Writer Kevin Braddock Decided To Create A Magazine After His Mental Health Crisis

RISING Asking for help is such a simple idea, but as men in particular, we’re pretty bad at it – do you think there’s a slightly toxic masculinity that needs challenging?

KEVIN BRADDOCKAbsolutely. None of us are really meant to ask for help. We’re all supposed to be independent and fulfilled and accomplished and autonomous and all those things and it’s a strange idea. What I've learnt is that you can't really live that way, because we're a social species and we're meant to rely on each other and help each other out, but there's a lot of things that prevent us from doing that.’

RISING You’ve been through a major depressive episode yourself – how did that feel in terms of being isolated?

KB ‘There's the asking for help thing, which is just something you put on Facebook in the teeth of this crisis and when you're in a very depressed state… I remember thinking there was just nothing in the world at all. There wasn't any people or friends or love or anything. It was just me and this void, and the choice was to either end it or ask for help. Probably about 18 months later I was in London, and went to see a friend I hadn't seen for about ten years. He said: “What's been going on?” So I told him and he said, “Have you asked for help?” and I said, “Yeah” and he said, “Well done”. It confirmed to me that it was an important thing.’

RISING Do you the think the pressure to succeed and do better can end up being dangerous if you get too into it?

KB ‘I'm not casting any judgement on how anyone should or shouldn't live their lives. What I've written isn’t: “look, this is how life should be.” It’s more just a story about how I got to something. All the stats say that men under 45 are at the highest risk of suicide and then in the workplace when I suppose the further up the corporate ladder you get the more competitive it is, and the more you have to be guarded and paranoid to survive...’

‘I think there's a lot of shame I lost when I asked for help on Facebook’

RISING Is it possible that myths are being created around achievement and success?

KB ‘I think that the market rewards dominance and achievement and success, so it's like how do these square with human values of collaboration and cooperation and so on? You even see it in amateur cycling and I was guilty of this ten years ago, of being massively into triathlon and just basically almost self-abusing through triathlon by taking it very seriously; thinking that my entire identity depended on it, and if I didn't do a PB then I was a failure. Sport is a proxy to real life, but it often becomes the real thing. It becomes the main competition and I'm suspicious of myths of achievement and dominance and success. Some people are just better at it than others. I'm not an athlete, I'm a writer.’

RISING Of course, work stress has a strong link to mental health – you offer an interesting definition of stress in Torchlight...

KB ‘I did a course in coaching and mentoring – the guy that taught there said: “Stress is what happens when a demand is made on a person who doesn’t have the resources to meet it.” So basically you're overwhelmed with, “I can't do it but I don't know how to say that I can't do it,” or you fail immediately because you don't have what you need to do the job, which is often the case in the world of work when impossible demands are made.’

‘Work and life have melded into each other so we don't really know where the boundaries are’

RISING Do you think there have been changes in the way we talk about work that are maybe distorting our viewpoints?

KB ‘The one that seems to have been the biggest in the last ten years is that we're all meant to be passionate – I’ve always had a real problem with that because I think passion means suffering for something, and it seems to me that unless it’s got “passionate” written on your CV you won't be taken seriously. I think it’s historically a very new thing that people get any satisfaction from their work and it's great if you do, but again work and life have melded into each other to such an extent now that we don't really know where the boundaries are.’

RISING So crossover in the sense of mental health should be something that we take care of every day and not just something that we deal with in a crisis?

KB ‘Tim Ferris and Ryan Holiday, they're both really into the stoic philosophers who were all: “accept yourself and the world and you will be happier”. But I get quite turned off by a lot of that stuff and its “100 tips to be more productive”. I think that people need to be more accepting and stop being so productive because I think being productive for its own sake is what gets people into stress and it's very easy just to be led by that mentality – of it's never enough.’

RISING When it comes to asking for help, do you think there’s still a stigma attached to mental illness, and ultimately shame – how did you lose yours?

KB ‘Shame - I think that's the big, dangerous one because that's the thing that I think makes people kill themselves. I think there's a lot of shame I lost when I asked for help on Facebook. I thought there are a thousand people here, some of them know me really well, some I don't even know who they are – that's the nature of Facebook. I thought I can either carry on living this life of hiding how I genuinely feel about things, or I can ask for help. I'm not saying I'm un-embarrassable but I think there's some things that I'm not afraid of telling people anymore; that I suffer from these illnesses, not all the time, but certainly a lot of the time and it’s something that I have to think about and particularly I have to think, how does it affect other people?’

‘Yoga and tai chi are very useful just to re-embody yourself, rather than hit the gym and try to get a PB’

RISING You say in your book that you can't think your way out of trouble – you have to act. So we have to connect with our bodies more?

KB ‘I spent about a year living with a mate of mine in Bristol. He's a very wise man and he was kind of mentoring me. He had a lot of little heuristics and tips – as simple as getting up in the morning and just starting to move, whether that's walking or doing a few stretches. This is where things like yoga and tai chi are very useful just to re-embody yourself, rather than hit the gym and try to get a PB. It's more about a state of physical being, because I think one of the really insidious things about depression and anxiety is a lot of it does exist in your thoughts. You tend to walk around just thinking that I'm just perceptions and a mind and actually it's all a single system.’

RISING As well as the magazine, you’ve also produced a deck of Practice Cards – 53 tips for mental health: where did the idea come from?

KB ‘After I'd returned from Berlin I was trying to get myself recovered and I was doing it the wrong way. I was being quite military about it. I would get out of bed every morning and try and do some tai chi, stretching, then some breathing and then maybe some prayer and meditation and then cut some logs in the garden and have a low-carb high-protein breakfast; basically overwhelming myself with all these things that I'd read about from Tim Ferriss or in books on spirituality or philosophy, or speaking to people. So after a while I just wrote them all down on index cards and thought, “OK just try and do two every day, and if you do two or one then that’s a minor win,” which is pretty much all you need to get through one day. Some of the ideas in the practice cards you don’t need to be someone who suffers from depression and anxiety to get something out of.’

RISING It seems that engaging with different environments was a big part of your recovery – is that what the Practice Cards are driving at when they talk about ’opposite elements’?

KB ‘Yes, in the old school, medieval way of thinking about the elements: air is thought, fire is energy, earth is your sense of groundedness and water is your emotions. This sounds a bit weird but if I have too much emotion in me, if I sit by a fire then it evaporates a bit, and if I have too much anger I just go for a swim or a cold bath. Then if I'm thinking too much it’s good to walk, and if I'm feeling very stuck then it's good to go up somewhere really high and windy. It's just about being in the elements really, the simple ones; sun, sea, mountains and air.’

RISING One of the cards in the Practice deck talks about cultivating patience – is that something you had to do?

KB ‘Very deep depression, or very acute anxiety, feels like a permanent state and it's the easiest thing to do to lose sight of the fact that it will change and it does, because people recover. All it is is irrational thought, but I think it has to be something held quite deeply within oneself that whatever is going on now it won't always be like this, and you can think back to a time when it wasn't like this. There's a visualisation a guy told me about. He said, “Look, just imagine yourself coming back towards yourself in five years in the future and telling yourself a good story”. Of course we're not taught to cultivate patience. We're taught to want all of our desires satisfied immediately. Having been someone who's been extraordinarily impatient for much of my life then I see the value in it now.’’

WHAT NEXT? The Practice playing card deck that Kevin Braddock designed as his own recovery tool can be used by anyone to improve mental strength and fight stress. Without giving away all 52 cards, here are two, randomly selected by RISING, for you to try today:

  1. Shadow Boxing - ten minutes, any style, to loud music.
  2. Acceptance, Trust, Honesty – choose one and practice it today.

Learn more about the Torchlight System here.