Beating the Black Dog

Words by  Bruce Gatward-Cook
Roger Richardson Roger Richardson

Joe Goodin has built a successful international business from his “back-yard tinkering” which led to revolutionary inventions for the oil and gas sector.

Competent and positive, few people realised Joe had been battling mental health issues for 40 years.

On the 12th December in 2020, Joe Goodin made a life-saving decision.

He was driving back to New Plymouth from Opunake, at night when the demons seem to have more strength, and he knew he had to break up with his girlfriend. That was because his mental unwellness was hurting her and tearing them apart. The thing was, he didn’t want to break up with her. He really wanted to be with her. That was more important than anything else. More important than not seeking help about it, he realised.  

“I chose to change a 40 year long cycle of depression and self-worth struggle,” recalls Joe. “That was the first and biggest step of accepting the issue and wanting change.”

Up until that point, Joe’s life was plagued by “depression that would be akin to standing over the edge of a cliff on a platform of thin glass constantly looking down and waiting to fall. At the bottom is everything that the last 40 years threw at me and the fall was sometimes prevented by the glass — but that would break at any time sending me back into a dark place.”

Joe says Christmas and birthdays were the worst times of his life as “you are meant to be happy”. For his 21st he was on autopilot. The good news is that he’s just turned 50 and it was the first time he ever looked forward to a birthday.

These days Joe is a successful exporter of world class sub-sea tools for the oil and gas industry — his business success a by-product of trying to smother his ‘demons’ with work.

“20 years ago, while working offshore on an oil rig off Africa, I just broke down in tears,” reveals Joe. “It scared the shit out of me. I had a total feeling of worthlessness and knew this isn’t normal.”

To cope, Joe threw himself into his work and became a workaholic. 

“I focused on work, neglected those close to me, behaved like an idiot and ruined my marriage. Keeping busy stopped the noise in my head. I just put the war paint on every day, but I felt like a fraud. I was doing the business all around the world, but the customers don’t see the guy back in his hotel room crying. It was breaking all my relationships because I had a fear of commitment.”

Growing up in a rural environment where “we never spoke of depression” didn’t help. 

“I have friends from school who completed suicide and personally found someone close to me — unfortunately when it was too late. We couldn’t see his struggles because like me, we usually put up a very good façade to the public as we don’t want to bring everyone else down. 

“In the end I didn’t want to be one of the statistics.”

On December 12, deciding that he really wanted to be able to have a stable, happy relationship, he booked himself into to see clinical psychologist, Dr Dan Goodkind from the Resolution Clinic.

“Dan peeled back all the layers and got me to stop fretting about being worthless and to understand the mechanics behind those thoughts with how to beat them,” says Joe. Dan also identified that Joe’s dosage of antidepressant medication might be sub-therapeutic and asked him to discuss it with his GP. 

“His advice started the turnaround with the right chemical balance setting me on the right path.”

Identifying that one factor, that his med dose may have been too low, was one of many factors that needed to be explored as part of the treatment process, Dan explained.

“When people start to feel better, they start to see ways of getting better. The right medication plus psychotherapy works synergistically.  It isn’t the same formula for everybody, but we want to provide our clients every opportunity to get better.”

The next step on Joe’s determined road to recovery was a chance meeting with Shelley Radford at a petrol station. It rekindled an old friendship after many years through which Joe discovered Shelley ran a Success and Wellness Program through her company 2518 Limited.

“I wanted a woman’s point of view to balance all I learned about myself through the male therapist sessions. I asked to join her programme and quickly learned how to understand that life as I perceived through my eyes was very easy to share with those around me. I could do that through better communication and learning how to feel good about myself while understanding that some days just aren’t as good as others,” says Joe. 

“To summarize how I feel now after my meetings with Shelley and Dan and beating depression is the glass I stand on is getting thicker as each day goes by. I can still see the bottom and all that awaits but the chance of falling gets further away. I understand what a bad day is and can be OK with it.”

Joe’s story is not unique and that’s why he wants to tell it. In fact, according to the Ministry of Health one in five Kiwis will experience a mental health problem each year, and more than half of us will go through distress or mental illness at some point in our lives.

Shelley Radford was also one of those five. Suffering her own mental breakdown in 2015, the first step in walking the recovery path back to a happy normal life was wanting to undertake change.

“I can then help my clients understand their emotional status,” says Shelley, who describes herself as a Strategic Intervention Coach. “If you sit in a negative emotion for more than two days then you need help. That help starts with asking what are we saying to ourselves, consciously and unconsciously? Our thought programmes and habits aren’t us, but they form us. We need to stop and be aware of them, and find tools to re-programme ourselves.”

Dan agrees and says too much stress for too long will lead to some sort of breakdown.

“Depression is usually precipitated by excessive worry or stress,” he explains. “That results in not recovering from the normal stresses of life.  Sleep is often affected which exacerbates this process.  We carry around our past which shapes our perception of the present and our conception of the future, for better and for worse.”

The causes of mental unhealth are surprisingly common and here are some of the ones Shelley and Dan see regularly:

Low self-esteem — leading to a lack of confidence and connection 

Anxiety — about finances, relationships, work, the climate 

Bad nutrition — our gut and physical health affect our mental health

Comparing — ourselves to others and their wealth, body, and status 

Fulfilment — a lack of it in work and relationships

The last big one is some form of emotional, physical, sexual trauma from the past that we carry around with us that completely affects our view of ourselves and the world.

This can often happen in childhood and is known as an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), says the Taranaki District Health Board’s Clinical Director and Consultant Psychiatrist for Mental Health and Addiction Services, Dr Sharat Shetty.

“With ACE, the damage is already done,” says Dr Shetty. “The underlying stress and vulnerability it creates come to the surface when other things happen. The stress then becomes an avalanche.”

The outcomes of mental unhealth are usually anxiety and worry. At worst they can lead to substance abuse, psychotic behaviour and suicide attempts.

There’s a great saying from the Eastern philosopher, Shantanand Sarawati who says “to become who you truly are, you first need to come out of who you are not.”

How do we come out of the darkness of who we are not, and into the light of our true selves?

Once again, there is generally a similar approach around mindfulness. Literally to be the observer of one’s mind.

For Shelley, that’s helping her clients create self-awareness of the triggers.

“When triggers happen, write it down, and learn to work around them,” says Shelley.

Dan employs a mindfulness strategy based upon meditation.

“The meditation creates an ability to observe oneself without being judgemental,” says Dan. “It helps us to dis-identify with overactive mind and develop understanding of our moods and their cycles. Once we quieten the mind down and come into the present, then we can connect with the senses, surrounding sounds and sensations and focus on the positives.”

Dr Shetty calls it Acceptance and Commitment therapy. 

“We have therapy that helps you to delve into yourself — your hopes, dreams, frustrations and experiences, as it is not easy facing up to your demons. We can then start to be mindful of our negative thoughts, train the mind to relax, and take the focus away from ourselves and look around and out.” 

In some ways, it’s not rocket science, as Suzy Allen from the Taranaki Retreat says.

“For a start, if our basic needs are not met, we can’t start getting on top of everything else and start the mental health journey,” says Suzy, who started the Taranaki Retreat in 2014 with husband Jamie to help those suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts. The couple have also recently opened a drop-in space in New Plymouth’s Metro Plaza to make it easy for people to access.

“When someone is reaching out, they need to talk to someone now and there’s a capacity problem with therapy. Even with a medical referral there can be a four-month waiting list. Among our staff and volunteers are trained listeners coached to be non-judgemental, not to solve anything and just to find out what help is needed.”

Everyone I have spoken to agrees that the first step to wellness is recognising that help is needed. Once that is acknowledged, then it’s about seeking help and being supported in doing so.

The Taranaki DHB provides a full range of mental health services, from acute inpatient care, intensive psychiatric care, services for the elderly, psychology, alcohol and drug counselling and also specialist services for children and young people through the Child and Adolescent Service.

For the families of those suffering from mental health issues, Yellow Brick Road is a local agency largely funded by the DHB to help with advice and support.

There are clinical psychologists like Dan Goodkind, and strategic intervention coaches like Shelley Radford. Then there’s drop-in centres like the Taranaki Retreat.

Reach out, talk and be prepared to change, advises Joe.

“Find the right person to talk to, and if needed, find the right medications.

“I have got three awesome kids and an ex-wife I regretfully hurt. I have a fantastic understanding with them because now I am always open with it. I have confided in the kids and it helps them to be able to talk about it. People thought I was bullet-proof. Now they say thanks for telling us because people don’t. No-one wants you to be one of the statistics.”

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