Back in my corporate days, when I was rattling with anti-depressants and falling to pieces from the inside out, I developed a crazy habit to cope with everything from important meetings to just walking through the office.
Clothes. Shoes. Accessories.
That killer suit with the sharp lines and perfect pinstripes.
That scarlet jacket with the perfect cut and the shade that screamed ‘power’.
The custom shirts, cuffs just the right length, nipped in at the waist, and with the top three buttons undone.
Trousers with perfectly pressed lines.
Boots with the heel height that lifted me up, but also allowed for a power stride.
Heels that made my legs look longer, so made me feel taller.
Smart, statement handbags.
Jewelery that looked anything but ordinary.
The list went on and on.
Oh, and then there was the hair. It was long and blonde (my natural colour) back then, sometimes with bright red flashes underneath.
Image. Image was everything.
It was my armour. It kept me safe and created the perfect facade to hide my crumbling emotions, lack of self-worth and desperate need to just stop, sleep and switch off the world.
Back then, when I was feeling lower than usual, nervous or apprehensive, I poured all my hope into my outfit.
I believed, with all my might, that if I could just put together the perfect power suit, I could get through the day.
If I had a meeting or event coming up, my thought patterns would twist even further…
Nothing I owned fit properly. I’d end up with an empty wardrobe, a mass of tangled fabrics on the bed, and a swirling shitstorm of negative emotions battering me from the inside out.
I’d feel angry. Frustrated. Stupid. Annoyed for spending all that money on clothes that – in that moment – looked awful. What was I thinking when I bought that? How did it look so great last week and so repugnant today? It must be my mind – I must be going insane. Or, maybe I was getting fat. I must be turning into some flabby, ugly troll for all my clothes to look so horrid on me.
My self talk and warped reflection left only one possibility. I needed to buy something else. Quickly.
If I had just 50p for every time I’d rushed around a shopping centre, an hour to spare before closing, white knuckles clutching my credit card, trying to find THE perfect outfit that would just hide my ugliness and boost my shattered confidence, I swear I’d be rolling in it today!
Of course, I can look back now and understand what was going on. That was one of the elements of my breakdown in full swing. It might not make sense now, but back then, I used to create the image on the outside and hide behind it.
My business suits were my superhero costumes. I might not have the cape, but I sure as hell had the swagger.
That confidence I created on the surface was a feeling I desperately wanted to have on the inside. But it just wasn’t there. So I had to make do.
That practice went on for years. As I became more and more emotionally and psychologically battered, my credit cards took a battering too. And hell, I was earning enough to justify the spend.
Or so I thought.
I could have saved that cash. Invested it. Maybe even considered a second home. But I didn’t.
I don’t do regret – I just don’t believe in the waste of energy – so I genuinely wouldn’t want to go back and change a thing. It’s Sliding Doors stuff… if I changed one tiny element back then, who knows what impact that might have on the life I’ve created today. And I love my life now, thank you very much.
So, instead of regrets, I carry the lessons.
These days, I absolutely believe that confidence and self-belief come from the inside out. They don’t always happen automatically – sometimes we have to intentionally grow them and work on nurturing them. Whether that’s through meditation, coaching, self-help books, working out or swimming in the sea matters not – it’ll be different for all of us.
I know I benefit from stretching and flexing my comfort zone as much as I can as well – finding that sweet spot, where I’m trying something new, sometimes something that scares, or challenges me, just enough. That beautiful place where growth happens, just before we crash over the edge.
Back in the bad old days, I know I was pushing myself beyond that place. Not because my work was too taxing or beyond my scope of capability, but because my emotional and psychological state wasn’t in good health.
I’d been through abuse, two bereavements in short succession – including my father, I’d been trying to handle some ridiculously stressful situations that had come to light in the aftermath, my wife had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and then made redundant and, of course, I was doing a stupid amount of mileage – emotionally and physically – trying to make sure my mom, who did not live nearby, was okay. I’m an only child, so it *felt* like it was all on me.
Add a promotion into the mix, regular travel from the UK to our head office in Paris, and it’s no wonder my walls were beginning to crash down. And that’s without even thinking about managing a team, balancing budgets, growing the business and everything else that comes at director level.
I look back now and wonder how I ever kept going. How on earth did I keep working through a breakdown AND manage to hide it during working hours?
Those power suits. Plus a wonderfully supportive wife, who would hold me as I fell apart, each and every evening.
Confidence really doesn’t come from a jacket, but that *can* be a warning sign.
If you find yourself genuinely believing that your confidence flows in from sharp suits and designer armour, instead of them merely bolstering and highlighting what’s already there, growing and glowing from the core of you, it might be time to pay attention to yourself. It might be time to look at what’s missing, what’s depleted and what’s needed for you to start believing in yourself a little more.
I promise you, there’s a well of awesome potential and brilliance living inside you. Sometimes we lose sight of it or stop caring for it as we should, but it’ll still be there, deep down. You might need to find that spark and coax it back into a flame, and it might take some time, but you’re worth it.
Look after YOU first. When the proverbial shit hits your personal fan (and it happens to all of us from time to time), remember the importance of self care.
Don’t attempt to just keep pushing through at the expense of your emotional well-being. Remember that old airplane analogy of putting your own oxygen mask on first.
That’s what I neglected to do, and the results were not pretty! I dearly hope that my story might help you avoid the same.
Until next time,