Mental Health Conversation
Living our daily lives giving attention to the maintenance of good mental health is as much about being aware of when we are not ok as it is about knowing when we are. To be able to pause and notice where we are at, with our mental health, is essential if we are going to be able to be resilient in the face of all that life brings us, good and bad.
Recently, I learnt the hard way about the importance of taking time out to ask myself, “How am I really going?”. I discovered when we don’t voluntarily take stock of how we are, life has a funny way of serving us up our very own wake up call. That was certainly my story during the early part of this year when the world went into lockdown.
To give a little context, I pride myself on being an intentional, engaged and organised mum. I’m a pro at juggling life and work in some sort of balance, passionate about excellence and people. I love my work, I love my family, and I work hard. With help from key people in my life, I’m pretty good at keeping daily life moving along smoothly… and then came Covid19, and I’ve got to tell you, it more than messed with my mojo! I can easily admit the reality of the mojo-messing symptoms of Covid19 now, but at the beginning of it all, I was not so aware!
In fact, I thought I was handling it pretty well. It was stressful, sure, but wasn’t it for everyone? Caleb, my 7 year old son, and I, were figuring it out. We were getting by, we were making the most of a tricky situation. If you’d have asked me back at the beginning, I would have said we were facing the weirdness with an optimistic attitude and a good dose of thankfulness. We were resilient, we weren’t going to let Covid19 get us down. I’d accepted the cancellation of the amazing holiday to Europe I’d planned. I was fine. I was neck deep trying to re-invent my life as an educational consultant online. I was fine. Caleb was having to do schoolwork and play in the backdrop of my zoom meetings. He was fine. And then in the middle of all my ‘fine’, I discovered something unexpected. I wasn’t all fine.
I’d like to say I figured that out myself, through meditative self-reflection, but nope, that’s not what happened. Instead, it took Caleb my 7-year-old, yelling at me full volume as he charged down the hallway,
“There’s too many rules.”
When he said those words, in the way he said them, I knew we were in trouble. The language of rules is not the way we talk about life or navigate our relationship. It’s not the way we relate or do life together. When Caleb called it out, I realized in a millisecond that I had been dealing with all my stress by pushing it away and micro-managing many aspects of our days – just to feel ok. In that moment, I finally admitted to us both that I wasn’t ok.
This moment (and really it was just a moment) became a catalyst for me to get real with myself. It invited me to action some important mental health strategies for this new time we are all facing. The first thing I did with Caleb was acknowledge the impact I had had on him, genuinely apologising and then reframing a way forward for us, so I could give back his autonomy I had so clearly intruded upon. For me, I focused on reorganising my commitments so I made the adjustment in my work life to suit my new working from home life.
Another way was through talking together about our family values. We went back to what mattered to us as a family and together agreed that the most important values in our family are kindness, respect and love (not rules!). We decided however the weeks ahead were going to be, they needed to be guided by these values, I personally found this gave me permission to relax more. Over the following weeks, we both took to needle and thread and sewed these values into a family art-piece. Sewing together gave us a time and a place to go slow together. This naturally takes our conversations further about what these values mean in different the contexts we were facing. Caleb had been heard and had reclaimed his sense of autonomy, we reframed around our values and together worked out a new and better normal in the uncertainty of these times.
It was ok that we weren’t ok. The problem wasn’t the struggle or the stress, the problem was not realising and recognising who we were and how we were. The importance of self-awareness cannot be under-stated when it comes to mental health.
If we let this story speak into our work as educators, teachers and leaders we can begin to recognise that, just as I parented out of who I was and how I was, we teach and lead from ‘who we are’ and ‘how we are’! We cannot separate ourselves into parts so it is important that we maintain our mental health in all aspects of our lives so when we show up, we are able to bring the best version of ourselves to our roles as educators, teachers and leaders.
In their book Unearthing Why, McLachlan and Britt (2020) remind us that our teaching and leadership practice is an inevitable expression of ourselves, informed by much more than just our training. Jill highlights that we “cannot artificially separate our personal and professional selves”. In her reflection, ‘I am in the room’, she speaks into our struggle when our image of ourselves as teachers (or leaders) doesn’t match the reality of who we find ourselves to be ‘in the room’ with children and colleagues. She reminds us we are just as likely to be passionate, committed and creative as we are to be insecure, anxious and exhausted. This realisation comes with responsibility, inviting us to make ourselves open to question so we are not caught unaware about how our presence influences children we teach or teams we lead.
We are in a time where many educators, teachers and leaders in early childhood are facing diverse impacts on their lives personally and professionally. This has direct effects on our mental health and it has never been more important to recognise this. It takes courage to face ourselves, reflect deeply, to ask the hard questions and to be willing to make changes to our ways of being and doing - to better protect our mental health.
Brene Brown (2015) in her amazing book, Rising Strong, reminds us the process of rising or finding new footing can lead us to feel homesick for a place that no longer exists. It takes courage to keep moving forwards and let go of ‘the way things were’. Let’s be brave together. Things will never be as they were. This forced change has offered a place for teachers and leaders to be courageous. So, let’s be aware of our emotional and mental health as we show up each day, lead our teams and engage in teaching and learning with children #becauseYOUmatter.
Want to think further about the importance of mental health in the workplace?
A mentally healthy workplace protects workers’ mental health and can have a positive impact on productivity, creativity and employee retention. For more information go to Safe Work Australia website where you can watch a fabulous presentation from Liz Tobin from beyondblue about the positive role leaders can have in creating mentally healthy workplaces.
Want to read more about professional resilience?
Being resilient is a protective factor contributing to good mental health. Professional resilience is our individual capacity to thrive in demanding situations. The choices we make when responding to difficult situations and our attitude and willingness to act, demonstrate resilience. Be You offers some helpful strategies to engage to build this into our practice:
1. Build supportive relationships
2. Think positively
3. Use your strengths
4. Do what you enjoy doing
5. Do something – be prepared to act
6. Look after your health and wellbeing
7. Laugh – be light hearted and playful
1. My Family is a Team: A story about mental illness. Hard cover children’s book
2. Mental Health Conversation Cards - 24 cards in a box
McLachlan, J., & Britt, C. (2020). Unearthing Why: Stories of thinking and learning with children. Australia: The Curious Teacher.
Brown, B. (2015). Rising strong (First edition.). New York: Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House.