Driving into the great city of Manchester on a Saturday morning taking my Son, Brandon, to Wing Chun. I had deliberated for months about telling my children about my “dark” secret.
Saturday’s were a routine we’d had for a few months, Brandon chose to study and train in martial arts. This was great for me because I love martial arts too. I’ve trained in two forms of Karate and KungFu. Consequently, Bruce Lee became a hero of mine from my early childhood. The little guy, an underdog, who fought for justice against bigger guys to become a legend. Wing Chun was Bruce’s introduction to martial arts. If you hadn’t worked it out yet, my son is named after my hero’s son; Brandon Lee. So I was delighted when (my) Brandon chose this form. However, the nearest class was in Manchester 10 miles away from home which meant waking early every weekend to take him. Not long after I was training with Brandon’s Sifu (King Fu Teacher) who is possibly one of the best practitioners outside of the far east, a great outcome.
I had a few sleepless nights trying to decide whether or not to tell Brandon that I had a mental illness. He would at some point find out for himself. But rather than find out by accident, I wanted to choose the time and environment. An opportunity had arisen to speak at an event about Mental illness in Entrepenuers. My good friend, Naomi Timperley, agreed to let me speak at her “Fearless Events” on this topic. So I had to spill the beans sooner or later. The talk for the event had already been crafted so it was fresh in my mind.
Heading down Manchester Road shortly after our departure I said “Son, can I tell you something?” I was by this point so nervous my voice as very wobbly. I think he grunted a reply, he’s not good in the morning.
My first “public speaking gig” was at my Mum’s funeral. I was desperately heartbroken at the funeral and suffering from severe depression. Yet, speaking at the funeral was not as scary as having a 1-2-1 audience with my son, my protege, my heir to the throne, my legacy. How could I tell him that his Dad, his guide and mentor, was broken, so broken that he had considered taking my own life?
The next 20 minutes or so I poured out my heart and shared things with my boy that I had never wanted to expose him to. How, when he was a toddler, I had a breakdown whilst working my well-paid job. A job I was bloody great at but had grown to hate. The phrase “boiling a frog” springs to mind as I worked harder and harder to get the promotion that (in my opinion) I absolutely deserved. Yet, during the recession, the Insurance company owned by a bank had made so many cost-cutting exercises that left some of their talented staff running on empty. I explained that when the breakdown happened I almost passed out, become lucid again a while later after rocking back and forth, dribbling in a chair at the far side of the office. In the following weeks I had almost no memories of the breakdown and my mental health deteriorated so much that I had become I danger to myself.
I continued to explain that for the next few years things worsened. Antidepressants made me zombie-like and, with a continuous cycle of depression and panic attacks I left my job to buy a franchise. How my employers reneged on their promise to pay my bonus and instead took money from my bank account after an “admin error” meant that within weeks of leaving them, we were overdrawn by over £2k and then began the massive hole of debt. The franchise I had bought turned out to be a dud. I was informed that I couldn’t trade because of a legal battle with the franchisor and a franchisee. I explained that his Mum and I had gone from a decent combined income and lifestyle to being flat broke, in significant debt, with no income, no job, being unemployable and almost losing our home. How all of my significant pension was scammed from me. Then both of my parents, his grandparents, were diagnosed with terminal cancer. How, when caring for them, my mental health deteriorated yet further leading to my thoughts to exit my life as, on paper, I was worth more dead than alive.
How, or even why, do you tell your son that?
What would think of me now? Would he be embarrassed, confused, would he no longer respect me. Would he identify with my illness and would he develop a depressive illness too. As soon as I finished my confession, I felt both ashamed and relieved. Then…….silence.
“Son, do you have anything to say”? Not knowing what the response would be I waited for what felt like minutes. He said, “Dad, that was brilliant. It was like listening to a TED talk. I’m proud of you”.
The next few minutes I spent fighting tears of pride, unable to talk whilst trying to concentrate on driving.
I’ve been watching TED Talks for years, like many, I’m always been inspired by the awesome skill and knowledge of the speakers. I’ve sat and agog and been transformed by my new heroes, Simon Sinek, Brene Brown, Sugartra Mitra, Tim Ferris and hundreds of others. Then, for a brief moment, I fantasised about being stood on a TED stage telling my story and “An Idea Worth Spreading”.
I’ve developed some techniques which have worked, and many which haven’t, in my personal battle with debilitating depression and anxiety. These include writing (you can decide if I’m any good), public speaking, mentoring others, fundraising and agreeing to challenge myself physically to extremes just to see what I can mentally endure.
We had our conversation 3 years ago and a year later I told my daughter about my dark secret. I’ve been speaking publicly and facilitating more often. Sometimes on professional topics, mentoring, entreprenurship, volunteering, marketing and social media. Yet the times I’ve shared my story of how I’ve fought my own demons, battled my way back from my lowest point of nadir, considered the stillness of death and tried to figure out my own mental illness, those talks are the ones people have appreciated most. They’ve also been the most rewarding and cathartic.
So when the opportunity to speak at TEDx Bollington arrived of course I wrote my application double quick time. I’m still pinching myself after recently hearing that I’ve been successful.
Yes, I will be a TEDx speaker later this year.
I’ll be joining a club of people I’ve admired for a long time. Not only uber famous inspirational speakers but also friends such as Naomi Timperley, Luke Ambler, Andrew Thorp and TEDx Bollington organiser Sarah Knowles.
So what’s “The idea worth spreading?” You’ll either have to come to the event or watch it online later.
TEDx Bollington is on the 16th of June 2019, the theme is “The Art Of Connection”. I hope the audience connect with me.
2019 will be my best year yet, I’m glad I told my children about my illness.