Content warning: The following blog contains personal experiences of anxiety and other mental health issues. Some readers may find this upsetting.
Adam Lilley, senior recruiter at Kier has shared his mental health story that began back in 2012. In the years since, Adam has overcome two breakdowns and is now an advocate on his LinkedIn profile to get people talking about their mental health struggles.
“Have you ever had that one moment in your life when you felt everything shift?
“Mine was in March 2012, when my mum shared the news of her lung cancer. I’ll never forget that feeling of my world falling apart. Sat in my family home, a place that’s always felt light, fun, safe and happy – and suddenly it didn’t feel like that.
“The next few years were a roller coaster of emotions. Initially, mum responded well to treatment, entering remission a year after her diagnosis. I found myself thinking, she is going to be okay!
But in the summer of 2014, another scan showed the cancer had returned and mum’s condition started to deteriorate, and scarily fast.
“I could sense mum was fed up. Tired of the illness, the appointments, the constant anxiety. It was at this point I started to worry about dad too. A retro, old school man who I’d never even see cry before mum’s diagnosis, how was he going to cope?
“We soon learnt mum’s cancer was terminal. As a family, we were all devastated but there was no time to process what that meant, I was focused on making the end of her life as comfortable as possible and cherishing our time together. I can only express my utmost gratitude to St Barnabas hospice for all that they did for my mum, and us as a family.
“Sadly in November 2014, my mum passed away.
“After her death, I started to process all of the trauma. While my mum was battling cancer, I was having my own personal battle; working through new feelings, trying to process emotions I’d never felt before.
If I wasn’t careful, I was at risk of losing my battle too.
“The next few years were incredibly tough. Moments that were supposed to be the happiest moments of my life, were overshadowed and it took me too long to realise how mentally ill I was.
“I took some time away from work, but I was keen to just get back to ‘normality’, not realising I needed to create a new normal. A normal without my mum.
“I supressed my feelings and found distractions. I was back watching the football and found a new love of cycling, but I’d socially retreated, and generally felt like I just didn’t want to be around people. At the time, I thought I was feeling better, but I’d been refusing to process my emotions, eventually leading to my first breakdown in 2015.
“I’d woken up for work and something didn’t feel right. The thought of getting out of bed felt impossible, I didn’t want to go to work, I just didn’t want to do anything at all. But I did get up, I did go to work and in a chat to my boss I had a complete breakdown.
“After speaking with the employee assistance programme at work and my GP, I learnt that I was likely suffering from delayed grievance depression.
“One of the hardest parts of my journey with my mental health was accepting that I was mentally unwell. I didn’t want to believe it, I’d always been such a happy, positive person, so I struggled with accepting that I needed help.
“I began counselling, and the professionals I spoke to were absolutely unbelievable, asking the right questions and giving me the tools I needed to better handle my emotions and work through things in a healthy way.
“The thing with mental health though, there’s not one quick fix, it’s something you need to keep looking after for your whole life which was something I hadn’t realised yet. I was starting to feel better again and thought I was moving on from things. I was in great physical and mental shape, completing a charity bike ride for St Barnabas hospice and I was so proud of what I achieved. My partner and I got a new place, and we were expecting a baby – life was exciting!
“Our little Joshua arrived, and we were content in this happy bubble.
Two weeks later, that bubble burst and Joshua was diagnosed with a serious heart condition. Hearing that news, suddenly I was back in 2012, listening to mum tell us she was diagnosed with cancer, those same feelings immediately rushing back.
“We were sent to Great Ormond Street Hospital where Joshua had open heart surgery. Two weeks old and already on an operating table. Those hours were the longest of my life, but he came through and everything was fine. He’s four now and the best big brother to his little sister, I’m so incredibly proud of him.
“For me, the same thing happened as it did with my mum, I had a delayed reaction to the trauma of Joshua’s surgery, leading me to my second breakdown just over a year later.
“We were going on our first holiday as a family of three, but I could feel something was wrong, making the mistake of thinking a holiday will make me feel better.
“We returned, I went straight back to work, and it all happened again. I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t go to work, I couldn’t do anything.
“Remembering the tools my therapists had taught me, I knew I needed to share how I was feeling with my partner Kate, no matter how embarrassing it felt to admit I was struggling. The fact that I was embarrassed to even tell the woman I love that I wasn’t in a good place just shows what the attitude to men’s mental health was only back in 2019. It’s come a long way since thankfully, but it will only continue to improve if we continue to talk about it.
“That’s why I’m so open about my journey with my employer, my friends, my family. Every few months I update my LinkedIn with short videos about how I’m doing, what I’ve learnt about my own mental health and the tools that help me. Not only is this a great way for me to work through my feelings but I know it’s helped others which I’m so proud of.
“Trying to get dad to open up is still a challenge, he’s stuck in his ways but we’re getting there. The more open I can be, the more he will see it’s okay and beneficial to share his burdens.
“I’m doing well now, and I know how to handle my anxiety and my worries, and recognise when to reach out. Aside from what I do for myself, I have an amazing employer here at Kier. My manager is understanding, and Kier has some fantastic health and wellbeing benefits which I use all the time. The 24/7 GP and wellbeing app have been so useful, and when our daughter arrived earlier this year, the eight weeks’ paternity leave were a fantastic time bond with her and support Kate.
“If my story feels familiar, please make sure you reach out to someone, whether it’s your GP, your partner, your child, your parent, your colleague or an employee assistance programme. There are some great resources on the Mental Health Foundation and further details about this year’s Mental Health Awareness week which I really recommend checking out.“
It’s ok to ask for help. We have partnered with the Lighthouse Charity and if you need support, please contact 0345 605 1956 (open 24/7, 365 days a year).