...Or overseeing a house build? Absolutely, even though it's been a brutal journey…
I did a lot wrong - the joys of hindsight! - during the previous My Million To One Campaign. I did a lot right too but more of that later on. One of the MAJOR mistakes I made was to never put myself first and it made me so ill that the year long 2014 fundraising campaign was pretty dark, although very few knew about it.
By Dec 31st 2013 I had worked 80 hour weeks for 2 years (I doubled with a TV job during 2012) setting up a campaign that I hoped would take off quickly enough to raise £1,000,000 & build a forever home in 365 days for 8 disabled youngsters.
A couple of hours before Midnight, watching a very rubbish film, something in my brain - under SO much pressure to succeed - must have gone into overdrive and I was convinced that I’d found a lump in my breast. I think my quite extreme health anxiety/OCD (I was a complex case, my therapist later told me!) took this form because I’d had a few breast cancer scares over the years. I remember the moment so clearly. I thought, “Now would be a REALLY bad time to get sick, I’m going to let everyone down.”
I went to the Doctor and nothing was there that shouldn’t be. The anxiety didn’t abate though and I was experiencing overwhelming emotions: desperate anxiety that the doctor had been mistaken. Despite the anxiety, I was coping. I got up early, worked all day and went to bed late. I was being a martyr, marching on and telling myself to focus only on raising the money because if I was going to die soon then I needed to raise the money NOW.
It was a super strange time, not least because for 8 months I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I had daily cancer scares, sometimes checking for an hour a day. My full commitment to MMTO meant that every day was planned around not having a ‘scare’ and therefore not being able to concentrate on my work. I wore bulky jumpers, closed my eyes in the shower, worked harder and harder…
I was luckier than most though. VERY lucky. I had been interested in NLP and I knew quite a bit about the brain and I could recognise my behaviour as obsessive so I looked up my symptoms and self diagnosed myself - very clearly - with OCD. Thanks to forward thinking therapists, there were many self help books on the subject. I started to ‘heal’ myself using techniques they outlined. I gained more control and things got a little better. I had long been into meditation so I rode a lot of the anxiety and never used medication. I coped, barely.
I used to get a lot of £5 night buses down to London from Manchester to host MMTO fundraising events. They were painful. Sometimes I would feel fine & comfortable while travelling and sometimes I would have just had another ‘scare’ and I’d be shaking, convinced I was dying but weirdly, also aware that it was probably just the OCD so I was too ashamed to tell anyone. I would be sweating and shivering and intent on pulling myself together before I arrived in London. I’m still proud of myself that I managed all of it, looking back at how much I was suffering. I used to leave the house at 10pm, travel all night, brush my teeth at Victoria Station bathrooms, fix my make up, grab a coffee and host an event, often without anyone knowing that I was especially stressed/tired. I drafted a book, filmed and edited every event, collaborated with dozens of high profile celebrities/professionals, sourced dozens of Sponsors and expensive raffle prizes, appeared on radio and in newspapers & almost 1000 donors joined MMTO.
I didn’t reach anywhere near the £1,000,000 target. There are multiple reasons why - I’m sure - & I’ve tried to learn from each one, forming the new basis for a much simpler - perhaps even sweeter - MMTO ‘Swapsies’ Campaign.
As a donor, at the end of 2014 you might have remembered my “I’m not giving up, the new campaign will relaunch in Spring 2015!” email and have since given up on me entirely. I really don’t blame you. I’d be furious, “Where has my donation gone?”
So, I wanted to explain, more honestly than I ever have before because I’ve never told ANYONE about getting better from OCD...
So, I had 4 self help books on OCD/Health Anxiety by the Autumn of 2015. I was still unwell and very anxious. I had never suffered anything like this before. I finally decided that I needed help and found a therapist. I asked him if I could just see him once a month because I didn’t have much money (I was paying back money owed from those who supported me when I wasn’t earning during MMTO) and he changed my life by seeing me pro bono, just asking for a bottle of red wine every session as a token gesture. Keith saved my life. He saw that the OCD/Neural connection in my brain that was trying to keep me safe was only a symptom of a deep rooted habit: to be in control, be responsible and work really really hard.
He threw all of my self help books out of the window and just said, “Relax, stop trying so hard. Thats all I want you to do.”
In my case, to ‘heal’ didn’t require medication or symptomatic treatment. Rather, it necessitated ‘chilling out’ and ‘ceasing to be effortful’… It involved accepting who I was, accepting the uncertainties in everyday life and embracing them rather than being overwhelmed by them. I had to release any need to control and - you know what - it’s been the hardest and most beautiful lesson of my life.
Now, I’m not saying that I don’t still get scared or sometimes check my inbox too often, waiting for a super important email to arrive. (While I’ve been adapting MMTO, I’ve also set up a 2nd non profit, Plucky). It just means that I recognise the futility of such behaviours, take a breath and let it go. When I was running the previous MMTO Campaign, I was SO consumed by fear that I would let the kids down. At the end, I remember telling people again and again, “I’ve let them down, I’ve let everyone down.” I focused on tiny minutiae that I couldn’t control: “What if they don’t donate?” “What if no-one likes the marketing campaign?” “What if no one turns up to the event?”… Instead of surfing the waves of fundraising, I was drowning daily.
So I needed to get better, I needed to relax and release all of the old habits that had made me sick in the first place. I had to live a very different life, putting myself first. If I hadn’t done all of that, any new campaign was going to fail again. Now, the ‘Swapsies’ Campaign is ready to go, Junior Ogunyemi has come on board as a Sponsor, paying for the legal fees (also being offered at a 1/4 of the normal cost) to register MMTO as an official charity. It was too small before but now - under new legislation, not available back then - I am able to register and utilise tools like Text Donate, which I couldn’t before.
The fears still rise up sometimes. I still see the therapist every few months and he reminds me to relax and 'let it go.' That advice might seem painfully obvious but it changed my life. Quite emphatically. The fears are just shadows of a past behaviour. I don't enjoy them and sometimes I catch my breath but now I know them for what they are - previous conditioning that developed to protect me, then went too far - and I surf the wave instead of letting it submerge me. I focus on my breath, I go outside and enjoy the fresh air, I play with the dogs and remind myself that I have what everyone else has, THIS MOMENT. I'm guaranteed no more, so I'm going to live it to the full and do what I can to keep my promise to the young people. Perhaps I will get sick, only now I regard my chances as the same as everyone else's and I have taken steps to ask the other trustees to carry on the campaign without me, should it come to that. I am not panicked or saddened by this idea. I am liberated.
I have suffered under a terrible weight of anxiety and stomach churning apprehension and learned to dance through it and NOW, to even dance WITH it, thanking it for its positive reminder: "You have this moment, embrace it and live fully."