My background – the short version
In January 2017 I started bouldering indoors, then tried top roping indoors and became a member of the Vertigirls climbing club in Brighton. I went on four trips to beautiful parts of England with the Vertigirls and developed my love of climbing. In September 2017 I fell off a bouldering problem and twisted my ankle. Although it healed quickly my fears in climbing grew. I decided to research fear and overcoming irrational fear in climbing and am now dedicating my life coaching practice to helping others work with their anxieties and fears about climbing.
I completed my life coach training at Coaching Development Ltd in 2006 and received accreditation from the International Coach Federation shortly after. In 2010, I stopped coaching to go through therapy and then undertake a degree in Moving Image. After working in the transport industry for a few years I relaunched my coaching practice. I have worked in corporate, charity, and education settings, and enjoy working with clients to explore and consolidate their inner resources. I regularly use supervision and attend CPD training, and am a member of the International Coach Federation.
If you’d like to find out more about working with me, you can contact me for your free first session.
My background – the long version (potential trigger warning for survivors of childhood sexual abuse)
I started my working life in administration, which I just kind of fell into because I didn’t know what else to do when I left college at seventeen (I could have done with a coach!); I certainly didn’t want to go through more education, as my college tutor had suggested. I wanted my own money to spend on clothes and going out and I took what seemed like the easiest route to get that. I lived for the weekends (and some week nights) when I could put together unusual outfits (“you’ll get beaten up going out looking like that!” my mum used to say) and go out and get trashed. That was in Grantham in 1988.
Fast forward to Brighton, 2004. I was still working in administration (Insurance Accounts Negotiator), divorced, and living with my 13 year old son and a boyfriend. Deeply unhappy, I was still living for the weekends, when my son would go to his dad’s, and I would go out and rave all night, drinking and taking drugs with my friends. What kicked off my awareness of coaching was: someone at work asked me to accompany them to a disciplinary meeting they’d been ordered to attend; after the meeting the person asked me whether I thought them to be aggressive and I said “no, but the evidence shows that you are with some people and you might want to explore that.” I decided to research what support was available besides therapy and discovered coaching.
I phoned Alma Neville, coach, with the intention of finding out more on behalf of my friend. Some months later I found myself sitting in Alma’s office for my first coaching session. It felt different to counselling; it felt like we’d joined together to change my life. Counselling didn’t feel like that; it felt like there was something wrong with me and that’s why I needed it, but coaching felt like I was okay and could move forward. Insights occurred during sessions about me and how I think and we turned these into behavioural experiments that I would work on between sessions. There was stuff about letting go of control and letting people help me.
Alma ran workshops and I attended one where another participant had a ‘light bulb’ moment from a question I asked and I realised that it would be possible for me to coach other people. Immediately after that workshop I researched courses and, because everything was quite expensive, I opted to do a free Certificate in Life Coaching from Newcastle College to test myself in the basics before committing. It was a correspondence course, which I did in between my full time job (then a Supervisor in Insurance Accounting) and dealing with home life. After passing the certificate, I began researching the best coaching training provider and funding opportunities.
In September 2005 I began my training with Coaching Development Ltd in the garden room at Hampton Court (Henry VIII’s palace). It was a bit like entering a favourite book as a child; it was an adventure and a supportive journey in a beautiful setting. The course was as much about self development as learning coaching skills. It was experiential learning, combined with reflection and some demonstration. Arriving each month was like coming back to an amazing boarding school after the summer holidays (I never went to boarding school and always imagined it to be like in Enid Blyton novels, which I enjoyed as a child). Home life felt pale in comparison. Work life was even paler. I decided I would quit my job when I graduated from the coaching course and coach full time.
I graduated as a coach in January 2006 and immediately set about building up one hundred coaching hours so I could apply for accreditation with the International Coach Federation; the deadline was 31 March 2006. Just in time, the one hundredth coaching hour took place and I sent off my application. Whilst waiting for the next part of the accreditation process to take place I focused on a marketing course that I was taking, but more and more I was finding it hard to apply the actions. Where had my determination gone? I kept feeling down and couldn’t understand why. My savings were running out so I applied for a part-time administration job to keep me going financially, whilst building the coaching business – I’d realised that it wasn’t going to happen overnight.
By January 2007 I was still working in administration part-time, coaching part-time and embarking on The Artist’s Way, a course run at Evolution Arts Centre in Brighton. It was a twelve week course, designed to identify and release blocks. One of the daily tools is Morning Pages. I still use these but not all the time; basically, you take half an hour first thing to write three A4 pages of whatever comes into your head. Over the weeks I released various blocks and began making abstract experiments with colour paints. A massive milestone for me was allowing myself to buy a metre square canvas to throw paint at. As a child, I’d loved art but had turned to writing a journal as a way of expressing as a teenager.
By October 2007, I started getting flashbacks from childhood, which I tried to ignore at first, but they kept coming so I had to acknowledge them. They were about sexual abuse. Sometimes I believed them, sometimes I couldn’t. It was confusing. I tried to cope on my own by writing my journal but that only worked for a little while. In February 2008 I asked my boyfriend to move out and it was the first time in my adult life that I’d been without a partner. It felt weird. I didn’t really feel I could talk to anyone about the flashbacks and I felt overwhelmed by them; it was hard to get out of bed sometimes. Other times I just wanted to go out and get trashed. My ex-husband decided my son would be better off with him; I agreed. I kept painting. I did a 3 month art course and fell out with the teacher at the end.
I stopped coaching. I stopped working. I asked for help from the NHS. I applied for benefits. The NHS suggested I contact Survivors Network, whilst waiting for their backed-up service to come to my aid. I wasn’t sure if it was okay for me to do that but since they suggested it, I went to a drop-in session. They didn’t turn me away (of course). I started going weekly, then attended group therapy, then one to one counselling. It was all hard, really hard. I barely saw anyone outside of these sessions, except other survivors for a tea or coffee and even then, it felt fraught. Sometimes the journey home from these sessions was so hard; it was like trying not to breathe or be noticed by anyone – so tense. I had so many emotions going on and I was writing loads and staying in my pyjamas. I felt alone. Because I had very little money I wasn’t getting trashed so much but I wasn’t taking care of myself either. I was comfort eating a lot; something I’ve done since being a teenager, when I was bulimic.
It went on like this for a while. Towards the end of 2010 I realised I could carry on this way for the rest of my life or I could try to see if there were things I could do as well as try to deal with the past. I tried various things: volunteered at a kindergarten, the local library, and a community project, but I didn’t feel like I fitted in those places. I wondered about university; would I have been smart enough? I applied to do an Access in Humanities and Social Sciences at Vardean, thinking it would lead to a creative writing degree. During the course a filmmaking module turned me onto the idea that I could make films. I love films! Of course! So, I turned down the offers from universities for creative writing courses and applied to University of Brighton’s Moving Image course. They invited me to an interview.
At the interview I took the one film I’d made (on the Access course), three paintings, and my blog link (my blog, which I later deleted, contained hundreds of photos). I must have interviewed well because a couple of hours later I received an email offering me a place, conditional on my Access course grades. I graduated from Varndean in 2012 and started the Moving Image course in September the same year. It was really hard; not as hard as the Access course, but hard enough. It wasn’t just the academic work that was hard – it was the social interactions. Having gone from hardly seeing anyone to seeing a group of people I wouldn’t choose to be with once a week and collaborate with them sometimes felt like a lot to manage. I knew that there would be more of this on the university course. During the time between the two courses I forced myself to exercise my social muscle, as it were.
Sometimes, I’d stand by my front door with my hand on the door handle dithering about going to a social function. I’d promise myself that all I had to do was stay for five minutes and then I could leave and that helped me get there. Often, once there, I could ask questions and conversation would start to flow; difficulties only arose when people asked questions about me – I was never sure how honest to be about how hard I was finding life. It’s like when people ask, “how are you?” Do they really want to know? Sometimes I didn’t want to face reality so I’d answer in a vague way and ask another question before planning my exit to go and eat something in secret at home. I applied for a part-time freelance bookkeeping position to commence at the same time as my degree course, to supplement my student loan income, which wasn’t enough to live on.
Eventually, my social muscle got stronger and my anxiety levels were not always high, which meant I could go to university lectures and stay in the room. However, one of the films that would be screened during the course contained a long and graphic rape scene and I knew I did not want to put myself through watching that. I approached Student Services to ask them to ask on my behalf if I could be excused from that screening because it would be too triggering. During that meeting I was given lots of additional options for support, including the application for a computer to use at home (I was using the library computers for film editing, which meant I didn’t do as much as I would have at home because sometimes I couldn’t leave the flat), mentoring, and counselling. I think that without this support I probably wouldn’t have made it through university and I’m so grateful for it.
In early 2013 I started renting my spare room out, to an old friend, so I could stop working part-time and focus full-time on my degree. The films I made in my first year were fictionalised versions of some of what happened to me as a child. I felt I had to get it out of me and into a form where I could look at it, but I find it hard to watch those films now. In my second year my films were still about my experiences but in less obvious ways, and this was more so in the third year, although my personal circumstances at the time influenced my filmmaking decisions. The third year was the toughest, not just because of the pressure that occurs in the final year of a degree, but also because of family stuff. I managed to graduate with a 2:1.
Back out in the world, armed with a degree, and a bit of time to apply for jobs, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I missed the purpose and deadlines, despite the pressures, of university, but I didn’t want to do another degree course just yet. Also, I wasn’t sure that art was a good subject for a degree; I could understand it as a platform for science but with art, I can make any connection and it doesn’t have to be true – it felt to me like art was trying to prove itself to science without realising it didn’t need to. I had no desire left to make art so I applied for a job where I could use filmmaking for science purposes but they redeployed someone from within. Disappointed, I went for a long walk and found myself wondering what it’s like to be a bus driver. I applied to be a bus driver.
The training for bus driving was thorough, although the culture was kind of stuck in the 1970s. In the canteen there were sexist, racist, and homophobic jokes all the time and I often avoided eating there. I loved the actual driving; being the biggest vehicle on the road is empowering and the training taught me to drive defensively. I was able to spot potential hazards unfolding before they actually did and take appropriate action, all in the name of providing a smooth ride so that no passengers are suddenly hurled forward to the floor, breaking hips. It was great to have enough money to pay the bills and buy myself things (like long-term psychotherapy, which I wanted the NHS to provide years earlier but they couldn’t afford it), and to save money each month. However, the hours were long and I wasn’t providing as good a service as I could because I felt tired, and grumpy. I left that organisation five months after joining because they wouldn’t agree to me working part-time, and went to The Big Lemon, where I drove part-time for about a year before they offered me the role of Office Manager.
About four months earlier I had started writing Morning Pages after a hiatus and coaching had been coming into the pages. I decided that I would relaunch my coaching business. I approached Tom Druitt (founder and CEO of The Big Lemon) and told him what I wanted to do and that I’d need to reduce my hours. He was delighted and agreed; one of the Big Lemon values is to support its employees’ hopes and dreams. In January 2017, I began working on the underpinnings of my coaching business by refreshing myself with the coaching process, ethics, core competencies, and tools; I took my time and reflected using my journal. I signed up for Coaching Development Ltd’s Alum Day, which is a free day of training for alumni of the Coaching Skills training course. Whilst there I met Veronica Tapp, another coach who lives in Brighton, and we formed an alliance; I’m honoured to have co-facilitated workshops for teams and individuals with her. We created these workshops after practising Clean Language Questions together and ran our first one in July 2017.
In January 2017 I started bouldering indoors, then tried top roping indoors and became Treasurer of the Vertigirls climbing club in Brighton a couple of months later. My first climbing experience with the Vertigirls was a trip to Dartmoor in May 2017. I loved it so much that I signed up for each trip that came up that year and we went to the Wye Valley, Cornwall (where we made a film that I edited; you can watch it here), the Peak District and North Wales (hill-walking). Climbing with the Vertigirls during the trips felt supportive and fun; our little pockets of women-only learning felt really different to the feeling of exposure I often had in a mixed environment. In September 2017 I fell off a bouldering problem and twisted my ankle. Although my ankle healed quickly and I was climbing again within three weeks, my fear became so intense that sometimes all I could do was traverse. One evening, after a trip to the climbing centre where I’d felt anxious the whole time, I burst into tears as I wrote my journal: “I used to love climbing! What’s going on?” I decided to research overcoming irrational fear in climbing and to blog about my research and the experiments I set myself as a way of sharing knowledge and finding out whether others had the same problem. I initiated discussions in women’s climbing groups on Facebook and realised this is a problem that is not addressed in climbing centres (except for performance coaching) and decided to dedicate my life coaching practice to helping others work with their anxieties, fears, and confidence in climbing.
I resigned as Office Manager at the Big Lemon in October 2017 so that I could spend more time focusing on coaching, art (I regained my desire to make art after instilling a 20 minute daily purposeless drawing practice), and the networking and marketing that is involved in that. To that end I joined some workshops that University of Brighton’s Beepurple ran on marketing and I am very happy to receive support from Luke Mitchell at Beepurple, who is my marketing mentor. We have weekly calls to discuss what I’ve done for the coaching and the art enterprises and to agree next steps. I also have coaching supervision from Veronica Wantenaar in South Africa; coaching supervision supports me to look at my coaching practice, whether that’s the process itself, what the client might need and whether / how I’m providing that, the business models that might be best, coaching tools, coaching presence. The latter, along with curiosity and intuition is the best gift I can give my clients; the power of the quality of attention is priceless. Occasionally, I might feel triggered by a client’s experience and I flag that to deal with immediately after the session so that I can remain present with my client. Then, once the client has gone, I can make my notes and request supervision and / or decide to take what’s come up for me to my psychotherapist.
I have written this long, yet abridged, tale to show how my experiences, which have moved from feeling worthless to feeling valued, from not caring about myself to taking great self-care (I don’t drink, smoke or take recreational drugs, and eat a vegan wholefoods diet most of the time), from not being able to leave the house to loving being outside with people, can help me empathise with you and your situation, which does not have to be extreme to cause mental suffering. My coaching work is all about working with what we have and not judging it, but instead noticing, seeing what is there. I wanted you to see where I’ve come from because it can make you feel vulnerable to open up to someone who you know nothing about. If you would like to find out more about working with me, you can contact me for your free first session.