So here I present my vulnerability. I will lead by example, as all good Servant Leaders should. I will allow myself to be seen by you in the hope that you will allow yourself to be seen by others. I will omit some details as I don’t wish to add to the shame of others. I’m also not blaming anyone, as we are all products of our environment and upbringing. I have and will continue to approach people directly.
This is baby David, born on a rainy November evening in Cardiff, 1985. In many ways I had a blessed upbringing. I had parents who worked very hard to provide, so I never wanted for anything. I was born in a country with relatively vast freedoms as compared with a lot of the “civilised” world.
But shortly after this picture was taken, my health deteriorated. When I was 7 months old I had an ear infection, which was left untreated for 2 weeks while doctors diagnosed and treated the issue. I believe this created an auditory processing disorder and mild learning difficulties (un-diagnosed).
I went on to have convulsions between the ages of 8 months and 4 years, probably related to a narrowing of my urethra, which was operated on at 2 years old. It was a major operation, with general anesthetic, which can cause beahavioural and emotional difficulties. At this narcisistic age, we feel we’re in control of the world. So being pulled away from my Mother and forced into an operation, I probably felt that I had failed immeasurably at life. Something that stuck with me.
The illness meant that I wasn’t socialised with other kids much, so the subtleties in human interactions weren’t ingrained as early as with other kids. My social skills suffered as a result.
In school, this led to my being misunderstood and bullied, physically and psychologically, every day for the best part of four years. I was the most “unpopular” kid in my class and most likely in the school. So I had no friends to turn to during these times and felt distant from my parents, so wouldn’t talk to them. The feelings of isolation and loneliness I felt during this period were heavy. I couldn’t understand what I had done to deserve the treatment I was receiving. So I turned inwards.
This created a lot of anger in me. Once I started to grow physically and realise my strength, I started fighting back, at times becoming the bully. I projected a “don’t fucking come near me” attitude to prevent bullying, but it also prevented friendships. I projected an aloofness to show that I didn’t care what people thought, whilst in reality I was desperate for connection. The pain of my emotions was overwhelming, so I began to numb myself to them. But you can’t numb the bad stuff alone. As Brene Brown says – when you numb, you numb everything.
I stopped being part of the school plays which I loved, for fear of being seen. I stopped pursuing music, for fear of being heard. I started to draw and write, as I could hide these forms of expression more easily. But feeling stupid and worthless meant I didn’t develop these skills much. So when I realised at 14 years old that I was the best with computers in my (small) class, I started to pursue a career in IT. For the first time in many years, I saw as an opportunity to regain the control over my life that I felt I’d lost.
So I went on. Pursuing a career in IT. Being angry. Having rock bottom self esteem and confidence. Having difficulty getting on with people. Feeling that things were not quite right with me and the world I was building around myself.
This went on for 7 years, until 2007 when I started to see some of the behaviours that were holding me back. I had finally found community and felt safe with a group of people all going through similar experiences. I felt capable of being vulnerable for the first time, dropping my defenses and looking at my psychology objectively. I realised that the life I’d created around me did not come from my authentic desires, but from the trauma I’d experienced and shame I felt. This led to a fairly intense breakdown.
Some may call it a “spiritual awakening” and I certainly had some experiences that felt supernatural to me. In reflection they were just altered stated of consciousness, “peak experiences” that are available to all of us naturally. But I still didn’t know what to do with myself… I was emotionally unstable, intensely anxious, agoraphobic, claustrophobic, un-directed and profoundly confused. An existential crisis. I had studied IT for 8 years, but felt no connection to working in that world any longer. My social skills were at rock bottom, so I didn’t feel I could use the “who you know” strategy to find work. So with eternal gratitude for my parents’ support, I began a part-time masters in business, allowing me the space to figure things out.
During this time, I started to feel like I was being pulled along by the current of something beyond my control, but I felt totally at ease with. I was “in flow“. I volunteered for an environmental charity, which led to me being hired by them. I bulk-bought food with friends, which led to us founding a social enterprise. I attended various forms of therapy, I began training intensely in the martial arts and I studied psychology.
I slowly (and at times rapidly) started to open back up, reclaiming my innocent, wondrous view of the world. I started to notice and work on my strengths – those that had been persecuted due to the insecurities of others, such as my aptitude for seeing through people’s facades. I started to develop my creativity once again. I was moving toward a life that felt authentically my own. But the work is on-going, and has become part of who I am and who I wish to project into the world.