A few times every year, I attend Mind, Body and Spirit events in order to promote my counselling practice and to promote the Inner Calm stress management courses and relaxation workshops. In doing this, I attempt to describe as succinctly as possible what it is I offer, bringing with it a huge internal conflict for me as, on the one hand, I am there somewhat in the role of a salesman but at the same time desperate to be an honest, authentic and compassionate helper. It helps me to remember why I started on this journey in the first place.
I trained as an integrative counsellor as a way of being able to help others that might go through some of my own, at times, very painful experiences, particularly workplace stress and depression. For me, these are not abstract concepts learned from text books but real lived experiences and ever present realities.
For me, things started to go really badly in around 2000 while working for a technology company in Cambridge. A few years previously, my son had undergone a stem cell transplant to treat Hodgkin's disease and by this time I recovered reasonably well from that stress and settled back into my working routine.
Despite a flawless work attendance record, having to be signed off sick by my GP and admitting it was for depression was the worst move I could possibly have made. Immediately, my absence became a disciplinary issue, and I mean immediately. As soon as they possibly could they made sure that I was among those made redundant. Redundancy isn't personal is it? It is when at the same time they are recruiting somebody else to replace you!
Perhaps at times I behaved unwisely being confronted by a particularly unhelpful colleague who himself was not coping well with the stress he was under. The company could have helped if they had chosen but the line managers chose to get rid of us both as quickly as possible, to bury the problem instead of offering any help whatsoever. Rather than retaining, I would like to think, two very talented colleagues, they simply discarded us both.
Fast forward to 2009, while completing my counselling degree, I was also working full time for a mobile telephony test equipment company. Although I had taken a lot on and at times it could be stressful fitting in work, study and placements, I actually got a real buzz from it all. So work was hard but OK, study was hard but OK, and keeping up with my placement was OK. There were times at work when it was necessary to hide some pretty awful depressive episodes, but mostly I managed, mainly through the supported of my wife and family. My line manager had absolutely no idea how bad things were for me until I had a sudden break down.
My mother had became ill and it fell to me, through geography, to be the member of the family to support her with journeys to Kings Hospital in London for investigations and treatment. As far as I was aware, I was still coping OK and then in the early hours of one morning I had a seizure and ended up in A and E. My driving license was revoked for several months and I was unable to travel to work. An MRI scan showed that I had experienced some bleeding on the brain and an occupational therapist recommended a phased return to work. Despite, this one of the kinder HR officers there advised me that the senior management would rather see the back of me and advised me to take “redundancy”. Another job gone!
As far as I can tell from clients I work with now, nothing has changed in the workplace. To this day, so many employers ignore mental health. I use the word ignore as it suits them to close off to the issue of stress in the workplace, to sweep it under the carpet. Sure, it is not possible to run a successful company without some degree of stress being present but it's what you do with it that counts. It's how you treat those that don't cope well all of the time. It's hard enough keeping up with working and domestic responsibilities when time are good, but at times one more challenge is one too many. How about helping your staff member through the tough times because if you do you might have a loyal committed employee for life. Giving staff the opportunity to share their problems with an external impartial helper can and often does help to reduce the stress they are feeling.
Since finally graduating in 2010, I have continued to study and develop my counselling approaches and have, along with my wife qualified as a mindfulness trainer. Our own awareness of mindfulness goes back to the early 90s when our son was so gravely ill and we have continued to grow our mindfulness skills an use them to teach others what we found out the hard way.
Stress and depression don't only effect the individual but everyone around them. It puts relationships under immense stress, can lead to dependence on alcohol or prescription drugs, and undermines the ability to be a reliable work colleague. I'm sure there were times that I could be a nightmare to be around at home. Mindfulness is key in enabling you to live with mental health challenges but it is compassion that gives you the wisdom to understand that it does not make you indestructible.
It is difficult to afford individual counselling for many people and so workshops and courses offer a lower cost alternative that will help most people. Now, along with my counselling work, myself and my wife run mindfulness workshops and courses designed to help people discover ways to take time out and to cope with stress.
Our Pure Relaxation workshops are designed as self contained sessions that individuals can attend as little or as often as they like. Each session looks at a different topic connected to mindfulness. We teach simple meditation, use guided visualisation and progressive relaxation, and encourage you to explore ways of growing self compassion. I firmly believe that self compassion is totally essential for coping with stress, reducing anxiety and for managing depression. The aim is to build resilience to support a more robust approach to self care when faced any challenges that might occur in the future.
We take regular baths, clean out teeth and change our clothes in order to maintain our physical hygiene, to keep ourselves healthy. What if we try a similar approach to our mental hygiene? Our pure relaxation workshops are designed to develop self compassion and regular mindfulness practice as ways of maintaining good mental hygiene.
Our next Pure Relaxation workshops start on Saturday 9th April at 10am at the Norwich Wellbeing Centre, near Chapelfield Gardens. Why not give it a try. We invite you to pay what you think it is worth. For more information please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.innercalm.co.uk.