PUBLIC SPEAKING PAIN

Yesterday I finished the first week of my face-to-face classes to become an adult educator. It was a tough week of learning and trying to absorb new information, and doing things outside of my comfort zone.

The class was small with about twelve students of differing ages and backgrounds being taught by a knowledgeable trainer. Everyone had similar challenges in balancing studies with life commitments, and so they were supportive and helpful with one another. It was a great atmosphere to be a part of.

Despite some experience with public speaking in previous jobs and volunteering in classrooms, I get nervous standing in front of a group and talking.

It doesn’t matter if I’m talking to children or adults, I’ll still react the same. It could be a bunch of staring lizards and I suspect I’d still get the shaky hands, tremor in the voice and sweating.

On the first day of classes, we had to do introductions. Say your name, why you’re there and what you want to improve on. If you wanted to elaborate further, you could talk about a hobby. There were talking prompts on the board. Sounds easy right? You’re talking about subject matter that you’re an expert on…you.

There’s just something about having the focus of your peers and standing in front of a room that automatically has my pulse racing and my hands wringing. I got through it but internally berated my performance, dissecting it to pieces. I wondered how others felt despite everyone seeming to sail through their introductions.

The next few days, the trainer got us doing one on one, small group and class activities. There were fun learning tasks, short quick “energisers” (quick games to refresh during the arvo slump), and public speaking tasks.

It was rather clever how the trainer worked on building group rapport to create a supportive and comfortable environment for us to do talks. Initially, the trainer got us to do micro public speaking tasks, increasing the time and complexity as the days went on.

By the last day, we had to give a lesson to last twenty minutes that involved a resource of some kind and ideally involved class participation.

I used a PowerPoint presentation on customer service and looked at some of the worst scenarios I’ve experienced. One example involved a customer double parking his Mercedes-Benz in front of the pharmacy and demanding I did his prescription quickly because he didn’t want a ticket. That was used to explain the entitled customer.

After each slide, I tried getting audience participation by asking them their ideas of how I chose to respond in each of the scenarios, using multiple choices as options. It generated some interaction but nowhere to the extent of other people’s talks.

I also got a couple of people up to role-play a scenario but that didn’t work too well. I think I needed to work on my lesson plan and found better ways of generating fun, practical and engaging activities. What I learnt from watching other people do their presentations was that I needed to make my delivery more engaging.

I knew that I’d be more critical of myself, and how I thought I performed wouldn’t necessarily be accurate, so I asked the trainer for her feedback.

Hand tremors, sweaty armpits and hands, shaky voice, racing pulse and jitters aside, I needed to know how I “presented” to others.

The trainer opted for the sandwich method. You know, one good comment on either side of a constructive comment.

“You’re really professional and presentation was great. You could smile more. You look stern, a bit serious. You could inject a bit of humour to lighten the talk. Otherwise, it was good.”

I need to work on my delivery. The problem is, I’m pretty sure smiling isn’t possible when I’m in fight, flight or freeze mode. As for humour, does laughing at your own jokes count?

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FAREWELL UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN

Stepping through the building’s revolving doors and swiping my work card for the last time, I felt overcome with nostalgia. My mind went for a trip down memory lane to the first time I stood in front of the security gates, desperately trying to get my visitors card to work so I that I could get to my job interview on time. I remember feeling self-conscious that I was holding up the flow of morning traffic as I did my awkward forward and backward shuffle trying to get the barriers to open. I remember rushing to the toilet to calm my nerves, flapping about trying to cool my sweaty body, and checking my armpits for embarrassing sweat stains.

I really wanted the job. At the time, this government role was what I deemed in my mind as the pinnacle of my career success in my profession. I believed that my self-worth was directly linked to my job title, and this role would be validation of that. It would satisfy my ego and dull that little insecure voice in my head telling me that my value and existence was defined by work and its accomplishments.

I remember taking extreme care in my appearance, rehearsing the lines that I would say, and trying to give myself the pep talk I needed to come across as a capable and confident person. I remember the elation I had felt at news of my success. I remember meeting my work colleagues and feeling nervous but eager to please. This job was pivotal to me feeling complete.

Over the years, I began feeling frustrated with the system, felt downtrodden with my inability to effect change, and resentment built to a point where I became an ineffectual team member. It was also around the time I was gifted with a second job title – mum – and my struggles with work-life balance, mother’s guilt and anxiety reared its ugly head.

Why did I stay, I hear you ask, if I was so unhappy?

I made excuses to myself: I needed a job, we needed the money, it was well-paid and secure, and I should have been thankful to have a job when so many others struggled to find one. In truth, I stayed for longer than I should have out of fear. I was fearful of the unknown. I didn’t believe in my own abilities or capabilities. What if I didn’t find anything better? Don’t they say the grass is always greener on the other side? My anxiety made sure to shred any remaining confidence.

And so, I stewed in my misery, negativity pouring from me like a poison, darkening my thoughts and affecting everyone around me. I was depressed and couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. People were moving forward, grabbing opportunities with gusto, and surviving within the murky waters of the workplace restructures. I didn’t feel like I belonged anymore and I certainly didn’t feel I deserved to be there, taking someone else’s spot. I was lost. I was a failure as a teammate and as a parent. I was in a very bad head space. For the sake of my mental health and my family, there was only one solution and that was to resign.

Today, as I said my farewells to my friends, I felt strong emotions of grief and loss. These wonderful people had become my second family, unwavering in their support, encouraging with meaningful words and enriching my life with their presence. Today, I close this chapter of my life with fond memories that will forever be etched in my heart.

Where will my new adventures lead? What does the next chapter look like? What are my plans? I do not know.

The only thing I do know is that I am ready for the magic of new beginnings.

 


To my friends, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

FT – I will miss your hugs and infectious laughter.
MD – I will miss your jokes, even though I rarely got your punch lines.
QG – I will miss your D&Ms, you gave me strength through some of my darkest days.
WY – I will miss your tough love, no-nonsense attitude.
GS/MN – I will miss your generous and kind spirits.
MS – I will miss your inner strength and words of wisdom.
GP – I will miss your wildly inappropriate but funny comments. Don’t go changing.
JL – I will miss hearing of your small wins with coupons and freebies.
EB – I will miss your words of encouragement and support.
HS – I will miss your self-deprecating humour.

And to the rest of the branch, who are no less important to me, thank you for being a part of my life journey.


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THE CALM AFTER THE STORM

It has been seven weeks since I had an emotional breakdown at work. It was bound to happen. I was a pressure cooker, at a dangerously high boiling point, needing a release to avoid catastrophic results. Instead of finding a solution to my ever growing anxiety and stress, I filed them in the ‘To Re-Evaluate Later’ box. I was too busy and tired to take pause, at the detriment of my mental health.

Returning to work after maternity leave, I struggled to re-assimilate into my old role. I felt inadequate and redundant, having to re-learn old processes and familiarise myself with new changes. I didn’t feel worthy to contribute to team efforts or discussions. I felt replaced by fresh faces proactive in voicing solutions to challenges, confident in their capabilities to create value and eager to seek further opportunities. Feeling anxious at my lack of ability, I hid in the shadows and made myself inconsequential. It didn’t matter that it was a toxic work environment, tainted with stressors of unreasonable and excessive workload or the constant looming cloud of job insecurity. I didn’t feel like I belonged anymore.

It didn’t help that I was struggling at home too. I was suffering, both mentally and physically, grasping at the threads of my diminishing sanity. Sleep deprivation was wreaking havoc with my ability to function. My two-and-a-half year old son was a poor sleeper and couldn’t self-settle. I was too tired to rectify the situation, choosing to kick the can down the road. I felt overburdened with responsibilities of running a household, even with lots of help from my husband.

I had become a poor man’s version of a parent; a cheap imitation. I had no energy to engage with the kids. School readers were neglected. Dinner was whatever I could throw together at the last minute or leftovers, often opting for take-away. I was prone to being snappy, and yelling was my default means of interaction. This led to feelings of mother’s guilt and overcompensating in other ways. More TV, more junk food, anything to lessen my guilt. I was a freaking mess. I was drowning in my misery.

It took only one simple email at work to push me over the edge. One small request. I had reached my upper boiling point, there was nothing left but to self-implode and decompress. I was mortified at letting coworkers see my vulnerabilities, showcasing them like open wounds, and admitting defeat. All I could do was call a time-out. I was spent.

In hindsight, it was the best decision I could have made for myself and my family. I started seeing a counsellor, and working on improving my mental health. By allowing my mind to take a break from the constant noise, giving myself the opportunity to self-reflect, and talking to a complete stranger, it has given me the strength to finally admit and face a few hard truths.

I am sh*t at being alone with my thoughts. It opens my mind to many unwanted and self-criticising mental abuse. I loathe my own company, and I fear the unknown. I’ve let the judgements of others influence and dictate my life choices. I am flawed, indecisive and insecure.

BUT, today I had an epiphany. One that smacked me hard in the face.

I no longer feel ashamed to admit that I have mental health issues; that I battle with debilitating anxiety and suffer from depression.

I no longer feel the heavy chains of societal expectations weighing me down. I am NOT a superwoman. I don’t need to ‘have it all’, and I’m okay with that.

I am ready to commit to the journey, making that arduous climb away from the dark pits of depression and anxiety, with one step at a time.

“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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