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Help with your mental health doesn’t make you weak, any more than needing as cast for a broken bone!

By Kevin Fielder

Mental health, and especially mental health challenges can feel like a taboo subject to own up to and discuss. I think there are a couple of causes for this;

  • They are ‘invisible’ it you have a cold or break a bone it’s really obvious. Especially when you make sure you have maximum sick voice for the ‘I can’t make it in today’ phone call ;). But mental struggles are not visible in the same way.

  • Speaking as a man, it can be especially hard to own up to struggling as it can be perceived as weak or falling. Possibly more in our own minds than in reality!

  • Outward appearances can be very deceiving - you can look like you have it all, but be falling apart on the inside (or being systematically taken apart…).

This is why I am so passionate about mental wellbeing and happy to publically share my own experiences as I hope that it can and will help others be open about their struggles. Most importantly it will hopefully help others speak up and get any help / support they need. I think I posted on LinkedIn about this ages ago - if someone ‘tough’ and seemingly successful like myself can have challenges then so can anyone.

Before I dive into my history and how I have got to a great place over the last few years, I just want to highlight that I am not a Dr or any sort of expert in this space. Please take this as my story, not medical advice, and understand this is all meant with good intentions, so please don’t jump on any possible incorrect terminology I use. This is my experience in my words.

I had a few struggles when I was young / through my teenage years with low self esteem and feeling very down, to the point of being suicidal. I put this down to having a bully for a step dad. A couple of memories have for some reason always stuck with me from this period of my life;

I was around 14 sitting in my bedroom holding a knife to my chest partying for the strength to end things.

I was standing on the landing with my fists clenched and he (my step dad) grabbed my by the throat and pushed me into the wall ‘try it and I’ll put my fist through your face’ he said.

Bare in mind I was a tiny kid who hated sports. Then from about 16 I got into training and Muay Thai amongst other things, after this he unsurprisingly left us alone. All good I thought things will be fine now. Spent most of my 20s on the face of it having a great time. I’ll leave what a relatively athletic 20 something considers a great time to your imagination... It was however very superficial and broadly unfulfilling. This would come back to bite me in the arse later on.

Rolling into my 30s / mid 30s and life looked good from the outside. My career trajectory was very much on the up. I had a nice cottage in Harpenden, the little sports car and a run around car, massive home cinema set up etc. However like many men in this age bracket I desperately lacked a close team of mates. I had a few friends and we went drinking every now and then. But nothing close or really meaningful.

Having looked into this a little, it seems a remarkably common phenomenon for men to lose touch with those they are close to and to lack a circle of genuine, close friends as they move from their 20s to their 30s and beyond. I know at my lowest points I was not only depressed, but unbelievably lonely as well.

I found myself going through the motions. My career was still progressing, but everything else was stagnating. I was training, but not enjoying it, my home was very much for appearance. I felt completely disconnected from the world. Everything looked and sounded great, but I did not realise just how detached and depressed I had become.

If you are not self aware and open to getting help you can end up in a very dark place without really realising it. I guess this is a lot like many things when you look at someone in a really bad situation and wonder how they got there. It doesn’t happen overnight, you gradually get worse without really realising how far you have gone. A bit like the story of the frog in water that your gradually heat up.

At this point of depression and extremely low self worth a ended up in a terrible relationship that almost broke me. Remember when you have no self worth you’ll attract people who will take advantage of this. Over a few years it got to the point where I had basically no friends, and felt completely worthless. In hindsight all the signs were there, from being laughed at for not knowing who to invite to the wedding, to crying alone in my home office. If you ever find yourself telling someone how hated and worthless they make you feel, run. Don’t make the mistake I made and stay through fear of not seeing your children. Leave. Be healthy and be the best parent you can be.

At this point my depression and lack of self worth did start to impact my career with people at work asking ‘where has the old Kevin gone?’. Finally my ability to compartmentalise was failing and my depressed state was impacting all areas of my life. It may seem great to be able to compartmentalise as you can hide your depression from most people. But I think this does more harm than good as I was continuing to deteriorate, while presenting a visage to the world of everything being fine.

This led to a very acrimonious divorce. I’ll not go into the UK family system here suffice to say it is in my experience extremely biassed against fathers. So while I was finally making steps to improve my life and wellbeing, I was having to deal with seeing far less of my daughter and losing almost 70% of everything I had ever worked for.

While I was making positive changes, escaping an abusive relationship and trying to get myself together this was a time of huge struggles for me. I went from seeing my daughter everyday to seeing her once a week, then eventually 2 days a week. This was one of the hardest things I have been through, even on seemingly awesome holidays I would find myself in tears because my daughter wasn’t there. More often then not I hid these break downs from everyone. Again on the outside all looked grand. Good job, flat in east London, living ‘the life’.

Over the next few years I really struggled with not having enough time with my daughter and having to fund 2 homes. A further consequence of my lack of worth resulted in it taking some years before I went through the court process (twice) to fight for my daughter to have more time with me. I was so scared of losing in court that I waited years to fight and missed so much time with my daughter, even when she kept asking why she saw less of me.

I did however finally start taking action to ‘fix’ myself and repair years of mental damage and neglect.

I had some therapy sessions. I made the effort to get back into ‘life’ and build friendships. I learnt methods to manage the ongoing harm being done to both myself and my daughter by her mother. I got back into martial arts. I found my team / tribe / extended family.

Why do I share this publicly? As mentioned earlier, if I can help one person it’s worth it. If people see that the outgoing, gym loving, S&C coaching CISO can be struggling and need help, then anyone can. We live in a world where it’s perfectly acceptable to talk about physical illness, but it can be much harder to talk about mental struggles.

We live in a world where physical abuse is recognised and spoken about, but mental abuse is much more invisible, insidious and (for men at least) hard to talk about and to ask for help with.

Change is scary.

Admitting you are struggling is scary.

Putting yourself out there is scary.

But is it all worth it, and it can turn your life around.

What have I learnt from all this?

  • Don’t wait - I lost years of personal happiness and years of time with my daughter from hiding, from being scared and from not realising or admitting how depressed and valueless I felt.

  • Talk. Not bullsh*t platitudes, but really talk to people about how you are feeling and what you are struggling with.

  • Asking for help does not make you weak. No one can do it all. You wouldn’t try to fix a broken arm or cancer without help, don’t try to fix mental challenges by yourself.

  • Find your team / tribe / family. We all need our ride or dies with us. If you’re a guy, get some hobbies or interests and jump into those. Men do much better at talking and bonding when there is a shared interest or goal.

  • Reframe the way you look at things. It really upsets me and has caused considerable financial anxiety having to entirely fund 2 homes. But the reframe of this is that I can hold my head up high knowing I provided everything for my daughter, knowing I was the only parent she has prepared to provide for her. This really helps me rationalise the situation.

    • Apply this type of thinking to anything negative that you can’t remove from your life.

  • Remove the negatives. As well as doing all the work to have positive things and people in your life, be ruthless with the negatives. Remove negative people or things from your life as much as possible.

  • Be physically and mentally healthy. As well as all of the above, physical wellbeing is linked so closely to overall wellbeing so do some exercise, lift some heavy things, eat reasonably well. You don’t need to love it like I do, but you do need to look after your body as well as your mind.

  • The hardest changes and the hardest challenges are usually the most worthwhile and rewarding.

  • Compartmentalising things may seem like a super power, but in fact it is the opposite. You’re just hiding things away until they get so bad you can not hide them away any longer.

  • Be kind out there! You never know what the person on the other end of the conversation is going through. Feel free to disagree, but lets make in person and social media discussions polite and grown up as much as possible!

If you are struggling please remember you are worth more than this and there are people who will help you.

Reach out to your friends. Check in on them regularly and genuinely. Tell them you love them.

Let’s treat mental health in the same way we treat physical health. Work on looking after your mental and physical health. Realise needing help with your mental wellbeing doesn’t make you weak, any more than needing as cast for a broken bone.

Finally my (virtual) door is always open, ping me if you ever need someone to chat to and I will do my best to be available and to be an impartial ear.

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