Fuck It! Strength through Vulnerability. Part 3 of 3.
I had to be more open-minded. I had to go out of my comfort zone. I was struck by a quote saying, “Easy Choices, Hard Life. Hard Choices. Easy Life.” Straight away I got on Meet Up and found a Confidence and Self Esteem group. I did something before I could change my mind. I thought about my assets more. From the get go, my teaching was better. I wasn’t drinking. More healthy eating. More exercise. I was sticking to routines. I was on my way back up. I had started to make changes and this time they felt genuine. These modifications were not intended to be a means to an end, such as to look good for a wedding or a job interview. They are the beginning of lifelong changes. At my first Meet Up I listened to a guy speak with raw honesty. I was humbled and inspired to be around others who had suffered. I felt part of something. I confessed about the feelings I had in the hotel room three weeks earlier. I was listened to. I became aware of the things I had put myself through, “we suffer more often in imagination than reality.”
At the same time, I started some therapy. It helps me to talk through things and get them off my chest. I’ve not held anything back. I am truly learning how to feel. Making lists about what I liked about myself felt strange at first but I continued employing a ‘fuck it’ attitude. This is helping me on my journey. I had identified that I may want to work in the charity sector so I began researching fresh challenges. I felt a longing to return home so we discussed it thoroughly and came to a mutual decision to move. My life had very quickly become more stable and consistent and I was thinking long term for the first time in a long time. It became empowering to think of what I could bring to a new role. I confided in my counsellor that I never learned to ride a bike, about how fucking stupid and pointless I often feel as a human being having to admit this. Even if you laughed in my face about it you couldn’t possibly match the mental punishment I’ve put myself through over the past 20 years about this. I promised to him I’d let him teach me.There will always be challenges. In May I left my phone in the park after football, I returned after five minutes to find it gone. Previously I would have massively overreacted yet this time I accepted it and just moved on with things, not letting the event derail me. I used an old phone and scaled back my social media usage which I would describe as average yet it could often be a distracting influence. To be honest, not looking at Facebook and not comparing myself to others really helped me. It allowed me to focus more firmly on my self-improvement project. Not content with twice weekly football, self-esteem meet-ups and counselling I identified making a noticeable weight loss my next challenge. I was so inspired watching the marathon runners on the day, especially those who had appeared on the Mind over Marathon programme on BBC. It made me think that I could achieve my goals.
I signed up for Man v Fat. A football league for overweight men with added points awarded for weekly weight loss, a bloody fantastic idea that is now getting national press. I am really starting to enjoy football again and it has helped me with my anxiety to throw myself into situations by facing my fears and doing it anyway. As one of the lighter participants it feels quite nice, even if I am not an amazing player. It is brilliant to be part of a team all achieving the same goals. I have achieved a weight loss every week and since April I would estimate I have now lost well over a stone in 2017. I did another 33 days off the booze. I even look forward to my daily salad at lunch! I don’t want to stop drinking entirely but I can enjoy the positive effects of no alcohol on my body and my mind. I have spoken with many people about the gut-wrenching anxiety that comes with a hangover. Glad I’m not the only one who feels it! Frankly I could do without this but I’d like to achieve a happy relationship as an occasional social drinker. I take the weight loss very seriously though. Being focused is giving me structure and consistency.
Talking therapy continues to provide a listening ear and early on helped me to identify barriers to self-acceptance. Many of my strengths were things I viewed in a negative light, seeing them as weaknesses that have led to me failing in this driven, dog-eat-dog world. I have always been emotional and cared too deeply about things. I display compassion and empathy yet never appreciated these qualities in myself. I never classified these feelings before but now I am proud to say that I am a person of integrity. Having a label for it gives me strength because I believe in these abilities. Through discussion I now realise that it is possible to show vulnerability and strength. I am starting to feel better about myself. About time!
In teaching I have always had excellent relationships with my pupils and with teaching assistants, but have suffered from stress and the pressure of excessive paper work and meeting the demands of managers, fellow teachers and middle leaders. Coupled with the ludicrous expectations I was placing on myself, I was heading for a fall. The teaching has always been my favourite part, but I have little love for the rest of it. I could write a whole blog entirely about this. Early on in my career I passed on applying for a promotion, not deeming the skills I had as worthy enough. Over the years my passion for the job has diminished. I’ve changed job often. I’m very down-to-earth and highly adaptable and flexible. In June, I began a half-term block of teaching in a school I have supplied often at. I like the staff as they are regular, normal people. As I prepare to leave the profession, I’m starting to enjoy it again. Funny that.
Through the self-esteem and confidence meet up, I said yes to starting a seven-month coaching course. I can fund it by not drinking as often. This is something I would previously have not considered but I have enjoyed immersing myself into this world. Having opened up and shared my true fears I am having deeply meaningful conversations with people who feel that they have also not achieved their true potential. It is liberating to start a journey of self-discovery and self-improvement and it works well with all of the other things happening in my life. The plates are all spinning serenely. My ultimate aim is to be in a new job by October and I have expanded my field of possible new challenges by thinking about not only charities but advice, guidance, coaching and counselling. I want my newfound strengths to be an asset to others. Obviously, I have years of experience with children but my experience of coaching adults in my group as well as a friend on an informal basis have given me a real boost. I am on the front foot, beginning to be pro-active not reactive.
My coach, who is a top bloke, has been motivating and helped me to set regular targets for myself. As I’ve gone into this with an open mind (a ‘fuck-it’ attitude) I have found I am learning about myself all the time. I have identified the things I felt have held me back (many of which have already been covered) and I have referred to these as issues and circumstances. What has been instilled into me so far is that I am not these issues and circumstances. Instead I have generated talents I see in the best version of myself. I want to be in control, courageous and prepared. The thing is I already am these things, although I don’t always feel it. Still, if I keep the emphasis on these qualities and make them the focus when making decisions and setting targets, I can achieve more. All I need to do is think, what would a courageous version of myself do? Write a blog!
My mission is to make my life work for me. Is it working? Am I in control? These thoughts bounce around in my head constantly and keep me on track to keep learning. I once read a quote “It is all about the journey, not the destination” and that feels so true now. I am happier but I don’t want to be irritating about it. I am going somewhere good and I want to share that. This fire and fight that burns in me had led to a surge of energy and confidence which has propelled me to write this blog. I have found it a great way to capture the flurry of ideas that swirl around inside my head. I believe I have always had a quick mind. Can I build on this surge? My counsellor explained to me that we are all muddling along in life, I believe he has hit the nail on the head there and it is nice to hear it from others. Everybody has worries and struggles, but some just appear to be coping better, that’s all. It is the comments of others and the quotes I read that truly underpin this whole experience and lead to the next level of learning.
To anybody reading this looking for a quick-fix, there is no magic transformation. It takes time and is bloody frustrating. Share your raw truths, don’t hold anything back. Stay on the track, even if you stray, get back on it quickly. I haven’t yet got my desired result but the things I have experienced throughout have moved the goalposts. The same should happen to you. Now my brain is expanding. It is like a muscle after all and I am undeniably giving it a hefty work out. Some days I’m exhausted and my brain becomes saturated. The fatigue and stress can open up old wounds but I am learning to laugh at some of my irrational thoughts. I often catastrophise and think up imaginary situations where I feel threatened or there is some confrontation or disapproval. I have to check myself and laugh them off as they are often complete bullshit. If you see a random guy laughing to himself on the tube, it could be me.
Sometimes I take on too much responsibility and I feel blurred and unable to think straight. It is important to be good to yourself and revisit your achievements and positive qualities. Self-improvement and acceptance can be a daily struggle but it is worth it when you achieve results. In my case certain weight loss milestones, getting into a new pair of trousers, someone telling me I have lost weight and great feelings to behold. Starting a food diary was tough at first but stick with something and it can become habitual. Through research I have found that it takes 20-30 days for a habit to develop, which I certainly felt when not drinking.
Finding a passion is so important. Something you can speak from the heart about and really care about so you feel you can get your teeth into it. Thinking about coaching and target setting helped spur me on to complete tasks such as updating my CV, writing a cover letter, setting up my LinkedIn and applying for jobs. After all, that is what an in control, successful and courageous person would do. I feel alive. What I have found useful is looking back at targets met to boost me up when I experience mini-moments of stress. Last week I felt really pissed off about not having found a suitable job for when I move to Manchester. I looked over my achievements so far and looked again, finding a few suitable opportunities that I intend to apply for. Am I scared and worried? Yes. Am I going to do it anyway? Yes.
On occasion, I have the odd wobble where I experience panic, feeling like an imposter in my own life. Who are you? What is the ‘new’ you? Is this ‘new’ you boring? Was the ‘old’ you better? These represent some of the resistance my mind creates. I often find it nice to focus on appreciating past memories and some of the fantastic experiences I have had in my life to take my mind off this mental troll. I have lived in Amsterdam, Southern Spain, Rome and London. Not too shabby. One thing that has persistently bugged me is the idea of writing this blog. It has taken me weeks of mental toing and froing to finally start tapping away. I have had to do it just to stop myself thinking about it. The main worries include: What if its crap? What if people hate it? What if it makes me look like a dick? What if it upsets family and friends? Who gives a shit about you? Will I get trolled by some prick? Who the hell do you think you are?
After careful thought my response is fuck off I’m doing it anyway. I’m not even going to whisper it but I think I’m a pretty inspiring person who has embraced his flaws and is making peace with himself. What have you done, imaginary critic who I have just created? I’ve got nothing to lose so let’s see where this takes me. I recently spoke with a group member who was worried that those around her would see her newfound confidence as arrogance and was able to realise that of course it will be hard to get used to a new me but all true friends want to see you happy. Single-mindedness is something I have never, even demonstrated until now because I’ve been petrified but feel it is fundamental for growth. I’m putting myself first.
This leads me to the idea of taking risks. Of putting myself out there. Recent quotes that emphasise this point are “always be a first-rate version of yourself instead of a second-rate version of someone else” and ‘the fearful are caught as often as the bold”. It is amazing how quotes like these can encapsulate a feeling you were unable to previously express. They sum up what has been wrong with the last five years of my life. I now try to extend my personal quest from ‘fuck it’ to ‘fuck it just do it’. Let’s see what happens and have a giggle if it goes wrong. I could create something from just blindly going for something. How can it make me worse?
This is my confession. It has been a cathartic experience for me. I still have doubts. I spend large amounts of my time frantically scribbling down thoughts, feelings and ideas. I read advice pages, books and other people’s experiences. Above all, I’m interested in mental health and the reaction and support people receive. After I had a breakdown I didn’t share that with too many people and I wish I had, yet if I had broken my leg I’m sure I would have gone fishing for likes on Facebook and received considerably more attention. Nevertheless, the situation is improving and its now becoming more acceptable to discuss our struggles. I would like the intended audience for this to be those who feel trapped, lonely or isolated. I also feel that I could get through to men who might be scared to discuss their issues and circumstances. The national conversation has started and I hope I can be in some way part of it. Writing this has helped me to process my experiences. If one person reads it and finds it useful I will be over the moon.
Carl Jung said, “Loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you.” Life is tough. We get on with things. It affected me, but I haven’t done too badly if I take a step back. I was crying out to read something like this when I was experiencing dark times, to give me strength. Don’t suffer in silence. Do something to address it. Share with people who understand. With people who have also suffered. People out there care about you. I give a shit. They give a shit.
Unlock your future. Take steps. Talk.
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