Just a guy who has a story and likes talking…
I promised I would share this after the fact. It’s now up to you to read it if you want.
My name is Andrew Salkeld. I’m 34. I’m a Chartered Accountant. I trained at PwC before moving into industry. I specialise in corporate finance and business intelligence; ‘data and deals’. I work as CFO for a start-up based here in Leeds, helping them raise funding and developing their business plan.
My name is Andy. I’m 34. I suffer from depression. I almost committed suicide in 2017. It changed me. I stream World of Warcraft and other games on Twitch in my spare time and in doing so raise money to support mental health charities across the UK.
Generally speaking, not a dick…generally speaking…
Which of these introductions is more honest? Which is more the person standing here in front of you today? Which is more relevant? Why should we talk about the first but not the second?
I was asked to speak today after I published Breaking the Stigma on LinkedIn and on my website miz7.com. I published that article to raise awareness of the 24 hour charity stream I was doing, but also to share my story with my professional network for the first time.
I said this in that article and I will say it again here. Some of you might not like what I say. Some of you my not want to work with me in the future. Some of you may not want to talk to me again. It doesn’t matter to me what you choose to do.
But for now at least please…
…just stay a while and listen
I’m going to talk about my story with mental health, specifically depression, but a lot of what i say can tie into anxiety and the wider subject of mental health. This topic is incredibly seriously, very real, incredibly emotional and deeply personal. To try to keep things lighthearted and simple, I’m going to try and use memes throughout. This isn’t to take away from how serious it is, more that they can simply a highly complex subject into one or two lines of text.
Please do remember that…
…this is my story.
Mental health is personal. No two people will ever feel or experience the same thing. Whilst this is me, it may not be how other think, feel, act or respond.
A lot of what I say today will be as honest as I can make it. It will cut very close to the bone, maybe even breaking a few… I have no agenda in what I say. I am just telling a personal experience.
I value every experience I have gained, every lesson I have learned and every person I have met in my life and career to date. I would not be who I am today if not for all those people involved, so I am truly thankful to all of them. I am more comfortable in myself today than I ever have been in the past.
So to everyone. Thank you.
This is me right now.
Throughout this presentation (or reading this article) I would like to believe I will come across well, maybe confident, possibly lighthearted…maybe even funny! Some of you may warm to me as a speaker, or even as an individual.
However I feel like a fraud, a failure and a fake. I don’t believe I’ve done anything worthwhile to be the person giving this talk. There are people more qualified. There are people with more significant experiences worth sharing.
I’m just some guy with a story who likes talking.
I value myself less than the t-shirt I wear here today…and I think think it’s a pretty nice t-shirt. It has my logo on it and all!
When I openly say I suffer depression, am medicated and that considered suicide in 2017, understand that THIS is what THAT sort of person can look like.
It isn’t about crying and weeping in a corner…
…or being a Disney process and collapsing on the nearest object saying “woe is me”…
…nor is it about hiding in bed and wishing for death.
You can be, look and act like anyone else and still suffer.
That’s why I’m here today. I might consider myself a fraud and a fake, but I know that no one suspected this from me. No one knew what I was going through.
This is the first of a few points I want to make today.
This was how I felt at work. Everyday it felt the same.
Whilst I was never tossed out of a window, it did feel like having any form of social life, or just life, outside of work was frowned upon. What made this worse was it wasn’t actively frowned upon, it was completely passive aggressive…
…Oh you don’t want to spend any time with that team…
…It’s okay, we’ll stay late and pick up the slack…
From seeing friends, to taking part in sports, to having doctors appointments or even having children! The presentee-ism culture in the workplace was stifling to me as it was preventing me from doing what I enjoy most in life; spending time with the other people in it!
After a while, my personal life took a back seat to my professional life.
I am not an ‘old boy’. I am not part of a rugby club. I do not watch football on the weekend. I don’t know how to play golf.
I am quirky and I value myself on being different with experiences others don’t.
Being a generalist with a personality does not work in an industry that requires specialists.
This doesn’t make these place bad. It doesn’t make them ‘toxic’. It just means I wasn’t suited for that culture and that way of life.
As a result of my differences I can say in hindsight that I actively suffered from work place bullying. I was bullied for my hobbies. I was bullied for my taste in music. I was bullied for liking maths and cryptic crosswords. I was bullied for my hair…
…this one was fair…my hair hasn’t changed in 20 years…kind of like my taste in music…
I can remember every comment, every slur. I could name names. I won’t. These events stick with you and leave a mark on you.
You don’t realise it at the time, but this environment can, and was for me, damaging my physical and emotional well being. I didn’t know it at the time and I certainly didn’t know it when I was applying as a fresh faced university undergraduate!
Don’t worry about it…
You’re a little bit different and people are bullying you about it…
Don’t worry about it…
So you made a mistake in the sample size…
Don’t worry about it…
So there was a rounding error in a calculation that caused a discrepancy in an equity schedule…
Don’t worry about it…
So you only spent two hours reviewing the audit file…
Don’t worry about it…
Trust me. We all worry about it. In business nowadays everyone is under scrutiny, everything is reviewed, no one wants accountability and no one wants to take responsibility. However large; However small; letting go is a near impossibility.
This is mostly related to professional services because of increased market competition, but I can imagine it applying to other business sectors as well.
We can’t differentiate on quality anymore. Quality is assumed.
We can’t differentiate on our people too much. Being too different might scare the client.
So we differentiate by ‘putting ourselves in our clients’ shoes’ and trying to anticipate their every need and want. It’s a great time in a meeting when you get asked a question and already have a response and document prepared and ready to go. We can do that all the time. Right?
Well, we certainly try, but it differently brings up a few questions. We start second guessing everything as what we’re told isn’t what the client wants nor is it ultimately the reality of the situation. We try to anticipate what our boss wants whilst they are anticipate what their boss wants.
It is exhausting.
You finally get out of work. You finally make it home. You can finally do what you want; maybe not when you want, but at least what you want…
We are constantly questioned and under review all the time that we start reviewing ourselves. We try to anticipate how other people will respond to something we said. It just never ends.
This may not apply to everyone, but it certainly applied to me.
As I said at the beginning; generally speaking, not a dick. As a result of this people often say some nice things to me. The response to ‘Breaking the Stigma’ made me cry. The comments from people leading up to this talk made me cry. I am just a guy with a story who likes to talk. People shouldn’t be saying this about me! Or at least that’s what I think.
So here’s a couple of examples;
“Thank you for your hard work.”
Do they think I’m weak and need recognition? Do they think I could have worked harder? Do they think I made it hard? Do they think I don’t work hard the rest of the time? Do they think it was easy?
“You are beautiful.”
Do they think I need reassurance? Do they think I’m beautiful because of my make up? will they think I’m beautiful without make up? Am I only beautiful today and not the rest of the time? Have I put too much effort in? Are they coming onto me? Do they think all I am is beautiful and there’s no substance underneath?
I will say this once and once only. It is the first point I’ll make today.
Say thank you.
Make a habit of it.
Thank every person who does something for you. Even if they are well paid and rewarded and just doing what is expected, let them know you value them.
I can’t speak for everyone else, but if I call you beautiful, you better know it!
Let me just start by saying that,
I fucking love my friends and family. They are the absolute best. I want them in my life always and I wouldn’t change anything about them. Well…maybe a few things…
But this was the start of my darkness. I ended up not only questioning my own capabilities, but I questioned my relationships, some of which had lasted for years. It was an incredibly sad time.
I asked myself whether my friends actually liked me…did they just want me round for a superficial reason? Was it because I could and would buy all the drinks? Was it just because we’d known each other so long it was easier to keep up a charade than give up? Was it just convenience?
But then my family…did they even like me? We don’t share hobbies or past times. We don’t enjoy the same things and are from different generations. We value different parts of like. I knew they loved me, but did they like me? did they respect me for me?
My isolation grew.
Here’s my second point for the day. Took me almost 25 years to get here.
Stop saying “I’m fine” when you are not.
Stop saying “Things are okay” when they are not.
Start talking about how you are and how you feel. Culture has warped us to believe that feeling is a weakness. Culture has made it people expect men to always be strong.
We are the human species.
We are one of a few species on our planet Earth with real emotions and real emotional intelligence. Let’s embrace that!
If we don’t then we’re no better than the robots in factories that build cars, or the AIs we’re developing that will cause the end of days in a few years.
If you don’t embrace your emotions and talk about how you actually feel, this is where you can end up.
It’s where I ended up.
I was turning my back on my friends, my family, my loved ones.
I didn’t understand what was causing it at the time.
The pain was unreal.
I wanted it to stop.
I was consumed by it.
I was first diagnosed with depression in 2014 to 2015. In hindsight I can now see the signs of it running through my life since I was a teenager and throughout everything. I don’t blame this on anyone or anything. As I’ve said, your mental health is your own.
In 2017 following a number of significant life changed my depression got significantly worse. The catalyst for where I ended up was my wife Deborah leaving me after 11 years together, 12 months of individual therapy and 6 months of working together. She had accepted that she was a lesbian and that it was over and that there was no way to save it…
…my life fell apart…
I can remember her coming home one day and speaking to me in the kitchen whilst I was cooking a halloumi, pine nut and pesto pasta dinner for us…
…I’m a pretty good good cook, happy to share recipes if you want…
She said she was 90% sure it was over and that we couldn’t work things out and that she was going to leave.
I literally…and believe me when I say I fucking hate the word literally…collapsed on the floor in a ball.
I couldn’t do anything.
I made it to our bed. I stayed there. I missed my best friend’s first child’s naming day because the shame I felt was too great. The pain was beyond anything I have ever experienced.
But remember, it wasn’t just Deborah I lost. I lost the future we were building together.
We were redecorating our house. GONE.
We had our cats. GONE.
We were going to grow old together. GONE.
We were trying to have children together. GONE.
Suddenly my future was gone.
If someone asks me what depression is I answer along these lines:
Depression is a heavy numb emptiness in the centre of your being. It consumes every part of your personality, you emotions and your feelings. It doesn’t just remove the happy ones, it removed the sad ones as well. It leaves you numb. Everything about you, inside and out, is gone.
Just for the record, Deborah and I are actually still friends now. We are selling our house together. We will file for divorce together. We still talk and communicate with each other.
No one deserves to live a lie and I am proud that Deborah has the strength to be this honest with herself.
Don’t get me wrong.
But this is the right thing for both of us.
Here it is…
Didn’t think this was coming….
He wouldn’t tell us that would he?..
This is where I was one day. I was sat in front of the computer that I still use to this day. I remember it vividly.
I settled on the first choice.
I was too ashamed to leave the house and I didn’t want anyone else to have to suffer around me.
I sat there and I worked out the position in the house with the greatest load bearing capacity, least purchase for my feet, figured I’d probably need two leather belts as I’m a big lad…
One misconception is that people view ending your life as an often impulse thing. It isn’t. I spent hours researching, days contemplating and months considering. You exhaust every other option possible. You try everything else. You desperately seek a reason to keep going.
Moving swiftly on.
I struggled with the pain of losing everything in my life. The pain took me so far I went numb to the world and everything in it. I came to the conclusion after months of consideration that there was only one choice…
…Probably moments before I was about to end my own life, something happened.
I was reminded of someone; a different best friend.
I’d known her longer than I’d known Deborah. She had gone through something very similar the previous year…
…not the marriage and lesbian thing. I definitely win the “who’s got the biggest and baddest baggage?” game…
…I just heard her say…
You selfish bugger. Don’t you dare. There are those of us who need you.
She saved my life that day.
All it took was a simple reminder that sometimes people want you for just being you, even when you’re broken and empty, they just want you for who you are.
And I realised I wanted to make sure I did the same for others. If it wasn’t for the people around me, I wouldn’t be here. There are people out there who have no one around them. There are people in my situation that no one thinks could be struggling. They needed a voice.
I stopped giving a shit.
I almost didn’t have a future.
Now I want to make that future mean something.
I promoted my stream across all my gaming communities. I have around 200 active followers with regularly 5 to 10 people tuning in to view and chat. I’ve had up to 150 people viewing at one time and on the 24 hour stream I had 152 unique viewers and managed to raise almost £500 in a day.
I got my first tattoo for my stream.
Now I fucking hate needles. I really fucking hate needles.
Now my tattoos are a huge part of my life.
People tell me I’m emotional. People tell me I wear my heart on my sleeve. Now I literally…that fucking word again…do. Two in fact so far!
I’m slowly adding everything about my life that I love and that makes me who I am so that I can never ever lose it again. Who I am means something to me and I never want to forget that again.
Now I don’t give a shit.
I’m just me.
Here’s one of the most important lessons for today.
Life is unfair
Disney lied to us.
The universe owes us nothing.
There is no scales that balance out net neutral when you die so everyone has an equal number of positive and negative experiences.
But life being unfair isn’t all that bad…
It means nothing is deterministic. The bad times might not last forever because how long they last isn’t determined by the past in any way. Why not just stay a while and see?
Forget the past. Forget the future. Live in the now!
Mental health is a person journey and one that will last a lifetime.
I suffer from depression.
I have accepted that and it’s comforting in a way.
A friend told me that my relationship with myself is the longest one I will ever have, so I better settle in the for ride and get comfortable.
Whilst everyone’s journey is a personal one and everyone’s mental health is an individual experience, it doesn’t mean anyone is ever alone in facing it.
No one should ever feel alone.
Everyone should feel comfortable sharing.
And that is my final point.
And they didn’t…
The feedback I received from giving this talk was humbling.
I didn’t expect it.
I promised I would share these slides and the video (which will follow). If you’ve made it this far, I just ask one thing of you.
Share this far and wide.
Let everyone know that they can share.
Let everyone know they are not alone.
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