I work in a fast paced, high performing cultured job whereby the standards of my peers and stakeholders were alot higher to what I ever experienced before. I had been in this role for 3 years prior and seemed to have managed to keep my head above water and hid things very well from my peers and management. Despite having an 18 month old daughter and life was good, I could feel that there was always a dark cloud following me around and I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what the problem was.
During November 2019 suddenly things took a turn for the worse. Leading up to Christmas is our company’s ‘Year End’ and work and expectations were ramping up rapidly. I am a very organised individual, this is where my OCD comes into play, and I acknowledge the traits I have is a part of me. I’ve been told by successful work colleagues and directors that “this isn’t a bad thing and makes you good at your job”. Whilst this validation is reassuring, it can also be a curse having to check work thoroughly and keep on top of lists and emails. It is tiring and exhausting but its part of my DNA, as a few family members share these traits.
Suddenly work was getting on top of me and I felt like I was losing control. This led me to suffer mild panic attacks and many sleepless nights. I am generally a very open person and very social, but things were changing, I didn’t want to see friends or family. I am not one for climbing the career ladder or earn a high salary, this wasn’t important, I just wanted to be content in myself and stay positive. What was important in mind was to provide for my family and be comfortable. My wife was heavily pregnant at this time, so subconsciously there were more pressures to add into the mix.
At the start of 2020, work was still at the forefront of my mind and I had adopted a ‘tunnel vision’ approach to life, predominantly work. The anxieties grew more and more and the feeling of nervousness of refreshing emails in the morning and attending important meetings and problem solving became overwhelming. These thoughts were completely disguised from my bosses and relevant teams. To them all, it seemed that I had it all together and confident in what I did in my work.
As we approached February 2020, a critical time of the working year, it’s during these dark winter hours which triggers my mood to worsen and nothing would lift me out of this slump, I felt that life was moving at 100mph, with the incoming news of a house move and my wife being pregnant with our second child.
I’m very fortunate that my wife recognised the change in my mood patterns and was so supportive, despite being very heavily pregnant and having a toddler, who is a little dynamo running around the place!
By chance or fate or whatever you believe in, I noticed a social media post titled ‘For Men to Talk’, discussing anxiety, grief and depression, things I believe I have encountered at some stage during my life. My wife also heard about this group from her friend and strongly encouraged me to go and see whether this would help.
My family had always had that approach of keeping a lid on things and have the stiff upper lip but I felt that I could express myself openly and honestly as I can.
‘For Men to Talk’ was having a group meeting at a local cafe. I am normally a very social and interactive person but I had doubts, I didn’t know anybody, what would people think if they knew and where is my life heading? Upon walking in to the cafe, those feelings dispatched almost immediately and I was amongst men who were had the commonality of suffering any of these mental health issues. The group had 20+ guys and I didn;t feel alone. A huge burden had lifted, but then almost overnight, the global pandemic hit us all.
It was at this time, life morphed into something completely different and I was at a real crossroads in my life. My colleague had decided to move to Australia and this in turn left me with even more work. My anxieties went to an all time high, worrying about the ramifications of her departure and how this would affect my working life.
From these chain of events, it overshadowed the offer of a new house being accepted and the birth of our son, two monumental occasions in life, being overridden by my worries of work and how I would cope.
Fortunately, the ‘For Men to Talk’ weekly meetings were moved virtually, communicating online would become the new normal, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. The founder, Luke, had an incredibly moving story, but has always been open with his journey, unlike most men, and that’s why he formed the group.
It was something I was craving for. It was a safe space for all us men to talk about how we felt and sharing the highs and lows of the week. This was a great initiative and it felt good getting things off my chest and not being judged for anything I said or did.
As the group gathered momentum, it was clear that more men were struggling with different things in their lives as well as lockdown. Luke has an amazing quality of being a superb host and bringing everyone together and should be applauded on this. The regulars would come and revisit and now a year on I can really see the benefit in everyone, as well as myself. There have been times whereby the stories have become so moving it has been emotional and we can all pat ourselves on the back for making this first step and that we are not alone.
I have benefitted whereby this has become a important part of the week and have met some wonderful people in the process. I have made a few necessary changes to improve my mental health by finishing work at my scheduled times and really putting my friends and family higher in my priorities.
I am fascinated by people and love to see how the dynamics work in a group. There is such a diverse group of men and I’m sure that I can speak on behalf of all of them to say it has helped them as much as it has helped me. We are now talking to people not only in the country but across the pond in the USA. It’s a very therapeutic thing to listen to the stories and humbling at the same time.
I would like to personally thank Luke and ‘For Men to Talk’ and long may it continue with your hard work and dedication to help men open up. It does help to talk.