Where Personal Growth Meets the Stressful Reality of Modern Life
By Paul Johnson
Key Themes: mental health, autobiography
Choose Life tells of a journey of personal growth and development, set against the realities of a stressful modern lifestyle. It shows the search for meaning and fulfilment in life, and takes a refreshingly honest and holistic approach to living the life that you want to live – one that is easily accessible, and very different from the usual ‘ten easy steps to fulfilment’ or promises of ‘enlightenment in 30 days’. Over 260 pages.
About the Author
Paul Johnson was born in the north-east of England in 1970, and raised in South Yorkshire, where he lives with his wife and three children. He has spent the last fifteen years studying martial arts and their accompanying philosophies, and believes that we can all find a lasting sense of peace and fulfilment. Paul’s interests include walking the dog, eating curry, and practical self defence, though preferably not all at the same time. Choose Life is his first book.
It’s difficult to pin point exactly when this all started, but it would be fair to say that things came to a head recently when I found myself in unknown territory. Unable to cope with the simplest of things, I was signed off work with stress….
My feelings at the time? Blown away. Devastated. Totally lost. I was in free fall, really, with this being the first time anything like this had ever happened to me. Signed off with stress? Me? OK, so maybe I had been feeling a bit strung out recently, and hey, I’ve probably been depressed at times in my life when some of the real shit has happened, but I got through that alright, didn’t I? OK, so maybe I was drinking too much, shouting at the kids and snapping at my wife, but we got through in the end. But signed off work? I thought I was stronger than that. Much stronger. Do I really have to accept that perhaps the truth doesn’t match up, that in fact I might be weaker than I ever realised? I’ve always thought I was better than this – I mean, anxiety? Shaking inside without knowing why? Not coping with normal life? My god… what is going on here?
There was (and sometimes still is) a feeling of inadequacy that seems to goes hand in hand with this. We all work through some degree of stress – sure, that’s ok. We all start showing cracks under the strain at times, not unusual. But this? We seem to be into the realms of mental health issues here, and nobody, I repeat nobody, tells you that’s ok. Come to think of it, nobody mentions it at all- it’sdefinitely not coffee table conversation, and in fact is distinctly taboo for most of us. For me, I’m uncomfortable, ashamed even to admit to that I might have a problem- I wouldn’t dream of uttering those words out loud to the mirror, let alone to someone else. Oh, and I’m drinking a fair amount nowadays, most nights of the week if I’m honest. It used to lift things, if only for a few hours before bed, but now even this ‘strategy’ is failing to help. Worse, I’m feeling guilty about the drinking and it isn’t helping. Not good.
Even so, signed off work? This is bad, I mean really bad. I remember seeing stuff like this happen to other people – signed off with stress or anxiety. Sometimes even depression. I’m not an uncaring person, and each time a part of me would always be genuinely sympathetic to their situation. I would be thinking that these people are obviously going through a difficult patch, and no doubt there is an impact on those around them – family, friends, loved ones. And let’s not forget that this is their health, their well-being that we’re talking about here. Clearly this is more important than work. It’s obvious that this is a big issue in the scheme of things, and if it takes a bit of time to sort things, then that’s fine. Work can wait, we’ll cover things at this end, so don’t worry about it, don’t give it a second thought.
We’re all supportive around this – to be honest most of us are thinking ‘there but for the grace of God, go I.’ We all understand where this fits in terms of priorities, work/life balance, all that sort of thing. So go on, get things sorted. Take the time that you need, and go do whatever it is that you have to do.
At the same time however, another part of me would be dismissing them as being weak, not able to hack it, not up to coping with a little bit of pressure. Very poor show, eh? Trouble is, I’m the one with the sick-note this time, and no doubt other people will have those same damning thoughts about me. What was it the Native Americans said, something about not judging a man until you’d walked a mile in his moccasins…?
Well, now it’s me that feels uncomfortable about ringing the boss to explain. Now it’s me that’s worried about the idea of returning to work. I keep looking at the sick-note, wishing the doctor had written anything other than that dreadful word ‘STRESS’. I keep thinking – what am I going to say when I go back to work? How I am going to explain? Actually… I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to explain. My god, how am I going to be judged? Besides, if I can’t cope with the smallest of things at home, how on earth can I even think about managing the pressures at work?
But the sick-note does say ‘STRESS’. I keep looking at it and checking. I must have gone back to it six or seven times by now, but it still hasn’t changed. Now it’s all official: I am incapable of coping.. And I am very uncomfortable with this. Worse still, as soon as I send the sick-note in, it will go on my record, and then there’s nothing that I can do about it. A black mark on my record, an indelible judgement of weakness against my name. It’s hard enough trying to handle what’s going on right now, without also worrying about what it might mean for the future. Hang on a minute, what if I went for another job – I mean, that’s one option, right? Find another job, maybe one with a bit less pressure. That would be positive, that would be a step forward, right? Oh yeah, but then they ask for references. How many days off sick in the last 12 months. On how many occasions. And why.
Shit… I’m not in a fit state to think about this. Things are bad enough right now as it is. My world is quite literally spinning around me. I’m at home in the kitchen, bent over with my head on the work surface (feels nice and cool). I can’t think properly, and yet I can’t stop thinking. It’s all mixed up, doesn’t make any sense – there aren’t any patterns to it. A jumble of chaos and worry, all of it stacking up, more and more each minute. But I can’t act. I can’t do anything. Right now I can’t even get my head off the work surface and stand up straight, let alone think my way through things. Especially not the future.