mental health


Woven into much of the material written on and around personal development, and implicit in what goes on in many coaching sessions and workshops, is that humans are more or less rational. Goal setting is the epitome of that worldview - get yourself an ambition, break it down into manageable steps, and launch yourself at it. The intensity of your commitment will see you through. 

I'm not so sure. People are multi-faceted. There are aspects of us we don't know very well, and would prefer didn't exist. Getting all whooped up and motivated about achieving a dream doesn't stop that being the case, though for a while it might be you can kid yourself that what matters is the loudest voice in your head rather than the soft chorus at the back.

I had a couple of stays in mental hospitals, in 2004 and 2006. The experiences were vile beyond belief, and I'm incredibly grateful for what ultimately came out of them in subsequent years. There were particular themes running through my psychoses which for a long time I couldn't make sense of. I identified with King Arthur at one point, and had a sense of Britishness that was surprising, and seemed to connect with deep historical currents. And in that Arthurian mode, I was concerned with how my country was under alien influence, easily identified by the kind of banal corporate abstract art that's bought by the metre and hangs in lobbies. 

The pinnacle of this fantasy involved me wandering through a hotel in central London. I was in the belly of the beast, and strode my way from floor to floor looking for the extra-terrestrials who had infiltrated Albion. Instead, I found the roof of the building, and pissed on it as I looked across the skyline to express my contempt for the interlopers. Heading back down to ground level I was wrestled to the ground by about half a dozen members of staff and bundled into the back of a police van. 

Prior to all this I'd been immersed in projects that I'd set outcomes for, broken down into achievable chunks, and I was making good progress. I'd written my first script for a BBC show, impressed the most powerful producer in British film with my work, and was picking up a reasonable amount of freelance copywriting jobs. 

Why I crashed and burned was for a tangle of reasons that hadn't been touched on in my personal development journey. Fast tracking myself through a range of NLP trainings had been an amazing experience that catalysed my ability to get things done, but there was deeper and stranger stuff lurking within. In the mash-up, it was me that got mashed. And it's taken years to make sense of that, during which I've become a fundamentally happier and more fulfilled person.

A good percentage of that NLP experience remains something of real value to me, not that percentages is an adequate way of thinking about it. And those learnings now exist within a wider context. All of that stomping about a hotel with shitty art on the walls looking for bad guy ETs turns out to have been a metaphor complete with minibar facilities, and a supporting cast of cops and waiters. It was about me understanding in some fundamental way who I am, and what I'm not. The King Arthur bit is admittedly grandiose, but the idea of a man standing up for values older than the era he lives in registers. And that's where the crappy corporate art is perfect, symbolising the kind of crass culture I have no desire to work in or contribute to. 

There's more too, about my growing sense of connection with nature, and how spending time in unspoilt places reinforces what's important in my life, and helps me make better choices about what I do, and who I do it with. I've also benefitted immeasurably from bodywork, counselling, and meditation, all of which have helped thread together unconnected strands of the person I'm becoming. Making stuff happen matters, sure. I'm doing more of that, about things that matter more. Intuition and heart guide me increasingly, and they lead me to forest walks and poetry, beach days collecting stones and watching waves, and happy times with friends and lovers. Psychotic episodes were an extreme form of escapology to help me get out of a life heading in the wrong direction, even though it was what I thought I wanted and had set goals to achieve. 

In turn, that growing sense of what I'm about has affected my approach to coaching. If you're after someone who'll get you hurtling towards whatever you think success is, odds are I'm not the person you need to speak to. If instead you've experienced some of that success and discovered that life hasn't somehow become fantastic as a result, or that something you can't account for seems to keep success at bay despite doing what the books and videos say, then you know where to find me.