HELEN CONWAY

SUPERVISOR - COACH - TRAINER

family law supervisor, relationship counseling, wellbeing coaching, Mindfulness teacher

Are your warning lights on?

The electric warning systems on my car have gone a bit bonkers. The parking sensors beep even when there is nothing but dust motes within two feet of the bumper. Random messages pop up telling me that my tyres have dangerously low pressure. At first I kept getting out of the car to check for unseen two year olds or wounded pheasants on the road. I made a few diversions to the petrol station to feed the air machine with fifty pence coins, only to find the tyres were fine. It was when the weight of a face mask placed on the passenger seat seemingly set off the “passenger needs a seatbelt” light that I finally accepted that it was a system fault.

I’m really tempted to just turn the irritating beeps and lights off and declare that there is no point getting it fixed right now.  Now  thatI work from home and my social life is in lockdown, I’m doing about four miles a week. I’ll sort it once the pandemic is over, once things are different, sometime someday when I’m really racking up the mileage and the inconvenience and expense is worth it. It’s not causing any problem right now. Which, of course, means that it’s quite likely that, indulging an evening craving for Pringles, I’ll head for  the Sainsbury’s Local, run over a nail, ignore the light and find myself by the side of a dark rainy road,  with a totally destroyed tyre, waiting for the RAC van, a humiliatingly short, but now impossible to drive, distance from home.

Beware the repeating patterns!

I ought to know better (and really I do). One of my roles as a coach is to help people spot repeating patterns of behaviour – the ways we replicate our thinking and reactions in different situations to the same deleterious effect. I can actually see that this is just the same as the attitude that led me to burnout in my job. An attitude I know I share with many lawyers and professionals. (And car drivers no doubt).

As the stress built in my job there were warning signs. The irritability, the weepiness, the deep to the bone tiredness. But I didn’t trust them so I ignored them. Until the day I collapsed in a heap and there was no ignoring anything anymore. 

The reason I didn’t trust the signs were that they didn’t seem to match the evidence I was getting. The problem was I took that evidence from the wrong place. I took it from assumptions. ‘Everyone else’ seemed to manage so there couldn’t be anything wrong. It was ‘a normal part of the job’ so the intuition I had was obviously off base. ‘No-one else was giving in’, so the signs that my body were giving were best ignored. 

Of course, I came to realise that plenty of other lawyers were feeling the stress, were exhausted miserable and unfulfilled. It’s just that they were busy going to work everyday, turning their own warning bells and whistles off and driving themselves on at risk of breakdown. Together we were creating a culture that put us all at risk. Because don’t forget that those warning lights are not there only to save you money on your repair bills, there are there to keep you from hurting others with your defective car. 

Here’s the truth…

If you feel ‘off’ then something IS off. 

If you long for rest then you NEED rest. 

If you are crying, there is something to cry ABOUT. 

If you are angry or disconnected or up to the back teeth fed up then something is not how it should be. 

It’s not right to say “Oh it’s only..” or “ Oh it’s nothing. I’m just a bit…”. That’s the equivalent of me saying “There’s nothing wrong with the car, it’s just an electric fault.”. Umm, see – the clue is right there in the word ‘fault’. 

What we are really saying when we utter those dismissive statements is “There’s something wrong but I don’t care enough to fix it.”  We mean “I’ll keep on serving clients even though I can’t give my very best because I’m in need of some attention myself. We are saying we don’t matter, that we are not important, that we are willing to risk our whole engines seizing up from teh stress because we will become so accustomed to ignoring the signs that we don’t see the big one coming. And then it’s too late. 

My car is booked in with the mechanic and I now am assiduous about fixing my life imbalances and need for rest and activities that ‘oil’ me and ‘fill me up’ on a regular basis. I became attuned to the early warning signs of undue stress because I totally fell apart. But you can skip that latter part and just do as I say and not what I did if you like! 

What are the warning signs in your body, mind and emotions that you have been ignoring? What small steps do you need to take today to bring your life back to tip top condition? 

Don’t wait for the bells to become sirens before you take action. You deserve better.