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From breakdown to bounce-back: One CISO’s cautionary tale

The job of a CISO has always been a challenging one. But the role's unrelenting remit became stretched to the limit during the pandemic – pushing tech leaders to breaking point. Read one man’s tale of burnout – and comeback.


Simon Lacey (pictured), a former cyber lead at the NHS, Bupa, and the Bank of England, experienced a personal breakdown while rolling out IT governance directives at the NHS. The good news is he came out fighting...

Here’s his story:

I remember with absolute clarity the day I realised that something wasn’t right. Something was very seriously wrong with me. I had reached the point where I could no longer deny the signs – I was in deep mental distress.

I was due to spend the day interviewing for vacancies in my IT governance team – four interviews and a 90-minute drive from home. This kind of schedule wouldn't usually have been a problem, yet I woke from only a few hours sleep, sat on the edge of the bed, put my head in my hands, and wanted to cry.

I mumbled something to my partner along the lines of “I can’t do this anymore…”

Our planned family holiday was just two weeks away, yet I could see no way that I could get through the next fortnight. I saw no way out. No safe path to follow.

All the classic warning sights had been there:

  • Working seven days a week
  • Answering emails at 10pm
  • An inbox of over 150 emails every day
  • Managing an under-resourced team spread across a large geographic location.
  • Significant organisational change
  • Inadequate management support.

And I was feeling:

  • Lonely – I felt I had no one to turn to.
  • Worthless and helpless.
  • Trapped in a situation that I had no control over.
  • Overwhelmed and unable to make simple decisions, such as what to have for lunch.
  • Negative and cynical.
  • Procrastinating – I feared starting any task, assuming it would fail.
  • Exhausted – all the time.

I felt like nothing was worth it, there was no joy or happiness in my life – a terrible thing to admit, when I had a loving family and a fantastic five-year-old daughter.

The bad news is burnout hurts. It’s incredibly destructive.

But the good news is: it's possible to recover and rebuild a fantastic, rewarding life. I know this because I have done it.

I can recall the two exact moments when I started to bounce back:

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SC Unlocks: Ransomware

SC Unlocks: Ransomware will be a platform for cybersecurity professionals to learn more about the magnitude and depth of recent attacks and how to deal with them as and when they happen to you. The conference will cover how malicious software continues to extort money from businesses and their staff, and we will discuss when/if ever it is appropriate to pay the ransom.

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