August 13, 2020

Six Years

6 years ago today I made one of the smartest decisons of my life. I asked for help. Back then, I was at the lowest point in my life. Today, I'm at my highest. This is an abridged and edited version of a talk I gave back in 2016. Thanks to everyone who has been part of my journey.

Six Years

The 13th August 2014 is the day that my life changed. It's the day that I waved a white flag. I surrendered. It's the day that I stopped lying to myself, and to everybody around me. It's the day that I admitted that I had a mental health issue. It's an easy date to remember, because it was the day after my youngest sons fifth birthday.

I'd been working in the publishing industry for seven years. It had taken its toll on me. I wasn't the person that I was before. I’d changed, and not in a good way. I was having regular heart palpitations. I was stressed. I was worried about every aspect of my life and I told nobody.

It got to the stage where I almost cried twice at my work in front of a team of people that I managed. I'm a leader. Leaders don't cry. I thought, enough is enough. I phoned my Doctor and was told they’d had a cancellation. The caveat - I needed to be there in 30-minutes. I didn't say anything to anybody at work, I just got up and left. Little did I realise that I’d never be back.

The Doctor quickly identified a condition called Generalised Anxiety Disorder, brought on by work-related stress. He signed me off my work for a couple of weeks and he put me on anti-depressants. Me, on anti-depressants? I'm cheery, cheeky-chappy Kev. I'm the person that people come to when they're feeling depressed. I'm the person that people come to when they're feeling low in their life. I don't get depressed. It was a shock to me and it was an even bigger shock to my family, because I didn't tell anybody. I kept it all to myself. Getting better started the week later, when Jamie, started school.

In a glass-half-full sort of way, being off my work was great, because I got to be there for the first time and take Jamie to school. Walking him the five-minutes to school every day, and picking him up again, was the start of the process of getting me well again. I didn't have to think about anything. I just had to walk him to and from school. That's all I had to do.

But walking and medication wasn't enough.

I was given the opportunity, to visit a counsellor. A counsellor? My gut reaction was, “Nope, I don't need a counsellor. I counsel people. That's what I do." As I walked up the stairs for my first appointment, I was terrified. I knew I was going to be asked questions, but I wasn't really prepared for the first question. She caught me off guard.

She said, "Pick a seat." And I thought, “Woah, we're starting this really early." I remember thinking to myself, if I pick the left seat, I'm safe. If I pick the left seat I'm saveable, I'm curable. I'll get through this. If I pick the right seat she's going to be scribbling down two words in her little pad of paper. ‘Sexual deviant’.

Now, for the avoidance of all doubt, I sat on the left seat. I am not a sexual deviant. So, yes, I was really nervous. Gayle had a counsellors voice. A sort of sing-song voice that put me at ease. As I sat opposite Gayle I spotted something in my peripheral vision. On a bookshelf, I saw a tub of Play-Doh. Bizarrely, that relaxed me, because I started thinking, "What do I need to do for Gayle to bring out the Play-Doh? What is it that I need to do for Gayle to go, "OK, this is worse than I thought. Let's get the Play-Doh. Get the Play-Doh - now!” But no, I never got to play with the Play-Doh.

I'd been off for two months by this stage and I was invited to have a meeting with my employer. I decided that I would take control of the situation. I read out a personal statement. Those words remain some of the most important words I've ever written. 2,387 words that completely changed my life. Without those words I wouldn't be here today. Those words helped me take back control of a life that was spiralling.

It was the most cathartic experience of my life. For the first time in three years I was completely honest and open with myself and with everybody else.

I learned a really valuable lesson. It taught me that the thoughts inside your head can be debilitating. They can crush you, they can paralyse you, they can scare you, but do you know what? If you get those same thoughts out of your head, onto a bit of paper, they just become words. Words that you can challenge. Words that you can rationalise. Words that you can make sense of.

So, that's what I do. When I have problems, I write. I get things out my head. It's made a huge difference to my life, and that's what I want my message to be today - write for you. Write to understand yourself. Write to have real breakthroughs to help you understand why you feel the way you do.

Lots of people have said that I’ve been brave for sharing my story so publicly. But that’s not bravery. That’s self preservation. I was brave for the three years where I bottled everything up. That was bravery. My plea to you is if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, speak to somebody. Don't keep it inside. Share it, write about it, but best of all speak to someone. A friend. A counsellor. Or your Doctor. There is no shame in any of this.

I'll continue to write. I'll continue to tell my stories. And as long as he’ll tolerate me, I'll continue to walk with Jamie.