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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: