquisition of goods. There are other extremes too. For example, some people feel happiness when they are driving a vehicle at break neck speeds or from stealing other peoples possessions. Happiness in itself is not an exclusively virtuous or wholesome pathway and it is by no means an absolute right to feel happy if there is a cost to others.

So what do you suggest instead

I believe in a values based approach to setting life goals, working to the best of our ability to do what we feel is right and aligns with the person we truly want to be. Self compassion and compassion for others, if we follow this path, happiness may reward us along the way but we will achieve an overall sense of contentment and personal wellbeing, in my opinion a more achievable and sustainable goal.

We all know what the intention of the day is. Your making a bit of a big deal out of a few words aren’t you?

I don’t think so. The hashtag I saw this morning invoked an immediate response from me because of the language used. As humans have evolved, particularly over the last few years, our language and use of it has developed enormously. The addition of new words into our vocabulary and the change in culture have affected how we interpret language. We have a duty to take care over the choice of words we use and at very least to discuss and rationalise how we interpret themes. This isn’t judging something as right or wrong, simply opening the opportunity to broaden our discussions and consider different perspectives. That is why I offer this opinion, not to spoil the fun.

I’m sure people will disagree with me. This is what makes us develop as human beings and I welcome the variety of opinion that supports or contradicts my own. That is after all what keeps the conversation going and the human mind developing. I hope you have enjoyed reading this and if so, or if not, please comment.

Traditional Acupuncture and the Menopause


 

If you would like more information from the British Acupuncture Council on menopause please click here

If you would like to discuss how acupuncture could help with your goals, please contact me via one of the methods here

Mental v Physical Health – A disparity that is feeding stigma


On Friday I was fortunate enough to attend a fascinating presentation on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a keen interest of mine, particularly as I have become more emerged in holistic wellbeing and the part that lifestyle has to play in our overall health.

For those not in the know, SAD is an illness which see’s sufferers mental health plummet at a particular point in the year, usually as the days become shorter.  I have written a more detailed piece on the condition which you can read by clicking here.

The event was attended by a broad cross section of peopled despite being a presentation from one of the world leading authorities became a well managed interactive exchange of perspectives.  One of the conversations had me particularly interested, an attendee who was interested in the potential of building light therapy into existing light sources as apposed to the existing methods which usually require a sufferer to sit in front of a light for up to 30 minutes.

To be clear, I think this is a great idea.  Anything that can help alleviate suffering without ingesting chemicals can only be a good thing.  What interested me however was some of the rationale that sat behind the market for such a product which was aptly summarised as, “people don’t have 30 minutes to sit in front of a light in the morning”.

What immediately struck me from this statement is the disparity with which mental health is held next to physical health.  So lets be clear, SAD is a serious mental illness.  Mental illness is a serious medical complaint that can lead to disabling symptoms and death.  In certain demographic groups, the mortality from mental illness exceeds that of any other illness.  Yet if we had a physical illness that necessitated 30 minutes of physical therapy a day, we would move heaven and earth to make sure that person received.  Would we see dialysis or chemotherapy as a choice?  Of course not, nor should we.  So why when the problem is a mental health one do we suddenly feel that we just “don’t have time” for a 30 minute treatment so it can hit the cutting room floor?

Theres the wider issue.  For me I wonder if one of the defining features of SAD is actually not lack of light or bodily changes, but the fact that we don’t adapt.  In some species, the behaviours of taking on more fuel (carbohydrate craving is an early symptom of SAD) and resting is part of their seasonal rhythm.  In humans however, our bodies start adapting and our modern instinct is in fact to resist and fight to maintain the same levels of productivity.

In my utopian world of optimal wellbeing, I would see people following a more seasonal approach to life.  I am however a realist and I know that the western world is going to be a long time bending to this ideal.  If however we continue to invent new ways of ignoring our bodies and circumnavigating basic needs, the mental health crisis thats slowly gripping society can only deepen.

 

Im glad to say that in the event I was at, the majority of attendees agreed that actually, we should be finding ways to secure 30 minutes of our day to attend to our mental health, not more ways of disregarding it.  That isn’t a sign for complacency however.  These small conversations and comments are symptomatic of a type of unintended stigma that, taken with ignorance and discrimination, is crippling the wellbeing of millions of people.

If you want to find out more about challenging the stigma of mental illness, please follow my new charity, Talking FreELY or get in touch with me.

Finally, if you are suffering from mental health problems, be assured, you are not alone and there is non judgmental help when you feel able to reach out for it.  Again, check us out at Talking FreELY

Mental Health – Strong for too long?


One of the things I see on social media a lot is this statement

“Depression isn’t a sign you are weak, its a sign you have been strong for too long”

Its a well intentioned way of re-framing how we perceive mental illness but what does it actually mean and is it accurate? For me the language creates some problems!

Firstly, its a bit of a sweeping statement because mental illness is completely arbitrary, affecting people from all walks of life and for any number of different reasons.

What it refers to more specifically is a commonly encountered cause of depression. The curse of modern western society. Stress!

The “strength” to which it refers describes the capacity of a person to cope with stress. In so called “strong” individuals, stress acts as a motivator, an impulse to push harder and harder to overcome the adversity and achieve. When the drive goes beyond the bodies limits there comes a point where it has to break, like any system that is overloaded. At that point depression takes hold.

If you are one of these individuals (its fine by the way, I’m a lot like that myself) you probably feel better knowing that in spite of your mental health, society views you in positive terms as a go-getter. In some cases, it may encourage the perception that mental illness is simply a consequence of normal life if you want to “get on”.

But what if you aren’t “strong”? By implication, if not in actual language, this statement suggests that the opposite, people who fold at the first sign of stress and therefore don’t push their body through the same level of trauma, are unlikely to suffer depression. Apart from this (of course) being absolute rubbish, the implication is that these types of people are “weak” (it is after all the opposite of strong), a term most of us would consider to be an insult. Society after all has little regard for this approach to life.

Am I over analysing? Well certainly if the message that we value strong over weak is not implicitly carried in this statement on mental health, it is one that is heavily implied and indeed replicated across society, particularly in the workplace where I have repeatedly encountered the attitude that “going the extra mile” is pretty much compulsory.

Of course the path you decide to follow in life is an entirely personal choice. Where it becomes problematic is when society guides these choices through negative stereotypes. When people push themselves because they feel that is what is expected, not what they want.

Can a statement intended to make people feel better about themselves really do this? I think it can. I think the stigma of mental illness is driven by thousands of stereotypes, cultural norms and poorly used language. In this example, you could as easily change strong and weak for stupid and wise and tip the entire statement on its head. Language is a powerful tool and tackling what has become accepted norm is a huge challenge. If however we ever hope to have a lasting impact on the merciless onslaught of mental illness its one we have to take on.

It all begins by talking which is why Talking FreELY invest so heavily in facilitating simple and honest conversations about mental health. Because it is these conversations that will drive change.

If you are struggling with mental health there are a number of useful links on the Talking FreELY website. If you want to know how you can help to keep the conversation, check us out on Facebook and Twitter

www.talkingfreely.org

Mental Health – Surviving or Thriving


The theme of 2017 Mental Health Awareness Week is, surviving or thriving.  When I first read this I was immediately drawn to the word thriving, a word that fills me with optimism and excitement about the potential the world has to offer. Immediately I cast aside survival as a negative message that I didn’t want to focus on.

Today I was reflecting as I often do and I realised that this is mental health awareness week, and Talking FreELY, a local mental health organisation I am involved with is about honest non judgemental conversation on metal illness.  I realised my natural instinct to try and fix things had perhaps led to me missing at least 50% of the awareness message.   Awareness is not about solutions, its about giving some insight and however hard those messages are to deliver it is surely my responsibility as a mental health ambassador to try and do so.  So I would like to talk a little about survival and what that means in terms of mental health.

The first time I heard thrive or survive was on Chanel 4’s “The Island” with Bear Grylls.  12 contestants marooned on a desert island with nothing but basic tools and the clothes on their backs.  The challenge, not just to get through, but to actually enjoy it. To eat well, to create a comfortable living environment and a happy community.  I was watching this programme last night when the tail end of a hurricane hit the island dumping inch after inch of miserable battering rain on them.  No proper shelter, no proper clothing, unable to go and hunt for food, barely able to keep a fire going and worst perhaps, inaccessible even by the rescue teams.  It was utterly miserable and in that real life moment, any thought of thriving was lost and it became a single battle to get through that bad time.  It is a great example of how life is, and how mental health can be.

My own mental health is an ever changing landscape.  There are times when I do indeed thrive.  During these times I can really rip into life and live each day to its fullest potential,  laughing, joking, getting things done, the life, soul and energy of the party.  But its not always like that.  Several times a year, every year for as long as I can remember, my mental health will slump and the cloud of depression will loom overhead.  In these times its often all I can do to get out of bed in the morning.  I retreat from the world and everything from washing my face to taking the kids to school becomes a struggle.  As I’ve grown in my awareness I find I have an increasing number of strategies that can help me to predict and manage these bouts.  I lean more heavily on relationships, try where I can to get out more, stay off social media.  These interventions help but they aren’t about thriving or “snapping” myself out of it.  Surviving in these moments isn’t a choice under my conscious control.  I don’t chose to be depressed or anxious any more than those poor people on the island chose to be battered by relentless rain.  Its what life throws at me, and I do what I need to get through until the time passes and the sun comes out again.  Some people may come out of it and never get hit by a hurricane again.  For others, who live in their shadow, its about rebuilding and trying to be better prepared for the next time.

Perhaps I can be forgiven for focusing on thriving.  The reality of survival isn’t that cheerful and who wants to be seen as the harbinger of doom?  We all want to hear the positive messages. But this is mental health AWARENESS, not mental health utopia.  In amongst the positivity we should perhaps, quietly acknowledge that a lot of people are just surviving and in fact may not need a bundle of ideas just now to get them thriving.  Lets celebrate the successes but remember that the bigger task is in supporting the ever increasing number of people who are suffering from a mental health issue.  How you survive is what empowers and enables you to thrive.

If you are suffering from mental health problems and need help, please follow this link for details of support organisations – HELP

 

MENtal Health – Look out for your friends


The Time to Change charity have recently released a short film encouraging men to look for the signs of mental illness in each other and offer some support.  It sounds obvious but the campaign identifies that only a third of men feel comfortable talking openly about their feelings.

A number of social stigma’s prevented me from accepting I was mentally ill for years.  Fear of losing my job and my dignity, fears of tarnishing my future with a permanent label, fear of accepting the obvious and looking weak.  Of course I risked destroying all of these with mental illness anyway but never the less I resisted facing up to the facts for years.  Were my fears unfounded?  Sadly I think not.  Stigma and discrimination towards mental illness does exist but things are definitely changing.  One of the things that surprised me when I first opened up about my mental health problems was how many people had been there (or were there).  One in four will actually suffer a mental illness at some point in their life but that statistic means virtually all of us will encounter it and be affected in some ways.  When I started up the Metropolitan Police Mental Health network, we were deliberately open about who we were trying to support.  As such our membership grew not only with those suffering mental illness, but from those who were supporting family and friends, or who simply wanted to make a difference.

Thankfully I had mates in my corner who kindly but firmly encouraged me to face up to my illness and seek help.

I would encourage everyone to watch this video and think about how you can support the battle to end Stigma.  It will help to save lives.

If you are interested in how acupuncture could help with your mental health please email me here

If you need urgent help for a mental health problem you can contact the Samaritans here

For more information on Time to change and how you can be involved click here

Embarrassing Bodies? Don’t tell the Doctor!


https://github.com/break24/PhantomOpenEmoji

Image by Phantom Open Emoji and used under Creative Commons Licence

A story that caught my eye whilst perusing the media for “Health headlines” this week was an article discussing the results of a survey that found an astonishing number of women won’t seek medical help for so called “embarrassing” medical conditions.

Typically the survey was heavy on the “whats” and light on the “whys” so it left me thinking about why women wouldn’t feel they couldn’t talk to a medical professional about an intimate issue.

When I considered the process of getting to see a doctor myself, the reasons seemed clearer. Lets have a look at a potential encounter.

First you call the surgery. You may have to wait for quite some time on the telephone before speaking to a receptionist who will then enquire as to how urgent your need is. Thankfully at my surgery they don’t ask you what your problem is though I have heard of this being done in other locations. If you have a non urgent enquiry you will likely be offered an appointment a number of weeks in advance. It is very unlikely you will get to see the doctor of your choosing because everybody else wants to see them too and they will only book about 4 weeks in advance. You either have to plum for whoever is free or call back another time. If you say your need is urgent you will be referred to telephone triage and a nurse will call you back. You then need to discuss the basics of your condition on the phone with someone you have probably never met who will then decide how urgent your need is and offer you an appointment, again a pot luck of availability. At this point you have no idea of the extent of investigation your problem will require. Will you need to be examined? Will you need to discuss personal issues?

When your appointment finally comes round you have a ten minute window to discuss the issue. The doctor is under immense pressure to find the solution and update the computer. You may or may not have met them before. You may or may not have a rapport with them. They may or may not be having a good day. You may be asked to strip off and have an intimate examination.  Have I sold it to you yet or do you think you might just soldier on with your ‘intimate problem’ until it either goes away or becomes unbearable?

The reality is that if you do need to discuss an intimate (Embarrassing is frankly an insulting term) problem there is a very high likelihood that you will be treated with a high level of professionalism and respect. There are policies and rules in place to ensure that a patients rights, dignity and safety are of paramount importance at all times. The problem is that we have completely lost the human element. Trust isn’t built on the basis of policy or rules its developed with empathy and consistency over time.

A few years back, everyone knew their family doctor. In our modern “rush rush rush money money money” society this is scarcely found and as a result health ‘care’ has become a process as appose to a therapeutic relationship.

So what is a therapeutic relationship and why is it important?  Well thankfully I don’t have to work under the same pressure as a doctor so this element of healthcare is a more integral part of what I do.  In practise it looks a little something like this: New patients are usually booked in for an hour and a half first appointment. We spend a long time discussing all aspects of their health. They may feel they can open up to me during this time, they may not, but they can come back and see me as often as they want, with or without current symptoms to work together on their health goals.  Whilst i make recommendations, the patient dictates the pace and intensity of treatments.  If we spot something unusual or potential of concern, we discuss the appropriate course of action.  Where necessary (and always with permission) I will write to their doctor or other health professional.  the patient feels supported and in control and hopefully able to talk to me about anything in safety and confidence because they have come to know me.

So obviously I’m suggesting our doctors follow this model?  Well obviously in a utopian world this would be the ideal the solution but in the real world it simply isn’t practical. Health services are at breaking point already.

Where I think the compromise lies is in a fully collaborative approach.  First of all, we as a culture need to stop viewing health as the status quo and invest in maintaining it rather than fixing it.  Complementary therapies like massage, acupuncture, counselling can all play a part in improving how we feel about ourselves and give us the opportunity to form the type of therapeutic relationships that make us to feel safe and open about areas of health that give us concern. For our part, the health industry need to put the needs of the patient first and recognise the value of working with each other. Better communication rather than fighting and posturing about who is best, cleverest, right or wrong. Only this week I was listening to a radio programme where acupuncture was again dragged through the dirt over an area of medicine where dedicated professionals support patients through an enormously emotional and traumatic procedure. Perhaps its time we started focusing more on the benefits. There are plenty of cases where complementary therapists like myself have spotted potentially serious health problems simply because we’ve had more time to investigate, observe or examine a patient or because they have felt able to discuss concerns with us in the treatment room. When this happens we aren’t trained to sit there congratulating ourselves or make promises of miracle cures. We are trained to alert doctors or refer to the most appropriate form of treatment (always with permission I hasten to add).

To me this is integrated medicine. Health professionals working together to put the needs of the patient first and breaking down those barriers like the ones from this survey.

Work life balance – 3 Steps to changing your life


work-life-balance

Photo Credit: Work Life Balance, by NY – http://nyphotographic.com/. Supplied by http://www.picserver.org under Creative Commons 3 – CC BY-SA 3.0

I remember the days quite clearly. Standing on the platform at about 5am, shattered, waiting for the train into work with several other miserable people all of us slaves to the wage.

My story is probably familiar. Job in London, moved out when I had kids so I could afford a decent house, longer commute as a result. To minimise the impact I had condensed my hours so instead of working 5 days a week I worked 4 longer ones. As a result I got an extra day at home on the weekend but the trade off was leaving the house at 4.45am and getting in at 7.30pm on a good day. If there was a delay, which there frequently was, it could be 9, 10 o’clock or dossing down with my in-laws because I couldn’t get home at all.  It was a grind and although I still believe it was the right thing to do at that time, I never the less longed for a better life.

I’m not alone in challenging the status quo.  In a recent survey  60% of respondents admitted they have a hard time maintaining a good work-life balance and most of the people I speak to would prefer to have more time to do what they want to do.  But is it really what we want and if it is, whats actually standing in the way? I suspect we will all resonate with the same thoughts: Fear of the unknown, conformity with an ingrained culture, lack of appreciation of our own self worth.  Yet if we can overcome, the rewards are priceless.

These days I work for myself.  My acupuncture clinic is about a mile from my home in the shadow of Ely Cathedral and I’ve structured my days so that I can do the school run every day and see my kids both in the morning and the afternoon.  I spend Monday and Friday at home catching up with paperwork and all of the other unspoken responsibilities of a small business owner. I don’t drive a flash car or live in a flash house but I live comfortably within my means.  Most importantly the 5am train journeys to London lie firmly in my past.

What convinced me to change.  When I reflect back on my own journey to work-life balance it happened over three distinct phases, all of which were symbolised by an event or metaphor.  I believe that by adopting this three phase approach you too can get the life you want so I have summarised each with the lesson I learned below.

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Photo by Jeremy Shultz on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license

Step 1 – Challenge your relationship with money

Everyone needs money to get by in life but it is entirely fair to say that western lifestyle is driven less by need as by desire. In my lifetime alone we have added mobile phones, broadband and cable or satellite TV to the typical household budget.  Stretch back a generation and the list wouldn’t even have included a TV.  Undoubtedly we have become more dependant on mod cons and technology but when you strip it right back, our existence doesn’t actually depend on them.

For most of us, work-life balance means making some financial sacrifices so one of the first tasks is to get a better understanding of your own relationship with money.

I first started to think about money differently when I moved to Ely where the train station is Sandwiched between a large Tesco supermarket on one side and countryside on the other amongst which is nestled the Bridge Fen allotments.

I often pondered the irony of looking out longingly at the allotments, wishing I could be out in the fresh air growing my own food for my family when instead I was travelling to work to earn money to spend in the supermarket on inferior quality produce because I was too busy earning the said money to spend any amount of meaningful time growing my own!

You may want to read that again a few times to get your head around it but in summary, by my reckoning, the lost income from trimming my working hours could have paid for itself in better quality home grown food.  Looking even more laterally at the savings, I could have most likely cancelled out my monthly gym subscription too on the natural exercise I would get maintaining an allotment.

Now I should point out, I haven’t changed my life by growing veg (though it still sits at the back of my mind in the “to-do” pile) but it was this simple observation that set me to changing my whole way of thinking.  Once I broadened this simple perspective I started looking at how I spend all of my money and asking hard questions about want over need.  Do I need an expensive house?  Do I need an expensive car?  What can I get by on.  If I don’t want to get by, how much will it all cost?  This isn’t to say I live a frugal existence.  There are many “wants” amongst my expenditures, the luxuries I feel give me the right balances in life, but what I did, and what I advocate for those who want to change their lives, is to really analyse expenditure,  challenge your thought processes and in doing so set out your priorities.  Do I need it, will I use it, will it make me happy? Cant afford your mortgage? Sell your house and buy a cheaper one. Already on the first rung of the property ladder? Sell and rent, move abroad, live in a caravan.  I know it sounds drastic but you really need to get to the bottom of what drives you.

I could buy a bigger house, I chose not to because it gives me the freedom to work less hours and spend time with my kids.  The point is that Financial freedom is an option for most of us once you peel away your manufactured barriers.

Step 2 – Find the right role in life

Photo by Carmela Nava on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license

Photo by Carmela Nava on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license

Actually this came to me last but Ive put it here in the chronology because (for reasons that become clear later) my own experience suggests that it’s a better fit sooner in the process.

For some people, the pathway to work life balance is going to be easier than for others.  Some jobs lend themselves to part-time hours or flexible working.  Others can make an easy transition to consultancy or agency work.  But what about those of us who don’t have an easy transition or who are looking for a complete change?

For many years I had longed for the freedom of working for myself.  Trouble is, I’m risk adverse.  My dad lost heavily in a business venture back in the 80s and as a result growing up was hard.  Jumping into the unknown and potentially investing speculatively on a business terrifies me and no matter how miserable I was the safety of my situation took priority over my happiness.  It didn’t stop me dreaming though and I spent days and weeks in contemplation and conversation with family and friends trying to find the perfect plan.  I got nowhere except frustrated.

My inspiration came from an unlikely source, a discarded newspaper on the train that I’d have normally ignored.  This day however I picked it up and chanced upon an article about a person who had won a slimming title after losing a phenomenal amount of weight.  I wasn’t really interested in the story and almost put it down but just at the end I saw a short sentence which read – “now works as a slimming consultant”.  The simple idea of using your own experience to coach and inspire others made complete sense and as I thought it through I realised there were other examples. Reformed drug addicts working in rehabilitation, former gang members working with inner city youth’s and many more where life experience translated to work.  From that moment I set my future career path on doing the same thing.

It was an exciting moment because I knew that this was a safe bet.  I was investing in myself and as such had as much control over the investment as its possible to have.  But what did I have that people wanted?  The answer was simpler that I’d have thought.  I’d stepped back from the world and looked at it from a different view point and when I looked around, realised that lots of other people are striving to do just that.  I was going to change my life and in doing so improve my health and then I was going to help others who were stuck! I walked down a couple of dead ends before I decided that Acupuncture would be the vehicle for delivering my aims but once I’d decided what my “purpose” was the rest became simply about getting the right tools for the job.

Now it may well be that you have a clear idea of what you want to do.  Braver people than me may chose to really go for it. If however you are like me and struggling to see what you have to offer the world my advice is to look a bit closer to home.  The answer may be a lot closer than you think.

Step 3 – Step off the merry-go-round

Photo Credit: Merry go round, The Hoppings, Newcastle upon Tyne, by Ian Britton. Supplied by FreeFoto.com under Creative Commons License

Photo Credit: Merry go round, The Hoppings, Newcastle upon Tyne, by Ian Britton. Supplied by FreeFoto.com under Creative Commons

Of course all of this insight and self realisation is just the preparation.  You can buy the best parachute, get the best training and lay out the softest landing but whichever way you sugar coat it, you will eventually have to jump and that takes either courage or an almighty shove.

My encouragement came from a good friend who used to listen with good grace to my daily moans and complaints, crazy business ideas and mad-cap plans for a future that was apparently getting no closer.  He would simply say to me, “Tony, you need to step off the merry-go-round”.  And you know what, this metaphor encapsulates the whole experience of change so beautifully I cant think of any better way to put it! I wouldn’t however recommend getting off the same way as me.  I half jumped and was half pushed when we were spinning pretty fast.  I failed to hit the ground running and as a result fell flat and hard.  You can spare yourself some pain by slowing the merry-go-round down and having a few steps planned before you jump!  That said my fall became part of my toolkit.  I got up, fixed myself and here I am now sharing the experience to spare others so I guess it wasn’t all that bad!

Bringing it all together

Embracing a work-life balance isn’t an easy task and there are times when it feels the world is against you.  Society embraces quantitive success where achievements are measured in pounds and pence and it takes a brave person to challenge this and live their life to qualitative values.

What I can say, from personal experience, is if you can embrace the change a happier healthier life is almost certainly awaiting .  Most people will secretly hanker after everything you have gained and actually, far from mocking will probably applaud you.

Good luck with your journey.

Tony is a former Metropolitan police sergeant now working as an acupuncturist in Ely, East Cambridgeshire and is available for private appointments or corporate presentations/events.  Details of how to contact him are given here.