I have been a working professional for over 30 years. During this time I have been able to make a decent living, meet great people and have a good standard of life.
As a young man I took everything in my stride – the learning, the travelling, the growing demands on time, the exams, the late hours, lack of work/life balance, the pain of failing and the excitement of succeeding and making a difference.
Somewhere, around about 10 or so years ago I suppose, the highs started to diminish and the lows became deeper. Not permanent, but deeper, much deeper. What was going on and why?
I still do not know all the answers to these questions but I do now understand a lot more about myself and a great deal more about the issues I have been facing – or more accurately refusing to face. One thing is very clear to me – I failed to take care of my mental health and consequently I "hit the buffers".
Still in early 2017 "depression" is a word that conjures up a range of responses and images – all of them pretty negative. Someone who suffers from depression "can't hack it", is "weak", is a "risk to the business". I disagree.
Even a cursory glance at the national and international statistics prove what a widespread and worryingly common affliction depression is. I say affliction because although I suffer from it and am still receiving medical treatment, I am still not sure whether I am ill, I have a disease, a genetic problem, or "simply" have developed a habitual way of thinking that needs to be corrected and re-balanced.
"Simply" – if only it was. I know little of science or medicine, but I do know that the mind, the brain, our ways of thinking and our ability to develop ingrained habits, particularly unhelpful ones, is a frighteningly complex issue.
In the context of my experience, what makes a perfectly rationale, reasonable, successful, happy and balanced (well almost!) professional find themselves at times literally unable to function, to drive a car, to make or receive a phone call, to write a coherent paragraph, to lose his ability to problem solve and become an anxiety wracked shadow of his real self?
For me these debilitating periods of my life started during my 30s and grew more and more intense and more and more frequent with age. The "triggers", which I now understand periodically set me on a path of temporary self destruction, have been increasingly activated at lower and lower thresholds.
Thankfully, and simply because things became too difficult for me (and my family) to manage, I finally fronted up to my condition – I stepped back from the heat of the workplace and have invested the best part of the last two years understanding, accepting, and most importantly of all, actively tackling my problem.
It hasn't been easy and still isn't, but neither, surprisingly, has it been all negative.
I have been both amazed and totally humbled by the response of my closest friends, colleagues, clients, partners and associates throughout my industry to my plight. Truly humbled. Hardnosed and hard-pressed professional business men and women have been so empathetic, supportive, so understanding, loyal and caring. Without doubt this collective response was the beginning of the end of my darkest years. Bringing my issues into the open (disclosure is the technical term I think) and facing up to them with the help and support of those I admire, respect and want to work with, has been my salvation.
So I am on a journey. If I was a car I would be firing on 3 cylinders now but I can feel the full power of the engine beginning to kick back in. When I started out in my profession (property) we talked of properties suffering from "sick building syndrome" lacking natural light or good ventilation and having obsolete mechanical and electrical systems.
We are now much more enlightened. We talk about designing buildings that actively improve our well being, promote our health and happiness – and rightly so. My thinking is – if we put this much emphasis into our modern day buildings and spaces surely we can all learn to invest more time and consideration to ourselves and our minds.
From here on in, I will never again feel the need to "hide" my feelings from those I love and those I work with. I may take professional life a bit easier, as a consequence of my condition, but have learnt that this is not failure, just realistic. After all we are not all Prime Minister material.