Resilience – a personal story

A saying that I heard some time ago is, that resilience is a bit like a pair of old fashioned scales: it’s all about balance. So you have your resilience and protective factors and one end and that gives you the ability to cope with those pressures and stresses that come in on a day to day basis, on the other side. If your resilience outweighs your stressors, then all is good – if not, that’s when problems begin. And the thing is, what this tells us, is that it doesn’t matter how resilient you are, if the pressure is building and building, we all have a breaking point.  

Well in March 2012, I discovered mine…

I had been working in the NHS for a number of year, following a path which led me up the career ladder very quickly. I was doing a job I loved (mostly), working full time, heading up big team. At home I had a husband and two young children, so life should have been pretty perfect. However, the reality was very different. My children were not great sleepers as babies, meaning I was often going to work on 2 hours sleep; having to use all my energy to get through the day, make important decisions and be there for my team. When I was home, I was exhausted, trying to be present for my children, run the house, be a good wife. I never felt that what I did was good enough – when I was at work, I felt guilty for all things I had failed to do with the family; when at home I felt guilty that I hadn’t managed to get all my work done, so I was regularly doing my emails at 2am, just to catch up (my insomnia was really useful for that!). 

I knew the situation wasn’t sustainable, but other Managers put in long hours too, and there was very little sympathy for Managers with big workloads, it was just part of the job, so I kept going, until I literally broke. 

It wasn’t an overnight thing; in reality over the years, having young children meant I regularly picked up their bugs (a sign my immune system was low). But then I started getting ill when they weren’t, and then I had a domino effect of illness: a sickness bug, followed by a sore throat, then sinusitis which felt like I had been beaten up all over; repeat and repeat again – and no break in between. I knew there was a problem and I had to make a decision – do I go back into work and try and pretend this isn’t happening, knowing that my health and performance were compromised, or did I admit there was a problem and take the road of recovery? It was a tough call as Senior Leaders didn’t admit to stress, but I eventually made the right decision and I was signed off work, taking two months out while I recovered. 

But I knew during my recovery that physically recovering and going back to the same situation was not going to help. I needed to address my workload, as well as my personal resilience and build good habits so I could be strong, deal with the day to day, and when under higher pressure, deal with it, and bounce back. 

So I used my time wisely, to work on my physical health, through good nutrition and good exercise habits; to support my emotional wellbeing: understanding emotional triggers and how to deal with these, as well as techniques to manager my emotions; and my mindset, to ensure that my blip didn’t define me, but instead became a positive learning experience. I was then able to deal with the biggest trigger – the workload, which was both at work and at home. 

I returned to work, but after a year decided to leave. This was not a negative thing – actually the power of self-reflection meant that I decided to focus on my coaching and training skills full-time. So now I am in the privileged position of helping others: mostly leaders who are struggling in some way, to help them achieve resilience, achieve the right work environment through good leadership and make them stronger than before.

If you would like a chat about supporting you or your organisation, then please contact me at [email protected]

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