Coach health: the last taboo?
My poor, neglected blog. I didn’t abandon it because I lost interest, nor did I run out of material to write about. No, this coach needed to focus her energy elsewhere. In the last three years I have done plenty of writing and published three books with Bookboon.com. I started this blog to put down ideas and have conversations that had no place else to go, but the book writing gobbled up a lot of my time and thinking space.
But that’s not the whole story, and it would insincere of me not to share what else took me away all this time.
Two years ago I started to feel increasingly stiff in my limbs getting up in the morning. At first, I put it down to being run down as a result of a recent bereavement. When after several months it got worse and some serious fatigue started to set in, I packed myself off to my GP.
Wellbeing, health and ethics
The coaching body I belong to, the International Coach Federation, doesn’t reference coach health and well-being specifically in its professional code. It says this about how coaches should look after themselves:
I will, at all times, strive to recognize personal issues that may impair, conflict or interfere with my coaching performance or my professional coaching relationships. Whenever the facts and circumstances necessitate, I will promptly seek professional assistance and determine the action to be taken, including whether it is appropriate to suspend or terminate my coaching relationship(s).
ICF Code of Ethics
I have always known I have a responsibility to look after myself so whatever is going on in my existence does not distract from my clients’ own issues, doesn’t cloud my judgment, and doesn’t stop me from firing on all cylinders when I’m with them. I started to get worried about that.
I found no help other than the above. Coaches don’t seem to talk much about how you know you are fit to practise safely. Had I stumbled upon some sort of taboo here? I decided to have more coaching supervision than strictly required and tell my supervisor everything. It was a great relief that I had an outside perspective to make the right professional decisions. That left my health to deal with.
Long story short, I went through the (still) amazingly resilient NHS system and ticked off test after test that proved several awful things thankfully had no hold on me. But the weird fatigue, muscle pain and aches remained.
Recognising the turning point
At the end of May 2019 I was feeling especially fed up and tired when I went to see my rheumatologist. I’d scaled down on my coaching assignments. Whatever this was, it was putting the brakes on my work. That is not negotiable.
A very easy to talk to consultant, his long-term regulars addressed him as Alex each time he beamed his smile into the waiting room to pick up his next patient. Alex gave me an inquisitive look and simply asked how I was. He listened carefully to my account and responded with warmth. Then he called my problem by its real name: fibromyalgia. It’s a problem with neurotransmitters in the brain registering pain that has no physical cause.
Now things got interesting. Alex recommended sleep meds to break the cycle of disturbed sleep. It makes the fatigue worse and doesn’t help the brain deal with misfiring neurotransmitters either.
To say I wasn’t keen on the pharma solution is an understatement. It is hard to get off those meds again. Even worse, the ones Alex suggested had side effects including drowsiness in the morning (no surprises there), anxiety, depression and impaired judgment. I can’t afford to experience any of those; in fact no-one can.
When the obvious solution isn’t what you need…
And so I asked Alex about the alternative. His eyebrows went up, his eyes started to gleam. ‘Exercise. Like mad. Forty minutes a day, five days a week. For the rest of your life.’
I couldn’t help it, but I burst out laughing. ‘That’s it? That’s all? Why didn’t you start there?’ I felt beyond excited about this. What a simple solution to my pernicious problem!
Alex shrugged. ‘Nobody can do it, so I usually explain about the sleep meds.’ He folded his hands over his belly and sat back to observe me. He knows what I do for a living, I suspected some reverse psychology was being deployed here. I didn’t care, I took the bait.
‘I’m not nobody,’ I grinned back. ‘You watch me go.’
I would make a fine coach if I couldn’t stretch myself to this goal and make it work. This wasn’t just about my health anymore: I had a professional point to make too. I challenge my clients every day and hold them to account. I can’t claim to be a coach when I can’t muster the discipline, the mental toughness to do the same for myself, by myself.
Now Alex laughed too and asked me what I planned to do. He looked impressed when I told him, wished me luck, and added he would be writing to my GP so I could get that prescription after all. He shook my hand extra firmly when I told him I wouldn’t be seeing my GP about this and walked me out the door, still grinning.
Stick with the plan
Six months later I am on a quarter of the pain meds I needed before. I’m sleeping much, much better. The brain fog is almost non-existent and usually requires several nights of disturbed sleep in a row to make an appearance. My energy is almost entirely back to my old levels. My health is recovering fast.
I train intensively at least three times a week and set myself scary goals. At present I’m an 8th kyu in Shotokan Karate, also known as a red belt. Don’t be impressed, it’s a beginner grade. Despite Sensei’s impatient shouts I am kind of expected to be a tangle of arms and legs, which is just as well.
Nevertheless, next week I am entering an international competition to see what that’s like. According to the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), competitiveness is my least favoured mode. What better way to work on that than by physically beating your opponent? I’m calling this CPD.
Sticking to the plan has been easy: I am getting so much joy from this I’ve almost forgotten what brought me here. Apart from my upcoming grading and competition there is no expectation to be any good at this. I’m regularly being bested by nine-year-old brown belts and it’s delightful.
My main problem right now is keeping a straight face on the mat. It isn’t easy blocking a 6′ black belt’s kick when you’re collapsing with laughter at the absurdity of it all. It’ll be my next challenge, right after I’ve posted my Christmas card to Alex.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s moonlighting as a performance coach.