A very personal and open post
A number of people have commented that I have seemed a little off my upbeat game of late, particularly around the middle part of last year. I appreciate the care and concern shown to me and having had the break to finally reflect and put some big issues largely behind me, I thought it might be of some passing value if I commented upon why.
The last couple of years have been hard. Very hard. Personally, mentally, emotionally, and professionally.
Last year was particularly tough and I genuinely don’t know how I would have got through it without the support of friends and loved ones. Let me explain.
Throughout last year, as a multitude of difficult challenges built, so did the stress. Eventually, the amount of stress I was under was so intense and all-consuming, that I experienced a full-on mental health crisis. At one particularly low moment, my co-founder and friend Andy came immediately to my rescue when he awoke to rambling messages sent overnight indicating my despair. I was in a dark place and needed help. That night, he was the truest of friends.
The following day I was fast-tracked into the veterans’ mental health pathway and quickly diagnosed with acute PTSD. I entered counselling from within that system, but also receive direct help from a friend who is trained in mental health and PTSD.
My PTSD was originally triggered four decades ago from an incident whilst in the military, but its impact on my day-to-day life wasn’t that intrusive. It’s always there, but it had a manageable power over me. However, at the intersection of life, my own character and behaviours, past mental trauma, exhaustion, and business stress, the body and mind took the opportunity to remind me of the fragility that lurks in us all. The PTSD volume was turned up to max, and it became debilitating.
Over the years I’d managed to keep the lid firmly shut on my internal terrors, although sometimes, in the wee small hours of the night, they’d make an appearance and have me squeaking and squirming. This time it was different. The lid had been ripped off and the demons within had set about their work to wreak havoc with my mental health.
It was all compounded by a lack of sleep, over-worry, a physical health diagnosis (thankfully now dealt with), and some deeply sad relationship issues.
As a bit of a believer in buses all coming along at once, the situation was compounded further still by a lengthy, and draining internal work issue which led to a protracted, and expensive two-year HR battle. At the end of last year, we finally reached a resolution that satisfies us entirely, but not without significant financial expenditure on Octo’s part. Throughout this process, solicitors, perhaps a bit too eagerly, steadily depleted our funds.
In addition, HMRC, who rather obviously care little for cause, only effect, hardened their stance on some issues due to our legal expenditure. This led to another set of stressful, lengthy, and expensive negotiations. Thanks to the amazing support of our shareholders, these challenges have also been concluded with a structured settlement agreed.
And so, as we start 2024, we and I can now look forward with optimism and focus our energy on the amazing and supportive Octo community we continue to build.
But even through the lens of optimism, there is a stark reality I can no longer ignore. For too long I’ve had to battle personal issues, seemingly hour-by-hour over the last couple of years, and all the time hiding behind the cloak of smiles and the daily workload. It is exhausting to be fighting on just so many fronts, all at once, all the time.
But I’m working hard on it. I’m not trying to put my demons back into a box again. I’m confronting them, one at a time, and learning that they don’t need to have control over me anymore. This is a battle I’m very happy to engage in. I can see hope. I can see a way forward.
I share this, as painful and difficult as I find it, for several reasons.
Selfishly, and at the encouragement of my PTSD counsellor, it may aid my recovery. Above all, it gives me the opportunity to publicly acknowledge and thank the numerous friends who recognised something was amiss, reached out, and have stayed in contact. I am grateful to those who accompanied me at a coffee shop, restaurant or bar, offering their love and support as I sometimes openly wept, and continue to check on my wellbeing. I’m also indebted to those who introduced me to the joys of open water swimming, encouraged me with my journalling and photography and looked beyond my smiles and insisted that I join them on travels.
I can’t begin to say how much these acts of love, care, and kindnesses mean to me. As much as I can never adequately explain how you have helped me, you know who you are, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thanks to your support, I am on the road to recovery.
My final reason may be self-evident and probably more clumsily expressed than it should be, but I want to share my story with you all in the hope that it may help someone else, who in the future, may just face similar circumstances. Realising you aren’t alone is an important first-step in the healing process.
Professionally, the legal situation is over and HMRC, with whom we have always played a straight bat, agree we are back on a promising trajectory now the legal cost drain has ended.
Our membership and support from progressive partner organisations continue to grow apace. It is they who support our aims and ensure we remain a free-to-member community. Again, we are more than grateful.
The past few years have shown me the importance of tending to your professional and personal networks with a good heart and authentic intention. Life has a way of knocking you down despite your personal resilience and stoicism, and sometimes it conspires to keep you down. You may need to call upon them or, just as importantly, offer your support to one of them. Sometimes, we all need to be offered a hand of support and love, something to grab hold of that can help us find our feet again.
Which leads to my parting piece of advice. Never, EVER worry about asking for help. Being more open is actually a strength and it allow us to seek help before an actual crisis takes hold. Having someone who cares for you by your side, helping you see the faint glimmer of light in the darkness, is so important, and I’m truly blessed that I have a loving and supportive network of friends, family and colleagues who are still by my side.
I wish you all a very happy, healthy New Year.
As a final footnote, thanks to those kindest of friends who over the last few days encouraged me to write this and to find the courage to finally post it.