“You’re a nutter!” Possibly not the best turn of phrase to say to someone who is, among many other massively traumatic life experiences, a survivor of The Clutha Disaster, and subsequently had a breakdown taking him to the brink of suicide…
By Anna McGeachie
Before any aspersions are cast, it was used as a term of endearment because he kept going and kept going with life, getting up every day (he went to work the Monday after The Clutha Disaster – that’s tough), functioning but not actually living, trying to hold it together. Until eventually he just couldn’t anymore.
Michael Byrne, founder of LETs, is thankfully still very much alive and making the most of every day since being diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and overcoming a mental breakdown.
There are, however, many other contributing factors which led Michael to breakdown in 2017; abused as a child both physically and mentally, watching his parents abuse each other, his father brutally murdered, the loss of twins to a miscarriage, and a car crash resulting in a head injury which lead to a suspected stroke. It was this car crash which generated flashbacks to The Clutha disaster – the devastation, the scenes he witnessed, the people he helped pull out the rubble, the bloodied bodies and the loss of life. This in turn took Michael back to identifying his father’s body after a horrifically brutal attack; the only parts of his body not bruised were the soles of his feet.
What followed was a systematic deconstruction of Michael’s private and professional life. At the time he was a company director; a professional, a family man. He had people around him, friends who thought they knew him and a wife and boy who loved and cared for him dearly.
With a manager trying to force Michael out by any means possible, rather than helping him and offering his and the company’s support, meant that work became yet another trauma to handle on a daily basis. Due to Michael’s actions as a result of his illness, and a lack of support at work, Michael was eventually suspended.
To the outsider, Michael’s life had looked ‘normal’, no one would have known any better. People avoid speaking about mental health issues for fear of embarrassing the sufferer, and the sufferer doesn’t want to ask for help for fear of being seen as not coping – and so the cycle goes on. This is often intensified for men due to societal pressures about how they ‘should’ behave which have been handed down through generations. To be ‘the man of the house’, the breadwinner, the protector, the sorter outer and fixer of things, not the one who needs fixed, are common tropes that in the west of Scotland still hold strong.
This is where Michael found himself. Luckily he did speak to someone, eventually, but only after struggling on for years. This is where his road to recovery began.
Michael has turned his experience into a positive, and is using what he has struggled with to help others. He now facilitates a men’s mental health support group in Glasgow – ‘Blether With A Brother’.
In addition he has set up LETs – a company providing a unique and bespoke service to improve the mental health of people within the workplace. (Thus maximising staff wellbeing , productivity and the return on company’s investments.) He has now worked with many companies including RBS, Barclays and Zurich Insurance.
With one in four adults experiencing mental illness at some point in their lives, it is not something we should be hiding from or ignoring. It’s time to talk and to listen. Especially you menfolk. #LETsTALK
To find out more: www.facebook.com/livedexperiencetraumasupport