Breathe Out – Volume 4
- Tell us a little about who you are, who you work for and what you do?
I’m Paul Birch, I work for Apogee Corporation who are a subsidiary of HP inc. I’m a Strategic Account Director and I manage client contracts and offer innovative solutions globally.
- How long have you been in your industry?
I have been doing this now for about 14 years. I came into the industry with no prior sales experience and prior to this I was a plasterer. I met my wife 14 years ago, she was a recruitment consultant and she helped to get me into this line of work. I am proud of the fact that I have managed to get to a senior position within six years. My wife helped get me into it, after about three years we started going out and we’ve now been together married for 11 years.
- What makes the business you represent unique in relation to mental health?
I’ve noticed a significant change in the last 2 years. They introduced a new senior HR person who previously worked for the BBC and she helped pioneer mental health and how important it is for the business. We’ve now got mental health awareness days and we can get consultations through our insurance. They have got a little way to go but they’re one of the more forward thinking organisations. In addition, we have mental health first-aiders all over the business. I was off poorly for four months straight and what struck me most is the fact that I was able to get full sick pay, which really helped me with my family and I will always appreciate that. I could not imagine having the added pressure while being off with mental health issues and have my pay deducted and potentially being on SSP. That would’ve really pushed me over the edge. So the fact that I was able to remain on my full salary for the time that I was off and support my wife and family, definitely contributed to a more positive mental health.
- Tell us something most people will not know about you.
As a hobby, I fly an aircraft (Piper Cherokee low wing). Nearly completed my PPL and I think I have about 4 hours and one exam left – before my practical cross-country flight and completion.
- As part of the Breathe Out initiative, which highlights the positive impact of talking to someone, especially if you are struggling and being active. How important are these two factors of combatting mental Ill-health to you?
I think they are synonymous with each other. I find when you are walking and talking you will naturally open up a little bit more. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter who you’re talking to, it can sometimes just be about getting things off your chest. In relation to exercise, oddly enough when I was first struggling last year, I did not want to do anything or go anywhere and it was my wife who said to me you need to get out a little bit and get some fresh air. I also remember the doctor asking me about exercise and I tried to brush it off explaining how busy I was with work. I know now the difference between running around in work and truly switching off and being active and the benefits it brings.
- Have you ever personally struggled with your own mental health. If so how did you or do you deal with it.
For me, that’s the ultimate question, as my mental health issue was actually developed by me at the age of 4 years old in an attempt to protect myself and mother from harm – a pattern I have found myself in many times in my life, just with different people but was completely unaware of until recently.
I feel that I need to stress right now that if you are struggling there is so much professional help out there; they can help you as they helped me. So I grew up in East London, not the most glamorous of places, tough, violent and bolshey. I have three older brothers and one younger sister. I remember when I was growing up, there was me, my brother, my mum and my dad was living with us. My dad was an extremely violent man, especially towards my mother. He had jealousy issues, loved to drink and was bit of a Jack the Lad. He was also a very intelligent man so he would play mind games with my mum and me to some extent. I was quite young at the time so I did not really understand what was going on. My brother is 5 or 6 years older than me. I have a bit of guilt because I know he will have seen and understood a lot, and that would definitely have affected him.
One of the first experiences is I remember my mum being attacked and sexually abused by my dad. He used to look forward to finishing work and having a few jars down the pub but that came at a cost to the home environment and I realised at an early age that I had a role to play in protecting my mum from any further attacks and abuse. From the age of around 4 or 5 I would almost play the role of a Jester. I would wait until my dad would come home from the pub or work and try to entertain him by making him laugh or showering him with affection, the aim of diverting his attention away from her. Eventually mum would built up the courage to kick him out. I vividly remember an occasion of him knocking on the door and my mum refusing to let him in. He was trying to bribe me to open the door, promising me sweets, toys and even money. I knew then that he was a bad man and what he would do to us if I let him in. He was good at emotional blackmail. I remember him fake crying in front of me, saying look what my mum had made him do after he had battered and stabbed her to bloody mess in front of me – that was hard to understand.
Fast forward life a little, Mum is working, all of my brothers had moved out and it was just my mum and me. I remember at an early age preparing the dinner for us both and having it ready for when my mum got home from work, which was sometimes after 9pm, I was maybe 7 or 8 years old. Sometimes my mum would bring a new boyfriend home and I would hear her with other men and associate that with what I’d heard with my dad. They would sometimes treat her badly and she once blamed me because he did not like the fact that she had a kid – this is where my mental pattern of protecting would come in again, offering distraction of some kind – anything to stop what was going on. I remember one year asking for a music player for Christmas to drown out some of the noises I would hear. However, I need to stress; I do not blame my mum for what I’ve been through and what I experienced. She had her own stuff going on and my god, she had an incredibly hard life with my father and other people she felt close to. Now, she’s an incredible mother, she’s a fantastic grandmother in a much better place – but sadly, still blames herself for what went on.
Fast forward to February last year, I was trying to show the business and my directors what was possible by using a different approach to business. My life at that time was consumed with work and chasing the money, desperately trying to prove a point – but who that point was for and what it was, I will never know. Apparently, this is where I started to ‘lose’ myself. According to the psychologist’s, my mind had decided it was no longer taking on any information – I effectively went into auto pilot and was almost trapped in my own mind, unable to control thoughts, feelings and sometimes actions – It was described as having outer body experiences. This is commonly known as ‘DPD’ or Dissociative Personality Disorder. This is temporary, a way for your mind to protect itself.
When the DPD had finally stopped, I felt completely out of control. I felt like the world was against me and I was on my own. This was the first day of my annual leave; I made a quick excuse to my wife and left the house. At that moment, I had made the decision that I was no good to anyone and that I wanted to end things. I was going to drive into the river Thames near the Dartford tunnel and with my windows slightly ajar, drown myself. My boss called me while I was driving and knew there was something seriously wrong. He saved my life that day by somehow getting me to my brothers. I didn’t do it that day but a few weeks later I still had the urge and remember trying to get my family out of the house to harm myself again – I was still not well and this time it was my youngest son who saved my life. He came to me and asked me if I was okay. He told me that he loved me and that I was the best dad in the world – it broke me, I looked into his beautiful eyes and knew I could never leave them.
It was at that point that I decided to get help. I went to the doctors; I told the receptionist that I needed to see a doctor. I remember her saying that there were no appointments that day and that I should come back tomorrow. I explained to her that if I did not see a doctor immediately, she would be indirectly responsible for an imminent death. Bless that poor woman, she looked traumatised by the blunt retort, but she called the paramedic immediately. So, after some time in psychiatric care, many sessions with lots of councillors identifying the pattern I have lived since 4 years old and with the love and support from my wife and kids – I’m still here, fighting the fight and grateful for everyday.
- In business there is a stigma attached to people with mental health issues. Why do you think that is?
Because as men, since the dawn of time, we have always been told the same thing by our peers; “Gotta get a job and support your family, give them the best life you can – be a man”. The problem with that is, women also work and support families, and this archaic attitude has no place in modern society – especially in the workplace. It has been drummed into men from such a young age – so we hide any feelings or weaknesses that could potentially threaten our ability to be a ‘man’.
If you do show any signs of mental health struggles, people automatically think you are a psychopath and going to murder everyone! Therefore, their natural reaction is to leave you in the corner to your own devices with just an uncertain, self-re-assuring nod occasionally. Ultimately, people then believe you are unable to do your job and it spirals out of control.
- What tips or guidance could you offer other people who are maybe struggling with their own mental health?
Do not sit in your bed or home alone. Get your shoes on (slippers not accepted), open the front door and take a deep breath. Put one foot in front of the other and walk. If you have some earphones, listen to a podcast, your fave album and just keep walking.
Go to see your doctor and if you need to, take a friend with you. Explain your thoughts and feelings and ASK FOR HELP to rationalise the unwanted feelings.
Most importantly, and I cannot stress this enough; if you are in a relationship, living with your partner and have children – please speak to your partner, out of earshot from the kids and explain you are feeling vulnerable. Take your partner and kids to the park and have that conversation. Ask for help in getting a plan together.
YOU ARE NOT BROKEN – ITS JUST A CHEMICAL THING AND NOTHING IS AS BAD AS IT SEEMS IN YOUR HEAD.
Participants – Paul Birch – Apogee, Del McGee and Mark Day Proceed Solutions
Location – Sefton Park, Liverpool
If you would like to feature on future sessions please contact firstname.lastname@example.org