Paul Robertson talks to Rob Kingsbury about the catalyst in his life that prompted his decision to leave his head of Technical role and join The Martin Gallier Project, a mental health support and suicide prevention charity.
As a paraplanner Paul Robertson had achieved the highest of industry qualifications, Fellow of the Personal Finance Society, and he had progressed his career to Head of Technical at independent financial advice firm Parkgate.
Paul first worked for Parkgate when he was 16 years old as part of his work experience and five years later, having graduated from Liverpool University with a mathematics degree, he was given the opportunity by the owner Bill Ward to work over the summer to help with the IT. That quickly led to him being offered a job as a financial planning administrator. Over the next two years Paul qualified as a mortgage adviser and gave mortgage advice in addition to his administration role.
In November 2011, he moved into a paraplanning role and began the R0 and AF exams. He attained Chartered status in 2016 and became a Fellow of the PFS in November 2018. In January 2019, he was promoted to Head of Technical, providing technical support for the advisers and paraplanning team, heading up the Investment Committee and being the dedicated paraplanner for Parkgate’s senior partner.
He also married his long-term partner Bailey. Life seemed good – as he says: “On paper, I had it all. A beautiful wife, an amazing family, great friends, and a good job.”
Alongside this seemingly ‘normal’ and successful life, however, since childhood Paul had suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). “I used to do hundreds of routines/rituals every day just so that everything felt right,” he says. “It was normal for me growing up because I didn’t know any different. It wasn’t until my teenage years that I realised I had an issue.”
In November 2018, he read a book called Brain Lock. “It taught me the Four-Step Method to recovery from OCD. I applied the techniques in that book to every aspect of my life and after suffering with severe OCD for 30 years, I managed to break free from it in just over three weeks.”
Then in May 2019, he caught a viral infection that caused insomnia. Weeks of sleep deprivation resulted in his anxiety flaring up “and then depression hit me like brick. A crippling 19-month battle with severe anxiety and depression took me to the darkest depths of my life.”
While on paper, as he said, he had it all, off paper, he says, “I did not want to carry on living.”
Paul tells it like this: “I was in what you could call the Suicide Limbo, torn between the torment of living with severe anxiety and depression and the overwhelming guilt I felt because of what taking my own life would do to my loved ones.
“From my point of view, there was no escape. The pit of anxiety and depression was so deep with no glimmer of light to cling on to. Each and every day was a struggle and simple tasks seemed impossible. It was like someone switched my brain off and sucked all life out of my body. I tried all of the techniques that I was equipped with to climb out of the pit, but nothing seemed to work.”
The Martin Gallier Project
It was in November 2020, that Paul contacted The Martin Gallier Project, the mental health support charity based on the Wirral which specialises in suicide prevention. “That was when the tide started to turn for me,” he says. In his first call with one of the Project’s suicide intervention workers, he spent 40 minutes on the phone. “She listened to me without judgment while I explained the position I was in and how I had got there.” He then had a meeting with her, as part of which they tackled the sleep deprivation issues which had caused Paul’s struggles and within a week, he attended the Project’s men’s support group.
“Getting my sleep pattern back on track played a major part in my recovery and to help with that, I started going to bed and getting up at the same times every day. I also introduced a morning routine which consists of 10 minutes of journaling, 10 minutes of reading, 10 minutes of meditation and 30 minutes of exercise.”
“Opening up to others, drinking plenty of water, spending time in nature, exercising, cutting down on caffeine and having a good, balanced diet also helped with my recovery.”
The same worker called him every other day to see how he was getting on with his sleep routine. “I needed someone to hold me accountable and to make sure I followed the plan. Once I had re-established good sleep patterns, I was surprised at the rate at which things started to fall back into place.”
Discovering The Martin Gallier Project, Paul says, “literally saved my life. Not only that but now I feel like I have my life back.”
Paul started volunteering at the Project, co-facilitating the men’s support group, ‘Martin’s Man Cave’ as it is called. Then the founder, Jessica Gallier, offered him the opportunity to work for the project part time, helping to expand the charity’s capabilities with the launch of its online mental health and wellbeing resource called Compass, alongside promoting the charity’s Workplace Wellbeing Packages into the corporate world.
“It was a tough decision leaving the company I’d been at for over a decade but I felt it was something I really wanted to do. Bailey, my wife, who is a paraplanner at Astute Private Wealth in Liverpool, was so supportive as were friends and work. Parkgate have been understanding and supportive all the way through my struggles and during my darker times were in contact with me every week and we have parted on really good terms.”
New career path, new life
The Martin Gallier Project, Paul says, is “fiercely dedicated to preventing suicides, breaking down stigma and supporting families, including those bereaved by suicide. The services provided are life changing and services like this are needed now more than ever, especially in the current climate.”
Alongside working two days a week at the Project he works two days at Wirral Mind. “At Wirral Mind, we are building a network of people with lived experience of suicide and/or self-harm, to give them the opportunity to share their views and help with the development of services going forward. The people I’m contacting are so inspirational; every person that I speak to, people who have gone through hell with their own mental health or with family members who have suffered, wants to help.”
On his ‘free day’, Paul has turned his hobby, drone flying, into a business, working as a freelance drone photographer and videographer.
His experience, as dark as it was at times, has literally changed his life, he says. “I loved my job as a paraplanner and working for Parkgate, but I can honestly say, I have never been happier in my life. I took a big pay cut to work in the charity sector but I’m so passionate about using my own experience to help others and make a difference. It’s so aligned with what I want to do that I can’t think of a better place to be. I go to work every day with a big smile on my face.”
Paul’s personal advice
“For those struggling with their mental health and finding it difficult to move forward, please reach out and ask for help. You are not alone and there is always light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how dark that tunnel may seem.”
Photograph: Dan Bentley, Humans of Wirral
This article was first published in the May 2021 issue of Professional Paraplanner.