The front of the business card was light blue. It had a white feather in the centre; delicate, perfect, the feather was downy soft and you could almost lift it from the card. Underneath the feather, printed in purple handwriting (Jo’s, not mine – I was too afraid of making a mark back then), were the words ‘All About You’. I had, dutifully, checked and could find no other coaching businesses with that name. The flipside of the card was white. I don’t remember so much about it because the other side was more beautiful. There was a light blue feather, bigger and different in shape: a wing or tail feather. My name and a cheesy tagline that I thought up were underneath: ‘Julia Fry – enabling you to fly’. When my business cards arrived I thought they were so beautiful I’d have no trouble handing them out. But it wasn’t the case.
I felt like I was forcing myself on people if I talked about coaching to them. I thought they’d be naturally opposed to it, as if all I was interested in was selling to them. And I wanted clients who were really up for it and approaching me because they knew and understood the value of coaching – my coaching, which was unique to me because I’m unique; we all are. But how could they when they’d never experienced my coaching?
My coaching clients appreciated my work. But there weren’t enough of them to pay my bills so I took a part-time job in a call centre. Saddened by the conditions in the phone rooms I wrote to the directors offering my services in employee engagement. I believed it was possible to retain staff and reduce sick leave. I was wrong. Despite all our efforts (focus teams, employee engagement survey, suggestions for improvements in working environment, communications, job satisfaction) we were often opposed by the phone room director. It became apparent that we could only effect change at surface level. I stopped trying and closed down. Coaching was supposed to be my way out of working for organisations whose rich shareholders creamed off profits while most of the people working for them took barely enough money home every month. I had been on first name terms with the guys creaming off the profits. I liked them. Their friendly faces made it harder to object to the unfairness. I didn’t realise how much that affected me until I left.
When I left there I was in the throes of a nervous breakdown. I spent the next two years in denial of this. I lived on Tax Credits and money from the odd coaching session. I didn’t know I was in denial or that I was having a nervous breakdown. Like most things in life, a nervous breakdown is frayed at the edges: it’s hard to tell when it started. Or when it stopped, if it has stopped – if ever there was a time to develop a superstition, like saying “touch wood” for luck, now feels like it. When I admitted to myself, and then to my Doctor, that I was struggling and needed some help I felt afraid. To just stop, to be signed off work for six months was terrifying. The last time I had been off work for so long was when my son was born. What would I do? Besides therapy and writing?
What I did was stare into space a lot. And go to the supermarket because I needed to eat even though I couldn’t think what to buy. I stood in front of tins of beans hoping a decision would occur so I could leave this place where other people’s eyes could see me. Sometimes I left with nothing, unable to face the checkout person. Other times a random selection of goods that made sense at the time of buying caused confusion at home. Kettle chips and chocolate were staple foods. I spent a lot of time in my pyjamas: they were the only clothes I felt “safe” in. Housework was a rarity. I managed to wash myself before leaving the flat but carried my shame outside with me, transferring it to the strangers I walked past and imagining they were thinking horrible things about me as I passed them. Clothes that seemed okay when I put them on suddenly became horribly unacceptable in the middle of the street. My weight yo-yoed in accordance with my comfort eating which yo-yoed in accordance with the amount of feeling I could bear. At least, I managed to think to myself, I’m not taking drugs or alcohol; those coping strategies were in my past.
Therapy finished but the problems weren’t solved. The worms refused to go back in the can. Not working reduced my options for counseling. I joined waiting lists and read self-help books while I waited. Writing helped: journal, blog, fiction, poetry, plays. Painting too. Losing myself in the flow of making things helped me channel my attention to my hands even while the self-hating thoughts continued to barrage me. And when I looked up from what I was doing, I could see that what I had made was okay. It gave me something to pin hope on.
Counseling started. A bus ride away. Thinking all the while: what will I talk about? What will come out? The time limit (up to twenty six sessions at fifty minutes a session) reacted with my brain. I put pressure on myself to get the shameful stuff out of me, to lance the boil that bugged me. ‘Pace yourself,’ my counselor told me. I didn’t understand. I needed to get on my life. I was bored of feeling so much shame. I wanted to contribute, to come out of isolation and share my talents with the world. But how? University. I suggested it to my son. He didn’t want it. Perhaps then it was me who wanted to learn. Yes. I ignored the suggestion, when I was eighteen, that I could go to university. Sick of being poor, I wanted to earn money: I wanted things from the adverts I saw in Vogue. I got a job at Grantham Book Services, earning £342 per month. It wasn’t enough. I wanted more. There was a hunger in me for something I couldn’t name. Things could not sustain it.
Twenty three years later I enrolled on an Access course at college. The course clashed with the counseling so I ended the sessions and asked for coaching at college. Forward focusing seemed like a better use of my time, I thought to myself as I ran away from the horrible past again. The coaching turned into counseling when I acknowledged my emotions were so big and so stuck in the past that they frequently crushed me. Every Thursday morning during term time I have a counseling session. It helps me understand that my sense of forcing myself onto other people is based on what happened to me as a child: I am afraid that I will be abusive, that because it happened to me I will do it to other people. It reminds me to be with what I’m feeling – the more I resist my feelings the more tsunami-like they become. ‘How to be’ was the topic I selected for a coaching session during my coach training. I wanted to explore ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. Funny how that’s come full circle.
One of the thoughts that raced through my head as I lay in bed not sleeping the night after my Grandma died was, ‘I could phone Jo and see if she still has the light blue and purple business card design.’ Triggered by the sight of my purple bra set against the light blue paint of my wardrobe door, my mind remembered those beautiful cards. And the beautiful process of creating them: the swap of business services – Jo’s branding for my coaching. We both grew so much from that relationship. We explored together. Our inner worlds became enriched as they were shared and appreciated. And she made me a picture that represented me and how I coach. That beautiful business card. How I miss what it represented to me: the start of something I believed in, something pure and wonderful. It’s a bit like believing in Father Christmas and then finding out the reality. I thought coaching was magic. I was enthusiastic – you can see that from the tagline: ‘enabling you to fly’. I needed to help. Because I couldn’t face my pain. I needed to show that I could do some good in the world to make up for the bad that I had experienced. But that is impossible. And now I am facing my pain, what is left? What has become of my relationship with coaching?
I keep returning to it, keep turning over in my mind ways of advertising my coaching services. But something stops me before I take action on letting people know what is available. I have typed up sheets of case studies and reasons why you might want coaching. I have drawn pictures and coloured in words that make it seem bright and attractive. But still something stops me. What is it?