Updated: Nov 22, 2022
When asked to contribute some words to this campaign by Mental Health at Work (an organisation with whom I freelance facilitating workshops) - as a man serving in the mental health space and having faced mental health issues - I agreed without second thought. As I sit down to write this however, there is the sense of hesitation about the manner in which I articulate my story. I have shared it via various channels before and openly talk about my mental health issues where appropriate, so it’s less about the sharing but more now coming to terms with ‘my story’ being simply just that: ‘a story.’
This is not to lessen the significance of my journey or anybody else who’s travelled the depths battling for positive mental health, for me it’s finally the recognition that I can let go of it - it’s been a heavyweight to carry for so long and became the lens through which I viewed everything. It seems relevant given this International Men’s Day, to start with my father - who left my mother, brother and I when I was 5yrs old (my bro 4). Of course this did not happen overnight, we grew in an environment filled with anger, stress, fear, worry, sometimes domestic violence or abuse, insecurity….there were money issues, my father’s playing away and other shady dealings. My mum was left to bring up 2 children with no support - she had her own personal issues too, like any young woman of mid-late 20’s. My father and I had a scattered relationship since then and he passed when I was 30 from various things but mainly triggered by a terrible relationship to alcohol, cigarettes, food and ultimately, himself. I’d forgiven him by then. His father also passed from alcohol related problems. The old saying ‘the apple never falls far from the tree’ is true and now firmly backed up by neuroscience and epigenetics.
“There is nothing noble being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
For many years I too was just like my old man. I looked up to him - he was charming, drove nice cars and was always the life of the party - subconsciously I was wired to mirroring his behaviours and habits. In the book “Biology of Belief”, Bruce Lipton goes into great detail about how as babies till about 7 years old, our brains are in a state of theta, akin to hypnosis - literally like sponges absorbing the outside world without rational or critical thinking. And over the years, the behaviours served me - I only wanted to go out and get loose with my mates and try get girls - without any regard for my health, career, wellbeing or anyone around me. I’d regularly get into fights or debt, miss work or let people down. The word ‘narcissist’ seems fair. University was a blur of excess and upon graduating in 2009 I’d just split up with a girlfriend of nearly 3 years and was easily persuaded to do a season in Ibiza.
4 months of battering myself…thinking it was what I wanted for fun, all the while pushing away and distracting myself from myself. I went back the next summer, 11 friends, a beautiful villa and an abundance of drugs waiting for our arrival - we hit it hard. It was during this week that it all got too much for me. My life was out of control and for the first time, in an Ibiza super club, I asked the question ‘why’ and the answer was ‘me.’ Since then has been a slow and painful process of coming to terms with the fact I'd been the architect of the mess I was living - that my dominant thoughts, feelings and emotions are directly linked to my external world - for so long I played the victim card, but it was becoming agonisingly apparent that I had responsibility over my conduct and situation. This was heavy and caused lots of turbulence within for so long. Eventually making peace with myself at least in short bursts, and with anyone that I’d hurt knowingly or unknowingly, was helpful to do this inner work. For days and weeks I’d not see anybody for fear of being judged, mainly by myself. It seemed like I’d take 2 steps forward and 3 steps back as I’d uncover another truth or memory of my actions that were so visceral and real in the moment. Becoming aware of the nature of the mind that got me into the chaos I was living, allowed me to begin making small changes, to start choosing what to think about. Noticing my reactivity albeit after the situation, enabled me to put into practice new responses. This became supportive in living with a little more intention, to be a little better than I was before.
And this has been going on since 2010. Talking has helped. Books, podcasts, retreats, meditation and contemplation. Journaling, I feel the most important tool for me along with meditation. Talking and sharing the story. Allowing myself to be vulnerable and not trying to be perfect has meant that I live life a bit more freely now, less self-judgment and criticising or blaming myself. I decided in 2018 that I needed to be in the mental wellbeing space in some capacity. Given meditation and mindfulness have been the tools for my recovery and provided me some peace of mind, I trained as a mindfulness-based stress reduction practitioner - which aims to help people learn about their relationship to stress and eventually change it. I supported people trying to quit smoking, mainly through the pandemic - it was eye-opening and the conversations often went past behaviour change techniques to general mental health challenges that came with lockdown and everything else going on. I knew at that point that I wanted to work more directly within mental health. So I am thankful to be part of the MHaW team on many levels - the desire to support and serve people, to be able to talk about mental health and be part of an organisation with a mission to touch the hearts and minds of the many.