What will it mean for my health?

Being a Deputy is probably not great news for your health – but I guess that’s true of most work, so put this in some perspective.

In my experience, it is difficult to make time to exercise or eat well, especially during busy periods – but if you’re coming into the role with good habits, you’ve probably got a better chance of maintaining them. If you follow the trend many Deputies have set this term, and get yourself a bike or an e-bike, you might even stand a chance of improving it!

If you have a major health event during your time in the States, it can be difficult to force yourself to take the time to recover properly, because it’s the kind of job that demands you should be “always on” – but you absolutely must put your recovery first. You’re in this for the long haul, and that means you need to make time to look after yourself when your body or mind demands it.

You do need to be aware that the impact on your mental and emotional health is likely to be substantial. If you have pre-existing mental health conditions, this kind of job could make things harder. Ask for help when you need it. Ask people you love and trust to keep an eye out for you, and to encourage you to take action when you need to.

And finally, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to (or doesn’t find it easy to) acknowledge how things affect you emotionally, make sure you’ve got some kind of positive way of coping with emotional stress. Because it does come with the territory, and you need a way of managing it that’s going to protect your health, not worsen it.

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What will it mean for my family?

If you have a spouse or partner, or children old enough to understand, this is a conversation well worth having (probably several times) in the run-up to the Election.

Here are some thoughts:

Your family life is not generally dragged into the public domain here – either by other politicians or by the media – but there are exceptions to that.

The worst exceptions, this term, have been the Education debates. I am struggling with what to tell you about those debates, and the atmosphere in and around them. I don’t have children, so I have been a bit of an onlooker, and can’t tell you the personal impact of those debates – I would strongly recommend talking to as many States Members with school-age families as you can, about their experience of Guernsey politics and what impact this has had on their children.

There have been some other debates where emotions have run high this term – especially the debates on assisted dying and, more recently, on abortion. These might not affect your children’s world in the same way – they are less likely to be topics of conversation at school – but if you’re getting angry letters or phone calls at home because of the debate, it might have an impact in a different way.

The same is true of one-to-one constituency work – you can get angry or obsessive constituents, and you want to be careful that they don’t have access to your personal life. If you want to keep work away from home entirely, you might want to think about having a separate work phone or even a PO Box for mail.

Political life is never without risks. In Guernsey, those risks tend to be milder than in most other places, but I would never pretend they don’t exist. You (and your family) can think through how you want to organise your working life and your home life so that you minimise those risks; you just need to give it some thought beforehand, and be prepared.

You might also want to think about the impact on your privacy:

As a States Member, you have to file an annual declaration of interests. You can see each Deputy’s declaration of interest on their profile page on gov.gg.

This means that some information about your financial affairs and property is in the public domain. It includes information about your immediate family’s interests, too. Of course, this is to make sure that you don’t abuse your public role to make decisions that will favour you (or your family) – but it can be a daunting step if you’re used to your privacy.

Apart from this, it’s up to you what you share about your family life. You might choose to be completely private, or you might occasionally talk about your own experiences in order to explain why you’re supporting a particular policy or course of action. If you’re going to talk about something your partner or children have been through, it’s wise to discuss it with them first, so that you only share what you know they are comfortable with.

And finally, you might want to think about how this will affect your time and attention:

The work of being a Deputy can completely eat up your days, and get its claws into your emotions. Your family can be your best safety net and support network, but there will also be some emotional impact for them. For example, they might see people badmouthing you on social media and be deeply hurt or outraged for you. Or they might watch you put weeks of effort into an important project, only for it to be rejected by the States or torn apart in the media, and feel upset for you and powerless to help.

None of this means you should throw out the idea of being a Deputy. I’m writing about this so that you can go into it with your eyes open, so that you can be prepared, and so that you can have open and honest conversations with your family from the start. That’s the best way to manage it. Politics is a kind of all-hours job, it can completely take over your home life and worry or preoccupy you even when you’re not actually working. That means it’s going to have an impact on anyone who lives with you, and it’s only right to acknowledge that and be ready for it.

P.S. Your loved ones are going to see you through some really rocky times, as well as some totally exciting ones. When the time comes, don’t forget to acknowledge and appreciate that, and to say thank you.

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