Everyone has problems. Here are some of mine.
November 17, 2015 • Glenn Murray
I’ve never really talked about my personal problems here
That’s because I’ve always wanted prospective clients and other copywriters to assume I enjoy a comfortable, happy lifestyle as a result of my copywriting success. It’s marketing 101:
“Convey success. If you look successful – in business and in life – clients will assume you’re good at what you do.”
But while I do enjoy a pretty good lifestyle, it’s not all shits and giggles in my world; I have plenty of personal problems.
And I’ve decided it’s harmful to avoid talking about them.
Conveying only success is harmful to others
All we see of most ‘successful’ people is their success, and the materialistic results of that success. Outside of a few high profile celebs, we don’t hear about their personal insecurities, their relationship woes, their emotional disorders, their mental illnesses and all their other personal problems.
Until they fail, of course. Then personal problems are all we hear about.
They’re all we hear about ‘unsuccessful’ people too. Our society views drug addicts, criminals, the sick, the poor and the unemployed as if they don’t just have personal problems, but they’re defined by them.
So it’s tempting to think personal problems are fundamentally incompatible with ‘success’. That if you have personal problems, you’re doomed to failure or you’ve already failed.
Of course, we all know – intellectually – that this isn’t true. But we also ‘know’ we can’t all look like Brad and Angelina, and that doesn’t stop us from feeling bad about ourselves every time we look in the mirror.
It may be bad for my copywriting business too
People connect with people. Obviously no-one wants to work with a psychopath copywriter, but no-one wants to work with a cardboard cut-out either. They want someone real. Someone with life experience, empathy and emotional sensitivity. Someone mature, honest and self-aware.
If you occasionally talk about your problems, and you do it with balance, humility and a touch of humour, you’re showing prospective clients that you possess the qualities they’re after. That you’re more than just words on a page and different from the hundreds of other copywriters out there.
What’s more, by sharing your vulnerabilities, you’re inviting them to become closer to you (humans are wired to become closer to people who share with them).
You may even make them feel a bit better about their problems.
So now I’m going to share a few of my problems
For starters, I suffer from anxiety.
It’s by no means debilitating; far from it. In fact, it doesn’t stop me doing anything (except relaxing while it has me in its grasp). But it’s really unpleasant and something I’ve battled with for nearly 20 years.
When I get anxious, I hyperventilate. You wouldn’t be able to tell – my breathing doesn’t look or sound any different. (Indeed, I didn’t know it was happening for many years.) I just over-breathe, which causes a drop in the carbon dioxide in my blood stream, and makes my fingertips and lips tingle. And if I’m really anxious, I find it near impossible to take a deep breath – to really fill my lungs to capacity. Which in turn increases my anxiety levels and makes me hyperventilate even more.
Breathing into a paper bag does nothing. The only way I can find relief is to do a solid stretching session or massage my wife. (I’m yet to be convinced she doesn’t deliberately wind me up during the day so she gets a massage every night! 😉
I also get unpleasant heart palpitations and every now and then, I’m hit with sudden, violent and unstoppable diarrhoea. I don’t know if they’re related to each other, if they’re a form of panic attack or if they’re just part of my general anxiety. Indeed, I think there’s a dietary overlap with the diarrhoea; I think I have an intolerance of canola oil, but it only ever punishes me when I’m feeling anxious. (Like when I’m driving, I’ve eaten something cooked in canola oil and there are no nearby toilets… Jeesh! You should see me sweat then!)
I’m also obsessive. Usually it’s pretty trivial stuff, like spending hours getting the home page on my mobile phone just right. It usually has good outcomes too: our music and photos are very well organised and easily accessible, we have good TV/movie streaming systems at home, all our data is backed up and secure, and my copywriting clients appreciate my perfectionism. But my family suffers a bit from it. As does my happiness. When I get it into my head that something has to be done, and done right, I neglect everything else and I resent all interruptions. I can’t relax until it’s done, and I feel miserable if I have to take a break before it is. This means I often end up obsessing about things when I should be working (which makes me feel guilty and anxious) or when I should be sleeping (which makes me tired and grumpy). You can imagine how all of this goes down in a house with 3 young kids, a wife and a dog!
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the above, I also have a pretty short temper. I get irritable and snappy with the kids too quickly, and I was brought up in a house where you yelled when you were angry, so yelling feels natural and normal to me, and I do it more than I should.
I have body image issues. I’m a bit overweight and I hate it. I also hate being reminded of it by blokey-blokes who seem to think it’s fine to laugh at each other’s fat guts. I know they don’t mean anything by it, but it always offends me.
And I’m overweight because I’m a compulsive over-eater. I don’t eat much during the day, but I usually serve way too much up for dinner, and I never stop when I’m full. In fact, to me, “full” means “absolutely stuffed and having trouble keeping it down”. And surprise, surprise, I get anxious every time I get to that point! The only way I’ve found to control my portion sizes is to obsess over calories, using MyFitnessPal! (Swings and roundabouts, eh?)
Sometimes I lie awake at night, heart racing, imagining the horror of being tortured. And when I go to the dentist, I can’t help imagining how I’d feel, lying there, if they were just about to torture me. Their friendly banter with each other makes this even worse, because I imagine that’s how seasoned torturers would behave. My suffering, protests and appeals would be just another day at the office for them, and nothing I could say or do would have any impact on them at all. Similarly, sometimes when I’m running the shower, and freezing cold or scalding hot water hits me, I can’t help imagining being tortured with freezing or boiling water.
I’m a really bad fighter. (I assume so, anyway. I’ve only ever had one fight – when I was 16 – and I lost that pretty convincingly.) And I feel like less of a man as a result. I look at Jake Heke (Temuera Morrison) in Once Were Warriors and wish I could fight like him. I despise his treatment of women, and I know he desperately unhappy, but I’d love to be able to handle myself like that. Oh, and I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know that sometimes I lie awake imagining how I’d deal with someone who physically threatened my family – fantasising that I’d be like Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) in Taken, but fearing I’d be more like… well… me.
Once every couple of months, I get really depressed. Often for no discernible reason. It only lasts for a day or two, but while it has me, there’s no way out. No light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t think you’d call it clinical depression because I think it has to last for weeks to earn that diagnosis. But it sure ain’t nice.
That’s quite a list of problems, I know. But they’re only part of who I am; they don’t define me. And they haven’t stopped me succeeding; indeed, in some cases, they’ve actually helped.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not diminishing my problems or anyone else’s, or saying we should just give them free rein. Nor am I saying, “Chin up, chaps, we all have problems” or “Stop judging” or “You should share your problems too”.
I’m just saying it’s OK to have problems and to talk about them. Even if you’re a man, even if you’re a professional, and maybe even at work.