My sympathies to every MP who lost their seat, except George Galloway, over whose loss I rejoice with all my heart.
When I resigned my seat, for reasons I will never be able to be wholly forthcoming about, the Labour supporter and rugby legend Brian Moore reached out to me on Twitter and advised me to get counseling for the traumatic loss. He compared it to the effect on athletes after their careers finish, after they win, or lose, an Olympic medal say, and then life reverts to normal.
For all MPs, Westminster is a high-stress, high-octane environment. It is full of hard work and excitement. Life there is lived on the edge. You devote your life to public service, the public detest you, and then you lose your seat and for many, a great chunk of your life’s significance in the public eye. In that way, this post could be for anybody who loses a big job, a sports career, or other professional role. [Edited to add – the same applies to MPs staff who lose their jobs, to councillors and several police officers and servicemen/women have tweeted to say it applies to them too – even losing candidates who are no longer PPCs].
For the first year after resigning I thought I was cracking up*. No wonder how much I talked to myself, was sensible and got on with life, my subconscious had other ideas; I had a Parliament-related dream almost every night for a year. It was pretty awful.
In the end, the way I put it behind me was twofold. Firstly, and most importantly, I was able to replace Parliament with another job that is hugely significant to me and which has a component of mission. That’s the single biggest lesson. Secondly, I rededicated myself to political and Conservative activism, on Twitter, with opinion columns, and with this blog which, in the case of Mr. Galloway, I believe has had some impact. I truly flung myself at the campaign and targeted effort on Bradford West (as a feminist and principled case) and South Thanet. If you are Labour or a Tory or a LibDem you are likely a true believer. Remain a true believer and get to work.
However there are also short-term things you can do, and here’s what I think ex-colleagues ought to do for themselves now, in order.
1. Acknowledge that the full impact of this loss will not hit you for several months.
2. Firstly, get the tasks out of the way that need doing – write to your team and thank them all.
3. If possible, take a short break away with friends or a loved one.
4. Do not ruminate. You get more of what you focus on. Ask yourself constantly ‘What’s next for me?’ and have several answers. It will be a long five years til the next election. Do not think in terms now of another seat, but a different job and role. [Adding – psychologically, fixating on a new seat, or other identical role to the one you just lost, is really an attempt to wind back the clock and “fix” what just happened – that cannot be done, so a new role at least for a year or so is wise].
5. Acknowledge you will be prone to depression. The way to combat this is to spend a lot of time outside, especially as the summer comes up. Take up meditation, I recommend the app “Simply Being” here. The effects of meditation, which is 20 minutes clearing the mind of thoughts, are medically proven. Go for walks in green spaces; the countryside, and parks. There are benefits to losing your seat. You have time for yourself, your family, your friends.
6. Take up an exercise programme however moderate. Exercise diminishes stress and produces endorphins not just in the moment, but long-term. It is clinically effective for mild to moderate depression and is a preventative of depression. As you may develop depression it is VERY important to start this at once. Go for a brisk walk or a jog tomorrow and repeat every day, if physically able to do so. You will lose weight, look better and your self-esteem will improve and this will have a knock-on effect of further moderating any sadness.
7. Alcohol is a depressant. Stay away from cheap joy. Try very hard to go for a dry May-June while you regroup. [Adding – as you will be sad you will be more vulnerable to alcohol abuse – that will stop you exercising and being in the sunlight – stay well clear for a month or so] See a therapist if you need to, too.
8. See a lot of comedies. Go to museums, enjoy yourself.
9. Reinvention of the physical self must however be matched with the sensible realization that you will never get over it until you have something as good or better in your life. Look for a job, a charity, a role, that can replace the adrenaline and octane of Parliament. We are all Type A. Don’t kid yourselves on that one.
10. Tell yourself the truth – you did something important in your life and the only ones who never suffer a defeat are those who never join the field of battle. You should be proud of your public service, and whether you stand again or not in the future, these summer days will not come your way again, nor these fallow years. Do not waste them – go and build a new world and climb a new mountain. We are more than what we do. Be more than your job; be a person and tie your self-esteem to your efforts, not the results of your efforts. You can control the former, not the latter.
PS – I was deadly serious about the magic bullet of exercise, fresh air and green spaces. One of the easiest wins, most in your own control, and implementable instantly, is to get on the scales and then go build a better, stronger, healthier body. New achievements are the antidote to ruminating and looking back. I might add that while you pursue a big new job, which takes time, you can also usefully add other achievements such as learning a language which is an immediate challenge and gives you something to pursue. I loved learning German and Italian with Pimsleur, which are half hour a day audio lessons on iTunes that test you as you listen. Walk in the park while learning French – it gives you a sense of power and achievement right away; after one big role you need new challenges and goals while you try to land the next one.
* “cracking up” here relates to my persistent dreams rather than my mental health in general. I was able to stave off depression by flinging myself into exercise and fitness in New York as I advise in this blog. Once you have become depressed it is hard to get out and exercise, so the key thing is to get going before it hits.