It’s World Mental Day and we caught up with FR’s Senior Contract Recruitment Manager, Ben Gibbins. Ben has spoken openly about the challenges he has faced over the last few years, and here he kindly shares his story, and how he was able to overcome them and move forward with his life and his career positively.
Trigger warning: this article contains references to substance abuse, mental health issues and suicidal thoughts.
What are the biggest challenges you've faced in your career?
Many of the challenges I’ve faced in my career to date have been caused by my three irrational fears; loss, rejection and negative perception. Upon digging deeper, these fears have always been underpinned and exacerbated by the fear of not being considered to be ‘good enough.’
I had a hugely successful start to my Recruitment career; I was promoted multiple times, very quickly, which was naturally accompanied by high status, amounts of money I’d never seen before and of course, increased pressure.
I appeared to be really successful and I probably illustrated a self-image that I had it all. But, in what is a meritocratic environment where you are prompted, praised and rewarded on consistent performance, I never felt as though I’d done enough, I felt as though I needed to strive towards an immeasurable and therefore unattainable level of success.
When I first went into management, things were going incredibly well. The Consultant’s I led were developing incredibly well and performing beyond expectation. Helping them to achieve their goals and earn life-changing sums of money became my responsibility. So, I felt as though I needed to be a leader. Being an only child, I’m probably an even-balance between an introvert and an extrovert, but I felt as though I needed to be louder, more motivating, be able to answer their questions quicker and solve their problems faster. In my mind, if I couldn’t do those things, I was failing them.
All of these emotions and feelings of which I didn’t - nor did I want to - understand, would get on top of me. I struggled with depression and anxiety for a very long time, internally.
I first used substances in a social setting with work colleagues, and I found that it brought out a different personality from within me. I was a louder, more of a ‘Jack-the-lad’ type character, who didn’t overthink before speaking or analyse everything to the nth degree before responding. I felt focussed. I felt sharp. I felt untouchable.
I then started to use substances to ‘enhance’ my performance at work. It was so easy to get hold of and it seemed to be a sure-fire way to catapult me toward that (frankly unachievable) level of success. To me, at the time, it seemed like a no-brainer, and it seemed easy enough to keep my usage a secret.
I soon realised that as well as perceiving it to be enhancing my performance, it also entirely numbed any emotion and pain. I’d managed to find a way to escape any recognition of my fears, and I’d managed to nullify any form of depressive or anxious thoughts. I felt completely untouchable.
Soon, though, this backfired. My usage, and newly found persona, enabled me to exhibit behaviours that I’d never even dreamt of.
This created an overwhelming sense of anxiety. Anxiety that I’d be found out, and this exacerbated the feelings of fear; fear that I’d be fired, lose the lifestyle and status that I’d built, and fear that I’d not be perceived the same and wouldn’t be accepted for my wrongdoings. This led to constantly increasing the amounts of substances I was taking, to further numb these feelings. But this need - and my tolerance - grew, I needed more and more to feel comfortable.
I was unaccepting of the fact that I was an addict. I thought I still had control over my substance usage, but in truth I was completely dependent on it.
It was a vicious, vicious cycle.
And I was, for a long time, having dark, dangerous, suicidal thoughts.
So, I started fabricated scenarios and created lies that gave me the space and protection I so desperately needed. This was ultimately to avoid experiencing the feelings experienced by being so consciously aware of my fears, and how close I was to experiencing them. However, this was the catalyst to what was my true demise.
I broke trust with my employers entirely, and I lost my job. I jumped straight into another job but was completely untruthful around my situation. I just hoped that it would go unnoticed and that I could maintain my status and be seen as successful. I got found out and lost that job pretty quickly.
I lied to, stole from and hurt those who mean the most to me - my parents, my family and my partner - without any second thought. All to feed my addiction and keep me above water. I was jobless, getting into spiralling debts and I was still crazily, dangerously addicted.
How did you overcome these challenges and move forward positively, did you access any mental health/support services?
One day, everything become known. My family and my partner finding out was a huge catalyst to my decision and desire to enact change. In that moment, when my problem became known, and I could see the impact of my actions, I accepted that I was powerless over my addiction, but felt a faint glimmer of optimism. Now that I had nothing to hide, I desperately wanted to change.
But I didn’t know how to change, nor did I think it was possible to do it alone.
My family and my Partner together rallied around me, and seemingly forgave me - or allowed me the chance to make amends - for the lies, the sheer shock and the pain that I’d caused. They wanted nothing more than for me to recover.
I looked in the mirror, just one day sober, and I didn’t recognise who I’d become. I was a shadow of my former self, both spiritually and physically. I wasn’t prepared to let that person become who I was forever. I told myself that I could do what I wanted, and I could recover - the choice, and the possibility of recovering, was determined by my actions and newly found mental strength.
I started attending a support group, twice weekly as a minimum, called Narcotics Anonymous. Here, I learned the power of human nature and how a group setting encouraged a sense of accountability. I learned that my Higher Power as in my family, my girlfriend and my future career.
My priorities, and how I measured success, completely altered. Rather than high status, more money than I knew what to do with and flash cars and clothes, my purpose now became centred around being present for those who mean the most to me, being able to pay them back monetarily and morally for their unconditional love and support throughout my life, and my phase of severe substance and alcohol addiction.
Alongside this, I found Counselling Directorywhere I was able to tailor my search and find a therapist that specifically matched my requirements. Here, I found a therapist named Sonya Suter, who has been a revelation and huge focal point within my recovery.
Sonya enabled me to rationalise, and truly understand, the origins of my fears. She then taught me ways to counteract the feelings of the emotions that would previously trigger me to use substances, whenever I faced them.
Over time, I felt more and more optimistic that I could find freedom and create a life that exceeded even that of the one I lived previously, prior to my addiction.
I will still overwhelmed with guilt and shame around my past. I still am to a degree; I just now know how to manage these feelings and I utilise them as motivation to stay clean and remain true to my newly found purpose.
For a long time though, I still feared that I wasn’t going to be accepted. And this feeling aligned with my fears of rejection, loss, negative perception and not being considered to be ‘enough’.
Thus, I was stuck at a crossroads. Unsure whether to be totally transparent around my past, or whether it would be beneficial to try and slip through the cracks and try to get away with it my past without addressing it with potential employers. I knew this was dangerous, and likely wouldn’t work out, but it felt safe and made me feel less vulnerable.
One random Saturday morning, when I was pondering over how to re-enter the job market. I stumbled across a post at the top of my LinkedIn Feed, written by a guy named Dan Martin. His posts resonated with my past in an unimaginable manner. I felt as though he was writing on my behalf, they were that relevant to me. His approach, work-ethic, authenticity, transparency and consequent transformation was exactly what I needed to see, at exactly the time I needed to see it. I wanted to emulate it but struggled to know how.
My therapist, Sonya, introduced me to an exercise that she said would be very difficult and emotionally draining. It involved two candles, placed at each side of the room. These held the metaphorical weight of my past, classed as my hidden agenda, and my future, classed as my goal.
I’ve written a previous post around this, so feel free to check that out as well, but to summarise, I held my hidden agenda in my hands and felt terrified, then gave it a statement that discouraged it’s hindrance to my future, and encouraged me to view this as an opportunity to reinvent myself entirely and become a better person. I then held my goal in my hands, and immediately felt that I was ready to break away from my past and really own my future. The feeling of relief, and the sense of optimism that it established was euphoric - I just broke down in tears, as I knew that now I could do all the things that my hidden agenda prevented me from doing.
Since then, I posted around my addiction to make it a known subject and was honest in discussions around opportunities around my past. This led to a selection of offers, and I landed at Forward Role, where I feel the environment is perfectly suitable to my needs - it’s an inclusive, mature environment, I’m treated as an adult, truly respected and trusted and their values align perfectly with mine.
I’ve detailed elements of my journey here on LinkedIn. With similar authenticity and transparency to Dan Martin, and it’s been transformational.
I still attend therapy now to ensure that I’m on top of any challenges that may arise, that I’m giving myself the best chance to develop personally and professionally and that I’m staying true to my newly formed values: Integrity, Accountability, Resilience, Authenticity and Commitment.
My relationship with my partner and my family is the best it’s ever been, because of the changes I’ve made. Their faith and support keeps me accountable to maintaining sobriety.
What advice would you give to anyone struggling with their mental health right now?
If you’re struggling, make it known at the earliest opportunity. Don’t struggle alone. Seek the help or guidance that you need. Whether that’s using specific services, or just opening up to friends. It could be the difference between you achieving all you want to achieve or worsening your mental health which could lead to similar situations to those that I experienced.
Organisations should be willing to listen, and to help. If they don’t, then they aren’t a business that you should want to give your all for and stay at.
Whether it’s stress, depression, anxiety, addiction or any of the other forms of mental health issues, don’t allow the stigma to stop you getting the help you need.
Having a therapist and/or a support network, regardless of the severity of your symptoms, will allow you to address these issues and improve your mental health.
In all, take care of yourself. You are the most important person in your life, and ultimately you can control your future, so use that ability to put things in place that safeguard you and allow you to focus on things that are most important.
Ben is Senior contract Recruitment Manager at Forward Role, specialising in Technology & Change. Find out more about him and check out his latest roles HERE