20 May Mental Health Awareness Week: An honest account
A massive thank you to Simon Marshall, founder of marketing agency TBD Marketing, for his brave account of his personal mental health journey. You can read it below in our latest instalment of blogs to recognise Mental Health Awareness Week.
Two and a half years down the line, it’s still hard to write these words:
I had a nervous breakdown whilst working at a law firm.
Even today, I’m tempted to dampen it down or lessen the wording. Should I write ‘a bit of a nervous breakdown’ or ‘something like a nervous breakdown’? But no, ensconced in the safety of my home office, I can say now that that’s precisely what happened: I had a nervous breakdown.
Without wanting to get too far ahead of ourselves, no, it’s not a problem today as I manage things better than I did then.
When Giselle asked me to write this, I leapt at the chance to do so and then recoiled as I sat down to type this up. What’s made me press on is that:
my experience is far from unique;
even in these more enlightened times, mental health is not something that law firms always deal with very well, despite professing to do so; and
I am lucky enough to have made some better choices and kept my loved ones close to me (most of the time) and if this piece helps even a single other person to make even one good choice, then it will have been more than worth it.
It was a long and winding path that got me to walk into my boss’s office one Monday morning and break down into tears. The seeds were sown again and again over several years of working life and even before that at university and school. Again, no-one would have known because I bottled stuff up over such a long period.
Even when it came to that disastrous day in the office, I wouldn’t point to any one single trigger but would rather say that it was not understanding that it’s okay to talk about pressures and that that’s a lot better than simply blowing up.
I have to say that my boss was fantastic about it as were one or two others within the firm.
After that day, I actually spent seven weeks away from work and after a short period back, decided to leave the firm. We were simply too chalk and cheese.
What would I say to others that might help them avoid the cliff edge?
I’m no expert. Here are some things that worked for me:
If you’re a man, then spend time with a group of men. There’s a line in a Billy Connolly sketch about how we’ve lost sight of fraternity: that even if your dad was a bit of a dick, you’d have been brought up by uncles and male relatives that would have done their best to allow for your dad’s shortcomings. One result of us all living further and further away from our hometowns is that we don’t necessarily have these all-male family groups to which we naturally belong. Replacing them with bro teams or drinking buddies is no substitute. This year, I was asked to join a pool team and for several weeks it was pool with a side dash of bonding. Now it’s a genuine support group with a side portion of pool. We cover all manner of topics as a group and we’ve talked about divorces, affairs, our shared love of Glastonbury, our mental health and a whole lot more. It’s been good to be part of something that has nothing to do with work and it’s just for me.
Do something that chimes with your values. Next, I’d say that doing things and working somewhere that’s in keeping with your values is essential. It’s too easy to take the money and turn a blind eye to things that we know are wrong. You/we/I may have found that tolerable in our 20s or 30s, but it’s unsustainable in the long-term. The sooner you do this, the longer the period of your life you’ll be happy for.
Let the anger go and you’ll find yourself. I was angry when I left my last firm and it did no one any good. I was carrying around a lot of pent up feelings from a few experiences and, well, I needed to find a way just to let them go. I got some help and it worked.
I learned to let go of my anger over the months and see things as two sides of a coin rather than right/wrong. I also began to find my voice and found that I was allowed to publicly express my opinion. After almost 20 years working for law firm leaders, that was quite freeing. I still made some mistakes, tweeted things I shouldn’t have. But that’s the nature of finding a voice: sometimes, you just get it wrong.
Today, I am finally, hopefully, able to be myself and be straight about the impact that this has had on me.
Can I take the time to say a special thank you to the following people for helping me when I needed it most? Julie, Chris, Richard (black dog!), Bram, JV, Meg, Florence, G, Caroline, Julie, Sarah, Dan, MdV, Matt, and the pool team.
Finally, my door is always open – I know that people in our roles often struggle to balance the demands on us. If you ever want to talk, I promise I’ll listen, just drop me a private email.