NZ Woman’s Weekly Article : Auckland NZ: 22 April 2013

 

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I had a great interview last Friday 12 April with journalist Vicky Tyler of New Zealand Women’s Weekly.  A big thank you to Roberta Faber for allowing us to almost completely take over her beautiful home in Beach Haven with its breathtaking views over the bay.

The interview entitled – ‘Working with Richard Branson – I had a Meltdown’  (hmmm sounds rather dramatic eh?)  centered on what it was like to work closely with Richard Branson and to set up an airline on the African continent in record time some years back.  (I had to dust off the cobwebs for that one!)  We also focused on the events that lead to my ‘meltdown’… and departure from Virgin in 2001 – the experience of burnout and depression and the journey I traveled which lead to the writing of Stop Worrying – Start Living – A guide for the Spiritual Worrier/Warrior many years later.  You can read the article here:

NZWW Article 22 APR 2013

One of the key topics of discussion during the interview was why so many people are affected by Depression here in New Zealand.  Interestingly enough, the same question was posed at a recent talk I gave on 08 March on International Women’s Day.   It’s a difficult question for me to answer. I don’t consider myself to be an expert on depression or burnout but I do understand now, looking back, how I burnt out and why it was so hard to deal with at the time, being so young and somewhat naive in such a high profile position.

For a long time I did my level best to hide my ‘oddity’  from the world.   I didn’t want to admit that I’d crashed and burned in an organisation that prided itself on self-starters and entrepreneurs whilst I was on a career trajectory that was destined to take me to great heights. To admit that I wasn’t copying was to own up to being weak, incapable and unable to live in the ‘real world’ when everyone around me, in both my business and social circles, seemed to be coping admirably under similar circumstances. I am sure there are a lot of people out there who can relate to that.

I think one of the reasons (and there are so many) that there is so much depression out there, not just in New Zealand, but throughout the Western economy is because we believe that we have to continuously be strong. We compare ourselves to all those around us, who seem to be just ‘getting on with things’ and taking everything in their stride, seeing ourselves as failures if we don’t or can’t do the same. We believe that we shouldn’t show weakness or vulnerability or admit to being scared, unsure, nervous or afraid.  We ignore all the signals that life keeps throwing our way so that we can keep up, look good, and fit in.  And when we start to wonder about what we’re doing or why we’re doing it and the questions seem to go largely unanswered, we can feel very, very alone.

Depression or burnout doesn’t just descend upon us out of the blue. (Although, granted a single event of mammoth proportion can lead to depression if one does not know how to handle it or put it into perspective.) Just in the same way we don’t suddenly get sick with a terminal illness. Dis-ease in whatever form it manifests, takes shape over time – slowly, gradually, often silently.  Because the subtle changes or calamities we experiences both mentally, physically and emotionally take their toll on our mind-body system. We often don’t notice them until one day – WHAM!  We find ourselves the victim of this depression/burnout thing and wonder how the hell we ended up this way.

So, bearing this in mind, I have another take on the concept of depression.  Depression is not a weakness – it simply means that we have been strong for too long. And when you are an ‘A Type’ overachiever with perfectionist tendencies (like me) burnout and depression are par for the course if we don’t learn to recognize the signs and signals and take charge of our life before life takes charge of us.  And that often means making some radical changes to how we live, who we live with, what we do and where we go. Depression certainly isn’t for sissies.

Anyone who has tackled depression or burnout will testify to the fact that there will be one or two strategies that really helped them get on top of the condition. For example, getting more exercise, eating a healthy diet, supplementation, meditation and relaxation to name a few.  The biggest contributor to my own personal success (if I could call it that) was to find a personal philosophy about life, its purpose and meaning that made sense to me. I think there comes a time in all of our lives when we start to question who we are, why we are here and what the point to all of this. Without a personal philosophy we are dragged through the streets by our emotions lurching from one crisis to the next. My burnout was the wake-up call that I needed to push me to seek answers to some of these questions. The book that I wrote is a record of the journey and the lessons I learned.

In all the fairy tales and hero myths of the world there comes a time in any story when the hero is ‘called to an adventure’.  When circumstances almost seem to conspire and leave him with no option but to step up to the plate and take action.  Now in ancient times, the call to adventure often required the donning of a suit of amour and the thundering of horse’s hooves as the hero knight set off on his white charger to slay the dragon which was holding his town to ransom, or rescue a fair maiden locked in a tower by a wicked king.  But as there aren’t many marauding dragons out there in Auckland Central and  all the fair maidens are holed up in their castles searching for their prince on the Internet dating sites – there doesn’t seem to be many  real adventures to be had these days.

However, in my world (and that can be a little errr umm peculiar at times), a modern day ‘call to adventure’ is packaged slightly differently. No matter which way you look at it, or which era you prefer to live in, the call to adventure signals a time when everything is about to change in the world of the hero. So whilst there may not be dragons to be slain or maidens to be rescued in 2013, our modern life still create the same turmoil and frustrations inside us that one might expect a mythological Dragon slayer to experience.  Hero warriors of times past didn’t become warriors because they were naturally brave or courageous from birth. They became warriors because they’d perfected the art of dragon slaying and maiden rescuing over time.  I can’t imagine any hero knight  setting out to kill his first dragon with a casual wave of his hand or a flick of his embroidered handkerchief without at least a little bit of fear and trepidation. No matter how brightly polished his suit of amour.

Depression or burnout is a modern day ‘call to adventure’.  It signals that something is wrong, that the old paradigms are no longer working.  It says that new vistas have to be sought.  It’s a wake-up call from our mind/body system or the universe itself to let us know that something, perhaps something quite big, has to change. This means having to dig deep within to find the courage and strength to work with the issues at hand. The dragons we seek are not out there in the world, they reside within. It’s our own dragons we must slay before we can call ourselves true warriors.  And to slay dragons, we need to go on a journey.


About Caroline Ravenall

Caroline is former head of sales and marketing in Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airways in South Africa, turned leadership coach, speaker, author , and scholar of mythology and philosophy! She is an inspirational speaker with a pioneering spirit and is passionate about helping individuals and organisations reconnect with their spiritual values through leveraging the power of myth and storytelling in culture, leadership and life.

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