'A comprehensive story of my mental health'
by Danielle Morgan
I'm sat in A&E, in my mind I'm in a Nazi German camp waiting to be examined, my mum who is sat next to me, is about to be taken hostage. All I can think about is how am I going to get her out of this room safely.
"Can't you see what's going on here?" I whisper to her.
"What? What's going on Dan?" she looks confused and I sink back into silence as my brain once again tries to devise a way for us to escape.
It's 2007, I am 23, have a very well-paid, fancy job in a tech startup in Chelsea and I am about to be diagnosed with a psychosis which will later be reclassified as schizophrenia.
My name is Danielle and I am the founder of Doppler Effect, I work with climate tech, impact tech, CICs and BCorps who want to scale up the right way while looking after people and the planet. I spent 15 years helping tech startups scale for growth until I had an epiphany in 2015, wrote a sci-fi novel and decided to engage with work that fed my soul.
Putting it together
Mental wellness has been at the front of my agenda for the last 15 years. There is not a type of therapy, technique or toolkit I have not tried, it has been the catalyst for a complete overhaul of my lifestyle.
Initially I hid my diagnosis, knowing that it would seriously hinder my chances of getting and keeping a job. As I have got older I have seen things differently, although I did not choose this experience I am grateful for what it has allowed me to understand. It is humbling and I lead a more fulfilling and more meaningful life because of it. I can also remove fear for others who are either experiencing something similar or have family members in the same position. But the real superpower is that I can also talk openly about mental health in the workplace, it's no longer something I am ashamed of and it means that everyone I work with, from CEO to Intern is in a psychologically safe space and can open up about their own struggles. This type of vulnerability when handled in a safe space is what builds the best, most wholesome teams. When we connect as real humans that is where the magic happens.
Even after all this time I am still piecing the story of my life together. My understanding of mental health has deepened. I often find a new perspective by listening to others, mental health is not just one thing, it changes all the time. It's different for different people. Accepting that is possibly the easiest way for me to reach new powerful insights.
I talk with others who have a diagnosis for other mental health conditions and it is funny how we also go through the same things, you might not realize this but there's a lot of imposter syndrome when it comes to mental health. I get this ALL THE TIME and I wonder to myself 'I am making it all up?'This undermining of my own journey is debilitating but to know others have a similar thing means I can laugh it off.
I keep well informed, I have trained as a counselor to help myself, my family, friends and work colleagues with their conditions.
Mental health and the workplace is complicated, I still have a lot of misconceptions about it myself. Business owners and entrepreneurs know we must understand mental health but we have no idea how much responsibility we need to take. There is a huge cost to the business but also human life by not knowing the answers, which is why when I see health tech companies like Minderful come along I am overjoyed. Taking a step towards the problem rather than away is always going to lead to good things.
I love lists. Here's a list of things that I think about when I think about mental health in general. I put them here as prompts for future discussion not as facts.
Diagnosis: They can vary wildly and even with a diagnosis it's difficult to know what to do.
Responsibility: In a modern society where people are 20 times more likely to die by suicide perhaps we need to stop thinking of it as an individual problem and see it as something we all need to take responsibility for.
Treatment: Mental health 'solutions' such as drugs or therapy both cost money and there's a lot of commercial incentive to finding a solution. Giving people a pill is often the quickest short term solution but what is the right long term solution?
Standards: Similar to hygiene our standards evolve from generation to generation. Our standards of living have been raised, we no longer tolerate poor mental health as we once did.
Care structures: Technology can help create a personalized care structure that supports you but human connection will always be needed. Technology is the facilitator not the solution.
Articulation: Everyone has a different way of explaining their story, one person's strength is another's weakness. Who owns the narrative of our mental health story?
Talent: People often leave the employment pool in favour of freelancing in order to be given the flexibility they need to manage their mental health. Do we encourage this?
As I was writing this piece I discussed it with a wise and trusted friend.
"The schizophrenia diagnosis was the end of your journey, you did all the hard work and then you found out why."
It's true, that diagnosis came after I put in place my own personalized care structure. It is a side note if anything to my story. The story has been navigating and owning my understanding.
Exactly what happened after that day in A&E is a story for another day perhaps, 5 months off work, years of depression, drinking, chaos and then the slow hard grind of turning that ship around - discovering meditation, therapy, exercise, quitting drinking, exploring my soul. All this I am happy to share.
My routine and care plan looks a bit like something an astronaut might legitimately follow but it started with making small changes and growing from there. I also mix things up a bit depending on the season or mood, I try and give myself freedom in my routine not more reasons to give myself a hard time.
Mindfulness - A daily meditation practice between 5 - 30 mins depending on my day, daily practice is non-negotiable for me, if I don’t want to take medication I meditate.
Running - When I quit smoking I had a ton of energy I needed to burn and running became my friend, I think of it like dancing but while going forward, I have now completed a couple of half marathons because I love seeing what my body is capable of. When I get injured I find it really hard but try to introduce other things with a more gentle impact. I have my eye on a marathon next year for my 40th.
Yoga - Took me ages to figure out why yoga is so much more than bending, I try to do a short yin practice before bed because it is the easiest way to get me to sleep.
My allotment - All I talk about on Instagram is my compost bin. I love the air, the seasonal changes, the process of growing food and being outside and physical, it’s the best.
Loving relationships - seems like a weird thing to list out as a routine but I like to tend to my relationships and make space for the people I adore in my life, sometimes that’s via gratitude practice, prayer or journaling or a little message or hug.
Counselling & coaching - I have two coaches and two counsellors (feels like something you’d expect Madonna to say) but I see them for different things. I take breaks as well so I can absorb the healing or the progress. Finding the right connection is the most important thing, I like to surround myself with people who help me flourish in every way.
Writing - I am casually writing my second novel atm it’s a sequel to POTATO (my 1st sci-fi novel) Brandon Sanderson says if someone you know took up basketball you would say, good for you, you wouldn’t say when are you going to start playing for the pros? It’s the same with writing, you don’t have to be ‘good’ to write. Thankfully.
Swimming - Love the sensation of water, I went wild swimming a few years ago and I would love to do more of that. For now, I will stick to the leisure centre.
Singing & Dancing - in my bedroom, in the shower, in the car, on my run oh yes sir, I can boogie. I’m a freestyler when I dance that is the freest I ever feel, I used to go to a group called VocalTonix which was a singalong and social group, but sadly that has finished now I have been considering how to get more singing in my life. As with writing it has nothing to do with ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s a unique human expression and it’s beautiful.
Computer games - this is a pure pleasure, I currently play CIV VI but I used to play ESO online. If these words mean nothing to you it’s probably for the best but if you know then you know. I have long-running discussions with friends about the merits of gaming for mental health, work and life, in general. I am currently piloting DND-style gaming into mission-based startups as a way of increasing wellness, team bonding, problem-solving and encouraging strategic thinking.
By far the most important bit about my experience is not what happened but what we do next, suddenly we are listening, we are beginning to change, we are awake. Companies like Minderful exist now.
It doesn't matter that 'suddenly' took nearly 20 years, at least it's here and here to stay. You can't choose what happens to you but you can choose how you approach it and that is the mantra that has kept me going. If you are reading this and it resonates with you please feel free to connect with me also I want to thank everyone who has helped me along the way. In the words of David Bowie 'I never thought I'd need so many people'.
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