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Contrasting perspectives from a bipolar businessman

19 Oct 2017
Toy man under stress with doodle thoughts

Any entrepreneur will tell you that things aren’t always easy, but for one suffering with varying levels of mental health, days of buoyant high and productivity can just as easily be overshadowed by depression, anxiety and imperious stress.

Thomas Duncan Bell runs two businesses, one providing uniforms and furnishings for luxury hotel chains, and the other providing clothing and apparel for four-legged canine companions. He is also diagnosed with bi-polar and personality disorders, and has balanced his mental health issues while developing his start-ups through the growth journey.

For the IoD’s ongoing Mental Health in the Workplace campaign, Thomas has written two emotional blogs displaying the contrasting mind-sets that can take hold of a business leader in a constant struggle for mental health balance. No matter how frustrating, how depressing, or how dark things can seem, there are always things that can lend perspective…

The One Man Army

When you start your own business, society is always excited to have another entrepreneur within its ranks. Everyone used to love an entrepreneur! But no one tells you the hell that will befall you, before the time comes when you sit back and admire what you’ve done.

It’s the HR that kills me. It’s dealing with banks, mobile phone companies, offices, suppliers, staff, and logistics, and that’s all before you’ve gone and got any new business for the day.

I wasn’t aware of my bipolar disorder before I started my own business. I wasn’t even aware of what starting my own business really meant, if truth be told, and as a solid salesman I just thought I’d crack on and do what I’m good at.

I was so wrong. I now have a business that is moving in the right direction, but at times the direction is still all wonky.

I’ve had the court apply County Court Injunctions (CCJ) off the back of their own administrational mistakes (CCJ’s that they’ve said will be removed, yet linger). I’ve had phone companies billing me silly amounts of money, cutting off the wrong devices, making up packages, charging me for 4 years of unwanted insurance I didn’t know I was paying for, and no end of bodged bills and services. A bank failed to complete a review of my business and cut off my account access, which meant no cash flow for 2 weeks, nearly killing my business completely. The list goes on!

But it’s the anxiety I face off the back of this that frustrates me. What I’ve been through with these people - people who are supposed to look out for you, to support young businesses and young entrepreneurs - is just disgusting… And it continues.

I used to think it was me. I thought that because I’m often a bit tenacious in propelling forward, that I was causing these problems. That’s how these organisations made me feel, but when I compartmentalise the issues individually there’s just no way I’m at fault. That upsets me even more because where are the weak entrepreneurs? Those that this type of thing could push to the edge? There have got to be a raft of them out there. I really want to help them but I can barely help myself.

I’m a guy who will tell you straight about my perceptions and be open about who I am, but I’m living in a world of lying, manipulative and divisive individuals and organisations, and how do you see the wood through the trees. I’ve even had a daytime television celebrity happy to screw me for their own benefit. I’m just not the kind of low life that goes to a newspaper to reap revenue off the back of the stories I have in hand.

As I see it today I’ve hit the wall… I’m usually more upbeat, but that’s the bipolar issues I guess, I’ve just got to the point where I am fed up with the admin, I just want to enjoy my work life balance and I feel like I’m stuck in a blender, just waiting for someone to turn on the mains.

Bipolar Baby Days

On the 24th June 2017 my life changed…

After a long weekend event promoting my company K9 CREW at DogFest, my fiancé suggested we stop by Boots on the way home to get a couple of pregnancy tests, as she’d not been feeling well. My partner is a woman who’s pretty in tune with her body and health (ironically the opposite of me), so I took the situation seriously and did as I was told, incorporating the detour.

My heart at this point is fluctuating, my entire life I’ve wanted children and there have been a few moments in the past where I’ve thought I might become a father and it’s not come about. But on this day I got the news I’d been contemplating for years. We were going to be having a baby!

Fast forward to date and we’ve now been through all the relevant tests to establish that the baby is perfectly healthy and well. We will also be having a son… Logan Henry Bell.

When I consider the darkest days in my life to date, I consider the emptiness that has befallen my mind and the agitated darkness I’ve come to accept will forever lurk from moment to moment.

But when I consider the prospect of my son coming into the world, all I see is light. I see moments on bicycles, mountains, trees, and snowy Polish winters learning how to ski. I see happiness and there’s a growing excitement at what he might become. And I remember every fractured, disjointed memory of my early years… The holes in the doors, angry nights, and fear…

Those memories are not for my son!

Those memories will fade and die with every moment he grows and thrives and lives… I can’t change what happened to me, I can’t change what I will see in my mind for the rest of my life, but I can orchestrate the lifestyle surrounding his youth and I can give him the father I never had.

There are so many regrets and moments I’ve travelled in shadow, but that ends when he arrives.

Every waking moment I will think of him until then and I will wonder what’s to be, but I won’t impress anything on him, I won’t try and forge his nature, I just want to set him free. Free to grow and think and evolve as is right by him, without the burden of bringing up a father.

I was once a twin and since my brother died I’ve always felt half full. Every male in my life has left me to fight alone, but February 2018 I become whole again. My bipolar baby journey begins and I finally feel like I can bring light into my life again where once there was just a half-cut candle…

Everything in my world is changing, I’m going to have to try and keep pace, but there’s a new driver now. Where I was waning, I now feel resilient again.

This is going to be the best thing that ever happened to me, it’s not about straight A’s or doctors for me. I just want him to think for himself, to feel for other people as I have, and to have a sense of inner peace. To know that his journey is only ever going to be what he makes it. As I see his life unfold I think I may finally be able to let go of my father and paint my own picture of a future for my son.

Logan Henry Bell, I love you already, I promise you that you won’t grow up knowing true fear and that anything in life you should choose to seek will be possible for you… Take your time son, I’ll see you when I see you.

Thomas Bell, Managing Director – Team Tops & Corporate Wardrobe 

Thomas was diagnosed as having a form of bipolar disorder around the age of 21/22 and began his entrepreneurship journey aged 20. He now runs two businesses that are growing in their respective industries and his day to day work revolves around implementing uniforms throughout 5* hotels across London and the UK. "Lots of latte, lots of creativity, no two days are ever the same in my world, that’s what I love about it…"

Read more about Thomas by visiting his blog: The Bipolar Businessman

Mental health in the workplace

The IoD is committed to raising awareness of mental health issues in the workplace, with a particular focus on opening up the conversation for small and medium-sized businesses. We have created a hub packed full of helpful advice, best practice and useful resources, as well as shared experiences from business leaders.

Visit our mental health in the workplace hub

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