TheJournal.ie uses cookies. By continuing to browse this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Click here to find out more »
Dublin: 10 °C Saturday 25 October, 2014

Column: “Growing up, I never expected to spend a day in prison – never mind four years”

Former trader Nick Leeson says that keeping his mistakes hidden made matters worse and – literally – ate him up inside. With the rise in mental health problems, we should all learn to talk it out…

Nick Leeson

HIDING AWAY DOESN’T help anybody. It makes bad decisions worse.

I spent many years postponing facing up to the facts and dealing with the issues that confronted me. I now prefer the complete opposite approach. I am always very reluctant to put a positive spin on a story when there isn’t one there. The story is either positive or negative and based on reality rather than any attempt to angle it with a particular slant.

There is no doubt that everybody in Ireland faces a very difficult few years. The economic bailout masters hit town again this week to see if we are doing what we should and looking for more cuts that will reduce the deficit.  Any number of economists or government officials will look for the slightest sign of a recovery and present it to you in the most glorious manner but it does little to affect the problems that we all have to face. They don’t really face the same problems as the man on the street anyway. Dealing with the reality of a situation will serve you far better than searching around looking for the smallest positive sign.

I have been through some very difficult times in my life. Granted, many of them have been self-inflicted but I have always tried to learn from them. The time I spent in prison was an exceptionally depressing and difficult period of my life but now that it is long past I look back on it and am actually grateful for the different ways that it made me think about certain things and the way that I was forced to approach life from a different perspective.

Experience has taught me that we all have the innate ability to cope. It’s there within all of us, it’s not easy to locate but we all have the ability to cope with the problems that may confront us. There’s no miracle button to push to activate it but when called upon it helps us to slowly deal with the problems that we face. Until it’s called upon, you are completely oblivious to its existence but once discovered it gives you the strength to look forward.

I wouldn’t have expected to be married and divorce by the age of 29 – or to undergo a cancer operation by 31

Growing up, I would never have expected to spend one day in prison, let alone four and a half years. I wouldn’t have expected to have been married and divorced by the age of 29 and undergoing an emergency operation for cancer at the age of 31 but it all happened within a tumultuous period of my life. I survived somehow and discovered daily the inner strength that I believe that we all have.

I would wake up many times in 100+ degree heat, wet through with sweat first thing in the morning, knowing that I would have to spend another 23 hours in the six foot by nine foot tomb that was my cell and I had never felt so completely overwhelmed and depressed. I had hundreds and hundreds of similar days still to face.

Other inmates would look for the sharpest edge in the cell or on one of the walls when we were let out to exercise and bang their skull repeatedly off it. The only motivation simply to get some medication that would blunt the edges and help them through a couple of days in a medicinal haze.

Myself, I couldn’t face the pain of self-inflicted harm so would engage in wishful thinking, focusing on things that I should have done differently in the past or hunting down the smallest positive in my current situation. There were many things I should have done differently and not too many positives!

There is no point worrying about those you cannot influence

There is nothing more demoralising than wishful thinking. My situation ensured that I was already cascading down the depression spiral that was nearing the manic end of the scale. There is nothing more self-defeating when you are already low and weak than thinking about what you should have done differently. I only realised this after several bouts of depression, several of which very nearly got the better of me, but I learnt to deal with the reality of the situation and realised that the only things that you can change and give you strength, exist in the future.

There are certain things in your life that you can influence and others that you cannot. There is no point worrying about those that you cannot influence.

I was forced to reframe the way that I thought about things. Achieving success was always the most important driving force in my life. I had to learn that you can achieve success in a variety of different ways. At the time, for me it was about being at the pinnacle of the organisation and making the tough decisions but success is also achieved by putting food on the table for your family. Very simple changes made a world of difference.

The worrying signs are that mental health issues are very much on the increase. I never let another soul in on my problems during my time at Barings. Everything was internalised, slowly eating away at me. So much so that ultimately I was diagnosed with cancer of the colon.

Learning to talk about my problems became a massive release. I would encourage anybody to do the same. In prison, there was nobody that I wanted to speak to, I kept a diary and that forced me to confront the issues slowly by writing about them, later on I could engage in conversation. The benefit is immense.

Read other columns by Nick Leeson for TheJournal.ie here>

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

Read next:

Comments (10 Comments)

Add New Comment