Exercise and Anxiety: Social Media and the rise of the super fit.

Social media is a double edged sword for me. I use it every day, and I post quite a lot. I blog (obviously) and a lot of what I blog about and read about and the people I follow are food/fitness professionals making their living through their food and fitness guides. I don’t do that; I am an amateur. While they can be inspirational, and I have learnt a lot through following different people, sometimes they make me anxious and insecure, depressed that I am sitting on the sofa eating mayo that somebody else made, and I forgot to check whether my cashew cheese was grown by organic virgins and whisked under the light of the new moon. Not all fitness/food blogs are like this, but enough that I think they can have a negative impact, if you are that way inclined.

So this is why I sometimes want to punch social media in the face:

  1. Motivational quotes: see my blog on positive mental attitude for a deeper exploration of why positive mental attitude quotes actually really piss me off. But basically when related to exercise I think they can set up more barriers than they break down.
    1. You choose your life. Actually, a lot of the time you don’t. I don’t choose when school decides it is parents’ evening (and when it is supposed to finish at 7 but I am still talking to parents at 8.45), when a student has a melt- down, when my dad died. Seriously! So I didn’t get my work out in today, or yesterday and it won’t fucking happen tomorrow because life. Whoopdedo for the amazing X who chose to turn her life around by doing 20 minutes of HIIT every day and now her life is amazing and as a by-product of changing her body shape she has also become a millionaire with the self-confidence to scale Everest.
    2. If you want it, you will make time. So humans can create time now? Seriously? I read a motivational post about exercises you can add to your daily run to work- see you can fit in some HIIT into your cardio which will make it super effective. My daily run to work? WTAF? How many assumptions in that sentence?
      1. You run to work every day?
      2. You can run to work every day? Well, I can’t. There are no shower facilities where I work, so turning up a hot sweaty beetroot coloured mess and then spending all day worrying if I am going to be nicknamed Miss Smelly by students is not happening. I tried. It didn’t really work. What if you live too far away? You have to drop children off at nursery? You work two jobs?
      3. A lot of these posts come from people who work in the fitness industry. If you work in a gym then forgive me for pointing it out, but of course it is easy to fit a workout into your break. You are ALREADY THERE. When I belonged to the gym, it took at least 20 minutes to get there. Do I have time to get there and do a quick lunch work out? No I do not. Also I am expected to be available throughout my lunch hour, so no go.
    3. They make you feel rubbish about yourself, so why even try? This one explains itself I think.
  2. Photos of fit people looking fit. There is a wealth of articles on this, but basically look at the lighting, the pose, the breathing in, the outtakes you don’t see, the camera angle. However, we often don’t think about those things because look at that person! Look at those abs, muscles, flex. Of course these people have put the hours in, but try it yourself. Flex your leg muscles, point your toes. Oh look, your leg looks different. High heels work on a similar principle- they force you to tense your muscles so your legs give the appearance of being slimmer and more toned. Sometimes these photos might be inspirational, but too often they look unobtainable. Learning theory suggests that we can learn through vicarious reinforcement- seeing someone else achieve what we would like to, however, there are also factors that affect this. If we can’t identify with someone then we are unlikely to see them as a role model. This means posting pictures of your muscular self in a bikini can make it pretty difficult for someone to identify with you. I’ve also noticed that where client journeys are posted, the client looked pretty healthy in the first place, so this means someone who is struggling with even starting to exercise or change their eating patterns can be put off even more
  3. Money: not only do you need time to invest in health and fitness on a regular basis, you also need money. You know which food is cheap? All the food that is verboten- processed white bread, value ham, margarine, biscuits, turkey twizzlers. How guilt inducing must it be to be told that if you feed your children any of the above, you don’t love them enough to care about their health? FUCK OFF! I shop at Aldi and sometimes Asda, very occasionally Waitrose when I am feeling flush. But, as someone living on their own in London, my rent forbids that I can buy grass fed organic beef massaged by Argentinian virgins until it contains extra nutrients. I can buy cheap ass coconut oil from the world foods aisle (it’s cheaper than the coconut oil in the oil aisle because that is made for wanky pricks, rather than normal people who have been using this superfood forever), and I can buy fresh fruit and veg- seriously the Aldi weekly offers are great. Exercise gear! Of course you can go running, you just need some trainers. Well, what if you can’t afford them? Yoga classes? Gym membership? Dumbells? Resistance bands? This might not be something that plagues everybody, but it can be a barrier, and to be made anxious about the fact you can’t afford the time/money to provide home- made protein balls for your kids is something I haven’t got time for.This also goes for kitchen equipment. I’m feeling it. I lost custody of the magimix in my recent breakup. Foolishly I hadn’t thought to ask my parents to spunk £200+ on a mayonnaise maker. Doh! Although I am not entirely to blame- I don’t have parents. Too dark? Maybe. Anyway, I don’t have £200+ knocking about to splurge, nor do I have the £150+ for an insta-pot, or £100 for a decent set of knives. I have one sharp knife in my kitchen, and my diy magimix consists of a bowl and a wooden spoon. So, how many recipes on the fitness food blogs that I follow can I actually make? If I wrote a cook book, it would be about how to make stuff with one knife and a pan. It wouldn’t contain a two page list of what the ‘basic kitchen’ needs. Nor would the recipes contain references to oddly expensive substitutes to make them inaccessible to many.

So, I am occasionally left feeling anxious, but more often angry when I read posts full of assumptions about other people’s lives and how much choice we have available to us. I decided yesterday, if you want to be a bit more active- go for a walk. It might not be 5 rounds of HIIT in a gym in a £50 pair of yoga tights and designer sports bra, but you can do it in clothes you already own, and it is definitely more active than sitting on the sofa. If you’ve got time of course.

Disclaimer: I know this says more about me than the people I am angry with.


Exercise and Anxiety: My experiences.

Disclaimer 1: This bit isn’t really that funny. I have suffered from severe anxiety and depression, been diagnosed, had cbt and now I mainly function without it overwhelming me as it has in the past, although I still get moments of almost uncontrollable panic, I am better at realising what is going and dealing with it early, using my cbt tricks. It doesn’t just affect my exercise- I sometimes have difficulty in crowds if I can’t see an easy way out (and being seriously short this can happen quite a lot), and sometimes it just looms up in a kind of everything about tomorrow is going to be awful so let’s stay awake all night worrying about, or that let’s worry about everything that you have ever done in the history of time. Because that’s helpful, wishing you could change the past. Top tip- it’s not.

But this post is specifically about how it affects my exercise. Exercise is a great stress reliever- I know that, but it can also be a great stress inducer, and telling yourself to get motivated, be consistent and start a brand new day blah blah positive mental attitude blah blah you choose how you see your day blah blah blah. Well, yeah, this post isn’t about that. Although I will talk about what I do to get myself out the door, here is the disclaimer (number 2 if you are counting). It doesn’t always work for me, it might not work for you. But, I want to normalise this, I want to say it is ok, and if some days you don’t exercise and you stay on the sofa eating cake and drinking gin watching re-runs of the Golden Girls, then not only is that ok, it’s a fucking awesome day. Balance! Fuck yeah!

Disclaimer 3: there will be swearing.

Performance anxiety: This little bastard attacks me in several forms.

  1. Firstly, it whispers in my ear, you won’t be able to do it you know.

I whisper back, But I’ve done this shit before, I ran 4 miles last week, I can run two this week.

Pause. Louder, yeah, but you spent the weekend drinking wine and eating like you are carrying octuplets, plus, you exercised yesterday and your muscles will hurt and you will have to stop and walk after 500m and that is SO EMBARRASSING.

Me: But nobody will know I have only run 500m. Wait, what if they have been walking up the road behind me. PANIC!

How I try solve this problem: I decide that I will only run 500m, and if I decide I can’t go on, I will stop. At least I had a go. If I have to reduce this to 200m, 100m, stepping outside the front door. That’s what I do. At no point should you try to solve this problem with wine or food, at least until you have definitely decided you are not leaving the house.

  1. Other people can see my performance and know exactly how far and how fast I have run.

This comes from using running apps. Now I know running apps are useful, I like to know how far and fast I have run- sometimes it explains why I am breathing like an asthmatic pug in a pea souper, other times it explains why I danced through my run like a lamb frolicking in a field of cocaine (both usually related to running very fast or very slow). But, it tells people what you did. Admittedly, I added some friends, but I am not entirely comfortable with it, and sometimes I find it difficult to either start, or indeed stop a run. I know that today was a slow recovery run, but what will it look like to everybody else?

How I try to solve this problem: Not adding to the app. Ha! What a fucking brilliant solution! But how do I know how far and how fast I have run. Sneakily I know that distance of a couple of loops near my house, and my phone has a timer. Job done. Of course then I worry that people will think I haven’t been running at all… the solution to this is to remember nobody else really gives a fuck about your running, they are too busy worrying about their own. Seriously, the only conversations I have ever really had with other runners goes like this:

Runner 1: I ran two miles today.

Runner 2: That’s awesome! I haven’t been running in like….ages!/ That’s awesome. I went running this week too. What are you thinking of doing next?

Runner 1: I haven’t been running for ages.

Runner 2: Yeah, that happens sometimes.

Appearance anxiety: I worry I look like a dick (figuratively not litereally). I worry I look fat. I worry all my wobbly bits are bouncing out of control like a bouncy castle who just discovered house music and ecstasy.

Yeah, all of those. Sometimes all at once. As soon as I start any form of exercise I immediately turn as bright red as a beetroot blushing as badly as though it just got burned. Seriously, I have had gym people come and ask if I am ok when warming up on the treadmill. Looking like you are about to have a heart attack from the start of every workout to about an hour afterwards is not a good look, but it is one I have perfected.

How I try to solve this problem: Well, sometimes I wear baggier gym clothes. You are not going to catch me prancing around in one of those bras with the 18 straps woven together in some sort of complicated pattern. My sports bras are not there to be pretty, they are not going to be seen. They are there to one job and one job only and that job? Keep my tits immobile during all and any exercises. If you can do your thing in a Victoria’s secrets bra and be comfortable then please do. If you want to go jogging half naked, nude with your bits swinging free, that is up to you (although the police might object). For me, I’ll stick to the gym clothes I feel comfortable in because those are the ones that get me out of the house. Also avoid group exercise at all costs- I mean face your fears if you like, but for me group classes? I’d rather remove my own eyeballs with a rusty spoon.

It’s also worth remembering, most people won’t notice. And if they do, what are they going to say? And if they do say anything, then they have a serious fucking problem and you may drop a heavy weight on their toe, and apologise sweetly by stamping on said toe.

Falling over anxiety: This might be quite an individual thing, I don’t know. But I have a fear of falling over, which combines performance anxiety with appearance anxiety i.e. I can’t do it, and I’ll look like a dick. Plus, it will probably hurt. Falling over has only ever actually occurred to me while I have been wearing high heels, drinking wine, and not paying attention to the existence of kerbs because I am far too busy being witty and interesting. When I have fallen over, I have been embarrassed (despite the wine), muttering something about it being so undignified. Friends generously refrain from pointing out that loud witch like cackling at my own wit, is not the epitome of dignity. But… it has never happened to me while out running. Still, I watch for kerbs and potholes and possible tripping hazards like a hawk, and there isn’t much else I can do.

Slug anxiety: This I am pretty sure is totally individual. I panic at the sight of slugs. Yeah I know they move at about 2 millimetres an hour and are unlikely to develop the motivation, physical prowess and mental acuity to launch themselves at my face and slime all over me, but so what? Once I got one stuck on my hand and I couldn’t get it off. My dad ‘helpfully’ found this hilarious, rather than terrifying. Terrifying is the most appropriate emotional response, just in case you were wondering.

How I solve this problem: Accept that most of my run will resemble a gazelle pronking as I avoid those slimy little shitbags with their weird antennary eyes, rather than the graceful lope of co-ordinated human being.

Lucky this only happens when it has been raining. Unlucky I live in England.

Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally

This acronym is something I remember being taught in maths at school, something to do with the order of operations. I don’t actually remember what the acronym means, so … either the maths teacher was crap, acronyms don’t work, or I have never had to use order of operations since I was sixteen so my memory couldn’t be bothered to store this once vital information. How can we tell? What factors decide what information we hold onto and what we forget?

Oh God with a capital G who lives in the heavens, I would believe in you if you could answer me this. And not just in one context, with one class, one student, just for one year. If you could give me the holy grail of education- getting students to recall the relevant information at the right time, in the right context, I would worship you every day. It is the foundation of learning, the building block of abstract thought and without it we are lost because we can only build on the knowledge we have, so I need my students to remember the basics before we can get onto the complex. But, what we know about how this works is exceedingly limited. There is very little educational research that can be generalised across society because education involves humans, and for me it involves teenage humans who are notoriously fickle (according to my schema). Humans are difficult to pin down, they bring their emotions to the situation, their cultural associations, their upbringing and everything that is happening to them and has happened to them. Is it surprising that what works in one case, does not work with another? Teachers are also bringing elements of themselves to the situation. Believe me, teaching the role of the father in the psychology of attachment is a real bitch when your own father is dying, then dead and then you attend his funeral. It makes answering students’ questions about dads an emotional rollercoaster. I taught that element of the spec. really badly that year, really badly.

So what has this got to do with good old Aunt Sally? Well, working out what works in education is really hard. If anybody tells you they have the answer with any certainty, immediately check how much money they plan to make, and then tell them that they are wrong. Education is littered with the skeletons of the dead and expensive ideas that teachers have been told were the panacea. They weren’t, hence their skeletal status. Although some of them still lurch around us like zombies, biting into your pedagogy and killing your brain (see learning styles). So instead of facing these difficulties, acknowledging that when one thing works in one context, it might not work in another, and understanding that it isn’t just because the teachers are a bit shit, we do something else. We create something, something easy to measure and easy to correct- it might be attendance and punctuality for example. Who cares if it is only an issue for a small number of students, particularly if you are looking at attendance and punctuality to lessons? Well, those who can measure it care about it. Attendance and punctuality slots neatly into a spread sheet, and when it decreases it is a victory for a policy implemented to solve a problem that didn’t really exist, but Aunt Sally came to visit. Albeit briefly. Because what is the lasting impact of this policy? Will it improve student attainment? Will it improve student well- being? It certainly doesn’t solve the problems of students who are desperately struggling with mental health issues, being carers for parents, or even those struggling academically with how to write an essay. But hey, the data on attendance and punctuality now looks awesome. So instead of excusing Aunt Sally, I’d like her to fuck off. Totally fuck off out of education. Then we might look at the real problems, with outcomes possibly unmeasurable until years later, and then we really will be doing something that approaches the needs of the students we work with.

P.S. Oxford Dictionary definition of Aunt Sally

1A game played in some parts of Britain in which players throw sticks or balls at a wooden dummy.

1.1count noun A dummy used in the game of Aunt Sally.

1.2count noun A person or thing set up as an easy target for criticism.

Your PMA is PMO!

Good evening! Is it? Maybe, maybe not. But with a positive mental attitude, it definitely will be. You choose your mood, you choose to have a good day, you make things happen. And some days you do, but other days, you don’t. I follow lots of people on social media, and many of them are to do with food, fitness and well-being. They frequently contain motivational messages about how to feel good about yourself, to motivate yourself, and often give the impression that the person sending the messages lives a charmed life, and always, always, always get that workout in #noexcuses. But, of course they don’t, not all the time. But that’s ok, because you can just choose to be positive and focus on the good- just be fucking grateful to be alive for fucks sake! #soblessed. #winning.

But, you know what, not everything in life is a choice. Sometimes shitty things happen, and what really pisses me off (pmo) about these pma (positive mental attitude) messages, is that they can shut down conversations, shut down emotional honesty and shut down a person’s ability to ask for help, to admit that things are shit, and they feel shit, and a fucking HIIT workout is not going to solve their fucking problems. Nor is eating an avocado, unless your problem is you are really craving guacamole.

Why? Because saying that all of your emotional experience is a choice, invalidates feeling negative, it makes feeling upset, angry or anxious something you have chosen, not a reasonable reaction to a fucked up situation, or an extremely stressful life event, or even just a shitty disappointing day because they just happen sometimes. By making emotions a choice, we make people who are feeling shit feel even shitter. And also they make me feel like punching you in the face, and screaming, feel good about that you self- satisfied prick. Instead of acknowledging that sometimes it is alright to feel unhappy, we tell people it is their choice they are feeling unhappy. So what needs to change? Not the situation, but the person. Individualising happiness and making it something we simply have to pick off the shelf of our emotional range like that sparkly top from the rack in H&M, means that feeling bad makes us feel bad for feeling bad. That is not helpful. In fact, it can end up being downright dangerous. Culturally conditioned to present a positive face to the world, when we feel we can’t, we might get stuck inside our own heads instead of being able to say- you know what, things are all a bit shit.

Some days you do get out of the wrong side of the bed, as my mum used to say, along with other helpful phrases like, were you born in a barn, and don’t just stand there like one of Lewis’s. And maybe you can focus on the good, eat a healthy breakfast, practise yoga in the sunshine and list the great things about being you before bouncing out to the day like Tigger on crack. But maybe some days you can’t. Being Tigger on crack takes a fuckton of energy and if your energy is sapped by things going on around you, maybe you just scrape yourself out of bed, drink some coffee, prop your eyes open with matchsticks and promise yourself if you make it through the day you can definitely drink all the gin/eat all the chocolate while sitting on the sofa in your fat pants with tears rolling down your face. And if anybody even says something about yoga, a positive mental attitude or looking on the bright side, you have permission to fuck them up. Like really fuck them up. Or just say ‘fine’ when they ask how you are. Whatever feels right in the moment.

What I am trying to say, is that your feelings are for you. They need to be examined, they need to be considered and if the voice in your head has a one sided nasty view of everything you do, then you don’t need to listen to it. But nor do you always have to listen to the pma messages about deciding to have a good day. It is alright to feel fucked up, angry, upset and anxious. Many of these emotions a safety valve, a trigger to ourselves that something needs to change, but not necessarily the emotion in that moment. We need to listen to those emotions and sometimes we need to let them happen, or we become out of touch with what we feel and why. We lose emotional honesty and ultimately intimacy because we feel obliged to choose happy. And that really pisses me off.


I’ve got the power…

The measure of a man (or woman) is what he (or she) does with power. (Plato)

In 1959, French and Raven described five bases of power:

  1. Legitimate – This comes from the belief that a person has the formal right to make demands, and to expect others to be compliant and obedient.
  2. Reward – This results from one person’s ability to compensate another for compliance.
  3. Expert – This is based on a person’s high levels of skill and knowledge.
  4. Referent – This is the result of a person’s perceived attractiveness, worthiness and right to others’ respect.
  5. Coercive – This comes from the belief that a person can punish others for noncompliance.

Six years later, Raven added an extra power base:

  1. Informational – This results from a person’s ability to control the information that others need to accomplish something.

I think this one interesting way to examine sources of power within schools. Having been on the receiving end of a particularly patronising whole staff bollocking about deadlines this morning, it reminded me that ideas about power and hierarchies within school have been floating round my head for quite some time, without necessarily really crystallising, except in in the occasional sharp expletive, expressing frustration rather than any well thought out analysis of the places power resides in schools, and how legitimate we consider the power base to be. Teachers wield power in the classroom (well hopefully) in order to ensure students learn, and beyond that, teachers wield power over other teachers in various ways and for various reasons. The SLT power base comes from its legitimacy. In psychology we study reasons for obedience and how much more like we are to obey when authority is legitimate. To increase legitimacy you can dress for it, and SLT certainly do suit it up. Admittedly I look more like I picked up clothes from the floor in the dark and then forced myself through a hedge backwards (as the saying goes). But I don’t do what SLT asks because of fancy suiting. I do it (usually) because their authority is legitimate. But there are limits to this. Because I also have power. I have the power of the expert. Oh yes I do. I am an experienced, knowledgeable teacher. I know more about my subjects than any member of SLT, and I’d hazard a guess that I know as much as, if not more, about pedagogy- certainly the psychology of learning and memory. So SLT do not have the power to tell me how to teach, nor how to plan my lessons. We can discuss pedagogy and teaching strategies, but there is no legitimate authority here; we discuss as equals, or in some cases the power structure is reversed because I am the expert, not SLT. This is where the problem often lies in the assumption of power. From the position of power, the position of expert is often assumed, even when clearly undeserved. And this creates problems in how professionals within a school relate to each other. Assuming that you power remains legitimate independent of context is foolish. I understand that the legitimacy of my power over students diminishes rapidly as they leave the school grounds because it is partly conferred by my location and the role I play within it. The power of a member of the police force to tell me what to do is usually legitimised by uniform; out of it and it is just some stranger shouting at me. SLT must recognise that the legitimacy of their power becomes questionable dependent on context; if not then they forge relationships of resentment or learned helplessness- neither of which are good things.

There is of course one way that SLT can maintain a sense of legitimate power according to the above definitions- they can have referent power. They can engender respect and be considered worthy of it; they can also maintain their expertise. It’s a sad thing to say that referent power is sadly lacking when you stand up and shout at your colleagues, at experts in their field, and expect that your authority remains legitimate without recognising you lack any kind of referent power.

Everyday Sexism

I posted something on my facebook page. I thought it was fairly innocuous- two quotes from two women about what they think feminism is, essentially equality for women. I posted it because it is important to me to demonstrate that feminism is not how it is often portrayed. I identify as a feminist because I think women all over the world deserve equality that they do not have.

The first response from a male friend was to say that one of the women was hot. The second response from the same man was something along the lines of I bet she’s a goer. I found these comments upsetting, although sadly predictable. I replied asking him not to make such comments, I didn’t find them funny or clever. I had tried to be polite, but telling someone they are not funny or clever really isn’t very polite. But then neither is trying to dismiss someone’s argument by diminishing them through overtly sexual comments.

The response was another man saying he did find it funny, and then dismissing the views expressed in the quotes by saying we all know feminism isn’t about equality anymore and women are leaving it in droves. Someone else asked for evidence of this. I am not sure there is evidence of this, but I doubt I would be able to provide evidence that women are joining feminist movements either. There is immense difficulty in measuring either of these positions in a valid or reliable way. So I asked him not to bother. He said he was merely responding to a request for evidence. I don’t think that is what was really happening. Consciously or unconsciously he was dismissing the views of two women based on conjecture. Even if other women, people, believe that feminism is something else, to argue that “we all know” dismisses the views of these two women, dismisses their experience. It’s a form of suppression. I understand that it might seem like I am taking this too seriously, but when this forms many of your experiences, it starts to become tedious when they are consistently dismissed, by people who will never experience this.

The next morning I woke up to a response from the original man accusing me of lacking a sense of humour, posting incessantly about feminism, posting on a public forum and so I should expect ridicule. The point of his post was to introduce some light hearted banter to the issue. My response in asking him not to post in such a was disappointingly reminiscent of militant feminism.

I am not sure either of these men really thought about what they were doing, or the implications of their behaviour or language. I don’t think they were necessarily consciously behaving like privileged pricks with an over developed sense of entitlement, but that is how it came across.

I deleted my original post.

I am feeling slightly disgusted with myself for doing so, but I was starting to feel anxious about looking at my own facebook page. That’s not right.

I could have explained that I don’t think posting something on my facebook means I should expect ridicule- actually I don’t think anybody who posts on their facebook wall is asking their friends and family to ridicule them. It might be something that invites debate, but to simply post comments that I could be expected to find offensive isn’t offering any debate. It’s just mean.

I could have engaged with the debate, tried to explain why I found those comments offensive. But having tried to explain similar things to this guy before, I felt like I would be wasting my time; I wondered whether I would just be feeding the troll. So I didn’t.

The response indicated I was behaving like a militant, as though this is a bad thing when you are arguing for equal rights. I don’t think it is, but militant feminist was intended as an insult. Maybe I should just be quiet and look at kittens and flowers or something.

My incessant posting? If you don’t like reading what I post then you have several options- block me or unfollow me. You don’t have to try and silence me by being offensive and then exacerbating that offence by telling me I should be finding your comments funny. This argument seems to simply underline the fact he wants me to shut up, to stop posting things about feminism. I can’t say exactly why, but I can’t stop myself making the assumption that it is because these postings make him uncomfortable in some way.

This has really got under my skin. I think it is because it was such a stereotypical example of efforts to silence a view without engaging with it. And it came from a friend.

And he has shut me up. For now.


Post-script: A few days later the original guy tagged me in a post in which a woman described her fear of arriving home in her car to find a strange man outside her house with a ladder. She reversed away from the house and called her husband. He laughed and said there were workmen arriving to clean the gutters and she burst into tears because she was scared; because her husband didn’t understand that this would be a scary situation. She didn’t know how to approach a strange man without knowing whether she would be under attack. The original guy explained he hadn’t realised that women feel like this about all men they don’t know, that they have to, that because individual men see themselves as nice guys it is really hard to understand when women don’t understand how nice they are.

I see this is progress. But there is a sense of entitlement that comes with being able to dismiss others’ experience because you don’t experience it. I don’t want to fear all men, but I know that I certainly can’t trust all the men and so the safest bet is not to trust any. Many insidious arguments are used to dismiss the experiences of people, many were used in this exchange. Maybe it is one person at a time who changes.


So what is it?

Health, happiness and prosperity?

The ability to deal with life’s challenges?

Maslow would argue it is the ability to achieve self-actualisation, before which, many much more basic needs must be met.

Jahoda: positive attitude towards the self; self-actualisation; autonomy; resistance to stress; environmental mastery; accurate perception of reality.

Well Jahoda, you do get full credit for high expectations and aspirational targets.

I’ll be discussing these ideas in more detail in another blog; first I have some stuff to get off my chest. Each year teacher wellbeing is raised as a concern. The consequences of ignoring wellbeing are clear- burnout, teacher shortage, increased sickness and absence, poor teaching; the list could go on. Wellbeing is key to good teaching; it is a cliché but you cannot pour from an empty cup. You cannot deal with the emotional intensity of teaching a standard classroom teacher time table unless your own cup is full- and it probably shouldn’t be full of gin on a Monday night, especially if it is a pint glass (that is for Friday). Teachers have an individual responsibility to manage their own wellbeing, to be kind to themselves and others, and to recognise when they are reaching the edge. So far, so good. Nobody wants to behave like a twat towards themselves continuously. But sometimes, the individual is overwhelmed by systemic issues that prevent people doing the very things they know will help.

For me this half term is UCAS season, and it is an utter fucking bitch. Students who still have to ask to use the bathroom are making decisions that could be some of the most important in their lives; understandably they are anxious, angry, confused and inconsistent. In practical terms this means many one to one meetings, tears, re-writes, discussions, parental confrontations (for them), parental conversations (for me) and lots of other time consuming and emotionally consuming events. I get to work at 6.30am and I work continuously- maybe a break for lunch- by which I mean I don’t talk and eat at the same time, but I perfect the ability to type one handed. In emotional terms it means I am carrying the projected anxiety and anger, stress and concerns of about 15 teenagers, plus those who have decided they want to share the burden amongst every teacher they know. I have applied for 15 different subjects at universities I will never go to, and I am panicking about potential offers. This week I have hit the edge; physically and mentally, and thank fuckfully there is only one of my tutor group left to finish his UCAS statement. I have been buried within myself emotionally, and struggling to sleep; when I do I have crazy intense dreams- I woke up on Monday convinced I had booked flights to America that I could neither afford, nor use as they weren’t in holiday time. All of these extra things (like ucas) hang around the normal expectations of a classroom teacher- planning, teaching, marking, meetings, one to ones with vulnerable students, cpd and again the list goes on. I know next week is half-term, that I am celebrating the university offers my students are already achieving, that going to the gym and kick boxing the shit out of my personal trainer was a really great thing to do. I really am trying to take care of my own shit.

But what about systemic issues with wellbeing- what does the school do? Last year wellbeing was on the agenda. This year it is not. I don’t know whether that is because we don’t need to think about anymore because everybody has wellbeing, or whether we just don’t care anymore. What I do know is, that despite being on the agenda for a year, and having a group of staff ‘researching’ it; the only suggestion they seemed to come up with was tea and coffee and Costco pastries available from 8.30 am in the staffroom. Not everyday mind you, only on cpd days.

Well that’s solved all my problems. Thanks a fucking bunch. It’s not even good coffee; it tastes like they mixed the dregs of an ashtray with substandard coffee and poured it over lukewarm dogends. And I don’t eat pastries. So my wellbeing is taken care of by me bringing my own coffee and my own breakfast. Um?

So what would enable my wellbeing at work? What systemic changes could be made that would actually enable teachers to take care of their wellbeing, fill their cup if you will?

That’s for the next blog and other wellbeing related subjects are for another blog. I have gin to drink.



The Hierarchy Triptych: this is the first of three pictures

“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn…”

Philip Larkin

Repetition Compulsion: we are compelled to repeat the patterns of our early relationships, regardless of how unhealthy this might be. We repeat these patterns in our friendships, our romantic relationships and even in our working relationships.

This concept comes from the psychodynamic perspective in psychology, where childhood determines our adult personality and behaviour. While many Freudian assumptions have been dismissed as baseless fantasy, misogynistic or scientifically unfalsifiable, we should not dismiss an entire school of thought. In many ways the ideas of the psychodynamic perspective have been reformed and re-stated to fit into new psychological paradigms.

According to the tenets of sociology our primary socialisation occurs within the family. It is where we learn how to behave towards other people, and how they will behave towards us. In psychodynamic psychology, the relationships we have with our parents define our personalities, our needs, desires and how we respond to others as adults. Our childhood is our destiny, and we consistently repeat the patterns we learn as children with all other people we encounter. Unconsciously we reproduce emotions and patterns of behaviour with others, and we receive similar feedback that reinforces these responses. In this we move from the psychodynamic approach to the behaviourist. We can also get a little bit cognitive here. Cognitive psychologists might argue that what we have developed are relationship schemas- expectations of how events will occur based on our previous experiences. In this case the patterns of our expectations are reinforced because we only really pay attention to the evidence that fits in to our expected patterns. They colour our interpretation of someone’s behaviour towards us, and if something happens that doesn’t fit, then we might adjust our schema. However, it is more likely we will reinterpret until it matches our schema, or simply dismiss it. It will not be remembered. From any of these perspectives the lesson is that we will replay our family relationships like a Mobius strip.

While we might love our parents, appreciate them and feel secure in their affection, we must remember that parents are people too. They are not perfect, they have made mistakes or perhaps simply done something very normal, but incomprehensible to a child, that left you at times feeling rejected and abandoned. Perhaps it was the time they first left you at school and you didn’t know they would return to pick you up because they had never left you alone in a room of strangers before, or it could have been the time you were ‘lost’ in the supermarket and when you found them again they shouted at you for running away; when you knocked over your glass of orange juice and you were shouted at, even though it was an accident. I hope that there are not more deep seated reasons for your inner child to scream and shout its feelings of abandonment, but we all have those moments. For me, the moment I recall happened on GCSE results day. My results weren’t good enough. The A I got in History was evidence of my lack of application- yes I got an A. But it wasn’t an A*. This crystallised a nagging fear I had been carrying with me since I was very small- without my academic achievements I was not worthy of love and affection. Now my parents weren’t abusive at all. But they were ambitious for me, and education was hugely important to them- for my dad he was the first person in his family to go to university and he had a quality of life and income that had been undreamed of by his parents. Conversely, my mum hadn’t valued her own education at all, until, she felt, far too late. They were both determined I would benefit from the education available, and everything they could do to support me. They built my cultural capital, they bought me all the books, and they hired a tutor when it seemed my primary school wasn’t teaching the maths that their friends’ children were learning. When I was academically successful I was rewarded with smiles and hugs. I never really failed academically, but the fear of failure loomed large. And with this came pressure and perfectionism. This is something that I have carried with me throughout my life; often an unrecognised and unacknowledged burden. A burden placed with the best of intentions because my parents came with their burdens and experiences.

It means that when I feel that I have fallen short of expectations, if I am not judged as perfect, then my world starts to fall apart emotionally. It means that the standards I set for myself are much higher than those I set for anybody else; when I would offer others compassion and understanding, I only give myself criticism and dismissal. While I clearly recognise this potential strength, and potentially dangerous weakness in myself, I must recognise that others cannot see my inner self. We all hold the illusion of transparency- that people can see much more of our internal thought process than is possible, and we expect them to behave accordingly. However, they can’t. We can’t. They know nothing of our psychological triggers and we are usually unable to recognise theirs. It means that in our working relationships we may well be abusing someone’s inner child unintentionally, and their reactions will be unconsciously reminiscent of a screaming toddler, unable to communicate their hurt and anger to what we have just said or done.

This doesn’t just happen in our personal relationships, but in our working relationships. When we interact with colleagues, we are not two value free Vulcan like automatons, but people who have our schemas, our learned responses and an abandoned and angry inner child. All of these things will colour our reactions and responses. In schools, I think this may be particularly true. We work within a very clearly defined (and often patriarchal) hierarchy. This is familiar family territory. Our parents (SLT) tell us what to do and what not to do. We conform or we are punished. But, SLT were fucked up at some point by someone else, so they too hug their inner child very close and hope that each interaction will not hurt it, will not trigger a tantrum.

What can we do? Recognise our own schema, understand why our inner child cries and check our learned responses. Are any of these appropriate anymore? Understand that we might be the trigger for the tantrum in someone else and try to reflect on our behaviour accordingly.

The Middle Triptych: Who the fuck are you to tell me what to do?

Whole30 Day30: why does it feel like an anti-climax?

Today should be a day for celebration right? I did it! Well, barring falling face first into a bucket of donuts and wine with my mouth open in the next few hours, I did it. I managed a month without alcohol, gluten, grains, dairy, legumes and soy. I probably listed those in order of importance didn’t I? I was going to write about the NSV’s, the leaner, fitter me and the demons I might have conquered on the way, but that’s not how it has turned out. But I did it! So why am I not celebrating? It all feels like an anti-climax to be honest. I was expecting to be feeling great, happy and proud but instead I feel depressed, worried, sick and anxious.

I started today in the urgent care walk in centre. I have had a cough for about five weeks now, and it has ebbed and flowed in its severity, but last night while on my own, I had a few ‘attacks’ where I didn’t feel I would ever breathe again. It was so hard to suck air into my lungs that it was audible, probably about a mile away. I obviously survived and regained control of my breathing but it was horrible. So this morning, I skipped work (with the kindness, grace and care of my colleagues who covered me) and went to the urgent care centre. I waited for a bit, saw someone, waited again and saw someone else. I was diagnosed with a chest infection and given antibiotics and told to rest up, keep hydrated and take painkillers as necessary. It wasn’t the kick ass finish I wanted for today. I wanted to be seeing my students, going to the gym and ending on a high. We don’t always get what we want.

Do we?

The other thing that is stopping me celebrating is the current state of the UK. I am grieving for the result of the referendum. I am heartbroken at the rise in racist attacks, bemused at the backtracking from promises to possibilities, fearful of the lack of leadership from those who ‘won’, and scared by the uncertainty. Zimbardo famously carried out what has come to be known as the Stanford Prison Experiment. In it he randomly assigned a sample of normal, psychologically healthy young men to either the role of guard or prisoner. He put them into a mock prison, and watched the events unfold. The story goes that the guards became increasingly sadistic, the prisoners increasingly withdrawn and psychologically disturbed, until the experiment was ended eight days earlier than planned. Zimbardo argued that we learnt that the roles we give people dictate their behaviour. Much more recently this experiment was ‘repeated’ but with different parameters. This time the guards released the prisoners and they planned to live together as a commune. This result seemed much more humanity affirming. Perhaps we had, as societies might do, made progress in how we treat each other. The guards and prisoners recognised the inherent inequality in their assigned roles and decided they would not accept it.

However, it didn’t end there. Within 24 hours came uncertainty. Not all the members of the commune were doing their jobs, some of them were lounging, expecting others to work in their place, some were demanding more of members than had originally been asked. In the early hours of the morning, in response to this, some members decided to stage a coup- they would institute an authoritarian regime and police it how they saw fit. The ethics committee watching events refused to let this situation play out, fearing psychological damage to the participants. This included those who wanted the regime and those who passively supported it. What would they think about themselves when they stepped out of the experimental situation? What would others think of them? After all, this was being filmed and shown on the BBC.

I fear that the conclusions drawn from these experiments may now be tested in the real world. That we have assigned roles to the leave and the remain sides, that those who see themselves as ‘guardians’ of Great Britain feel empowered to become more sadistic as they enforce their ideals, now seemingly with a mandate from over half of those who voted. These ideals seem to embody a racist and xenophobic dehumanisation of those ‘not like us’. Just as the prisoners in Zimbardo’s experiment were purposely dehumanised and de-individuated, and the guards were given permission to enforce their order upon others, so those ‘not like us’ are experiencing a rise in abuse both general and specifically personal. It is dangerous and it is a society of fear.

I am fearful that the uncertainty that is pulsing across the UK, Europe and the world will end with people looking for authority, for a regime that offers certainty, regardless of the conditions attached to regaining certainty, as those who are supposed to lead hesitate, refuse to take action, and make contradictory and inflammatory statements. . In the real world we cannot simple halt what is happening because we do not like how our participants are behaving, or because we fear the ethical and moral consequences of that behaviour. What can we do? Look to the research into the processes of social change, minority and majority influence to convince people to behave differently? Again, there lies uncertainty.

So my personal achievement seems small, insignificant and almost worthless in the face of the enormity of what seems to be happening around me. On the other hand, tomorrow I will be able to drown my sorrows for the first time in 30 days, and blame the shitty feeling I wake up with on a hangover. Is that a silver lining?