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The ‘weather’ that has defined my mental health for too long – Freezing!

(But there’s been a climate change.)


I have had a real interest in mental health for a number of years. As the CEO of the British Athletes Commission (BAC) – the union for Olympic and Paralympic athletes – I saw firsthand the adverse impact of the pressure of high-performance sport in what was called at the time a culture of ‘no compromise.’ What I didn’t know at the time was the effect that the persistent vicarious trauma would have on me as it crept up on me a day at a time, so I forgot who the ‘normal’ me was. The pressure of that job eventually cost me my own mental health with clinical depression and general anxiety disorder and forced me to resign.

When I set up DOCIAsport I gained a Mental Health First Aid qualification in order to look back. I learnt that I’d done ok at the BAC– in fact probably better than that because so many of these brilliantly talented athletes told me that I was the first person that had listened to them properly. I then became an accredited Mental Health First Aid instructor and set about delivering courses across the sport and activity sector. All well and good but I was always troubled by two things.


Having created cohorts of mental health first aiders I’d then ask my client. This is great but ‘Who’s looking after the people looking after the people?’ Some like Chris Rushton then CEO of Active Tameside responded admirably and set up peer support groups. But people like Chris were the exception to the rule. Having mental health first aiders just ‘ticked the box’ for too many.
I also felt that there was a very binary approach founded in the ignorance of mental health, people were either ‘well’ or ‘ill’ and there was this sort of void in between. But I came to see mental health like the weather – cloudy (the ‘down’ days) with sunny intervals (the ‘up’ days.)


Recently I have taken to thinking about this a bit more deeply having had the privilege of listening to the brilliant Poppy Jaman OBE speak at a conference. Poppy is a very authentic and humble person who has led in breaking down the stigma of poor mental ill health and also in helping us understand the impact on our wellbeing that a variety of unique challenging experiences (aka life!)  present us with. She speaks with raw honesty about the impact of her variable mental health on herself and those around her. She has lived with cloudy and sunny intervals for sure!

Despite the fact that I had shown myself that I could survive and thrive if I stepped out of my comfort zone, stepping into the unknown never really gave me a lot of self-confidence. I never celebrated the successes but always looked for what I’d done wrong or could have done better. An example of stepping into the unknown was when I became the Major Events Director of the British Triathlon Federation with absolutely no knowledge of how to run a major sporting event and went on to chair the Steering Board that delivered the 2013 World Triathlon Series finals in Hyde Park as a legacy event from the London Games. Logic said I had no CV or experience to do that role and yet my intuition and instinct told me I should do it.

And then I became the CEO of the BAC. I had always looked up to high performance athletes across many sports and now I had 1,500 of them from across over 40 Olympic and Paralympic sports looking to me not only for advice, support, and guidance but leadership. Me?? Logically I was definitely out of my comfort zone – a touch of imposter syndrome – in fact more than a touch!  And yet intuitively I knew it was something I wanted to do.

I know I succeeded despite the many challenges I faced. It worked because I stuck to my principles, and the job brought to the surface a real drive to ’walk the walk’ of my values. I have been told that what I did literally saved some peoples’ lives. If I had done nothing else,then perhaps arguably that’s enough of a legacy and success. But that Ian Braid couldn’t be me because that version displays confidence and is respected in his work.

What’s this all about? In short, family! When people say to me ‘you must be proud of what you have achieved’. I have always said No. I don’t ‘do’ proud of myself but I am super proud of Diane, Jessica, and Harry (and other members of my family). Hard to perhaps understand but not if you’re me. One thing I learnt back in 2017 was that communication was key, especially to those you love and who love you back I’d felt that they weren’t interested and had withdrawn. But I was wrong – so wrong. It was me who withdrew inside myself. Since my ‘recovery’ from that illness I have learnt a lot and taken a lot of positives from that traumatic episode. However I now realise that I have retained a core feeling personally – not professionally- of feeling inadequate and with low self-esteem I have found myself lacking the confidence to talk to those people that are dearest to me about how I am feeling and what deep down in my heart I have felt because I have ‘frozen’. That was until the last few weekswhen I have been forced to address that deep seated fear.


With the support of my ‘personal board’ of family (especially my wife Diane) and critically my life coach Richard Husseiny I have started a deep thaw from the frozen emotional state I have been living in. I have been forced to face the fear of the unknown. I have stared into a dark abyss of uncertainty (not in any way with self-harm in mind) and to my great surprise (and that of my board) I have found a gentleness in that void, a warmth even. I’ve let go of the past and am more in the moment making decisions and actions based on gut (instinct), heart (intuition) and mind (logic). I’ve a peaceful mind and yet also an outpouring of energy and emotion triggered by an end to my self-loathing.

I have let go of my past and its ‘agenda’ but intuitively know that DOCIAsport still has a role to play in helping me fulfil my purpose but not in a way that restricts my thinking. Running the company has taken me into areas – out of my comfort zone – that I’d never envisaged. Creating Community Wellbeing hubs in rugby was something I never thought I would do but is perhaps the best work I have dune in terms of sustainable social impact. Similarly thanks to Dr Richard Sille I have become heavily involved in Isle of Man sport (the land of my grandfather. What else might DOCIA pass my way? I feel I am on the borders of working in the health and activity space which excites me.

A) Who’d have thought it? B) Who Cares? It FEELS RIGHT. Letting go of the past and its biases and prejudices and jumping into this unknown no longer frightens me. It genuinely excites me. It is in the unknown that wisdom lies. Bring it on!


Postscript. As part of my journey I have discovered the power of music to both change my mood and also act as an anchor for my memory to associate a particular track with a time or event in my life. I was recently introduced to OneTrackMinds, a brilliant concept that you can read in a compilation of short stories or see as a show in London and at various festivals.

There’s a small plug here in that on Friday 24th November I have the privilege to be one of the narrators of a story (not this one) about a time in my life OneTrackMinds


So, this track ‘Broken Machine’ by Nothing But Thieves was the signature tune to a mental health initiative ‘#IAMWHOLE’ that I had the honour of speaking at in 2017. An appropriate track for that time in my life 7 or 8 years ago and for World Mental Health Day 2023 is this.

Nothing But Thieves – Broken Machine (Live for #IAMWHOLE) – YouTube

Take and give care.