I’ve made a point of being far more honest about my mental health recently. My recent admissions on my Instagram TV detailed the pressure I put on myself to constantly ‘do’, how I’m guilty of pretending I’m OK when I’m not, how I feel too self-conscious about telling people around me that lately I feel lower than usual and the complex reasons behind that.
I might be feeling slightly off colour, but I know from my extensive work in talking therapy that much can be done to consciously improve things, so today I’m going to invite you to follow my efforts to inspire an improvement around my own mental health.
That might sound confident but at the time of writing I’m worried my mood will get the better of me and that my good intentions will fall flat. It’s one thing knowing what to do to inspire others, but applying it to yourself isn’t so straightforward, because you’re only accountable to yourself. Writing this means I’m accountable to you.
One word. Discipline. The willpower to carry out what you know is best, instead of slipping into doing what’s easiest. Auto-pilot is a waste of days. Our lives are full of convenient distractions, we can watch what we want when we want and then there’s the mini obsession we all share in social media. With my job, I might be absolutely manic for weeks on end, but then, as is the case for January, I might find myself working two or three days a week at the most.
I apologise if you work in an office doing a 9-5, my life isn’t quite like that at present but you still juggle the same as me right? Just in a different order and at different times. The fact remains, without a balance that works for you, your current routine could do with breaking down equally as much as I’m about to do to mine.
Today I’m making extra effort to be on my side. To do the things I know are beneficial to my general state of mind. It’s the battle against the bad habits that will dictate how well I perceive this day to have gone, and therefore how happy or deflated I am come the end of it.
Getting up was an effort. I mean it’s dark and cold and I snoozed until I could snooze no more. If I stayed there any longer I’d be ensuring the boys would have to rush to get ready in time and that wasn’t something I was willing to do. I’m resistant enough to being my own worst enemy but, I’m not willing to put them at any disadvantage just because I’m not at my best.
I make sure both have breakfast because of how important I think it is that they have something good in their belly before school. I have to hurry the boys along a little, but because I was up and organised it’s not done with any pressure and we get out the door a few minutes early, meaning there’s no mad dash to praying that lights stay green and roads stay clear.
Fred went from being grumpy and rude in the car to suddenly barraging me with a few minutes of nonstop chatter about some fairly random stuff. I was upset that he was rude to me, so I didn’t ask him anything about the things he was telling me, but I did listen attentively. My first slight mistake of the day. It’s ok that he was grumpy, most people are that time of day and I should always take the opportunity to converse with my teens when it is presented to me because it might not happen again for a day or so. I can forgive myself for that, Fred can chit chat with the best of them.
My time to shine
It’s 8am and I’m back home. A distracted parent gets lost on social media as the kettle boils and 30 minutes later realises that they have just lost a chunk of time. I have become increasingly guilty of this, but today I managed to avoid. I made a green tea, took it upstairs, did some ironing followed by some washing up etc. Nothing glamorous there, but I know that when I’ve managed to stay on top of the house, as well as doing everything else, I’m more likely to be content.
What happened next was a big step for me. I’ve been saying I wanted to meditate for years and I can never seem to get back into it, having learnt through ‘FISU’ about 11 or so years ago. I know how good it is – how releasing and calming the mindfulness aspect feels. Something usually stops me though. I tell myself there’s something else I should be doing but that’s a lie. I lose so much time in every day going from one app to another to read about everyone else’s life, but today I prioritised mine.
With that in the bank and a few things ticked off of my to-do list, I ventured out dropping off some clothes to a charity shop, doing tonight’s food shop, buying the kids a treat and picking up a parcel. I feel good when I know I’m being productive. In another life I know I would love being a cycle courier or delivery driver, the simple satisfaction of getting something somewhere it’s supposed to be.
I then go to Costa and start writing this with a fruit tea beside my laptop. Sharing this with others who feel a bit lost, stuck, rudderless at the minute makes me feel good. I’m well aware this can turn my negative into a positive, not just for me but for others too.
I frustrate my wife at times because I don’t organise anything, and what excuse do I have at the moment, when I have so much spare time? In an attempt to show some willing, I sat and worked out when we might be able to go on a few trips away in between GCSE exams and the football season. I’ve also had a good go at arranging something cool for my 40th and everyone has been given the dates to put on hold.
I also had a chat with a best friend and planned a few things with him, just interacting with someone important to me can stop me feeling isolated, but there are many occasions when I opt for sending a text, instead of picking up the phone. In case one wasn’t enough, just before I was set to leave another good friend just happened to walk in, so I enjoyed the quick catch up.
Next up was yoga. I’ve been fairly regular with exercise for years now but I sensed that I needed a break from my normal Crossfit class, and felt my body needed a good stretch so I’ve signed up for a month’s worth of yoga classes. Today was my second class and I again really enjoyed it. I’m sure the benefits will hit me after a few weeks, but for now it’s exactly what I need to feel like I’m taking care of myself.
Another gap in my day presented itself; I had an hour before picking Fred up from school and taking him to an appointment, so I drove close to his school and holed myself up again, this time in a little pub that advertised cream teas. I didn’t have one, I pushed the boat out and had a peppermint tea this time! Although I ate a Snickers from the petrol station moments earlier and felt slightly bad.
What’s the point of eating soup all day if you then follow it up with a chocolate bar? I justified it because I’m playing football tonight, but ideally, I’d have walked straight up to the till and back out again!
The after-school bit
Fred got in the car and I took him to Costa (my second of the day) so he could do his homework before an appointment. Fruit tea in hand, I carried on organising my birthday and when the time came to leave Fred with his tutor I found myself in my second pub of the day. Never one to conform to the typical bloke stereotype, I was surprised to see a sign saying ‘smoothies available’ so I had one of those.
Fred and I picked Bobby up from school and made our way home. The kids dictate most of what we do and how we do it, so it makes sense that I would usually split my day into thirds, pre-school, during school and after school. For years I have neglected a life outside of the kids in the evenings, purely because they were my priority, but as they have got older, I can sense that I can venture off and leave them to be responsible for themselves on occasion, well for an hour or two at least.
No sooner had we got home I double checked Freddy’s plans for dinner with him while he sat and finished the remainder of his homework. He was to cook Bobby some tuna pasta which was well within his capabilities. I was going to treat myself to Wednesday night football training with a load of local lads. A casual arrangement where you can turn up when you like.
To taste such freedom in the middle of the week probably felt like more of an adventure than it actually was, but I was out there safe in the knowledge that Kate was going to be walking in the door no sooner had I walked out of it and that I could go and play a game, talk on the pitch – even score a goal – and have 30 minutes in the bar afterwards, even if I was too tired to hold a conversation, sometimes I’m happy just to listen to others talk.
On my return home Kate had everything under control. The boys were settled, any mess Freddy had made making dinner had been cleared so I said my goodnights, told both boys that they were special and that they were going to have a great life (my honest opinion) and got myself in the bath.
This is where I should really divide my day into quarters, because ‘Kate time’ is as much a thing as the rest. Kate joined me in the bath and she read me a question from a gift someone got us at Christmas. Each night we talk about ourselves in whichever way the cards prompt and tonight was about our biggest and smallest fears.
I appreciate time to share my innermost thoughts and secrets with my wife and always enjoy the conversation that follows. My smallest was that the boy’s childhood was disappearing, and I don’t want it to end too soon. Kate’s was about people vomiting! She thinks it came from her Mum fainting in the bathroom when she was a child, but it started to intensify again when it happened to someone on the train in the summer. She told me that she has worried ever since about it happening every time she gets on the tube, so I learnt something new.
I could hear downstairs that Freddy wasn’t asleep or close to being so. Bobby wasn’t helping by having a bath and singing whilst he was at it. Freddy struggles to sleep unless he has exerted most of his energy that day, and the fact that he didn’t sleep until 11pm reminded me that I have to find him an activity after school every night, just so he crashes out at the right time.
Kate squeezed in one more question – what would people compliment you on the most and what would people criticise you for the most. I love a bit of reflection, in fact I happen to think it’s incredibly important, but your answers can often lead you to areas that require much thought at a time in the evening when I’m looking to unwind.
My last step was to excitedly take my Apple Watch, which arrived that day, out of its packaging and set it up so I can start earning points on my Vitality health insurance. The more active I prove myself to be, the more benefits I get. I think this incentive will make me exercise far more, not least because it’s in my competitive nature to want to succeed in anything that is measured and turning 40 in the summer won’t feel so bad if my ‘Vitality age’ is 30 – so my goals are set!
It’s rare that we would break down our day analytically and check for the boxes that we wish to routinely tick, I think usually we would just know if it had been good or not, but if we do not reflect there would be little to promote an improvement the next day.
As is typical with most of us, I’ll start by going through what I didn’t do. I didn’t share any gratitude, which disappoints me. It takes literally a minute. I would have said that I was grateful that I was kind to myself to exercise, but also that I had eaten and drunk considerately. I’d be grateful that Fred got on with his homework without the need for being prompted and grateful that Kate and I took the time to engage thoughtfully with one another in the evening.
Another thing I know really enhances the chance of the next day going well is to write a list of the things you’d like to achieve tomorrow, a plan if you like, so when you get up the next day there is no room for procrastination, you know what you’re doing when and where.
I also missed out on reading. It’s important to my sense of balance that I spend anything between 15 and 30 minutes a day reading. I had my book with me all day but prioritised the arranging of my birthday weekend and writing this.
I also didn’t do any random acts of kindness which always fill me with satisfaction. Buy a stranger a scratch card in the queue for the petrol station or buy some flowers for someone to say thank you for something, it’s so easy to be kind and there are so many ways that you can do it.
So, I missed out on four things that maybe would have taken my day to textbook levels, but if I was to think about it, I had a good day. I did well. I won. It’s too easy to focus on what we didn’t do, writing a list like this helps you to see what you’ve done and gives you permission to pat yourself on the back, we aren’t always very good at that. Here’s mine…
• I got the boys’ day off to a reasonable start by ensuring they weren’t in a rush
• I looked after the washing and ironing, so I get the satisfaction of being on top
• I meditated and took the time to make everything around me stop
• I took the time to plan, having taken note of my wife’s helpful suggestion
• I felt a part of the wider community by writing this with the intention of sharing
• I interacted socially with friends both in person, at yoga, at football, and on the phone
• I exercised, I ate well, I drunk well too
• I remained motivated and purposeful all day and didn’t get lost on social media once
• I facilitated something positive for Freddy and took him somewhere suitable where he could get his homework done
• I stayed out of the house as much as possible, because I know that it is most likely that I will get ‘stuck’
• I told the boys encouraging things about themselves
• By giving myself the right to do something for myself in the evening, I enabled my children to feel independent and cook for themselves. (Well Fred’s the chef, not so much Bob)
• I engaged with my wife in a way that made us feel like we’d spent time together, instead of just talking about what needs doing, whilst also being in the usual rush to get to bed
So I started this morning intending to construct a day that I could feel simply satisfied with, at a time when I am aware that I’m not firing on all cylinders and not getting as much from life as I’d like. Realising that having such a productive day is so possible, I feel uplifted and empowered. I’ve been quite strategic and shown myself that I have more control over this mood than I thought. If I can apply this to my day, maybe this template can be applied to help improve yours?
Watch out for my twitter feed @jeffbrazier as I’m going to follow up this blog with a live chat so you can ask me any questions that might present themselves now you’ve read this and have probably started to apply my template to your own day.
Remember: it’s just a combination of ingredients and if we can be mindful about how many of those we can squeeze into our day by planning for the next then we can all be better off together. If you feel there’s something getting in the way still let me know and we’ll find a way around it.