From Suicidal to Happiness Engineer (Almost) in 3 Months.

Almost is the operative word. The blog title is metaphoric unfortunately due to a job application which was derailed (more about that later..) but herein lies a story of overcoming (work in progress) personal difficulties and loss of self after a massive change of life and finding some new contentment and direction. My 2017 year in review follows.

Spring

So, the beginning of 2017 found me with a wife, three gorgeous kids, a lovely home in Leitrim we owned outright, a nice car we owned outright, no loans or debts and a small but successful design business of my own that paid all bills. I had pretty much everything that most people work for and aim towards in life. At age 41. But in conversation with the imaginary person in my head who regularly asked me “How are you doing Leon?” I always hesitated before saying “I’m fine”. Why the hesitation?

Well, something just wasn’t quite right and hadn’t been quite right for a long time and I couldn’t really put my finger on it. We’d had the same problems a lot of people have in life; money shortage, health issues, the difficulties in raising three young kids, etc.. but it felt like something more than those. There was an uneasy feeling whenever I came home or was around my wife and kids for more than a few hours. I noticed my temper getting shorter, my patience with the kids growing thin very easily and my physical health suffering as I felt more and more stressed with each passing week and month. I had an office outside the house and I longed to be there whenever I wasn’t. Coming home was not something I looked forward to. That’s such a scary feeling. You know something is seriously wrong when you can’t face coming home to your wife and kids, particularly when you know they’d done nothing to make you feel that way and had only the deepest of love for you.

I’d been seriously depressed before a few times, many years previously as well as having a family history of depression and suicide and it felt a little like that again but with lots of anger added for good measure. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I happy with everything I had? Why wasn’t I delighted to come home to my wife and kids every day after a hard day in the office? Why did I long for Monday morning on a Friday evening? Unfortunately I was to find out the answers to these questions the hard way and in the process, destroy some of the people that cared most about me, alienate all of my friends, family and in-laws and ultimately let myself down in a way I never thought I would or even could. A normally honest, tidy and intelligent person, full of integrity would turn into a liar, a cheat and a selfish arsehole and make the biggest mess of his life, changing it irrevocably, all in the space of a month or two and all because of a lack of courage, maturity and decisiveness.

Summer

The summer started as any other. Peas were planted, the garden wrestled with on a regular basis and a First Communion party at the house with friends and family present. Two long months of school holidays were contemplated and dreaded. Plans made to go camping, possibly to France. The kids first trip abroad maybe. Behind this seemingly normal family life lay a few oddities, my unhappiness, my wife’s unhappiness, the fact that I’d never really got on with my in-laws, didn’t really have any friends or the fact that my wife and I hadn’t shared a bed for over a year and a half. An odd thing for a married couple but something that was just accepted as normal for some reason? Then it happened. For the first time in a long time another woman gave me some attention. It’s a dilemma faced by many men (and women) I’m sure and like thousands before me I didn’t have the mental strength, honesty and cop on to stop it, instead, flattered by the attention and even needing and wanting it perhaps, I made the worst mistake of my life and had an affair. I enjoyed the thrill while it lasted and even managed to convince myself that it would help my marriage when it was over and give it a new impetus in some way. But that’s not how things turned out of course..

My wife found out about the affair and from the moment she screamed at me that she knew (during a marriage counselling session), I felt my life was over. When I seen how much I’d hurt my wife, a kind, caring person who’d done nothing but love me for 15 years, I just wanted to die. For the next couple of months I lived out of my office, B&B’s and friend’s spare beds, contemplating where my life would go next. One day planning how I’d kill myself, to the point of actually looking for rope, guitar leads, medication or a big enough truck, the next, thinking about my three kids and how they would react to me dying and wondering if I could find some way to live happily and normally again. After a while my wife was gracious enough to tell me she forgave me and even understood why I’d done it and for a while we both entertained the daft notion that we could put it behind us, start again and be stronger together for the experience. We even tried it for a while when I moved back into the family home for a couple of weeks but something had died.

Autumn

One night during this period my wife and I had a massive argument with physical violence which resulted in me trying to hang myself. The next day my wife drove me straight to our family doctor and from there I was referred to a psychiatric hospital in Sligo where I stayed for a week. On leaving hospital I was provided with anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medication which I’m still on at the time of writing. I basically came out of hospital to a brand new but uncertain life. I managed to find an affordable apartment in Mohill, Leitim which for those who don’t know can seem like a pretty desolate, isolated place and it didn’t help that my first night was spent in darkness with no electricity. I was quite worried about being isolated with no car and being on my own too much but slowly and surely, mostly with the help of my partner, some counselling from both professionals and friends, a local bus service and lots of thinking I managed to get into some kind of routine. One pleasant surprise I had after a few weeks was realising that I didn’t feel too bad being on my own. I’d been on my own plenty of times in the past, sometimes for long periods and with no outlet I’d gone fairly mad a few times. But this time I had work to get back into, a partner that came over nearly every day and ferried me around anywhere I needed to go and on top of those I was very pleasantly surprised to find that there were a few little classes and things I could get involved in in Mohill. I signed up for a Social Singing group, private Singing Lessons, regular local Mental Health talks as well as a local Grow Mental Health group and lastly a Cookery course of all things! I also read a lot and lost a lot of weight eating less and eating healthier.

I’m not really sure where I got the motivation to get involved in any of these, maybe my medication has helped and I’m a little nervous about stopping it as I know I must soon, but with all of that I was kept busy and my mind wasn’t racked with guilt, sadness and depression over what I’d done, how much I’d lost and how much my life had changed. I now had space to think, be myself, indulge in hobbies, do many different things and get my shit together basically. One massive thing that still needed ironing out though was my three children. My ex-wife brought me to court to try limit my access to them as she was fearful of my mental condition. Something which annoyed me a lot at the time but I’ve now realised was probably sensible on her part although I would never have done anything to endanger my kids, no matter how low I was. We reached a compromise with the court and I’m glad to say I see my kids a lot now which is great and I have a great relationship with them. Probably a lot better than before actually. It’s hard to have a decent relationship with anyone when you’re fundamentally unhappy. I also have a much better relationship with my ex-wife despite what I put her through and that’s very important to me. We have to get on, if for no other reason than we are morally obliged to both raise our children the best we can and set good examples to them. But regardless of the kids, I think we need to get on for ourselves too. She’s also met someone else and is happy which is great for both of us. And our kids.

Winter

So along came winter and things were going well. I felt happier than I’d felt in years. I had a spring in my step. I got to thinking about my worse financial situation though and a possible career change to help fix it. I had a constant stream of jobs coming into my inbox every day and I sent CVs off to some of them never to hear anything back. Then one day I spotted a post on Facebook re an opening for a “Happiness Engineer” with a company I knew well, Automattic, the guys behind the awesome software I’ve used to build websites for most of the past ten years, WordPress. Now a position entitled “Happiness Engineer” is the kind of thing that would normally make someone a tad cynical like me puke but something about it caught my imagination. The irony and beauty of me possibly getting a job title like that after having the year I’d had or family history I had was something I just couldn’t pass up. It would have been a fairy tale ending to a difficult year to get the job. But a certain Automattic HR person hadn’t read my script.

I already knew that Automattic were regarded as a very progressive company to work for and there were many great benefits to working with them and when I read the job spec I got very excited about working for someone else for probably the first time in over 15 years. I sent in my initial application and was delighted to be invited to enter the interview process. I managed to get all the way through to the paid trial contract stage and even sent off the signed contract before some shit hit the fan! Automattic make a big song and dance about allowing employees the flexibility to work around their personal, social and family lives and all of their online literature seems to be very employee-centric. So you can imagine my surprise when out of the blue, with no prior mention they sent me a “Conflict of Interest” legal document and told me I’d have to completely fold my 15 year old freelance business if I was to take a position with them. I panicked a little and questioned their HR person as to why I’d have to do such a drastic thing and she explained it to me. I said I understood (which I did. I’m taking clients off their premium WordPress service technically! Not sure how I didn’t spot that initially..but more importantly, how they didn’t spot it either and allowed me through the various interview stages) and said I’d continue to do the trial and see if I liked it enough and see if the salary was enough to give up my business completely. A little later that same day I was then told they’d changed their mind about advancing me to the trial stage and would be cancelling my application with immediate effect. “Good luck with your future endeavours” etc… To my eternal shame, I replied to that email and basically begged for a second chance and that I had thought it over and came up with a plan to fold my business in favour of working for Automattic but the HR person was having none of it and stuck to her guns, completely ignoring my argument and basically writing me off for finding it hard to swallow the bitter pill of having to kill my baby, my business I’d built up from scratch over 15 years. My efforts in the interview process, my qualifications, my experience with WordPress and my obvious great desire to land the job were all ignored because I queried having to wind up my business. Hows that for employee-centric!?

What’s To Learn?

There’s nothing like learning from your mistakes, so they say. The bigger the mistake, the more you learn. If you’re not killed in the process.  It’s important I think to recognise your mistakes, acknowledge them, apologise for them if necessary/relevant but not let them define you or continue to affect you negatively. Everyone makes mistakes at some stage. Everyone needs to make them and, more importantly, learn from them. I’m not a bad person despite having done bad things, especially this year. I’ve done a lot of good things in my life too. Far more good than bad things actually. I’m also capable of loving other people outside myself as my kids and partner will testify to.

I know many people who know me (and some who don’t I’m sure) will read this and judge me as I’ve been judged since this summer but your judgement can do me no harm because I’ve already judged myself. Mercilessly so. Also, I have the wisdom of experience and self-awareness now. The kind you only get from making spectacular mistakes and from scraping the bottom of the barrel.

To my Ex-wife. You are a beautiful, kind, caring and funny person and a great mother who deserves to be loved, looked after and have every happiness in the universe. You were the best friend I’d ever had and you didn’t deserve to be treated the way I treated you, regardless of the fact that I didn’t love you anymore. I have no excuses. I wish I was man enough to have ended our relationship naturally rather than so very unnaturally. I am so very sorry for what I’ve put you through and hope you can forgive me some day. I also hope you realise in time that our 15 years together created three wonderful little people and made us both a lot wiser, happier and better people..

Leon

PS – If you are feeling low or suicidal, there’s plenty of help available. Try these:

Grow
Pieta House
Aware
Samaritans

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.