It’s at times like this I wish I had a greater power of influence amongst the British public. Not for the fame, money and status – but for the ability to create such a big and immediate positive impact. So, I’ll just have to accept I’m playing the long game!
Whilst setting out on this crazy mission of mine (if you missed it, check out my last blog post), I’m also in the process of breaking down my own stigma around mental health. As a business owner, it’s not exactly the most traditional topic you discuss with employees and clients to evoke leadership and expertise. However, after toying with the idea of opening up about mental health I’ve come to realise if I want to help others and see a change in the stigma around mental health, I need to break down my own stigma perceptions and lead from the front.
Opening up to employees and clients has been in one hand incredibly hard and the other very easy. I’m pretty sure that’s because it’s been something I’ve locked up inside me, since starting the business.
My brother, Chris, who works with us as a videographer and my business partner, Kate, were the first two people I spoke to. Chris is obviously heavily involved in my life outside work, he’s seen me through the good times and bad – so it wasn’t new information to him, nor Kate as she already knew bits and pieces about what I went through. It was more a confirmation that I’m going to go ahead with the podcast and blog. It was important to me that I levelled with them and we were all on the same page – as I’m Not Mental will have some kind of knock on effect to our agency, Whalecake. Hopefully, that’ll mainly be positive.
To open up to our other team members, I had a very open and informal conversation with each of them. I want all of our team, present and in the future, to know they’re in a place where it’s totally normal to talk about mental health, it’s not going to be viewed as a negative or weakness.
I know all too well how alone, scared and self-conscious someone can feel, trying to hide a mental health disorder at work. When I worked in agencies, I used to hide my nasty little habit. Locking myself in the toilet when I was having a panic attack or generally not feeling myself. Nobody would have known any different and I didn’t want them too. At the time, I didn’t really understand what was going on with me – so how could I explain it to others without sound crazy… well, that’s was my thinking at the time. It’s odd looking back at these memories, how during a panic attack, when I was intensely scared I was going to have a heart attack or that I’d just stop breathing, my immediate reaction was to lock myself away from anyone that would be able to help me if that were to happen. I never want anyone that works with us at Whalecake to think they have to suffer in silence.
I broached the subject a handful of times with senior business figures, during networking events, to gain their insight and advice around being transparent on the matter with clients and employees. As you can imagine, it was largely met with a negative reception. And, to be fair I’m not entirely surprised. If we’re all being honest, mental health has been this taboo topic that our parents, grandparents and beyond have, in the main, avoided talking about – hence the stigma!
Even as someone who suffered, I’ve been mulling over starting this podcast & blog for about a year. The stigma has always got the better of me. I finally decided to go for it, just before jetting off for my honeymoon this February. I never thought I’d recover, let alone get married and head to South Africa on honeymoon – more on that to come. I’ll be a happy man if uncovering my experiences and starting a positive movement encourages others to do the same.
The responses I’ve already had, in the first week of launching I’m Not Mental, has been hugely overwhelming! From people in my circles, professional connections, brief acquaintances and complete strangers from the other side of the world – I’m immensely grateful for your support, thank you!
In a couple of weeks time, I’ll be presenting to everyone in our team and all the other business owners/staff on our floor, to share my story and my ambitious plans for I’m Not Mental. If someone had asked me to do this a few weeks ago, I would have been overrun with feelings of embarrassment and worry about appearing weak. I likely would have said no. But now, even though all of this has only been live one week, I’m super excited to speak to a room of people and put myself in the most vulnerable position I’ve ever been in. And, to think I’m doing this voluntarily is quite ironic!
I’m finding that there’s definitely a therapeutic effect from this, but that’s not what why I started. For me, it’s all about the bigger picture and helping all of you! If it takes me a matter of months, or a few years to get heard, either way, I’m in this for the long haul. The most important message for me is telling ‘the people’ that you don’t have to settle for “managing” the situation, or “coping techniques”. This is the information that was fed to me for a long time, and was a large part of why I considered ending my life a number of times. It breaks me inside to think of the number of people, a total which will never be known, who have taken their life because they thought there was no way out. Shout it from the rooftops for me and help me spread the message that anxiety is not an unavoidable destiny.
Anxiety. You don’t deserve the reputation you have. You are weak when we are strong. You no longer control me and I will do everything in my power to make others strong. Game on.