How do you climb a mountain?
The past couple of weeks have seen me setting out to start a bunch of tasks and completing none. The irony of suffering from both impulsivity and procrastination is not lost on me. I suspect it is more common than I realise, but, this is about me.
However, there is, a little more behind my reluctance in putting index finger(s) to keyboard of late. Following my initial post, I was riding a wave of back slapping (I’m not quite sure what a book tour entails but I was arranging one in my head). That being said a book tour now probably means a trip in an amazon delivery van.
Despite the strong support, I found myself questioning my motives for penning this blog in the first place. As with most things, there are multiple reasons, therapeutic value for a start, I find writing cathartic. It also helps me to make sense of what is going on in my often racing head. There is an element of wanting to help others, this is called service in the anonymous programs. I do know that many men cant say or more likely don’t understand what is going on for them. I have spent the majority of my life in the later category.
However, the uncomfortable truth, and much to my shame, I cannot escape the fact that I need validation.
To be clear, as human beings we all need validating (I may get this point wrong so please excuse the psychiatric ignorance). However, our need for external validation and more importantly our sources of receiving external validation can often be a sign of a bigger problem under the surface.
In my case, this is certainly true. I have struggled with self esteem for a lot longer than I would care to admit to. I have often compensated for my own insecurities by being something of a jack the lad, masking my own failings in ‘banter’. To be fair some of it was very funny. And I don’t think it was particularly disingenuous. My sense of humour has been a strong crutch at times and I am grateful that, for the most part, people pretend to understand it.
But my antics have also cost me dearly. As I eluded to previously, the loss of my marriage, or more accurately the throwing away of my marriage, has been a cloud which I have failed to get out from under until only recently. Fun Fact, no one prepares you for how to handle your divorce. Given that 1 in 2 now ends that way you would have thought people would read up on the subject a little more prior to saying “I do”. Then again, who listens to the safety briefing on an airplane?
I didn’t possess the self-awareness to recognise what being married did for me on a pure self-esteem basis. Which is why I capitulated, when it was over. I had no safety net in place.
This however was not the start of my journey with lack of self esteem. I think this started at a much younger age. The eldest of three brothers, my world changed when I was 3 and my brother Sean was born. Sean has severe down syndrome as well as other health complications. To say that life was stressful for my parents, would be doing them a huge disservice. It must have been terrifying having a kid with that many problems in a health system where you could not speak the language.
Much of Seans early life was spent in hospitals both in HK and the UK. At the point when my youngest brother Robert came in to the world, Sean was in an isolation ward in the New Territories of HK with chicken pox, and my mum was in hospital on HK island. My father spent the time doing shuttle runs across HK, for the unfamiliar, think crossing London whilst speaking Chinese.
Meanwhile, I was farmed out to family friends. I had a great time with my friends, but it was pretty indicative of how things were going to go. This was the beginning of my transition to being ‘the exiled child’.
Basically the exiled child sits outside of the family unit and fly’s under the radar (emotionally) seeing their role as being to cause a few problems as possible. Thus creating potential problems down the line. The toxic messaging this can create within a person can be very hard to unlearn. Core beliefs such as “I dont matter”, “I am unloveable” are compounded by a lack of emotional maturity in both identifying and more importantly articulating the persons emotional needs. More simply, you find yourself in a spiral whereby you don’t say what is up, so you don’t get needs met, you then carry resentments, which build up in to an overwhelming ball of negativity. This can be a breeding ground for addiction.
What does this mean?
By way of recent example, I was due to be spending some time in a home for the bewildered, more commonly known as a rehab. This was my second stint in such a facility. Chiang Mai had been epic and I had learnt a lot, but I didn’t stay clean. I relapsed almost immediately upon discharge. An occurrence that is amazingly common I am told but that didn't stop me feeling shame around the fact.
Upon arrival in said facility, it became clear that I was putting the opinion of others ahead of my own. Having been informed by my new counsellor within 20 minutes of first meeting, that I “had no meaningful relationships” my mind was made up. I couldn’t ignore that big, angry, knot in my stomach. The anxiety I was experiencing stemmed from my history of not articulating my needs. My natural reaction would normally be to overlook this and bitch about it later. At least now I am cutting out the middle man, progress…not perfection.
In my defence, a few weeks earlier, a seed had been planted which would, if true, cast a very different light over my life thus far. Whilst seeing a doctor friend to discuss my addiction, she happened to mention about ADHD. More accurately, she happened to mention about my ADHD. Which at this point, I didn’t have, or so I thought.
School for me, was a mixed bag. Thankfully, I attended schools that were less academically motivated than they could have been. However, from a young age academics were a big source of pain and humiliation. Being relatively articulate and personable as a child, teachers were often underwhelmed by my written abilities. Homework was (occasionally) submitted, only to be returned with a sea of red ink.
Mathematics was not as bad, but I was often penalised for my lack of working, it turns out you were wrong even when you were right. When I was later diagnosed dyslexic, I was afforded air cover that meant schooling became a lot less painful. Teachers may have been able to say something to the lazy kid, but they couldn’t say too much to the dyslexic kid. Problem solved.
As I grew older, my dyslexia became a lot less problematic, assisted largely by my attendance at Millfield School, which specialised in dyslexia. Millfield streamed kids from an early age which suited me, and allowed me to space to get my writing up to a workable level. I also found the Rugby a good confidence boost, and whilst there I was fortunate enough to play with some truly world class players.
My progress in the sport was cut short by a combination of my lack of gym work and to my mind at least, a personality clash with a particular coach. Sad as it may sound all these years later, the relegation from first grade and the status it provided me, internally as well as externally still plays out. What should be a good, healthy, release for me, still provides me with a somewhat uncomfortable reminder of potential unmet.
The concept of being good, but not good enough, is one that has defined most of my existence and is still prevalent even today. I look back at my youth and it was constantly filled with “if you got fit, etc etc”. The implication being that in your present physical condition you were not good enough. At times, it feels as though the only advice people can offer males with mental health issues is to “go for a run”, “get fit”. Im not going to pretend that there are not obvious health benefits both mental and physical to being “fit”. But I do think that things are not nearly that simple. Fitness is also a relative term, whilst lately I have been in pretty bad shape, I have previously played a decent standard of rugby, fought in two boxing fights, cycled across three countries and most recently with no preparation boshed a 20km hike through hilly terrain. Im not exactly a slouch.
And yet, only two months ago, I found myself completely overwhelmed. Having recently moved house and being forced through my own lack of DIY skills to become completely reliant on outside help for the smallest of jobs, I realised I was actually unfit for life. Unknowingly, I had outsourced my life for the past few years, ably assisted by my iphone. I had people to do my cleaning, people to do my laundry, I was eating deliveroo daily and thanks to lock down the majority of my social interaction (of a plutonic nature) was also via smartphone. The trouble was not so much that I wasn’t doing the housework, it was that I wasn’t being present for anything. People speak of mindfulness, as some mystical experience. It can be something as simple as eating your lunch whilst focussing on the experience instead of the company. But I wasn’t even discerning in my choice of food.
So sadly, at least for the moment, I am relying on external validation. But I am okay with that for the time being. I am taking practical steps in working towards building self esteem with a view to decreasing the reliance on external factors. I have signed up for a diy course, I have actually started to learn excel (12 yrs into my finance career), I have maintained sobriety, I have faced up to my family, I have sorted out my life admin, I am learning to cook with my mum, I am spending time with my brother, I exercise daily with my dad. And now finally I have gotten that much procrastinated second blog piece done!
How do you climb a mountain??? One step at a time