My story: Chris Collins, co-founder of Tango Kilo Mike
While my story starts some 20 years ago, I’ve taken several attempts to write this, and I’ve found myself getting like a stuck record on the negative aspects such as the number of suicide attempts which no one needs to know about. That said, I write this to provide support to those who may feel that they’re not right but have yet to be diagnosed with a mental injury or illness, or to those currently enduring and who may benefit from any of my words here now. So with this, my story actually starts from the point of my most recent crisis; approximately 18 months ago.
It happened at work. I was a senior manager for an insurance firm and a colleague suggested we should go get a coffee. Something I’d do regularly with lots of colleagues. I love my coffee. This time, the dialogue was different. Rather than talking about strategy or technology or operating risks, this time he asked ‘Chris are you OK?’. As quickly as he asked, I responded ‘Of course I am'. He asked the question again, but this time more deliberately and with a look on his face that easily confirmed that he knew something wasn’t right. Despite the anxiety and fear of going into overdrive, I found myself unable to contain the stress of day-to-day life. The recurring nightmares of seeing my kids death, or reliving scenes from when I was a soldier, or wondering how I’d ever find enough money to somehow curb my families insane ability to spend it, or the intense guilt from having to put my dog down and the sense of failure that came with it, the intense desire to feel valued at work, and even how I felt my wife no longer loved me. I was a mess; unable to control myself emotionally and realizing rapidly that for all of the efforts I’d given to try and be something in life, I’d done the exact opposite.
My friend looked at me with that look. That look. The look that describes all the emotions of a rescuer who is unable to assist the victim. “Chris, I need to talk to work about this. You’re scaring me’. Despite my protestations and anxieties going sky high (plus some silly actions on my part that we don’t need to discuss), he approached the conversation with his trusted allies, and a few days later was off to see a psychiatrist, paid for by my employer.
The 2 or so hours of undergoing psychiatric assessment were surreal. I was in a numb state, coherent but not really present. I don’t remember much about the experience, but I do remember towards the end when he indicated his preliminary diagnosis of major depression, PTSD from my time as a soldier, and a question mark around bipolar disorder still to be resolved. I distinctly remember listening to his words but for them not registering. That would come later. While waiting for a taxi to return home, I felt a sense of profound relief that finally there was something wrong with me that could now be resolved. I called my wife with a sense of exhilaration. I can't quite remember how the conversation went, but I do remember that she was being quite supportive. That was a good enough start for me.
It would be later that the dawning realization of what had been said would hit home. It definitely was an ‘oh what have I done’ moment. Relief was replaced with a reckoning of coming to terms with being - what I’d term – a fruit cake for all of my adult life. I had so many questions – if I’d been suffering all this time, were my friends, friends with fruit-cake Chris? Would they still be friends when I’m normal Chris? Who is normal Chris? How will I know when fruit-cake Chris is gone and normal Chris has arrived? What if normal Chris is too deeply buried under a lifetime of trauma to be achievable? It was pretty accurate to say that I was scared of the unknown.
To try and come to terms with the diagnosis I began to tell my friends and family. I knew I’d need to have the support of people I could trust, and the best way I could trust people would be to tell them and see how they reacted. Thankfully, only a few people reacted negatively to the news, and I can say that we no longer see each other. Within the group of those who did take the news well, they were able to recommend an