Gary closed the door to the bathroom, turned the lock and looked at himself in the mirror.
He didn’t like what he saw.
The beginnings of a haunted look.
The cold water from the tap jolted his senses.
He scooped it up in his hands and splashed it on to this face.
He hoped the iciness would wake him up from this nightmare feeling.
So familiar and so unwanted.
5 minutes before, he stepped back home to be greeted by armageddon - or that’s how he perceived it.
His kids were running around full of energy, shrieking with laughter.
His wife looked exhausted and exasperated, desperate for him to pick up the slack.
The floor was strewn with lego, dolls and the detritus of unbridled play.
He trod on something and screamed in pain.
Gary went into sensory overload.
Suddenly, it was all too much.
The world stopped in front of him and he shouted his frustration.
His kids stopped in shock as they heard his voice raise.
His wife suggested he ‘take a minute’ but the look said it all: ‘Again?’
His heart sank, shrivelled even at the knowing of that look.
His shoulders dropped and he slank upstairs to take a minute.
How would he ever get out of that loop?
Sometimes, we need to hit these walls enough times to decide, ’I’m done with feeling this way.’
We begin to see the writing on the wall and what’s at stake:
Relationships we care deeply about
Health and wellbeing that are compromised by carrying this level of stress
The fear of exposure - if only ‘they’ knew what I was like behind closed doors
The perpetuation of the anger / shame / fear cycle that seems to erupt out and take us further from what we long for
When a client has the courage and vulnerability to confront these cycles, several things start to shift:
Firstly there is a deep acknowledgement that the status quo is unsustainable
Secondly, there is an opening of compassion to self and others, that things are getting out of control
Thirdly, and most powerfully, there is the beginning of a process of positive change - not a linear one - but one where they feel in touch with hope.
Hope that things can better.
Hope that they are not broken.
Hope that their key relationships are getting better and can do so.
In Gary’s case, there were many different things contributing to his reactivity:
Poor sleep - he was waking up frequently, full of the previous or next day’s worries
Underlying stress - a sense of loss of control at work, team churn, redundancies and a very challenging boss
Low confidence - a gnawing fear of not being capable enough to deal with things as well others
Some early life experiences being triggered (largely unconsciously) around not feeling like he mattered
In the process of coaching, we focus on first on levelling out from the dive.
Getting some simple but quick wins (such as getting intentional on the transition from work to home; planning in some breaks and time for self).
We put in boundaries and clear agreements to create mental and physical space, in service of everyone in their orbit.
Next we start looking at root causes.
Identifying the patterns that are holding these reactions in place - perhaps some anxiety is being triggered or a feeling of loss of control and how to be with that from a detached place rather than being totally invested in that feeling.
As we progress we look to understand how stress is created and to remove some myths about how circumstances create stress.
Then we prioritise connection in our core relationships, slowing down to find our way back into a good feeling with those who matter (and pretty much anybody for that matter).
For Gary, he began to see how this loss of control, stress, overwhelm were inner and outer warning signs that something need to change.
In accepting that and dropping a life long habit of never asking for help, he opened up the possibility for things to change.
With that came enormous relief and gradual change.
In preparing for his re-entry into family life at the end of the day, he made an agreement with his wife that he would arrive home a little later, but having had time to sit, slow down, walk around the block, take a few deep breaths.
Reconnecting with what was important to him.