Nick and I discuss his book Executive Loneliness
Executive depression, anxiety, and isolation – and the substance abuse, family breakdowns, poor physical health, self-harm, and suicide that can all too frequently result – were a major issue long before most of us had even heard the word “coronavirus”.
I know this for a fact because three years ago, I myself went through a severe breakdown. At the time, I was performing very well in my career and had recently been placed in Singapore by my company.
Over the previous decade, however, I’d been unexpectedly laid off from senior roles working in Indonesia and Vietnam.
I couldn’t shake the paranoia that no matter how good my performance was, I could be retrenched at any moment. I lived on edge – and drinking took the edge off.
When I first moved to Singapore, I was all alone in a foreign country, so I sought solace in alcohol and the superficial social circle of my local bar. I stopped exercising and gained 20kg within a few months of arriving in this country.
It wasn’t the wonderful food here that did it – no, it was the booze. Drinking heavily at the end of most days was, to my mind, a reward and a form of therapy, but in fact it only left me feeling more imbalanced, lonely and disconnected.
Psychosomatic disorders and my unhealthy lifestyle began to affect me physically.
I felt I couldn’t get any more down and even made a will in preparation for my death, which I thought could come at any time, despite being only 43 years of age.
I’d hit an all-time low.
Finally, I acknowledged that I had to do something.
I had to speak to someone. I actually consider myself lucky for having a drinking problem, because that meant I found my way to Alcoholics Anonymous.
AA has been an invaluable source of support, helping give me the strength to remain sober these past two-and-a-half years.
Getting back into exercise and participating in triathlons, I gradually regained my physical fitness, which in turn led to me achieving better mental balance.
But I think the thing that helped me most was “paying it forward” and devoting time to service – giving back.
For me, that meant contributing a portion of my time to an organization called SOS, Samaritans of Singapore.
SOS provides emotional support to people in crisis, individuals who might be depressed and thinking about suicide, or who have been affected by the suicide of someone close to them.
The suicide of a close friend when I was in the early stages of my recovery came as a real shock.
No one knew he was feeling such despair. He suffered in silence, as so many high-powered executives do (especially men).
He hadn’t told anyone about his depression or dark thoughts – and that was a terrible wake-up call for me.
His book, Executive Loneliness,
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Video of the interview is available here: https://youtu.be/P7LnFxk6GKo
Sound Design and production by Rich Zei at Third Ear Audio
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