By Mike Morrison on 12 June 2018
My story is a typical one and characterised by the simple axiom, you are born male but you qualify to be a man. A classic outer suburban upbringing in Melbourne, where state schools were adequate, ambitions moderate and a prodigious amount of sport was played. Our house was comfortable but modest, the backyard big, and the food simple and hearty.
I had and have a sports-crazed father, and my relationship with sport continues today as an ocean racing sailor, completing around 130 ocean races including Hobart. A tough sport for tough men and no accident that I chose that endeavour despite Aussie Rules being an obvious choice for someone with my upbringing.
At age 10 I wrote a will. What sort of ten-year-old boy writes a will? Simple. One who doesn’t like living. I felt isolated, lonely and desperate. Of course, at age ten I had no idea why.
Long before this insight, my mood swings to me were normal and later I was diagnosed when aged 40 by the Black Dog Institute in Sydney, as suffering the condition Bi-Polar 2. The highs are great, you are invincible and “on” and feel like you can do anything. The lows are morbid and last longer than the highs.
I have now clocked up some 350,000 hours of lived experience with depression. Remember it only takes 10,000 hours to become an expert on something.
I swung wildly from vine to vine through the jungle of high school, with above average achievements and some larger goals. I always felt my emotions very powerfully, I had very porous internal and external boundaries. In other words, I would allow things to be done to me that were disrespectful and traumatic and I would do things to others that had little understanding of the impact of my actions.
I felt many of my friendships were fragile and not secure, so I was constantly trying to impress people or make them laugh to be of value to the group and maintain my position among my peers. But I woke each day plagued by the elephant of depression. You feel heavy, morbid and suffer obsessive rumination of negative thoughts. What I found curious was that what I thought did not always correspond with how I felt. I could think positively and consumed countless books on positive thinking and yet still feel dreadful.
There is a separation between the brain and the mind. Something that I would only discover until years later was that there is a chemical reason for depression, and yet we only think of it as a mental problem and hence it suffers stigma.
We can do anatomy on the brain and hence it’s a physical object we can see. But the mind is invisible, to the extent we cannot see it physically and as such this presents a problem that is unresolved for many and contributes to the stigma in and around depression.
Medicine has for 400 years separated the body and the mind and this is deeply flawed.
My emotional desperation to feel approved of in all situations was coupled with a burning ambition to do something. I was in one of the most unsuccessful rock bands, you’ve never heard of, I thought I could model, yet being on a catwalk at a local shopping centre wearing Roger David menswear is a long way from Milan. I took a stab at stand up comedy and should have stuck with it. I wanted to be a film director but lacked the dedication and craft. So Advertising it was after a very soft media and psych degree at a local college.
Advertising was perfect for someone with my conditions. You were in between the trapeze every day, either on your feet presenting, or flying into meetings around the world trying to save the day, meeting celebrities and captains of industry. I worked on assignments in New York, London, Shanghai, Delhi, Singapore and Seoul. Eventually becoming Chief Strategy Officer for a major multinational agency at one point my career arc looked straight up.
For a kid from the suburbs, flying up front, stepping in and out of limos, doing ads with everyone from Dustin Hoffman to Bob Geldof was a dream. But the reality was quite different. Often I’d write a presentation that required a really bold approach and enormous confidence. When you’re leaning over the table to get someone to hand over $20 million in a pitch, trust me you need to be on. I love presenting and pitching and did 117 pitches with a win rate of 77% when the industry average is 1:7.
But some days I’d land in a city feeling morbid, not knowing why, and have to totally rewrite the presentation to a far less risky style so that I could get it done and get out of the room. I would wake to feel utterly dreadful, looking dishevelled and exhausted, then through sheer will, transform myself into a suit, well groomed and muster from somewhere a confidence that brimmed over. It was a deeply troubling and tiring way to live.
But now I’ve left advertising and now speak and write on how to recognise the accelerants to mental wellness issues in the workplace. I hid my condition for years as I did not want to be professionally prejudiced. For years how l looked was not how I felt but I dare not say anything as being bulletproof was all part of the act. I was a good actor. I’ve now stopped acting and started living.