Welcome to my cave. Since I’ve been in here for a few months, I figured it’s about time I did a ‘room reveal’.

But first, you may already be wondering “What’s this got to do with business?” because I normally write about the sort of topics CEOs want to talk about. Well, this time, I’m writing about a topic CEOs don’t want to talk about. But they should.

So, the cave. I haven’t literally been living in a cave, of course. But this cave is as dark, dank, and bear-worthy as the real deal.

You see, at the beginning of June, I was diagnosed with the holy troika of Debbie Downersville: depression, burnout, and anxiety. Mum’s always going on about how according to Feng Shui, you should arrange things in threes, so I guess I’m a winner on that level at least.

But mainly, I just feel embarrassed and freaked out about my new dwelling and these unwelcome ‘flatmates’.

Here’s what we do together: sit and stare into space and go through the motions of doing normal stuff like reports and having conversations but it’s like I’m somehow removed, watching myself have conversations and doing reports. We cry a lot and face the daily question “Are you all right, Mummy?”

Mummy’s just feeling a bit sad today. I’ll be all right. Can you please shut the door? 

Everyone and everything seems far away. Except for my thoughts – they’re a permanent fixture: “You’ve gone and done it again… you’re so crap at this… why can’t you just… you should be…”. I wish those thoughts would pack up and ditch my cave.

But they’re here, so please excuse the mess.

Anyway, take a look around. See how I’ve decorated this corner? I chose self-loathing, as it goes nicely with this muted view of things that usually light me up but don’t at the moment.

Oh this little thing? That’s just a bit of fear I’d forgotten about which I rediscovered as a panic attack in the airport carpark on a Wednesday evening two weeks ago.

Over here is my collection of ropes that my friends keep trying to throw to me, to help me “buck up”. But those lifelines just hit me in the face. I wonder if behind their well-meaning rope throwing they’re just muttering to themselves, “Why can’t she just grab the f***ing rope already?!”

Yeah well, I wonder that myself.

Yes, you’re right, this cave is very “lived in”. I’ve been here ever since a panic attack in a hotel room in New York. What brought it on? Probably feeling overwhelmed by writing my first book combined with committing to lead one too many workshops in a row. Also, did I mention I have three kids and am trying to expand my business with a new strategy? I haven’t been called Super Striving Suzi for nothing.

Those panic attacks spiralled into the black nothingness of lying on the couch and fending off friends who asked, “So, how was your TRIP?”

But wait, before you leave my house tour, let me point out some touches of contrast. Even in caves, you’ll find shafts of light if you look hard enough.

Over there in that corner is the smell of my daughter’s hair. And in that corner, you’ll see another glimmer of light. That’s the sound of my teenage sons ribbing each other in the kitchen as I curl up on the couch in the next room.

And then there’s the 30-minute jog along the river I do most weekdays – when I somehow forget about caves and am just a woman running.

My husband’s bear hugs.
My work.
Writing.

All these are the shafts of light that pierce my darkness and keep me holding on, hopeful. So I turn towards them and let them shine on my face. I take my light any way I can these days.

It turns out I’m a fighter. There are days I want to stay under the duvet. But I force myself to get up anyway. I put on my professional façade along with my suit jacket. I can and will survive my cave dwelling. Even though it stinks like a shitty sewer. Eventually, I’ll move out.

It’s not all bad in here. This cave has made me more compassionate towards others who go to work every day living with mental illness. From my dark space, I salute you, fellow cave dwellers!

I’m writing this, here on my mostly-business blog, because it’s time we started talking seriously about something that’s affecting every organisation. And it’s affecting you as a leader whether or not you’re suffering from mental illness or any of the euphemistic names we’ve created for it.

Because according to the statistics, you’re leading someone who is. Someone who’s battling a disease that still attracts way too much stigma and shame for us to address it in the way that we need to. The latest ground-breaking research published in Scientific American shows that you are more likely to experience a bout of mental illness in your life than you are to acquire diabetes, heart disease, or cancer.

Yet despite this, according to this latest UK research just 31% of men felt their workplace made it possible to be candid about mental health. Only 29% said they’d taken time off for mental health. (Meanwhile, only 38% of women felt they could speak openly about it). And an Axa PPP healthcare survey revealed that two-thirds of managers don’t believe that stress, anxiety or depression is a serious enough reason for employees to take time off work.

The upshot? Very few people feel safe enough to even admit to you that they’re suffering from mental distress. As long as these statistics remain, we’re failing our people as leaders. And we’re failing our people as organisations.

I want to tell a different story.

I want to do a brighter room reveal. One where people suffering from mental illness (whether it’s anxiety or depression or something even more stigma laden) don’t hide it in shame or feel like they’ve got to battle it all alone in the workplace, where they’re not too scared to share that information with their boss and where it’s not a career-limiting move to do so. Where CEOs take the mental and emotional wellness of their people just as seriously as the bottom line.

And so, this week, room reveals are in order. Grand designs of the unpleasant and uncomfortable kind.

Let’s start by having conversations. Let’s help people come out of their caves by firstly acknowledging that they exist. Make it accepted, like other things that can keep a person laid up in bed for months – a bad flu, for instance, or a broken leg.

If you suspect somebody’s in a cave, make it OK and safe for them to open the door and let you in.

And thanks for coming to visit mine – it took a lot for me to show you around.

 

WHERE TO GET HELP IN NEW ZEALAND:

If you’re worried about someone, you might encourage them to talk to their doctor or local mental health provider about it, and help them make an appointment, or you can encourage them to text 1737 or call for advice (call anytime 24/7). 1737 is a free phone number answered by trained counsellors.

The Mental Health Foundation’s full list of recommended helplines is below. All services are available 24/7.

Need to talk? – 1737 – free call or text 1737 to talk to a train counsellor, anytime
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE)
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Youthline – 0800 376 633. Free text 234 or email [email protected]
Healthline – 0800 611 116

For more information about support and services available to you, contact the Mental Health Foundation’s free Resource and Information Service on 09 623 4812 during office hours or email [email protected].

See the MHF website for more information mentalhealth.org.nz

WHERE TO GET HELP OUTSIDE NEW ZEALAND:

If you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider.

New Zealand’s Mental Health Foundation has provided this link which may also have helpful information www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/