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WordPress, the Community and Your Mental Health


Recently I had the honour to be invited to speak at the Greenville, South Carolina WordPress Group.  Being UK based, I had two choices; jump on a plane the day after (the amazing) WordCamp Brighton where I’d also had the honour to speak or do a video link up.

So 11pm I hooked up with Cliff, the meetup organiser, via a Google Hangout and got to meet the community.  After the inevitable technical challenges of a doing a talk via video conference call, (something I’m personally familiar with as an organiser) we got started.   Below is the video, slides and a transcription of the talk I gave.

Watch on YouTube from the start of the talk

Back in 2009 I discovered the power of WordPress. In 2012 I met the WordPress community. In 2016 I relied on the community!

My personal WordPress journey started back around 2005, I needed a way to get my business online. I’d studied basic programming skills earlier in my life but I didn’t want to have the overhead of building and maintaining my own site from scratch. After trialling a number of other open-source platforms I came across WordPress and, as they say, never looked back!

After a successful exit from the business, I changed career paths around 2009 to focus on digital. I started freelancing and building sites for friends of friends. This evolved over time and I found myself becoming more dedicated to WordPress as a platform to build a company upon. This later became Blue 37, the digital agency I run today.

Around 2012 I found myself wanting to connect with more likeminded people. I was aware of the community around WordPress through social platforms like Twitter but I assumed (wrongly) it was predominately US based. I then stumbled across the Meetup platform and discovered there was a London based WordPress event, founded by Keith Devon, the event was open to all. So I signed up and headed over for my first WordPress event.

Meeting the WordPress Community

I’d arrived directly from my day job at the time; IT Director, and needless to say, I was the only person in a room full of developers and designers dressed in a suite and tie. I felt so out of place but the welcome I received was second to none! I instantly felt like I was part of something.

At that very event, the first WordPress event I’d ever attended, Keith asked if anyone was up for supporting WPLDN with him. In a room full of strangers, I stuck my hand up and we chatted after. This was the beginning of my WordPress community support.

Since then I’ve gone on to lead the WordPress London Meetup, as well as volunteer, organise and speak at WordCamps, support independent WordPress Contributor Days and run free workshops.

My time in and around the community has enabled me to speak with a lot of individuals, as business owners, freelancers and employees of both small and large businesses.

The Big Orange Heart Seed Was Planted

Back in 2014 I created a Twitter handle that I felt presented a positive connotation to support an issue I’d noticed within the community. As a small business owner myself, I understood the challenges, the highs, the lows and the impact all this could potentially have on an individuals mental health.

The seed for Big Orange Heart had been planted but it wasn’t until 2016 that the true impact and need for mental health support within the community truly hit home for me.

By now I was running my own digital agency, my business partner was my wife and we employed a number of people. The pressure was truly on. This was the first time my wife and I had worked together and I struggled to separate business with personal lives.

Recognition of Depression

Having struggled with addiction in my younger life and all the accompanying mental health issues associated with need to compensate and self medicate. I started to recognise the dark cloud that was growing over me.

I made the mistake of thinking “I’ll be OK, I can handle this”. By late 2016 I simply couldn’t. I was looking for a way out. My marriage was failing, relationships with friends and family where strained and I couldn’t see a way out.

In early 2017 I traveled to India for a short break and digital detox. During this trip my wife and I decided to sell the business and change tactics. I decided to dedicate my time to Big Orange Heart and bring a service to the WordPress community that supports and promotes positive mental health.

I still run a small agency that keeps me very much working with WordPress but my focus has changed and we’re building something much more positive. Since late 2017 a growing team of volunteers have come forward to support the efforts of Big Orange Heart. I’ve given a number of talks on the subject of mental health within our community and every time I’m humbled by the response and following conversations. There is a need for more open and honest discussion about our mental health.

Big Orange Heart Providing Practical Support

To date Big Orange Heart has provided practical support through funding individuals of the greatest need, provided mentorship and guidance for many community members and is in the process of developing four Health Hubs.

The Big Orange Heart Health Hubs will provide education, training and support for Skills Health Hub, Business Health Hub, Mental Health Hub and Physical Health Hub. The overarching focus of Big Orange Heart is mental health, we recognise however that individuals can potentially manifest mental health issues through many aspects of their business or employment.

Help Shape Big Orange Heart for the WordPress Community

We’re currently seeking funding to support a team of staff and volunteers to develop these services that will ultimately be available to a global community. We’re looking to work with strategic partners that will both support and benefit from Big Orange Heart’s mission. If that’s you or your company we’d love to hear from you.

Reducing social isolation for solo-business owners, freelancers and distributed team employees is a key focus for Big Orange Heart. My own personal need to seek likeminded people back in 2012 has lead to the development of Big Orange Heart. The team of volunteers are now running events, across the UK, every single week. We’re in discussions to support our first event overseas and have a number of new events planned for the coming months. If you’re interested in starting, or need help with an existing meetup, then please do reach out to us. We’ll happily discuss ways to create a sustainable community event in your local area.

Together we can #PressForward

I want to pass on a personal thanks to Cliff for inviting me to speak about mental health as a topic at a WordPress meetup.  The more openly we can talk about the subject, the more likely we are as a community to recognise the health issues.  If you or anyone you know is dealing with mental health issues, then please do reach out to us.  We handle all your personal information with the upmost of respect and confidentiality.

If you’re interested in having Dan speak at your local WordPress event, then please feel free to contact us and we’ll make it happen.

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