Vulnerable post alert. I shared this yesterday on my Facebook page and to my mailing list, but wanted to add it here also.
Today I want to share a bit of my story with you, an important part of my journey towards starting Ideal Balance Coaching.
When I decided to study psychology at university, I also decided to do a course that included a year in industry, as it seemed like an exciting opportunity to get some real-world experience without actually entering the real world!
When the third year rolled around, I took my year in industry at a private school for children with dyslexia. To this day, it’s still been the hardest year of my life, and also one of the most life changing.
Schools have their own ecosystems and politics, which makes them hard places to be if you don’t fit in. And I didn’t really fit in there. I was too young, too vocal in a school with many teachers who had been there since the school’s formation. They felt that I shouldn’t have an opinion because of my age, and even if I did have an opinion I certainly shouldn’t voice it, as I was there as a student not a teacher.
Now my mum is a teacher, and at that point being in education was all I’d ever known. Pretty good life experience of how schools are! Because education was all I knew, however, I didn’t have the tools and resources to cope with the opinions of the others at the school.
Not having the resources put a lot of pressure on me. I had to be there for a year, and wanted the placement to go well. In my head I was going to come out of university and train to be an Educational Psychologist, so this placement was really important to me.
I did they only thing I knew how to do at that point, I complied to how they thought I should be. I kept my head down in meetings and didn’t say anything. If I had any thoughts I would share them with the one teacher who did listen to me and then, more often than not, she would bring these opinions to the teachers for me.
Can you imagine how hard it is to squeeze yourself into a mould that doesn’t fit? Maybe if this had just been the case at work I would have managed it a bit better. But it wasn’t the only place I was trying to be the someone I thought I had to be.
During this year I continued to live in my student house, with 3 of my closest friends. Our second year of university had been great and I loved them all. You try, however, being the only one who has to get up at 6.30am to get the train to work and spend all day working.
Most of my friends were in their final year of university, they wanted to go out and party and make the most of it. And I don’t blame them. But I got woken up in the early hours of the morning a few too many times for it to be OK. It was hard to know I’d been sat in an office while they’d spent the day at uni or sitting in the park/pub as the sun was shining.
As I said, I didn’t blame them, they’d done nothing wrong. But I never told them how hard I was finding it at work, or at home where I was envious of the fun they were having. I kept it all to myself, and tried to be quiet, compliant Ruth at work and easy-going, social Ruth at home.
Slowly the cracks started to show. “Washing-machine-gate” is still something we bring up when we’re together. I’d decided that when I got home from work I was going to do my washing. When I got home, I discovered my housemate had his washing in the machine. I lost my shit 100%. My poor housemate, I’m not sure he knew what to do with me, as I was a screaming crying mess over something that really didn’t matter. I could do my washing after him, but I’d lost the ability to think rationally.
Losing my shit over tiny things wasn’t an alarm bell enough for me though, I kept going. I needed this to work, I had to get a good grade and perform well (yeah, they graded our year in industry, and we had to do a research dissertation as well, because adjusting to full time work isn’t enough of a shock as a student!) Eventually I got signed off work sick. I burnt out completely. And I didn’t really recover for years.
I made it through the year, with a great grade, but I ended up with a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and on anti-depressants and pain killers. I squeezed myself till I had nothing left to give. I lost all sense of who I was, and what I wanted. I stopped looking after myself and gained a lot of weight. It wasn’t until I left university a year later that I really started healing again.
Now I’m not someone who looks back and regrets thing and I don’t regret the year in industry at all. It made me realise I didn’t want to be an Educational Psychologist, I got an ‘official’ diagnosis of dyslexia while there which played a huge part in me getting the grade I did in my degree, learning about undiagnosed dyslexia taught me a lot about myself, plus I learnt some communication skills that have served me well in my adult life, and it made adjust to working life after university a doddle.
I can’t help but look back now and think I could have achieved all of that, and done it without the burnout, if I’d been OK with putting my wants and needs first. If I’d been comfortable in doing things the way I wanted, if I hadn’t felt the need to be the person they expected me to be.
That’s why I’m so passionate in helping people do this for themselves, to help them live the life they want to live, without the burnout. You don’t have to squeeze yourself into any mould that doesn’t suit you, you have the right to ask for what you want and need. Don’t leave it until you’re ill to make the change.