I didn’t so much step out of my comfort zone last week as launch myself off a precipice into my most massively uncomfortable type of situation – participating in group work. I attended training with Advancing Recovery in Ireland, and am now officially a Recovery Educator, ready to be let loose on our mental health services to try and encourage a more person centred, recovery orientated approach to mental health problems. That part wasn’t hard. I’ve done plenty of presentations before, and I’m reasonably confident that I know what I’m talking about when it comes to recovery, what helps, what doesn’t etc. Standing up in front of a room of people is TERRIFYING, but, if I’m the one presenting, I’m in control. I know what I need to do, I know what’s expected of me, and I’m working from a plan.

Being on the receiving end of a presentation though? Entirely different ball game. What was interesting was that on the first day we were in a smaller group, maybe 15 or so, and while that was daunting, it didn’t feel so big that it swallowed me. The subsequent 2 days though we were in a group of about 30, and for me, that’s just too many. I get shy about speaking up, and the longer I spend feeling shy, the more awkward it gets. If I don’t manage to break the ice for myself early on, I’m doomed to say nothing, which unfortunately is kind of what happened. While the content of the training itself was challenging, there was almost more learning in how I reacted to both the theme of the training, and myself as a member of a large group. Another factor that I had completely forgotten about and really should have considered is how long it’s been since I was last in that kind of situation – I’m over 2 years out of a work environment. Even if there were no comfort zone issues, that would have been challenging.

I was totally unprepared for how it would feel to be talking about and planning for what a recovery orientated service should look like. It’s just wonderful to know there’s such drive and energy out there now to make the changes that are so badly needed, but it served as a stark reminder of the absolutely horrendous treatment I received over the years. Yes, I was fortunate enough to meet some fantastic individuals, but they were so confined by the system they were working in that there was little they could do. I didn’t realise how strongly I still felt about that, that there would be residual emotion there. It was almost bittersweet knowing that change is happening, because it’s happening too late for me. But, the flip side of that is that I got to where I am despite all of that trauma, so when all these changes are fully implemented we have the potential to have an incredible service, and optimistically people won’t have to fight like I and so many countless others did.

What was almost harder to manage than that was looking at my own reactions to the group environment, and how judgemental I still am of myself. I’m quiet in groups, I know this about me, but apparently I don’t like it very much about me. This makes so little sense, because I will always be drawn to similarly quiet people in a group. They tend to be the ones I want to get to know. We did an exercise about how people learn, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m primarily a reflective learner – ‘These people learn by observing and thinking about what happened. They may avoid leaping in and prefer to watch from the sidelines.  Prefer to stand back and view experiences from a number of different perspectives, collecting data and taking the time to work towards an appropriate conclusion.‘ I didn’t need a questionnaire to tell me this, I know this. What I haven’t quite worked out yet is why I can be drawn to other people who learn and interact in this way, and yet it’s unacceptable for me to be like this. Maybe it’s a throwback to school, maybe it’s reminding me of problems I had on the Eden Programme last year, maybe it’s both, or neither. Whatever it is, it’s definitely something I need to work on.

So, to conclude, my facilitator training taught me a lot about facilitation, but even more about work I have yet to do that I thought I had a handle on. It’s no bad thing, because I don’t want these things to continue to bite me in the ass in the future the way they did last week. It’s been so busy the last few months that I’ve lost sight a little of self compassion. Thankfully, that busyness is finally slowing down. I have time to write and that’s been almost entirely off the agenda recently, which means I have time to reflect again.

Leaving aside a couple of jobs that need doing over the course of today and tomorrow, I know I have some breathing space towards the end of the week. It’s badly needed. And while the intensity of emotion that erupted at points last week was somewhat unnerving, I’m listening to it. I have work to do, so I will. As long as I keep listening, I will always be ok.

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