I was shattered. How I recovered from burnout – by Kate T. (Head Teacher)
I was probably born anxious. My mother, having had several miscarriages, had nine months of anxiety in case she lost me. For the next four years she worried about me: my not eating, the possibility of my having knock-knees, my bad sleeping habits and other problems that mothers have to face. (I wish she’d met Dr Clive Sherlock).
After more miscarriages and spells in hospital another daughter was born. The third one only just survived and Mother went into severe anxious mode. I later found out she’d been on phenobarbitone for years. Thus anxiety was woven around us all from the beginning.
I now realise that as a child I suffered 19 out of 19 of the behavioural problems that identify children as having what is now called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The causes of these symptoms are many and various but the fact remains that a child at school trying to manage under these circumstances with only punishment as the method of managing her is going to be in serious trouble.
Three years away from parents at boarding school ensured I squashed down my feelings and put them firmly out of touch. I was not going to be a cry-baby. I was not going to be upset by anyone. I was unpunishable, by which I mean I took every punishment and carried on the same as ever. I created a solid shell around me that kept me from being able to make close friendships. I doubted everyone’s intentions; couldn’t trust anyone.
Fast forward forty years or so. A family death, dealing with strikes and other high stress problems and not being happy about the changes required by ‘the powers that be’ combined with trying to manage my mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease caused me ‘burn out’ and I left work. I was shattered.
Ten years later, after three more close family deaths in a matter of months, break up of marriage, moving house and then being with a new partner, I knew I didn’t want to continue the patterns of the past.
When I mentioned to a friend that I was suffering anxiety attacks and depression she sent me a cutting from a Sunday paper, ‘Train Your Mind to Fight Depression.’ It described Dr Clive Sherlock guiding a man, who had been suicidally depressed, into a completely different way of responding to life. I knew immediately this was what I needed, even though I hadn’t reached his state. I think many people must thank the depressed man involved for his bravery in letting us hear his story and giving us the chance to benefit so greatly from Clive Sherlock’s Adaptation Practice.
Within the week I visited Clive and started on the road to a remarkable transformation. It was a way of changing oneself by accepting how things were and how one felt, by a plan that re-structured one’s way of life.
As an adult I had learned to manage the childhood problems, more or less, and succeed in my career but since doing Adaptation Practice I realise that it also addresses the remnants of many of the childhood problems.
‘Sitting meditation’ helps me to be still, ‘staying here’ helps me to be less distracted, slowing down makes it easier to listen. Being told that what I have to say is not important has reduced some of the excessive talking. These are just a few of the extra benefits of doing AP.
Clive explained that our bodies are containers for our emotions and feelings. If we keep them pushed down there comes a time when there are too many and they push the lid off or burst the container and then the life-force leaks out of all the cracks all the time. No wonder we are tired.
With AP we are taught how to contain the emotion by opening to the sensation inside and accepting it, not trying to avoid feeling it. After opening to small emotions such as the annoyance of dropping a pen, moving to rather more annoying events such as knocking a pile of papers on to the floor and having to re-arrange them, we become able to manage more serious emotions such as anger at the way drivers speed down the road or worse still at what is going on in the world.
This highlights one of the core practices: not thinking.
I learned how we split ourselves off from the life we are living at this moment. When we are somewhere else in our minds we are not here doing what we are doing: driving round a roundabout, cutting radishes, checking the bank statement. You cannot be doing two things at once properly. When thoughts come up you need to bring yourself back to where you are and what you are doing.
Doing things carefully, silently and willingly has been very important in helping me to ‘stay here’ and get on with what I have to do without making a fuss. It is hard not sharing one’s feelings with others all the time. I want everyone to know how I feel. They are not really interested, though some people show passing interest. What I feel is not important. Thinking about it does not get things done and life is about doing what needs doing and being present to what is here, now.
I was shown how important it was to still the constant chatter: talking to myself describing what was going on, what I’d just done and worrying about what was going to happen next and on and on.
I learned that thinking is a separate activity like running, cooking, eating, reading, or chatting to a friend. If thinking is going on at the same time as one is doing something else then it is like being on a mental treadmill all the waking hours and never being let off. Exhausting. People wonder why they are tired all the time. (TATT as doctors describe it.)
The Practice is about carrying on doing what needs doing whether you feel like it or not but being open to the emotion as you do so. All the worrying in the world won’t change the circumstances but accepting what life brings gives one much peace.
When we adapt to circumstances we have less conflict and life becomes smoother. We find people do not annoy us so much. We can have good relationships even with people with whom we might disagree fervently. We can do ‘boring’ work without being bored.
AP is not only for people who are in mental or emotional distress. It has huge benefits as a practice to develop a sensitive and understanding approach when dealing with people. It has helped me enormously with pupils, staff, parents, governors and school inspectors!