A Room Reveal of a Different Kind

Welcome to my cave. Since I’ve been in here for a few months, I figured it’s about time I did a ‘room reveal’.

But first, you may already be wondering “What’s this got to do with business?” because I normally write about the sort of topics CEOs want to talk about. Well, this time, I’m writing about a topic CEOs don’t want to talk about. But they should.

So, the cave. I haven’t literally been living in a cave, of course. But this cave is as dark, dank, and bear-worthy as the real deal.

You see, at the beginning of June, I was diagnosed with the holy troika of Debbie Downersville: depression, burnout, and anxiety. Mum’s always going on about how according to Feng Shui, you should arrange things in threes, so I guess I’m a winner on that level at least.

But mainly, I just feel embarrassed and freaked out about my new dwelling and these unwelcome ‘flatmates’.

Here’s what we do together: sit and stare into space and go through the motions of doing normal stuff like reports and having conversations but it’s like I’m somehow removed, watching myself have conversations and doing reports. We cry a lot and face the daily question “Are you all right, Mummy?”

Mummy’s just feeling a bit sad today. I’ll be all right. Can you please shut the door? 

Everyone and everything seems far away. Except for my thoughts – they’re a permanent fixture: “You’ve gone and done it again… you’re so crap at this… why can’t you just… you should be…”. I wish those thoughts would pack up and ditch my cave.

But they’re here, so please excuse the mess.

Anyway, take a look around. See how I’ve decorated this corner? I chose self-loathing, as it goes nicely with this muted view of things that usually light me up but don’t at the moment.

Oh this little thing? That’s just a bit of fear I’d forgotten about which I rediscovered as a panic attack in the airport carpark on a Wednesday evening two weeks ago.

Over here is my collection of ropes that my friends keep trying to throw to me, to help me “buck up”. But those lifelines just hit me in the face. I wonder if behind their well-meaning rope throwing they’re just muttering to themselves, “Why can’t she just grab the f***ing rope already?!”

Yeah well, I wonder that myself.

Yes, you’re right, this cave is very “lived in”. I’ve been here ever since a panic attack in a hotel room in New York. What brought it on? Probably feeling overwhelmed by writing my first book combined with committing to lead one too many workshops in a row. Also, did I mention I have three kids and am trying to expand my business with a new strategy? I haven’t been called Super Striving Suzi for nothing.

Those panic attacks spiralled into the black nothingness of lying on the couch and fending off friends who asked, “So, how was your TRIP?”

But wait, before you leave my house tour, let me point out some touches of contrast. Even in caves, you’ll find shafts of light if you look hard enough.

Over there in that corner is the smell of my daughter’s hair. And in that corner, you’ll see another glimmer of light. That’s the sound of my teenage sons ribbing each other in the kitchen as I curl up on the couch in the next room.

And then there’s the 30-minute jog along the river I do most weekdays – when I somehow forget about caves and am just a woman running.

My husband’s bear hugs.
My work.

All these are the shafts of light that pierce my darkness and keep me holding on, hopeful. So I turn towards them and let them shine on my face. I take my light any way I can these days.

It turns out I’m a fighter. There are days I want to stay under the duvet. But I force myself to get up anyway. I put on my professional façade along with my suit jacket. I can and will survive my cave dwelling. Even though it stinks like a shitty sewer. Eventually, I’ll move out.

It’s not all bad in here. This cave has made me more compassionate towards others who go to work every day living with mental illness. From my dark space, I salute you, fellow cave dwellers!

I’m writing this, here on my mostly-business blog, because it’s time we started talking seriously about something that’s affecting every organisation. And it’s affecting you as a leader whether or not you’re suffering from mental illness or any of the euphemistic names we’ve created for it.

Because according to the statistics, you’re leading someone who is. Someone who’s battling a disease that still attracts way too much stigma and shame for us to address it in the way that we need to. The latest ground-breaking research published in Scientific American shows that you are more likely to experience a bout of mental illness in your life than you are to acquire diabetes, heart disease, or cancer.

Yet despite this, according to this latest UK research just 31% of men felt their workplace made it possible to be candid about mental health. Only 29% said they’d taken time off for mental health. (Meanwhile, only 38% of women felt they could speak openly about it). And an Axa PPP healthcare survey revealed that two-thirds of managers don’t believe that stress, anxiety or depression is a serious enough reason for employees to take time off work.

The upshot? Very few people feel safe enough to even admit to you that they’re suffering from mental distress. As long as these statistics remain, we’re failing our people as leaders. And we’re failing our people as organisations.

I want to tell a different story.

I want to do a brighter room reveal. One where people suffering from mental illness (whether it’s anxiety or depression or something even more stigma laden) don’t hide it in shame or feel like they’ve got to battle it all alone in the workplace, where they’re not too scared to share that information with their boss and where it’s not a career-limiting move to do so. Where CEOs take the mental and emotional wellness of their people just as seriously as the bottom line.

And so, this week, room reveals are in order. Grand designs of the unpleasant and uncomfortable kind.

Let’s start by having conversations. Let’s help people come out of their caves by firstly acknowledging that they exist. Make it accepted, like other things that can keep a person laid up in bed for months – a bad flu, for instance, or a broken leg.

If you suspect somebody’s in a cave, make it OK and safe for them to open the door and let you in.

And thanks for coming to visit mine – it took a lot for me to show you around.



If you’re worried about someone, you might encourage them to talk to their doctor or local mental health provider about it, and help them make an appointment, or you can encourage them to text 1737 or call for advice (call anytime 24/7). 1737 is a free phone number answered by trained counsellors.

The Mental Health Foundation’s full list of recommended helplines is below. All services are available 24/7.

Need to talk? – 1737 – free call or text 1737 to talk to a train counsellor, anytime
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE)
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Youthline – 0800 376 633. Free text 234 or email [email protected]
Healthline – 0800 611 116

For more information about support and services available to you, contact the Mental Health Foundation’s free Resource and Information Service on 09 623 4812 during office hours or email [email protected].

See the MHF website for more information mentalhealth.org.nz


If you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider.

New Zealand’s Mental Health Foundation has provided this link which may also have helpful information www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/ 


  1. Judy Kouka on November 21, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    Thanks suzi for telling me of your blog.
    Yeah totally get it…I’m always here..jude

  2. Mike McKinney on November 16, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    Hi Suzi. Loved your metaphor and the way you used the language very skillful. Great way to get across an important issue and message. I certainly agree on the need to talk about mental health issues. However, it’s also important for people in the helping and coaching professions to remember to care for and value ourselves. Going the extra mile for clients can come at a cost at times…and we may not notice until it’s a bit late. Glad to hear (and read) that you are feeling better. Mike

  3. Jaqi on October 12, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    I know this room well. Actually I’m in renovation mode, I think. I tried going to doctors to see if it was something physical, like my recent bout of bad eating must have done this to me. But no the tests are fine. I’ve tried writing lists, but this just makes everything seem like I am failing. My husband knows and has been reasonably kind, and helpful, but is starting to lose patience. The thing is when I visit this room every now and then I hate it, but feel really powerless.

    It is incredibly hard to tell anyone at work, even my boss who battles her own demons. I am grateful I have 2 really close friends who listen and wait and care.

    A true friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and sings it to you when you have forgotten the tune…

    Thanks for sharing your story. It’s nice to know I am not alone.

  4. Lynley Webb on October 10, 2017 at 4:54 pm

    Kia Ora Suzi,

    Well you have made me cry, not from pity or sadness but because you are amazing and your story is so true of many people. I’m so blown away that someone like you who always seems so happy, confident and vivacious actually hangs out in the cave. You hide it very well. Just goes to show we don’t know what people are going through so we should always be kind, as you are.

    All the best Suzi your gorgeous kids and lovely husband are very lucky to have you.

    Aroha Nui

    • Suzi McAlpine on October 11, 2017 at 4:47 pm

      Lynley thank you so much for your comments and well wishes. I think you raise a good point that so many people are suffering and hide it well. Great to see you recently. And I consider myself the lucky one with my family x

  5. Martin Byrne on October 9, 2017 at 9:59 am

    Hi Suzi,
    Well written and very courageous.
    Having been through a number of the issues you describe in your post in recent years I can only commend you for help bringing discussion on this issue out into the open. Mental health is a huge issue in this day and age and at least unlike in our parents time it is getting more acceptable by the day to raise it. All good employers should be fully committed to the health and safety of their staff and issues such as fatigue, depression and overloaded work lives are a big part of that. Lets get the discussion out there!.

    • Suzi McAlpine on October 11, 2017 at 4:46 pm

      Thanks so much for your comments Martin. And bravo for your statement “All good employers should be fully committed to the health and safety of their staff and issues such as fatigue, depression and overloaded work lives are a big part of that.” I’ll second that! Cheers Suzi 🙂

  6. Kat on October 8, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    Thank you for showing me your cave Suzi, I too have such a cave and recently found myself back there. It too has cracks of light in it, more memories of light than actual physical beams these days as I have lost so much that is tangible around me to my monsters. Understanding the whys and wherefores doesn’t help much when the monsters are prowling, thankfully they shrink in the daylight outside my cave when I emerge – which I always do, wondering how much has survived. Truly the more people like yourself who open their hearts and caves are to be much applauded for your bravery and Yes, if there was more awareness of Mental Health and the effects highlighted in the workplace, there would be a lot more compassion resulting in better working environments and relationships. Wishing you much Light, Love and Laughter. xx

    • Suzi McAlpine on October 11, 2017 at 4:43 pm

      Dear Kat, thanks for your comments, well wishes and of course for showing me a glimpse of your own cave. Sending you (and me) lots of light too 🙂

  7. Kelly on October 8, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Thank you for this blog and for sharing your story. This is such an important topic and it requires strength and courage to be open about it. Sharing lets others know they are not alone. It provides an opportunity to break down the stigma and stereotypes, have a more informed conversation and create a safe environment to seek help. We need these opportunities. I send you my best and hope you always find the strength and support to see the bright spots in the darkness.

    • Suzi McAlpine on October 11, 2017 at 4:42 pm

      Thanks Kelly. I agree with you that sharing stories is a good first step and helps to address the stigma that surrounds mental illness. I appreciate your comments. Cheers Suzi

  8. Nick Jessett on October 5, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    Hi Suzi,

    From my experience you will come back better and stronger. Personally,I found great solace in nature and exercise and also looked very hard at my diet and eating habits. In reality we are all closer to the edge than we think and we all like to think that we can do far more than is good for us (here speaks a rampant people-pleaser). There is no magic answer but your answer is there and will come to you…..be strong and be patient.

    With love Nick

    • Suzi McAlpine on October 6, 2017 at 1:20 pm

      Hey Nick, so great to hear from you again. And thanks very much for your kind words and insights. I too, have found that exercise and good eating habits, along with getting a good night’s sleep makes a positive difference to my mood and helps. Thanks once again for your comments. Cheers Suzi

  9. Tanya Houghton on October 5, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    Love you Suzi. this blog shows again your amazing strength. you are so right that we need to create environments that embrace a persons whole-self. leadership is about enabling those around us to be at their best, providing the support and safety to do that, whatever and whenever. sending you love, light and laughter always.

    • Suzi McAlpine on October 5, 2017 at 3:13 pm

      Thank you Tanya. I love your perspective and the whole self reference especially. X

  10. Anna on October 5, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    I love reading everything you write, Suzi, and have quoted you on several occasions. But I especially loved reading this. You are and always will be Super Striving Suzi, for all sorts of reasons, as hard as it is to be her sometimes. You’re amazing girl, be kind to yourself xx

  11. Treena on October 5, 2017 at 10:05 am

    I love this blog and I think you are phenomenally courageous to have written it. This is definitely a topic that needs to be brought out of the shadows with the staggeringly high suicide rates in this country, we absolutely need to shake off the stigma and shame that goes with mental illness. The flip side of being in a cave is that when you emerge (and I know you will), you will be stronger than you ever were before, more empowered with strength you may not be able to fathom at the moment. My own experiences have taught me so many things about myself and it was gift, not that I saw that at the time, but I can look back and know that it was. Big hugs, hang in there, there is light coming.

    • Suzi McAlpine on October 5, 2017 at 11:41 am

      Thank you Treena for your comments and kind words, they are lovely.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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