Founder of Insurance Recruitment, Cyber Security & Consultancy Businesses in the United Kingdom
Reader Discretion; The content of this writing is brutally honest, frank and un-edited.
It is Mental Health Awareness Week and today is World Mental Health Day - in support of this powerful and important awareness day, I would like to detail and share my past, present and future experience of personal mental health and experiences with my network, clients, friends and family.
I am a strong believer that no-one should have to face an issue with their mental health on their own. It makes health worse generally; it’s isolating and when left untreated for too long, can ultimately become very dangerous individually and for those around you.
The first signs that I would be prone to bouts of poor mental health were derived inherently from my family history. The world is still progressing in understanding the complex connections between my parents, their parents and their parents, parents’ brains and that of my own. What has come a long way is that if there is a trail of depression, anxiety & eating disorders in your family - you have an increased vulnerability to it yourself.
Having always worked within highly pressurised, stressful and sometimes overwhelming roles in my career, including and not limited to; recruitment, sales, insurance broking, management, underwriting and then eventually founding and running businesses - the pressure has always been present to some extent great or small.
As such, when founding, building and running my own businesses where the ‘buck stops with me’ you can only begin to imagine the creative ways I have tried to manage the stresses of staffing, payroll, expenses, things going wrong and throwing personal issues into the mix.
It’s fair to say that since the age of 18, I found ways (important note here; some VERY wrong and incorrect ways) of managing the natural stresses, incidents and pressures that evolved from working in such environments. Throw the worldly issues around anyone in their personal lives, it’s been the catalyst to the cauldron (excuse the Halloween pun) to nearly destroy my mental health at times.
At the age of 18, I managed to accrue myself a significant and damaging eating disorder. This along with a sprinkling of depression and a bucket load of anxiety. After 4 years of this daily eating disorder controlling every singular calorie that I put into my body, I had managed to convince myself and my body that control over food was more important than living itself. That is how powerful your brain can become when left unattended when not well.
My eating disorder had consumed me so intensely that it took me 18 months of professional therapy and Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT) to free myself from the thoughts and control I needed around food, to make my world seem more controllable. If I could control my food, then everything else could be as chaotic and scary as it wanted. I was safe.
During this period, I had the good fortune of having a kind, caring and considerate boss who remains to this day a very good friend of mine. My team were supportive, my manager was supportive and my friends and family more than picked up my ‘after-hours’ support. Telling them was mortifying and terrifying.
I was truly so fortunate to have such a fantastic support system that saw me through that 18 months of recovery. They selflessly helped me whilst I managed to contain the guilt of keeping something from so many, for so long, with nothing but encouragement and understanding in response.
During those grueling 18 months, I was medicated on anti-depressants. This medicine and the medical network that supported me, were instrumental in stopping the thoughts of me wanting to kill myself.
Towards the end of my lonely depression in my very own deep, dark hole and just before I sought the help of my family, I had hourly thoughts of how I might like to end it. Turning the wheel of my car sharply on the motorway into the centre reservation, driving at 100mph into a wall, drinking 3 bottles of vodka and taking a packet of pills just before bed.
To depict the seriousness of being depressed and mentally unwell, at that time I had it all. Great career, stunning family, great friends, cracking house, money in the bank, swanky car and physical health.
Not one of those things came through my mind as a reason to live in my darkest hours. If anything, I wanted to relieve the burden of me, on them. Harbouring these daydreams when in an intense state of depression is very real, very serious and walks on a frighteningly thin line between not doing it and doing it.
Moving through to my life changing and wonderful experience of having my daughter, Elsie. A few weeks before my daughter was born, my heart was broken. Fair to say with the hormones, tendency to suffer with mental health and my world just being catapulted into space, it caused a catastrophic break down in my mental health once again.
Because this happened two weeks before I was due to give birth, I was left so traumatised that I suffered with post-traumatic stress (PTSD) for two years and finally worked through this with therapy and three treatments of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing). This was recommended by a friend and again, saved my life. I don’t say that lightly.
Having recovered and being the innovator that I naturally am, I moved on from that time of my life by founding businesses, I started renovating properties and really started to enjoy my life in good mental and physical health.
Everyone who owned a business that I knew told me, “The first thing to hit you with a new venture is the fear of failure. The second thing is being confronted with a genuine reality of that being a real prospect at some point”. For me, both things hit me as promised like a tonne of bricks when I let the thoughts creep in, sit and chill for a while.
Anxiety - Tick
Unbearable stress levels -Tick
As the rollercoaster of owning a business does not stop, even when your mental health needs you to; I self-medicated for a solid 6 months in that period. Managing my stress with alcohol in the main and doing whatever relieved the pressure.
I believe it is vitally important to openly discuss these types of experiences, thoughts and reflections to normalise these situations and feelings that people find themselves in. Especially when considering these things are a direct sign of the exact moment, I suggest you engage with someone, anyone, to support and help you through it.
I know that some readers will connect with a small part of why I write so frankly and with such transparency, some of you will be fighting hard to push down the walls of embarrassment still associated with mental health and feel embarrassed for me. Finally, a few will not be able to connect in anyway. Some people are just lucky enough to have a solid disposition and no history of mental health problems or issues.
For those people, you are so very fortunate. In my opinion, that good fortune comes with a responsibility to learn, understand and respect those not so fortunate. Especially in the workplace.
I am pleased and proud to say that my current mental health is healthy, strong and vibrant and has been for a few years now.
I have a deep level of respect for my brain, how complex it is, and I am under no illusions that I am yet to experience some of the hardest parts of my life which will include grief, loss and pain. Most will be new experiences for me and will test my mental health resilience BUT I feel better equipped taking lessons learned with me on the journey.
Signing off with an immeasurable respect for people who have climbed their way out of being mentally unwell and lived to share the tale.
Here are some fantastic tools and resources that I have accessed over the years, a huge shout-out to our NHS too!
A self-help “I need urgent help” service offered by Mind the mental health organisation.