Leigh: [00:00:00] Michael welcome to the show.
Michael: [00:00:01] How are you?
Leigh: [00:00:02] I’m really well, how are you?
Michael: [00:00:03] I’m very good thanks for having me.
Leigh: [00:00:05] Thanks for coming on. Let’s jump in. Tell us a bit about your journey. You’re in the C Suite. You’re an executive level working in advertising to today being the founder of the Black Light Principle, a mental wellness coach and consultant. Tell us a little bit about that journey.
Michael: [00:00:20] Well it’s been a very big career arc. I started in big advertising agencies way back in the late 80s, got into the strategy side of advertising and ended up being the Chief Strategy Officer of a multi-national agency. It was great and that means a lot of travel. You could go flying around the world and there are a lot of new business pitches and things. I had always wanted a job like that I always wanted a job where I wasn’t exactly doing work of that kind. However in a work of that kind takes an awful lot of stamina. I made a couple of career changes and some of those decisions were good some of them not so good. I ended up consulting after I left advertising and I thought well maybe I should begin to address my health and take it seriously. I had always suspected that I had suffered from depression and then to a lesser extent bipolar. I didn’t really work that out for a long time. I decided that instead of simply addressing it for myself that I would set up a company in which I could consult to people in the workplace and begin to have conversations with them about mental health and mental health in the workplace.
Leigh: [00:01:27] That is quite a career arc. Can you tell us a little bit about the signs and symptoms that you noticed within yourself that were a sign or a signal that you needed to get help or to address your health?
Michael: [00:01:37] Yes the first one is one which I think a lot of people can relate to and that is that I felt tired all the time. The 3 components of depression are tiredness, worthlessness and sadness. I experience sadness as a constant feeling. I experienced tiredness as a constant feeling. I began to recognize it through various relationship break ups was when I really went into a point where I was incredibly fragile and very vulnerable. It was then I began to seek help. It was then that doctors began to talk to me about, “You seem to have depressive symptoms.” I thought that was going to be episodal. I thought it would be simply something in and around an event. However for me I began to look back upon my life and say, “No this is not episodal.” I remember writing my first will at age 10. I wrote my first will at age 10 because I simply didn’t like living. I didn’t like life up until that point. When I began reflecting on that I thought to myself, “Well you’ve now experienced these sorts of feelings now for some time and yet you haven’t addressed them. You’ve ignored them. You’ve masked them with work. You’ve masked them with a high profile career. You’ve masked them with relationships. You have never really leaned into your mental health condition. I would always replace it with leading into my physical health condition because I always love sport, still play a lot of sport, for a lot of ocean yacht racing and things like that. So I always thought if I was physically active I’d be fine. I never really began to address some of the heavier mental health issues in my life.
Leigh: [00:03:04] Leaning in, can you tell us what that means leaning in to your mental health?
Michael: [00:03:07] Not ignoring it. I think it’s easy to ignore. I think it’s easy to mask. We can mask that in sometimes healthy ways and we can mask in unhealthy ways. All addictions are avoidance of feelings. I think I drank too heavily. I think that I used drink really as a crutch to be able to moderate how I was feeling. Unfortunately though alcohol is a product of decay. So it’s a depressant. So if in fact you’re feeling down and you choose to comfort yourself with alcohol, you are going to make your situation worse.
Leigh: [00:03:36] Michael, can you tell us a little bit about what it feels like to be an employee, even a manager and executive working at a really high level? What’s it actually like day-to-day going into the office, having depressive symptoms and a ongoing mental health condition?
Michael: [00:03:53] It’s exhausting. First of all you know that phrase, which I adopted, “Get up. Dress up. Show up.” I adapted that as my mantra for years. In other words if I could get into a shower, get well groomed, get into a suit, walk into the office and exude some sort of strength or confidence. It was my way of dealing with it. I was in organisations in which I had to present every week. I was on my feet every week in situations that required an awful lot from you personally and professionally. So what it meant was that I was very hard on myself and as a result I was hard on other people as well. I was never really mean and cruel to people. Certainly in the way that I interacted with people I was very hard and the standards were hard. There was only one goal and it was all about achieving that goal. In advertising there was a lot of new business pitching and there’s only one metric and that is did you win or did you not. Those pitches are relentless. As a result of that I found myself getting addicted to the winning. So the highs were very high and the lows were very low. You’d be devastated if in fact you lost. Part of that also as if you lost you might have to fire 30 colleagues at a time because agencies run like that. If you win a piece of business, it’s great. If you lose a piece of business you may have to retrench people very quickly. So I found it anxious. I found not that I suffer so much anxiety, which is a real fear of the future. I suffered a lot just from getting myself up for each day. So it’s like playing a grand final every day and that’s why I talk about it being so exhausting. It’s so exhausting and I would, one of the jokes was, well where’s Mike? After a big pitch, I’d be asleep somewhere. I’ll try and find a way to be able to deal with this exhaustion by in fact sleeping.
Leigh: [00:05:29] That is a massive rollercoaster that your on. Obviously there’s a fair amount of judgment and stigma that goes along with having a mental health condition. I imagine you probably didn’t want to share how you’re feeling with colleagues, with managers and client.
Michael: [00:05:45] That’s exactly right because one of the things is you don’t want to be seen to be the weakest link in the team, to put the firm’s bonus at risk and to put people’s personal incomes at risk. If the team is together, it’s on, it’s winning and we you know achieve the number. It’s all about the numbers in a firm such as that it’s all about the numbers and the rest of the conversation. Did you hit the numbers? If you hit the numbers you could get bonuses etc. If you didn’t hit the numbers then you would not look forward to any pay increases and or in fact bonuses on top of that. So anyone who was thought to be not up and on would be a risk to people’s personal income. It becomes a serious issue with regard to do they want to risk telling somebody because not everyone who smiles at you is your friend. If I’d trust that person am I trusting the right person? Therefore my advice to people was, if you are in a workplace situation, you may choose to seek professional help and get some sort of path to help particularly if that organization doesn’t have a culture that supports or cares about mental health.
Leigh: [00:06:49] You. ‘ve talked about the relentless nature of the advertising industry. How did you go about hiding your condition day-to-day? Was it a case of just massive and constant distraction?
Michael: [00:06:59] It was both. There’s no doubt that part of it was you get into a shower, make sure that you’re well groomed, put on a suit and go into work looking like you were ready for business. It is problematic because what you are doing is putting on a mask. You are adopting a strong persona when you may not be feeling strong. There’s a beautiful shot that my daughter took of me at 6a.m. quite accidentally one morning. I’m looking disheveled. I am looking anxious. I’m looking worried. She shot that accidentally on the phone. Three hours later I was getting my portrait taken at Channel 10 for a corporate shot, which was going to be used in publicity. I’m well groomed. I’ve got the suit on. I’ve got the tie on. I looked completely different. Now that is the problem I see in the workplace. The problem is between those before and after shots is the lack of authenticity regarding that after shot that how I looked was not how I felt. There’s no doubt I distracted myself with a lot of work. 60 hour weeks were common if you took in fact to actually travel into account. You may in fact actually have longer weeks than that, a lot of interstate travel a lot of international travel. There’s no doubt that one of the issues we see in the workplace is people adopting an avatar and not being authentic. One of the issues I see in the workplace is the infantilism of the workplace to give in some sort of childlike environment where we think we’ve got tennis tables and ties off childlike fit outs that’s going to enable creativity. It doesn’t. You are asking people to adopt another avatar. The key to mental health in the workplace is being authentic and being able to be yourself. This is one of the issues when you don’t feel sometimes that when you go into a culture that you can be yourself. You’ve got to be what that culture wants and what that culture respects as success.
Leigh: [00:08:51] How do we make that transition to creating more authentic workplaces particularly for small business owners?
Michael: [00:08:58] I think small business owners have an opportunity because their businesses are small. The bigger organizations, the larger organizations have a size problem. You can get far more achieved in smaller business in terms of changing culture quickly than you can in larger organizations, particularly those larger organizations might be run out of the Northern Hemisphere and you are a branch office of that organization. In small business if you actually have a good mental health culture and that is being able to talk about mental health, being out to recognize that work hours are incredibly important to sleep. Sleep is a very important function with regard to mental health. Being able to have KPIs are objectives, which are reasonable on people and allow some flexibility. We used to have budgets in which they were set into or in fact we might contribute to the setting of those budgets. Business circumstances might change enormously. There is no way you’re going to hit that budget and all people will be asking for what your budget recovery plan to hit that budget. So there was a lack of reality with that and it was simply hitting the numbers that’s what it’s all about. They didn’t allow any flexibility in that. I think small business has an opportunity because they can be more personal, more face to face and you’re dealing with the leader of the organization. So whether that person is a one or two person cafe, down at a ferry or whether that is you know half a dozen people, who are in an office somewhere in a startup. The leaders have an opportunity then to be able to change that culture almost immediately.
Leigh: [00:10:28] I want to delve a little bit more into your personal story. Obviously you at an executive level in a multinational advertising agency, flying around the world. pitching to clients, landing multimillion dollar deals like on paper, you have a fabulous life. This is the dream for many people. What was the catalyst for you to realize that something was wrong and to go and seek help?
Michael: [00:10:51] I had a very good professional life but I was particularly successful in stuffing up my personal life. I could stuff up my personal life like no one could. I mean I was very bad at relationships. I was very good when it came to my profession. There was a single goal and that was to win a piece of business or you know we needed to solve a problem. I was very good at that. I was not good at relationships. I had very little empathy for my impact upon people so I had very porous borders. By that I mean, I would allow things done to me that were disrespectful or traumatic. I would in fact actually do things to others without really thinking through the impact upon them. I would always be surprised when other executives would say to me, “Well listen you made that person feel absolutely dreadful or you cannot speak to people like that.” For me it was all about, ell listen we’ve got a goal and we’ve got to in effect actually achieve that goal and your feelings are a casualty of that.” So there was no respect for feelings at all. There was no respect for people’s personal situations. There was no respect for what they might have been going through. We simply had to get this particular project, pitch down or whatever and you just execute.
Leigh: [00:12:02] So you found a way to mask and hide your condition at work. Tell us why do you think other people are so afraid or reluctant to admit that they’re having a tough time at work?
Michael: [00:12:14] The first answer is that the culture doesn’t support mental health. We’re quite comfortable with physical health. We’re quite comfortable if you come in and say, “Hey I’ve got the flu like I will take a couple of days off.” There’s no risk. There’s no social risk. If you’re weird you’re feared is the expression that I use. If you came in and said, “Listen I’m feeling really poorly. You know I’ve been hiding under a blanket for the last 11 hours. I’m really not up to it today for these reasons,” many people won’t know how to deal with that. Many people may be very hard and say, “Well I think you’re just being soft.” A number of people will also just say, “Well what do we do now with you?” So there’s no elasticity in the workplace to be able to deal with the time that it takes and the treatment that it takes to be able to address mental health. If you come in with a broken arm that’s quite different. If you in fact have a physical workplace issue. So we’re at a situation now where hopefully more conversations are being had that take into account people’s mental well-being not just their physical well-being. All we’ve done really in the workplace that we’ve taken care of people’s physical well-being that’s all we’ve done. We’ve tried to do that in a way which makes environment safe. In no way really have we ever had programs or a culture where mental health was valued the way that physical health is valued.
Leigh: [00:13:43] So how do we change? As business owners as a culture as a society, how do we make that change?
Michael: [00:13:49] Change yourself first. Take responsibility for your own health. Take responsibility for your mental health. Be conscious that you are a physical and a mental being and that you need to start thinking about well if I feel this way, there are others that feel this way. Therefore I have a responsibility to myself and to others in the workplace particularly if I’m a leader or a boss to ensure that the physical and mental well-being of my staff are taken care of. I think that is one of the first things that we need to do. I Think that you can’t lean back on your mental health anymore. One of the observations that I make is that men have leant back on their health and women lean into their health. Men have also outsourced their health and its care to women. By that I mean, you see guys are in fact actually their advice regarding their health it might first of all start with your mum, it might be a partner or whatever. Men have got to take responsibility for their own health and their own mental health. Obviously you know we’re all horrified by the numbers that we observe with regard to depression and suicide amongst men. Part of that is men need to take responsibility for their mental health and their own health and not in fact actually outsource that.
Leigh: [00:15:03] So taking personal responsibility for your mental health, leaning in as you call it actually enables others to do the same?
Michael: [00:15:10] Well I think so, I think it’s what we seem to be of an age now where we are encouraging people to have conversations about mental health. I’m delighted to see so many organizations. So many different movements in everything from a Movember through to ASEAN to Reach Out, to Black Dog, to Beyondblue, in which we’re all generating far more conversations about mental health. The strong silent type has done us no favours whatsoever. It has in fact actually contributed to problems that people have with mental health. Others don’t mean men being the strong silent type, I saw it just as many women in the organizations in which I was in, they had their race face on when they went to work. They didn’t want to in fact actually be perceived as being weak or having a vulnerability that might contribute to the firm not achieving its financial goals.
Leigh: [00:16:05] So what’s the first step for people, if they are only now realizing that mental health is as important, if not more important, than physical health? They should be more aware of it. They need to take better steps to manage their own health and manage the health of their staff. What is the very first step they should take?
Michael: [00:16:23] The very first step is to go to a GP or to go to a professional and begin talking about your situation. You will realize then how normal you are. You will realize how commonplace it is. You will realize that a lot of things impact upon mental health, stress, obesity, aging, they all impact upon mental health. The first thing you’ve got to do is talk to people, who you truly can trust. I say that knowing full well that I’ve spoken to people in my professional life, who I thought that I could trust. It was a mistake. They then use that I think to professionally prejudice me and I think that was an error in my part, being too trusting. So seeking professional help is the better way I think to begin that journey of assessing how you are with regard to your own mental health. It’s an everyday thing and your mood changes. You can be a 3 out of 10 in the morning and that’s what they say, “Mornings are liars.” If you suffer from depression, it feels like there is an elephant on your chest. You feel like you’ve got a cold cannonball in the back of your head. It’s how depression feels in the mornings. Mornings are liars. You can start at 3 out of 10 and you can find yourself feeling 6 and 7 out of 10 different times during the day. It’s why I think we’re getting a better sense of mood, mood disorder and why those things are important to better help manage people in a healthy way.
Leigh: [00:17:50] Let’s move into the next part of your working life, the Black Light principle. Can you give us a bit of an overview of what the Black Light principle is?
Michael: [00:17:58] Well I love UV lights because they reveal things that are hidden. The nickname for it is a black light. So I decided to call this black light because I think one of the keys to solving the problem with depression is to stop hiding it. I hid it for years. I’ve suffered depression now for 40 years, which is some 350,000 hours. You only need 10,000 hours to be an expert on something. So I decided that my approach was going to be to shine a black light on to myself, first of all, to unhide myself and to begin talking about my situation, my journey, my condition and the things that I’ve done. In so doing being, I suppose forthright about my own condition, to then be able to enable people, staff members, companies and organisations to begin talking amongst themselves then about the role of mental health in companies. So Black Light principle is it’s my metaphor for what I think the key solution is and that’s to stop hiding it. If we stop hiding, it we can talk about it and we can deal with it. Unfortunately, we are very good creatures of deception. Humankind seems to be no good with power or the truth. We seem to be incredibly good at deception. So we deceive ourselves that we’re okay and then we easily deceive others that we’re okay. I got to a point also where I felt that my health really needed to be reset and drastically reset. So I admitted myself into the Pacific private facility last year. I really thought that I was going backwards with my health. I didn’t think I was getting any traction at all in the measures that I was taking. I really needed a group of professionals to really assess where I was to be able to challenge me on where my trauma had come from. To be able to challenge me on how I had tried to avoid all of that. To challenge me on how I was not dealing with depression and that was a seriously important very hard but very necessary event for me to go through and for treatment for me to go through.
Leigh: [00:20:03] If you don’t mind, I’ll just kind of go into that. It must have been a terrifying time to realize you need professional help at that level. What were the thoughts you were having? What was happening around your mind at this time?
Michael: [00:20:12] I’m a father and I have a daughter. Being a father is the best job that I’ve ever had. I’ve had some good jobs. It’s easily the best job I’ve ever had. I love her dearly and I’ve doted on her from the time that she was born and her mother and I are no longer together. However, it is that pull of that relationship between my daughter and myself, which really made me stop and say, “You need to be healthier for her, yourself and you really need to take this seriously not simply just feel good occasionally or lapse back into habits that were unhealthy.” I had come to understand that my depression and the way that I was dealing with it, which was in an unhealthy way, was impacting on her. When I came to understand that, it was that was very troubling. In fact it’s probably the most deeply troubling thing that I can say that I’ve experienced in the past 18 months. It’s the recognition that as much as I thought that I was a fantastic parent, there were moments in which the events in my parenting of her that had impacted her in a very profound way and that really was particularly sad.
Leigh: [00:21:27] You taking responsibility like you talked earlier recognizing your own mental health and leaning in as it were.
Michael: [00:21:32] I think there’s an element of bravery that always encourages a decision. I mean love is an instinct but courage is a decision. I think courage is one of the most important things that we can exhibit as humans. You are always rewarded by courage. I think you’re always rewarded by courage. The courage to address your situation and to say, “No one is coming to save me I’ve got to do this myself.” If there’s no honesty there is no recovery. If there is no honesty there is absolutely no recovery because you will always find a way to deceive yourself. Then you can deceive others and that’s easy. It’s the easy bit deceiving others. When you deceive yourself and you’re not honest about your condition and how you are that’s dangerous.
Leigh: [00:22:16] Sometimes it is really hard to be honest with yourself.
Michael: [00:22:19] I think it is because there are so many opportunities for us now not to be honest with ourselves. Not the least of which are social media which of course are well written about which could be the new smoking because it’s cool, popular and dangerous.
Leigh: [00:22:30] You talk about that there’s a download on your website that I recommend everyone read about social media being the new smoking. Can you talk us through this idea?
Michael: [00:22:39] Well I think we’ve all committed massive foot fault when it comes to social media. We have made public what normally would have remained private. So now you have a public life and then you have a private life, which is now on social media but then you also I think people are beginning to set up secret lives. Therefore you see technologies like chatkeeper, which means that only you can see certain texts that you’ve sent on your phone and your partner can’t. To me that seems unhealthy. It’s another way to be dishonest. It’s one more step removed from honesty. There’s a lot to be said for honesty because it gets to the truth of things and the true reality of what things are. Therefore I think that if you set up a positive imagery that creates a negative feeling like social media can, not all social media is bad. If you set up positive imagery that creates a negative feeling then that needs to be examined and observed in a different way. I think that’s where we see. I hear anecdotally psychologists in parts of Sydney, who used to see five kids a week are now seeing 200 kids a week in the last five years. Anxiety, I see a worthlessness in boys, I see an anxiety in girls and I think that is also deeply troubling.
Leigh: [00:23:51] It is troubling but it’s conversations like this that are going to help break down that stigma. There is a lot of work to do but in your work with the black light principle, are you at least seeing some progress in this area?
Michael: [00:24:01] The progress is so many people, who contact me and say, “Mike can we have a coffee?” I say of course and hence my love for coffee is well known but my love for having a chat with people, who have said, “I used to work with you. I feel this way.” They’ve reached out. It doesn’t matter. It’s not about likes and clicks, it’s about what resonates. Not all of the effect that I have in the work that I have and that others have shows up in likes and clicks. It shows up in someone contacting you or not even contacting you but it resonates with them and they take action. I have had a lot of coffee with people who say, “Listen I’m in Sydney now can I get you for half an hour and can we just have a chat? I need to leave for you to know that what you’ve said has helped me think and given me permission to feel okay about having uncomfortable conversations.” So hence when I talk about my suffering must have meaning, I’m very comfortable being uncomfortable. As an ocean racing sailor, you will spend hours being uncomfortable. I’ve seen waves as big as Cremorne. You will get uncomfortable that’s quite okay. It’s the same with your own health. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. There is an enormous peace in actually understanding a struggle as opposed to I must alleviate that and replace it with happiness. It is an avoidance of feelings that’s an addiction.
Leigh: [00:25:34] So people’s inclination is to avoid the uncomfortable but feelings of fear and discomfort are a big part of being human. Off-air you mentioned the tension between strength and vulnerability. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?
Michael: [00:25:48] Yes I think we misinterpret strength. I think we think that strength is toughness. Toughness is not strength. People, who project being tough, are trying to protect themselves. You can have strength and you can have vulnerability. It takes strength to be vulnerable. I think that’s a very admirable quality. I think that the high profile people such as Greg Inglis or Lance Franklin, both in the NRL and the AFL, they have become public about mental health battles. They have been terrific in terms of that great illustration between strength and vulnerability. It took them an enormous amount of courage to come out and say what they did. Lance missed a final series a result of his mental health battle. The fact that they have so much focus on them, there is so much more social risk for them at a high profile like that to come out and say that sort of thing. I think they did incredible good by coming out and illustrating that perfect example of strength and vulnerability. It wasn’t being tough at all costs. Being tough at all costs to me is very dishonest because no one is tough at all cost./.
Leigh: [00:26:58] So what are some of these habits of projecting strength and toughness? “I’m okay,” that we need to start moving away from.
Michael: [00:27:06] You can see it in e-mail. E-mail, which is flame mail, I mean all stuff that comes across in the written word, always looks sometimes stronger and more aggressive possibly than what was intended. Then you have people who do use e-mail in an incredibly aggressive way or text in an aggressive way. Back in the 2000s, we were starting to get Blackberries and we would have Blackberries, which in fact would be on all night. If we were performing poorly, we’d be getting 2 and 3 word texts, messages and e-mails at any time of the night giving us an observation or criticism of our performance. It’s not a mental health crime but that is a very heavy way to be able to coach leadership in an organization.
Leigh: [00:27:57] So issues around constant availability and constant accessibility are these big risks for triggering a mental health problem?
Michael: [00:28:05] I think they create a level of being on, which your attention is not you’re not being present, when you’re always on. Being always on means we expect you to demonstrate your loyalty to the company by being available 24 hours a day. Some organizations will abuse that. Some companies will make a point of that. They will say, “Well you know you’re indispensable to us therefore we should be able to get you.” Thank God for the French and they’ve now said that we’re going to bring in I think some legislation where you cannot receive e-mails and texts from work after a certain hour.
Leigh: [00:28:42] I think they’re also banning smartphones in schools and things like that as well.
Michael: [00:28:47] So I think they’re on the right track being over communicated too means that your brain will attend to that message. It will take you away from being present with your kids or present with your partner. We sometimes over exaggerate how important it is that I send that message right now and I need an answer right now. For a lot of organizations that simply unnecessary. It’s evolved to that. I remember when they first gave people laptops. It was given to you as a reward. You’ve now not got a desk bound computer. You have a laptop. This is a reward. Then they expect you to be now you know in the back of a cab with your laptop open working. So there’s no respite. It’s the problem with technology. It is that it’s in the hands of the clumsy it becomes a tool by which there is no respite from work and you need respite from work. You need mental downtime. I have a young daughter who’s 13 so trying to get mental downtime with her where we are not connected electronically means that there rules need to be enforced inside the house in order that conversation takes place.
Leigh: [00:29:57] I see that myself. I’m on the train. I see someone working away on a laptop and I often wonder what the quality of that work could possibly be. They’re typing something out in a cramped space on a moving train like surely they’d just be better off reading a book, listening to music and come into work refreshed.
Michael: [00:30:13] Well you would think so and I’m great and I’m an avid reader and I love music. I think we’ve got a society now, which is together alone. We are together, we are connected and we are alone. Loneliness in the UK has a Minister now for loneliness. We are now entering an era where we are together alone on our phones connected with less than satisfying interactions to distract us to avoid feeling ands to avoid in fact leaning in. It’s where we are now then. So I think this is a really interesting time for people to be able to pause and if you think about the pause button and how it looks, we need to press pause on the ubiquitous introduction of technology into our lives and what is healthy interaction with that technology.
Leigh: [00:31:07] So your mission with the black light principle is to reveal the hidden. In your work so far, what have you revealed?
Michael: [00:31:14] I have revealed how much hiding is going on regarding people’s mental health. A lot of people are simply reluctant to begin a conversation regarding mental health. Of course men are less so inclined to have conversations. The great thing that’s happening now and I mean Movember has been around now. I think they started that early 03, 05 Movember and those organization,s which are beginning to talk about men’s health, now be it prostate or their mental health or whatever. Those things are fantastic initiatives. RUOK by Gavin Larkin. I worked with Gavin Larkin for 3 years. He left our agency and he went to another one. He started RUOK and at that point we had no idea that Gavin was ill but I mean what a legacy but Gavin has left. RUOK. The thing about RUOK days you need to ask it every day not once not one day. They know that and that’s why they’ve got initiatives to go outside the shoulders of our RUOK. The fact we’re having a World Mental Health Day coming up on October 10, these sorts of things are incredibly important initiatives. Now we’ve gone beyond physical well-being into mental well-being. We’ve thought, “Man, we’ve missed it.” We have really missed it just by focusing on our bodies and not so much our minds. Descartes 400 years ago separated the mind and body, which was an enormous flaw. Now we have discovered that there is inflammation in the body the can pass into the blood brain barrier. There are pro inflammatory cytokines proteins, which in fact actually can get into your brain and reduce the brain’s capacity to be able to produce dopamine and its serotonin. Edward Bullmore released a book last year, “The Inflamed Mind.” So in the last 18 months that has changed depression from being a mental health issue only to being a brain health issue, that’s gigantic. I think it’s absolutely gigantic that we are part of the destigmatisation of mental health. To actually consider is it a physical brain health issue not simply just an issue of the mind and you can do anatomy on the brain but you can’t do anatomy on the mind in the same way. We can’t see it because the mind’s invisible and it becomes problematic for people. Is there something wrong with you mentally? When you start getting into the scanning of the brain, brain anatomy and being able to look at nerve endings, which are a product as a result of inflammation then that’s a different perspective on depression. You see inflammation in the brains of soldiers that have come back overseas with PTSD. They do MRIs on their brains and there’s excessive inflammation in their brains. They undergo hyperbaric treatment in hyperbaric chambers. It reduces the inflammation in their brain and therefore changes mood as well.
Leigh: [00:34:03] What does self care look like to you? What does day-to-day management of your conditions look like for you specifically?
Michael: [00:34:10] I’m far more conscious of what my feelings are. I don’t ignore them. Part of that is to know when I’m in a state called obsessive rumination. Obsessive rumination negative thought means I have to change my state very quickly. We seem to think that emotions last for a really long time like they last for hours. They don’t. They last for minutes. You can change your state very quickly. If I wake up and I find that I am feeling depressed I’ll change my state straightaway. I’ll get up. I will shower. I will shave .I will move. If I feel like that in the middle of a depressive episode I will go for a walk for 5 minutes. Doesn’t even need to be that, I will simply just go down the golf range and hit the back of a ball. I’ll do things, which will move and change the way that I am, so it changes my state. Listening to music changes my state. So I find that if I’ve got a life, which is not regimented but organised, there is less opportunity for me to get into obsessive rumination to go down the well of my feelings. If I self-sabotage by drinking a lot of alcohol, well then no I don’t expect my antidepressant to work. I don’t expect my supplements to work. You know taking turmeric, ginger and spirulina, which will reduce inflammation of the brain. I don’t expect those to work if I self-sabotage. So I have now come out of South Pacific Private with a fairly organised way of living. My health outcomes are a lot better. I have diminished the lows. I suffer bipolar so my highs are very high but they only last a short time. Your lows are very low and they last a long time. It’s a bar shape curve. So I’m trying to find ways to moderate those and live within a band of emotions, which is far healthier. I’m far more productive, far more productive. I feel like I’m, this is an overused word, I feel like I’m in power there. I feel like I can have an influence over my feelings instead of being beholden to them. I used to feel beholden to my mood. I was in this basically a sea state of feelings in which I never had any control. I don’t feel like that now. I used to feel overwhelmed and quite powerless. This can be done I mean I’ve had this for 40 years. So these changes can be made. I certainly don’t have the overwhelming flying high, which was what I used to do, was I’d write presentations when I was in a bipolar high. It would require an incredibly bold presentation approach then I’ll jump on a plane and go halfway around the world on land and I’ll be in an absolute bipolar low. There is no way I’d be able to deliver the presentation the way that I’d written it. I’d be on the plane writing a far less ambitious and bold approach something far more traditional in order to be able to deliver that competently and get out of the room and get back on the next flight New York, L.A. back to Sydney. Its how it was for a long time. You know that’s a different. Depression and bipolar are two different things but that was one of the conditions that used to complicate my work life enormously.
Leigh: [00:37:24] Michael, you’re obviously super conscious and aware of your physical and mental health, how it relates and works for you day to day. For someone who’s just starting their journey, what are some novel ways and tools and tricks they can use to be a little bit more aware of their mental state and to perhaps bring themselves out of a bit of a spiral?
Michael: [00:37:42] I find one of the first things you can do is to start your own little diary or your own little journal. Now my journal exists on about 11 yellow pads throughout my house. What do I do with that journal? I try to keep an eye on what, how and what state I’m in and how I’m feeling at a particular point in time and get an idea that you can do that online. I’m sure there are ways of being out to do this online now and I’m sure there are. There are mental health apps, sleep apps and things like that which I think is really important. So I get an idea of your state. Be able to have a look at what are the inputs into that into that state. It may be that you can identify where are those situations that I’m trying to avoid. What are those feelings I’m trying to avoid? More importantly how am I dealing with that? Am I dealing with it with alcohol? Am I dealing with repressing those feelings? Am I dealing with it by in fact actually overeating? Am I dealing with it by in fact does losing myself in social media? Recognise that it is going to be an issue if you are attempting to avoid that. The other way then is to be able to go right well what constitutes a healthy die. I’m not perfect with my diet in the slightest. So what I try to do though is more often than not you know six days out of seven try and keep that diet on track. Be very moderate with the use of alcohol because depression isolates and alcohol comforts. But as a product of decay and being a poison, it will make you feel worse. So I’m going to be really careful with how I approach that and have some disciplines on it. There were times in which I wasn’t as disciplined. I think that damaged me and damaged some relationships as a result of that. The other thing you can do is you don’t need to be doing 45 Fitness gyms in order for that to constitute exercise. In fact there’s an argument to say that low level exercise helps your cortisol level to just an area in which you are feeling a little bit more wellbeing. It’s the area you want to get to. You don’t want to have to feel exhausted and you’re throwing up because you’re trying to climb a rope you’re trying to get through 40 fitness stations. You don’t necessarily need to do that. So I have found that a lot more passive exercise and passive movement going for a 3 minute walk around a pier. Hitting a bucket of balls, whatever it is whatever you find, it doesn’t need to be nearly as exhaustive as what you may think. Alright so now you may not need to go out do 90 minutes on a bike.
Leigh: [00:40:05] If those things don’t work if people are really struggling. They have tried a few different things to try and snap their mental state try and change the chemistry in their body but it’s just not working, where would you recommend for them to go and get help?
Michael: [00:40:17] Two things- one is that you’ll have no problem saying to your friends. I went for a checkup today with a doctor and you’ll have no problems at all saying that. Very rarely do I have any my friends come and say to me, “Hey Mike I went for a check up with a psychiatrist today. It was really great. Yes, just keeping things on track a few issues there.” Nobody does that really right on here. Now I’d love to normalise that conversation not that I want to give business to a psychiatrist per se. What I’d like to do is to help people to feel as normal about attending to their mental health as they do their own physical health. Unfortunately we’re outweighed by physical health for a lot of reasons. However, we are beginning to address the conversation now. There is an increased volume and narrative in and around mental health. So I’d like my friends to be out to be able to say, “Hey Mike I went to a psychiatrist today, I went to a psychologist or I went to a counselor or went so to the H.R. person worker, had a really good chat with someone whose wisdom I respect. I got a really good balanced way of being and a look at things and that made me feel better.” Good. Don’t bottle that up because it becomes toxic.
Leigh: [00:41:13] Mike you’ve got a book coming out later this year. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Michael: [00:41:17] Yes, the book’s called, “Flying High Feeling Low.” I’m working on the last chapter at the moment only because there’s a new chapter about to start in my life. I’ve just held off on finishing the book. It covers my life from the age of 10 where I wrote my first will at the age of 10 because I didn’t like living. It really then covers my life up until arguably the present time. It is to be able to talk about the struggle, to normalise it, to show how the environment that I used to work in, how I used to mask my life and the damaging effects of masking it. The role of that book is to help people have conversations with themselves first. If you have the right conversation your own inner voice and your own inner critic is critical to your own mental health. So that book is designed really so that you can talk to yourself properly and then be able to talk to others so that they generate some discussion. I’ve gone back and forth with that book now for the past 12 months. I like where it’s going and if it’s not on shelves for Christmas, Which it may not be will in most certainly you know soon thereafter. There’s a new event, which is a new venture which I’m working on which I think would make a fitting last chapter for “Flying High Feeling Low.”.
Lee: [00:42:35] What’s that? If you can share it of course or if you need to keep it under wraps.
Michael: [00:42:38] I’m very interested in the role of inflammation and it’s impact upon brain health. So I have my own startup now, which I’m gathering people together, to be able to look at the ways in which we can diminish the effects of inflammation in the brain and hence diminish the effects of depression in society.
Leigh: [00:42:59] Sounds fascinating, we’ll sit tight for that one. Michael, you’ve been so generous with your time today. Before I let you go, what’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received and why?
Michael: [00:43:09] Well that’s a huge question. I’ve received a number of pieces of advice. I’ll tell you. Just quickly to say what I think the worst piece of advice was and that is you’ve got to be able to take a knife in the chest and walk in the next day. I’ll never forget the guy who told me that. It was part of the bravado of work. I think the best advice that I’ve been given is to try and find the joy in each day. It is easy to look at him work. What are the things you don’t like? We think of work as being hard. I think work’s fantastic. Work gives you purpose. So where is that? So to weed the day at 5 o’clock right so your weed your day you go back and you look for where’s that joy. Where did I find the good things in that? To me that really helped nourish me and give me purpose at work. I found that to be enormously beneficial because that made me look through it and that made me grateful. As opposed to what I didn’t have that made me grateful for what I did have. I think there will always be someone who is praying for what you’ve got now and sometimes you don’t realize that.
Leigh: [00:44:13] That’s wonderful advice and insight. Michael we loved the work of the black light principle. Tell us where can we find out more about you and your work.
Michael: [00:44:20] michaelmorrison.com.au is my website and I use that to be able to for people to be able to contact me. I’m easily available.
Leigh: [00:44:34] Don’t forget the black light principle as well.
Michael: [00:44:36] Indeed.
Leigh: [00:44:37] Michael thanks so much for joining the show.
Michael: [00:44:39] Lee thanks very much.