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.
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.