Back to Basics

I have somehow managed to put my back out. Again. The frustration is almost too much to bear, though I know I need to put it into perspective. It is not (yet) as bad as the last two times, which means that if I’m careful there is a chance it could recover without going into full blown paralysis mode. And although in the current (acute) phase, it is somewhat debilitating, it is far from a life threatening condition. I must, I know, stay positive, although when you’re not yet 35 and it takes a full three seconds to straighten up each time you stand, plus you have shooting pains down both your legs when you walk, it’s kind of hard to keep that top of mind. Still, I must try, because nobody likes a whinger – least of all me.

I’m realising now more than ever the correlation between physical and mental well-being. When I’m feeling stressed with work or life it doesn’t take long to manifest itself in my body. This time has been textbook. Two boozy weekends, a patch of work stress and a ridiculous ongoing drama with our cleaner (of all things) have taken their toll on me mentally, and bang! There goes the back. I have also, I admit, become complacent with my core strengthening exercises of late, doing increasingly watered down versions each morning to afford myself additional, precious moments in my bed. This, combined with increasingly prolonged periods of desk sitting, has once again proved to be a recipe for disaster.

I know this is my body’s way of telling me to sit up and take notice, to find a way to redress the imbalance that has been created. My recently ended counselling has helped me to clarify the things that are important to me. Now I need to start taking active steps towards achieving them. Because if I don’t, I fear back pain will be but the tip of a very big iceberg.

So it’s time to make some changes – physical and mental. Firstly, I must get the stand-up desk my boss sanctioned weeks ago that I haven’t got around to sorting yet. Secondly, I will sign up for the eight week mindfulness course I have found, to try and get my mind back into alignment with my body. Hopefully with a bit more commitment and a bit less complacency I can get back to full health more quickly this time around.

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Tips on Resolving Workplace Tension

Given that most of us spend the majority of our week in the workplace, it’s inevitable that sometimes tensions will run high. The more pragmatic people in the office might find it easy to keep things professional rather than personal but, for many, keeping emotion out of the equation isn’t always easy.

The real danger lies not in feeling – or even expressing – that emotion, but in consigning it to record by writing it down in an email-and copying in every man and his dog to boot. What may start out as a small difference of opinion can rapidly escalate into a war of increasingly unpleasant words-at the end of which it could be your own head on the chopping block instead of the person with whom you are arguing your well considered (at least to your mind) point.

In a cyber war of attrition it’s easy to forget the person on the receiving end of your diatribe is actually just that-a person. In the heat of the moment it’s also easy to forget that as soon as you’ve hit send you’re rather likely to have to face that person on your way to the kitchen when you want to make a cuppa, which can make for an awkward encounter.

With the above in mind, here are some tips on avoiding unecessary escalation of arguments in the work place:

1. Speak face to face as soon as an issue arises
2. Don’t succumb to the temptation to copy in your boss, your boss’s boss and the boss’s daughter to try and accumulate allies-if it backfires the only one with egg on their face will be you
3. If someone is winding you up via email sit back (or better still, get up and walk away from your computer), take a deep breath and think long and hard before firing off a retaliatory message that you will regret
4. Be professional – even if someone else is being anything but. That, rather than getting overcome by emotion, is the best way to earn the respect and alliance of your colleagues.

I wish I could say I always practice what I preach, but in this case I’ve still got a long way to go…

Letter to A.Chugger

Dear A.Chugger,

Though it breaks my heart to trample your enthusiasm (for which, I must admit, I do admire you) beneath the giant foot of my disinterest, I do believe it’s in your best interest in the long term. I’m guessing by your bright eyes and earnest expression this is new to you and you’ve yet to experience the crushing blow of multiple defeats. But soon I fear this house of cards you’ve built will come crashing down around you and the grim reality will wash over you like a tidal wave, drowning your hopes and aspirations in the torrent.

Let me paint you a picture of your typical client. A frazzled office worker, this person spends their days juggling so many metaphorical balls and treading so many deadline tightropes that they may as well be in the circus. On those rare and precious occasions that they are unshackled from their desks they like to float aloft their glorious daydreams of escape to tropical climes. When faced with the dreadlocked exuberance of youth in human form holding a clipboard, therefore, they are understandably reticent to engage in banter, no matter how jolly that banter might be.

The thing is this: We understand you’re raising money for the kids/dolphins/blind one eyed tree frogs, and it’s not that we’re cold-hearted bastards who don’t care a jot for the future of this planet we live on. It’s just that our time is short, and those of us who are of a philanthropic persuasion will mostly already be signed up to a two pound a month direct debit scheme to help our chosen cause. We are not, therefore, about to waste your time and effort by listening to you touting your cause.

I don’t mean to be cruel, you really do seem nice, but why not take that sunny disposition somewhere where it’s appreciated, before it gets ground out of you by the army of grim-faced commuters who pass by you, unseeingly, each day? Put your clipboard down, son, and get a job on the frontline of Greenpeace, if you must, or maybe in a bar in Ibiza or a theatre school in west London? The world is your Oyster, so step aside and let us Oyster card holders be.

Yours,

A.Commuter

Letting go of perfect

Striving to be a perfectionist has its benefits – never submitting a piece of sub-standard work, half-heartedly cleaning the flat or choosing a duff holiday or friend’s birthday present, for example – but it can also wear you down. When you fail to live up to your own exacting standards – as you inevitably will – your inner critic comes charging into the forefront of your consciousness like an army major and starts reprimanding you for all the things you’ve done wrong. And when that voice is constantly pointing out your areas of weakness it can become both depressing and a self-fulfilling cycle.

The truth of the matter is (newsflash!) there is no such thing as perfect. Even the most diligent of cleaners or copywriters will miss a speck of dirt or an erroneous apostrophe every now and then. Does that make them bad at what they do? Far from it – it just makes them human. We weren’t made to be perfect beings – God (if you believe in Him) made us in his image, granted, but Adam and Eve saw to it that we would always be a bunch of hopeless sinners. Instead of aiming for perfect maybe we should really aim at being the best that we can be. Not that we should drop our standards – far from it, it’s important to set our goals high, it’s just that when we don’t always achieve the top grade in life we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves for managing a perfectly respectable B.

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Doldrums

Today the carefully arranged mask of Zen which I discovered in my course last week and had actually started to believe could be my true and serene self spectacularly slipped aside to reveal a considerably less calm interior. Unsurprisingly this has led to an upsurge of those familiar feelings of failure and frustration I’d hitherto been doing an impressive job of burying somewhere in the back of my unconscious (along with jealousy, bitterness, anger, rage and all the other unwanted emotions that reside there – although those ones I have at least managed to batten down the hatches on again).

The most frustrating thing is that I know the way I’m feeling is in almost entirely self-inflicted. I spent the weekend over indulging, entirely neglecting my body and mind’s requirements for healthy food, sleep and nurturing (and, let’s face it, this body and mind aren’t getting any younger). As a result both body and mind became unbalanced, and it’s only now as I begin to recognise this and pay some recompense to both that the situation can begin to be resolved. It’s hardly rocket science – disrespect your body and it will disrespect you back (or something to that effect) – though it seems I’m failing in this most rudimentary of comprehensions.

But you know what? It may be how the day began but wallowing is most certainly not how I want this day to end. The plethora of ‘problems’ I perceive when I’m tired and emotional are First World problems; none have serious repercussions. Instead of letting my brain dwell on negative thoughts I shall, for the remainder of this day, embrace the positive ones – of which there are so many – and be glad. So what if I’m tired and a bit out of sorts? I had a great weekend with my friends – and it was worth every minute. Now if somebody could just pass the Berocca…

John Doe

John Doe woke to the sound of rowing neighbours and the view of his alarm clock’s blinking red light. In two minutes the alarm would sound, a siren call demanding he rise and actively participate in life. He reached out to flick the switch that would silence it before it began, a fleeting flicker of satisfaction rippling across the otherwise flat vista of his personal horizon.

He washed and dressed, then carelessly threw some cat food in the bowl as he exited the kitchen. As he stepped out into the street he paused to look up at the sky. He sighed. It was another grey day after a succession of equally grey predecessors. As he walked towards the train station it began to rain. He had no umbrella.

The train platform was crowded, five deep in sleep-deprived commuters, not one of them wanting to be where they were. John Doe positioned himself just back from where he knew the doors would be. Fat rain drops splashed onto his cheeks. Next to him a fat woman jostled for space for her obscenely large breasts. A man coughed in his face.

The train pulled up and in the ensuing scramble someone stumbled, cried out. But, intent on catching their trains, not one person helped their fallen comrade. She was a businesswoman, early thirties, or so John Doe suspected. As the doors closed inches from her face she pulled her skirt down to cover her modesty and slowly rose to her feet, cursing as the blank expressions of those who had safely boarded the train began to move.

John Doe moved into the space that had been created by the evacuation of the other commuters from the platform. The businesswoman, having recovered herself, stood beside him, a scowl plastered on her otherwise pretty face. A tidal wave of people rose up from the depths of the tunnel at the end of the platform, spilling over the lip of the top step and thronging all around them.

A disembodied voice announced the next train would be five minutes late, and a collective sigh breathed through the impatient crowd. Behind him John Doe heard a woman with a high pitched voice screech into her phone that she was about to miss a meeting.

After five minutes the train had still not arrived, and frustrations were at fever pitch. There were now so many people on the platform that John Doe could feel a pressure against his back as they forged ever forward. A woman – perhaps the businesswoman, though John Doe could no longer be sure – shouted, begged for people to stop pushing. But still they pushed.

As the train finally pulled into the platform there was a blood curdling scream. The commuter mob swayed uncertainly. Another scream, more prolonged this time, followed by a man’s voice: “For Christ’s sake, move back!” Eventually the message filtered through and the swarm retreated, parting ways enough for everyone to see the twisted form of John Doe splayed across the track.

Rather different from the ones in central London…

Phantom

After giving birth to my son the nurse told me he didn’t exist.

Can you imagine? The child I’d carried to full term, whose heartbeat I’d heard with my own ears, whose little legs I’d felt kicking inside me, whose features I’d seen at every scan.

At first I struggled to take in the meaning of those seemingly nonsensical words. But, as her tone of voice became more insistent and her manner shifted from one of consolation to frustration, it dawned on me that, for some unknown and utterly incredible reason, she believed it to be true.

I myself was incredulous, as I’m sure you can imagine, and when Michael arrived I begged him to explain, to tell them they were wrong and that there was a baby – our baby – somewhere. There had clearly been a mix up and our son, our Max – or James or Saul, we hadn’t yet decided – was in someone else’s incubator, mislabelled like an erroneous tin of soup in a warehouse.

Once the truth had been uncovered there would be a full investigation, of course. Heads would roll, and we would sue them and set up a trust fund for our son with the payout. In years to come we would laugh about the ridiculousness of the situation, and it would go down in family folklore and be told at annual gatherings for generations to come.

At first Michael agreed it was ludicrous. In fact, he was outraged. How could a woman carry a baby to full term only for it to disappear?

And yet, slowly but surely, they turned him against me, poisoned his mind with vicious lies about my state of mind.

This is my last attempt at freedom, a final bid to unshackle myself from the false accusations that have led to my incarceration, that have stripped me of sanity as I knew it.

I beg you to read my story and decide for yourself who is mad; them, me, or every one of us?

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I came across this charming little fellow whilst exploring a temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He was certainly very wary of me!