I’m not OK – and why you should care


About 4 weeks ago I was hit by chronic insomnia and anxiety. I felt exhausted and yet couldn’t sleep.  When this occurred for 5 days in a row I felt the dreaded Black Dog on my heels. I began to feel my mood was out of control.

As many of you would know, 11 years ago I began recovering from a long and protracted depression. This had lasted for 5 years and my psychiatrist described it as the worst he had ever treated. My fear was that this new episode would follow a similar path and this was a very, very scary thought. It is hard to describe the helplessness I felt, especially when I have educated others about how to manage their mood. I felt like a fraud. I did cut myself some slack by remembering that 50% of our mood is determined by our genetics and I obviously I have a predisposition to depression. I’m convinced we teach what we most need to learn.

I was catastrophizing every issue that arose, and the thought of public presentations filled me with a panic I hadn’t known for a decade. Presentations and workshops are normally something that I love and find very fulfilling.

After an exhausting and sleepless weekend I told my wife Karen that I needed help. This was very hard to admit as she had never seen me in this state since we met 6 years ago. She was magnificent in her support, and with her help we set a plan in place to address this crisis.

Karen encouraged me to follow my own advice 🙂

I let some close friends and family know that I was experiencing a depressive episode and was amazed by the genuine love and support I received. I also let some of my R U OK? Colleagues and despite being unbelievably busy in the countdown to R U OK? Day. on September 14. People called or texted or invited me for coffee or to go for a walk.

We cancelled some speaking bookings that I had already committed to. This was very hard to do as I hated the thought of letting people down, but I knew it was best for all concerned in the long run.

We set about trying to make an appointment with a psychiatrist and I was reminded how hard this can be. I discovered my previous psychiatrist was on a 6 week European vacation. Through my work I had met a number of other good psychiatrists. Even with this inside knowledge and pulling every string I know, it wasn’t easy. One doctor I admired couldn’t see me for 10 days which seemed like an eternity. Finally it was my Karen who was able to set up an appointment with a highly respected specialist. I had been off medication for 6 years but accepted his judgement that it was time to return.

I had known through previous episodes that exercise had been critical to my recovery. My previous research into how 4000+ people had recovered from depression showed that this was a critical building block for recovery. My daughter had recently committed to Steptember which required her to walk 10,000 steps each day, and raise funds for Cerebral Palsy research. I sponsored her and decided to follow her lead. I may not have been able to control my mood in those early days, but I could control walking 10,000 steps each day. Some days I didn’t feel like it – but I did it.

I also started to meditate again as I knew from the previous experience that this was wonderful for my wellbeing. I could kick myself for letting this wellbeing practice slip from my daily routine. I resolved to meditate for 30 minutes in the morning and evening.

I’m not sure which of these four practices (emotional support, medication, exercise, meditation) had the most impact on my wellbeing, but after 2 weeks of faithfully following this plan I began to feel remarkable stronger.

I’m not out of the woods yet – but I’m now confident that I am on the path to full recovery.

Why should you care?

It is highly probable that someone that matter to you is in struggling. I know this because when I ask people in my workshops to raise their hands if they know someone close to them who struggles with depression or anxiety between 70-90% of attendees raise their hands. Statistics tell us that one in four adults will be struggling with depression, an anxiety disorder, or a substance abuse addiction.

These are people who could be going through divorce, caring for an aging parent or sick child, unemployed, or in financial distress. Or there may be nothing apparently wrong.

How can you help those people that matter to you?

My recent episode reminded me that:

  • When we are in the Red Zone (depressed/anxious) we feel helpless and out of control. We lose hope. We find it hard to talk about- this is especially true of men. We feel ashamed. This is when it is imperative to have the encouragement and support from loved ones. My episode reminded me of how critical it is to have people around you who say you matter, and ask “Are you OK?”
  • From my previous research I developed a video and poster called – I CARE: 5 ways to help a stressed workmate- having personally applied these recommendations I am convinced they work. You can view the video below.

  • You can download the I CARE poster here
  • It is easy to become complacent about our mental health and think we are too busy to do the things that keep us strong and robust.
    What am I going to do about it?

    Of course I am going to continue to do the things that have helped with my recovery. I am also going to commit to creating an:

    • I CARE book, and;
    • I CARE online course.

    Would you like to help me co-develop these resources?

    If you are a people manager or work in HR or WHS I would love your help to co-develop these resources. How would this work? In 2 weeks time I will share the table of contents and ask for feedback, and every 2 weeks after that I will share 2 chapters in PDF and request feedback. If you are interested in being involved please email jenny@graemecowan.com.au and provide a phone number so that I can call you to discuss this process in more detail.

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