I am 5 – vulnerability in the workplace

Red fog glow

Its 5 years (23rd June) since I suffered a heart-attack. Described on my medical records as a ‘significant episode followed by a series of major complications’ over a 4 hour period my heart had to be restarted 3 times. My wife was told that as it was unlikely that I would survive, she had best call in the family.

Even if I did come through they didn’t know what quality of life I would have. My heart had suffered severe damage and my brain deprived of adequate oxygen for a prolonged period of time.

Early attempts to withdraw life support proved unsuccessful but eventually I was stable enough to survive without it.

Yet, that was all the easy part, At least it was for me.

We were warned about the risk of Post Traumatic Stress and depression but not prepared for it. The loneliness, the loss of connection. Doubt, fear. The loss of social standing. Complete helplessness.

The brain responds to your sense of standing within your social hierarchy (your tribe). Mess with a person’s standing within their tribe and they are lost, worthless. It is a threat that has been used throughout history to bring down many powerful leaders. Its why some of history’s great leaders have died alone, ostracised by their followers. Why we fear dying alone and pity people who do.

Our tribe extends beyond just our family. It always has. Our tribe includes everyone that we have connection with each day. Those who provide us with protection, a sense of self-worth or purpose. People in our community and those we work with.

Our societies have changed, we have less to do with our neighbours, even less to do with our extended families, we are less likely to belong to clubs and our social lives are less likely to involve other people at all. Those who we work with have gained a greater relevance in our lives. We can come to feel a lot more connected to our workmates than at any other time in history.

In the weeks after my heart attack I felt a driving need a need to get back to work, to reconnect with my tribe.

When I lost my sense of connection, I lost my standing within my tribe. I lost my team, my position and my autonomy. I had been banished.

It seemed that no one truly understood what I was going through.

You know what?  During this time I was being encouraged to emotionally disengage from the workplace. ‘It would be better for my health and my happiness’. Thank goodness that I know when someone is talking shit, that they are making stuff up just to make themselves seem smarter. I now know the exact opposite to be true. Emotional connection leads to a greater sense of community, creativity and innovation which in turn lead to happiness and a sense of fulfilment (that sense that you get at the end of your day that tells you that you have done a great job, that what you did mattered and that you made a change in some else’s life). And then gives you the courage to try again.

Some people when they go through depressive episodes choose to hide away. They stay away from the work place. For me it was important that I didn’t.

At times it has been incredibly lonely and often frightening. I needed the support of those around me, I needed them to understand and I needed their connection. I needed them to allow me to bring my whole self into the workplace. Warts, farts and all.

That’s the point of this story. We can’t always have our family around us. When we would love to be with them we have to come to work instead and that’s way too long a time to have to shut ourselves down. To cope.  To hold our feelings, our emotions and our fears inside of us. And its damaging when we try to do that.

That is what tribes are all about. They can’t replace our families but they can be the next best thing.

Having faced up to my own struggles and refused to just turn my back on them, I look around me and see that we are all struggling with something. And I know that what people need is not my scorn or contempt. Not my criticism or selfish anger, blame or shame. They don’t need me to turn away when I see their struggle.

From the top down and the bottom up, we all have a right to feel safe, to be listened to and to know that we matter. The freedom to make mistakes and to learn from them. The right to have our bad days and our sad days. And we have the right to fart in the workplace, if that’s what we need to do.

To my tribe, to everyone that stood beside and behind me over the last 5 years, those who have sat next to me and the customers, thank you from the bottom of my (broken) heart.

For those who haven’t been able to show up for me, there’s still time. Show me the authentic you and I will show up alongside you.



Photo by Elti Meshau on Pexels.com

One Comment on “I am 5 – vulnerability in the workplace

  1. Awesome stuff Graeme!

    You’re so right about tribe and connection. The disapproval of the group is why so many people fear public speaking! It’s not the speaking we fear – it’s the disapproval!

    When my partner had her accident – that could have killed her – it was the outreach of friends and family that kept her (and me!) able to cope.

    So connection and compassion – including self-compassion – are the areas I want to keep present in my life.

    Thanks for your courage!


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