Walking back to happiness: How I left the City and learnt to live again
Justin reveals why he is trekking 55 miles from London to Colchester over Christmas to raise money for Mind.
Justin, who worked in the City till he had a breakdown, has become the first mental health first-aider at his company & is now raising money for Mind.
What makes a family man in his 40s to decide to sacrifice Christmas day with his family and walk 55 miles?
I spent most of my career working in London for some of the world’s largest financial companies. Even though I had some good times, towards the end it became a very lonely experience.
"I told one of my managers I had anxiety, and all they could say was “I’m sorry to hear that”. It was never discussed again."
My first mental health challenge was anxiety, which later progressed to depression. Eventually I told one of my managers I had anxiety, and all they could say was “I’m sorry to hear that”. It was never discussed again. When you are away from home 14 hours a day it’s so hard to find a way to recover and manage these types of conditions, especially when everyone else around you appears to be on top of the world and there is no support mechanisms. I spent most of my time in sales — the perfect environment to make your mental health deteriorate. Huge egos, no disclosure process for mental health and ultimately fear and greed driving business culture.
On reflection a mixture of long hours, commuting, being a new father, exams, big targets, inflexible working and a leadership culture of fear and uncertainty helped drive my mental health to a point three years ago on Boxing Day of total despair. I remember the dark day over Christmas I told my wife that I must get an emergency doctor’s appointment, and it’s a day I never want anyone else to go through. Holding it together at work and home was no longer possible – I was broken.
Today, thanks to lots of self-care and education, a change of job and with a focus on the future, my goal now is to help other people avoid the challenges I faced. I contacted 50 CEOs of some of the largest financial firms globally with an open letter and shared my experiences of poor mental health.
"So many people (especially men) struggle to find an outlet for their pain because there isn’t a culture allowing people to thrive at work."
Some engaged with me openly and invited further contact, so this has shown me that some companies are clearly wanting to make a difference. But many companies never responded - there is clearly more work to be done. As I’ve shared my story and ideas about wellbeing on social media numerous people have contacted me to say they are struggling with the same experiences of companies who don’t have health tools to develop mental health awareness. Some of these people are very experienced and senior within their organisations, but speaking out is a seen as taboo, and so many people (especially men) struggle to find an outlet for their pain because there isn’t a culture allowing people to thrive at work.
What’s been so refreshing since leaving the city is how my current company has embraced staff wellbeing and mental health. GFM Clear Comms has been massively supportive of me becoming their first mental health first aider and have also been my biggest charity supporter. It’s been a very different experience to my time in the City, and this has been so uplifting.
So that’s why I want to raise money for Mind, so they can help more people overcome the challenges of poor mental health. I faced a very big low point in my life, so I want to use all my strength and love today to make a very small difference to the challenges of poor mental health and how employers can make a much bigger difference in the future, so they have happier and healthier employees.
"I’ve decided to walk from London to my home town of Colchester to celebrate my new sense of purpose."
I’ve decided to walk from London to my home town of Colchester on Christmas day to say goodbye to the pain I suffered all these years ago and then celebrate my new sense of purpose and strength. Even though I have done a few months of training, I expect the walk to really test my feet and will power. It’s not going to be easy but then again nothing worthwhile in life is easy. I leave London at 6pm on Christmas Eve and hope to be back home for about four pm on Christmas day. I just hope my wife and son save me some dinner!
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