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It is amazing how fragile the status quo of the mind can be. One minute you are whistling along, all is fine and dandy, and the next... Well, in a flash you are where I am right now.  Overwhelmed, irritated, stressed, over-thinking etc. You name it, that is what's going on in my head right now. 

I have no idea what is going on, just know that since this morning I have felt incredibly low and stressed, and as the day has drawn on it has just spiraled. To the point, the smallest of things are weighing heavy on me. I am obsessing over trivial things, and having doom filled conversations with myself.

Fresh back from a week away in Svalbard, it is only natural to hit the ground with a bump. That said, Monday and Tuesday felt OK with being back at work. The break was nice, but getting home and back to normality has always been a nice thing too. 

As the years have gone by I have gotten better and better at picking up on the little signs that things are starting to wobble a bit, and right now I think that is where I am at. It's not rock bottom, in fact it is far from it, in general things are good. It is just the amount of anxiety I am feeling over nothings. Out running earlier, and walking just now, the people around me felt like they were getting close for no reason other than to wind me up. The familiar "what are people thinking about me" is back too, although not too badly at the moment.

So many external things out of my control, so many little things that are getting to me for no good reason, and of course my old favourite, the self loathing, and doubting.  All signs that things are not right, and time is of the essence. So it is time to jump off social media for a bit. At least the parts which I engage with others, at least for now. Maybe hang on to Insta to share a few bits for a while. But for now, this is me time. 

Not a cry for help, not a pity me, just a me me me. If I need to talk to anyone, rest assured I will as ever reach out to those I know and trust. In the meantime, enjoy the peace and quiet from me. 

 

2

Since around Xmas time, the same question has been on my mind, and as the weeks go by it is frustrating me more and more. 

Without beating around the bush, it's a simple one. Do I continue to do the RCGP sessions? If you don't know, I work with the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) a few times a year, doing sessions with med students who are learning to work in the GP environment. Doing staged consultations, as an expert patient, presenting with symptoms I am familiar with, i.e Depression and Anxiety. I have done this for a few years now, and while I find it pretty bloody stressful, I also take some comfort from the fact that I am helping others to understand the conditions, and maybe help them be in a better position in the future to help future patients. 

I have said time and again, I find the sessions exhausting, more mentally than physically, and sometimes it can trigger a bit of a wobble for me. However, I really love the engagement with the students, being able to talk about bouts of depression, and dealing with day to day life with severe bouts of anxiety. So you can see where I am going with this. There are genuine pros and cons. 

Each session I do requires me to take a day off work, for the physical sessions which are now returning, I also need to travel to Central London for the day, and pay for transport or parking. In return I get to stretch myself outside comfort zone a little, engage with the next generation of GP's (some of them anyway), and explain from a first person POV what it is like trying to live when things are bad. I don't for one second think this is an unfair balance. I also get an Amazon voucher for my time, so I am very grateful for that.

A couple of months back, I was approached by one of the teams at Kings College London (KCL) about the possibility of doing some sessions for them too. At the time I was in one of my more positive frames of mind, and really keen to get back to doing what I could for the cause, and was happy to talk to more people about living with depression and anxiety. I have to say the first couple of experiences were a little daunting. New people, new procedures, and the likelihood of becoming a lead in a session of my own at some point. For someone with anxiety, that's a big change and ask. But looking back, I went through the same when I started working with the RCGP too. 

Over Xmas and the New Year, I had a bit of a wobble, and my head went a bit funny, and I started doubting myself. Not only taking on work with KCL, but also questioning my continued work with the RCGP too. A technical error on the last KCL session left me unable to participate, and in that moment I panicked a little about what the hell I was doing. I was out of my depth, completely out of my comfort zone, and floundering. I made my apologies and bowed out quickly, then spent the next few weeks contemplating. So, here I am!

To compound things more, I contracted Covid a couple of weeks back, which coincided with the first RCGP session of 2022, so I missed that too. The longer I have been away, the more I have doubted myself. I have always said as soon as you start to have doubts and questions about something, it is time to get out. But it just doesn't sit right with me. 

I am not irreplaceable, I am sure there are plenty more people who could and would do the sessions in my place. I don't think it is about ego and having some sort of bragging rights either. To me, when feeling positive about things, I love the idea that I am able to help people understand what others are going through. Be it blogging to let others struggling know they are not alone, or explaining to someone, whilst in a rational state of mind, what it is like to be in that situation, and how doctors and the medical world can best help those struggling.  

It is ironic that something that I do to help with mental health has caused me sleepless nights, hours and hours of painful contemplation, and yet still it isn't a simple "I'm done" in my head. I need to be sure of what I do next.

  • Pros     Rewarding, enlightening, educational for others
  • Cons   Tiring, uses annual leave, travel stress

I know I have made an impression on some of the students in the time I have been doing this. I know deep down inside I want to continue to help anyone in any way I can. Teaching, counselling, sharing. But I would be lying if I said it doesn't come at a cost. So I am stuck!

I am away in Svalbard for a week mid Feb, so think I will take that time in the arctic to weigh it all up, without any other pressures, and go from there. But am always interested to know what others would do in a similar situation. I'm not a martyr, not a hero or a saint, but I know I make a tiny bit of a difference, and like a dirt devil in the desert, I know from small things, big changes can come. 

So.... WHAT DO I DO ???

I guess it's just the time of year more than anything, but my head is getting into a funk, more and more each day. Looking back I can see a pattern, winter, darker, gloomier days, and the mood to suit. Perfectly normal really, many of us are in the same predicament I am sure. Difference for me is, it is the catalyst for spiraling down into the doom and gloom of my mind. 

For years now this time of year has been horrible for me, going right back to losing contact with my daughter, and completely losing the Xmas spirit that goes with parenthood. So I am not sure if it stems from that, or just part of my normal mood swings these days. It was around Xmas of '98 I lost touch, so it seems obvious to me that Xmas would bring feelings of bitterness in general. But as the years have gone by, and I have enjoyed it less and less, there also seem to be parallels to the fakeness of the whole season. 

Commercialised rubbish, people feeling duty bound to say festive things, and be even more fake than usual. Having family, friends and relatives that you spend the whole year avoiding, thrust into your face. I struggle with people at the best of times, but at least when I do engage, it is with genuine people for good wholesome conversation and company. 

So here I am, the 2021 slump is here. The past few weeks, I have slowly lost a lot of my usual drive and motivations. Exercise is still alive and well, but I noticed last week I was pushing maybe a little too hard, so made an effort to back off a bit this week. Distraction is fine, destruction less so. I am at the point at the moment of stalling with the motivation to get going. This morning for example, I was meant to be observing a session with KCL, but the slightest opportunity to back out of it was enough of a temptation to cancel that. Instead opting for a run.

I haven't run as frequently as I have been of late, partially down to aches and pains, a little exhaustion, and mainly the change in the weather and mood. The idea of being out there puts me off. Although as I write this I realise it's not the weather at all. I have been running at about 7.30-8am recently, and that is school run and commute time. This means lots of people, which in my head equates to over thinking and over reacting, much as my last blog said.  So maybe, just maybe I need to get out earlier?

This time last year my sleep was terrible and I was out running at midnight, so I went into winter conscious of this, and keen to avoid disrupted sleep again, which is why I aimed for later. Hmmph, maybe 6am is a better idea? I think I need to experiment a little with timings. 

So that is one part of the issue I guess, the other is my head in general. Little patience, short tempered, easily distracted, lack of focus, the list goes on. Recently I have looked into what other than anxiety and depression could be contributing towards my state of mind. It's not a temporary thing, it is very much all year around, but sometimes exacerbated by external influences, such as time of year. The findings have been interesting to say the least, and the outcome of some of the tests equally interesting. I am not looking for a label, to belong, to fit in, nor an excuse for being the short tempered introvert I sometimes am. Just some understanding of it all, and to see if there are things I can do to try and make life a little easier for myself at times like this. 

Today for example, after avoiding the meeting, and going for a run, I thought I would come home, have a lay down and relax for a bit. So I hopped back in bed for half an hour. However, 5 mins into this half hour of rest, I decided I needed to wash my running gear, so got up and put a wash on. Then went to slump in front of the TV for a bit. But was distracted by dust on the cabinet, so got up and cleaned it. Returning to the sofa I decided the floor needed cleaning too so grabbed the hoover. While I have the hoover I might as well do the rest of the house, so I did. Returning to the sofa, now the dog hair on the throw was bothering me, so I took it to the garden to shake it off a bit. On the way back to the front room I thought, "sod it I might as well give it a wash". So stopped off in the kitchen, put my running gear on to dry, and the throw in for a wash... An hour later, and I managed to finish watching what I was watching, and have now put the 3rd load of washing on for the day.

Can you see the pattern I can? Obsessive behaviour created by the inability to focus and relax for 5 mins, in the fear of being left alone with my thoughts. Finally, I get to sit down, because it is time to work. Paid to be distracted for the afternoon, it almost feels like respite! 

It is this cycle (not the wash cycle) I am trying to learn to avoid, and train myself to spot early on. My anxiety is not always about being around people, but sometimes it's about being alone with my thoughts. My own mind is probably the most damaging thing to my mental state, and its own creations are usually my downfall. Whether it be spiraling out of control with premature anxiety about something that has not even happened yet, or dwelling and over thinking something that has already happened, and no amount of thought can change the outcome, my mind can do it all, and it is crippling.

I still to this day get caught up over thinking a situation that happened in 2016. Something I still to this day do not understand the reasoning for. No idea what I did wrong, but know the outcome and exclusion upset me to such an extent I can't let it go. Worse still is the thought of confronting the situation, and the subsequent discussion being even more damaging, and adding to the distress it already causes. Damned if I do, damned if I don't. There are many more things like this that I can't get my head around, but can't let go of either. 

In a rather cold way, I guess that is one of the reasons I have always been so "at ease" with death. It happens, it's final, you can't change it. Sure you never get to speak to that person again, but you know why, and you know you can't change it, end of. It seems such a crass thing to say I know, and realise it affects people so deeply at times, but maybe it is a blessing in disguise that I process it that way?

Every year I write blog entries like this, desperate to find an escape from myself, and every year I realise it is not going to happen. Am I depressed? By my definition, no. Certainly not to the extent and depths I know I can fall to anyway. So I try to see it from the normal perspective that it is cold out, not a lot of daylight, and normal activities are harder to do. So find other things to do, new things to focus on, and other more productive and healthy things to keep my mind occupied.

I guess what is present is anxiety. Anxious about my inability to cope with the simplest of things. Becoming overwhelmed at the drop of a hat, and at such insignificant things. Routine to me is everything. It is what keeps me functioning day to day. Breaks from that routine, even the slightest change can cause my day to crash and burn in a flash. Positive one moment, then dwelling the next about why I was not able to do what I wanted and had planned. My day off the other day a great example of this. I had planned to do a ride, but the weather said otherwise, therefore I had nothing to do, but sit at home with my thoughts, and from there it cascades like an avalanche. 

What I need to do is plan ahead, know what I am going to do when the seasons change in advance. Have a back up plan for my plans for days off, just in case. With that said, I have been thinking about getting a rowing machine for a while now, to mix up my training plan a bit, and work on the core a bit more. But as usual the world conspires against me (I joke, although it feels that way some times), and the prices have gone up, and availability gone away, so that has upset the balance for me too. My thinking is a rower is something to distract me, lower impact so I won't destroy myself on it, and will be a perfect option for breaking up the fitness routine, especially when the weather isn't playing ball.

Meh, this is dragging on isn't it? But as usual writing and thinking about what to write has answered some of my own questions to myself. Still I am left with many more. One day I will understand myself a little better, and hopefully a few days break over the Xmas period I hate so much will do me a little bit of good. Relax the mind, get some fresh air, and hit the reset button. Here's hoping anyway. 

Thanks for reading as ever, I am going off to think deeply again now, and hopefully get myself out of this funk a little bit. 

Not a great start to the day. Got up with every intention of going for a run, thought about routes last night, and decided on something medium distance and not too taxing. When I woke I felt OK, but as I got ready I could feel my mind starting to play tricks. 

By the time I got to the door to run, I could hear light rain, and was ready to call it. I'm fine getting caught I the rain, but starting a run in the rain has always been hard for me to do. None the less, off I went for my warm up. A few mins in, I can see the rain drops on my clothes and am already starting to put a downer on it... "I'm gonna get soaked", "I will get ill", "what if I slip and hurt myself".... Bollox! 

Time to run. As soon as I got going, the thoughts changed to how short a route I could do, maybe just a few km's, regular 5k loop at best, being flat and simple. A mile in, having taken a different turn to force myself away from escape, and I am wondering am I going too fast, the audio prompt comes and its OK, I'm a little hit faster than planned but ok for this stage. But still I can't get doubt out of my head. 

At this point I decided to give myself no choice, the answer was simple, go a way I am not familiar with, then I have to focus on other things rather than being on a route I know and having time with my thoughts. Next route split time, I need to go somewhere new, I choose left, and its straight towards a busy bus stop. Damnit, I just need to get past.

As I reach the bus stop, people are being phone zombies or plain selfish and standing all across the pavement, don't worry I will run in the road. As I pass I am over thinking and over reacting, I just need to get to the next corner and it's done with. I start thinking further up the route, a distraction from the negative thoughts I am having. Where do I go next, visualise the route, the next mile or two, where will they be? 

OK, mile 3 clicks around, the pace is good, HR is steady and more importantly, my brain is calming down. My thoughts are sensible again now, not hanging on to doubts, I am a few miles in, I'm feeling good, and now I know I'm good for a bit longer. Out towards Beckenham, up what is quite a steep hill for me, pace is good, taking it easy, and into the park for some clean air and a moment of serenity. 

On the back straight, heading back towards home, starting to feel accomplished, and feeling a more familiar sense of achievement now. But a little premature maybe, I'm still 2.5 miles from home, and now the temp is starting to drop and the wind is picking up too, brrrr. Under dressed a little today maybe. 

As I reached Catford, I carried on visualising the rest of the route I was going to take, and looked forward to getting home, back to the warmth. 

The last mile now, and I'm in a nice rhythm, not worrying about the pace, in fact from the last audio prompt I'm pretty happy with the pace all things considered. Reaching the finish point, as usual my picky mind perked up and insisted that I finish the run where I started, so that's another half mile to tag on the end of the run. Starting to feel it by this point, having done a 34 mile ride yesterday with hills and efforts, today's run was meant to be short and sweet. But the mind needs taming at times, so let's play along. 

Finally the end, 7.4 miles done, feeling mentally relaxed and physically exhausted. Not to a point of discomfort, but I had definitely burnt off any excess energy I had.

 I have often referred to how beneficial exercise is, especially for some people. Being able to turn off the mind for a bit, or at least distract it enough to calm down and get back to normal. Almost like a small child having a tantrum, distracted for a moment by a toy, et voilà, all is well again. In simple terms, that's how my mind can be at times. It's far from that simple, and some of the time it takes far more than a run or ride to make things well again. 

But days like today remind me how delicate the balance is. And that sometimes I am not even aware of the drama going on inside the grey matter, not unti I feel better again. It was a little way into the run I realised I wasn't in a great place. And I kid you not, I spent about 15 mins thinking what I would name today's run on Strava. Over thinking at its finest.  Eventually I went with "Over thinking, over whelming - overcome", as those were the 3 stages of state of mind during the hour and 15 mins of the run. 

So there, that's my head cleared out of today's fun, hopefully I can sleep tonight now, and not dwell for too long on what has been a mentally tiring day. 

Night all, thanks for reading. 

 

Wow, what a wild week or so it has been. A lot of anxiety with the build up and preparation for returning to the RCGP in person. Booking parking, workout out travel plans, preparing myself mentally to be around so many people again, and running through scenarios. All so much, after a long period of being fully in control of my surroundings and situations. 

After some careful planning, I was lucky enough to find a parking spot, right on Euston Rd, just a few mins walk away from the RCGP, for a very reasonable £19 for the full day. I KNOW !! Bargain or what? Double the price of the train journey, but 1/10th the stress of the journey, and also enabled me to take things with me. In this case, running gear. Deciding to beat the traffic I aimed to arrive for 7am, get parked then head off to Regents Park for a morning run. Then head back to the car, grab a change of clothes, and get changed and freshened up at the RCGP. All went to plan thankfully, a nice 10k run helped me clear my mind of the usual pre session jitters.

Arriving at the RCGP and getting changed with minutes to spare was perfect for my mind. No time to wind myself up, just get my schedule, get my brain into gear, and away we go. Five morning sessions, five afternoon sessions, so quite taxing on the brain, but very little down time in between just keeps things flowing.

The first session or two went OK, the groups interacted well, some nice discussion after the scenario's were finished. A couple after that felt a little less enthusiastic, little engagement after the scenario, so felt a little bit clinical. With the last session of the morning done, I headed off to lunch, refuel, recharge and get my head back in the game. That said, exiting the RCGP onto Euston Rd, at lunch time is hardly the right setting to refocus. So I headed off to Coal Drops Yard. 

What a little sanctuary that place is. In the middle of town, but a couple of streets back from the madness of Euston Rd. Sitting by the canal, taking in the sights, and chowing down on some unhealthy Burger King for lunch, I was at last at one with my thoughts again. Reflecting on the session for a moment, taking time to digest how each group had made me feel, (and writing this now) made me realise how important to me coming out of role at the end of each consult is. If I have sufficient conversation after the scenario, discussing my own mental health, I seem to disengage with the situation a bit better, and it feels a little less "real". 

By that I mean, if you repeatedly go through a scenario, one which is a reflection of a real experience for you, eventually it begins to actually feel real, and current. For example, towards the end of the afternoon session I started to actually feel like I was having a proper consultation, and the answers to the question felt like I was speaking as if I was in a proper consultation regarding my concerns for my mental health. Coming away feeling as if I was about to take the first step of recovery all over again. Not a great place to be I have to say, especially when self induced. 

Obviously, dealing with these things is par for the course, and like any other issue, you first have to identify it. So at least that part is done. Now I guess is how to deal with it. On speaking to a couple of the tutors on Friday, they are open to how the session runs, and I have some input on it. My thinking here is for me to somehow find a way to create an air gap between expert patient me, and roll play me. Just to give my mind a little time to balance itself, and help be keep a clear line of what is real, and what I am role playing. Something to think about for sure. 

As ever, speaking to some of the students, it was nice to see how interested some are in psychology, and mental health in general, and also how naturally some of them dealt with the awkwardness and obstacles of a mental health consultation. I always find it interesting how the level of engagement can differ group to group, and indeed how this seems to be connected to their tutor for the day. Doing two circuits a day, I generally see 10 groups of students, with 5 tutors, so see each tutor twice per day. Within these sessions, I will tend to get similar levels of engagement from each of the groups with the same tutor. I shall explain, tutor 1 through to 5. If the groups with tutors 1, 3 and 4 are positive and engaging in the morning, the next groups with those tutors in the afternoon will be too. While 2 and 5 will be less so, both times. Does that make sense?? I feel like I am trying to explain my symptoms to a student now! 

Hearing how the tutors explain things to their groups is also interesting, and gives an insight into how interactions with GP's in general can differ. Some deeply compassionate, speaking of engagement, and empowering the patient. Others keen to make sure all the safeguarding issues are checked off ASAP, but feeling less involved somehow. None feel terrible, but some certainly feel more empathetic than others, and obviously that in turn rubs off and shapes the up and coming students in a small way. I have grown far more confident these days is disagreeing "as a patient" with things that are said, and making sure I explain how my experiences don't always gel with what is taught as standard. 

Time and time again we cover the stigma of certain topics, and I share my take on them, which of course is not the same for everyone. Mental health in itself has the biggest stigma attached to it, or at least it did have. Now it has another issue, but I will come back to that in a moment. The other stigma seems to be around asking patients certain questions, and how they are tip toed around. The main two being "do you use any recreational drugs" and "have you considered harming yourself or others". In the given situation, neither question should really be an issue these days. 

Recreational drugs are more prevalent in todays society than ever before. People openly use certain drugs, talk about them and ever seem to promote them in certain situations. Cannabis for example being popular to help with depression as well as other things. So being asked in a confidential environment if you have used anything like that really doesn't cause much embarrassment for many these days I would not have thought.

As for self harm, well.... Suicide is no longer something people are not aware of, or believe only affects a few people. It is common knowledge now that certain groups of vulnerable people in society are at much greater risk from thoughts of suicide. The word is used on TV, billboards, magazine and online advertising etc. It is not a forbidden word anymore, and should not be treated as one. I asked a number of the groups in post scenario conversation, could they ask their friends in general conversation if they had ever considered self harm. Most said they didn't see why not... To which I replied, "what's the difference then". Sure, you have a mentally vulnerable person in front of you, and you are trying to help them, but mentioning suicide is not going to encourage them to consider it, put ideas in their mind, or make it any more likely. If the thought is there, they may or may not tell you. I would think some would be relieved to tell someone that they are thinking that way. Someone who is finally listening and asking those questions.

Coming back around full circle, mental health has another issue these days, and it's not stigma anymore, it's "popularity". Once upon a time people didn't like to talk about anxiety and depression. Mothers coped with it in silence, fathers drank themselves under the table, and any other stereotypical coping mechanism story you can think of. Then of course there were the Prozac mums, around the 90's (guessing here) it seemed that it was the done thing to pop some pills, forget about your worries, and life in some cases. But now we have moved on a bit, and people actually identify having mental struggles, and seek help over it. In more recent times A-list celebs have also started to talk about their battles, and I think that is almost where the problem starts. 

At times, I really do believe that certain conditions, especially mental health and brain related, can be fashionable. Of course a rise in awareness will help some identify with certain conditions, however I get the feeling that some identify with the sense of belonging, more than the actual condition. Now I am in no position to tell anyone they are not struggling in any way. I have only my own experiences to guide me on my understanding of anxiety and depression. A couple of weeks ago I was privy to a session hearing about other conditions, and have to say I was somewhat humbled at hearing what others go through. So I am no expert on mental health at all. 

That said, sometimes when speaking to people, you get the "I know how you feel" line, or the "oh me too", followed by a story of a very basic negative experience, which somehow left them feeling a little bit let down. Nothing much more, and the conclusion of the story will probably confirm that later that evening, all was well again. A far cry from a simple experience triggering a few weeks of isolation, self loathing, and feeling of complete and utter rejection and failure. 

Of course, we are all individuals, and experience things differently, so one persons bump in the road is a catastrophic car crash of the mind for others. So I try not to judge. But sometimes, you just can't help but feel that there is SO much of a certain condition, just a short while after it became popular. Which in turn puts a massive load on the system, and drains resources away from those who need it the most. 

Every time I speak to a friend who has experienced the true lows of life and the mind first hand, I have a little more of a feeling of normality, and it is always nice to reflect with someone in the know, and compare experiences, to learn a little more, and gain a greater understanding of the whole situation. Being able to understand, and then take that back to groups such as the RCGP, and help others understand, just feels like some sort of validation for me. 

So.... as you can see, a quick 8 hour session at the RCGP gave me a lot to think about, and truly mentally exhausted me. Thankfully I had the foresight to book Monday off work also, so I would have a little more time and space to reset. Heading to the coast on Saturday, to let the wind howl in the hollow between my ears, and a long bike ride on Sunday just to get back into the rhythm of things. For my day off on Monday I decided to go for a nice half marathon distance run along the Thames Path. Switch off for a bit, and exhaust myself physically. It certainly seems to have done the trick. 

After a short bike ride with a friend yesterday I was all but spent, and decided today was a good day to do nothing. No training, no running, no cycling, just popped to the shops, and then did some work.  The rest of the week is a bit full on, but that is probably a good thing. Days like today remind me that I need to keep my mind occupied, as time alone with my thoughts is not always a good thing. In fact, writing this reminds me that regular blogging is also great exercise for me too. Something I need to do more of for sure.

 

Right, I will leave it there, I have already started rambling! 

Thanks for reading, and as ever, look after yourself, and look out for others.  

I have noticed over the past couple of weeks I have been a bit less enthusiastic about things, exercise and healthy eating in particular. Other things still spike my interest from time to time, but it's dwindling by the day. Having taken a week or so off from exercise etc following my trip to Wales recently, I thought it might be a little slump due to inactivity, and I would swing back into it in no time. However a couple of weeks later, and nope, it's just getting worse. 

Over the past week I have done a half hearted run, body in it, mind disinterested. I did a nice bike ride through town the other day, I enjoyed that a lot, fresh air, open spaces, and things to keep my mind busy. Then the past 2 days I have done a ramp test (ftp power test on the indoor bike trainer) and an indoor effort on AdZ (virtual version of the Alpe du Huez). Both times I pushed hard, but at a certain point my brain just said "that's enough" and turned off the power supply to my legs.

It is almost as if my brain is allowing me to do these things, just til it gets the distraction and satisfaction it needs from the excessive physical exertion, then just says, "ok, that's me done", and suddenly my body says WTF are you doing to me, and cuts me off. 

Now I can say the above with quite good confidence, as I know I have been here before. Running and cycling myself into the ground, to mask what is really going on, and distract myself from it all. It is my coping mechanism for when things are not going right in my head. So I guess it is time to check in with my brain and see what is going on to cause this behaviour.

Also, another reason to jump on sorting it out ASAP is the other side effect. Eating comfort food! Horrible habit, one likely to undo all the good work I have done over the past year, so something I am keen to get control of quickly. Some of the food it to replenish the shed loads of energy I have expelled while flogging myself for my brains entertainment. The rest is just excess, and needs to be sorted out. *he said eating a chocolate pastry twist while writing this.

So, what is wrong? Well, to be honest, I think the whole Work From Home thing is really getting to me right now. Before there is any confusion, by that I mean, the uncertainty of knowing if we will be allowed to continue working from home. I love my own space, the peace and quiet to work in, my own environment, my own equipment choices to work with. In fact there is nothing I dislike about working from home at all! So the thought that it might all end soon is bringing my world crashing down right now. We are due to hear by the start of Sept what is happening next, but there are no clues whatsoever what that plan may be.

I know certain work groups are being called back in to the offices, I know the word "flexible" is being banded around a lot, but I have no idea what that all means for me and my group. I was hoping we were going to hear something this week, but alas, at the time of writing this on Thurs 26th Aug 2021, there is no word.

I have run through the possibilities in my head a thousand times, and continue to do so. True to the definition of madness, doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result. It feels like I am going insane, but the truth is, I am just exhausting my mind with pointless thoughts. It is what it is, and ultimately, I can't really control what the next step is. All I can do is influence any flexibility I may be given, by staying positive, and being a team player. Showing I can do what I do, from where I am now, with no issues. Not that it really needs proving, given its been about 18 months now. 

Previously I have said that whatever the decision, whatever the company decides, I will just knuckle down and get on with it. But if the truth be told, I am not sure I can! The way my mind is right now, I am on the edge, and ready to really start to fall apart. I am far from sitting in the corner of a dark room, rocking back and forth. However my brain is going flat out, 110% and starting to wobble a bit now. My fear here is things getting too out of control, and ending up in the hell hole I have been in before, taking a long time to get my head straight again. To be perfectly frank, if I am told that we are going back to the office in anything like a full time capacity, I am not sure I can now!

I know that sounds a bit arrogant, and might even make me sound like I am trying to control things, but it's just how I feel. If I ask myself honestly if I could work 5 days a week in my old office environment, and function at the level I do currently, my honest answer right now would be no. Not a chance! It feels empowering just saying this out loud, so I am glad I am writing this to share. The only problem is, what difference does it make? Honestly, probably none at all. 

I am not trying to set ultimatums, nor trying to be in full control of what comes next. Instead I am simply recognising my limitations, and setting out a line in the sand for myself, to protect my own sanity and mental health. Simple fact here, I don't like working in my old office environment. I could not put my finger on one single thing that is the problem. The commute is fine, it's not far and I enjoy cycling in. The idea of having to travel, whilst a bit of a bummer is the harsh reality of life. Being away from home, and losing the convenience of being home for contractors or deliveries is a sucker punch, but such is life.

The main thing it comes down to is the office environment. People, personalities, noise, hygiene (that's a huge one !!), and the ability to create an environment that I thrive in. So, pretty much everything that comes from being in a shared office! Not a good start I know. Of course, there are variables to consider, such as capacity.

Depending on the plan of return (if at all) there has been some talk of reduced capacity, and only spending X% of the week in the office. This sadly requires an investment in equipment, which makes it a little less likely in my opinion. However I would add that I would happily put large chunks of my own money in to procure said equipment, if a split office/WFH was decided on. Just thought I would get that in there. I have done so already to make WFH more comfortable, so why stop now. Although I would rather spend the money on making my home office even more comfortable to be honest.

But for now, I wait. We wait! We are all in the same boat, all hoping for what works best for us. And my brain continues to burn itself out, filling itself with negative thoughts, worries of being told to go back to the office, and panicking over what I would do if that happens. Could I cope, would I be better finding another job? Could I ask that I work in my own environment in the office? Is my mental health relevant enough to allow me to have an open discussion about remaining at home? Of course there would be compromises, which I would expect, but is it even valid and relevant? Is it going to be one rule for all. Will other peoples actions affect what happens to me next.... Jeeez I need a lay down here!

So, as you can see, my brain is not having a good time recently. These thoughts are just a 30 second snap shot of what is happening in my head over and over for every waking moment. Of which there seem to be more and more each day, as my ability to sleep dwindles away. Urrgh, mentally exhausted. But unlike when I am punishing myself physically, my brain doesn't cut itself off. Instead it just keeps going until its not functioning properly. Trouble finding the right words in a conversation, struggling to maintain focus on things, drifting away into my own little world mid conversation. Forgetting what I am doing, so many signs that all is not well. But what do I do?

That is my quandary right now, what do I do? 

I guess this is my plan of action for now...

  • Wait and see what happens next, at least until the road ahead is a known thing.
  • Keep a limit on the amount of physical exertion, it's not fixing anything.
  • Watch what I am eating.
  • Get into a healthier routine of sleep and rest
  • Speak to the doctor if things persist
  • Consider my own road ahead, once the company announce theirs. 

The main thing here is recognition of what is happening in my head, and this is it. I know I am struggling a bit right now, and have to be mindful of how I proceed. Not wind myself up with unknowns and things I can't control, but instead focus on what I can control. Consider and plan conversations I can have with people who can play a part in alleviating my struggles. I know what I want to say, just not how to say it. Something along the lines of quite simply "if we are going back to the office, I don't know if I can stay in this role". Sounds SO dramatic when I put it like that, and see it in writing, but the truth is, it's how I feel right now. As I say, what difference that makes, I don't know, but I have to say it, and put it out there for my own sanity. No point bottling it up, or pretending that isn't how I feel.

Oh well, I think I will leave it there for now. Step 1 done, recognising and taking action. Now to see how well I can keep a leash on myself, and resist the calling for more self destruction. 

Thanks for reading 🙂 

PS, I just realised I managed the whole blog entry without saying "anxiety" once. All whilst being full of it!

 

This is a bit of a strange one, but then I guess that is the running theme of a lot of my blogs, so no surprises there. 

I have recently had a couple of weeks off work, some time for myself, a break from the screen, and changing up the norm a bit for me. While I have been off, I have had somewhat of an epiphany. I am starting to reconnect with my emotions, or at least some of them. For the past heavens knows how long, I have been what I can only describe as emotionally deficient. Many things which stir an emotional reaction in most, seem to have very little effect on me.

That is not to say I am without emotion. Just a bit strange about them. The passing of a loved one for example, doesn't really get much of an emotional reaction from me. Not trying to "be the man", or somehow act brave, it just doesn't do much as far as reactions go. Sure I am sad, but tearful or visibly moved, no. 

The last time I can recall shedding a tear in the true sense of the word is probably almost 20 years ago now, and that was over a girl... I know right, sad!! lol. Just kidding, it was an emotional time, but probably my last. Floods of tears on the phone to a friend, and it felt GREAT! But after that, for some completely unknown reason, nothing!

Since then, my nan, mum, aunt, and some great friends have passed, and my reaction has been nothing but a little sadness. And yes, I have been to counselling to address this, as well as other issues in my life, but nothing has changed. We are all wired differently, and I am not saying that not being fully in touch with your emotions is a bad thing. Some could say that some people are a little too in touch, and would benefit from dialing it down a bit. 

My point here is, I know me, I know how I usually behave, or have at least behaved in the past. I was never a big cryer, but when the right time came, I was able to, and completely unafraid of crying. However for some reason it just stopped. 

Over the past six months to a year, I have found myself a little more easily choked up about things. Not necessarily about anything personal to me. Even something moving (reality) on TV, or taking about something that I am passionate about, can get me choked up now. Not exactly holding back tears, but not far from it. During the time I have had away from work, I have had more time to spend with myself, and become more aware of just how much this is happening now. There is nothing specific which triggers me, I can openly talk about losing loved ones, memories of being with them, and other personal life events. However, when something unrelated to me happens, I find myself more affected.  For reference the last time I can recall being emotional about something personal, would have been on the phone to the ambulance service for mum or something.

I have been somewhat aware of this for some time now, but having the time off to think about it more, I can't help but feel that there is a direct correlation with working from home. Without the stresses of being in the office environment, without the daily anxiety of what the coming day is going to be like, or trying to download and decompress after a long day around other people, my mind seems to have the energy to do its own thing, and be a little more normal again. Even dreams feel different. More memorable, more normal, apart from the odd bad one after over-thinking the return to the office.

It is all a bit strange, a little overwhelming, but also an absolute blessing to feel like I have a little humanity back, for the time being at least.  Some could argue it is a bad thing, my brain NOT coping with the isolation of working from home, and just getting more and more emotional about anything it can. I would have to disagree with that take on things, and say it feels like being normal me again, after a long long time, rather than something out of the ordinary, and unnatural. 

Time will tell I guess though. As the clock is now ticking down on the last known checkpoint for WFH. The start of September is the end of the extension we were given for working from home. By that time, we will have been told what is coming next, if we will remain at home in any capacity, or if we will indeed return to the normal office environment.  To say the idea of that fills me with dread and anxiety is a complete understatement right now.  At no point during Covid has it felt more likely that it is the end of the road for WFH for us. The lack of information plants dread in my mind, and the minds of others I have spoken to. 

Quite what that means for me I don't know. If the simple lack of knowing and fear we are going back has me feeling like this, heavens only knows how any confirmation of this is going to feel. I of course remain as optimistic as possible, and will try and do all I can to make the case for remaining at home. There are so many plus points really, beneficial to work. But I understand that this is not simply about me, but a whole work force, and I cannot expect to be treated differently, no matter how much I would like to be. I am probably a little more flexible and willing (desperate) than the rest, as to the lengths I would go to to protect my WFH. Buy equipment, be open to a discussion on wages, take on more responsibility to name but a few. But that is all irrelevant, as I say, we are a group not individuals. 

So, here's to enjoying my emotions while I can, and making the most of them. It's good to feel human again, even if it is short lived. 

 

 

 

 

Over the past 16 or so months, the language many of us use when talking about work has changed drastically. Work From Home (WFH), VPN, 2 stage authentication, Teams meeting, remote working, just to name a few. Rapidly rolling out a WFH model to a large workforce, with varying levels of I.T literacy has been a challenge. Learning to use online meeting software, sharing documents on systems such as Sharepoint, rather than printing and distributing them around the office, and so much more.

The sheer duration that WFH has continued for for many, is enough to get conversations started about what the real road ahead looks like. For the record, this piece is written from my own personal perspectives and experiences in switching to working from home. I currently work for a company in the UK, and have done so for almost 21 years now. Being in this role for most of that time. My role is an office based dispatcher, dealing with couriers and customers from up and down the country. So here goes with my take on the road ahead, in my role, with the company. 

My role is one that is by nature, remote. Not dealing with people face to face, but instead over the phone or I.T based communications. Using a lot of online resources to accomplish the task at hand. So moving to a WFH model on the grand scheme of things is not really any kind of spanner in the works. While inter-team interactions can sometimes be a tiny bit easier than messaging or phoning, the whole team are all very experienced in their jobs, so not much interaction is actually needed on a day to day basis. When working in the office, it was not very common for us to have team meetings, or discuss issues that had arisen. Peculiarly, since starting to WFH, as more of a welfare concern than anything else, we have had monthly online Teams meetings almost every month. So in that regard, communication has actually improved if anything. 

With two members of staff already working from alternative locations to the rest of the team, which are closer to their homes, WFH has simply extended that courtesy to the rest of the team. Prior to the pandemic, questions had occasionally been asked about working from home, but generally dismissed as not feasible or practical for the nature of the role. The issue of two team members being absent from the group never really came into it. However, at the start of the pandemic, when it became clear that things were getting very serious, the decision was made to try with a WFH model.

I have to say at this point, from line manager up, the support and enthusiasm for maintaining WFH has been incredible. A massive thank you to all those who have helped get everyone set up safely at home, worked on any issues, and overcome all the hurdles to keep as many people as possible safe at home, and for keeping everyone informed as much as possible on what is happening.

Which brings me neatly to where we are today. In March, as the roadmap out of lockdown from the UK government started to take effect, we were told that there were no plans to return to the office in any capacity until July. This was basically when stage 4 of the roadmap would lift all remaining measures, and life would "return to normal". For some this was a great relief to know that they would soon be back in the comfort and safety of their team office working environments, for others there was a slightly less enthusiastic response. I fit into the latter group, but I will come back around to that in a bit.

As we all know now, the final checkpoint came, and sadly stage 4 was delayed a month, so the lifting of the measures will not happen til mid/late July now. A few days after this was announced, we the employees were informed that the WFH model would now continue until September 2021. While it is great to see this happen, and to know that our safety and wellbeing is considered at every step of the way, it leaves a lot of people in a feeling of limbo. Regardless of where people would prefer to be working from, the delay of the next step perpetuates the uncertainty of what is actually going to happen next. Don't think for one second I am in any way ungrateful or disheartened by this continuation, I appreciate where it is coming from. However, it does extend my feeling of dread about what comes next.

So what does come next? To say WFH is not viable would be impossible at this stage, at least from a productivity and attendance point of view. Within my work group we have had I think 3 occurrences of sickness in the past 16 months, which is previously unheard of. Team members managing to work through everything from ailments to home appointments, which office based working would have made impossible. A few large companies have already shown their hands, with polar opposite opinions in some cases. With some companies insisting that WFH is not sustainable (for their business model), while others say they will be encouraging as many staff members as possible to continue to WFH in the long term. 

Each company of course is very different. Depending on the nature of the business, how staff members need to interact, feasibility of having all equipment and materials available to them at home to carry out their role efficiently, and so on. Not to mention the cost of maintaining corporate infrastructure such as leases on office buildings and work spaces etc. Quite where my company stands in all this is a bit of an unknown at this point. However there are whispers of cost savings being found, a positive change in working practices, and productivity, and other such things which support a WFH model for certain areas of the company. 

Speaking to friends who work for other companies, it is clear that there are a number of different approaches to the road ahead. Seeing their plans, it is clear just how complex getting people back into the office is. From having an online booking system for employees to reserve desks for days they wish to work from the office, to sanitisation schedules around the offices to make sure everything is clean and wiped down regularly. Other friends have been told there is no long term plan to return to the office, and that the majority of work can be done from home, where the role suits WFH, and the employee is happy to remain there.

Before I go on, let me show my hand, and give some insight into what WFH has been like for me. First up, it has been no walk in the park. Shortly before lockdown I was on holiday in Svalbard with my other half. Unfortunately, a couple of days in she had what can only be called a catastrophic accident on a snowmobile. Smashing her kneecap, detaching the patella tendon, and needing airlifting from the remote arctic circle, back to town. We then spent a day getting back to the UK, where she went straight into hospital for surgery.  She was eventually let home just as lockdown started, so as I began the task of setting up a home office, and getting back to working, I was also needed to care for her for the next 8 weeks while she was stuck in bed, unable to get out. You could say the timing for WFH was perfect in that respect, but a stressful start none the less. 

As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, and is socially awkward at the best of times, being out of the office has felt like quite a relief to me. Although it has been some time since I had a serious bout of depression, I realise now that I was not as comfortable and OK as I thought I was. We learn to adapt to our surroundings, so for a while now I have felt like I was in a good place mentally, and nicely balanced. However, the first few months of lockdown showed me just how wrong I was. Feeling fresher and clearer minded daily, not struggling with over thinking things, and just having more get up and go in general were the first things I started to notice.

From that point on I have found myself having a much more structured day, take better care of myself mentally and physically, and feel like a far more positive individual. With the time I would usually have spent commuting, I have been able to get in more exercise, get back into running, and shift over three stone in weight. Just having the freedom to have more of a routine has had a huge impact on my day to day life. Of course, this is all well and good for me. As an introvert by nature, and choosing to avoid social contact, very little is lost by not being in an office environment. 

As far as my actual working day goes, I have found myself more engaged in the day to day workings of the department, become involved in groups outside my immediate work group, taken on projects to try and improve the department, and cannot honestly think of a negative effect with regards to work that WFH has had on me personally.  I would even go so far as to say, having access to work information out of working hours has had a positive effect. Most notably when issues have arisen, and I have been able to get stuck into the problem within minutes, rather than throwing my whole morning out and rushing to the office. This is not to say that I feel anyone should be on call 24/7, or not be able to switch off from work when required. For some, that is a genuine struggle, however for me, it has worked out well. Hitting the ground running on a day to day basis has been a positive for me.

Another positive to have come from this, for me in particular, is the ability to be home for appointments, work being carried out on the house, without interrupting my ability to work. Previously, if an electrician or plumber was due for example, I would need to take a half day, or even in some cases the whole day off. With WFH, I have been able to continue working, while having the garden landscaped, bathroom fitted and an EV point fitted. All things which would otherwise have required me to take time out of the business, and use up valuable annual leave. It is hard not to see that as a positive for myself and for work. 

There are of course many more people, all in their own unique situations, who this has affected in a whole different way, so I want to try and be as balanced as possible here, and include some feedback from others in the company who have experienced things differently to me. Below are some quotes from people who have been kind enough to share their experiences, and their hopes and visions for the road ahead for us all. I have broken them up a little to keep everything on topic, then added my own comments below. These comments are not meant in any way to discredit peoples thoughts, but merely to share my feelings on what they have endured throughout this pandemic. 

So let's get started with some of the feedback from others. I would just like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has been kind enough and open enough to share their thoughts so candidly. I know it has been a tough road for some. First off, the general impact WFH has had on peoples work / life balance.

I feel that work from home has enabled better work/life balance in a lot of ways. I had to travel an hour commute to the office which meant 2 hours on top of my day each day. By time I got home, exercised and then made tea it was time to go to bed, this meant come the weekend all of the housework had to be done and wasted a good chunk of my personal time. However now I find that I can do small household jobs before work in the time that I would have been commuting and get them all out of the way and can actually enjoy my evenings and weekends.

My experience working from home is mixed. I've been working from home since the 1st lockdown & my daughter was home schooling at the time.

I enjoyed it at 1st because of the flexibility I had, but I hated not being around other people and the office' banter'.

I no longer feel like a failing ‘full time working mum’ as I can now manage my diary better, to allow me to hear how my childrens school day has been and support them, attend a 20 minute Ukelele performance etc, which previously would have been a struggle! The balance is amazing and I feel much happier for it!!

I can start/ finish at the times to suit me – sometimes I am online at 6am as I feel my most productive, and then can squeeze a run in at lunchtime, again increasing my productivity.

The positives have been the flexibility, which allows less stress situations has given people time to do the extra things easily like appointments and shopping.  Families are now able to spend more time together and in some cases improve the social relations.  I’ve seen the freedom benefit those who can now go to the gym and create a routine so they don’t need to clock in at a set time or the time it has save from driving in gives them extra sleep needed.

I am very much a ‘people person’ so I did really struggle to adapting to working from home, I missed the interaction with real people!! This coupled with initial system issues did stress me out a bit!

Moving forward I feel I have adapted to working from home, I do still really look forward to ‘teams meetings’ when people have their cameras on! ( I like to see people’s faces! ?)

For me working from home has been a positive change, as I am a single mom to a young child it has allowed me to be around a lot more and taken the stress/rushing about away from each day. It’s meant I can do some school drop offs and pickups and for us to be able to have breakfast and dinner together. Taking the commute out of my day has also freed up around 2 hours of my day giving me time to be able to attend the gym. do a business related degree, help with homework and have quality time as a family in the evenings

I love that I can be more available for customers wanting an earlier than usual or later than usual call, without having to panic about leaving early for traffic, or worrying about smart clothes, hair & make up in some cases!!

In my role I spend a lot of the time in calls, and working from home suits that so well. Working in a busy office environment can make it difficult to hear and be heard on calls with all the background noise.

Some days I need to take extra breaks for a life-long illness, in the office this used to make me feel super self-conscious at the time and then also later when everyone had gone home and I was still working to make up my time; now I have that flexibility without wondering what people are thinking or having to explain being in the office late or away from my desk for more than a couple of minutes.

  • Not having to sit in traffic during a commute
  • Being able to see more of my family
  • Being home to accept parcel deliveries
  • Less likely to pick up winter bugs from work colleagues
  • Less driving = better for the environment

Reading some of the quotes above, the differences between individual cases are very clear to see. Just the impact on the basics of a working / living day, is huge. Childcare, social engagements, not to mention the changes the elimination of commuting has had. People finding more time for their families, exercise, hobbies and much more. All the things that can have truly profound effects on our lives away from work. However, it is fair to say that it is not all good and positive. With some having a tough time being away from people for prolonged periods of time, and missing out on the engagement they would usually have with other team members.

For those more socially active, the impact is clear, and in some cases quite devastating for their quality of life. So in that regard it is nice to see how things are starting to change in society with the reintroduction of social events, and being able to spend more time around friends and loved ones. Of course, right now the road ahead is not clear for everyone, and certainly not in the company I work for. So we are all left clinging to our own hopes of what lays on the road ahead. As was pointed out by one person though, the fact we can now see friends again, means the extra time in our days with no commuting, at least for now, means we can spend more quality time with people of our choosing, and shake off those social cobwebs.

Then of course there is the impact it has had on how we all do our jobs. As I have said earlier, not all roles are ideal for working from home. Going back to some of the larger companies who have set out their plans, any roles involving development of projects which require collaboration, are far tougher to achieve remotely. This can be anything from design to marketing, with a million roles in between. For those accustomed to working in teams, discussing, debating, and demonstrating ideas, online life is far tougher. For others who engage with team members and clients remotely as part of their day to day roles, location of where you carry that role out from is less important, from a productivity perspective at least. 

Setting up a workspace at home has not been easy for all. With challenges such as a suitable space, or connectivity being the most common issues faced. Not everyone simply has a spare room available for setting up a desk in, so some have been forced into very temporary and makeshift arrangements. This is also a huge consideration for some when it comes to the longevity of the WFH arrangements. Let's now have a look at some more of the feedback, and see how others have felt with their experiences. 

I found the technical aspect quite challenging in the beginning - problems with wifi/vpn and meetings/calls I found weren't as professional as I wanted them to be. 

I miss a coffee with my team and getting to know people better!

I don’t think we communicate well enough to all our people – I certainly feel more out of the loop where as in the office, I would have heard more and have a better awareness of the business changes

Growing my network is more difficult – just reaching out for a coffee was harder and forgotten in the early days – but better now I have bought back my focus and made it a priority!

Personally I miss the social interaction and the positives from having face to face conversations. I have concerns that many people may feel isolated and are not being checked on to see how they are and if they feel supported.

I do feel it’s hard to separate work from home and find that I often stay longer than my shift or ‘check’ things on a weekend.

It can be very quiet and a bit lonely at times as I miss my work colleagues and some days it’s difficult when you feel like you’ve been in the same place 24/7 

The biggest downside is that I often lose track of time, I start earlier than I would in the office and then finish late too, thinking “just one more email” and then an hour or two have passed before I know it.

I also found that as time went on working from home was getting boring and I didn't feel as motivated, because I couldn't switch off at the end of the day, and there was no separation from home & work.

 

  • It can be hard to separate work and home life
  • The idea that other people might have that the perception that you do less work/or don’t work as hard because they can’t see you working
  • Missing out on informal catch-ups
  • Things can take longer, e.g. having to send emails or call when you could just approach someone in the office
  • I find that it’s more difficult to build relationships when working from home

Reading most of the feedback it is clear to see that most see the positives and negatives quite similarly. Appreciating the extra free time allowed by not having a commute, and being straight back in their home life when they finish for the day. While most also feel there is an element of detachment or loneliness working from home. It is fair to say that the negatives are very much on a sliding scale, from only slightly bothered, to actually quite badly affected by the isolation of WFH. The other big and more common negative seems to be the inability to switch off at the end of the day, and feeling compelled to get everything sewn up, rather than just managing what can be completed in a normal working day. 

It is clear to see that there are learning points to be taken from all of this, and regardless of the next step, attention needs to be paid to certain aspects of the business, and how things are done. I think most would agree that there was never really a plan for such a fast and vast rollout of WFH in many or any companies for that matter. So the speed and efficiency it has been done at, in general, has been phenomenal. That said, now the dust is settling, there is room to improve for sure. For the sanity of the workers who have endured so much. If the road ahead involves any aspect of working from home, time needs to be spent on formalising the training on things such as online meetings. Simple etiquette, how to use "hand up" functions, not talking over other people, timekeeping and many other seemingly trivial, yet very frustrating issues which have arisen from everyone being thrown in the deep end. 

Another thing which clearly needs addressing is some form of time management system, to prevent, or at least dissuade people from spending too much time out of their normal working hours, working online. Maybe some form of VPN lock-out, or a report generated highlighting excessive time spent online by particular employees. Just to ensure there is a healthy balance found between keen and enthusiastic working practices, and spending an unhealthy amount of time focusing on work. 

As I have said before, this is in no way an attempt to call anyone out, simply acknowledge that while we have come so far, in such a short space of time, there is always room for growth and improvement. 

Finally we have the takeaways from all of this. In summary, how do people feel about the past 16 months of working from home. Where are peoples heads at, and most importantly, what do people want to see happen next.  From an external perspective, I would say around 75-80% of the people I know, would love to see WFH remain in full or at least in part. With an element of flexibility in there. Of course it is all well and good to simply say "flexibility" but what does that actually mean. On speaking to people, some see it as a planned weekly schedule of working between work and home, while completing hours and tasks as expected regardless of work location. Unfortunately to some, the word flexibility simply means do as you please. Pick and choose on an almost adhoc basis where you are going to work from that day, or even for part of that day. No commitment, no schedule. Sadly it is attitudes like that which will discourage companies from allowing any flexibility at all, and instead resort to an all or nothing approach. With the most likely being returning to an office. 

From speaking to others within the company I work for, the opinions are varied, but in general the approach is a good one. Some want to be back in their work groups, amongst friends, and feeling a sense of belonging and being a part of a team. For others, the lack of commute has had a profound effect on their daily lives, and the idea of switching back to working in an office and commuting back and forth is grim.  Here's what others had to say.

I think in an ideal world there would be more flexibility to split time between home and the office to find balance with our time but still ensure that face to face social interaction that we need.

I'm grateful that I can work from home but given the option I probably would work 50% in the office and home to balance it.

At the end of the day I feel grateful to have a job and I am proud and amazed at the way we have all adapted!! I think we all should be very proud of ourselves

I feel like overall there are more positives than negatives and I feel (and so does my son) that I have a much better work-life balance now than I did last year.

It's been a while now & I'm grateful that I can work from home but given the option I probably would work 50% in the office and home to balance it.

From my perspective I have worked in my role for the last 6 years, and never really had a fixed workstation. I would normally move between home and operational locations based on the projects I was working on. Admittedly I really enjoy working from home.

I will finish up with a summary of my take on things, purely from the position I am in, in my current company and role. Primarily my biggest concern is my mental health. Just the idea of being thrust back into a busy office again, awkward interactions with people, clashes of personalities, and bickering over trivial things, fills me with dread. The past 16 months have shown me my true comfort zone, and what I can achieve in such a position. Not to mention how it makes me feel in general. So much more relaxed, and a better quality of life, both in and out of work.

Of course, I work for a business, not a charity, and I realise they have their own requirements of me. It is a two-way relationship after all. So ultimately I have to be open minded, and at the very best, hope for a fair compromise. The idea of actually being left working from home is probably a bit of a pipe dream. But a boy can dream eh! In an ideal world, I would happily have a few days in the office when required. Of course I am only a short distance from the office, so if the requirement was there to go in at short notice, I would not consider that unreasonable at all. I would hope that most would be of similar opinion, depending of course on any commitments they may have with family and home. 

Thank you for reading this far. I hope this has made some sense at least, and resonates in some way with everyone who reads it. There is no "one size fits all" solution, so whatever the road ahead is, there will be compromise, and a little disappointment. But with that said, I sincerely hope that everyone gets something close to what best suits their needs and desires, and the road ahead is a safe and happy one for all.  Thank you to everyone who took the time to share their thoughts with me, so I could make this as balanced as possible. I hope you are happy with how your words were used.

One final point I wanted to touch on was the environmental impact of WFH. Most major cities around the world during the peak of the lockdown saw massive improvements in air quality, as well as other positive environmental impacts. Something the whole world seems to have been trying to get a grasp of for decades now. I am sure no one could ever have imagined a global pandemic being the thing that finally put the world on pause just long enough to reconsider what a normal day looks like, versus how it could look. WFH to a certain extend has a positive impact on the environment. Removing tens of thousands of daily commutes from the roads and transport systems in all major cities, millions globally. Reduces the energy used to run large corporate buildings, and freeing up space on the roads and transport network for key and priority travel of people and goods.  

We must not forget the corporate image too. With many companies pledging to reduce their carbon footprint, and become greener, there is surely an argument that WFH supports them in doing so. After all, the footprint of each journey to a place of work falls at the feet of the company. With less people travelling to a place of work, that alone must surely have an impact on the perceived cleanliness of a company. 

Of course there is a negative to this, and that is the shift on the city economies, impacting small service industry businesses on a huge scale. Some can adapt, others will suffer long term, which is truly tragic. Meanwhile, small local businesses in towns and villages now full of their local residents working from home, begin to thrive as workers look for their coffee fix, or a quick and easy lunch, much as they would do while normally working in the city. 

There is a balance to be found somewhere with all this, and at some point governments should show their hand and support what they feel is right. Should a shift in inner city businesses be the price to pay for cleaner air, quieter transport networks etc. Or is the idea of letting the cities sit idle while people work from home, just for the sake of reducing emissions, and achieving what global governments have strived to achieve for decades, simply unrealistic? Just a thought!

 

 

In a recent press conference, the PM announced that all seems well, and that the final remaining Covid based restrictions will lift as expect on July 19th. This of course means that all companies who have maintained a WFH policy throughout the pandemic, will now have to address the situation moving forward, and decide what model best suits the business. It would be wrong to suggest that there is a one size fits all option, either from a company point of view, or an employee standpoint. So many variables have to be considered, and the nature of the business will ultimately dictate what model best suits.

For argument sake, let's base it on what I have personally experienced. WFH was introduced at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, and for large swathes of the office based staff, has remained in place throughout. The rollout was very swift, a little rough around the edges, and certainly was not perfect. But as a whole, the main plan of getting as many staff as possible, working from home as quickly as possible, was a great success. 

Of course a success in getting everyone home is one thing, but how it affected people, how able they were to work from home comfortably for a long period of time, and how it impacted their lives is something totally different. I recently spoke to a number of colleagues from different areas of the company and country, to get their perspectives on it all. To try and understand just how challenging it has been for some, and not forgetting how wonderful it has been for others. From the feedback I received, I think it is fair to say that everyone appreciated what the company had done, and how quickly it had all happened. However the impact on peoples lives really varied a lot. Which leaves a bit of a mixed opinion on what should happen next.

I would say 95% are happy with some element of WFH remaining. Some suggesting a 50-50% split between office and home. Others far keener to have it swing totally one way or the other. During the conversations with others, I have really had my eyes opened to just how much WFH has impacted peoples lives. With some who just don't have the space to sustain a WFH model long term, to those who have dearly missed the personal interactions with their workgroups. We have all grown used to doing things via a screen now, meetings, presentations etc. But it really isn't the same as being there in person. Again, for some that is a good thing, for others the complete opposite. 

The biggest concern raised has been that of mental health. With some struggling personally, and others, even those enjoying working from home, concerned about the welfare of some of their colleagues. I think it is great that so many are showing such consideration, regardless of their own preferences. The two largest contributors towards any MH issues are those of personal interactions, and the sheer isolation of working and living in the same space. We do not all have the space in the home to have a totally separate area to work from, so the lines become blurred between work and home life. Feeling like you have been at work all day, or unable to switch off at the end of a day, especially when dealing with a heavy and constant workload. One thing I heard a lot was that people found themselves working later and later, with the "just one more"  mindset. 

Obviously this isn't great for wellbeing, so ways need to be found moving ahead, to ensure that there is a bold and clear line, when the work day ends, down tools, and be done with it. Rather than allowing the temptation to keep going to be there. That is of course if there is to be a WFH option moving forwards. 

For a large percentage of those I spoke to, there is great enthusiasm for WFH to stay. Many are hoping to hear something soon that confirms this. Varying from full time to shared time between locations, so many compelling arguments were made for it to stay. Some of the stories I heard really brought home how much of a difference it has made for people. Being at home for their kids when they need them the most, having more time to get things done around the house, rather than spending 10 hours a week commuting. Using the saved time for a further education, and one of the most touching, feeling the bond with their kids benefit from being around more, and spending more quality time together.

Another interesting point which was made with regards to personal interactions was that of having a choice. Many enjoy the relationships they have at work, have made great friends, and love spending their time around those people. For some this can be some of the only quality person to person interactions that they may get in day to day life, so it is important to recognise the role this plays in our lives. In some cases, work is actually a sanctuary, and somewhere they feel safe and cared for, so again, it is important to recognise and protect this. However there is always another side. There are some who almost fear being around others, serious social anxiety issues. For those, sharing an office space with people they are not particularly close with can be exhausting, and quite stressful. So the WFH model has worked well for them. I am one of those people, someone who has truly enjoyed and thrived during WFH. So I hope dearly it remains, for me 99.9% of the time would be great. 

I have digressed, the point I was getting to was, with the lack of commute, this gives some people an extra 2-4 hours a day, or 10-20 a week. Time which can be spent around loved ones, or other close friends of our choosing, rather than those in the work environment. In fact, so much can be done with those extra hours a day, as I have said above. 

As far as home life goes, most have seen a great improvement in one way or another. With some of those also reporting some negative effects, such as inability to switch off being the most common. So I would say it is fair to say the majority would like to see WFH remain in some form. I don't think anyone I spoke with, from either side of the fence felt that theirs was the only opinion and situation that mattered, and most were sympathetic to others around them with different experiences and views. It is always refreshing to see so many people all being so considerate. Maybe the isolation has taught us all to be kinder people. Who knows. 

Of course, we all have opinions, but the ones that matter are those of the people in the position of power and responsibility. Those who have the difficult job of deciding what is best primarily for each company, and then taking into consideration the impact it has had on the employees. 16 months is a long time, and is long enough for many to get so used to something, that the idea of changing back can actually be quite traumatic. I have spoken to people who have seen such great benefits to their work/life balance, that the thought of going back to commuting and working in an office is borderline unbearable. I genuinely do not envy them with the task they have.

All I would ask for is the chance to share my thoughts on it with someone, for some consideration to be given to mental health, wellness, and the new work / home life balance so many have found. I cannot imagine what it is like for a child who has become accustomed to their mum or dad being able to pick them up after school, rather than having to go to an after school club, to suddenly be told that it's going back to how it once was. For me personally, I dread the thought of losing that hour at the start and finish of each day. The hours I use to do housework, work in the garden, go running, and spend quality time looking after my own mental health. On the flip side, I can't imagine being someone who has worked from their kitchen table for the past 16 months, to be told that my role is now permanent WFH.

Having spoken to so many, even I as someone who champions WFH, had no idea the magnitude of the impact being at home has had for some. Both positive and negative. So I truly hope that companies make some effort to engage with their employees, so they too can appreciate how so many peoples lives have changed, and in so many different ways.

I would love to think that everyone can be a winner in the plans for the road ahead. However being realistic, it is clear that we can't. Compromise is called for, and there will be winners and losers without a doubt. In a perfect world, those wanting to stay working from home would be able to, of course with occasional team get togethers at the office, to keep everyone in touch and on the same page. Those wanting to be back in the office would also be provisioned for, with dedicated working spaces for those wishing to be in the office full time. While hot desks could be made available for people to book to use when working from the office for the day or the week. Writing it, it all sounds so easy, but I of course realise there is nothing easy or simple about it, especially on a large corporate scale. Idle or under occupied office space is a waste, and one that is hard to justify.

One other thing that seems to get missed out of the discussions is how people are going to feel being back in the workplace. Some will be fine and happy to be back around people. Others will be more reserved, and cautious about interactions. While some will be quite simply terrified. Either due to underlying health conditions, or just now so unaccustomed and uncomfortable being around others in close proximity. In answer to this under discussed concern, one great suggestion was brought up on a team call the other day. Wrist bands! Red, amber and green, to display your comfort level around others. Simple and effective, and something everyone can understand. That of course is all well and good, but some working environments simply don't allow much in the way of personal space. And then there are the stupid/selfish ones who simply ignore other peoples wishes. 

So my message is a simple one. A lot of people have lots of experiences to share. Stories of both struggle and thriving throughout the pandemic. People have made huge sacrifices during the past 16 months, changing how they work and live under one roof. Please consider some of those experiences, see how people can be best served as they serve you. This is not a simple "I want, I get" situation, far from it, but the road ahead is a long one, possibly a little uncertain too. Winter is around the corner, and people having their lives turned upside down for what could be the interim, may be less likely to be so flexible and accommodating in the future. I do realise how bold and hypocritical that sounds of course. As the companies have done great things to keep people safe, employed and paid throughout. But lets plan for the best future for everyone, in the long term.

Environmental awareness is now greater than ever. So where possible, let's embrace that. Think cleaner, be greener, and make the future a happy and safe one for all. 

 

It is fair to say that the past week or so has been a little bit of a kick in the balls. A lot going on in my life and my head right now, and regardless of how well I thought I was coping, it is becoming apparent (with self scrutiny) that things are not as good as I thought they were. 

Between health, and work, there is a lot happening. We are expecting step 4 of the return to "normal" roadmap to happen very soon now, which could have huge implications on my current working environment. To say I don't want to go back to an office now, is a massive understatement. So the uncertainty is eating away at me. Work have a self imposed "no return to the office" in place until Sept now, so I have no idea when we will actually know what to expect as a plan moving forward.

I would love to make a few more changes on my WFH set up, to make it a permanent fixture now, but I have already spent quite a bit, and don't want to invest any more until I know something concrete. That is of course ignoring the massive elephant in the room, simply not wanting to work in a shared office. It's never been my favourite thing, and after 16 months of freedom, I want it to stay that way. 

Then just for fun, my body has decided to play a prank on me and throw something else into the mix, which at this point is "awaiting further investigation". Some of course know about this, and I thank them for their patience and time in discussing it. Waiting for the up and coming appointment is really starting to take it out of me now. While I am not over-thinking things about it (which is strange), as the days go by without even having a date yet, I am finding myself being more and more twitchy and withdrawn. Spent a few days eating the wrong foods, but have managed to stay active, which helps with the brain. 

That said, this mornings run, while good for getting fresh air, and clearing the head, just compounded things by making me feel quite uncomfortable, and more aware of what's going on inside. Meh!

Fingers crossed, by the end of the week I will at least have an appointment date, and can at least stop stressing about worrying if I have been missed or forgotten. And instead look forward to getting the appointment over with, and getting the answers. Whatever lays ahead, it is all good, my head is generally in a good place. Just hate waiting, for anything, let alone answers!

As a whole I would describe my mood as irritable and impatient, as opposed to anxious. Let's just say "generally stressed", like normal people do 🙂 

Edit... As of 2.45 today, I now have an appointment date to work towards, which is this week, so already feel a lot better for knowing that.