Archive for Mental Health

Disclaimer: Why I Share My Mental Health Struggles Publicly

As I’ve been sharing openly about mental health and some of my own struggles publicly over the last couple of years, I wanted to make sure I shared the context and purpose for doing so.

When I share my mental health struggles as I have here, it isn’t for public therapy … that’s when I go to my counselor and support network … privately … with trusted people, in a safe and confidential environment.

That’s not to say I haven’t on occasion fallen for doing so on Facebook or Twitter. I have. And almost always regretted it.

Mainly because that’s not therapy, that’s generating sympathy. And typically a very superficial one at that, because whatever benefits I think I might get from it don’t last.

It’s coating the surface temporarily with a warm glaze while not working on the real problems inside, which I believe should not be done in a public manner.

It’s a big and important difference to make in the conversation about mental health.

And I don’t want to give any illusion that that’s what I’m doing or expecting others to do too by sharing so openly publicly.

In fact, most of the things I share publicly happened 6+ years ago. I’ve talked through them, sought help for them, healed from them, in the past, privately.

Again, my experiences in growth and healing tell me that that happens with a licensed professional counselor, maintaining a private journal where I get to vomit out my emotions, feelings and frustrations in order to release them and understand them better, and sharing my struggles with a private, trusted, safe, confidential support network who have my best at heart, my key people are listed here.

However, when I do share publicly, my purpose and goals are simple:

To use my life and past struggles to say:
You’re not alone. Everybody hurts.

So that … others are empowered to seek and get help and encouragement they need.

And, finally, to erase and eradicate the stigma of mental health on this planet.

And you know what, I haven’t shared ALL of my struggles, I’ve shared SOME of my struggles. Yes, there’s always more to my Iceberg! But I share the ones I think would make the biggest impact and difference for others (depression and divorce being the most resonating ones so far).

It’s become increasingly clear that as I do share more, I share them through these filters and purposes. Otherwise, I’m just trying to garner that instant, mostly synthetic, ‘feel better now’ feeling.

BUT … when others talk openly for those reasons … it makes me SO proud and inspired. It shows change is happening!

Last night, I got to listen to the WP Elevation Facebook Live episode where host Troy Dean was talking with my friends Carrie Dills and Matt Medeiros about this vital subject of mental health. It was a fantastic episode that I highly recommend.

Listening to the show last night, prompted me to write this … it was an amazing example of what I’m seeking to achieve here and I’m so thrilled others are doing so too.

And if you’re struggling and hurting … make a call. Reach out to your support network. And seek and receive the help and encouragement you need today. Please.

How To Find Lasting Meaning and Purpose

I just devoured The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters by Emily Esfahani Smith and have added it to my All-Time Reading List.

It’s easily one of the best books I’ve read about finding purpose and meaning. And very honestly it came at the ideal time in my life.

I found the book originally through my friend Kristen and also Emily’s excellent article titled Pursue Meaning over Happiness.

Here are some of my highlighted notes and comments from the book:

“Global suicide rates have spiked 60 percent since World War II.”

“In the United States, the rate of people suffering from depression has risen dramatically since 1960, and between 1988 and 2008 the use of antidepressants rose 400 percent.”

“Each year, forty thousands Americans take their lives, and worldwide that number is closer to a million.”

“Wealthier nations, it turns out, had significantly higher suicide rates than poorer ones.”

“Happy countries like Denmark and Finland also have some high rates of suicide.”

“The countries with the lowest rates of meaning, like Japan, also had some of the highest suicide rates.”

“Four in ten Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose.”

The “four pillars of meaning: belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence.”

1. Belonging

“We all need to feel understood, recognized, and affirmed by our friends, family members, and romantic partners. We all need to give and receive affection. We all need to find our tribe.”

Research shows the a “sense of belonging” rates as the most important benefit in a relationship or a group.

Belonging is about two thing: mutual care and “frequent pleasant interactions” with others.

Even “small moments of intimacy” matter called “high quality connections,” which are “positive, short-term interactions between two people, like when a couple holds hands on a walk or when two strangers have an empathetic conversation on a plane.”

2. Purpose

It’s not about saving baby seals.

“Living purposefully requires self-reflection and self-knowledge.”

Researchers found that “knowing oneself is one of the most important predictors of meaning in life.”

“Living with purpose may make us happier” but ultimately it’s about making the world a better place.

In studies about finding meaning in work, the people who see their jobs as a way of helping others rank their jobs as more meaningful.

Although research shows raising kids can make for unhappy parents … it’s also a powerful source of meaning. (Amen to that!)

Parenting is often tough, stressful work, but extremely rewarding.

3. Storytelling

Storytelling is a fundamental way we make sense of the world and the things, people and events in our lives.

We use stories to help others understand us, and to help understand others better.

It’s all in how we tell our stories.

Redemptive stories tell about the transition from bad to good.

Contamination stories tell about transitions from good to bad.

People who tell contamination stories “tend to be more anxious and depression and to feel that their lives are less coherent compared to those who tell redemptive stories.” They are also less inclined to “contribute to society or younger generations.”

“We are all the authors of our own stories and can choose to change the way we’re telling them,” and in fact, can “edit, revise, and interpret the stories.”

4. Transcendence

My new bucket list item is go to a Star Party at the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas.

“A transient, or mystical, experience is one in which we feel that we have risen above the everyday world to experience a higher reality.”

Two things happen in transcendent states, “our sense of self washes away along with all of its petty concerns and desires,” and we feel “deeply connected to other people and everything else that exists.” The result is a sense of peace and well-being.

“Awe challenges the mental models that we use to make sense of the world. Our mind must then update those models to accommodate what we just experienced.” And we are transformed.

The paradox of transcendence is that we can “feel insignificant and yet connected to something massive and meaningful” at the same time.

One unique and rare transcendent experience is called the “Overview Effect” that astronauts get when they travel into space.

Astronaut Jeff Ashby said, “You cannot view the thin blue arc of our atmosphere from space without developing a great concern for the protection of that fragile band of life and a desire to contribute to its preservation.”

“The self-loss felt during a transcendent experience is sometimes called ‘ego death,’ and it prepares us for the final loss of self we will all experience: death itself.”

***

I’ve been digging in on practical ways to use these four pillars to finding meaning in my life and I’ll have more to share on the subject very soon.

Be sure to go get The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters by Emily Esfahani Smith – it won’t disappoint and you’ll get to read all the stories and things I didn’t mention here.

My Talk on Mental Health and Entrepreneurship Is Now Online

I recently shared some of my thoughts on mental health in a blog post titled “Everybody Hurts, Including Me, And It’s OK To Ask For Help,” which was based on a talk I gave at WordCamp Denver 2015.

This was the toughest talk I’ve ever given … and I usually try not to cry but I broke up several times recounting my story. The video for that talk (around 28 minutes) is now online.

Watch my talk on Mental Health and Entrepreneurship here.

Everybody Hurts, Including Me, And It’s OK To Ask For Help

This is a story I’ve never shared publicly until recently. It’s a secret about my life few people know. But now, because it matters, because it could help others, it’s time to share.

It’s taken me 5 years to share this story. So this is for you, for your story, for your best. I hope by sharing my story, you will share yours.

And most importantly, for those silently hurting, you will be encouraged, inspired to seek people to help you.

***

In 2010, I found myself living both the hardest time of my life and the best time of my life. Just in different, somewhat disconnected areas.

My professional and business career was starting to soar.

My business, iThemes, was taking off — helping people, getting acclaim and making money. It was the year we released BackupBuddy, our home run product. I was living my dream job as founder and CEO of a growing dynamic company. I was fulfilling a lifelong dream and co-writing a commercial book (WordPress All In One for Dummies with my friend and editor Lisa Sabin-Wilson and others). I was getting asked to speak often. People were noticing who I was … and caring.

Professionally, it was as if the wheels of the jet I was piloting was lifting off into outer space. Momentum. Force. Energy. They were all mine. I could feel the jet arc as it pointed toward the blue sky.

My hand was on the throttle and could feel the acceleration of that jet going upward on my body.

Lisa said it perfectly to me: “This is your year, Cory.”

And it was. Professionally. A true turning point in my career and business.

But personally … simulatenously, my personal life was crashing down around me … or on me.

You could say there were flames even.

The crater of the crash was my marriage of 7 years. It had started crumbling, disintegrating early in the year. And mid-year, it was over as I filed for divorce. That was the crash. The flames came soon after. When the fire hit the jet fuel (as it often does in divorce), it was even bigger explosion.

If my professional career was aimed at the stars, my personal life had crashed and burned.

I was at the bottom. Face down. Bloody nose. Hurting.

At some points I felt like I was being dragged across the embers.

Divorce. There. I said it.

I lost friends. “Friends,” I should say. Everything I believed in, and had built was done and over.

It didn’t happen overnight like some might think. But I won’t point fingers here. It’s not necessary and you don’t need those gory details.

But there I was at 34, reeling from what I thought would NEVER happen. As a child of divorce, watching the heartache it caused, I had vowed to never let it happen to me, and it did.

And when it did, it was a shock to everyone. EVERYONE.

Why?

Because I had not shared what was happening in my life over the course of 6-plus months with anyone that truly cared about me.

I call it the six months of my self-inflicted solitary confinement. My pride, thinking I could handle it all, was the key that locked me in a painful solitude.

My parents didn’t know. My brothers didn’t know. My friends, my pastor. My team didn’t know. No one knew.

So when the news hit, it hit people hard. Full blown shock. They didn’t understand. They thought things were perfect, because in my pride I had meticulously hidden it all from them.

And when I finally shared after that time what had happened, what was still happening, all of the people that truly cared for and loved me were totally shook, to their foundation … but despite that came running toward me with unending love, care, support.

I kept telling myself, “I can handle this, and anything else for that matter. I’ve been through tough times before, I got this,” as though I was Superman. Yet I was and am a mere mortal who was hurting, lost, and desperately needed help.

I thank God I have parents who love me unconditionally. I’m so thankful for them, because they were the first I let know. And they came running to me with arms extended.

I remember one weekend when I was at my absolute lowest that my mom stepped in and cooked for me and did my laundry for me and listened. My dad was there immediately, offering words of encouragement and unconditional support that I savor to this day. He told me he loved me like he did a million times before but these times were so special because I desperately needed to hear them. They were both there for me every minute of it, my first responders. And I think they saved me from going deeper into my sadness and hurt.

My brothers and my sister in laws (the Miller Girls) were the second wave to rush in. I needed them so badly to just hug me and say everything would be OK and that they loved me.

Eventually, my team would know. And through their commitment and passion for our work and for me, they held things together while their leader’s personal life unraveled, often with fireworks before their eyes.

In August of that year, at the recommendation of a good friend going through the same situation, I made an appointment with a mental health professional named Kyle. Together, I began to unwrap the hurt and anger and bitterness and lostness and loneliness so that I could take the next steps in rebuilding my life.

At an early session, he gave me a questionnaire to fill out. And when I was done, it indicated that I was dealing with low-grade depression. I think a little part of me was stunned to hear the word “depression” applied to me. Again, the pride kicked in. And the fact that I have always felt like I was a positive, optimistic, resilient person and that this couldn’t really happen to me.

Pride is ugly, and scary, and dangerous.

I readily admit, I’m not a mental health professional, and that I’m still learning what depression is.

But I know it was enough for my counselor to suggest an antidepressant for a time to get me through some of the toughest parts. I ultimately decided not to do so. But I want to be very clear and say I have no qualms using or not using medicine for depression. There is not judgment either way in me on this. But for my situation, at that time, I felt it was the right decision in my case (again, made in collaboration with a professional).

I do know depression is dangerous if left unmanaged. And I don’t mess around with dangerous, life-threatening things.

I needed help. And I was forced to finally ask for it because I had come to the end of myself. I had bottomed out.

I was in the midst of something I simply could not (and should not) have attempted by myself. It was so unhealthy and unwise to try to do so.

The help that made the difference for me came in the form of people … my counselor and the friends and family who were there to say “I love you,” offer a shoulder or a hug, or just sit quietly with me to assure me I wasn’t alone.

For most of those counseling visits, it was mostly me talking, dumping my garbage out. Whatever was hurting most, or on my heart and mind.

And there was lots of bile, poison, anger, but sharing it with someone who was professionally trained, objective and I didn’t have to see at Thanksgiving felt so freeing.

Other times I talked through issues I was dealing with (meaning people and relationships), and got ways to think about it and act to make it better in my life.

It was slow, but steady progress.

And more and more, each and every day, through the help of my counselor, support from the people who love me, the sun began to shine again.

All because I finally reached out my hand for help. And got it.

Today, almost five years later, the sun shines bright in my life, brighter than it ever has.

My life has changed so much — for the better.

I feel mentally healthy and whole … and yes, happy.

I am married to my best friend, my partner, my lover, Lindsey, who I met a few months after I started with my counselor. We now have two beautiful little babies (Caloway and Lillian).

The sun shines so bright because it is reflected off of them and their love for me and me for them. Like when my son runs to me to wrestle or to give me a hug, or when my daughter smiles at me as she catches my eye, and always, for the love and support of Lindsey, who encourages me to share my story and to just be me every day.

I have friends in my life that I know I can walk through anything with them by my side. Who want my best and vice versa.

I have an amazing team that cares about each other’s wellbeing and enjoys each other.

Oh, and my family, they are the same as they’ve ever been — always there, always loving, always ready.

By the way, this is just one story of a time when I was hurting and needed help. There are many others.

I’m not immune to hurting. Everybody hurts. Some are just better at hiding it than others. But I struggle with the same things, just like you do, they just have different names attached to them, however rosy and picture perfect I still might seek to paint it on the outside.

But it’s a reassuring comfort to know that when the storms approach and threaten (and they will again) … I’ll reach out my hand to these beloved people to walk with me through it.

I can’t, I won’t, ever, try to do this again by myself.

I’m here today, in this place, because these people helped me through a dark valley of my life and I’m happier, healthier and better for their love and support through it …

I hope you’ll do the same.

***
WANT TO HELP SPREAD THE MESSAGE?

Share your own story of hurt and help.

Do it here, your own blog, wherever. But do so in order to help someone know it’s OK to seek and get help too.

We talk so much about physical health and how to achieve it, but it’s taboo to talk about mental health and yet so absolutely vital. Let’s change that.

It’s time to make talking about mental health openly and honestly a good, accepted part of our lives. It’s dangerous and unecessary otherwise.

As I’ve shared my story, I’m always amazed at the response of how many people are hurting, silently.

So the message is this … it’s your story of …

1. Everybody hurts.
2. It’s OK to ask for help.

Go be the message, hope, inspiration and encouragement for someone hurting, silently.

It’s Time To Start Talking Openly About Mental Health

At WordCamp Denver last weekend, I shared the most personal, intimate, transparent, open and, perhaps, impactful talk I’ve ever given.

The topic? Mental Health and Entrepreneurship.

In Denver, I shared the stories and lessons I’ve learned in the last 7+ years of how to cope doing one of the toughest, often loneliest jobs ever — being an entrepreneur. (And a BIG disclaimer that I’m not a counselor, just a guy trying to make sense of the world and to survive and thrive in it.)

It’s not too often that I cry, let alone cry in public, let alone cry on stage, but I did. Sharing some of the most personal stories of my life (many of which I’ve never shared publicly) was intense to say the least.

But thinking about the people who’ve made the difference in my life, often the life-saving difference, just opened up a part of me I don’t share too often … and I lost it.

Among other things, I shared:

  • my divorce in 2010
  • the 6 months of solitary confinement I put myself because of my pride
  • the phone call I got from Grant Griffiths, who had no idea what was going on, but called to ask if I was OK and how awesome that made me feel
  • my insecurities and fears (that I still wrangle daily)
  • that my happiness and health have to come first, it’s not my job to make other people happy … and how setting clear boundaries have made the difference in that
  • and finally — that I can’t and won’t ever try to do this thing called life alone again.

(BTW, while I figure out how to share my story in text and the video gets uploaded to WordPress.tv, you can see the slides from my talk here.)

Why did I do this? 

I want my life to matter. And I know my life matters the most when I can help others. Thus, if my story and openness helps someone else who is hurting (often alone and in silence) to reach out and find help, I’m going to do it. Every time.

I shared because we don’t talk much about these things either out of fear or pride. I shared because I know if I share, others might do so as well. I know if I share that I have a mental health counselor who I see on a regular basis (roughly 4 times a year), maybe someone else might take the bold action of booking an appointment with one.

What was the result?

People standing up and going to the microphone in the Q&A part, not to ask a question, but to share something intensely personal, often crying while doing so. It was a humbling time of openness and community like I’ve never seen it, with plenty of tears all around. And many people saying thanks (and giving me hugs) for my openness in the hallway afterward.

Here are some of the online responses too:

 

So in the days that have followed my talk in Denver, I’ve determined that I want to keep championing the topic of maintaining good mental health and openness about it as well as resources to maintaining good mental health much like we do with physical health.

Only louder.

There are too many hurting people out there … and I want to help.

So expect to hear more from me on this soon. (And in the meantime, I hope this will be encouragement to do so yourself.)

UPDATE: I’ve shared the story of my divorce in 2010 here