Life is about climbing mountains - Matt Holman

Life is about climbing mountains

When I was young I had very simple life, mum and dad, an older brother and I remember always playing outside every day until dark, being with my mates, and just enjoying a normal life with some good old fashioned banter. Life back in the early 80’s for a young boy seemed pretty easy. Who knew at that young age life would put some mountains in my path!

Mountain 1 – physical health challenges

In the mid 80’s at 12 years old I had my first real mental health challenge, brought about by a physical deformity in my hip. My hip was growing outside of its socket and I needed emergency intervention to help me walk again. I always remember hearing the Consultant tell me (with my parents) that I had a 50% chance of walking again. After a 9 hour reconstructive surgery followed a period of 8 weeks in hospital, followed by 3 months in a wheelchair and rehab for over 2 years. Thankfully I was able to walk, and then run again (eventually). But as we expect in life it’s not all plain sailing, low and behold just 2 years later the same happened with my other hip – a 1 in a million chance! Lucky me.  

I always remember hearing the Consultant tell me (with my parents) that I had a 50% chance of walking again

Throughout this period in my life I found it really tough mentally, I was not allowed to participate in team/contact sports for around 4 years, I had always been a very active child, but this totally floored me. One thing I did to manage my emotions was comfort eat, and mostly sugary foods, my body was suffering from the anaesthetic of my operations and my unhealthy life. But nobody really worried about it, I had been through a lot already. I honestly hid a lot of the pain I was in internally. I actually had a number of moments after this period when I would just completely breakdown in uncontrollable tears, often feeling better afterwards to have released the emotions. 

I was always funny and outgoing as a child, and looking back now I can say I used my comedic side to get through the challenges (I still use comedy today to help manage my anxiety). In hospital I helped with the babies (there was not much else to do), and saw many young people come and go. It certainly had a very profound impact on who I was, and how I would see the future. 

As soon as I was allowed I participated in all sports, I played tennis to a club level, I played adult football for 17 years, and now into my forties I am a keen runner having completed 2 triathlons, in excess of 25 half marathons and the London Marathon in 2018. Never give up!

Mountain 2 – the career ladder to …

Fast forward to a career, I was very much focused on making an impact in the world, in my early late teens I was actually convinced I would die before I was 30 (I recall telling someone about this), so I had to pack in so much and climb the ladder of success asap. I had fits and starts in my career, I struggled to ignore or just accept unfair treatment, so would be very quick to raise the issues with the perpetrator, often to my own personal detriment.

Into my late 30s I had climbed the career ladder, I moved into a Global Travel role, reaching VP status, and enjoying the luxuries afforded to someone with status. But the luxuries came with personal sacrifices and the impact to my own mental wellbeing was starting to show cracks. I was juggling a 24 work day, parenting 2 amazing children, being a husband, maintaining a number of other commitments, and everything else that life admin required. I was for many years spreading myself so thin, and giving so much to others.

I make no excuses for my crash in 2016, in fact I blame myself for making mistakes in the year before, leaving a job in 2015 was a good idea, it helped me focus for a moment, I became a Samaritan volunteer, and felt for the first time a sense of relief. Then I made the first mistake. I took the first job I was offered and it was back doing the thing that had almost destroyed me before. I went back to the Travel Industry leading a team from Singapore to Washington DC. A big mistake. 9 months later and following a pattern that saw me travelling alone to my office for a week of each month it all went wrong. I don’t know why, I never will. I was FIRED whilst I was in Washington – My lasting vision was my boss sitting at the end of the table asking the HR person ‘is that it?’ (I do hope he is reading this) when they had handed me the letter. I say this was the lowest point of my life (to that point). It left me in a tailspin, my world crashed in-front of me. I remember people trying to talk to me, I could not hear anyone, my ears were fuzzy, I was angry, hurt and felt worthless. I can actually feel these thoughts right now as I write about the anxiety – the start of my post-traumatic stress.

On the flight home from Washington god sent me another message to slow down, I could not sleep and as the night passed by a man walked past my seat and collapsed onto the floor next to me. I had to provide support to him whilst trying to summons help from the cabin crew. Thankfully he was ok and his body had just overheated. I think in some way I was being told, my role in life is to help others. 

Mountain 3 – rebuilding and refocus

Over the following days I needed to get my plan together, I needed to consolidate my thoughts into something. I decided my first commitment was to never work for anyone again who could hurt me the way I was feeling. Then my next thought was how can I help others never have the same outcome I had experience. I decided to launch a business – Simpila to help individuals, teams and companies to grow, but with the key focus on the humans, and treating everyone fairly (I certainly felt my previous employer had not granted me the decency for this). 

Whilst I kept myself busy over the first few weeks getting everything set up I was also struggling. I did not tell anyone what was happening. I was waking at 3am exactly every morning, my brain was whirring around replaying the trauma and trying to find the answer to the question – why? Of course without closure it was impossible to find the answer. This continued without interruption for around 6 months. I was also using alcohol to numb the pain, and at points would send angry messages to my ex-boss asking why… but no answer ever came.

And then it happened…. I was saved by some very close and amazing friends. They threw me the lifeline that I needed. I was a new business, I needed to find clients, I spoke to many other small business owners, and then I was giving opportunities to show what I could do. It absolutely changed the way I felt, people actually value me, they actually see me as someone that is not broken, but someone who can help.

I was saved by some very close and amazing friends. They threw me the lifeline that I needed

The most amazing part was when I joined up with a company owned by friends in the health and wellbeing area – Happiful. They asked me to complete a 12 day consulting assignment to review their business, I ended up staying 2.5 years! Helping to grow the marketing function and in the process also launching the first magazine in the UK devoted to positive mental health – Happiful Magazine.

On 8th February 2021 Simpila turned 5 years old. I have managed to avoid having another boss, and have managed to evolve to provide mental health training and consulting services. We started delivering mental health training solutions in 2018 and to date we have trained over 3,000 people in supporting the conversation of mental health. In November 2020 I also launched my podcast ‘Matt Holman talks Mental Health’ – having conversations about my guests journey with mental health (at the point of writing this post, 13/2/21) I have recorded 61 episodes of the podcast).. Most importantly for me I now have passion and purpose in my life, I wake up every morning excited to make a difference.

Mountain 4 – The bonus family mountain!

Being a parent is one of the most rewarding yet challenging roles of my life. Rewarding because I have enjoyed the high moments of watching my girls grow, learn, walk, run and enjoy a happy childhood with good memories. Challenging because both of my daughters struggle with anxiety challenges. My girls are 18 and 13 years old.

Unfortunately in 2018 my eldest daughter was diagnosed with Anorexia, an illness that was hell bent on destruction and tearing our family to shreds. We would not give in to this bully, we fought hard and eventually managed to find a path forwards (sadly not through NHS service and support though until much later), but then it all went terribly wrong, twice. In September 2019 our beautiful daughter decided she could no longer live this way, she tried to end her life. After the first attempt she was sent home the next day, only to try again a week later. This time she was hospitalised and ended up being sectioned under the mental health act.

In October 2019 our daughter was moved to a mental health hospital 200 miles from home, where she would spend the next 5 months. We travelled to see her every week, and spent every ounce of our energy to help support her. It was very difficult on all of our family.

In March 2020 one week before lockdown she was moved to a hospital 20 minutes from our house. On 23rd March the UK went into the first National Lockdown, we could not see our daughter for 12 weeks. Her recovery regressed so much following this period where she felt abandoned that she was eventually moved to a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). This was the best move as they very quickly diagnosed her with Autistic Spectrum Disorder – we now had an understand to why she acted the way she did, routines and managing change are a big part of her anxiety.

After 355 days in hospital I am so proud to say our daughter came home in September 2020. She returned back to college, studying to take up a Mental Health Nursing Degree, learning to drive, and has been working in a Care Home for Adults with severe Autism. My heart bursts with pride. – We have climbed this mountain… for a while it was all good… and then …

[Added 19/11/21] Mountain 5 – and just when we thought things were going so well…

In April of 2021 we ended up with our daughter back in Crisis. She attempted to end her life on a number of occasions, thankfully unsuccessfully. In mid April our daughter was sectioned under the mental health act, and is currently still in a mental health ward (7 months so far). This has been a very challenging time for her, and for us, as we are trying to keep positive and more forwards every day. We hold hope that this journey will change in time to see our beautiful daughter back home where she belongs.

For me I have increased all elements of self-care in my life over the past months, I am running more, I spend more time outside and as we move into winter I am venturing into sea swimming. I need to take better care of myself, and then I can help support others through their own personal challenges as well.

Our days are a mix of highs and lows, but we get up everyday and work hard to enjoy our journey through life, we are always thankful for the new chances we have been given – we don’t take life for granted. We know there are more mountains ahead (we are still climbing the latest one!), but with the right skills and tools we know that we can scale any mountain, together.

Stay safe and well all.

If you would like to share your story, or share any comments or thoughts on the above please feel free. For me the key is recognising the challenges, and having the chance to talk about mental health freely.

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