Stop the madness

Once you realise we are all mad, life starts to make sense.

This statement is on the front of a card that a friend gave to me several years ago and I loved it so much that I’ve kept it in my office where I can look at it and chuckle on a regular basis.  In fact, I’ve actually been given this same card a few times by perceptive friends.  Hmmm…what are they trying to tell me?

I was running my patient group yesterday at the psychiatric clinic and a thought struck me; there were 16 people in the room and more than three quarters came from City firms.  So the majority of people in the room had been working in corporate environments before they were signed off work with exhaustion, nervous breakdowns, depression, anxiety and whatever other labels had been used to describe their eventual collapse.   I’ve been working pretty hard for the last month or so – in and out of all sorts of professional services firms running programmes on resilience, stress, energy, wellness, but I’ve been thinking that I should rebrand my sessions with the simple title of ‘Stop the Madness!’  And it occurred to me that the ‘patients’ I was working with were the sanest human beings I’ve seen in weeks!  At least they know things are ‘not right’.

So let’s talk about what’s really mad…

For the past twenty years, my consulting work has taken me into places where people wake up every morning feeling afraid because of what might have landed in their inbox or on their desk overnight, they choose to ignore their body’s cries for food and water because to put fuel in the tank takes too much time or their stomachs are simply too knotted up with dread and anxiety, they stay rooted to the same spot all day staring at a screen, forgetting to move or breathe because (yes you’ve guessed it) they have to deal with what’s in the inbox, they daren’t leave their desks at lunch time because their leaders don’t, toilet breaks are usually taken with their BlackBerries or iPhones in tow, sleep (if it happens) is punctuated by several email checks during the night (easier if you just put your phone on ‘vibrate’ and tuck it into your pillow case),  holiday locations are chosen with a good WiFi connection in mind because replying to emails on holiday really is more important than gazing at an aquamarine sea, smelling the flowers or playing with your children, they run on a constant level of adrenalized, caffeinated jet lag from spending all their time inhabiting the wrong time zone –  worrying about the future and what could go wrong…

Let me remind you, these aren’t my patients.  These are my ‘mentally well’ clients!

This has started to enrage me because it’s not right.  It enrages me when a young trainee at a law firm tells me she’s exhausted and on the verge of collapse but doesn’t know how to break the cycle because ‘it’s what everyone does.’  This could be my daughter in years to come.  Last year I spoke at a City Mental Health Forum about mental health at work.  I was pretty vocal about all of the above but I think it’s time for me to raise the volume.  We need to stop the madness in its tracks and at the source.  We need to get clear about what we’re calling weakness, or mental illness when it’s simply someone’s mind, body and spirit saying ‘enough!’  We need to stop admiring and rewarding behaviours which fuel this madness and it needs to start at the top with our leaders and their behaviours.

My work with individuals and organisations is about helping to get them to what’s really important.  It’s about showing them that it’s safe to stop, to pay attention to their body’s needs, to become more conscious about the choices they are making in their daily lives at work and at home.  It’s about the small things that really do make a big difference.  Over the coming months I will be writing about these small things that restore our energy and motivation, help us to reconnect with safety and keep us sane.

It’s time to stop the madness.   What do you think?


Nerina Ramlakhan

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