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'I spent 30 years suffering in silence, but I didn't have to'

·Features and Health Editor
·5-min read
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On paper, The Hallway’s Executive Creative Director Simon Lee has lived an incredible life, travelling, living and working all over the world.

But behind closed doors, the 48-year-old dad who is now based in Sydney, was hiding a nearly three-decade battle with anxiety, which he says constantly left him with a "pervasive sense of unease" and instances of dissociation.

simon lee
The Hallway's Simon Lee helped create the Boys Do Cry campaign. Photos: Supplied

"I would say that in a strange way, for a long time, [my anxiety] did kind of drive me [in my career] and that I had this constant sense of discontentment," Simon tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

"One of the reasons I've moved around a fair bit is because I always found myself not feeling quite happy. For example, I was living in Paris and I found it was getting quite claustrophobic and I basically was like, well, it's okay I'll be happy when I live in the mountains."

A nagging sense of discomfort

So Simon says he moved to the French Alps, but then experienced a "nagging sense of discomfort" again and decided it was the ocean he was missing, so moved to Australia.

Simon says winning awards throughout his career was another way he thought he could 'mend' his feelings and yet despite many achievements in the industry, and getting "the beautiful house by the beach", and having a wonderful wife and two daughters, he admits there was still "that thing" there.

"Despite having suffered from anxiety, on and off, over a period of 30 years, I would still say that I have had a great life. But there certainly has been times, particularly from early to mid 40s, and up until fairly recently, where it was particularly challenging," he explains.

"It is quite confronting when you realise that actually the answer to feeling better, and to feeling genuinely content, doesn't lie in achievements or these external things. It got to a point where there was nowhere else to look but within."

Simon's anxiety got so bad at times he would experience night sweats, or tingling in his hands, and struggling with a constant "negative narrative" in his mind. 

It even got to a point where Simon felt he had "lost his mojo" with his work, admitting his sense of self worth was very closely linked to his professional achievements, until his negative spiral got so bad he finally sought help.

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Getting that 'life-changing' help

"It would have been a December. After a really hard year. I remember kind of being at home with my wife and kids in beautiful Manly, in the middle of summer and just feeling really quite awful. Feeling like I really don't want to go into another into year feeling like this," he remembers.

“Going and telling my GP that I was suffering from anxiety was more nerve-racking than any pitch presentation I have ever had to make. But admitting my vulnerability and reaching out for help is one of the best things I have ever done.”

In fact, he called the moment "life-changing".

"I spent 30 years suffering in silence, and I don't want anyone else to wait that long to reach out for help," he says.

"And it doesn't have to be a therapist straightaway. I think even just opening up to your mate, or a family member, whoever really, is a great start.

"Even if you're feeling it's not that bad. I can live with this. The fact is that you don't have to."

hallway simon lee
Simon Lee says finally getting help was 'life-changing'. Photo: Supplied

Boys Do Cry

Simon Lee is sharing his story after the national launch of the 'Boys Do Cry' campaign this week, which includes a powerful music video created by his independent advertising agency The Hallway, in partnership with The University of Melbourne’s Centre for Mental Health, mental fitness foundation Gotcha4Life, and Heiress Films, the team behind the Gus Worland-hosted ABC TV series Man Up.

Simon felt particularly compelled to get the campaign’s message “when the going gets tough, get talking” out to the world after experiencing first-hand the positive benefits of reaching out for help.

The project includes a transformed version of The Cure’s iconic song 'Boys Don’t Cry', which aims to encourage men to challenge traditional masculine stereotypes, reach out to those around them, check in with their mates, and reinforce the message that connecting and opening up is not just healthy – it can be the difference between living and dying.

The Boys Do Cry campaign
The Boys Do Cry campaign aims to get men talking. Photo: Supplied

In the last 12 months in Australia 2,384 men have taken their own lives, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. That's an average of 7 men every day, making suicide the leading cause of death in Australian males aged 15-49. Some of these men might still be alive today if they had felt able to speak to someone about how they were feeling.

Get men talking

"My strong desire with this campaign is to do away with those damaging commandments of masculinity - these kind of unwritten, unofficial rules of masculinity, like man up, don't be vulnerable, keep your feelings to yourself - and to replace them with freedoms," Simon tells us. 

"The freedom to be vulnerable, the freedom to be soft, the freedom to speak your emotion. The freedom to feel freely.

"And so my hope with this campaign is that it does start to free men from the voice in our head that says, you know, man up, bottle it up and don't speak out."

Dallas Woods in boys do cry video
The music video features 30 men from all walks of life and backgrounds. Photo: Supplied

The film, brought to life by Good Oil’s Tom Campbell, features a choir of 30 men from all walks of life and backgrounds, and from diverse communities. 

Included in the key cast is stand out recording artist and MC, Dallas Woods, a Noongar man from the East Kimberley, and actor Eddie Baroo (The Dry, Mr Inbetween, Mystery Road).

Find out more about the nationwide campaign at www.boysdocry.com.au.

If you're experiencing feelings of anxiety or depression you can contact Beyond Blue or Headspace.

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