Take Note Team
Back in May, we shared our thoughts on mental health. It's a topic that's generating increasing awareness, in particular amongst the growing community of remote, work-from-homers who can be prone to feelings of isolation, stress and anxiety. We encouraged our transcribers to share their own experience with mental health. Our first is Charlotte, who wrote this piece for us.
On a bad day
It’s 9.45am. I’m a little tired, but I take a cup of tea to my desk, tidied last night in an attempt at being the kind of person whose work station is organised, and I settle myself down with a big cardigan because it’s always cold in here. I take a sip, look at the portal, consider the deadline and I want to cry. I look around, but there’s no one there.
It’s a bad day. There’s no one there even on a good day, but on bad days the absence feels especially large.
I have a black dog, you see. It’s been there for a long time and it comes and goes but usually it comes back. And my black dog, it looms over me while I’m working and reminds me that I’m no good at this job and that the people in the office all dislike me. Sounds like a recipe for a great working day, and you’re absolutely right: it isn’t. And the thing is, I know this already. If you asked me if self-doubt was the best way to get work done and feel satisfied by it, I’d tell you no, it isn’t, clearly.
A couple of weeks ago I was in a training session and the leader asked one person if they’d agree to be blindfolded. Our task was to then guide our target between three points on the floor, only using our voices. We were to shout encouraging statements along with our directions for a large portion of the task, but when the leader put her thumbs down, we were to be more negative, ‘no, that’s wrong, what are you doing that for?’ Our target responded much as you might have expected. When she was being praised, she was able to take several steps forward at a time but when that support was withdrawn she froze and couldn’t take another step. It works just the same when you say it to yourself, if you’re willing to hear the bad things and accept them as true, they become true. You move towards and settle inside that belief and it becomes your shell. And the thing about a shell is, it keeps the outside away. Judy Heminsley writing in the Guardian refers to what she calls small fish syndrome; the idea that when you feel smaller and like you have less to offer, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and you curb your own reach in response, believing you have nothing new to offer.
That’s the most difficult part of working from home, aside from the discipline, aside from if and when to take a lunch break, is the outside being kept away. This is par for the course, but it makes it much easier to settle into those negative belief patterns in the first place. Isolation is something that’s being talked about more and more at the moment, as we’re being encouraged to check on the older people within our communities and to look out for ourselves and as much as the thought of being stuck in a cubicle across from someone all day makes me want to scream, sometimes working remotely by myself leaves me feeling like I’m the only person in the world. An endless echo chamber of my own thoughts punctuated by emails asking for help that I can’t always offer. I often wonder, does anyone else feel guilty for not being able to work all the time? Does anyone else out there make mistakes and panic that they’ve formatted their quotes in the old style not the new style and then wonder if they dreamt that there was a new style at all?
I think what I need, and what we all need is that connection. That feeling of being part of something, something worthwhile. I notice that when I’m able to do work that I feel is going to contribute to something, I feel better about it, or when I know I’m part of a bigger project that others are working on too. It’s not only in a work environment that I see this; it’s in the giggles exchanged behind the scenes, as a group of us organise a summer hen weekend for a friend we’ve known twenty years, knowing how delighted she’ll be when she sees it. It’s in co-ordinating schedules so that old friends can spend Christmas Eve together. It's in the sound of clattering pots, pans and plates heard through open windows on a summer's night, in knowing we are all connected, that we are never alone.
What can be done
So then the question becomes - if this is what we need, how do we go about getting it? (For me, the secondary question is ‘how do I stop overthinking everything?’ but that's by the by.) How do we feel connected when we work alone, remotely? Heminsley reminds us to go outside or to visit a coworking space; not exactly feasible for those of us who work in villages in the wilds of the Midlands (!).
That said, going outside even for a short time and even in the garden can help to feel as though there is life outside your own head. The word mindfulness is said a lot these days but there is something to be said for taking a moment and grounding the self. Dr Kristin Neff's self-compassion approach recommends remembering that there are thousands of people across the world feeling the very way you do right now, and I believe that can be helpful. The act of remembering someone else might also be feeling no good, disliked, powerless at that very second and that it may not be true for them, so it's not necessarily true for you either.
In truth, I don't know what the answer is, perhaps because the answer will look different for every individual. For me it looks like arranging times to video call my best friend in Belgium, cooking dinner together with my mum a couple of nights a week, remembering to sit in the garden and absorb some nice vitamin D, long walks once or twice a week and a short walk before breakfast. More than that though, it looks like remembering I have the power to cultivate my own garden and to create my life, create positive, fairer beliefs and live inside them. It won't happen overnight, but just for a moment, fellow TN worker, let me imagine reaching out a hand to you across these wires, routers and keyboards and remember that we're never really alone.
Written by Transcriber Charlotte
Are you comfortable sharing your own stories on mental health? How does your mental health impact your life? What do you find helps it, or makes it worse? If you'd like to share your story, get in touch. We’re not doing this as some sort of X Factor-style hunger for sob stories, although obviously this isn’t a subject that’s all chocolate boxes and roses. Perhaps you’ve found a new lease of life now that you’re able to work from home, or maybe you’ve seen a great new therapist who’s helped give you a fresh perspective on things. We’re really happy Charlotte wants to share her experience and we’d love for others to do the same. If you don’t want to do that then we’d be more than happy to have a private conversation with you.