Meanwhile the work itself continued in the same way... chatting in the tearoom. Stimulated by my course I set about finding more things to do round the building until one day I had run out of ideas and spent the entire shift in the tearoom chatting with my colleagues. I'd had enough, so the following day I phoned up and said I wouldn't be in. I said I wasn't ill, and they were not to count my day of working from home as holiday either, but that I would be in the following day and expected to be given loads to do.
The manager I phoned understandably went into a rage, but not with me. When I returned to work my own line manager and the rest of the team didn't like me much and from that point forward I was blamed for every moan and grumble from our department until I left 6 months later. I went on to work in London, much to everyone's surprise because they thought having a mental health history there was no way I could possibly progress and indeed shouldn't. I worked hard and eventually became a manager myself.
Since that time I have worked for other councils and all have been hard working and diligent with regard to ensuring that the British tax payer gets their money's worth from each and every worker. I have also come across many other places where a lot of time is lost in idle chatter though too. To me lethargy is a breeding ground for misery and depression. When people are not inactive, negative thoughts, moans, grumbles and criticism take hold until all the whole of life, despite it's wealth of positive opportunities, becomes something to be cynical and sceptical about. Paranoia can set in and ultimately depression does.
This doesn't mean you have to or should work every minute of every day. It merely means that some people need to avoid too much stimulus to be well, while others like myself need lots, but to be well, we each need something to be of interest to us. We each need to actively seek and invest in things we find rewarding and pleasurable and so long as those pleasures and interests harm no one else then there's a chance we can all be happy whatever we choose to do with our lives. Indeed, among some of the most inspiring people I have met have been factory workers who chat all day while working, save their pennies up and then spend it on their kids and amazing holidays.
I do NOT advocate doing the same thing as I did if you are unhappy at work which may surprise you. Imagine if everyone told their employer they were not available for their work because they'd signed up to training course, or because they were bored - the result would be chaos. I consider myself lucky to have got away with it and I am sure I did so because my employer was fearful of the repercussions that would have arisen had they not been seen to be supportive of someone with a mental health history. I was lucky that the manager I spoke to understood mental health issues as his wife was a sufferer too.
It could be argued that I was empowering myself by being assertive of my needs and in some respects it's true, but... assertiveness should never be aggressive and my manner at the time without a doubt was forceful in that I was non-negotiable - therefore I was being aggressively assertive. A few counselling sessions later I discovered why.
Aggression is not assertiveness
In common with many who have been bullied, (I was at school among other places) learning to stand up for oneself does not come easy. It is a long and hard battle to find the confidence and self-belief to simply find one's own thoughts, let alone one's own voice. Once found I fell into the trap of becoming too self-centred, too selfish and defiant of anyone who stood in my way. My stance was that I was never going to allow anyone to bully me again.
What I was not doing was listening to or considering anyone else. Had I done so I might have opted for a different way of communicating my needs i.e. a less confrontational way and still achieved the same result but with the added benefit of making friends, being respected and supported by my colleagues and managers.
People often mistake aggression for assertiveness but the two are entirely different. I now regard anyone who describes themselves as strident, feisty, sassy or determined with a considerable amount of caution as often they behave this way with little or no regard for what other people's needs (not wants) are.
Needs are always more important than wants. They are the basic foundation stones to our well being, the essentials of life. They include (harking back to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - see previous blogpost) warmth, shelter, food and companionship; they include acknowledgement for who we are, what we think, say, do and feel. When we are not in receipt of such we feel hurt and often rejected and negated. The solution is simple... walk away from such people and find others willing and happy to value you.
Conflict of needs
I was recently told that I was selfish by someone who felt that I had the view that my thoughts and feelings were more important than theirs. They are - to me. But only to me. I am the centre of my universe but not theirs. They wanted to be acknowledged more and to have more say and that's fine. However, they seemed to think I was responsible for stopping them when I am not, they are. They have missed entirely that I enjoy their company and find their conversation so stimulating that I want to respond to virtually every utterance they make. I was accused to talking too much and told to shut-up. Not heard from them since so now we are both feeling hurt.
It's taken me over 40 years to find my own voice and to learn how to use it so I'm not about to give that up. With luck they will learn to do the same, I hope not aggressively but assertively which always means bearing in mind other people's needs and what we know of someone's personal history. We can never know everything about another person without being them, but we can strive to try to avoid what we know to be things that upset others until we and they are ready to talk about them and address those issues head on. We can but try and I believe that is better for all than not doing so.
We cannot resolve anything without communication. We cannot overcome difficulties without confronting them and learning what, how or why things went wrong. And we cannot cure ourselves without investing in the support of others be they family, friends, colleagues or professional help. We each need to believe in ourselves so much to let nothing divert us from our goal of well being. But, we can only address hurts when the time is right for us to do so. I hope the time will be right soon for my dear friend of over 10 years as I would like to see an end to his suffering and for him to embrace and enjoy life to the full as indeed I would wish for all.
Empowerment is not competitive
I often come across competitive people. I believe it is one of the sicknesses of world to engage in one-up-manship to quite such an extreme degree. That said it is perfectly normal and healthy to want to be better or the best at something for it gives us an added sense of self worth. From scoring well at test to winning at sport or being successful at work to merit a bonus or promotion - it helps us feel of value to achieve.
All well and good but... it isn't good when competitiveness leads to negating other people's potential. To empower others is to encourage others to reach that potential, not to keep that person down at heel disabling them to achieve their own ambitions and goals in life. Empowerment is all about equipping people to reach their goals, not spoon-feed them by doing things for them, but providing them with the knowledge, skills and tools to do these things for themselves. I have no desire to become a business or world leader, but respect and admire those whose talents lend themselves to such so long as they are also advocates of empowering others to do what they have an aptitude for.
The fear surrounding empowering others seems to stem from a phobia of others ending up being more talented or more successful which is not helpful to your ego and self esteem if you want to be the best at something. Realistically though no two people do anything in the same way, or in the same style so while some may favour another's efforts others will still favour yours. Even creative people get competitive, scathing, sneering and critical to the point of character assassination though my impression is not as much as others. Sports of course is designed to be competitive and is a good outlet to release tension, but no one is on top form all the time so the trick is to be gracious in defeat. The Olympics is upon us here in the UK and I sincerely hope all who win are those who will also help others to succeed thereafter. Surely there is no greater reward in life than to empower another to become happy so long as your own needs and happiness are not sacrificed in the process. People pleasing is not the way to go (covered in a previous blogpost on here).
Examples of bad practice
I'll finish with one final example from years ago of aggression and sadly it is a worrying one. While under CMHT (Community Mental Health Team) care I was asked as a 'service user' if I would like to go on a training course so that I could represent service users on interval panels for professionals in mental health care. I said yes.
On the course a mental health professional loudly and repeatedly 'asserted' his view that service users should not be on such interval panels to judge their skills. Throughout the whole course he kept popping out to check his phone as he was expecting to hear the results of a recent interview which would have been a promotion for him. His stance was very much that anyone who has been mentally ill is not capable of being sentient enough to be able to judge if a person is suitable to deal with anyone who is vulnerable or ill. My experience of working with the mentally ill is that they are never devoid of all powers of reasoning.
I can only hope that the other mental health professionals on that course did what they said they would and reported his appalling attitude to his line manager. I rather hope he didn't get the job. I rather hope he got sacked or that he got copious amounts of counselling to correct his attitude. After all, mental illness does not discriminate and there are many medical professionals who suffer from it as well and business leaders and even some world leaders... as the records of history so record. Fortunately in the UK at least such instances among the mental health professionals seem to be on the decrease... one day I hope there will be none to record.
My final example of non-empowerment comes from some Welfare to Work services who take the stance that if you have been a client with them you can never be considered to be an Employment Adviser. That's like saying you cannot enter the medial profession if you have ever had to see a doctor, or you cannot become a teacher if you have ever been a student. As I posted in my last article... it's not really surprising that mental illness is so rife when such is the attitude of those in power. There are times when I feel the real lunatics are the ones running a global asylum.
Best not to get too angry about it or aggressive. Better by far to assert your views with a degree of empathy for their being so ill as to not even notice the flaws in their arguments and above all... help them see sense by quoting their own nonsense back at them. For you see, some of them don't even listen to themselves. Then I recommend going off and treating yourself to some company you enjoy doing something of mutual interest. That's my coping strategy and it seems to be working quite well... time for a little more practice though as it's still a work in progress.
If you want others to be interested in you, be interested in yourself and them. Always, always, always strive to be kind to all, if you want others to be kind to you.