The HR Juggler

Archive for the ‘HR for Mental Health’ Category

ripple

All of our actions have an effect. Often we don’t know how strong the effect will be until the action has been taken for the first time: whether it will be a small pebble, slipping almost unnoticed into the water’s smooth surface, whether it will be a stone skimming across a lake creating a series of ripples, or whether the ripples gather momentum to form a wave, shifting the landscape around us and our sense of what impact our actions can have.

The beginning of this story is known to most of you. I published a guest blog in January last year, we held an HR for Mental Health event. For me, it has always been not so much those early actions which matter, the short-term reaction to the events that unfolded, but whether and how I can use those actions and the experience to effect tangible change in the business that I work in, even in the smallest of ways. Pressing ‘publish’ on the original blog post was never going to be enough on its own.

We’re now a year on and I’m proud that there are some concrete things that I can report, some ripples that have been created. In early January, my learning and development team and I met with Jon Bartlett to discuss how we could include aspects of mental health and wellness into our management training. Early next month, they, I and another HR colleague are hosting and attending Jon and Charlotte Walker’s (@BipolarBlogger) first Mental Health First Aid training course across two days. Next week, there is a one day mental health awareness course being facilitated for the Heads of HR across my wider organisation, to open a dialogue about the topic, to demystify it and to start to plan what steps and actions we will take elsewhere in the business, however small. I have had some positive conversations about incorporating it into our overall corporate responsibility programme and have been asked to report on what we have done to date and what more is planned.

Ripples start small but they build up, have a cumulative effect. I have learned that if you want change to happen, if you care enough and are in a position to have some influence, sometimes you have to be the one to keep pushing the change, to embody the change and to be the one that continues to bring it up and find a way to make it work. It’s taken me much longer than I might have imagined a year ago, to start to make those ripples and work towards making a wave on my home territory. The important thing though is that it is happening now.

So that’s me, a year on. How about you? And if you are where I was for ages, starting to start conversations, or even just thinking about starting them, knowing that you want to do something more and that your organisation is potentially willing, or might be given the chance….how can I help?

Once you start to make a ripple, it can go a long way… 🙂

Alison and Flora

I’m in training to run my first marathon in April and I’ve just reached what feels like a very significant milestone: on Friday, I ran 14 miles for the first time, the furthest I have ever run. One of the most surprising things is that it didn’t feel that big a deal when I was running it, it just felt like a natural progression from what I have been doing up until now. Which, to be fair, was exactly what it was. The other thing that has really surprised me about my training so far is how much I’m enjoying it. When I have trained for half marathons in the past, the longer distances have always felt tough and something of a chore and I often experienced something of a love/hate relationship with training and running in general at those times.

So what has changed? I guess that I’m probably fitter than I have ever been, I’ve been running four times a week since mid-November and I’ve been clocking up a fair few miles: 100 miles during December and I’m already over that figure for January. I’ve also taken nutrition and hydration more seriously, which has helped. But much more than this, it’s the social aspect of running which is making me enjoy the training more this time around. Firstly, because the marathon is a joint endeavour with my fantastic friend Flora and we are really sharing the experience, through meeting up for runs in different parts of the country, texting, chatting, emailing and generally supporting each other every step of the way. That’s made a huge difference to how I’m viewing the journey and the prospect of the marathon itself.

Secondly, I’ve made so many new running friends. I had tried running with the local club before, but it had never quite clicked for me. This time though, I took what felt at the time like the very brave step of joining the small Friday morning spin-off group of the running club, which was mostly made up of retired or semi-retired older men! I can honestly say it’s been the most brilliant running group I could have hoped for – supportive, encouraging, fun, generous in sharing their experience (there are a couple of serious, serial marathon runners amongst them), sociable and inspiring. We also follow up our runs most weeks with coffee and cakes at the local café…what’s not to like?! As the group has grown, it has also in turn led me to new friendships, adventures and experiences and challenged me in different ways, whether that is running faster or further than I imagined, or simply on different terrain. Sure, there are still days when I don’t really feel like going for a run…but those days are not frequent, and the fact that there is usually someone waiting for me so that we can run together, means that I don’t think too much about it and just get going.

Flora wrote a great post about our learnings so far. There are a few more that I have been musing about too.

  • It’s easy to look at other people and worry about the fact that they seem to be running further, faster, better than you. Chances are that there are just as many who have not done as much training, have run fewer miles at a slower pace…it’s just that you don’t notice them so much! At the end of the day though, it really doesn’t matter and you only ever train for and run your own race, nobody else’s.
  • Last week I was fortunate enough to hear Debra Searle MBE speak at our staff conference and there were two particular aspects of her talk that particularly resonated with me. Firstly, that whatever else is going on and however tough things seem, you can always make the effort to choose your attitude towards it and decide the reasons why you are choosing that frame of mind. This is something that I am definitely starting to consciously do, both when I run and when I am doing other things
  • Another pearl of wisdom from Debra was around comfort zones and how, when you are operating outside of your own, they do not remain rigid, rather they start to shift towards you and what seemed impossible, becomes eminently doable and no longer seems scary. For a long time I thought running a marathon would be beyond me; now I simply feel pleased and proud that I am progressing towards that goal and working to make it a reality. That really is something to celebrate :).

So, that’s my training update! Flora and I are raising funds for Mind and the MS Society with our marathon and if you would like to sponsor us, you can find the link here. Thanks so much for all your support.

PS. The picture at the top is Flora and I after having run a very muddy, wet 12.5 miles together at the beginning of January. We are due our next run together this weekend, which will be 16 miles in the New Forest 🙂

 

2013day24

Happy Christmas Eve! I hope you’re feeling festive and ready for the forthcoming celebrations, however you will spend the day. This is the last of the advent blogs proper – I’ve gone old skool and reverted to a traditional 24 door calendar this year. There may be one or two ‘reprise’ posts to follow after the festivities have finished…just in case you miss your daily dose of stories and stakes 🙂

Today’s post is different for many reasons…it is a haiku and is mainly pictures rather than words. It tells the story of the year that Jon Bartlett has experienced…from writing that anonymous blog in January, to everything that followed from there. For me, it’s a powerful story of courage, tenacity, struggle, possibility and hope. You can find Jon on Twitter (@Projectlibero) and over on his excellent blog.

Artwork for today (and every day!) is by the brilliant Simon Heath who has done a fabulous job of illustrating all of these advent blogs….thank you!

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So here we are, year 3 of the advent blogs yet I’m on my 4th submission. Last year I took up two spaces, the first of these was anonymous. The second was attributed, done deliberately to make sure that no-one could guess I was the writer of the first blog. Last January was a scary time. I felt like there was a lot at stake, commercial risk and social approval being top of the list.

The second blog sank without trace but that anonymous one just kept on getting shared, so in the end I came clean. I took the risk of the exposure but then a funny thing happened. People started sharing their own stories, started talking about mental health. We all started to make that a normal, (and at times, even comfortable) conversation.

Of late however, due to the pressures of therapy words have been hard to come by, I’m reminded of the quote by Ansel Adams the great American photographer.

“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”

So whilst my images do not bear comparison with Adams they speak to me. The images here remind me of my past and present and also inspire my future

Thank you all for your kindness and support. I honestly could not have achieved all I did this year without you. I wish you a Merry Christmas and the Happiest New Year.

P.S. If the pictures aren’t enough for you, then here is the thinking behind each image – and yes I did take them all, even the one with me in it.

January – Anonymity – I was safe but adrift somewhere in my mind.

February – Exposure – I took the decision at the #HR4MH event to disclose my identity.

March – Dialogue – So many good conversations this month.

April – Hectic – The respite of work.

May – Surgery – Knee surgery and getting new medication for my mind.

June – Momentum – Finally getting back on the bike (albeit very slowly)

July – Therapy – After 16 months of waiting I finally started therapy.

August – Struggle – Therapy becomes harder and harder.

September – Preservation – The urge to run from therapy, from the analysis, is immense.

October – Advocacy – Honoured to be asked to represent the charity Mind at Parliament for World Mental Health Day.

November – Adjustment – The doctors agree to me coming off medication to allow the therapy to work more effectively.

December – Reflection – An emotional year draws to a close. I struggle to express it all.

2014 – Possibility – There are several exciting announcements coming, watch out in the first few days of the New Year.

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And especially for Jon, his favourite Christmassy piece of music

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and all the very best for 2014!

2013day22

I love the way that people can come into our lives through all sorts of different routes, something that is particularly prevalent in our use of social media channels. Today’s post is written by Tracey Pallett, a friend of a couple of good friends of mine, who in turn is fast becoming a friend in her own right. From my interactions with her, I’ve found her to be articulate, principled, generous, feisty, loyal, honest and fun. You can find Tracey on Twitter (@EhOhSaysYes) and over on her blog.

Artwork for today (and every day!) is by the brilliant Simon Heath.

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The stakes are high, but the change is worth it.

For the last two years I have been on a whirlwind romance with a national charity; the main focus of this romance was being about to talk openly about my mental health and sharing my journey through mental health darkness with others, showing them that there is light just around the corner.  Though sadly it all came to an end this summer, and while at the time it felt a great loss, afterwards it showed there was more to life than placing all of your eggs in one basket.

It all started when I wrote a blog about my initial journey; sharing the depths of depression, addiction, domestic violence and homelessness, and how I worked hard to overcome the horrors that visited in my nightmares every night.  While to me it was written as a form of escapism, to others it was like a breath of fresh air to hear someone come out the other end of what a lot of people struggle to overcome.  People would ask me how I came out of something like that, how did I cope with the life changes I went through, or how did I do that all on my own.  My answer was always “because I had to.” There was no ‘choice’ in the actions I took to get out of that situation; I had to do what I had to do.

So, when this blog was published by a charity, the response from people was overwhelming and it led to more amazing opportunities to come my way.  I was asked by the charity to work as a Peer Reviewer for their local organisations, I was given the opportunity to help develop a national website of theirs, I was given the chance to help other people with mental health conditions on a Peer Support basis.  While doing the ‘hands on’ work there were more adventures that were passed in my direction; advertising, publicity, media work, and the most amazing of all was to become one of the faces of this charity.   This was an opportunity to let the world know about this charity without actually saying a word to anyone, my face drew people in to look further in their own time.  It allowed people to see that there was help out there for mental health and that they’re not alone.  This is such a proud moment in my life, especially when you take into account how my life was just 5 years previously.

Then things changed, my view of life changed, my view of how to help people changed and due to circumstances which appeared out of my control I had to make the ultimate sacrifice.  I had to walk away from this amazing world I once loved and would have done anything for.  When it happened I was in shock, I didn’t know where I could turn to for support and I didn’t know who I could trust to discuss the details of what happened.  From letting people know that they are not alone with mental illness, I felt alone myself.  I didn’t know what was going to happen from here on, and I didn’t know whether the stakes of losing this relationship was worth the pain I was feeling.  The future just didn’t look so bright anymore.

While this magical journey was going on, on the side lines I worked my way into medical school.  At the time it felt that medical school was on the back burner while I was happily talking about mental health and making sure people didn’t feel alone.  Though, through the tears and pain I came to realise that I had worked just as hard to get into medical school as I did to get out of that dark period of my life.  Although I went to therapy to work through the emotions of my recent loss, it was talking with friends who reminded me that getting into university was an amazing feat, but to get into medical school was something very special indeed.  For the first time in two years I was able to look at what I could make from my life, for my life.  Why should this incredible journey end here because I couldn’t see the wonder of medical school and where I can take it.

What was at stake for me was losing this relationship with a charity, losing friendships because I couldn’t talk about it, losing my own blogging identity, no longer feeling I had direction in my life.  Though what came out of this loss was something that I feel would never have happened unless I did walk away; the ability to see strengths in myself, to see a future in education, to know that I can make a good doctor, that I can help people from the other side of the desk.  I now have purpose again and with friends helping me see there are great things to discover in the medical world, I can continue to grow and learn.  I can appreciate myself once more.

While the stakes were high in walking away from homelessness, to me the stakes we just as high walking away from this charity.  Though on both occasions, leaving these things behind me has need up a whole new world to me; a world that I want to be part of and enjoy to its fullest, a world of amazement and wonder that can only lead to one thing; true joy and happiness.  It has taught me to not be afraid of change, but to embrace it and take control of where the journey goes from here.

2013day9

It has been an absolute pleasure and a privilege to get to know Charlotte Walker aka @BipolarBlogger this year, both in person and through social media. She is immensely bright, articulate and compelling and offers those unfamiliar with the daily realities of living with a mental health condition a really powerful insight into what matters about the topic and how she experiences life. I can honestly say I have learnt more from her this year than she will probably ever know…and I am sincerely grateful to her for her generosity and consistent searing honesty. You can follow Charlotte on Twitter (@BipolarBlogger) and read more posts from her over on her excellent, award-winning blog.

Artwork for today (and every day!) is by the brilliant Simon Heath.

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2013 began just four months after losing another career. It’s not impossible to retain a profession when you have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, but it can be extremely difficult, particularly when your episodes last for not months but years. I began the New Year with the knowledge that although my condition was improving, I was still nowhere near able to work full time. I could not cope with a commute and I knew I was not resilient enough to go back to the kind of target-driven public sector job I had always worked at. I would have to do something different – but what? My confidence was low. I did not feel employable.

When my friend Jon Bartlett offered me a chance to take part in an event entitled Human Resources for Mental Health (or #HR4MH), I jumped at the chance (you can read the transcript of my talk, as well as Jon’s reasons for organising the event). I couldn’t put my finger on why, but being there seemed important. I couldn’t have known it, but that early February evening would be a catalyst to beginning to build a new career, for one simple reason: people who heard my talk came forward to tell me that they believed in me. I wasn’t sure that I believed in me, but they did, and they were people I respected.

During 2013 I began to believe in myself more, to push against the boundaries of my illness and find that my limitations were not so fixed as I had once thought. Although I was already comfortable with publically about my mental health if you had told me in February that by June I would speak confidently on live television (Sky News), I would not have believed you. If you had told me in June that in September I would spend an afternoon in Westminster, telling the story to a string of MPs, I would have been amazed. If you had suggested then that by advent 2012 I would have won a prestigious Mind Media Award for my blog, appeared on Woman’s Hour and be waiting to interviewed for Society Guardian, I would probably have laughed. Yet I have done all this and so much more.

At #HR4MH I described living with a fluctuating mental health condition as like being repeatedly inundated by a tidal wave. I’m still not home and dry – I couldn’t manage a nine to five job even now – but I see more dry sand than I did a year ago. When placing my stakes, I have had to bang them in hard, hoping for some structure and security even if the waters rise again. One form of security I particularly need is the financial kind. Some of what I do has begun to pay, but it is not yet enough to live on. I have to fully believe that the things I do – from public speaking to consultancy, from research to writing – are worth paying for, and paying well. So I’ll keep exploring my beach, banging in my stakes just as hard as I can. And when I eventually reach the safety of the dunes I will look back at my haphazard line of stakes and think: I did that.

Yesterday, I ran the Royal Parks Half Marathon in aid of Mind. I wrote about the different motivations and beginnings of this decision here. Many people have asked me how it was, and in truth, it was mixed. I am hugely proud of one part of my achievement and far more ambivalent about another part of it…and it is perhaps at this point in time, of reflecting upon what I’ve learnt, that helps me to better understand the complexity of my motivation for doing the run and what, after all, matters most.

The running itself is only one part of this story, but it matters to me enough to explain the context. The first time I ran Royal Parks Half last year, I had been running for only four months and I had no expectation of a finishing time, my goal was to simply complete it with a smile on my face and joy at having done what I had set out to do. And I did – I ran it in 2 hours 17 minutes, was elated at having achieved my goal.  I followed this up by running a hilly (and freezing!) half marathon in Tunbridge Wells in February, where running with some speedier friends, I completed the course in an exhausting but wonderful 2 hours 4 minutes. This, of course, is what set my context for this weekend’s half marathon: I wanted to better my personal best, continue improving, even though I knew how hard it had been to run the distance in that time previously.

In the event, I ran this weekend’s half marathon in a respectable 2 hours 10 minutes, which is OK but not amazing. Yes, it was hot, yes it was crowded with thousands of other runners, but in truth the most important element for my learning was that it was consistent with how I had trained. I did entertain an aspirational hope that I might have squeezed in under the 2 hour mark…but to do that, I would have had to have run the fastest 5k and 10k that I have ever knowingly achieved…and then maintain that pace all the way round! So, it would always have been a stretch. On reflecting upon this now, I realise that if I really want to get faster at running, I have to practise running more quickly at the shorter distances and build up from there. There are many parallels to this in life, as well as in business…that would be a whole post in its own right!

The running itself was only ever one part of the story though…my biggest privilege was running with this on my back:

photo

It is this that, for me, puts everything else into perspective and makes me enormously proud of what I did yesterday. Roger was a better runner than I will ever be…he was one of these extraordinarily fit people who ran marathons and frequently went out running with bricks in his rucksack to challenge himself further. Whilst running yesterday, I thought of him often: how amused he would be that I had taken on the gauntlet of running for him, rather than my lovely husband, how chuffed he would be to know that I have so far raised £755 plus gift aid for Mind in his memory and how he would be genuinely amazed and touched that 11 years on, we still love and care and think about him as much as we do. For my part, I wished I had known him better and for longer, wished he was still with us today to chat things over with…but it was special to be able to honour his memory in the way that I was able to yesterday.

So, how was it? Physical and mentally tough at times, long, hot, tiring, exciting, rewarding, inspiring…and a privilege to do it in the memory of those who are no longer able to. All in all, pretty amazing!

I also had some fantastic supporters in the shape of Jon Bartlett and Charlie Elise Duff who came along to watch and cheer me on, which I appreciated hugely!

If you would like to retrospectively sponsor me and donate to Mind, you can find my sponsorship page here. Any amount, large or small will make a difference to the excellent work that Mind do. Thank you!

running

This blog post is far from neat or conventional in the usual rules of beginning, middle and end.  It seems to me that there are at least three different beginnings to the story that I want to share with you, the middle continues to be a work in progress and the end is far from known. Many of the pieces of this jigsaw may already be familiar to you, so forgive me for restating them.

The beginnings are these…

In January 2002, my brother-in-law committed suicide. None of us knew at the time that he was depressed or suffered any mental health issues. I wrote about his story here.

In January of this year, I published this post as part of the Advent and New Year series, written by Jon Bartlett, which caused huge waves in the HR community about the topic of mental health and what we as HR professionals could do about it. This led to the 25% Club series of posts of individuals sharing their experiences of suffering mental health conditions, an HR for Mental Health event with Mind Charity, organised by Jon and a much more open dialogue on the topic of mental health.

This time last year, I was training for my first half-marathon, having not run at all previously. It was a huge deal to me, uncertain as I was as to whether I would achieve the goal which at the start had appeared reckless and unattainable. I did it and was delighted.

Right now I am again in training for the Royal Parks Half, which takes place on the 6th October. This time I am running for Mind and I really want to raise as much money as I can for them, as it is such a brilliant cause. Because of my brother-in-law and because of the increased understanding that I have gained this year of mental health and the work that Mind do, it means a huge amount to me and I would love it if you could support me and them.

This will be my third half-marathon in a year and I am still waiting to discover the magical point of when the training becomes easier, or perhaps more accurately, when it becomes easy…but given that the three or four training runs I do each week still frequently feel tough, I don’t think that will happen anytime soon! That’s OK..I know I’m not alone on that one ;).

If you would like to support me and donate to Mind, you can find my sponsorship page here.

Please do take the time to check out some of the fantastic resources that Mind produce about mental health at work and visit the excellent Time To Change website.

Thank you!


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