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Keeping yourself first, the hard bit

As Corinne Settle, Senior Education Lead at SSAT, continues on the journey towards her ‘new normal’, she explains why she refuses to put her superhero pants back on, and how she stops the negative thoughts from filling her head.

A phrase that I keep hearing a lot at the moment is the ‘new normal’. Well, let me be honest; I liked the old normal, but at the same time – to maintain my mental health – this is exactly what I must work on each and every day. I don’t win every day. This is tough stuff.

At my lowest point last year, I socially isolated myself from the world, I ‘unfriended’ almost everyone on Facebook and archived my account. I wanted to disappear, so I did. At the time, I felt like a failure. I couldn’t live up to the lives of my friends, as portrayed on Facebook. This gave me too much of a chance to compare my own life and list my shortcomings. Many of which, on a good day, I know aren’t true. This wasn’t failure, and this wasn’t selfish; it was what I needed to do.

Ten months later, my Facebook newsfeed is filled only with my closest friends and lots of positive message pages. Most of these messages pass me by, some just make me smile, but none make me feel like a failure. In the last month though, two have struck a chord.

‘You are being presented with two choices: Evolve or Repeat.’

Wow, that makes it sound so simple. My thoughts change this to ‘Yes, go on then, do it again stupid.’

Hang on, wait, what? How did I just turn that on myself? It has taken me a few weeks to realise that the negative voice has been sneakily, quietly getting a little louder. It’s hard to step back and recognise what is happening when you are caught up in the busyness of everyday life. Recognising what is going on with my mental health is the biggest step, and the greatest evolution I have made.

We all have cycles in our lives that we wish to break – many of these are learnt behaviours which can provide protection and a sense of safety. They aren’t life threatening, although they may not be healthy either. Sometimes, as with the unprecedented times we all now face, these are not the battles we need to be fighting.

This is where this one lifted my heart:

‘Pick your battles. Nope. That’s too many battles. Put some battles back. Pick fewer battles.’

During the time I had off work, the most important thing I did was get help. I self-referred and began talking to a professional. I questioned all elements of my life to identify what had led me to this place where I could barely function. It wasn’t simple, and there is no one thing; it is a culmination of so many things. There is no quick fix.

So, what did I learn? What helped?

1. The obvious stuff that I’d forgotten:

  • Dehydration affects my mood and makes me feel tired. Drink water… and then drink a bit more.
  • Eat regularly and healthily as much as you can. Sometimes chocolate is the answer, but it shouldn’t always be the answer. There are days though…
  • Sleep. My brain races at a million miles an hour, but for me working late into an evening will result in a bad night’s sleep, so now I don’t do it.
  • Stop. This is the hardest thing for me to do.
  • Exercise any way you can.

2. My life balance

Much was discussed in my counselling sessions, and each week I was given homework. Who would have known I would be the person who left it to the last minute? Apparently, thinking about myself is hard and to be avoided. In one session, I was given the Wheel of Life:

Source: Simplicity Life Coaching

Firstly, you can change the categories; I stuck with these as they worked for me.

Next, draw a line across each segment that represents your satisfaction score for each area.

  • Imagine the centre of the wheel is 0 and the outer edge is 10
  • Choose a value between 1 (very dissatisfied) and 10 (fully satisfied)
  • Now draw a line and write the score alongside
  • Use the first number (score) that pops into your head, not the number you think it should be

My counsellor suggested that I do this, but to also get my husband’s perspective too. Now, this is where it got interesting. Our ‘scores’ weren’t vastly different except in one category – Personal Growth. I had given myself a much lower score, because I felt I have such a long way to go, so much more to learn and improve on. There’s that perfectionism again. However, my husband gave me a score of 50% higher, because I don’t recognise how far I have come. Perspective can be an enemy or a friend.

For me, there was some big learning here. I realised that all of these categories require effort, none of them just happen. I realised that all my efforts were not in balance, you can’t put 100% effort into all areas. What you have to do is choose, and it is your choice. I now choose to put less focus on my career, to allow myself to have the energy and time for fun, leisure and friends. Our energy is finite, but we choose what we do with it. I’d forgotten this.

How do I keep putting myself first so I can help others better?

The honest answer is I don’t always. I’m not perfect, and you know what, I don’t need to be. I can forget the basics for days on end until I start to wonder why I feel rubbish. Then I reset, I work towards better habits day by day; some I have nailed, others I’m still working on.

So, in choosing my battles, I have a simple plan:

1. Be able to recognise feelings and thoughts that aren’t helpful. Challenge them if needed, tell someone else so they can help you.

2. Accept them. If I try to bury them, they pop up in different, less recognisable and more annoying ways. I don’t have the time and energy for that; it’s draining.

3. Allow them to just be for a while. It’s ok to have bad days; these feelings can visit, they won’t stay. They will pass; so allow them to pass. A better day is coming soon.

In the week where Boris Johnson made his Sunday announcement about lockdown changes, I went down a rabbit hole. I just stopped exercising and the chocolate came out again. It took me four days to identify the cause – the lack of clarity and uncertainty he provided really knocked me sideways. Recognising this was the key to then turning it around. I can’t change the current situation.

In my last blog, I wrote about getting back to normal. There is no normal, but there is my new and improved kind of ‘getting there, oh no, what is life throwing at me now’, kind of normal.

I think I’m going to put normal in the bin.

If you are having a tough week, month or year, this is for you:

You are incredible (yes, you), and you make this world a little more wonderful. You have so much potential and so many things left to do. You have time. Better things are coming your way, so please hang in there. You can do it, reach out.

4 thoughts on “Keeping yourself first, the hard bit

  1. Annie Eagle on said:

    Really enjoyed this – thank you Corrine for your inspiring openness and honesty. I really believe that being real about our challenges is the only way we can truly grow from them. I’m going to try the wheel of life myself.

    • Corinne Settle on said:

      Thanks Annie, I hope you find the wheel useful. Much of my inspiration comes from meeting and listening to incredible leaders like you.

  2. Clare Batson on said:

    Thank you Corinne, your honesty made me feel a little bit tearful. It is really heartening and helpful to read such a genuine reflection on your inner dialogue, this is the dialogue of many of us. I love the ‘pick fewer battles’ tip!

    • Furnaz Ahmed on said:

      So much of this resonated with me. Thank you for sharing. I’m going to attempt the wheel of life circle, seems like a good exercise to open eyes up to see how far you’ve come. Our inner critic – that niggly voice can over power but your tips will now remain a part of a strategy that I use when that voice surfaces again. Thank you!

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