ME? Mental Health Condition? You must be joking!

I have always been an optimist. As a young man starting out in the Financial Services profession in 1990, I relished and devoured numerous books and tapes on Personal Development and Positive Mental Attitude. Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracey and Dale Carnegie were just some of the individuals who greatly influenced my life, forming and fuelling my thinking.

Commission only sales was not an easy profession and we regularly practiced positive affirmations. ‘Tough times don’t last, tough people do’, ‘Keep on, keeping on,’ and ‘I plough through every barrier and I’m hungry for more!’ These were the days when one of the catchphrase mantras was ‘lunch is for wimps!’ There wasn’t much spoken about mental health, just mental attitude. And strong mental attitude was everything. There was not the patience or understanding surrounding ‘mental weakness’. It seemed to blur into Mental Illness, which many refrained from talking about. I must admit, the few times when I had a client sitting in front of me completing a medical questionnaire and declaring a period of depression, I was naively sympathetic, but did not have any real idea as to what it meant. I moved the conversation on. Depression, stress and anxiety were all conditions that made getting insurance cover from providers more difficult and costlier.

In 2010, and after a period of 20 years in the profession, my business (along with many others) was forced to cease trading overnight. This was a huge blow as it left me unable to work and with no source of income. The following few years were tough, and my efforts to get work with a salary that could still pay the bills were not very fruitful. In the end, I had no choice but to seek advice from a debt management agency and enter hardship programmes with all my creditors.

Was all this influencing my mental health? You bet. Stress and anxiety. Could I see it? No. In all honesty, I kept pressing ahead, trying to keep plates spinning all over the place whilst believing I could get on top of it. I can remember visiting my doctor during this period, suffering with stomach problems, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations. I said to him half joking, ‘Do you think I am going mad’? He was a small Indian man who was previously a client of mine. I will never forget him pausing from writing notes, looking up at me, putting his hand on mine, saying ‘It’s going to be OK’. I smiled and can remember thinking ‘He’s serious! Hang on a minute, I’m a Christian. I am the one who should be offering kind words of hope and encouragement to you!’

He gave me a prescription saying that this would help relax me a bit. Did I go to the chemist and get the prescription? NO! My thinking was………I am not taking pills. Pills are not good. It’s a sign of weakness. I will work this through with my thinking and with my faith.

There its lots more I can tell you about this journey. However, at the time of writing, and from a state of contentment and happiness, I can reflect on this episode from a position of increased mental health awareness. I am very fortunate to have good friends around me who I have been able to open up to, wise people of faith that have spoken truth into my life, a loving wife, and a deep faith in Christ which has shown me a peace above all human understanding.

Being on team with CVM, most of my work is geared towards men. With suicide being the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK today, I am learning all the time about aspects of Mental Health. Just recently, I heard a talk from Patrick Reagan from Kintsugi Hope. One of the slides put up said:

‘Depression, anxiety and panic attacks are not signs of weakness, but signs of trying to remain strong for too long’.

That was me. I was trying to be strong, living in denial from what the dashboard warning lights of my heath were displaying about my circumstances. I am fortunate that my journey was not as extreme as some. I have never felt suicidal. Depressed? Yes. Alone? Yes. Times of low self-worth? Most definitely.

And this is one of my reasons as to WHY I do what I do now, and why we at CVM encourage men to form trusted relationships. Friends to whom we can be vulnerable and talk about real life issues with one another that have a positive impact on our mental health. In many cases, these conversations are literally life-saving.

If you need to reach out and begin the journey away from the precipice the starting point is to tell someone. Talk to someone you trust, let family or friends know what’s going on for you, they may be able to offer help and support. If you find it difficult to talk to someone you know these free helplines are there to help.

Help and support is available right now if you need it. You don’t have to struggle with difficult feelings alone.

If you’re worried about someone, try to get them to talk to you. Ask open-ended questions like: “How do you feel about…?” Don’t worry about having the answers. Just listening to what someone has to say and taking it seriously can be more helpful. See Samaritans’ tips on how to start a difficult conversation.

Image Credit: Alex Iby