School Business Leadership

Why don’t we listen?

You know how when you’re slicing carrots and you’re getting to the green shoot end and your brain tells you to stop chopping before you chop your finger off?

And you know how when you’re driving along and see a group of children on the pavement, your brain tells you to slow right down just in case one of them does something unexpected?

And you also know how when you’re standing on a bridge watching gushing water below and you get that overwhelming urge to jump into it, but your brain tells you ‘no’ so you step back from the edge? (Perhaps that one is just me.)

Many times, throughout every day and from a young age, we listen and act on what our brain, our instinct and our rationality tells us. Physical self preservation kicks in before we injure ourselves or anyone around us.

And those of us who are (ahem) predisposed to clumsiness, usually resulting in injury to ourselves, have learnt to be extra careful.

So, all good…except, it seems, when it comes to our mental health.

Over the years, as a School Business Manager I’ve been involved in a number of return to work interviews in which my colleagues have clearly not been ready to return to work. They tell me, through tears, that they can’t have anymore time off because they are “letting everyone down”. So instead of listening to their own body they worry about their temporary inability to support others and I have to find a way to convince them to go back to their GP.

And I’m just as bad. “I’ll just get this or that out of the way and I’ll be fine.” I can hear myself saying it. But if I just stop to listen, I can hear my digestive system saying “you’re not fine”, my insomnia saying “you’re not fine”, and my elevated appetite for alcohol, caffeine and sugar shouting at me “YOU’RE NOT FINE!”

Instead, like every other SBM, I tell myself that it’s half term soon. I’ll just get through to that and then I can rest, catch up on work and recuperate (yes those three things do go hand-in-hand for an SBM). I don’t consider myself stronger, more resilient or more able to handle stress than anyone else. I believe we all have pain thresholds but I think the difficulty with mental distress is that it can build up, subside and resume building over many years, making it hard to pinpoint a cause.

I know from experience that I spend the autumn term building up and the rest of the year subsiding but I’m like the graph in maths that looks OK until you realise that the stress build up trend is relentlessly upwards.

So, yes, I admit, I’m currently limping through to half term. Trying not to be too snappy, trying to focus on the priorities and leave the nonsense alone, supporting everyone else in their last week before the break.

After all, I don’t want to let everyone down.

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