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It was 2014.
My heart rate had risen sharply, my vision distorted, I could just about make out the faces immediately in front of me, my peripheral vision had failed. I could feel my palms starting to sweat and I was not sure if I was about to pass out. However, sitting across my boardroom table was a very important client and I needed to close this deal. My office back then was 2,500 kilometres from home and I had no experience with the local medical system. I decided that if this was a heart attack or a stroke, it would have to wait. I needed to close the deal and I was not going to be distracted. I took great care and attention with my focus, knowing my innate abilities and habits built over twenty years of closing deals would get me over the line. I just needed to stay conscious.
Upon closing the meeting, the client wanted a tour of the office, to which I obliged, despite still struggling to hold myself up. I moved around the office surfing on the backs of chairs. As he engaged with the various staff members, I used the time to test for any improvement in my condition, or was I getting worse? But the fact was: I was not improving, instead I was actually feeling weaker by the minute. Nothing was working. Finally he left. I called a cab and headed back to my hotel.
Upon arriving at the hotel I decided that the best medicine was a stiff drink, followed by a few more. As I sank a few glasses of wine I felt my body relax, my heart rate slowed and everything started to feel ok. I didn’t know what had just happened, but it was nothing that a nice bottle of wine couldn’t fix.
This was one of the most extreme events that had occurred to me over a series of weeks where I was feeling gradually more anxious, stressed and overwhelmed by life. In particular, but not that I could see the connection at this point, I was getting flashbacks of my late son Joshua. At this point work was genuinely stressful, we were two years into a start-up, and ‘it wasn’t my first rodeo’, I enjoyed start-up stress.
I was travelling each week via multiple airports, various flight connections and travel days that could exceed ten hours on the road and in the air. I was away from my family (Beatrice, Luca and our two dogs) most weeks from Monday to Friday. This was always going to be a challenge as I am a very family orientated person. At the weekends my focus was my family, my son’s sporting activities, walks with our dogs and time with my wife.
Research has shown that interaction with your family, pets and time in nature are proven healing sources for the mind and body. They are recharging stations away from the modern day stresses. So, by restricting my interaction with my family to weekends, I was already creating a mental challenge. Let's throw in 165+ flights a year, a start-up, a recent relocation of the family home (twice in 4 months, with our entire belongings in and out of a new country) and a general feeling of mild anxiety that had been trickling through my blood for two to three months. Cap all that off with the fact that ‘a drink or two’ in the evening generally calmed down the senseless chatter in my mind, made me feel ‘relaxed’ but added to the cocktail of toxicity that was washing through my blood. Underlying all of this was the fact that my son Joshua had died three years earlier and I had not properly mourned his passing. I assume you can also imagine what my diet looked like, 150 days a year in a hotel, 165 flights a year, 16+ hours a day working…
The human body sends you signals when all is not well. Mine had been sending signals for three months, but I chose to ignore them and preferred to stay on the attack in the boardroom. I flew home to Ireland and went to the hospital. They checked everything over and said I was fine. The doctor did ask if I was suffering from stress? I laughed this off and said ‘I am the CEO of a startup - it is good stress’. This is an important point, there are some very good and sensible tests that a qualified professional can use to test your stress levels. A simple question like the one I received will unlikely ever warrant a response that could raise the alarm bells.
I went home and told my wife all was well physically and reached for a nice bottle of wine. As the days passed I started to worry more about money, constantly counting, I was worried about geo politics and possible wars, I was concerned about things that really I could neither influence nor control. Anything bad that looked like a possible worry point was added to my ever-increasing list. In some ways I was very lucky that this whole process arrived at significant pace as I had moved from ‘happy go lucky’ to this point within less than three months. I was no longer sleeping well, constantly waking, constantly worrying, my diet was all but dead and I was losing weight on a daily basis. I had no interest in anything else other than work. I continued to fly, I continued to work, but as my batteries were dying, so was I.
Another three weeks passed and then Beatrice pointed out that I had stopped petting our dogs. I knew that this action like so many others had been restricted as I had no energy, but I truly struggled to articulate this point. She was upset and told me she was really worried about my health. It was at this moment that I started to take notice.
I phoned a friend of mine who coaches CEOs globally and asked him if he knew anyone who could help me. My thoughts were lucid enough to tell me that I did not want to go down the medicated route - I wanted a holistic solution as I felt it was the only way I could get effective and long lasting help. But I needed it fast, anywhere in the world and I was ready to do whatever it took to get me there. Over the next few days my thoughts turned incredibly dark…. Remember, very limited sleep, appalling diet, too much alcohol, self loathing and a worrying sense of hopelessness were all conspiring to create the perfect storm.
The next morning my wife walked into the kitchen and turned on the radio. On the air was an Indian psychiatrist being interviewed about his eastern techniques. He was advocating his belief that all anxiety, stress, depression or post traumatic stress could be tackled with breathing techniques, basic meditation and time. This was my man, I knew instinctively this was what I needed.
I met him that week and we started working on my history. The following Sunday morning I was sitting at my kitchen table, life from the outside looked great, beautiful home, good business, nice cars and the usual trappings of wealth. Internally I was now hitting rock bottom. I sat at the kitchen table and started to plan my suicide as that was the obvious way out of this mess.
Join me next week for the next installment. Remember if any of this resonates please seek help. Stress kills and it has a huge array of weapons to choose from.
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(If you haven’t read my first article on linkedIn I suggest you do so as these articles follow a chronology of events. CLICK HERE FOR LAST WEEK'S ARTICLE )