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“A PROBLEM SHARED IS A PROBLEM HALVED” is an old saying, but it rings more true than ever right now. As we plunge further into a world that appears to be in reboot mode – we are faced with an overwhelming sense of ambiguity and uncertainty. We are experiencing problems that feel beyond our control. Bushfires, health pandemics, social justice issues – just to name a few. Hard conversations are happening everywhere. But I do believe the right conversations are happening. This may not be the year that we need to run away from, but perhaps the year we all needed to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. To reassess our priorities and find gratitude in the things that matter most. That process can be incredibly confronting. Together, we can make meaning from these issues and build stronger. I am so proud that Heart On My Sleeve is partnering with the Mentally Healthy Change Group to lead by example and show what this period has been like for some of the top leaders in the creative, media and marketing industry in Australia. Both professionally and personally, I have been inspired to read these stories, because they all share one common theme: growth. It may be tough, but doing it together is the way through. We may be “distancing” at the moment, but it’s vulnerability like this that will connect us more than ever.

MITCH WALLIS Heart On My Sleeve Founder heartonmysleeve.org


As the impact of the Coronavirus continues to wreak havoc across the world, no one remains unimpacted. From the devastating loss of life to financial downturns, job losses and crippled industries, everyone has been affected one way or another by this pandemic. However, just how people have been impacted is not always obvious, particularly when it comes to mental health. Inspired by the Heart On My Sleeve movement, which empowers people to share stories of struggle and resilience, here we have a personal collection of stories from professionals within Australia’s advertising, media and marketing industry, which show just how COVID-19 has impacted them and their mental well-being. We hope that reading these personal, raw and unique stories will encourage others to speak up, ask for help or share their stories, and help smash the stigma on mental health. This is the second Heart On My Sleeve book created by the Mentally Healthy Change Group, with the first sharing stories of industry CEO’s mental health challenges. Big thank you to Pippa Chambers for driving this project, to Mitch Wallis for the inspiration and guidance, to Tam and the team at Tribal for editing the book and to everyone who took part in the book and shared their stories so openly and honestly to help others.

Mentally Healthy is a movement to enhance our industry’s capacity to cope with and improve levels of mental health. We’re driven by the Mentally Healthy Change Group, a set of passionate volunteers who are focused on empowering the creative, media and marketing industry to smash the stigma around mental health. It’s guided by Never Not Creative and UnLtd who provide resource, leadership and facilitation. To find out more about the Mentally Healthy Change Group visit www.mentally-healthy.org If you need help urgently call Lifeline on 13 11 14. @mentallyhealthyaustralia @mentally-healthy-au











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Sign the Minimum Standards and find out how to create a mentally healthier business at mentally-healthy.org



s I write this, a calendar notification has just reminded me of the mental health and wellbeing session I’d registered interest in attending. I’m pretty good like that – intention wise. I see something that I know would be beneficial to helping me manage my own mental health, but then quite often fail to follow through with. I’ve done the same thing for well over a decade now. Since I was first diagnosed with extremely severe depression and anxiety. Even though I know those things I intend to do, actually work! But the hard reality is that I’m tired, although I’m doing less. I lack motivation, even though there is so much to fight for. I have more conversations inside my head even though there is more reason than ever to talk out loud with others. And yes, I cry… a lot. No specific time, trigger, or rationale. Just many moments of complete vulnerability where I can’t keep it ‘together’ any more. Often in the garage, but also often in front of my little boy because I want him to know it’s OK to be upset. For me, what makes this challenging time just a case of separate, fleeting passes, rather than all-consuming, bed-ridden and badbad-thinking depression that I’ve battled with for a huge chunk of my life, is the forcing of myself to get back to doing what I know works for me.

As tired as I am, as unmotivated as I am… as stressed, anxious, and as nervous as I am… I continue to work at throwing myself at the tried and tested. Force myself to exercise. To pick up the phone and talk to people (which I hate so much). To meditate. Force myself permission to switch off with PlayStation or TV and have a fucking break. To stop and breathe. To be OK with not being able to control it all and to realise that there are still many ways to enjoy our today. Admittedly, I don’t win this battle every day, but I keep plugging away. As my ‘mentor’ David Brent says, “when you’re facing the right direction, just keep walking”. Jokes aside, it is a tough fucking time, for everyone. Lots of challenges. Some of which are new for some, some of which are old for others. What works for me will not work for everyone, but there will be fewer more important times than now to be kind, forgiving and patient with yourself…nothing is ever permanent.


ive years ago my wife and I decided our future was not in the city of Sydney. We both had a close connection to Avalon Beach so we packed up and moved to the Northern Beaches to start our new lives and growing family. Our move came with a time sacrifice for me as I now had a one hour commute (each way) to the office in the city. I started working ‘tradie’ hours to fit it all in; up at 5am, in the office by 7am and back in the car at 3pm to beat the rush. But the reality was I was still working until 7pm most days and a 60-hour work week had become my norm. To cap it off, over the last 12 months I had taken 57 domestic and international flights, which meant that apart from weekends, I was never really home or grounded.

In January, we were projecting that our business would have its best year in our 20 year history of operations in Australia. Then came COVID-19. Our company has taken a massive hit; 80% of our work is in large-scale business events with over 500pax. Our sales halved and so has our workforce. I’ve had to let some amazing people go and had some of the toughest conversations in my working career. Thankfully our teams and clients have demonstrated incredible resilience and I know we will come out of this stronger, together. But whilst the economy and our business has suffered, personally I feel like this has been the opportunity I needed to reset. For the past eight weeks, like everyone else, I’ve been homebound. I haven’t spent that long at home in five years and to my surprise, I’ve loved it more than I thought I would. I’ve built a stronger bond with my two year old daughter and, dare I say it, I even think my wife likes having me around more. I have felt truly at peace with no planes and no commute. Just lots of family, fresh air and dedicated working hours to rebuild the business. I’m not tone deaf; people have lost their jobs and are really struggling through this pandemic. I am choosing to find my silver lining amongst the chaos and I am not letting go of that. I hope we can all find something in our lives to reconnect with; that we can all find our silver lining.



nyone who knows me both professionally or personally, knows that I’m an extrovert. In my opinion iso life was not built for me and my fellow extroverts. I initially found it a real struggle not having the corridor chat, the after work drink and the weekend of socialising with friends. I learnt just how far on the extrovert scale I was, and how much I rely on and need regular interaction. It took me some time to adjust, I had to find new ways to get the social aspect back in some capacity. On a personal front I downloaded the houseparty app, which allowed me to see friends again on weekends, and instead of my daily visit to the gym, I have taken up running in the park, inviting friends to join at a social distance. On the work font, I started my new and exciting role in isolation, and to be honest, I was a bit anxious about how it was all going to play out WFH. I set myself a 30, 60, 90 day plan to ensure I hit the ground running, and set the team up for success. However, thanks to COVID-19 I was now facing a completely different environment, and I needed to change tactics to connect and engage with my team via a 13” inch screen, whilst still achieving the same impact. I am grateful to be working for a company which is set up to WFH, and the team has been incredibly agile and supportive. I feel even though we have not yet met in person, we are more connected than ever via our team huddles, happy hours on Friday and daily check-ins.


For me the biggest challenge continues to be where work finishes and home starts! I’m really fortunate to have a very supportive wife who also works in the industry. We set boundaries to help create space between work and home, as well as strong companionship which really helps to get through isolation.



e’ve heard it all now; we’re working longer hours, our brains, bodies and emotions are struggling to keep up with the square vision, slouched posture and unattainable work life balance when work is life, Saturday feels like hump day and your responsibilities don’t end at 5pm. The pressure is high enough, right? I wasn’t even thinking about the inevitable boiling point in the second week of isolation when I took a foster dog in from the Lost Dogs Home. Working from home normally one day a week, I had no issues adjusting. At first. I didn’t realise then how the normal working week would change. And truth be told I didn’t care. My husband and I haven’t had a dog for five long years. Our last, Nova, passed as a senior and my husband struggled to move on. Living without a dog was strange to me and I tried my best to change that. But it was only when COVID-19 hit and I was home 24/7 did he agree to temporarily foster a rescue. But really, he wasn’t ready. ‘Six weeks? We can’t take that one, it’s too long,’ he said. ‘A Staffy? Too high energy.’ ‘8 months old? Puppies are a lot of work.’ Five dogs later, I got a call about a timid and gentle little girl called Macey. I remember my face burst into a smile and I accepted without speaking to the better half. Somehow I knew she would be perfect for us. She arrived at our house fearful, cowering into corners. In fact she ran away that first day. She had been hurt badly and, maybe worse, abandoned to sit inside a cage with crying dogs around her for a month. It was on the second night my husband coaxed me into letting her sleep on the bed with us. Within days he was cuddling her on the couch. By the end of the week he said, ‘You know I would keep her if we could’. And in that moment we became foster fails. Macey has been with us for five weeks now and physically it has been tough. Never before have I put so much time and energy into creating routine, structure and warmth for a creature so desperate for it. Meanwhile at work, the last five weeks have been some of my most intensive.

But it’s because of Macey that I take a proper break in the day to go outside, that I switch off in the evenings (after all the laptop gets in the way of cuddles), that I laugh and smile more than I have in five years, shrugging off the small stuff at work. It has to be said that I work for an amazing employer that has promised job security through COVID times. My family and friends reach out to check in and pull back when they know I need my space. My husband puts up with a version of me he used to only get on weekends (far less structured than the old-weekday-version). But it’s Macey who has reminded me to live in the moment. She has been hurt in ways I will never know and don’t want to imagine. She has embraced life again and doesn’t take any day for granted. She knows there is no point comparing old and new, for her there is no ‘what if the world were different’, there is no wondering about the ‘next normal’, there is just now.


he day isolation started for me, my team was wrapping up a major project and we worked all day in an empty office, right through the night until 6am the next day. Working those hours is not great at the best of time, but we could already tell that the world outside was changing, feeling like the only people in the whole of North Sydney that were out of their home. As with many, I’m sure, WFH during a scary pandemic has brought many challenges and mixed emotions. Some awful, some actually quite great.

My son is 11 – totally gorgeous as well as dealing with OCD. His hand hygiene is miles ahead of his peers, so he doesn’t get the fuss about constantly having to wash your hands. Whilst homeschooling has been a challenge, he has done a damn fine job. Granted he has walked in on at least 50 team meetings I was having, to ask about fractions and the like, but other than that he got on and did his work, then jumped on his Xbox to hang with the huge community of kids that were doing the same. His social skills haven’t skipped a beat. He wants to be a movie maker, so we helped him make a movie called the ‘Cavoodle Virus’ – terrible acting from myself and my husband, but a great script from my son about people being licked by Cavoodles, catching a virus that makes you fall in love with inappropriate objects. This movie will always remind us of COVID times. From a work perspective, I’m lucky to work with some incredible people and manage a team of very high achievers. They have all stepped up to the WFH challenge and I couldn’t be prouder. My husband and I have actually been flat out during this time and are grateful that our companies continue to keep us. For me, fear during this time has ranged from being extra scared for my son, who’s asthmatic, and being scared for my parents in the UK. With regards to my parents, it helps that they are terribly pragmatic so my fear for them tends to pass when I speak to them. What I won’t miss about this time, is seeing the terrible stats of cases and deaths unfolding daily across the world. I’ve got a bit addicted to a particular chart that the BBC puts out – I never want to see this chart again.




’ve had health anxiety for as long as I can remember. At age seven, I’d assume migraines were brain tumours. From my intense studying of medical encyclopaedias, I knew all of the symptoms. Family illnesses exacerbated what, back then, was considered ‘hypochondria’. My little sister got leukaemia and was very sick, then, 12 years ago, my mum was diagnosed with cancer and passed away within a year. If I ever felt ill, I would remember them and think the worst. It was sporadic though - and manageable - in the early years of my career. Then, having my daughter and getting melanoma quickly afterwards triggered a particularly bad phase that has lasted the past four years. It can be all consuming at times. Surprisingly, this crisis has felt like a turning point. It might sound strange, but I’ve had zero anxiety about getting COVID-19. In fact, the change in lifestyle has actually helped, forcing me to slow down and tackle the root causes of my anxiety. I’m not constantly travelling, rushing around and working late. I’m spending more time with my family and know they are safe. That has been so calming for me. To lead the business through this challenging time I’ve had to prioritise my mental health. It has proved that, to tackle the big issues, I need to go back to basics and prioritise what’s important.

Anyone with anxiety should look at all of the contributing factors. I’ve always rationalised that mine was down to my sister and mum, but I’ve realised that a lot is actually triggered by ‘mum guilt’. In stepping back and recognising that, I can make changes for the future. When this ends, I won’t rush back to the way things were. Work is important, but you can still deliver while still looking after yourself and your family. Even more so.



’ve never stopped. I’ve never spent a whole day at home unless I’ve been very sick.

Even when I had my three children I had a fear of being locked in with my own thoughts and found an excuse to leave the house every day. So you can imagine my own fear when I realised the world was going into ‘isolation’. But I had to put that fear aside as I’m the person my agency looks to for calmness and as a parent I know my kids are only as anxious as I am. I’ve had a bit of practice with health trauma and so I have a high threshold and acceptance of serious events. I took on the role of their protector and realised from day one every single person would have their own struggles and journey during this time and I needed to be there for them. I know there are people in my agency who’ve had lonely and isolating days and my priority has been making sure they’re okay. But the thing that’s caused me the most anxiety – with work and family – is the thought of someone in my care contracting COVID-19. The decisions we’re making now to transition people back into the workplace, classified as risk environments, are high stakes. The flipside is we’ve never been more connected as an agency. We’ve created great work during this time, pitched new business successfully and created new ways of working that I know will result in better creativity.

Ironically we’ve become closer across the agency during ‘isolation’. And interestingly the biggest thing I’m now fearing is life will go back to how it was. I don’t want it to. I’m now being the parent I always wanted to be and I don’t want to give that up. So I’m busy leading the next era of how we work to keep what we’ve found.


can’t remember much about my childhood, but I do remember feeling scared all the time. My biological father was violent and sometimes I remember my older brother would put me in my room and put his Walkman headphones on me, give me a chocolate milk and tell me to “stay here”. I was 4 years old. My family swept problems under the rug – it’s a bit like the rules of fight club, the first rule of domestic violence, is you don’t talk about domestic violence. I wanted people to think I was like everyone else I went to school with. People thinking there was something wrong with me was the thing I feared the most. I was 17 years old when I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and depression when I was admitted to hospital after trying to take my life. I’d often self-harm because I wanted to tell people how much I hurt inside. As I got older and more financially stable, I turned to drugs and reckless behaviour.

Being hospitalised was the turning point for me. I was being supported by medical professionals who helped me better understand my childhood trauma. They helped me identify patterns of behaviour and provided me with communication tools to help correct them. Cognitive behavioural therapy is something I still use today to help manage my feelings of anxiety and depression. I’d like to end the story by saying today I’m well and healthy, but unfortunately I can’t. I have a great family, and a great job but I am still impacted by anxiety and depression, sometimes it’s worse than other times. And ISO is making it hard. I can go months without a panic attack and then out of the blue “POW” my chest restricts, my throat tightens, I can’t breathe. Sometimes I’m too hard on myself to be “mentally and emotionally healthy” all the time. I am doing the best I can by getting treatment, which for me includes medication and counselling. To be honest it’s exhausting, but it’s necessary. I wanted to share my story because being in ISO is having an impact on us all. My hope is that by talking about domestic violence and the impact it’s had on my life, how I manage living with anxiety and depression will help give others the strength to speak to someone if they are struggling and need help. You don’t have to be afraid. I can never be that four-year-old girl with the headphones on, sipping a chocolate milk again. Some days I miss her. If I could go back and give her some advice, I would tell her “One day you are going to be surrounded by so many people who care about you, even on the darkest days, they will always be there for you because you are loved.” And I would give her a hug.




would be lying if I said that I had not suffered any anxiety as a result of COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdowns. Afterall, I work in out-of-home (OOH) and have a young family. But early on I made a conscious effort to talk with as many people as I could to check in, see if they were ok and discuss the impacts they were facing. Did it help them? I think so. But selfishly, it has been crucial in helping me get through this bizarre moment in history. From a professional perspective, OOH has been on an amazing trajectory for my 13+ years in the industry. So as Australia bunkered down, it has been a big shock to the industry’s system as we haven’t been able to talk of growing audiences and how technology and data is making us more relevant. It is fair to say that as an industry, we have just been forced to all hit CTRL+ALT+DELETE and to really stop and think about the future like never before. What I find encouraging is that we have all proven that we can continue to operate away from the office. From a personal view, whilst I consider myself quite mentally strong, my resolve has been tested and this period has had a profound impact on myself and my family. Having witnessed the absolute worst of COVID and it destroying lives, I have found myself really trying to seek out positives and how I can better apply them to my family. For me, the COVID-19 period has been a time for taking stock, identifying what is working and implementing adjustments across both my personal and professional life for a more fulfilling outcome.

I have a newfound appreciation for many things in my life, in particular my wife and kids, but also childcare and healthcare workers for all that they do, 24/7. Like many, I have witnessed positives in both my family and others that have fundamentally changed the home and relationships for the better. I hope we do not forget these lessons when we come out the other side.


was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder five years ago. Since then, I’ve tried almost everything to deal with it. Lexapro. Yoga. Meditation. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. I’ve always believed any problem can be fixed as long as I try really hard. It took a global pandemic to make me realize how delusional that was. I watched as my coping mechanisms disappeared overnight. Group fitness training? Gone. Cuddles with my best friend? Nope, sorry. A visit to my partner’s parents for a home-cooked meal and a side of sympathy? Not going to happen.

My natural instinct was to clam up, withdraw and sleep as much as possible. Luckily, I was able to access remote therapy via my company’s Employee Assistance Program. My therapist asked how it would be if I answered honestly when someone asked if I was okay. My shoulders physically dropped, and my breathing deepened. It turns out vulnerability really is a superpower. Admitting I needed help proved just how generous my support network really is.

Anxiety makes you turn inward. You become obsessed with the idea people are judging you. While that remained, I also started to worry about everybody else in my life. My friend who had to go alone to her first scan. My dad who was unable to visit his grandchildren. My sister explaining to her threeyear-old he couldn’t go to nursery to see his friends. My partner contemplating if his job was next to be cut. My lowest point came four weeks into lockdown. Our wedding was due to take place in April, and watching that day come and go without celebrating with my loved ones hit me really hard. I tried to convince myself I shouldn’t be feeling this way. “Other people have it worse than me. At least I haven’t lost my job. At least I have my health. At least I have my partner.” These thoughts raced through my mind constantly, but they didn’t make me feel better, they made me feel worse.




OVID-19 has presented me – and no doubt many others – with the greatest paradox of our lives: liberation and limitation at exactly the same point in time. I am in the very fortunate position that I can work from home and I have enjoyed it immensely. That’s not to say it’s all been smooth sailing – hardly! - but it has been incredibly rewarding. Gone are the days where there is a mad rush to get in the car by 7am, drop one kid to daycare and the other to school by 7:15am so I can try and dodge some of the traffic (who was I even kidding?) and get to the office in North Sydney by 8am. Mornings are more leisurely now, but still chaotic, and there is no rush to effectively push the kids out of the car while it’s still rolling just to maintain some momentum on my way to work. Afternoons are also pleasant. Previously, I was rarely home in time to pick my kids up. Now, I consciously carve out time to walk through the park to collect them from daycare or school. We chat and play on the way home. We enjoy each other’s company.

I know this change in the way we live will likely provide me – and many others - with mental health challenges in the weeks and months ahead. It is robbing us of more time to appreciate our loved ones as they come to the end of their lives. It is preventing us from displays of affection that are so normal, and so needed, in times of loss. So, to me, coronavirus has resulted in the cruellest of contradictions, providing us with both positives and negatives in the way we go about every aspect of our lives which ultimately causes differing impacts on our mental health. I am sure I am not the only person who feels like this. To my dad, who has always been extremely practical, the fact that the price of petrol is so low but you can’t go anywhere is the real travesty in all of this. You see, it’s liberating and limiting, all at the same time.

I know this change in the way we work has and will continue to provide me with mental health benefits. It has allowed me more time to appreciate my kids as they grow. However, coronavirus has presented someone like me who thrives on personal interaction and misses daily coffees with workmates even greater challenges. Restricting movement has been a necessary but heartbreaking exercise for many people and their families. Until late 2019, my parents and I had been practicing social distancing for a few years before it was even a thing. The ‘why’ still matters, but not as much as it once did. To some degree, we were all just stubborn (Italians, it’s genetic). Then in early April, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. They have given him “about three months”. I’ve seen him and spent time with him. But I haven’t been able to hug him or give him a kiss (Italians, it’s genetic). While he makes jokes about death as he compiles lists of who gets what tools from his garage, I know that deep down he is wondering how people will celebrate (not mourn) him, when the time comes. What will happen to the ‘big party’ he’s been mandating for years? More importantly, what happens to my mum, when the nearest shoulder to cry on has to be at least 1.5 metres away at all times?

Since writing this story my dad, Tony, passed away on 30 May. By the end, we’d kissed and we’d hugged. He was surrounded by my mum, sister and I when he passed, exactly as he wanted. An ease in restrictions from 1 June meant attendees at funerals increased from 20 to 50 people. His “party” will be held in the months ahead when restrictions ease further.


or much of the initial weeks of trying to manage the new work from home day to day, I found myself feeling guilty. I felt I wasn’t able to support my wife (who’s role has reduced since the gallery she is marketing manager for closed to the public) more. I found it difficult to balance getting work done from a table in our bedroom with helping out with our daughter, Tilly. It all felt overwhelming and when I was helping with her, it felt - horribly - like an additional chore. A couple of weeks ago I was reminded of a story my wife had told me from her maternity leave: The first few weeks and months (even years in some cases) are hugely stressful and the sleepless nights incredibly tiring for new parents. Often this makes the mid-night feeds, 4am wake ups and multi-hour walks while trying to get them to sleep feel like a never ending list of chores. While the lack of sleep doesn’t change, changing how the actions and events are viewed, can have a profound effect. My wife talked about how she changed her mentality from “having to [get up in the night]” to “getting to [be up in the night together]”. I loved this mentality at the time and being reminded of it now has made me try to think similarly: rather than “I have to balance work and looking after Tilly”, I’m now focussing on the opportunity “I get to have a cuddle on break times” (far nicer than the lack of cuddles I get in the office) and “I get to have lunch together with my girls”. It hasn’t reduced the workload, but the mindset shift has definitely helped balance my mental health.


JENN THOMAS HEAD OF MEMBERSHIP AT IAB I found my routine shifted from a rhythm of ‘eat work sleep repeat’, to something more like ‘hopefully I can sleep, hopefully I’ll eat when I can, and then I’ll help (family member) with (something), clean (anything); and then repeat it all - relentlessly. On those days I’ve found I’ve had to escape - heading out the door yelling ‘need to go to Woolies’, exiting before anyone could stop me. And there’s also been days when my guilt buckets overflowed – questioning if I am being the best worker, mum, wife or friend I can be? But I’ve also had weeks where I feel like I was kicking goals. Days when I’ve Zoom’d with my colleagues in the morning, had a cracking day delivering strong work with our members and the broader industry. And I’m filled with gratitude for the gift of time and the extra moments with my family. We’ve had fun and I have a phone filled with family memories capturing the fun. I think I know each of them so much better and in turn know myself even better.


have always believed in having a life of balance. I am a homebody at heart and my ultimate happy place is rugged up in bed with a book and a cup of tea …or a glass of red. So when COVID-19 hit I felt ready to embrace the change and find a new kind of balance. The first few weeks seemed manageable – extra time helping my 11 year old with her school work, building lego and puzzles with my three year old and working side-by-side with my husband. How could I not enjoy it? But as the days turned into weeks, I started to feel like I was Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

So maybe this new normal is still a life of balance with the things that are important to me – kids, work, husband and friends.

Following advice from my obstetrician, I’ve adopted a new mantra: perspective. She reminded me to look for the silver lining. For me, it means that even though I will be isolated, I will have the chance to spend precious time with my baby. Staying connected and hearing someone’s voice has been super important: family, friends, peers, and clients. We are often stuck behind our keyboards and forget that in time of isolation, there is comfort and solace in actually speaking to someone. I’ve also decided to filter out noise, disconnecting from those who have very different views to myself. Everyone is entitled to their opinion - but while there is so much going on and I have so little control - I am choosing to filter what I read and engage with so I can focus on my job and bringing a new life into the world. I see the COVID situation as a time to reset. We are all looking at our ‘old’ life and reassessing everything. We’re discovering how resilient we are and starting to shape the lives that maybe we’ve always dreamed of. I’ve made changes and am confident I’ll be a better new mum, because all the doubts I felt about becoming a mother were completely shattered when lockdown helped me realise I can do anything!


y rule book on “how one is supposed to live life” has officially been tossed out the window. I’m almost eight months pregnant and through this lockdown, I’ve learned the invisible load of the unknown is absolutely incredible. Who can be with me when I have my baby? How do I motivate my team when there are days I just can’t get out of bed? The everyday seems like a challenge when life’s simple pleasures are taken away from you.



o say this has been a rollercoaster ride of emotions would be an understatement. In the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, I felt capable. Blindsided, but capable. I have always prided myself on being resilient, and while it felt akin to blunt force trauma how swiftly our industry (and the world) got winded, the early days felt manageable. As unprecedented and challenging as they were, there was a sense of purposeful and functional operationalisation that needed to occur in those initial weeks – all fuelled by adrenalin and a sense of camaraderie with my peers and team. It felt scary, but also at times exciting. Adrenalin can be a strange beast. And then we slowly adjusted and settled into our ‘for-now normal’.

The industry and the economic challenges we face will not be subsiding anytime soon – it’s how we choose to face them that will define our success. I’m choosing to face the future with a commitment to allow myself to be honest and vulnerable with my colleagues, ensuring I lead from the front when it comes to mental health awareness and empathy. Let’s genuinely be in this together by all facing the future in the same way – for the good of our industry and our people.

It’s only now, with the early days behind us and no clear end in sight, that I have found myself floored – both physically and mentally. The dark side of adrenalin-fuelled working habits remain regardless of a pandemic. Eventually you will fall in a heap. For me, the answer was to openly take some mental health days. The relentlessness of the past two months has caught up with me, and as talk now shifts to future planning, I need to be honest with myself and others. That means admitting that before I can level-up and go again, I must first stop, recharge & restart, in order to be a strong leader in this next phase. I have learnt that the only person that controls how I cope mentally is me. Only I can set my boundaries, and only I can stick to them.



inety five percent of the time I’m doing OK. But there’s also the five percent of the time when I can spin out. During these moments my fears range from what I’d do if I lost my job, through worrying about the mental health of my team during this pandemic, to wondering what would happen if China turned on Australia and our economy gets even more f**ked. I feel like the worries are proportional, but sometimes the noise is deafening. It’s given me an insight into how people that experience anxiety like this feel on a regular basis, and I hope I’ll carry that empathy with me as things return to ‘normal’.

It’s kind of odd that in my comfort zone (my house) I’ve been taken out of it trying to get the right cadence between the professional and the personal. But I view myself as a constant work in progress. And if the current crisis has taught me anything, it’s gratitude and perspective. It has made my priorities (family, friends, health) extremely clear and given me a greater sense of gratitude for the things I do have.

It’s also been hard to find the equilibrium between my home and work life now that the physical barriers have been removed. It has been genuinely great to see my wife and kids more and I feel like all of our relationships have improved. There’s been really fun times I know I’ll look back on wistfully, like my daughter making me coffee at 11am each morning and our group Zoom ballet classes. But it’s not all hearts and flowers. Quite often, my wife or one of my daughters will stop me when I’m speaking to them and say, “Don’t talk to me like I’m your employee, I’m not, I’m your child / wife.” This has got me thinking about authenticity and can send me down the rabbit hole of wondering about my home and work persona and leadership style. I had a really big wake-up call a few years ago when it came to checking my ego and choosing a different path, so it’s been a bit sobering to think my wife and kids feel like I’m that different in a work environment.




’ve found it difficult not to be overwhelmed by the sadness of the situation around the world and the feelings of collective grief. I think my emotional resilience was already low due to the bushfires - we had no chance to process this devastation or see any impact from recovery efforts. I’ve also been absorbed with managing the APAC implications of our merger from my spare room. We’ve had to adapt in terms of bringing together two businesses while working remotely. However, I am inspired by the resilience of my team and their ability to adapt under difficult circumstances. I have found the lack of physical separation between work and home hard, especially with an energetic child in the house during lockdown. There is no time to transition into family mode, and it’s impossible to just flick a switch. I don’t excel at balance and am very resistant to everybody’s clever tips, but I’ve been surprised that I’ve done okay with isolation - I thought I would struggle more. My husband is a wonderful partner and an incredible father. I have no idea how single parents or parents who are both working full-time have coped through this. You’re all warriors! I’ve had good days and bad days. Periods of being too busy to leave the house for days and bouts of insomnia and stress. But also days of finding balance - enjoying a walk by the creek, squeezing in a virtual yoga class, or even doing Cosmic Kids Yoga with my daughter. Once I accepted that lockdown would go on for some time, things changed. Even setting up a more permanent, comfortable desk space had a positive impact, both practically and psychologically.

I would love companies to look at whether flexible working could be accommodated in the long term. I feel passionately about gender balance in business and in the home, and more flexible working opportunities would go a long way to create positive change.



uring the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent around 18 hours a day leading crisis communications for several clients, virtually, live from a dark cupboard. Literally. To be clear, it is a walk-in wardrobe the size of a small bedroom. And it was out of necessity given we had a full house of kids while multiple people tried to work. But the irony didn’t escape me. Because my work was solely focussed on COVID-19, the direct impacts on our clients and how they could emerge, somewhat intact, from their own proverbial darkness…(and yes, there were plenty of jokes about ‘when is Siobhan coming out of the closet?’) Clearly, I was bunkered down. And when you’re knees-deep in a crisis so intense and life threatening, bits of information – many of which are gut wrenching – come in and out of view, almost washing over you. You deal with them swiftly, and then move on. You’re in the thick of it, fielding a bunch of calls, emails, and pressure, and putting your own emotions firmly aside. It wasn’t until weeks later that I realised my fists had been clenched, and my jaw locked, for days on end. No wonder my entire body had been agony. You see, something that a lot of people don’t know about me is that I was clinically diagnosed with anxiety several years ago and, while I have developed strategies in place to manage it, I still take medication daily. I’m not ashamed of that, but it’s not something that is spoken about openly in our industry (unfortunately). Some would say that, with this in mind, specialising in crisis comms which are so high in intensity isn’t such a good idea however it has always been my forte. Fast forward a few weeks, and it was a different story. I was out of the closet, thanks to a new desk setup. I’d been able to make time for a bit of exercise and felt a bit better.

Reflecting on the weeks prior, I realised I’d created two different versions of my brain in order to cope. One which was almost robotic, dealing with multiple COVID-related highly sensitive issues, taking in each new piece of information then triaging it - act on, factor in or disregard, but do not get emotional. Do not allow it to intrude on your focus. It was almost clinical, I guess. The other side was the ‘yep, we can totally do this BAU thing’ side, which forces an occasional smile and positive attitude, as we create strategies and campaigns for clients to utilise when the time is right. But I found it hard to comprehend coming out the other side. The best description of this I could come up, in my tired, emotional, conflicted and scatty brain was...emotional limbo. It can feel incredibly lonely. For those also struggling with their mental state, my only suggestion is to try take time for yourself. Stuck in the closet early on, I was not doing that. These days, getting out for a daily swim or walk is a non-negotiable. In addition, discussing our stories is our lifeline. The mental toll of COVID will, I think it’s far to say, be far greater than the physical and financial, but if we just allow ourselves time to breathe, share, and do the things that make us feel calm and whole, we can thrive instead of simply surviving.



ou always hear the phrase, ‘you’ve got to fake it until you make it’. This has become the reality this year…I was given a fantastic opportunity at the start of the year by being promoted to joint managing director at PHD Australia. An opportunity that I honestly couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into and had every confidence that I could do once I got into it! Two months later though, the world turned upside down thanks to COVID19. With everyone suddenly working remotely, grappling with new technology, constant video calls and new ways of working. I found it all too easy to immediately drop back into my comfort zone of the chief investment and commercial officer role. All of a sudden I found myself well and truly back driving the trading team, stealing the reins off the very talented person we’d promoted the year before to lead trading for the business! It’s so easy to fall back into your old ways under pressure. For the first couple of weeks, I (like many many other people) was really feeling the pressure and hyper-stressed, bogged down in the workload, the detail, jumping from task to task while working all the hours there were. My self-confidence plummeted and I was taking it out on those around me – my family. I didn’t feel like I was doing my new role at all. I didn’t believe I was faking it any more. For the first couple of weeks, I wasn’t making time for anything bar work and juggling the kids. I’d never worked from home before so seeing the laptop switched on in the kitchen everyday just heightened my stress levels as I gravitated back to it at every opportunity to keep wading through the work and hundreds of emails piling up. It took my seven-year-old daughter constantly saying for two weeks, ‘mum you’re not meant to be working right now’, ‘mum it’s the weekend why are you working?’, ‘mum you said you were spending time with us now’, to actually stop and take a good look at what was going on. It was at that point that I made myself take the time to do some yoga every morning and take the dog for a walk too.

My daughter’s voice in my ear (constantly!) and forcing myself to have ‘me time’ broke the spell for me. I consciously started making myself step out from interfering with the trading team. It hasn’t been easy; I’m a control freak let’s be honest and these have been crazy times in a brand new role. Chatting through my feelings with my CEO and peers not long after that also gave me the confidence that I wasn’t the only one grappling with a new world but through conversation, me time and getting back in control mentally, meant that I was in a far better place. These have been extraordinary times but we’re doing a great job even if there’s some muddling on the way through. I am now thriving from working from home and loving my new role. The first two weeks of isolation really taught me how important it is to look after yourself and not put unnecessary pressure on yourself.

I have two small children and like so many parents have been feeling the pressure of trying to homeschool whilst working, maintaining our home and still processing my own collective grief. A few years ago I qualified as a psychotherapist, which is a deeply soulful psychology and here is some of what I learned and used to hold me in this period of time. Trauma is defined not by the outer event but by your inner emotional response to that event. As such, I have chosen not to reference myself against how I perceive everyone else’s journey at this time but to focus on holding my own. In other words if you do eight hours of home schooling and I do four, my efforts are not half as good as yours. I have the same approach to healing, the timing is my own and I try to be patient with. I try to accept my lived experience in the moment just as it is. I have learned that if I do not allow that part of me that is needing to hurt to have its time to express, that can be harder to fight than the emotion itself. I understand my emotions have a seasonality to them and no matter how dark today, at some point this too shall pass.


t the start of this period I separated from my husband. I moved away from Sydney to the country, with a longing to heal in nature. Only a few weeks after our move we were impacted by the bushfires and evacuated from our new home. Thankfully our town was saved, due to no more than the luck of the way the wind blew. Now of course, as a collective, we are all navigating our individual journeys resulting from Covid.

Mediation, journaling, yoga, whatever your vibe – commit to it daily. Do so not because it is trendy, or you think you should. Do so because if you want to feel joyful you must actively seek each day to understand what is really going on for you emotionally and create a space to meet it with deep compassion and non-judgement.




onight feels strange. I love my work family to bits and when we all left work tonight, we weren’t sure when we would see each other in person again. From now until some time in the future, we will see each other online but not in person. It feels wrong. I didn’t make the decision easily but I think it’s super important for business owners to do their bit to slow down the rate of progress of Coronavirus. If I had waited, then we almost certainly would have all got sick together and this would be devastating for our business, our healthcare system and the individual. Anyway I am sure I will adjust but I miss them all already. #flattenthecurve That was almost 10 weeks ago and I can still remember the feeling I had that night like it was yesterday. What I didn’t say then was how scared, possibly even terrified, I was for the business and, as an extension of that, for my family who were relying on me keeping the business afloat in what was probably going to be the hardest period we had ever been through. One of the biggest challenges as a CEO is that everyone is looking at you. If you’re good, they’re good but if you show just how worried you are then they get worried. So no matter how bad things are, the only thing you have to do is show up, put a smile on your face and push through. It’s sometimes not as easy as it sounds. Ten weeks in and I am happy to report that we are doing better than we ever thought possible. We pivoted in a pretty major way in early March into building bots and AI solutions for companies, organisations and governments who were inundated by people wanting to talk to them.

We had already been doing a lot of work in that space but we doubled down on it, hiring more sales staff and quickly building up a reputation for quick, high quality work. So it’s good, for now. I think there will always be a voice in my head telling me that disaster could be just around the corner. That the good times might be temporary. For now, I’m just grateful that our team culture is as good as it’s ever been. We’ve adapted to going 100% digital so well that we will never go back to how it was. Instead we’ll take the best of both worlds and come up with new and better ways to collaborate. Today I am grateful to be in business and to be healthy. I am one of the lucky ones.


t the best of times I would describe my mental health as “the dance battle that takes place between the guy in the yellow suit and the guy in the black suit in the film clip for She Drives Me Crazy by Fine Young Cannibals”. In “the Yellow Suit”, I’m eternally positive, spiritual, optimistic and ever grateful for everything I have in my life; in “the Black Suit”, I struggle with anxiety… and towards the end, they hug it out. COVID-19 really put the Yellow-Suit Guy to the test. My business was about 18 months old, I was working with some wonderful clients, working on projects that I really enjoyed, I wasn’t making millions of dollars (that was never the aim) but I was helping people and companies, and I was spending genuine quality time with my wife and daughter and on myself… and in what felt like an instant, that almost completely disappeared. At the same time that this happened, my wife broke her ankle. All of a sudden, I was faced with a very uncertain financial future, I could see everything that I had worked for going down the tubes, I had to assume the roles of carer and “almost single parent”, and I now had to do all of this isolated from family and friends. I knew that I would have to rely on my own creativity, motivation and action to get through this. It was at that point that some very familiar feelings started to surface: the paralysis that comes from obsessively and irrationally trying to think and rethink through problems, the desperate desire to get the f@#k out of here, the inability to sleep, and a very real physical sense of dread. The guy in the Black Suit was busting out some incredible moves and the Yellow-Suit Guy couldn’t keep up.

1. I accepted how I was feeling. I didn’t wallow in it, but when I was sad, I was sad; when I was frustrated, I was frustrated; and when I was happy, I played with my daughter. 2. I changed my focus – I stopped looking at the months ahead and instead revisited my long-term goals to figure out what stuff I could do now that would help me get there. This made my current circumstances feel very small and temporary. 3. I resigned myself to the fact that we would take a significant financial hit, which freed me up to focus on what I actually love to do, which is helping people and had faith that we would get through. 4. I invested in myself – I did a couple of training courses; for me they were focused on Developing Grit & Resilience, and Productivity Systems. These renewed my motivation and desire for action. 5. Then I deliberately sought out the joy in each day and looked for opportunities to be grateful. I still have my bad days. But the Yellow Suit Guy has obviously been watching videos of Michael Jackson, because he’s got a wicked leg-flick into a moonwalk move that regularly puts the Black-Suit Guy back in his box.

The problem with this (for me) is that when the Black-Suit Guy is dancing up a storm, the three things that disappear are my motivation, action and creativity. After a couple of days cracking a bottle of wine far earlier than I care to admit, I knew I needed to do something or my whole family would be stuffed. So, I took some very deliberate steps:


THE END. www.mentally-healthy.org

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Heart On My Sleeve - stories from the pandemic