Existential crises can be catalysed by so many different issues; sometimes the cracks already there caused by earlier traumas in our lives cannot hold and something pushes us over the edge… a lot of the time those edges can lead to us having no option but to make changes for the better – to find meaning in the darkness.
When feeling ‘consumed by despair’, Peter re-claimed his soul and made a decision to start giving gratitude for what was positive in his life. He realised that after having spent years being numb to emotion due to working within the heartless capitalist system, having feelings was actually completely normal.
Now, not only having emerged proud from his depression, Peter is advocating for social and environmental justice within accountancy and runs an ethical company based on that with the priorities being for the prosperity of people and the planet. We couldn’t wish for a more aligned accountant for #Emerging Proud Press, and yes, Peter is good ‘weird’ and we wouldn’t have it any other way!
In September 2008, the crisis in capitalism took hold and continues today, with unfettered greed destroying our ecology and society. On the same day that Lehman’s crashed I went to the doctor and told him that I couldn’t cope anymore. I had been working as a Financial Director in a Telecommunications company. I’d worked very hard for many years and at 50, and on the death of my Dad, I started questioning the meaning of life. Making money for company shareholders and earning a large salary had taken away my soul and rendered me empty.
I never went back to work. As the stock exchanges around the world fell, so did I. By April 2009, I was in total meltdown. I was suffering from anxiety attacks and was very depressed. All I could see was destruction, factory farming, uncaring people, homeless people, a world falling apart. I could not see any positive things, so I hid at home, not daring to venture out of my house.
Despite being out of control, depressed and unable to cope with being alone, I had decided that going to a psychiatric ward was not in my best interests. I knew that I was a risk to myself. But the experience of my older brother taking his life by suicide in 1980, whilst he was in care, lead me to believe that full-on professional help was not for me. I was lucky to convince everyone that I was well enough to function in society. It was not true, but I clung onto life, frightened to leave my home.
The depression continued. I took anti-depression drugs and went to talking therapies, I cried continually, and I couldn’t see a way forward. Thankfully, my wife stuck it out. I was in a living hell and could not see a way out. I think that possibly the one thing that kept me alive was the impact my brother’s suicide had on my family and me. My mother never recovered and was clinically depressed until she died. The tragedy of losing him always haunts me, and I refused to do this to those around me. Without the lesson of his loss, I may have followed him. Thankfully, the agony caused by his suicide on my family is lodged in my heart. Despite my living hell, killing myself was not an option.
I remember one day in September 2009 a year after the initial breakdown, when despair consumed me. The experience of starting the new university degree was not as I expected, and I stared into a dark pit of despair. I sat there thinking that it was time to give up, to end it all. Continuing life with constant depression seemed pointless and ending it all seemed a serious option. I remember crying for the loss of not seeing my adolescent children grow into adults. I realised that being able to live to be with them as they grew up was worth the struggle. I decided to fight the depression, to take responsibility for my future and to make it the best one possible for myself and everyone around me. I think, at this point, I found my soul again, I realised that no matter how hard, there were things in my life that made it worth living. I started my journal, writing down three things that I was thankful for each day, a practice I continue ten years on.
I found that the main thing that took me out of a depressed state was activity. So I gradually learnt to fill my time. In the early stages, I dragged myself to watercolour painting classes. As soon as the classes were over, I would rush home to safety. It was through activity and appreciation that I gradually claimed my sanity back. The big breakthrough seemed to come when I got fully engrossed in an MSc in Economics at the UEA (University of East Anglia, UK). Here I was able to fill my time reading, writing and doing maths. Gradually, as time moved by I started to move away from the depression. Slowly, day by day, I got better. Slowly the dial stuck on – DEPRESSION, moved slowly upwards so that it pointed at – FUNCTIONING BUT DEPRESSED, then to – DEPRESSED AND OCCASIONALLY SMILING. Now it often points at – OLD, WEIRD AND FUNNY.
I gradually learnt that having ups and downs were normal. Depression comes and can go as quickly as it came. But importantly, having these feelings are better than having no soul, working for a corporate mega entity that puts shareholder profits above society and our planet.
To my surprise, I found that people couldn’t see inside my head and to others I was ‘normal’. I never was and never will be, but that’s a secret that I keep to myself. I completed the MSc in 2011 and received a distinction. In September 2011, I got a part-time post Lecturing Accounting in a business school. Being busy seemed to be the answer, and so I started an Accountancy Practice. I’m a good accountant, and so I decided to use this skill to help as many people as possible. Also, I am now in the final stages of completing a doctorate in education, where I am arguing for changes to the accounting curriculum to incorporate social and environmental justice.
Ten years on from the crash, I now lecture on several undergraduate and postgraduate courses. It is a privilege to work with young people and people going through the changes that education brings. Outside of the part-time role at university, I run an accountancy practice with a team of young trainee accountants. We are focusing on building a team that cares about what we do helping charities, not-for-profit organisations and people who are proud of what they do. To do this, we have a mix of for-profit and non-profit clients. Emerging Proud press is a typical non-profit client. We share the money that we make fairly across the team and our clients (in reduced pricing for those that need it). We aim to give a genuinely caring service and to help people realise their dreams. I am very proud of what we do and would never have got here without the breakdown. Despite the pain, I was so fortunate and was able to breakthrough.
My doctorate focuses on environmental and social justice in education. I feel my life has a purpose, and I am lucky to be able to fulfil it. I look back on my breakdown as the point where I found my strength. I accept that the world is in crisis and that I should attempt to fill my time with a purpose to improve it locally, nationally and even globally. Without the breakdown, I would never have got to this place. I am so lucky to be alive. Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you to my family (both dead and alive), my wonderful wife, my amazing children, to my friends and to the ecology of the earth to whom I owe everything.
By the way – I still think my moods go up and down with the stock markets, so if you hear that I am depressed, sell all your shares!
To find out more about Peter’s ethical accounting company, and his work as Lecturer, go to: