Drawing of group therapy. I'm holding my head in my hands

That’s me, on the right

My story

I drew this immediately after my first group therapy session, having been admitted to psychiatric hospital.

I talked for a while, then burst into tears and kept crying for several minutes.

The people on either side of me put a hand on me.

I particularly remember that.

It felt good.

But I couldn’t stop crying for a while.

Afterwards, I was exhausted. But relieved too.

Unfinished Q&A: some answers

Corporate

A talk, on Zoom. Ran out of time to answer all the questions I received. So I wrote down the ones I missed, and I’m sharing the answers here in hope they are useful. NOTE: I’m not a professional, this is just a personal response.

Q. I always put others first, how would you recommend I take the first steps to look after my well being?

A. You could try thinking about your own inner 4-year-old, and ask yourself every so often if what you are doing suits her/him. The key is to build up a clearer sense of what your own instinct is, from one moment to the next – something that many dutiful people bury for years.

Q. What do you think about letting your experiences define you?

A. Things that have happened to me did happen to me. I can’t change that. I can only change how I respond to it. These days, instead of thinking that I’m a fundamentally broken person, useless because I had a breakdown, I think that my breakdown was like being caught in a thunderstorm: it wasn’t my fault, any more than the weather.

Q. I lost my mother to suicide and often think of suicide, without doing anything. Is thinking about suicide often a problem?

A. First of all, I’m very sorry to hear that. It must have been incredibly difficult, and I’m sure it still is. As for you, it’s not a bad thing to think of suicide, provided that you don’t act on it. It’s hardly surprising, given what you have experienced. But if you are thinking that way more often than previously, it’s a good idea to talk to somebody as there may be other things going on in your life that need to be addressed. (NOTE: I’m not a professional, this is just my suggestion.)

Q. How do you cope with the ups and down at work?

A. Better than I did, but not always well! It’s difficult. But accepting that it’s difficult is half the battle. How could it not be difficult, sometimes? One thing I do is try not to take the ups any more seriously than the downs.

Mental, physical… you can’t keep them apart

About therapy

Years ago, when I was training as an executive coach (did I mention that before?) I was also training in theatrical impro.

Naturally, I was very excited to learn about the work of Fritz Perls, the therapist who used theatrical techniques he had learned as a young man.

In Gestalt sessions, Perls would not look into patients’ past or future but encouraged them to be entirely present, so that they might notice what he called the “civil war of inner conflicts”.

Rather wonderfully, you can watch Perls at work on YouTube.

“I disregard most of the content of what the patient says,” he explains in this video (below), “and concentrate most on the non-verbal level.”

I recommend that you watch all the way through, because his introductory remarks are helpful.

When you get to 4mins 20sec, you’ll see the first moment where he draws attention to a seeming conflict between 1) what a patient says and 2) what she does:

Do you ever do what Gloria did? I certainly do.

In my next post, I’ll share another thing Perls did which I subsequently used, often to tremendous laughter, in corporate workshops that were not “therapy” but straightforward impro.

It turned out to be incredibly valuable to me in psychiatric hospital. But that’s another story!

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Mental Health in Law Firms

Corporate, My story

If you run a law firm, or run the HR team, you might find it helpful to hear about what seems to have gone down well at Slaughter and May, Linklaters, Freshfields and many other firms in the City and outside London.

My next talk is at another Magic Circle firm. I thought it might help drum up attendance if I recorded a 1m video for the people there. If you’d like me to talk at your firm, I’m sure I could do something similar.

For a bit more detail, try this video:

Thank you for watching.

JP

International Men’s Day: Join Me

Events, My story
Highly professional video by JP Flintoff

Tuesday 19 November is International Men’s Day.

When I first started thinking what to do with my own experience of breakdown and recovery, I thought about publishing my drawings as a book, with the title:

How To Stop Your Man Falling Apart (and what to do if it’s happened already)

I haven’t published the pictures yet, under that title or any other. But I’ve shown them to hundreds of people, who seemed to find them interesting and helpful.

I am going to talk about my experience online on Tuesday. If you’d like to join me, you’d be very welcome.

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What more can companies do?

Corporate

Every company says it cares about employee well-being. But if nobody would say the opposite, the statement is hollow.

So the real test is not what they say but what they do.

Too often, internal talks and training about well-being attract the same people again and again. Others, who perhaps need this most, stay away. I’ve lost count of the number of HR people who’ve told me this, and fret about how to attract a wider audience.

Well, if the people in charge don’t show up that sends a pretty clear message: it’s not important.

It says: we don’t want to hear about that stuff.

Which in turn becomes a major block for staff experiencing difficulty. Naturally enough, they assume that nobody wants to know.

Obviously, we’re all busy. The entire management team can’t come along to everything. But it makes a difference if somebody senior attends.

Yesterday, for the first time outside London, I gave a talk about my breakdown. The audience comprised several dozen lawyers at the large East Anglian firm Birketts – plus the firm’s two most senior partners.

At the end, one of those two asked me what else they could do to help normalise conversations about mental health.

I thought about it for a moment, then made a suggestion which elicited lively debate from people around the room. But my suggestion, and the lively debate, aren’t what inspired this post.

What really matters is that the man in charge came along to listen and, in front of all those employees, he asked that question.

How to describe yourself after breakdown?

My story

One reason (of thousands) why people may not want to go into mental hospital is because we worry about how we might be described, both then and afterwards.

“Nutcase,” for instance.

Of course, few people are as heartless as to say that. But still, we wonder how to describe the person we have become.

I did, anyway.

I was recently asked to describe myself so that a friend could introduce me to some influential people who might help me spread the word. I didn’t know what I could say, so I asked a handful of friends.

Here’s one of the replies, edited to protect other peoples’ identities:

It is helpful.

I have had mental health problems, but I was previously, and often still am, together and positive.