Tag Archives: work

Work, depression and self esteem

Here are some mechanics I have observed repeatedly in my own life, and am fairly sure I am seeing in the lives of various of my friends who suffer from depression.

Overworking → exhausted → depressed → feeling inadequate → unable to work → feeling even more inadequate → becoming even more depressed.

Or…

Overworking → exhausted → depressed → feeling inadequate → working harder → becoming even more exhausted → becoming more depressed.

When you look to work for validation, for a sense of self worth and achievement, and depression is gnawing away at your underpinnings, the odds are you aren’t going to win. But, if you don’t work (be that paid or unpaid), you get to feel even more useless. Depression is good at telling a person they are useless, worthless, unlovable, unacceptable.

Thus when depression kicks in, I turn towards work to try and feel validated. While resting might help my body, it can actually leave me more anxious and insecure than trying to crack on. Instead of turning to others around me for help and kindness, I dig in to the most utilitarian relationships. I focus on where I am most useful, not where most good flows towards me.

I’ve looked hard at the mechanics of this, as it happens in my own life and as I observe others on the same downward spirals. The conclusions I have come to are that it is very hard to get off this spiral on your own, and that once you are on it is not a good time to be dealing with the things that cause it. The real answer lies in what happens the rest of the time – how loved, supported, valued, resourced and welcome a person feels. The degree to which utility dominates relationships in the normal scheme of things. The amount of positive feedback and soul food.

This in turn leads me to thinking about how we normally treat each other. How transactional are our relationships? How much of a feeling of scarcity underpins how we treat each other? How much do we do to validate each other in the normal scheme of things? What do we do for the people around us if we suspect they aren’t ok? If we can support and validate each other on terms that are not primarily about usefulness, I suspect we can all help each other stay out of the awful downwards spirals.

There is a massive amount of power in telling someone you value them, and that their value is not conditional on what they do for you.

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The healing power of kindness

When faced with someone in difficulty, it’s very easy for any of us to minimise what we’re seeing or being told. We may well fear that if we are helpful, or cut them slack, we will be taken advantage of. And of course in some instances, this will prove to be the case. However, when we can be kind to each other, we can have powerful effects on each other.

Workplaces often make people ill – they are a massive source of stress and anxiety. People who are overworked and falling behind can seem like a hazard to those who are keeping up. One person’s shortfalls are another person’s escalating problem. It can be hard to push back against that, and it may well carry risks. If we can be kind to each other, we can resist the work culture that will run us all until we collapse. Kindness is a route to not seeing each other as disposable and replaceable.

With kindness, you can find the options that allow people to participate. Reliably stopping the meeting when you said you would stop the meeting can radically improve inclusion. Listening to what people can manage and factoring that in is really powerful. Support and enable people to do the best they can, and more often than not, they’ll do that. When we treat each other kindly, we’re not usually going to open the floodgates for people being exploitative and taking the piss.

When we look after each other, we open the way to being recipients of care as well as givers. We create a culture of care, of watching each other’s backs and helping each other out. We stop counting the cost to us of everything we do when we don’t feel reduced by that. In a culture where support flows to where it’s needed, when you are resourced, you can better afford to be generous. If enough people are prepared to embody the idea that what goes around comes around, they will turn it into a shared truth.

Healing takes time, rest, peace, less stress. It doesn’t really matter what you’re healing from, if the people around you are kind and supportive, you’ve got a better shot at it and will do it sooner. If we are kind to each other, not only can we help with individual healing, but we create a scope for cultural healing, for community wellness and for relationships based on trust and doing our best. Kindness is the key to dismantling exploitative systems that treat people as disposable. Kindness is the key to building something better.

It need not be dramatic. Small injections of kindness into your normal day will have a significant influence on the people around you. It’s also a self-empowering thing to do. When you give with confidence, you also get to feel better.


When to run away

Anxiety creates strong urges to run away. Perhaps some people get fight as well as flight, but I suspect that panic is more likely to just kick off the flight impulse.

A few years ago I decided to give myself permission to act on my panic. I’d been through a lot of challenging situations where I’d had to stay put, no matter what it cost me. Staying with something that has panicked you so much that you feel an overwhelming urge to flee, is something I find not only emotionally tough, but takes a toll on my body as well. Not running away increases the stress. Not manifesting the stress in any visible way creates massive tension in me.

I talked with my nearest and dearest about strategies to manage my running away. We started planning how to handle situations that looked high risk for panic. It took the pressure off considerably. I’ve had to run away from a few things, and it’s generally been a good choice.

Of course running away is only a delaying tactic for some issues. It can be expensive in other ways. I’ve had two work related panic issues in the last year. Running away from workspaces means running away from money. I’ve run away from jobs before that were making me ill, and I’ve run away from a couple of volunteering situations as well. I have learned to put my mental health first, and created a living arrangement that allows me to get out if something is making me ill.

The most recent rounds have been remarkably different however, because both times, someone else has stepped forward with a solution to help me stay. I’ve said many times that I believe in community solutions to mental health problems, but it’s a whole other thing to have someone come in and offer just that. Situations I’ve stepped away from permanently haven’t offered support or much care that I was struggling. No one was willing to do things differently to accommodate me. Sometimes, there wasn’t even anyone willing to hear what the problem was. I don’t think this is unusual – we place the responsibility for mental health problems squarely on the shoulders of the person suffering.

However, when someone else can step in with a solution, everything changes. It means feeling heard and respected, feeling valued despite these problems. It means being given the chance to work in a way that is sustainable for me. It means the work I can do is seen as worth more than the bother of changing things to keep me viable.

Many workplaces are stressful and difficult. When we expect people to just shut up and put up with it, it is inevitable that some will crack under the pressure. We’re living with a mental health crisis that has been explicitly linked to work stress (but not widely reported – it was in a chief medical officer’s report a few years ago). It’s not that startling to discover that when we take care of each other, stress may be less of an issue and people may be less at risk of anxiety and depression. Community solutions work for illness caused by collective dysfunction, if only we have the will to implement them.


Tis the season to be cranky

I don’t enjoy midwinter festivals much. I don’t enjoy the cold, or the pressure to be jolly. Thankfully, the man who made it his personal job to patronise me about this every year has removed himself from my life, so that at least, is progress.

As a self employed person, I don’t get sick pay or paid holiday leave. Several of my jobs depend on how well I do the jobs, so time spent not working can compromise how much paying work there is available for me in the future. But even so, there’s not much work to be done between Christmas and the New Year. It’s not a good time to try and sell books.

On the plus side, I get a whole week off. This will be the first whole week off I’ve had since this time last year. I do not recommend this as a way of working, but I have yet to figure out an alternative. I thought I’d manage to take a week off in the summer, but a loss of hours from what was then my main job made that impossible.

So between here and the great shutdown, I’m doing all the work I can. Christmas brings extra costs, I can’t afford for this to be a thin month. I know a great many other people have the same problem – unpaid holidays are a nightmare. Not everyone has the scope to pick up other work to fill the gaps.

I’ve got two late night jobs coming up and three days on the local market. The market work is a gamble, but hopefully we’ll make something selling books there. I’ve written all my blog posts already, and by the middle of next week I’ll hopefully have all my other from-home work done for the festive period. It’s a bit of a strain. I will likely hit the festive period exhausted and needing that week to recover, which is not what I want from a holiday.

And on the whole I know I’m lucky, because I do have paying work and I can afford to heat my home and eat over Christmas and many people are far worse off than this. If you are marginal, midwinter festivals are a nightmare, simply. The extra stress and pressures are not welcome. If you aren’t marginal, be alert to your scope for adding to someone else’s misery. Don’t tell them off if they don’t have the energy for parties, or don’t want to come out, or aren’t getting into the festive spirit – that just piles shame and discomfort onto existing problems. If someone doesn’t seem to be having a merry Christmas, try asking what would help rather than telling them to try harder.

It’s also a good time of year to avoid piling extra work onto other people. I mention this because that’s the thing I’m most cranky about. Not extra pay, extra work. At no notice. If you are comfortable, don’t assume everyone else has the same resources of time and energy to deploy at your whim.


Learning from life

Usually I find my content for blog posts by sitting down of a morning and asking ‘what do I know that I did not know before? This week, finding blog posts has been hard, and this morning I asked myself why that was, rather than asking what I have learned.

This is a week of more hours working away from home than is normal for me. As a self-employed person, I mostly work from my home computer. Up until this summer, I’d had a bunch of routines and strategies that allowed me a flexible working life. At the moment I’m getting to grips with a selection of new jobs and this week I’m spending a lot of time on one of them. I know a lot of things I didn’t know before, about where things are kept, what of the paperwork needs revising, and I’m working on some longer term strategies. None of these things make for blog posts.

When I’m on top of things, my day to day life leaves me time for reflection. I get to step back during the day and think about what I’m doing and what’s impacting on me. It’s only since I’ve stopped being able to do that, that I’ve noticed how inherently contemplative my life normally is. At the moment, all of my reflection time is being used to figure out things about the various new jobs. In all the things I’ve taken on, part of the job is to figure out what the job should be and how to do it to best effect.

What I’ve learned this week is that I learn most when I have time in a day for contemplation.  What I’ve been doing for some time doesn’t look like the structure of a conventional spiritual practice, but it has worked that way. A process of reflecting on my experiences as I go has allowed me to learn all kinds of things, and to bring depth and richness to my life. Sometimes it’s when something isn’t feasible that its true nature becomes properly visible – that’s not an ideal way to learn, but it will do!

This period of chaos has given me scope to notice things about how I’ve been living. I look forward to getting back to calmer waters with more scope to think about things. I feel like I’ve got a lot to process right now, as well as a lot to do. What do I know that I did not know before? That I need more thinking time when I don’t have to think about anything specific. Also that there are considerable personal benefits to pondering things as I go, day by day, in the informal way I’d been doing it.


Debunking the creative life

Mostly when I’m online, I talk about my creative life and my Druidry – those are the bits of what I do that I find most interesting. However, it may give the impression that I’m living the dream – full time Druid and author. I’m not.

There was a point in my life where I spent most of my time writing, teaching, leading meditation groups, running rituals and so forth. I didn’t feel able to ask for payment for the Druid work, because I was hearing a lot at the time about how it was supposed to be service. I didn’t make a vast amount from the writing. Sometimes I wrote pub quizzes for money. I had financial support from the person I was then living with, but little money of my own and no economic freedom.

Most creative people, and most professional Pagans are in a similar situation. Either the money comes from somewhere else – an inheritance, a partner or a pension, or there is a second job, or there is abject poverty. Sometimes there’s a second job and abject poverty. The lack of money and/or the not being full time is not a measure of failure. It is nigh on impossible at the moment to make a living as a creative person.

For example, it takes Tom a day to draw a page of Hopeless Maine. It takes me some hours to colour it. Then it has to be scanned, tidied up, and the lettering done. It is a full time job plus a bit. To get a graphic novel out once a year, that’s six months of solid work for Tom and part time work for me. Advances are rare, and you’re more likely to get them on handing in finished work ahead of publication than when you start drawing or writing. That’s six months with no income, please note.

Now, work out how much money you need to live on. The cover price of the book is not the money the creator gets for a book, even if they’ve self published. Half of the cover price likely goes to whoever was selling it. From the remaining half, the print costs have to be paid, plus the publisher wants to make some money. Perhaps the creator gets £1 a copy. That’s optimistic. So, you can do the maths and work out how many books you’d have to sell in a year to have what you consider a decent standard of living. Note at this point that the average book sells about 3000 copies in its entire life.

Most of us work other jobs, because that’s the only way it’s possible to create. And if we don’t, we aren’t sat in our nice libraries pondering the world – I have friends who write at a rate of about a novel a month, and believe me, that’s intense. I have friends who spend their weekends taking their work to events and markets – while doing the creative work in the week. That’s a way of making ends meet that allows you no time off. That’s no kind of easy option. To sell anything, you have to spend time promoting it. That also takes time and energy. It’s pretty full on.

Creative people and professional Pagans alike won’t necessarily tell you what their private financial situation is. For some reason, many people assume that the default answer is full time and well off. The reality is much more likely to be part time and considering it a win if they can make ends meet.

I work other jobs. I have always worked other jobs, and I expect I always will. At the moment I’m working six small part time jobs. And because of that, we can afford to have Tom full time on Hopeless Maine, and we can keep making comics. This is normal.


Things I am excited about

There’s a lot of upheaval in my life at the moment – some of which is translating into shorter blog posts from me, and more guest posts on the blog to help me stay on top of things. I’m deeply grateful to everyone who has sent me content so far, there’s some excellent stuff here and more to come, and it’s really taken the pressure off.

This August, I lost more than half of my Moon Books work. Not because I was doing it badly – there was consensus that I’d been doing rather well. Not because Moon Books is in a bad way – Moon Books is selling books at a pace, in no small part because I was doing my job rather well. An internal shuffle in the parent publishing house had a knock on effect, and I went from reliably being able to pay all my bills, to total uncertainty. August was a rather stressful month as I started applying for jobs.

However, it’s all gone very well indeed. I am now doing the newsletter and press officer work for Transition Stroud – which is all about community and sustainability, so that’s really happy stuff. I’m training as a duty manager to work in a local venue – it’s a great place, I had my 40th birthday party there and I’m happy to be involved. It looks like I’ll be in their office for a few hours every week as well. I’ve taken on doing PR work for some people – which is lovely and clearly going to work nicely. Once that all settles down a bit, there are two other conversations in my destiny about part time work that I’m also really excited about. More as that comes…

Alongside this I’ll still be writing and colouring for Hopeless Maine, and writing other things as me. Hopeless Maine is moving into role play game territory with the core rule book out this autumn – more of that as it comes. I have a lot on the go. I’m working on a poetry collection this month – material I’ve already written. Anyone who supports me on Patreon will get an e-copy when it’s done, and those at the glass heron level can expect a copy in the post. You can sign up for that here – https://www.patreon.com/NimueB

I’m planning a small meditation book – I’m just going to self publish it because I want it out early next year. After pondering and sharing my initial thoughts here, I am going to work on a spirits of place book as well, but I’ll need a bit more headspace for that.

We’re looking at more Hopeless Maine based performance, and we’ve a growing team of people who want to do events together. There are events to organise, and events to throw ourselves at, and events that have already booked me for next year – April is going to be intense with Pagan Federation conferences in Wakefield and Edinburgh. As my comics publisher is also in Edinburgh I’m going to try and pair this with some comics events as well.

It feels like my entire life has been tossed into the air by manic and only slightly evil pixies and everything is now fluttering about and heading off in different directions. There’s rather a lot of it. My belief is that if I assume that, by the same magic, it’s all going to be fine, it will be fine. But just in case, I’m going to buy a bigger diary so that I can keep more detailed notes of what’s happening when.


Not keeping up appearances

One of the consequences of doing anything well, is that it tends to look effortless. If you’re doing something professionally, it is of course desirable to look as good as you can while doing it. Success is attractive. Relaxed capability is attractive. You want people looking at the elegant swan you’ve put into the world, not all the frantic paddling below the surface required to keep it there.

The problem with this – and I see it a lot – is that a significant number of people will assume it is indeed, effortless for you to do what you do. If they can’t see how much time and effort went into getting you to the point whereby it is indeed easy, they’ll use words like ‘gifted’ and ‘talented’ and maybe ‘lucky’. This can have consequences. It can leave other people assuming that they should be that good for no effort. Or they may assume that because they aren’t instantly that good, there’s no point even trying. Neither idea is useful.

The general wisdom is that to master something takes 10,000 hours of work. The effortless performance, the relaxed artistic flourish…  are possible because of the many hours of study and practice underpinning them. There’s also a lot of planning in the mix. Films have a nasty habit of showing us creators producing amazing work in a single frenzied round. Most of us don’t work that way. Paintings are planned and sketched for. Stories and pieces of music are built up in stages. And so on.

The same is often true of other things. Cooking. Gardening. Self employment. The effortless coasting towards success is often just a superficial appearance. People who get results usually have to work for them. If they can do it easily now, it’s because they already put in the work. Right now, Tom and I are starting to enjoy the benefits of the Hopeless Maine project – in terms of money, recognition, opportunities and whatnot. We’ve worked together on this for about a decade, Tom’s been on it longer. As one if my publishers used to say ‘it takes years of work to become an overnight success.’

We like the stories of people who come out of nowhere to achieve wild, unexpected success. We don’t tell stories about years of quietly chipping away at it, slowly building a following, and having modest success, but that’s often how it goes. We also don’t tell stories about people being able to invest in their own projects because their families support them and cover their bills, help them make time and give them space. It’s easier to be creative if you’ve already got money – are retired, or have a supportive spouse. This kind of information tends to vanish from the story of how the successful individual got to where they are.

It’s always tempting to create stories that make us look as good as possible. However, I think it’s ultimately harmful to create the impression of great talent welling up to achieve great things, and not mentioning the levels of work and dedication required. I also think its problematic to let people  assume you’re making it as a creator when you aren’t.

At the moment, my household is getting by on the money I make as a book publicist. We get top-ups from the creative side, which is always cheering. It looks feasible that in the next few years, the Hopeless Maine project will start laying golden eggs for us. This is because we’ve made a choice to invest time in the creative stuff rather than Tom mostly working for other people. If we make this work, it will be because of the massive amount of time he’s invested, and because I’ve been able to pay the bills. I intend to keep talking about this because there are myths I want to dispel.


Low energy, decent output

Recently, Jen over at Liminal Luminous blogged about the problem with the perceived need to work long hours in order to be successful. As a person with limited energy, Jen obviously struggles with this and it struck me that I might be able to speak to this in a useful way. So, here is what I know.

Firstly, take the time to define success. Is it just about money? Success can mean best outcomes, quality of life, friendship, doing inherently rewarding work. Once your physical needs are met, more money doesn’t confer significantly more happiness anyway.

Secondly, most of us – even the entirely healthy people – are only really good for about four hours a day. You may not be able to manage four. Work out how many hours you are likely to have of high quality output. Once you get beyond those hours, the quality and speed of what you can do, will diminish. People tell themselves that they’re working hard when they’re working long hours. The odds are for much of that time, they are working tired, inefficient and not capable of their best thinking. Long wasted hours are of no use. Be clever. Make the most of your best time and then rest.

None of us can work flat out all the time. Whatever you do, you need time to re-charge, and to let your mind chew on things in an unstructured way. I don’t have good ideas while I’m busy working. I have good ideas when I’m walking, crafting, and cleaning. I work more effectively when I have a coherent plan, considered goals, a sense of direction and new ideas. I don’t get those by trying to work all the time, I have to make quiet space for them. If I’m not well rested, I’m not able to work.

Being uber-busy is not sustainable. Sooner or later, you burn out, or crack up, or get sick. Again, this is as much an issue for people who started out well as it is for the rest of us. Burning out, cracking up, getting sick, succumbing to anxiety and depression… these are not things that improve your productivity or bring success. Being ill is not a winning outcome. Being too ill to keep going is not a winning move either. Plan for the long term, and remember that your health – mental and physical – is also a measure of success. For some of us, simply staying viable is an epic win. If you trash your health for the sake of money, you are not going to be successful in the medium to long term.

The trick is pacing. Know your limits and you can make the best use of what you’ve got without pushing yourself into dysfunction. If you’re going to be self employed as a person with chronic illness or energy problems, then there are ways to make it more viable. It might sound blindingly obvious, but you have to focus on what you can do rather than what exhausts you. There’s no point aspiring to be a paid youtuber if sitting in front of a camera wipes you out. Look at what your body and mind can sustain. Ask what you can do most effectively in the time available to you. Look for the resources, platforms and opportunities that suit how you can actually work, not how you think you’re supposed to work.

Being an overnight success takes years. It takes most businesses three years to starting breaking even and moving towards profit. If your primary cost is your own time, you can do better than that. The temptation of course is to try and speed up your profit making by throwing more hours at it, but that isn’t a sure fire solution.

I reliably have four hours a day, often more but with that extra being less clever, plus uncertainty as to how much more from day to day. I do the most important bill paying work over four mornings a week. I do the more speculative stuff in the afternoons. I get far more done now than I used to when I was trying to work eight hour days and more. We get by financially, and I am far less ill than I was because I have more time for self care.


Setting intentions

There are many good points in the year to do a check in with yourself and see how things stand. This is one of them. Birthdays and other significant dates can offer others, and for those in the school system, the academic year also creates good moments for pausing and reflecting. How are things going? Is it as you hoped, planned or expected? If not, why not? What needs to change? What’s most important?

When we ask ourselves such questions we also have to remember that we aren’t exploring our lives in a vacuum. We exist in a cultural context that tells us what we are to prioritise – and so at this time of year many people will be contemplating diets and facing debt. Our main job is to make money for other people, by being exploited in the workplace, and exploited again as consumers. We are to work hard and spend hard, and try to ease our misery and dissatisfaction by buying things we don’t need and can’t afford and that will not save us.

I invite you to question this. I invite you most particularly to watch out for the idea of hard work being a virtue. When you look at something and say ‘I must work hard at this’ what does it mean? Is it that we feel a need to be seen as hard working? Does the appearance of hard work help us in some way?

Don’t work hard this year. Work effectively. Work wisely. Do what needs to be done. Work in a sustainable way that won’t break your mental health. Resist the idea of work for the sake of work. Work is not a virtue. It’s just that if working people are worn out from all the work they do, they don’t have any energy to protest, or to imagine some different way of living. Exhausted people lose self esteem and stop believing they deserve better.

Work wholeheartedly, work passionately, work soulfully, these are all good ways to be in the world. Work because you must, but if it grinds you down, don’t internalise that. Don’t make it who you are or what you are for. Don’t build a sense of identity around it.

I’ve just had a week off. I’ve used that time to dream, to ponder, to rest and let my mind wander. I’ve come back with ideas, and one of those ideas is about taking more time off. I do my best thinking and creating when I’m not trying to run flat out all the time. I also want a better quality of life. I want more time for reading and crafting because this will best inspire me. I want to live as a soft and lazy mammal, not as a busy little bee, because I have a soft and lazy mammal body, not a bee body. We should not be willing to work ourselves to death for queen and hive, or for shareholders and politicians.