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Expect Nothing & Accept Everything

19th September 2018 Marc Caulfield - Demolish The Wall

“Things I used to love doing, such as pitching and presenting had become a living nightmare.”  A personal story about mental health at work.  

Two and a half years ago I left the advertising industry after 27 years. I now run Demolish the Wall, a mental health consultancy, with Jon Waters another ex-ad man. Please forgive the company and individual names I mention as many of you may not have heard of them; but suffice to say they are or were leaders in the industry.

Mental health has always been something very close to my heart. I have suffered myself for many years, some of those years in silence and some with the help of doctors and psychotherapists. I started my career in the advertising business in 1989 as a media buyer at Ogilvy & Mather.

I recall my first day included a 3-hour pub session –  at 19 years old I thought I had found heaven! My career bumped along for a while but really took off in 1992 when I joined MediaCom. I had a brilliant boss, learnt loads, was getting promoted regularly and earning more money. All was good in my world. 

In 2000 I was at the peak of my self-belief, creating a joint venture with the brilliant and formidable Christine Walker and Phil Georgiadis of the then called Walker Media. What I didn’t realise was this ‘self-belief’, or arrogance as some people would have said at the time, was an unconscious act. It was created out of very fragile self-belief and ironically very little real confidence in my abilities. I didn’t then realise that certain behaviours I was exhibiting were me ‘self-medicating’ myself into a mess.

Things I used to love doing, such as pitching and presenting had become a living nightmare as undiagnosed anxiety and depression took a hold of me. This could result in an inability to speak or get my words out during critical meetings and pitching would be avoided at any cost. It felt like I was being throttled sometimes; I was having panic attacks without knowing.

More ‘self-medication’ didn’t help and when bouts of uncontrollable crying on my commute became a regular occurrence, I decided I needed to do something and fast before it all fell apart. I was having suicidal thoughts and had suddenly gone from thinking ‘I can do anything I want’ to ‘I can’t do this anymore or I can’t get out of bed in the morning and I hate myself’.

I went through a series of unsuccessful meetings with counsellors and psychotherapists until finally I found ‘the one’. She was brilliant, and I told her things about me that no one else knows. Over the next four years I saw her once a week and she changed my life; she taught me why I do certain things, not to beat myself up as we are all human, to remove myself from certain situations and that it is OK if you never ‘rediscover’ the old you, as it wasn’t me in the first place.

The advertising world, as with many businesses, is full of brilliant people doing amazing work, however extreme pressure, stress, drinking culture and substance use (it is still rife whatever people say, just more discreet), margin erosion, procurement, long hours and relentless pitching and / or driving for new business makes a dangerously heady brew without doubt leading to many problems for people in today’s business world. Our work as Demolish the Wall has shown us there is no business area that has escaped unscathed from the above. 

All business is categorically about people. The people are what makes it great and drives revenue and profitability. As Richard Branson has said, ‘Look after your people, they will look after your clients / customers and they will look after your business’. This is surely what every organisation wants?

The word stigma is massively overused in the mental health arena, but the simple fact is that you can’t talk about your mental health as openly as you can your physical health. Many people I know in business, including myself, effectively put a concrete ceiling over their heads when they raised their mental health as an issue. It is quite simple; unrelenting pressure leads to stress. Pressure and stress are normal human reactions but the key here is their constant presence. Where this goes unabated; as let’s be honest does happen in many organisations, stress often moves to anxiety and /or depression and all the dreadfulness that comes with this volatile package. 

There is much work to do before talking openly about one’s mental health is more universally accepted; however, the journey has started, and Demolish the Wall are at the forefront of this journey.

Mental health and well-being is now being discussed more openly but more can always be done. For family businesses, the topic can be equally, if not more pertinent, and itis great to see organisations such as Demolish the Wall putting the topic firmly on the agenda.

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