I lost my way last year....
And it happened really quickly.
Similar to when you spend months building physical fitness and then miss a week and it goes.
After the sudden jolt of Covid and what that did to the travel industry, I made a quick plan. I made a decision to find a new direction, to focus on some of my other skills and qualifications, and as I became more and more focused on what that plan “should” look like and “should” feel like, and how grateful I “should” be to have this opportunity, I neglected all the signs that I was losing my way, losing myself and losing what I’ve worked so hard to create over the last 15 years.
I guess that’s what happens when you live during a pandemic. Potentially I could let myself off the hook and accept that I did what I had to do, when your business goes belly up due to a pandemic. Friends were supportive with comments like, come on Jo, you didn’t really have a choice, you had to change course, these aren’t usual times, and everyone’s lives are a little wacked right now. As I reflect on that, I know I was in survival mode, but it’s interesting how you can ignore so many warning signs when you live like that. Makes me wonder how many people live from this space even outside of a pandemic.
Many of my industry colleagues were in the same boat. Some still haven’t seen their businesses recover whilst others have moved on to other industries and careers. My first priority was to look after my clients, whilst simultaneously course correcting, looking for other work, to pay the bills, prepare for the losses and direct my focus in another potential direction. What that looked like was between July 2020 and November 2021, I started and finished, 4 different jobs in 15 months, across 4 different industries. After 23 years in the one industry, honing my craft and developing my experience and skillset, I underestimated the brain space it takes to start, learn, and settle into a new position, let alone 4 different roles in 4 completely different industries. As someone who loves to learn, even I have to admit the brain muscle was over stretched and worn out after that rigorous schedule. Transferable skills became my way of thinking, but even someone like me, who is DOER, has to admit it wore me down.
Yet the mantra remained, “it’s a global pandemic, it’s not normal times, we do what we have to do.”
Until there is no option but to stop, and we need to make a change, because the body forces us to.
That has been the gift of my pandemic survival experience. The body has a determination to show you what it needs and even though you think you can ignore the signs, the body, like mother nature has a way of showing you who’s the boss. It’s important to remember this.
For me this started with insomnia. For the second half of 2021, I spent more time staring at the ceiling than I did with my eyelids closed. I went from a few bathroom breaks through the night, to short bursts of sleep, to the long-drawn-out hours of 2.30am-5am wide awake, falling back into a deep sleep to be woken by the alarm at 6.45am. Next came the aching jaw, which I ignored for a while until I woke up one morning with my teeth so tightly clenched that I could barely open my mouth. Recent x-rays at the dentist show a flat surface across my back teeth due to excessive grinding. So, the body stepped it up and next came the rapid heartbeat for no apparent reason, and after checking that the 2nd Pfizer jab wasn’t playing havoc with my heart, this was just another symptom I wasn’t connecting. Cue breathlessness, leading to a panic attack, the 2nd one I’d experienced in 2021. Almost as if someone had their foot on your chest to the point where you feel like you can’t expand your ribs to take another breath. I’ve heard people liken that feeling to a heart attack, and I’m happy to take their word for it. But the one symptom that nearly broke me was the ruminating. If you aren’t familiar with that wonderful experience let me, give you some insight. Take a thought or a concern about the following day at work, play it through your mind, thinking of all the scenarios, usually negative, all the what ifs, all the things that could go wrong to the point where I had a solution for every possible outcome pre-planned ready to go. And wouldn’t you know it, the negative situation never eventuates, and you’ve spent all day and night, with wasted energy on a potential scenario that never saw the light of day.
By now you have probably connected the dots to a diagnosis. Incredibly I didn’t, until I came across an article on Anxiety, a condition which according to Beyond Blue 26.3% of Australians between the ages of 16-85 have experienced. It took 2 appointments with my GP for him to connect the dots and give me this diagnosis and until this time I was completely unaware of what was happening to me and then when he said it out loud, I was still uncomfortable accepting it.
I’m strong, I’m capable, I’m mentally tough…I don’t experience mental health issues such as Anxiety. Until I did and had to accept that I had previously judged this condition without the awareness of how it manifests, and although I may not have verbalized this, most likely believed that those struggling with it should just face their fears and get on with the task at hand. How ignorant I was. It wasn’t until I was crippled with these feelings myself, so much so that I couldn’t even write an email at work, because I was worried about how it would be read and judged and was it good enough, did I truly understand the power of anxiety and the paralysis it can cause. Anxiety and perfectionism are a bad combination!
Global pandemic or no global pandemic, I had to make a change, and thanks to the support of a great husband who said “just quit”, and some very supportive friends who have lived with anxiety, I was able to take steps to get my life back on track.
First step, was to put myself to the top of the food chain, take some time and care for myself, like I would if this was happening to my child.
And so, I’ve walked away from that last job, a role I had a lot of expectation upon, to take some time to unclench my jaw, to re-focus and to make some decisions about the future. In working with a psychologist towards the end of 2021 I started to understand the reason for my struggles. Both my logical and emotional voice were in a battle. Both had valid arguments and equal weight. Logical voice said this is a great opportunity, you’re in a global pandemic, you’re in a coaching organisation and you love coaching! How can this not be the right place for you? Emotional voice was screaming, there isn’t enough contact with people, the role is more technical and sales orientated than people focused, this leader is not bringing out the best in you and you’re not been given the opportunity to utilize your true gifts of coaching, communication, facilitation, and relationship skills. The realities of the role versus what I perceived the role "should" provide, were in conflict, and that meant I wasn’t able to act. I felt paralysed to move forward.
Until I named these voices, emotional vs logical or heart vs head, and saw the conflict in the arguments, was I able to take the next step.
For the first time in my life, I left a job unsure, what was next. No plan, still in a pandemic with all the usual financial responsibilities of running a home and raising a child, but clear that if I didn’t take the leap, the consequences would be high. I knew what I loved, I knew what my skills were, and I had to trust that I would find a way to bring all of those things together and reinvent myself. I hired a Life Coach, did the work, still am, and got down to making my fulltime job, my well-being. I’m grateful I listened to my body before it made me stop me through illness or breakdown. The mind is strong and at times can overrun the body, but the body is the engine and knows what it needs, and I’ve learned to listen to it more, take care of it and pay attention. Intuitively we have the answers, but we layer them with all of the expectations we place upon ourselves, or we let others place upon us, and that combined with a lifetime of belief about how we “should” or “shouldn’t” respond to things, can ignore that intuitive voice and steer us off course.
For now, it’s time to remember the association between what is right for me and what feels good for me. Of what I know to be true versus what I feel I “should” be doing. It takes practice and awareness to live like this. It has to be intentional until it becomes a well-used muscle.
The next incarnation of Jo Langhorne fills with me excitement and possibility, and I’ll admit sometimes fear. Yet it’s the kind of fear that is about stepping out of your comfort zone so that you can expand and be a full expression of who you are meant to be in the world.
Would I change this experience, would I wish it away?
It’s taken me two years to accept that in many ways Covid has been a gift. This time last year, I was angry that my business stopped, beyond my control and not of my hand. Really angry. Now standing in 2022, I’m actually grateful for the change in direction. I will be a better Coach for it, I will run interesting workshops because of it, eventually lead more meaningful Soulful Escapes and I will continue to work with women so they can be the best version of themselves through Awareness, Decisions and Action.
An Indian friend of mine would say this whole experience “is pre-destined” and maybe he’s right.
All I know is I’m breathing well, sleeping soundly, and the jaw more often than not, sits in a smile these days.
Love and light,
How do you take time to prioritise YOU in your busy life?
Share your wisdom in the comments below.