Overcoming - John Holway - ebook
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The journey from Burnout and back to "normal life". A gripping account of how a middle-aged father of 2 survived the consequences of burnout in the business world and learned many lessons in finding inner peace, purpose and security.

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Foreword by Tim Collard, last British Consul-General in Hamburg

When I took over as HM Consul-General in Hamburg in May 2004, my outgoing predecessor told me of a situation which might need careful handling. John Holway, a Commercial Officer with an excellent professional record, had been suffering with mental health problems and was now being reintegrated into the workplace.

I must say I had been expecting more in the way of difficulties. When I met John, it was immediately clear that he was dedicated to his job and was, moreover, one of the good guys. No way was he a basket case – his professional abilities, for which he had won awards in the past, were all there. He told me that there was still a danger of relapse, and I told him he should always come to me at the first sign of trouble and I would ensure that he got time out or any other support he might need. I was happy to provide a room in which he could go and lie down at any time.

For the rest of our time working together this worked out fine, and I could see John gradually regaining confidence. It was a difficult time for us all, as the next year it was decided that, for cost-cutting reasons, our Consulate would shortly be closed, and I had the horrible task of delivering redundancy notices to all my staff – in December, as is traditional. I had expected this to bear particularly heavily on John, as it might not be so easy for him to find a new workplace which could accommodate itself to his needs.

However, his ebullient personality and refusal to give up, was a great help in maintaining morale, which we did until the very end.

I am delighted to have kept John as a friend, and regularly meet up with him and his wife when I come to Hamburg. He has fought the good fight, and proved himself a truly awesome human being.

Prologue

Thank you. You were meant to read this book, and I was meant to write it!

I believe in divine guidance. You were led to these words, and I was inspired to write them. Like many people, I have been searching for a long time for the answer as to why my life is like it is, and what I am meant to learn here on Earth. I began writing this book whilst on holiday with my sister in South Africa. I was alone and had peace to write. For a long time I had wanted to unload my soul, now I finally had the chance to begin.

In October 2001, I was living in Hamburg and had just turned 40 years of age, I was a husband, a father of two boys and a successful employee in the commercial world. I thought I had everything I needed, but for some time I had been feeling tired, discontented, agitated and worn out.

Things had been getting worse for some time, then one day my emotions welled up inside of me and I fled the office in tears. I felt like a broken man.

Something happened that changed my life for ever. Doctors call it stress or burn-out syndrome. The physical and emotional pain I felt almost drove me over the edge.

The diagnosis was bi-polar disorder - wild mood swings. This sounds quite straightforward, but it led to a desire within me to search for the very meaning of life itself and to discover who God really is.

There is nothing more certain in life than change. My world came crashing down. At the time I thought I had lost my job, my wife, my children, my self-respect and my health. I almost lost my mind. This book is about an incredible journey back to health. I am still on that journey, and I wish to share my experiences with you. We learn much from the experiences of others, and we do not have to go through every emotion ourselves to understand it.

I pray that by reading these words you will be inspired to begin your own personal journey to find the purpose for your life. May you be spared much pain and torment along the way.

Be prepared for angels to come into your life (if you are ready to believe in such beings) and bless those who help you. Also bless those who (seemingly) do not help you, for they too are teaching you a great lesson.

Contents

Chapter 1 The Crash

Chapter 2 Into the Hospital

Chapter 3 The First Attempt to Flee

Chapter 4 Admission to the Secure Psychiatric Ward

Chapter 5 The Return to Germany

Chapter 6 Doctors – Who Needs Them?

Chapter 7 Back to the Office

Chapter 8 A Guide from Above – The Natural Healer

Chapter 9 Back into the hospital

Chapter 10 Back to Work (Again)

Chapter 11 More Help from the Clinic

Chapter 12 The End of an Era

Chapter 13 The God Factor

Chapter 14 Dreams

Chapter 15 Letting Go – Life After the Office

Chapter 16 Emotional Authenticity

Chapter 17 A New Beginning

Chapter One – The Crash

In October 2001, I was feeling extremely pressurized and somehow out of balance. I had been going to my office at the British Consulate-General in Hamburg, for some weeks feeling restless. I was happy in the basement doing manual work – carrying crates or shifting stuff with the caretaker – but found it extremely hard to sit at my desk and type on the PC. I forced myself to sit and type, and then one day it happened. From somewhere deep inside an ocean of sorrow welled up inside of me. The tears flowed and flowed. Try as I could, I could not stop crying and left the office in sheer embarrassment and desperation. I did not want to talk to anyone.

I cried whenever someone was nice to me and wanted everyone to leave me alone. Near the office was a big lake. There I wandered around in circles trying to calm myself. I felt driven and that I literally could not stop walking and sit still. I tried to go back to the office, but could not face seeing people. An official lunch was taking place in an upstairs room with lots of colleagues.

Summoning all my strength I put on a jacket and tie (I had come to loathe wearing these symbols of “office slavery” – in fact I still do!), then I walked up the stairs to meet my colleagues.

When I entered the room I tried to act normal – to act as if I was ok, but the harder I tried the more the tears came and I made a hurried exit. The more “pressure” I put on myself the more the sadness rose up from inside. I felt such a fool, weak and unable to control my emotions in front of others. Somehow I managed to “get my stuff together”. I got changed in the basement – where I had often been working or hiding to “get away from people who bothered me”. As I left the Consulate building I had a strong sensation that I would be going away for a long while and that things would never be the same again – how right I was! I drove my car just a few 100 yards away from the office, before pulling over and stopping. Again the tears flowed and I felt crushed.

Still though I felt I just had to go on. I had to somehow keep moving and I never thought of asking for help. I was too embarrassed and did not know what was wrong with me. I just felt an incredible pressure in my head and thought I had to keep going, to keep moving at all costs. That day I was meant to collect my youngest son and friends from a school trip.

I could drive my car as long as the windows were open and the cool air kept me calm.

Later I discovered that I was probably having a manic episode, but at the time I had no idea what was going on. I parked the car near where I was to collect the boys at the Stadtpark, the Central Park in Hamburg. As I was too early, I wandered around in the park to keep moving and ended up by the sports pitch where I used to play rugby and this brought back very pleasant memories.

All the time my thoughts were racing. Why could I not keep still and what on Earth was going on with me? Unless you have experienced such a manic episode you have no idea of the feeling of pressure in your head, and the sheer terror that something is going to explode. Fear can kill, and at the time I had no idea what was causing this.

As if in a daze or drunken stupor I managed to drive the boys home and pretended to them that I was fine. I learned it is often better to pretend with people and not many can face the truth. Children especially need to be protected, and I was very conscious of my responsibility for the kids. Likewise I found it hard to tell my wife what had happened and did not want to burden her.

When retelling the story I felt such shame and helplessness that I decided it was best to keep quiet and not to burden anyone.

Inside I was smoldering like a volcano. The more I kept silent the more the pain rose and I started to erupt, or fly off the handle at small incidents. I had managed to get out of the office and get home, but was far from “safe”. It was to get much worse before I could see the light again and move out of the darkness of fear and the agony of pain.

The Cry for Help

The next day I do remember going to my General Practitioner (GP) and asking for help. I was written off sick, I felt restless like a tiger in a cage and slept badly. At home I felt as if my wife was always getting at me. Many husbands feel this I know, but in my case I felt persecuted or hunted. It is our loved ones who suffer the most when people get sick. It is easy to act for a while with those outside the home, but our nearest of kin know the real us, and we cannot act for ever. For the outside world I could wear a mask, but this soon came off within the walls of our own home.

One meal time I erupted over a small argument. The pain was enormous in my head. I stormed out of the house and felt I had to flee, to get away to protect my family and not to vent my uncontrolled rage on them. My father was a very strict disciplinarian and I was determined not to follow in his footsteps. In actual fact, the harder I tried not to be like him, the more I was bound to him and put myself under incredible pressure to act in a certain way. I walked a few yards from home and lay down on path on a nearby field lane utterly exhausted. My mood swings were catastrophic and I felt I had to “get away” and hide.

I walked to a friend’s house for refuge. The house was full of noisy and crying children, but I sat on the floor feeling woozy and was happy to be out of my own home, where I felt such stress. Later I asked to actually lie down in my friend’s bed and amazingly they said it was no problem and at last I could rest and sleep there. I woke and walked home, but kept getting these massive mood swings and feeling high and low.

When you have a high mood swing it is an amazing sensation. You have such clarity of mind and a sense of enormous power, wisdom and strength within you. I guess drug addicts must feel that way when they get a high.

The only problem is that others around you have trouble coping with someone who claims to be “enlightened” and tells others what to do. The more others confront or challenge you, the more it pulls you down. The highs do not last and when the down times come, it is like crashing into a pit of despair, of pain, of agony. I felt such enormous physical pain in my head that I just had to get away, but did not know to where.

So on with the story. After returning home I slept in the basement for a few hours and calmed down. When I awoke my head was pounding and felt like it was going to explode. When the nerves are all electrified the body can have frightening sensations. Really it is the body’s way of telling you to slow down and to get help. The only trouble is that when you are manic, you think you have to do it all on your own. I have always been strong willed and the manic phase just pushed me into an activity overdrive.

Eventually I ended up having a row with my eldest son and shouting at him that he should respect his mother. I felt an uncontrolled rage rise up within me. Rage at being unable to control him. At that moment I had a flash back and remembered how I had felt when my own father had raged at me. The rage erupted within me. I felt I had become like my dad. I did not want to hurt anyone, but felt as if I was going to explode.

Actually, I must have been trying so hard to hold back my temper and calm myself that I imploded. The pain was so intense that I felt as if I was going to die. I could not speak and felt I had literally “blown my top”. I could still think however. I took a bottle from the kitchen and smashed it on the floor. That was my cry for help. My wife came running downstairs and I told her to call for an ambulance. How I spoke I do not know, I just knew I had to get help and knew that I could not shout anymore. Thankfully my wife did call the ambulance and help came.

The Realm of the Unknown

The body is an astoundingly clever organism. It has self-protection and self-preservation mechanisms built in to ensure its own survival when things get out of hand. In my case my mind had gotten out of hand and gone into overdrive. I guess in layman’s terms I just “blew a fuse”, but the consequences were devastating. What happened after my wife called the ambulance is a blur. I guess my mind shut down and my body took over. I remember walking around the house and singing the song - “walk in the light” over and over again. (I knew the song well from church). I remember trying to equalize the pressure in my ears by going up and down the stairs (we have 4 floors in our house).

I remember from scuba diving how to equalize the pressure, but I could just not get my ears to clear. Being in a manic high I felt I could not sit down and just had to keep moving. My wife and two boys were in the house at the time. My behavior must have been terrifying or very strange to them, but I guess I was holding in a lot of my stuff so am not sure how much they even noticed.

When the ambulance came I sat in the armchair and demanded to look at the TV. I thought I was getting “messages” from God via the TV set. Such was the state of my manic mind that I was looking for signs anywhere in the house to tell me what to do. I remember aggressively pushing a nurse to one side so I could look at the TV. The picture on the screen I will never forget.

It must have been a hospital series with a dark scene of the bleep bleep on a hospital monitor, when a patient is in intensive care and on the verge of death. I thought I was going to die.

The ambulance team said my blood pressure was dangerously high and this must all have been caused by my confused state of mind.

The “incident” of me shouting at my son had occurred sometime previously, and I had been wandering around the house in a state of delirium since then. I have often heard the phrase “he worried himself to death”.

I never actually realized it was possible to do this. I remember fear rising up inside of me. The ambulance team injected some drugs into me and gave me oxygen. I remember thinking I am not going to die. It is the most incredible experience, to feel as if you are on the verge of death.

The Germans have a word “Todesangst”, the fear that you are about to die. This is what I believe I experienced. I believe in helpers from other realms – be they angels or unseen friends – and I surely got help from another realm that evening. After the picture of imminent death on the TV screen I switched channels with the remote control.

As the oxygen flowed in to my lungs I saw an image on the screen of a comedian in a golden suit making people laugh. It was a one man standup comedy show, and the man was entertaining the audience by telling jokes. This was my “God moment”. The message to me was clear. Lighten up. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Laughter is wonderful medicine and it surely calmed me down that fateful night. The message went even deeper for me. If you want to remove the fear of death – laugh. Laugh in the face of your worst nightmare and the demons in your mind will disappear.