Two feet on the floor
This is what I tell myself to do most mornings; sometimes I don’t have to, sometimes I can’t, however most days start with the realisation that getting out of bed is the most important thing I can do.
I’m Spencer, the Chief Executive of Imago, new to Loughborough University and really proud to be here. I have been in management positions since the age of nineteen and I still have imposter syndrome.
In fact, over the years I have had many syndromes all in the brave attempt, or not so brave, to really hide what happens in my head, which dependant on the day, week or month can be anything from hilarious to downright scary, and it’s exhausting.
I am 49 years old, most people don’t believe this. It’s not because of my boyish good looks but because generally I have an enthusiastic, energetic way of being. I bounce not walk, I laugh loudly, I engage with everyone, I always give my time and I never talk about things that have gone wrong or my problems. I give advice, seek the limelight and I am always open to receive a positive stroke. In short, I am a bit of a people pleaser and it’s exhausting.
Furthermore, I never stop. I definitely don’t sleep, I am always on the go, working, seeing friends, organising a social event, attending a social event, reading something to make myself interesting, watching something to make myself interesting, phoning people just because and it’s exhausting.
When I’m not filling every second with stuff I think, though sometimes it’s more than just thinking. I remember with regret, I worry why a friend hasn’t responded to my message, I worry more that I haven’t been able to respond to a friend’s message. I convince myself I have upset someone, everyone and I am not sure how. I over analyse but I can’t concentrate, I don’t sleep, then again, I sleep too much. I don’t want to talk, I want to be alone, I want to think about how much I should have done and it’s exhausting.
It continues. I panic about next week (not sure what about), I convince myself that I won’t be very good, I’m certain that no one wants to see me. I feel nervous to engage with people I know, so I engage with people I don’t (no baggage there you see). I dream about winning the Lottery because then everything will be fixed, I think about starting everything new, I buy something, anything, firstly for me, actually always for me and it’s exhausting…
You see I experience anxiety and depression, and it can be exhausting.
One feeds the other, I know this now. It took me forty-six years to get there following medication, counselling, psychiatry, and a stay at The Priory (no celebrities when I was there, just jigsaws and cardboard coat hangers!).
Now I can manage it, I choose to manage it, and I do manage it because I got help.
I know how to look after myself, I recognise the signs that tell me I may be starting to feel unwell and most importantly I do something, even if it’s tiny. If I do something, it’s a lot less exhausting.
So, this is what I know.
A sign of depression for me is when I constantly look back with regret. I know I can’t change a thing but I want to – this makes me anxious because I convince myself I will make all the same poor decisions again. I’m basically giving myself an impossible conundrum. I can’t fix the past and I can’t predict the future, yet I get wrapped up in both.
I have to live in the now, the now is what I can control, the now is what I can enjoy, the now is where I am and who I have around me.
It sounds simple: deal with what you can, when you can, the best you can.
I have to remember I have a narrower window of tolerance than most people. We all get the same ups and downs thrown at us every day – the biggest difference is that many more people can cope with what life throws at them.
For those of us, and I know I’m not the only one, who experience anxiety and depression, sometimes we just don’t have the capacity and that’s when everything goes wrong (well, not necessarily everything but I do like to catastrophise!).
Equally, when things feel like they are going well, I will do anything to keep that feeling, always on, always up.
But I have to remember that stability is what I need, not a series of highs and lows.
I have to look after myself. I’m not a better medical expert than my GP, so I take my medication and I take it when I should.
I always try to practice S.H.E.D. It’s simple but it works:
- Sleep: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, and don’t scroll on the phone before you close your eyes.
- Hydrate: Drink lots of water – I aim to drink three litres a day.
- Exercise: Now I am rubbish at this, so if anyone can help motivate me I would be delighted, but just a 30-minute walk each day can make all the difference. If you have time at lunch, go for a walk. You will be so much more productive and if you can find a team sport the enjoyment of doing something with other people is really infectious.
- Diet: There is no easy way around this one. Chips, burgers, sugar and alcohol do not make for a mood free week, they create highs and lows all on their own! I am not a saint but I am mindful, I try to remember treats are called treats for a reason.
I also know that I must have somebody to talk to. Some people have lots, others just one, however many people you have, make sure there is someone. Don’t wait like I did for forty-six years until you start talking.
When I do talk to someone, I must not deflect, just start to talk. It doesn’t even matter what it’s about it’s just knowing that someone is there for you.
Before I close off from these ramblings – which I hope have given you either a small insight or made you realise that it’s not just you – I would like to ask everyone reading this to take away the following:
- When you say to someone, “How are you?” be prepared to listen to their answer, you just might be the right person at the right time.
- If you do ask someone how they are, don’t always let them off with a one-word answer or a list of what they have to do that day, ask the question again, “Come on… How are things?”. Sometimes it can be hard to explain how you feel.
- Try not to fall into using positive cliches. “It could be worse” isn’t the most motivating quote in the world.
I titled this piece Two feet on the floor because it is still what I have to do each day. Historically at my lowest or most anxious I simply could not get out of bed, I lay there hoping I would become less anxious whilst all the time I was achieving exactly the opposite.
I made a deal with my doctor that I would ignore everything else that might be going on and instead get up and try, and trying means putting my feet on the floor and standing up.
I had to try this morning, I’ll try tomorrow and I’ll keep on trying, no matter how exhausted I may be.
Chief Executive, Imago Venues
Any staff member with a mental health condition is welcome to join the Staff Inclusivity Group, which advocates for equality in the workplace for colleagues with physical or invisible disabilities. The group is also a place to seek support from one another and challenge University policies and practices.
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
Reflections, comments, discussion and opinion on EDI topics from Loughborough University staff and students
Join the discussion
What an unexpectedly honest description of living with depression and anxiety. The anxiety element rang so true for me… I love that someone in such a senior role can be so open about mental health. This is the only way that we can change the misconceptions and stigma in and out of the workplace surrounding people affected by mental health problems. Spencer is the last person that many would imagine suffering with his mental health, myself included, knowing what his working role is. The more of us that brave opening up about this subject in the workplace, the more I find also feel that they too can be honest about their own mental health and we can support each other and be honest when we are struggling… Thank you for your honesty Spencer.
what a great blog, Spencer! I’m so pleased that you felt able to tell everybody your story. I’m sure it will inspire others who are dealing with the same issue and make others who are fortunate enough not to be re-evaluate their daily encounters with colleagues. I will try to make sure that, when I say to someone “How are you?”, I listen to their answer in case I just might be the right person at the right time.
Sarah van Zoelen
Thank you for your openness and honest Spencer, what a beautifully written piece.
a great blog Spencer, massive respect for coming ‘out’ about the challenges of anxiety and depression.
This is a fantastic piece and a reminder that we should all look out for each other. Even if someone seems happy and enthusiastic on the outside, keeping this up may be exhausting. Be kind and realise that people have feelings inside that they can’t show on the outside all of the time.
Thank you for writing this.
Thank you for sharing this Spencer, this was fantastic and written so well.