It is one of those questions you get asked from time to time. Alongside the fantasy lottery win and how you would spend it (happily!); the imaginary famous person dinner party (dead or alive); and your one desired super power. This question gets regularly rolled out. In cringing ice breakers at corporate away days. In team bonding sessions. The question is popped: who would play you in a film?
There is no right answer of course. Only answers that reveal how you see yourself; how high is your opinion of yourself; how much do you fancy yourself. Some go down the jokey route (but really they want to say Brad Pitt); others aim high and genuinely say Brad Bitt; and some go higher still and all serious and plump for national treasures or multiple Oscar winners (Harris, De Niro, Al Pacino).
It’s a question and a conversation that – aside from making us squirm in front of others – gets to the heart of a subject that is normally hard to broach. It causes us embarrassment; discomfort; awkwardness. It is the question of how we feel we look, how others see us, how flatteringly we want to be viewed. Those of us who have spent time working with therapists may be well-practised – or should be – at doing a little self analysis; some self reflection; building up some self awareness. My experience of this process – and as someone who has reasonably high emotional intelligence – something I discovered and explored formally with tests, scores and coaching during my career in corporate London – is not that I found some huge revelations about myself that had lay undiscovered throughout my life, but that my understanding of them, what informed them and how they influenced my choices and behaviour, greatly increased. I left my three separate periods of therapy with a shaper, more rounded view of what made me tick and why.
One of the things I developed was my understanding that what mattered most to me in how others views me is not physical, ascetic or presentational, but more whether I was viewed as someone who acted openly, with integrity and with fairness. I have never had a problem being unpopular – which is just as well as someone who’s had some scrapes at work in very challenging organisations and situations; managed hundreds of people; faced bullying at school and work; has held leaderships roles that take you into tough, rough, painful decisions; and have been the holder of occasionally unpopular, minority social and political views (I ran for parliament after all!).
I would consider myself to be less concerned with material or superficial stuff. I don’t care about money, cars, houses and holidays (except to feel safe and secure). I have, alongside Dr J, held well-paid jobs – some super well paid but I know that there was not a positive automatic relationship between the size of the payslip and the size of my happiness or the quality of my mental health – if anything it was an direct, inverse relationship. I now earn the least I have earned since I was in my mid-twenties (I am now 42) and have never been happier at work. I have never worried about getting older (hitting 30, 40 etc), losing my hair (just as well again!) or about whether people liked how I looked or what I wore. But in truth that is only partly true. I do care how I feel about those things. I care about how I look for me and especially my weight and related levels of health and fitness. The opinion that matters most to me about these things is mine.
When I first started to put together the presentation that I use in many of my lectures on resilience, work-life balance and mental health at work, I pulled out photos that helped to chart my own journey into my breakdown and then back out. A picture is worth a thousand words after all and these photos vividly chart the demise of someone who is fading in front of you. Greyer – in hair and skin. Trolleys of luggage under the eyes. More tired in every shot. Sparkle drained from smile and eyes. Weight increasing month by month.
In the midst of my breakdown I found comfort in running and took six months off alcohol and started to eat a little better – when I felt like eating. I lost weight and felt the benefit of it. But it was temporary. I went back to using drink as a stress relief and an easy hiding place. I rediscovered my sweet tooth. I lost motivation to regularly exercise. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t dramatic, huge weight gain but it was unhealthy. I am five foot six and I hit twelve and a half stone. My initial recovery helped to arrest that but as I started to take antidepressants I found – some find the opposite – that it made me hungry. I ate more.
I am now over twenty months sober – I never had a drinking problem but even in very small doses it left me anxious and unhappy for days – and two months since taking a little white tablet. For the first time in a long time I have found consistent motivation to exercise and a desire to lose weight and get back to a level of fitness I had before and want again. I’ve said goodbye to most of my bread and my sweet treats; hello to daily runs; and thanks to the lockdown easing can play golf again after two months – although in the previous six months I was hardly on the course, struggling to get my head in the right place to try to concentrate for four hours. I have lost over half a stone in the last two weeks and am well on the way to my fighting weight – I want to get to ten stone four/five – a weight I haven’t seen for the guts (pardon the pun) of twenty years. I started this recent effort tipping the scales at twelve stone.
I am doing all of that for me. For my long term physical health. For my wellbeing. For my peace of mind. For my mental health.
One of the many, many desperate things that has emerged from this coronavirus lockdown is the impact that being overweight has on your chances of being hitting harder by the silent killer in our midst. That has been an added wake-up call. I have no excuse now. I have found some inner peace, have developed routines at home that support my lifestyle choices (time to run, times to cook healthier stuff, time make nice pots of real tea) and have the best chance for years to achieve the health goals I have set. I am trying to seize that opportunity with both hands. One of the great kickers of depression and other mental issues is that it eats away at your confidence and your motivation to do things you really want – things that will actually help fight the dark monster away.
I am not shut of the monster but at the moment he is resting – he will wake again – and with possibly little notice – so I want to ready when he does.
In case you were wondering, it’s Ronnie Corbett. Similar height. Both comic geniuses, obviously. Both golf mad. Both owners of Lyle and Scot knitwear. If only he wasn’t so busy attending my favourite dead comedian double act dinner party with the even greater Ronnie Barker.