Archive for Mental Health

What I’ve Learned About Midlife … So Far

This has been a story that’s been (again) simmering in me for a while. Although I’ve shared it with close friends over the last year, I haven’t done so publicly.

I’m doing so today because many others I’ve talked with have shared the same or similar experiences (hitting 40 and going through midlife transitions) and I want you to know …

“You’re not alone.”

It’s my Underneath the Iceberg story for the last two years and it’s called “I Hit Midlife And It Body-Slammed Me.”

When I Remember It Starting …

I was in my late 30s and inching closer to the big FOUR O, when I started feeling the phenomenon I now know as “Midlife.”

Maybe I can sum up the feeling by what I was saying inside like this:

“Everything is great. But everything feels empty.”

And a huge part of that came with a hefty portion of guilt of course.

I kept asking myself: “How could I feel so empty, when I have everything I ever wanted?”

Almost in one day it hit me in the face …. I had accomplished everything I ever wanted to do in life since I was a kid …

  • An awesome, loving, supportive partner in my wife Lindsey
  • Two happy and healthy children
  • A business that was doing great, with work I loved and people I enjoy working with (and partners I consider dear friends)
  • Great relationships with my parents and brothers
  • Friendships with incredible people who I respect, respected me, loved me and I loved them
  • Materially, I wanted for nothing
  • And so much more that I am so incredibly grateful for

But I came to realize after desperately wanting to flush these emotions … that they were also very real and I couldn’t ignore them. I couldn’t bury them, although I tried. I couldn’t run from them either. I was feeling this way for a reason. And I wanted to know why and what I could do to change them. Fast.

So I went on a determined quest to find answers. I dove headfirst straight into it.

I was very very motivated …. I didn’t like these feelings, I wanted them simply to go away and to “fix” the problem right now.

And I just knew I would find the answers. I’m a voracious reader, I have a counselor, I have great friends and mentors to talk to. I just knew I got this.

But along the exhausting search with no meaningful answers, I gave up, at least for a time.

I did everything I know to do when faced with these life’s issues, but still came up empty.

I read books, I talked to people. I thought, I journaled. And for a time, a time long enough to be embarrassed to admit now, I wallowed in it and resigned myself to think, “There are no answers to this. This is just life and my life. Just face it and move on, Cory.”

It wasn’t that I didn’t desperately want to figure it out … I was just lost, starting over completely, in a land I didn’t know and without a compass.

I had no clue what to do. And it was jarring.

Life still felt empty for me despite so many things I was (and still am) intensely grateful for.

And yeah, for a time, I leaned on coping mechanisms that sucked. I felt empty and wanted to numb them.

Compounded with what was going on inside me, the physical realities of getting older (and living a rather unhealthy lifestyle) set in for me.

My weight ballooned. My back was constantly hurting. I wasn’t sleeping well for a number of reasons. I had to get glasses for the first time in my life. (Yeah, I realize so many others have had glasses for forever, but for someone with great eyesight for most of their life, having your vision impaired, seemingly overnight, was and still is a major adjustment for me). I found out I had high blood pressure and other things I’ve recently shared.

I told a friend the other day in reflection that my body kind of went on strike and revolted against me in the last couple of years and screamed at me, “Hey dude, all that crap you ate or did when you were age 18 to 35 ain’t cutting it now. At all!”

With each new problem, I’d find myself saying:

“Is this as good as it gets?”

“Have I reached my summit and now I am on the descent?”

And then more guilt.

Turning 40 was an weird milestone in all of this.

I kept referring to it, as others have, as “halftime.” Only I didn’t have any sort of a gameplan for the second half and felt like I was stuck in the locker room with nothing to do.

It was as if I was looking out at the next 40 years of my life and going, “What the hell am I going to do with it?”

I knew traditional retirement wasn’t ever going to work for me. I love working and I love my work. I always have. Lindsey is well aware I don’t have any intention of ever stopping some kind of “work.” And I hated thinking I’d work for the next 25 years, then, what? Sit for another 10 or 20 years and die?

I had no hobbies. What would I do with that time that was meaningful and invigorating beyond what I was doing already? Despite feeling this emptiness, I felt I still had plenty of energy, experience and expertise to give, as well as a lot more to learn and grow and improve on.

I just didn’t have thoughts on where to go but to maintain what I have or did (in all areas of my life). And for someone who prides himself on always learning and growing, the weight of a potential plateau, or what I’ve always referred to as the flatline of life really ate at me.

From what I’ve read …. this is called the U-Shaped of Happiness ….

“If happiness over the life span looks like a U-curve — and researchers suggest that it does — then people in their forties and fifties occupy the bottom of the curve,” writes Barbara Bradley Hagerty.

But after giving up on my search for a time, I had a couple of lightbulb moments that set me in a totally new direction for my life.

I wouldn’t say I have it all figured out. I don’t. Not at all. But I have enough for me, for now. To have hope and direction.

I have so much more to learn and grow … but I at least found more clarity in the fog I was in on how to spend that second half, where/how to focus my time, talent and treasure, and what things I needed to work on. And I’m excited again. Very excited.

I’d like to share some of those lightbulb moments here (mostly in chronological order).

1. Old Metrics Had to Be Reset and Recalibarted

I found what did it for me in my 20s and 30s … doesn’t always do it for me now in my 40s. Not in the same exact way at least.

Those metrics still matter to me … but my focus and perspective on them is different. They still mean things to me, but the old way metrics don’t give me the fullest expression of the meaning I want in my life now, today.

Yes, I want to win. Yes, I want to make money. Yes, I want to help people. Yes, I want to meet new challenges head on and conquer them.

The motivation is different. It’s not building for myself, it’s more helping others build for themselves. (More on that later.)

But for some of the lightbulb moments I’ll share below, my perspective on all of them changed a bit because I’m standing now in a new place and stage in life.

2. Physical Pain as My Sign of Bottled Up Emotional Pain

In my mid to late 30s, I increasingly struggled with nagging back pain. No matter what I did, I’d still have back pain. I tried everything. I tried sleeping differently. I started standing more at work. Going to a chiropractor, getting massages, etc.

Nothing I did gave me long-term relief from my back pain.

Then over Christmas in 2016, my friend Jenny Beaumont, after meeting me at WordCamp US earlier that month, dropped a simple message to me in Facebook Messenger, with a link to her email newsletter and saying it might be something of interest to me …. and it was!

Beyond telling her incredible story of her own back pain, she mentioned a book titled “Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection” by Dr. John Sarno.

Compelled by her own story, I devoured that book and started implementing many of the practices in it …. specifically, the key point of being mindful that when my back hurt I started asking myself if there was some stress, anxiety, or emotional pain in my life I wasn’t attending to.

That was in late December 2016.

Today is October 13, 2017 … and I haven’t suffered from the type of chronic back pain since that time. Honest truth.

I’m not a doctor, a scientist, a researcher or a psychologist …. but I attribute my own chronic back pain largely to the emotional pain I was going through during this time, specifically around midlife.

For months, I didn’t tell anyone about it, fearing a placebo effect, or being called kooky.

Call me a hippie or weirdo now, I don’t care. It made total sense to me and it’s changed my life. (More on mindfulness later.)

Once I simply started being mindful of my back pain and then questioning myself to see if I was burying or harboring any emotional pain, I’ve been back pain free since.

I never thought about physical pain and how it *could* be associated with emotional pain. But it made sense to me. And now I look at it as ONE WAY my body is telling me I’m not dealing with things adequately.

(By the way, it should be noted that I did not have any major structural problems with my back. No discs out of place. No fractures or anything like that for old car accidents. No diseases, no car accidents or physical trauma. And I’m not in any way discounting chronic back pain for others. I’m recounting my own personal experience and journey.)

3. Mindfulness As a Way Of Life

I’ve used meditation on and off nearly all my life. But I never quite understood the value of mindfulness when I started practicing it with my own back pain.

But it’s seeped into more and more of my life since.

Sherry in one of our ZenTribes meetings over the summer talked at length about mindfulness and I took good notes. She said:

“Mindfulness is attention. It’s checking our automated actions to ensure they are what we want. And it’s the secret sauce for wellness.”

Mindfulness is awareness.

She added, “Mindfulness is four things: notice, observe, reflect, respond.”

So so good.

I used it recently one morning with my daughter, Lillian. As typical, she came into our room at 6:30 a.m. bright eyed and wanting attention and snacks and whatever else the “redhead” demands.

She climbed up in bed with me and sat on me and just looked me in the eyes for several moments. My first instinct was to jump out of bed and start my day by attending to her requests and hopefully getting a shower.

But instead, I noticed and observed how beautiful she looked in the morning light. All of her. Her face, her eyes, her crazy curly red hair. How her eyes looked at me with innocent deep love. How good it felt for my child to be close to me. And I reflected on that moment … and how incredibly thankful I was to have this priceless sweetheart next to me that was real and not a dream … and for the opportunity to have a daughter such as her, perfectly crafted as she was.

And because she hates wearing clothes and only had panties on (oh my), I responded to all this by gently covering her with a blanket, then hugging her when she let me, sneaking kisses on her cheeks, and being entirely enchanted in the moment by my two-year-old little girl who will one day be a woman and perhaps not have this chance again, every morning, to snuggle with her like I do now.

That’s the gift of mindfulness. Of paying attention to life in all its fullness (light and dark). Of being aware of it all.

I am always the guy that looks to the future. Dreams and dwells and basks in the future and what could be. I’m the guy who is always thinking and thinking and thinking.

And most of the time … I totally miss the present. Life’s little moments.

I want mindfulness and attention in all areas of my life. Seeing and experience life in real High Definition, in the present.

So many times in the past year as I’ve started to make sense of this life stage, when asked how I was doing, or to give a one-word expression of my current state, I’d simply say: Present.

Very hard to explain, but it’s frequently how I’m feeling now — just present in my own life. Because for so much of it, I’ve been absent from it.

Today, I’m more present in my life than I have ever been and so thankful for it. Because I’m paying a lot more attention to it now and its worth and value, success and struggle, joy and pain. It’s given me new and fresh experiences and more meaning and purpose and joy.

4. 10X Generativity.

Another huge lightbulb moment that filled me with purpose and passion was stumbling upon the word “Generativity” via Erikson’s Life Stage theory.

Erikson said generatively denotes “a concern for establishing and guiding the next generation.”

I guess you could call it giving back or paying it forward, whatever, but I love the word “generativity” so much more.

Erikson’s model suggested that in each stage, there is a crisis of choice.

In midlife, between roughly ages 40-65, Erikson’s theory suggests it is “Generativity versus Stagnation.”

Stagnation was a great description of what I was feeling and have felt.

There was so much more I felt I could give and offer yet I felt stagnate for the first time in my life.

So I read everything I could about the opposite choice — generativity. And it’s become my word for 2017 and the second half.

If the first half was focused on building up myself and accomplishing my goals (for the most part) … the second half would be focused on helping others even more so.

Of course I’ve always tried to help others whenever I can.

But this refocus and double down brought such new clarity and passion to my life. It felt more other focused. It felt more energizing that I could give back by helping someone working on their first 40 (and after 40 too).

Instead of just a lightbulb … it was turning on the stadium lights.

First, for my children (and family). They deserve the best of me, and are my first priority. If I do nothing else than help raise happy, healthy, loving humans, it’ll all be worth it.

Second, for those closest to me and then, on and on to the people I can touch in the world.

In reflection, the greatest joy of my career and business has been seeing young people blossom and bloom. For 6 years we’ve funded and ran a nonprofit to help children learn technology in Oklahoma.

Our mission at iThemes is “Make People’s Lives Awesome.” And it’s my personal mission as well.

I want more of that and more I haven’t even imagined. 10x more.

That’s impact. And increasingly I’ve been more focused on ensuring that whatever I do has maximum people-focused impact.

How can I apply my time, talents and treasure to generativity?

5. The Four Pillars of Meaning

Reading Emily Smith’s book “The Power of Meaning” this year was a life-changing moment for me. (And I can’t recommend the book enough.)

Throughout my life, I’ve always been focused on purpose and meaning in my life, but this defined it in a way I’d never imagined.

It gave me direction to look for and more clarity to find more meaning in my life, and the second half.

According to Smith and her research, the “four pillars of meaning: belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence.”

I wrote a bigger review of it here.

But here’s some thoughts on how I’ve been thinking about them:

  • Belonging — we all want to belong to something bigger than us. Beyond our business which I ascribe huge meaning and belonging to (whenever our team or customers wear our logo I feel connection and belonging and I hope vice versa), but I try to find that more and more in every group I can now. One recent way I’ve felt belonging while getting crucial support is by starting a physical health support group. Our little support group is going through the same or similar things, and on the same journey, together, and we “belong” to a group. I’m very proud to be a part, even if we don’t have a logo … yet. (Note: I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s new book on Braving the Wilderness, which goes much deeper into this subject and will be reporting on it in a later post.)
  • Purpose — beyond loving and caring for my family and friends, one of the chief reasons I believe I exist is to be a champion of mental health and wellness. To help erase and eradicate the stigma of mental wellness on this planet. It’s the dent I want to make in the world. I started that journey in 2014 with this talk and it’s focused and energized my purpose in life.
  • Storytelling — how we tell our life stories matters. Redemptive stories are the key. This one was bad for a long long time. But it has gone from bad (the place I was in) to good …. and great. And someday even better as I get more and more clarity on it and learn and grow. My second half story hasn’t been told in full yet.
  • Transcendance — these are mountaintop moments for me … when I see something that puts me in awe of the world and its grandeur … alongside the people I love most. All about shared experiences. I want more transcendent experience with people.

6. Doubling Down, Then Doubling Down on People and Relationships

Barbara Bradley Hagerty in her awesome book “Life Reimagined” was another critical, life-changing read and compass for me. So much so I bought my business group in OKC a copy for each person. (Her post on the 8 ways to survive and thrive in midlife is EXCELLENT and short.)

Among the many things I learned from it, it’s the focus that second half people have on “people and relationships” which ties in with belonging.

Again, I’ve always valued people and relationships, but it’s a refocus and double down on the energy I want to spend developing epic relationships with incredible people in my second half.

People I love. People who love me.
People I care about. People who care about me.
And more and more shared experiences with them.

It’s all about people and relationships.

7. Beginning My Physical Health Journey

Faced with many of the physical health issues I mentioned earlier, in August, I finally said, “I have to get serious about my health.” And although I’ve worked on my mental wellness seriously for the last 7 years, I had woefully neglected my physical health.

This journey is about holistic health and the last piece … physical health.

You can read all about that here as I’ve been blogging actively about my physical health.

For the bulk of my life I never worried much about my physical health. I was just healthy, mostly.

Then right around 40 (probalby sooner) my body said, “Enough, bro. Time to get serious, or I’m bailing on you.”

Now I’m finding great value (and new hobbies) in my journey to a complete and sustainable healthy lifestyle.

Writing this post has made perfect sense where this would be the next obvious step in my life’s journey. I want to be here for the next 40 years and beyond, for myself and those I love.

8. Being The Opposite of a Cranky Old Fart

So many times, I’ve felt myself and my attitude be a cranky ogre. I’ve blamed it on everything I started sharing.

I’m thankful I’m married to a woman who pushes me, inspires me to not be one, and forgives me when I am.

For what I’ve read and also seen, and from Erikson’s model alone, we have chcoies to make about how we approach the second half.

So I thought about a chart of mindsets for my second half …. and some choices I can make.

On the left are the things, left unchecked, of how I could leave the second half (rather miserably) …. but on the right is what I desire to be and how I want to live.

 

The left side seems easier. But lonely and empty and a waste … and I’ve felt those too many times in my life already.

But the right side feels vibrant, passionate … and ALIVE. And right where I want to be even if it feels hard and exposed.

I want to maximize the life I have left …. and give it liberally to others.

It means being willing to learn and grow …. and fail.
It means being willing to try new things and be scared and out of my comfort run.
It means the willingness to embrace fear and run into it.

All focused on the expression of …. generativity.

***

So this is what I’ve learned … so far.

Midlife body slammed me. But I got up again, eventually, and learned from it, even if it took longer than I wanted.

Its gift has been clarity and passion and direction that I need for the second half.

I’m thankful for the struggle to get here. Now.

To be continued.

***

Books I’ve Read That Helped Me

By the way, I would be remiss now to share some books that helped me ….

 

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.