I’ve suffered with anxiety throughout most of my life,
but it wasn’t until a decade ago that I even knew that’s what it was. And oddly, I have Peter Andre to thank for that. While it would be fair to assume that another chart comeback post-Insania / A Whole New World remake is enough to cause nightmares, it wasn’t that.
Once upon a time I worked for ITV as a Senior Developer. While there, I was watching a live recording of GMTV, where Peter Andre was ensconced on the sofa talking about his mental health battles. I watched, fascinated, as he described his experience with panic attacks; a light bulb switched on in my head when I realised that I did too.
Finally, I had a name for what I was feeling.
Watching a man talk so openly about his feelings back then felt monumental. Nowadays, anxiety has become the zeitgeist of mental health and while there is an abundance of think pieces on the topic, men remain the minority authors or speakers. This is particularly worrying when the statistics reveal that:
- 12.5% of men are suffering with mental health problems;
- Men are three times more likely than women to become alcohol or drug dependent;
- Men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women, representing only 36% of referrals to IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies); and
- 76% of all suicides are men.
While I now knew what I had was anxiety, talking about it still wasn’t easy when you’re not a slick-haired, six-packed celebrity who earns millions from sharing the minutiae of your life with the general public.
At the end of 2018, I began struggling again when I moved from contracting to consulting and needed to be onsite at four different client bases. For around six months, I was waking up everyday and not knowing where I was required to be / when, which was incredibly stressful. The nature of our job is dealing with dysfunction and the mental overload of context-switching became completely overwhelming. It was almost impossible to fully focus and commit to one thing as I was always forward-planning and moving on to the next. 101 Ways HQ became a safe haven; somewhere I could ‘hide’.
I was worried about admitting that I couldn’t cope, so I tried to deal with it by myself, but it began impacting not only my work life, but my home life too. I became really restless and lost sleep, which meant I was constantly on edge. I have two wonderful, boisterous boys aged 6 and 8 and it pains me to admit that I would be less patient with them and have a shorter fuse.
The feeling of tension in my chest was a daily occurrence until it got to the point where I felt trapped and didn’t know what to do. It took a lot of courage, but eventually I spoke to senior management about my concerns. First and foremost, I needed to know whether feeling the way I did was normal, or was it just me who was unable to manage? Luckily, our CEO, Kelly was really supportive and gentle with me, explaining that it was a symptom of what happens when you’re lacking stability. Sharing the load, and importantly just feeling able to talk about it with both colleagues and family, made me feel better. But I knew it wasn’t as simple as that and I also needed to carve out long-term strategies for being able to deal with my anxiety when (not if) it rears its head again.
After speaking to a therapist, I realised that there were things I could do to feel in control again. It was clear that I needed to redress my work / life balance and maintaining an exercise routine became an incredibly important part of that. I prioritised going to the gym or running in the mornings and attending jiu jitsu classes twice a week in the evening. Jiu jitsu specifically helped me focus on one thing for a couple of hours; everything else that is churning around my brain just melts away.
At work I was able to cut down on the number of clients to a manageable load and if there were particular areas – such as the commercial, rather than technical side of projects – where I needed a helping hand then I felt able to reach out to colleagues with more expertise who would support me and vice versa.
Anxiety can affect anyone; but having it isn’t the whole problem, it’s not being able to share your feelings about it, especially for men. It’s not weak to ask for help – no-one expects you to do it alone. I hope that sharing my story helps break that taboo because as another celeb (Bob Hoskins) famously quipped, it really is ‘good to talk’.