My day was clicking along nicely until I received the following email: “Dear Paul, a Santa is urgently required for St Anne’s Children’s Christmas party. Telephone Veronica if you are available”.
In terms of a ‘feel good’ communication, this was on par with a text from Pavarotti’s Widow asking if I wanted any new trousers! Who ate all the pies? By sheer coincidence, on that very same day I heard another Santa story. In this organisation, one manager took on the role of Santa every year at their legendary children’s parties (no effort or expense was spared). This person was ‘built for comfort’ (“the bit of weight suits you”) and good with kids, so a perfect fit for the role. However, things hadn’t been going well. The manager was struggling on both the work and domestic fronts and, according to his boss, he was in “fierce bad humour”. Despite the above, the company didn’t want to ask anyone else to step in and play Father Christmas (Note to Lawyers: would ‘de-selection as Santa’ provide the basis of an unfair dismissal case?). On the day of the party, the manager in question was so down in himself that a couple of kids complained that Santa was not ‘nice’ (nothing untoward, just cranky).
Dealing with Depression: In the coaching part of my job, I sometimes encounter depression. While it’s not easy to deal with, as a leader it’s part of your job (duty of care) to spot this and support the person to get help. Dealing with depression requires professional help, not insight from someone who’s picked up the latest book on Mindfulness. A guy said to me recently: “I am living in the moment, but the moment is so black, I’d like to be living somewhere f***ing else”. While it can be triggered by the usual suspects (unemployment, bereavement, addiction, stress), sometimes the exact cause is not easy to determine. There’s pretty convincing research which demonstrates a strong genetic component; you might have a predisposition if you picked the wrong parents! So, what can you do to battle through? There are a couple of separate ideas or you can ‘order a combo’ (i.e. progress a number of these in parallel).
Do Nothing: You can decide to do nothing. We all get bouts of the blues that simply pass. Sometimes that “long black cloud” (Bob Dylan) shifts on it’s own. If it’s out of character, it might be worthwhile to hang back for a week or so and see if it blows over. Like they say about the weather in Connecticut, if you don’t like it, give it a minute (because it will change). However, if you still feel down in the dumps a week or so later there are several specific things you can do:
- Medication: If you feel really down (particularly if you have suicidal thoughts) the first port of call is to a General Practitioner. A short course of anti-depressant medication can be of immediate practical help. My sense is not to use your GP for a ‘talking cure’ (they see patients about every 12 minutes; not a lot can be accomplished in that timeframe, no matter how empathic or smart your Doctor is).
- Counselling: Going to a therapist makes sense. Make sure that they are qualified and have specific experience in working with depression. Suggest: tactfully avoid your brothers’ best friend who’s now in the Life Coaching game and has offered you a great deal! You can’t fix a problem that you don’t understand. Working with a trained therapist is arguably the best way to do this. I actually think that this is a great idea for everyone – a sort of mental MOT – even if you are not feeling down but just want to milk your talent and opportunity. In the coaching world, the standard line is that: “You don’t have to be sick to get better” (Stewart 2012).
- Exercise: Hit the gym or head for the hills (walking, Hot Yoga-ing or whatever). Release those endorphins (nature’s anti depressants). They interact with the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce our perception of pain i.e. similar to morphine. In contrast to the opiates, however, activation of the opiate receptors by the body’s natural endorphins doesn’t lead to addiction or dependence. Get on your bike!
As depression doesn’t have a single cause, it’s hardly surprising that there isn’t a single solution. But just for the hell of it, let’s consider one powerful idea for next year to avoid those January blues. Here it comes – learn to love yourself more.
2015 Resolution: Most of the time I like myself. Not everything, of course. In a perfect world, I would have swopped my mother and father with George Clooney’s parents (just in case they read blogs in heaven, hey Mam I’m only kidding). I like my curiosity and the kids (most of the time). Overall, I feel privileged and happy. But, here’s the rub. I don’t like everything about myself. Writing this particular note I’m sitting at Aberdeen Airport, waiting to board a puddle-jumper airplane on a flight back to Dublin. Lately I only seem to travel during Amber weather alerts. The breeze outside is so strong, that it’s causing turbulence to the entire building (I kid you not). So, I know in advance it’s going to be a bumpy ride and will require the aid of that old reliable i.e. 3 double Bacardi’s. I really hate being such a chicken. Everyone else seems to rock up to the gate without a care in the world. There are three possible alternatives here. The first is to make a formal proposal of marriage to the red-head at check-in. If she knew about my situation, she might relent. I’d take up residence in Scotland, build a sturdy granite house and live happily ever after. The second option is to actually do something about this (perhaps a formal request to the Bacardi factory in Cuba to put on an extra shift?). The third option is to like myself, warts n’ all. Yes, I’m missing the courage gene. I’m never going to be a test pilot or someone on the lifeboat crew. No one feels good about all aspects of themselves. The therapist Carl Rogers argued: “We cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are” (1951: 17).
So, here’s this week’s BIG idea. Let’s declare 2015 the year of mental health. Because each of us is responsible for our own mental health. While some people get a brutal ‘hand of cards’, most of use get an ‘OK hand’ and learn how to play this. In terms of the future, I have to figure out what I stand for (core purpose). I know that this will never to be fully attained, but will give me something to strive towards. I need to make sure that I’m not ‘just going along’, but am actively involved in the game; empowerment is a state of mind; if you think you are, you are. But in the midst of all this striving and forward movement, I have to learn to love myself exactly as I am. Even the bits that are not great (and there are plenty of bits that aren’t great). Perhaps, there is something in this for you too?
Just Do It! If 14 frogs sat on a log and 3 decided to jump in a lake, how many would be left? 11? No, 14. There is a BIG difference between deciding to do something and actually doing it, a chasm between desire and action (according to Kegan and Lahey, 2 Harvard Professors). In 2015, don’t be left on the log.
Happy Christmas: A huge thanks for reading the blogs each week and keeping up. Not every ‘topic’ will hit the spot for you – but some of them just might! Have a great break @ Christmas. Take a well-earned rest and some time out (in line with the 2015 resolution of being nicer to yourself). I’m taking a short break too – back on line in early January with more stories from the consulting trenches.
PS Lighter Moment: Some Golf jokes (courtesy of John McGlynn; does that man do any work?).
Golfer: “Think I’m going to drown myself in the lake.”
Caddie: “Think you can keep your head down that long?”
Golfer: “I’d move heaven and earth to break 100 on this course.”
Caddie: “Try heaven, you’ve already moved most of the earth.”
Golfer: “You’ve got to be the worst caddy in the world.”
Caddie: “I don’t think so. That would be too much of a coincidence.”
Golfer: “Please stop checking your watch. It’s a distraction.”
Caddie: “It’s not a watch – it’s a compass.”
Golfer: “That can’t be my ball, it’s too old.”
Caddy: “It’s been a long time since we teed off, sir.”
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