John Beede is a worldwide adventurer who has travelled to 67 countries, written three books, and the newest is called The Warrior Challenge: 8 Quests for Boys to Grow Up with Kindness, Courage, and Grit.
He has also climbed to the top of the tallest mountain on every continent, including Mount Everest. And for context, more people have orbited in space than have climbed the tallest mountain on every continent. During his nine years of adventures, he has survived avalanches, pulmonary edema, tribal warfare, and lived on a whole lot of Clif bars.
John joins me today to discuss his adventures and much more.
TOPICS THAT I DISCUSS WITH JOHN:
· Climbing Mount Everest
· Living with PTSD
· Embracing and re-framing vulnerability
· Boundaries and kindness
· Re-framing what it means to be manly
LIST OF RESOURCES AND CONTACT DETAILS MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
The Warrior Challenge: 8 Quests for Boys to Grow Up with Kindness, Courage, and Grit by John Beede available on Amazon and all major book stores.
To learn more about John Beede and to connect with him, visit https://www.johnbeede.com
I'm Claire Rogers, and you're listening to Boot Camp for the Mind & Soul, the podcast that gives you an inner workout. Before we get started, remember, just like in a gym where you may not be able to use all the equipment, pick up what you can in this episode and leave behind what you can't.
Your inner workout starts now.
My guest today is John Beede, a worldwide adventurer who has travelled to 67 countries, written three books and given live presentations to nearly 1 million live audience members. John has climbed to the top of the tallest mountain on every continent, including Mount Everest, and for context, more people have orbited in space than have climbed the tallest mountain on every continent. During his nine years of adventures, he has survived avalanches, pulmonary edema, tribal warfare and lived on a whole lot of Clif Bars. He's also the author of three books. The newest is called 'The Warrior Challenge: 8 Quests for Boys to Grow with Kindness, Courage, and Grit'.
So, without further ado, welcome, John, and thank you for joining Boot Camp for the Mind & Soul.
Claire, thank you so much. I'm thrilled to be here with you.
So, let's just dive straight in. Reading your introduction, it's obvious that you are an adventure junkie. So, what drew you to these adventures?
That's an awesome question and the answer is, yes, I am an adventure junkie. What drew me to these was I had a friend pass away when I was 15 years old and that made me think life is short. It put it in my mind early and I wanted to get the most out of my life. I kind of wanted to live a great life in his honor as well. So, there was this real early mindset shift of life matters, it's important and we have to make the most of it. For me that was going out on these adventures.
So, before you turned 15, were you an adventurous kid? Or did you literally change your mindset when you lost your friend?
It was a pretty sharp mindset shift. My parents took me on some camp outs and the Volkswagen bus that we had an I have gone camping, I was in Boy Scouts, I was an Eagle Scout. So, I had done some adventures, but it really took a sharp turn towards the "let's get out, let’s really push the envelope, push the limit, go rock climbing, start climbing big mountains, get in the white-water"... all that happened after the age of 15.
Amazing. I was reading your website, and now I'm really intrigued. What happened on Everest that was not the experience that you had expected, and can you tell me that story?
Yeah, we're diving right in then. I wouldn't expect it any other way. I thought it would be this huge adventure where we get to the summit and conquer this mountain and destroy, you know, like these crushing languages that we have, as climbers, "Like stomp that thing, destroy it, it's gonna be epic", and like, be this hero on top of Everest. Instead, on the way up, there was a man who was on his last breath, who I came across, and he was left behind by his team, frozen into the ice. I stopped in the middle of my own climb in order to try and help him. He was beyond help, so I had about three or four minutes with him where he was on his last breaths. That completely shifted my sense of purpose and why I was there. It came across this question, you asked before this, "Why these big adventures?" And it made me wonder, "Is this worth it? Is this really, like, risking my own life...Is it worth doing these things? Or is there a different purpose to it? And I'm in this sense of self-doubt, and wondering, and having been across this man who just passed away, resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder. So that was two years of decompressing and re-wiring my brain and the childhood messages that I had for myself, since I was a kid about like, "Why need it? Why need to push through the pain so much? And that's ultimately what has led to this conversation, of this book that I wrote, that this is a toxic message for young people to have.
Before you saw that happen to that gentleman, what did you get from climbing mountains? Was it a feeling or a sense of achievement?
Yeah, there's a sense of achievement. There's also a sense of pride, like, "Hey, look what I did, look how high I climbed today." Or, "Look at this picture that I've posted on Facebook or on Instagram." That was a feeling that...sure it makes you feel proud, but it also is ego. It's a sense of ego. So, to be able to slowly learn to let go of that; which I'd started to do; but then be slammed with this trauma was a real point of growth for myself.
I think that's really interesting point. How did you recognize that it was an ego trip doing these adventures?
You have a lot of time when you're mountaineering to think about what's going on in your mind and to reflect. Climbing Everest takes two months. When I was in Indonesia, that took us 13-14 days. Antarctica, that trip was 12 days. So, you have a lot of time to reflect and you start wondering when you're alone in a tent, and it's like one o'clock in the morning and you're waking up, you used to ask yourself, "Why am I doing this?" That was when I started realizing I kind of want the pride and the ego. Then it shifted towards, "I want to see what I'm made of. I want to see what capabilities I have and what...can I do this for myself?" Then finally, it shifted to where it is now; is mountaineering and climbing is like my church. Those mountains are my cathedrals. That's where I go for spiritual connection. Connection to other mountaineers and other climbers and that is my current state. That's what it shifted towards, is, "Yeah, I'm going to go climb so that I can be connected in a really big way to some wonderful people and wonderful scenery."
So, it shifted from being an ego trip to now a sense of community and oneness with nature. Is that right?
How did you recognize that you had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Did you get help, or did you have an awareness and know that you needed help?
The last thing that I wanted was help. Just to put a timeframe on everything, you climb Everest in April and May, so I got home in June, and thought "Man, it was just a crazy thing that had happened." I've been around other people passing away on other mountains and this was kind of the culmination of all of those. The worst of the worst was on Everest. So Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a lot of people are really flip about it. Like, "I stubbed my toe on the side of a bed, now I have PTSD," or like, "I kind of have PTSD when I'm going around this specific staircase from the one time I hit my funny bone." That's not what PTSD is. You don't truly have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder until three to six months after a trauma, if you're still locked in that fight or flight state. When something bad happens to any of us, we have this surge of adrenaline, which is how your body saves you from the Sabre-Toothed Tiger that's attacking. Your brain thinks is attacking. So, you get this surge of adrenaline and then that causes you to either fight it back, to run away from it or we also have the faint mechanism, which is just kind of play dead like a possum, or freeze. So, if you get locked into this state, your brain will keep pumping out those chemicals. And you will end up having...your brain will tell you that you're always in a state of danger. About three to four months after climbing Everest, I started noticing that it was scary for me to be in line at a coffee shop. I would think I'd be attacked from behind irrationally. I would see this gentleman who passed away on Everest in places that had no business, like I remember being in a shower and seeing him there on the tub floor. This is wrong, this shouldn't be happening like this. I remember just being completely anxious, having nightmares, not wanting to go outside, not having any interest in any of the things that used to bring me to life, like climbing or kite surfing. These are all the symptoms; classically of PTSD.
How did you know that? You've described the symptoms, and seeing this gentleman and so forth, but how did you know it was PTSD? Did you go and ask for help? Because from my experience; and you can correct me if I'm wrong; but a lot of guys don't ask for help.
So how did you know to ask for help, or did you ask for help?
I did not. I was confronted by a friend, Sandra, who recognized what was going on with me. She saw me give a speech presentation about climbing Everest and she came up to me afterwards and kind of just noticed that I wasn't in my normal flow. She says, "John, you know, like if somebody were to break their leg and then they kept trying to walk around on their leg, what would you tell them?" I'm like, "Their leg is completely broken and they're still trying to push her out on this broken leg? Yeah, I would tell them they're being really prideful and that's ridiculous. Doctors know how to set it right so go see a doctor. There's no reason to, like, keep hurting yourself. You can heal." And she says, "Exactly. There are doctors out there who know how to put hearts back together and know how to put mind's back together. If you're bumbling around on this heart that's been broken, there are doctors who know how to put it back together, then you're just being prideful." She shared the symptoms with me of what PTSD was, and said, "Do any of these match what you're going through right now? I said, "Yeah, every single one of them." And that's when she said, "Well, it's super easy to find a clinician who knows how to put your heart back together. But it takes the courage to be able to go ask him to speak with them." That's when my ego dropped yet again. Maybe it's time to go to work through this. So, it was actually a joyful experience to be able to connect with somebody and share what was truly going on. This sense of shame or pride over, "I don't need to talk to somebody, or I don't need a therapist," is only that. It's only our own blocks about trying to defend an identity that doesn't need to be there any longer.
What does treatment or therapy look like? I'm just thinking for our listeners who may potentially have those similar symptoms in their own life. If they were to ask for help, what does that help look like? What does that therapy look like?
The first thing that I would recommend is make sure you find somebody that you really enjoy speaking to. Make sure it's somebody that you jive with, that you feel like, "Yeah, maybe at one point, this could be almost a friend, but in a professional way, like somebody that I just look forward to seeing." So, there's nothing at all wrong with that, just like you would go to a few different restaurants to find your favorite restaurant. Go to a few different therapists to find who's that person that you just think, "Yep, that'll work. I like that this person isn't pushy with me or doesn't try and put words in my mouth, but they open up and they'll listen." I thought it would be like laying on the couch and talking about my Mom and Dad and all those classic things that we think of when it's therapy. But in fact, I had a process, it's called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and for any trauma, this is the style of therapy that worked wonders for me. What it is, is you identify what your negative belief is. So, for me, it was, "I'm not strong enough, or I don't have the skills to bring this man back to life." It was an irrational thought because he was already there for over 20 hours and I got three or four minutes with him when I saw him on his last breath. This irrational thought in my mind is, "I can't bring someone else back to life." So, we identify that thought and then there's this free-flowing, associative conversation that happens where everything's game. It's like, "Okay, you have that thought, where do you feel that in your body?" And I'm like, "What do you mean? What do you mean, where do I feel that in my body?" "Well, what's your sensation changes in your body?" I was, like, "Oh, my shoulder tensed up. But why is that relevant at all?" I would always argue like, "Why does that matter? Well, let's just go with that. What does that shoulder tensing up remind you of?" And I'd have some story from when I was in middle school, "Oh yeah, I remember my shoulder did that," and suddenly I tell the story and the shoulder relaxes. "Okay. Let's go back to the belief." You go back to that belief. "Is it changed at all?" "Well, a little bit." "Okay, what belief do you want instead?" "Well, instead of thinking that I'm not capable of helping somebody, I want to feel like I have an efficacy in the world that I can affect change. That I'm loving with people and they're loving with me. That's what I prefer to believe." Then you just keep doing this process of checking in with your body and then looking at your past and chatting with a therapist until suddenly, it's the weirdest thing, Claire, it's like, boom! Suddenly, you believe that new belief that you would prefer, and that old belief? It's like, "No, who would say that, that's silly."
You're reprogramming your brain. You're going from a dis-empowering belief to an empowering belief.
Exactly and it's completely your choice of what that new belief is. So, you're not being brainwashed like some doctors putting this new belief in your mind. It's you choosing. Here's the belief that I want, here's the person that I want to exist in my skull. In my brain these are the beliefs I want that person to have and the doctor will be able to take you from where you are to owning a 10/10 belief system for that new belief that you want.
And now does PTSD ever go away? Or do you have to practice that new belief every single day until it's hardwired in your mind?
PTSD goes away when you no longer have the set of symptoms that qualify. There's nine total symptoms or something like this that you could have, and you need five of them in order to qualify. In my experience, if you change enough of your beliefs, they eliminate the symptoms. They could re-occur; it could come back if you start to slip. But I'm at a place in my life where I don't qualify for it any longer and I'm thrilled about that. I'm a happy dude, love climbing mountains still, love hanging out with my friends and family. In every bit of experience, I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder just like many mental health conditions. It's curable and, worst case, it's very manageable.
What advice would you give to someone who may be going through trauma right now and doesn't know how to get that help or how to ask for that help? Because they may feel it challenges their ego, or maybe they may feel it's not manly enough to ask for help. Do you have any advice for someone like that?
For somebody who's going through something tough right now, I would say, "It's tougher and it shows more courage to go speak to somebody and if you're such a badass, than why are you so scared about what a single person in the room is going to think about you? Why does that challenge you?" It shows more fear, in my mind, it shows less courage if you hide from somebody else. "If you truly are that awesome of a person then why is it such a scary thing to go chat with somebody for 40 minutes or an hour?"
So, what you're saying to me, it speaks to vulnerability. You have to be willing to be vulnerable and to drop that ego. But vulnerability in today's society... you know, society loves to sell perfectionism. We're sold a bill of goods; we've got perfect lives and air-brushed faces, and everything looks amazing and shiny from the outside. As a society; I know I'm giving a blanket statement; but in my opinion in society, vulnerability is seen as weakness. So how do we teach society and people; kids in particular; that it's okay to be vulnerable. It's okay to show that side of you?
You brought up the social media and everything. Like Facebook or airbrushing our faces and everything like this and that's where a lot of the issue comes from. Vulnerability is not posting on social media. "Here's all the crap I'm going through in my life." It's not stopping the guy on the bus and being like, "You got to hear all my worst nightmares and the horrible stories." He's going to be like, "Holy cow." That's not vulnerability, that's you just complaining. True vulnerability is wisely selecting the right people to open up to. If you speak to a very close friend, or a family member, or a therapist, they're not live streaming that conversation, hopefully. Of course, they're not taking photos of it. You need to find the people who are not going to judge you and that's why therapy is such an amazing place. Because that person, not only can they legally not share; at least in the United States; they legally cannot share any of the details of your life, or they get fired. But most of them do want to help and they want to hear your story and they're not there to judge. They're there because they're fascinated in you as a person. So how do we help society to overcome this sense of vulnerability? It's not about changing society, it's changing individuals. If one person's mind gets changed to, "Oh yeah, I find the right people to open up to and then opening up on little incremental bits feels good. So then suddenly, like medium opening also feels good. Actually, you know what, I'm ready, I'm ready to take the step to truly open up to somebody so that this healing can take place that I know needs to happen, but I just don't have the guts to go there with somebody or the trust to go there with somebody." It's not an overnight thing. I was chatting with this particular therapist for two years before the real change started happening. It was not a, "Okay, sat down. One session, wham, bam, thank you, ma'am. I'm out of here." Like, that's not how it works.
Did you get comfortable straight away with sharing your story? It's very vulnerable to talk about PTSD. Did you get comfortable straight away with sharing that out loud and outside of therapy? Or did that take you some time? Did you fear judgement?
Definitely fear of judgement. Definitely took me some time. I remember being terrified to tell my brother and my parents that I was even going through something. "I'm having a hard time right now." It was hard to even say that phrase that I'm having a hard time right now. Then the first time I considered saying, "Hey, this is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that I'm dealing with." That took me a month to even admit to anybody outside of therapy. Even when it was suggested, like, "Hey, this is PTSD," from Sandra, from the therapists, like she agreed, it was like, "No way, that's for people who were in the military." Then I researched it and I said, "Oh, okay, there's this condition that is for people who have gone through horrible things. But I don't deserve to have this because I see these other people who have been through much worse traumas than myself." I was judging their traumas to be more valid than my own.
And invalidating yourself in the meantime.
Exactly, yeah, which is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder speaking. Those are the negative messages that like, "Oh, you don't feel like you deserve to even have a title of a condition that is negative? What other belief would you prefer to have?" That was one that we went in and worked on. So, I was invalidating myself and it took years to be able to openly speak about it. Now, if somebody looks at me and says, "Oh my gosh, he had PTSD." I don't even have this worry of shame or feeling judgement from anybody else. I've grown to a larger place of character where others who aren't in the understanding of the, "No, it doesn't affect me." I've just built this bomb armor. I know you're a Harry Potter fan, so I've got some serious wizardry that bounces off anything that comes at me now. It actually opens up a big sense of being able to educate and share like, "Here's what PTSD really is." It opens up conversations of, "It can be healed. It can be cured. It doesn't have to stay how it is." I can show people who were like myself, who were kind of more ego-centric; as I was; that you don't have to be such a such a tough person. That you can open up to somebody else. In fact, the toughness is the opening up and growing stronger and growing bigger. I think that having been to the top of the tallest mountain on every continent, and to bring that message, bring some weight to it. It's like, Oh, it's not just some dude saying, "Go talk about your feelings." It's some dude who's done some pretty intense things and some pretty badass stuff. He's saying go do it. I think it brings more permission for a lot of people.
Absolutely and I actually want to echo exactly what you just said. My background is, I was highly successful in corporate life and didn't know that I was headed to burnout. I suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and depression. And I had that for 18 months. Didn't tell a soul what was going on. If you'd looked at me, I looked like I'd made it in life. Nobody would have had it. I deserved an Academy Award. But I want to actually highlight that I did exactly the same as you. I invalidated myself, which makes it much worse. I'd like to say that to all of the listeners, it's worse when you invalidate yourself. I used to say to myself, "I've got no right to have anxiety attacks and depression." I was scared to even open my mouth in a coffee store just like you. I used to say, "I have no right to those feelings. Because there's genocide, there's war, there's rape, there's all sorts of things. Yeah, I've got no right to have these feelings." So, I would want to echo exactly what you just said. I think that's important. That's two people now that I've met that have said to me that they've invalidated their feelings. I want to say that to all of our listeners that you can't compare and contrast your trauma to someone else's, because that makes the symptoms even worse in my experience.
I didn't know that about you and thanks for sharing. That's a level of connection. We all think that we're the only ones that are dealing with anything tough. We all get in our own brains and our worlds become so small. Then you have this little devil in your mind. That's like, "You're not enough, you're not good enough, you're not strong enough, you don't have what it takes. You're not lovable." And this little demon in our minds that we all have, is screaming these messages to us. By saying that that voice doesn't exist, or by thinking that, "Oh, I don't deserve to get any change or; like you said; You invalidate it, that actually like insulates those messages, and it locks them in there. And if you validate that, "Oh yeah, everybody deals with something and I'm allowed to deal with this stuff, too." Then suddenly, it's like that insulation around those negative thoughts. It just breaks away and then those thoughts also start to dissipate.
Yeah, and I tell everybody. I mean, I go stand on stages. Now you put me in front of 2000 people, I will shout that from the rooftops. I'm like, "I've seen the light people." Certainly, I came to like an 'a-ha' moment like, 18 months into my private world of hell. Thinking to myself, "I'm actually not enlightening anybody by invalidating myself." So, I thought, "Well, I don't have a right to have these feelings. But actually, I'm not enlightening anyone. I'm not making the people who are going through genocide and war and so forth any better by invalidating myself." That was a big 'a-ha' moment. And I'd like to say I commend you greatly for getting help, because my stories; I didn't. I white-knuckled it. I white-knuckled it myself, because I was scared to go and ask for help. So, I'm really grateful that you've said out loud that you sought help because I did the complete opposite.
I definitely know the white-knuckling feeling because I did that between the ages of 15 and 32. When between when my friend passed away and an Everest. So, white-knuckling, I've been there, and it sucks. You're absolutely right, you don't help anybody else. Maybe like, I had this thought maybe there's a parent listening right now, if you're going through something, if you try and white-knuckle it and not share any of that with your kid, they're gonna pick up on it in some way. What does that teach your kid about what you do when things are tough? They're gonna learn to white-knuckle it as well. Then their kids are going to learn to white-knuckle it also. If that thought, in any way, no matter where you are in life, a parent or not, you have the ability to stop these generational cycles of gritting it out and internalizing this negativity. It shows up in your body and you get injuries, you get ailments, people get sick because these negative thoughts end up going somewhere in our bodies. You can stop that whole process for your entire generation, or for your entire family by making a choice to change it.
Exactly. Ask for help. That's my biggest thing. Even if; and I'm very conscious, some people can't afford to get help. But there are charities out there. So, I would say to any of our listeners who can't afford to pay for therapy, there are charities out there that can help you.
Worst case scenario, there's tonnes of zoom therapists now that have come up as a result of COVID and a lot of them have free introductory meetings with therapists. I know it's not the same to like actually speak with somebody in person. It's really not, but you can start there, and you could even just do like a 15-minute introduction. Try it on for size. Like say, "I'm going to meet with one person or three people for 15 minutes each. Just stick my pinky toe in the water and see if this John guy and this clever lady know what's up or if they're totally full of it." Just try it. It's free. What are you scared of? What do you think you're so hardcore for that that's scary for you? If you're really not scared of anything, then go try it.
Absolutely. I want to pivot slightly. You faced life-threatening dangers while climbing Everest and the Seven Summits. You swam with sharks, climbed the world's tallest mountains, kite-surfed double-headed waves, and experienced tribal warfare. Which I need to learn about that too. But why do you say none of those things define you as a person?
Those are all my past stories. That's all stuff that I've done, it's true. They're fun stories and we'll go into some of them I'm sure. But none of that defines how I show up with you right now, in this moment. If I show up and I'm not present, or I'm distracted, or if I show up and I'm like, wishing that I was actually clearing out my email inbox or that I was taking my dog on a walk. If I wish I was anywhere else. Or if I'm like, so full of myself because like, "Look at all the stuff I've done." Then I'm no longer here with you in this conversation. All of those things have led me to be able to more fully be with other people. And that's the point of any accomplishment, in my mind. It's not a trophy and it's not prestige. It's who you show up as right now, in the moment with others and if you show up as a... I like to say that if you go to the mountains, as a jerk, you're going to come back a bigger jerk. If you go to the mountains as somebody who's seeking kindness and wanting to connect with others, you're going to get more of those qualities. Mountains are amplifiers. So, none of those things actually matter because what truly matters is you and myself right now in this moment. I will say the same thing about the next person, the gas station attendant, when I go there, that's what matters in that moment. That's what reality is in that one split second of time.
Sorry to interrupt, so what you're speaking to...I agree with your analogy about mountains, I say that mountains are great listeners. I'm not a mountaineer, but I'm definitely a hiker. For me, there's nothing greater than being on a mountain and just talking to them. They're great listeners. That for me, speaks to mindfulness but I wasn't always so mindful. In fact, I'll be honest with you, I probably lived 20 years of my life in complete and utter autopilot mode. Were you always mindful or did you have to learn to be mindful? And am I even describing what you're saying correctly? Is it mindfulness?
It's absolutely mindfulness I'm speaking to. No, I was not always mindful. I remember hearing Brene Brown's speech. Her TED-X talk about vulnerability and I said, this is a bunch of BS. And then somebody suggested, maybe meditation, you know, drop this ego guard you've gotten. I was like, "Well, if I'm really that tough then I could try it once," and I hated it. "I'm not gonna sit still, I got stuff to do." I was in the same thing; I call it reactionary mode. Where you don't have this split second of time of how you're going to answer somebody. If they upset you, or cross you the wrong way. What mindfulness does, in my opinion, is it opens up the amount of time or it extends the amount of time between stimulus and your answer to it. So, most of us, it's like stimulus, and then boom! Your conditioning causes you to react in a certain way, like, "Dishes are in the sink," super-easy example. "I'm pissed, I asked you not to." You just make it worse. So, mindfulness, and being in the now puts all these other thoughts about what might happen in the future, or what's already happened in the past. So okay, "There are dishes in the sink. What is the most effective way to not only clean those dishes up now, but make sure this doesn't happen again? I'm going to calmly, rationally figure out how to adjust the scenario and then I'm going to take action." That whole sentence that I just said, it takes place in like half a second. That's what mindfulness helps you with and you're able to better choose which life directions or which possible avenues you're going to walk down in your life.
So how did you learn to be mindful?
Meditation was a big part of it. Watching my breath is a very big part of it. I think my first mindful moments were mountaineering. I'd be in high altitude, I'd be at 20,000 feet, 25,000 feet above sea level. Take one step and I'd have to breathe three, four times in order to have the strength, the energy to take a single, extra step. I had no idea what I was doing, because I thought I was just trying to take another step up a mountain. But I was watching my breath, counting my breath, seeing how it affected my body. Then I would take that next step and I'd do the exact same thing. Well, next thing I knew when somebody says, "John, you should try meditation." I sat down with a little guy on this app; It's called Headspace; I was listening to. He says-
Yeah, good old Andy. He says, "Now you're gonna watch your breath. And now you're gonna like do a scan through your body." And I was like, "Well, I've been here before I've done this. I've done this for hours and hours in the mountains." When he linked up, all this breath work that I had done and all this body scanning I had already done. Now here's how to take messages from it, that's when it really like clicked for me.
So how do you...So I'm a marathoner. A runner, and I've noticed if I put music on...so I am a really good runner with no music. I can listen to my breath. I'm amazing. I'm in the zone. It's great. Put music in and all of a sudden, I think I'm Usain Bolt. I think I'm the best runner out there and my ego is off. And I have to watch that ego cause my ego thinks I'm pretty freakin cool sometimes. I'm just wondering, do you ever have to watch your ego? And remember, no, no, no, this is my ego talking and go back to mindfulness. I have to actively work on it sometimes.
Of course, of course. I mean, were I to have totally eliminated my ego, we wouldn't be speaking right now because I would be in the ether and I would have disappeared. If I had dropped my ego completely, not once would I have looked at the little thumbnail of myself that I can see over zoom while we're like having this conversation. Not once would I have wondered, "Oh, is what I'm saying resonating with people?" I've had all these thoughts and those are all ego thoughts. So of course, we all have this ego and the trick is not to judge it, not to say, "Dang it! I looked at myself in a mirror!" Or, "Dang it! I'm like, the fastest person on the track right now running." Or like, "I'm gonna pass this lady. Yeah, she couldn't possibly keep up with me. Or this guy, I'm gonna totally overtake him like that." It's not to judge yourself when you notice that those things come up. The key is just to recognize it. "Oh, there's that little demon in my mind. There's that little ego. There's that little guy that always likes to jump up." And then I like to think of taking your palm and, like a parent, patting on the forehead. You know, kind of like a derogatory pat like, "Oh, aren't you cute?" That's how I like to think of how I treat my ego. Like, "Isn't that cute you popped up again?"
I do something similar. I kind of talk to myself and I'm like, "Ooh, don't you think you're special? Oh, look at you thinking your hot stuff." And having a real humor about it. I think you're right, don't judge your ego, we've all got one, but just have that awareness of when you start letting that take over. I want to go back to mindfulness. I personally believe If I had my way I would make every kid learn mindfulness from like age five, you know, sit there and learn how to breathe and learn how to tame those thoughts and so forth. That note takes me to your book, 'The Warrior Challenge: 8 quests for boys to grow up with kindness, courage and grit'. Can you tell me why you wrote the book and is there a link to mindfulness in there?
Yeah, absolutely. Why I wrote the book is because there are so few resources for young men in particular about how to grow up with values, how to grow up with mindfulness, how to grow up in respecting others who are not like yourself. Not making this sense of the kindness is a weakness but in fact, kindness is a strength. Those messages are not in... they don't exist in the world, but they should, and they need to. There are plenty of resources for young women and this is what my publisher had recognized as well. Penguin Random House, they have like all these metrics and numbers saying, "Look at how well all these books for young women are selling." And then they have a response in a question of, "Okay, well, where's the book for young men?" and they literally couldn't find those that existed. So, they asked me to write this book and I was 100% on board. I'm incredibly proud of this thing to exist as far as the mindfulness part of it. So, each chapter is a quest. It's designed like a video game where you have to pass this quest in order to get to the next one. Each quest is a true, real life story of a hero who had to embody a certain trait, or a principle, or a value in order to succeed at his big thing. So, with mindfulness, there's this true story of Danny Way, a professional skateboarder who jumped over the Great Wall of China on his skateboard. He had a broken ankle; a fractured ankle at the time. They had this massive ramp; half a million-dollar ramp that they had built; film crews from all over the world where there. People are coming out of the bushes to try and watch this thing happen, like illegally. They're poached up, they're like, "Oh my gosh, she's gonna jump over the wall." And the day before, he fractured his ankle on a test run. Well, now it's the day of the real thing and he's standing on top of his ramp, climbs up, he's feeling this pain in his ankle and he starts rolling down and everybody is going, "Well, he's got a fractured ankle, how is he possibly going to stick this landing?" And by studying everything that exists on Danny Way, I've figured out how to live in his brain a little bit, and he's mindful. He's able to just watch what's going on in his body, breathe through or breathe to become more present. He said, the pain in his ankle is not anything compared to what he knows that his skills and abilities are. So instead of letting this monkey-mind thing go off and saying, "You're never gonna stick this thing, your ankle hurts too bad." He said, "No, I know what I'm made of. I'm a professional. I've been doing this for, like 20 years he was a professional skateboarder. And I've got this." He replaced that negative thought of, "You can't, you're not good enough. You can't make this happen. It's too tough," with, "I can, nothing's too gnarly," in his language, "and I've got this." So, then the story stops, and we break down how to breathe, how to observe what's going on in your body. How to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. And all of this is just this one chapter out of the eight quests. So, it's real. It's nutritious, I like to think of it and it's just as valuable for parents to read with their kids as for kids themselves to read.
So, is it the book that you would have wanted to read as a kid? Is that why you wrote it? Because that's why most people write books. It's the book that they couldn't find.
That's awesome insight. Had I had this book when I was 10-11-12-13 years old, my whole life course I think would have been different because I would have learned about mindfulness. I would have learned about setting boundaries with other people. I would have learned about how to find teammates and that it's okay to say no to other people, as your friends or as relationships. Kids don't know that they're allowed to say no to being friends with certain other kids who aren't good influences. They don't know that they're allowed to say no to that life course or, that direction isn't the one that I want to take. It might be good for you and I respect that. That's not taught. Things like vulnerability, like we spoke about, is in this book. what if every five-year-old knew that it was okay to say...well, for every five-year-old is like, "Ow this hurts," but then we get shamed that because; and we get shamed for it for a reason. Parents want to say like, "Hey, I need to move on with my day, your little ow thumb doesn't matter right now." And there's like an effectiveness to that. But what if something really traumatic happens, then we have that same thought of ow in my heart, but I don't feel like it's safe to say it because I'll just get dismissed. That's where that comes from. What if we retaught a 10-year-old, 11-year-old 12-year-old, here's how to find the right people to speak to. Here's how not to blab to the random stranger on the bus or the kid in school who's going to share this and embarrass you. Instead, here's how to find the right people to talk to and how to safely open up to the correct people. All these lessons. I don't know how the world wouldn't become a better, more humane, caring, loving place where we uplifted one another if every kid had these lessons.
I want to go back to what you said about boundaries. That really stuck with me because I didn't realize until a couple of years ago; and I'm 47 now; I thought that it meant if I had boundaries, and I said no to people, that meant I wasn't a good person. That was a big 'a-ha' moment. I would say yes to everything. "You want to do this Claire? Or can you do this and so forth?" I would always say yes when my body would be screaming, "Hell no, I don't want to do that." But I thought it meant I wasn't a good person. I'm just wondering, did you have that same experience with boundaries, or did you have a different experience with setting boundaries?
I was 35 or so when I started realizing it was okay to politely decline, and by politely at first it was like, "No, I can't do that thing!" Then it wasn't so polite. And people would be like, "Whoa, John's in a bad mood today." Because it was such a sense of anxiety over saying no to anything because I, too had this sense of pride of like, "I'm going to take care of everyone. I'm going to do absolutely everything, any request anybody has. I'm going to shoulder that with them and for them and every step of the way. And I'm going to handle all my own stuff. And I'm going to reach out to other people. Just offer to help them with their things." It resulted in, like burnout and anxiety and collapse because I just couldn't shoulder it all. Just like you it was when I was 35-36 when I started realizing, here's how to healthily, politely decline. And that actually gives others the ability to respect you so much more because they know where your borders are. They know who you are as a person. That allows you to actually be more loved, for others to have a greater sense of respect for you. And to not over-ask. Because if you don't ever say no, then people go, "okay, that's okay. I'll ask more, I'll ask more, I'll ask more." Next thing you know, you're at work, and your boss is asking you to come in for an extra three or four hours, then it's five hours, then it's 10 hours. Next thing you know, you exist as a work-bot for the boss. Being able to set boundaries in every sense of your life and your relationships, "No, I don't like the way that this or this happens, let's change it." Or, "This makes me feel..." Here's a template, you know what, let's just go right into here's how to set a boundary. The first thing you do is you just state, "This is what I'm feeling." Because nobody can argue with that. If I were to say, "Claire, I feel sad, mad or scared." Those are the only three negative emotions that we have at our core. Those are the only three you actually have to identify. "I feel mad when I get called at two o'clock in the morning," let's say you just didn't think about the time difference. This is a totally fake scenario. "I get called at two o'clock in the morning, it makes me mad because I really value my sleep." That's not something that you can argue with, right? Like, okay, John gets mad when he gets called it two o'clock in the morning. And then you say, "But I love feeling connected to people and I would love to have this connection with you." So, you state what the good side is that you're trying to get to because you don't want to give the sense of I'm angry at this other person or that it's about them or you hate that person. You just want to be like...you want to establish that you're trying to create a connection. "So, in order for me to feel really connected and close and for us to have awesome conversations, can we schedule for a different time of day?" It sounds like such a basic thing. But most people don't go there. They just go, "Quit calling me. What are you doing?" Or it's like, "Oh, I'm exhausted because...". Then they bottle it up and they never mention it and then it keeps happening. And that's the template, just state the emotion that you feel, re-establish that you want to connect with somebody and then offer an alternative.
I would even go so far as to say that no is a complete sentence. You don't need to justify yourself. You don't have to be mean or unkind, but you also don't need to justify saying no. I think that's something that we could teach kids as well, is healthy boundaries to be able to say, "No I don't want to do something," and you don't need to justify that emotion.
Mm hmm. Yep.
Before we close out, kindness is a big thing for you. It's my core, core value. How do you think we, as a society can be more kind to one another? If we were to tune into the news, you would think that the world has gone to hell and a handbag and everybody's, you know, divided on one side. And everybody has to be right, and there's no middle common ground. How do you think we can all put down our gauntlets and hear each other properly again, and just be kind? How do you practice kindness?
I practice kindness with everything that we've been discussing. Vulnerability is kindness to yourself. Setting boundaries is kindness to others, even. Having values is a great thing. Now when values collide, which is what we're seeing in the news right now. Instead of looking at the details, the biggest tip that I can give is to look at that person's needs. Their need for security, their need to feel safe, their need for their emotional safety. And if you can step back from the details, and see that others have the same exact core needs as you, they're just trying to meet them in totally different ways. That often gives us a level of kindness and a pause to see that we're all actually going after the same thing. We're all seeking love. We're all seeking safety. We're all seeking security, significance. And just starting there, by saying, "How is this person trying to get the same things that I am?" makes you take real pause. To connect, to re-evaluate, and to be more peaceful in your interactions with others.
Absolutely. It speaks to going back to that common ground. Personally, I think of it as, "I don't need to be right. I'm totally cool with what I believe in and I don't need to be right." So perhaps, the kindest thing I can do is listen like I'm wrong. That for me is kindness. I might not change my mind at the end of it, but listen like I'm wrong, because perhaps that person is going to share something with me that I hadn't thought about before. That could be kindness, just listening.
I love that. I really love that. It reminds me of a meme I've seen going around it's like, "If you believe that, two plus two is 25 then I'm past the point in my life where I'm trying to tell you that you're wrong."
I love that. Cool, well I think we're gonna leave it at that. So, John, thank you for joining Boot Camp for the Mind and Soul and very much appreciate the discussion. I think we're gonna have to do another episode because I could talk to you all day long.
You can purchase John Beede's book 'The Warrior Challenge; 8 quests for boys to grow up with kindness, courage and grit', through Amazon and all major bookstores. To learn more about John, you can visit him at www.johnbeede.com.
Thank you for being on the show.
Claire, thank you so much for having me. It's been a joy.
That concludes this week's episode of Boot Camp for the Mind and Soul. Don't forget to rate and review and subscribe. Tune back in next Wednesday for next week's episode.
SUMMARY OF THE SHOW
This is the first episode of Boot Camp for the Mind & Soul, and it features my story. Each episode of Boot Camp for the Mind & Soul will feature a guest; however, I felt it was important that for the very first episode, I share my own story. Because how can I expect my guests to be vulnerable and authentic about their pivotal moments if I don’t share my own?
I tell my life story and the pivotal moment of when I went from being a passionate, tenacious and resilient person to a fragile and fearful person that suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and depression, which lasted 18 months.
TOPICS THAT I DISCUSS IN MY STORY:
I'm Claire Rogers, and you're listening to Boot Camp for the Mind and Soul, the podcast that gives you an inner workout.
Before we get started, remember, just like in a gym where you may not be able to use all the equipment. Pick up what you can in this episode and leave behind what you can't.
Your inner workout starts now.
Hey there, I'm Claire Rogers and you're listening to the very first episode of Boot Camp for the Mind and Soul.
So, this episode is going to be a bit different from all the other episodes in the sense that this episode is just about me.
It's my story, because I figure I can't ask my guests to be vulnerable and share their story, if I don't share mine.
Okay, so let's start with the highlight reel, because that's what we do in society, we sell airbrush lives and perfect faces don't we?
So here it goes. Here's my highlight reel.
I was a professional model for five years, where I lived and travelled around the world surrounded by beautiful people. During that time I partied with Skid Row, Ice T and Body Count and Jane's Addiction to name but a few. It was a wild and super glamorous ride.
Last time I counted, I've been to close to 70 countries, most of which I travelled to on my own. I've backpacked and camped in pup tents across nine countries in Africa.
I've trekked through remote villages in northern Thailand where villagers were so impressed that this lone blue eyed blonde girl showed up that they showered me with a celebratory dance and fed me with their delicacy of charcoaled rat.
I've seen the Kirov in St. Petersburg, Russia, swam with manta rays in Hawaii, watch the beluga whale migration in the Canadian Arctic, climbed volcanoes in the Galapagos Islands and been awe inspired by the underwater world in Bora Bora and the Maldives. I've travelled extensively in the Middle East and been to most countries in Asia, some of which I lived in for years.
I've got a mom, stepdad and husband that love me.
And all of this sounds pretty badass right?
Let me keep going, I'm on a roll. Sell it baby, sell that perfect life!
Okay so here I go. I've got a college education, professional science certificates from UC Berkeley and Harvard, I've worked for corporate America for 20 years where I made loads of money, and received, tones of rewards and recognition.
Over the years I've run 1781 miles and I have two marathons under my belt. Running is my religion.
And overall I am one cool chick who's had a very cool life.
So that's my highlight reel. That's what I'm supposed to tell you right? Because that's what we're selling in society.
But hang on a second. Let's rewind that highlight reel, shall we. Let's remove the airbrush and take the filter off.
From the get-go, I was told I wasn't wanted. The exact words I remember are I should have used a condom, and then you wouldn't be here.
I've been kicked into walls, down the stairs, had large kitchen scissors held to my throat and told my tongue would be cut out for speaking.
I've been beaten.
I've been left in a dark forest and told that nobody wants me.
I've begged and pleaded to call and be allowed to see my mother, who was used as a bargaining chip.
I've been suffocated more times than I care to recall, and I try not to recall it, because those scars are deep.
I was a scared and terrified kid who sucked in school. I was a C student at best and usually got D's in mathematics.
I've been held up at gunpoint with the barrel pressed right up against my chest, while the guy cocked the gun, ready to click the trigger unless I gave him what he wanted.
Modelling wasn't glamorous at all. It was a toxic environment where young insecure girls are thrown in environments with hot older male models that are about 10 years older. Because ironically guys get better looking as they age.
In modelling you're continuously told you're not good enough; not pretty enough, not the perfect face, not the perfect shape, your boobs aren't big enough, and you're given bags of speed by modelling agencies to keep you looking skinny and gaunt.
I’ve frantically flushed those same bags of speed down the toilet when the police showed up unannounced to check on my work visas for the countries, I was in.
One of my best friends died of a heroin overdose.
Despite all of this tragedy I kept going. I kept getting back up again. I was resilient and tenacious. One determined feisty go-getter of a chick. Nothing was going to stop me from achieving what I wanted out of life. You could knock me down, beat me up and I would always get back up again.
Until I couldn't anymore.
It happened in a blink of an eye. I didn't see it coming.
It happened on a Saturday morning. It was grey outside, and I was exhausted. I couldn't seem to wake up. I felt like I had jet lag. I was dazed and confused, and I had to get my shit together and head to my five year old nephew's birthday party with my husband. And I really didn't want to go, but I did not have a choice in the matter.
And so I walked into this dingy Town Hall, an hour outside of London, where I was greeted by 15 hyperactive kids running around playing with their Nerf guns. And I looked the part. I was dressed up pretty and I played the part. I put on a big beaming smile and brought my extroverted personality out.
But inside something was wrong. I could feel it. I didn't know what was wrong, but something was off, and that off feeling was making me feel really unnerved.
Despite this, I somehow managed to keep it together. I shined my bright light on all the parents in the room and I engaged, and chit chatted with them like nobody's business.
A few hours later we could finally escape. Thank God for that. My hubby and I started to drive home.
And that's when it happened. That's when everything changed. We're in the car, and we're talking about random stuff, nothing too serious. When all of a sudden, I felt like someone had put a tight elastic band around my chest and was slowly squeezing the life out of me.
My arms and legs started to go numb, my hands and feet start to tingle with pins and needles, and I started to hyperventilate. I could not breathe. I remember frantically trying to pull air into my chest. I looked down at my chest where I could quite literally see my heart pounding away frantically in terror. My body and mind were ravaged with overwhelming mind blowing feelings of terror.
I've felt fear before, but this was next generation level of fear.
I remember thinking, oh my God, I am going to die, I am going to die right here in this car. I don't want to die. I've got so much more I want to live for.
I can't believe it. I am going to die right now.
I looked out of the window in a state of utter stupefaction like I was seeing cars for the very first time. And I remember wondering how I got there; how was I in the situation that I was going to die.
And then something clicks in my mind; something inside me tells me I'm having a panic attack. I don't know how I know; I just know. Something has told me inside what is going on, but that doesn't take away the overwhelming feeling of fear and terror that's washing and flooding over my body.
I'm ravaged with overwhelming feelings of terror and that terror lasts 30 minutes.
By the time we get home, I am a broken fragile wreck, and I can't snap out of it. That tenacious, resilient, passionate girl who I was. She'd left the building and is not coming back. I couldn't find her. I could not dig deep and get her back and pick her back up again like I had done so many times before. She was gone. She was gone for 18 months.
Instead, a new chick moved in. And this new check is terrified. Every day I wake up terrified. I shake uncontrollably. My heart is constantly pounding in overdrive. My body and mind are constantly flooded with overwhelming, mind blowing feelings of fear, and I'm perpetually terrified of when the next panic attack is going to strike. And because of this, I develop a fear of fear itself.
I go from being the girl that camped under the stars in Zimbabwe and heard lions prowling around outside my tent in Zambia, to becoming a girl that scared to walk into Starbucks, for fear of not been able to open my mouth to speak, and for fear of collapsing in a panic attack right there in the middle of a coffee shop.
I become so scared that I don't even want to leave the house. I have to leave the house, but that is a song and a dance in itself. I'm thinking where am I going? how am I going to get there? How long is it going to be until I get back home? My mind is ravaged with these feelings of what I call What if? disease. What if I have a panic attack in the grocery store? What if it happens in the middle of the street? what if it happens in front of my clients? What if it happens in front of my staff? What if it happens in front of my friends? what if? what if? what if? my mind was constantly screaming at me that there was fear everywhere.
And besides my hubby and my mum. I didn't tell anyone what was going on. Because I thought that what I was going through meant that I was weak.
I didn't tell work because I was pretty damn convinced that I would be fired or pushed out, because in my experience, mental health challenges in the workplace is normally in Corporate America something that's talked about once a week during Mental Health Awareness Week. It's a tick the box exercise. I definitely kept my mouth shut. Nobody had a clue what was going on at work and I didn't share it with anybody else in my private life.
And so I hid that private road of hell I was living in.
Emotionally I was in so much pain.
Mentally, I was so depressed and so, so fearful. As I say, I've had a rough life, but this fear was next generation level compared to what I had been through, and I could not make that fear stop or go away.
Spiritually, I was so stressed. I didn't have a God. I didn't have a religion. I did not have anything to help me crawl out of it.
But physically I smiled.
I dressed the part. I acted the part. I deserved an Academy Award, because none of you would have had a clue what was going on.
And so every day I wake up to a world of hell.
Every day I wake up and I'm trembling, and I was shaking, and my heart is just pounding away. I'm small framed. I'm 5'7 about roughly 120 pounds. And so it's easy to see where my heartbeat is, and I was constantly fixated on looking at it because it looked like it was just pounding out of my chest.
And I’ve got to somehow function, and work, feeling like this. And what I noticed as well as while I've got those overwhelming feelings of fear going on, I develop a fear of speaking. I've got the gift of the gab, I'm an extrovert. Put me in a room and I will chat up the room, no problem. But now all of a sudden, I can't find my voice anymore. I'm scared of my own voice. I'm scared I'm going to open my mouth and garbage is going to come out or I'm going to lose my words and I'm just going to ramble or I'm just not even going to know how to speak English anymore, I'm just going to speak gibberish.
And so, I've lost all of my confidence literally overnight. And every day I had to try to function with this overwhelming fear that’s just racing through my system.
So for those of you who are listening who have never had a panic attack and do not understand what I'm describing, imagine this; it's like you're jacked up on drugs. It's like you've had 50 cups of coffee. You're just jittering and shaking. And then you've got to try and function that way, on this overdrive of adrenaline and cortisol that's just pumping through your system. And it's such an awful terrifying feeling.
And during this time while am navigating this awful world of hell that I'm living in, literally the only thing that I wanted to do during that time was sleep. Because sleep meant a bit of a reprieve and meant I didn't have to be scared for five minutes. But then you'd wake up again and that hell would start all over again.
And I remember fighting it. I was just white knuckling it so badly.
I didn't ask for help. I need help, and I cannot crawl out of it. I cannot find who I used to be. I cannot find where that strong girl that you knock her down and she gets back up again. I couldn't find her.
And then I got some news that absolutely finished me off.
Long lost friends have been trying to track me down for years to tell me the news.
And then one friend did track me down, and he wrote to me. And he said,
Hey, Claire. I don't know how I'm going to tell you this. So I'm just going to come right out and say it, Ang's dead. He died of a heroin overdose. And what kills me about it Claire is that he knew he had to get clean. But he didn't make it. He's dead.
Getting that note and reading it, learning that my friend died, was a dagger to my heart. It cut deep; it still cuts deep. I deeply loved this guy. He was one of my soulmates, one of the greatest loves of my life. Not in a romantic sense been in a deep I see you; I know you; you are my person sense. He was such a beautiful soul, and he believed in me before I did.
And hearing he died, absolutely crushed me to my soul and finished me off.
I was just couldn't believe it. I thought my God, I have been flitting around the world and climbing the corporate ladder and one of my peeps has somehow got into heroin and died from it. Like what the absolute fuck has gone on?
And my already wrought, twisted and terrified mind was reeling, I just thought, what in the absolute fuck, is the point of all of this. One of my people is dead. One of my guys is dead. How in the fuck did he get into heroin in the first place? I raged and I cried to God... why, why, why on earth would you take that guy?
I didn't know who God was, but I was pretty sure he hadn't been looking out for me and now losing one of my guys proved it to me.
And so now to compound those overwhelming feelings of fear that's ravaging my body and mind, now I've got grief on top of it, and as I say, this was a soulmate. This was a soul crushing grief that I was going through.
And the funny thing with this grief, was that I loved him, I missed him, I was grieving him, I was so sad, but at the same time, my God, I was pissed off at him. I was pissed like a tiger. I would be raging at him one minute going,how in the hell did you get into this? what the hell happened? to the next minute being crushingly soul destroying sad, and so upset and floods of tears.
And then, also, at the same time, I'm ravaged with feelings of overwhelming terror and anxiety, that's been ravaging me for at least a year by this point.
And that's when the depression hit.
I was so broken. I was crushed. I was devastated. I just gave up. I didn't have the energy for the fear anymore, and I didn't have the energy for the anger and the rage. I just thought I am done.
And so I went numb. I started sleepwalking through my days and I would oscillate from feeling overwhelming terror that I can't get rid of to just crushing sadness and depression.
And the worst part about it was that I had no one to go through my grief with because everyone in my circle of people back home had already gone through their grief because my friend had died a few years prior. So they already gone through it. So I was alone with it.
And so I tortured myself because I didn't know how to handle it. My mental capacity was not in any way shape or form in a good state to be able to handle it normally or how normal people would handle grief. I was already crushed. I was already broken.
And so I tortured myself. I was trying to get memories of my friend back and so I was digging out old photos and letters that I had that were in a box in storage. And I would play Pearl Jam's 'Ten' album, over and over and over again because that's what my friend and I used to listen to back in the day. Anything to just try to grasp and hold on to those memories still.
And so I raged, and I cried for him for about a year.
And then I noticed something.
So while I'm in this deep funk of a depression and I'm thinking that the old me, that happy girl, that passionate girl with lots of tenacity and resiliency, I'm thinking she's well and truly gone and she's never coming back, like apparently this is my new reality, I'm just doomed to be living in these overwhelming feelings of fear and anxiety and depression.
And I should also caveat here I didn't actually go for help either. I didn't ask anyone for help. I didn't tell anyone because I thought that that meant that I was weak and so I white knuckled all of this anxiety and depression, didn't get any help, which now in hindsight I look back and think my God I made life difficult for myself. But anyway, I suffered in silence. I suffered on my own.
But here's the interesting thing when I was going through this grief; is that the rage that I started feeling for my friend, that pissed off, I can't believe that you got in a situation.... It actually started to help me. It actually helped me get out of my funk. I'm so mad at my friend that a spark lights in me and I start to wake up. And I want to know why I'm constantly and chronically feeling terrified. I want to know why I keep finding myself curled up on the bathroom floor shaking with these insufferable panic attacks. I want to find a way to pick myself up again and I actually think, losing my friend and being so pissed off at him, that anger and that rage actually lit that fire in me to start waking up again, because 18 months of grief and anxiety and depression is such a long time to be in pain, and intense fear and sadness. It's such a long time to feel so bone crushingly alone, and not understood.
And so that's when I started to pick apart the life I'd built.
Initially I blamed Corporate America. It's their fault. I'm working stupid long hours and it's totally their fault. I'm working 12 hour days, I'm working weekends, I'm working every freakin hour under the sun. I've got a $3 billion a year target for me and my team and if we don't meet those targets, I'll be gone and so will some of my team. So it's high pressure. I am working to accommodate multiple time zones with untenable workloads; it's just not sustainable for one person, but I've got to grind it out. I got to put everything I've got into it because I don't want to lose my job. I don't want my staff to lose their jobs. And I want to climb the corporate ladder because that's what we're supposed to do right? We're supposed to make lots of money and buy lots of stuff and buy the house the car and have the holidays, you name it. And that is what happiness is about right?
And that was fun. I blamed them for a while, I kept working there, I kept blaming them, it's all their fault. But I knew that wasn't entirely the case. Corporate America has got a lot to be blamed for, they churn and burn employees and discard them easily without thinking twice about it, there's no doubt in my mind.
But I had to be honest with myself. It's not Corporate America's fault that a scared people pleasing kid seeking approval, who turned into a people pleasing adult seeking approval came to work for them.
Corporate America is the perfect place for someone like me with my background. I am a grafter. I will work my ass off to get ahead and get some of that approval that I wanted when I was a kid. Shower me with praise and give me awards and recognition and tell me I'm special? I'm going to lap that up like a cat who's got the cream. I won't set boundaries; I will let you walk all over me. Just so long as you keep telling me that I'm special, and you keep giving me praise and you keep giving me rewards and recognition and telling me how amazing I am. I'm totally your girl. I'm going to do it to that lap all of it up, just to get that attention.
I'm going to lap it all up until I start swimming in a sea of anxiety, anguish, sadness, and intense grief.
I'm going to lap it all up until I hit rock bottom.
I'm going to lap it up until I realize that it's all bullshit.
And I realize it's all bullshit. I remember being in a meeting in Madrid. I'm bored out of my brain. There's 30 of us Directors in the room and we're all talking about next year’s sales targets and what the goal is for the year and yada yada yada. It's the same song and dance that you hear every single year in corporate life.
I remember being so bored and for some reason I looked down at my shoes and I caught attention to the shoes that I was wearing. And then the penny dropped...Oh my God, you are trading your health for your wealth, you are sitting here so that you can wear a pair of $500 shoes and you don't even care about this stuff innately. You do not even care about all this designer crap that you've been buying. You've been buying your feelings because you're freaking miserable.
And that's when I started to wake up.
I started to wake up from the funk I was in. I still had the overwhelming fear that was running through me. But that tenacious girl was on her way back.
I started to unpick, pull apart and dissect every single moment of my life up to that point. I went to those dark places that I did not want to go to in my mind. I shone a light on all of the darkness, all of the sadness, all of the fear and I called myself out on my own crap.
I read hundreds of books in self-help, personal development, neuroscience, philosophy, mindset, business, success to spirituality and everything in between. I took courses. I studied. And I put myself through my own therapy to get better again, and to build a new me.
My ego was already crushed from the anxiety and depression and so I was a sponge. I was soaking up all the knowledge and I was applying it. I was not just reading and studying it. I was mastering it. I was building myself back up again to be a new and a better person.
And that better person that I was becoming didn't want to climb the corporate ladder anymore. I don't think I ever did. It just kind of fell my way. I'm a grafter. I'm a grinder. I work really hard and so people noticed that. I didn't actually have to apply for many or if any of my jobs. I was kind of headhunted, hand-picked and kind of told you're coming up the corporate ladder. And so I did because I like that recognition, but in hindsight I looked at it and thought, I have spent 20 years of building a career that I do not love. All in the name of getting approval and I guess I'm addicted to the money. I'm addicted to the status. I like the name. I like the identity that I have cultivated for myself. But fundamentally, none of it actually made me happy.
And that's why I think the panic attacks started. I had to wake up and realize that 1) the ladder that I had been frantically climbing was leaning against totally the wrong house; I didn't know what house it was supposed to be leaning against, but it definitely was not supposed to be against Corporate America's house. And 2) I realized that the panic attacks that I was afflicted with and that depression was like an explosion in my psyche. I had to deal with that scared gid that I'd been dragging around the world. I had to deal with that scared of kid that was people pleasing that didn't have any boundaries that was constantly seeking approval. I had to deal with that scared kid, and that's why I believe I started having panic attacks, anxiety, depression, etc.
And so as I got better, the depression lifted. The panic attacks went away. The anxiety went away. And I built a brand new me. A happy me. A very secure me. And I quit corporate life. That was five, six years ago. I'm out. I'm done. I'm giving up the high paying job. I'm giving up the cool sexy title that I had. I'm giving up everything. I don't know what I want to be when I grow up, but it's not this. And so after I gave my four months’ notice and I had to work every single freaking day of those four months, they weren't going to let me go a day sooner.
After I finished my four month notice period, still not knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up, I remember reading in the Financial Times I think it was, and it said that one in every three or one in every four, I don't remember the exact stat of employees suffer from corporate burnout.
And I remember thinking, shit, I went through 18 months of absolute hell, holding it together, acting like everything was fine. And as I say, I deserved an Academy Award. You wouldn't have had a clue what was going on with my mental health. I remember thinking, oh no, I hid that so well, and if the numbers are one in every three or one in every four, that means my staff could have been going through it. That could have been my boss, it could have been my boss's boss, it could have been my clients, it could be my friends, it could be my family. It could be everywhere.
And that's how I came to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I thought, I hid it, and that means that I've missed the signs and everybody else's because I've been so absorbed in my own world of hell.
I haven't enlightened anybody by hiding it. I haven't helped anybody by hiding what was happening to me. If anything I made it worse because if you'd seen me, I looked like I was living the perfect life, I looked the part. I acted the part. From the outside, it looked like things were going well and so I did a disservice by hiding it.
Not long after that, I saw an ad from an event, and they were looking for people to talk about anxiety, depression, and burnout in Corporate America and so forth. And I applied to speak up at that event, thinking, I'm never going to get it. They hire New York Times bestselling authors to talk about this kind of stuff, they're not going to hire me.
But wow, they did. So hey, go bigger or go home. The first speech I would ever do is in front of 500 people, and I've got to go stand out there and say exactly what I have hidden for 18 months.
And I walk out on that stage and I'm scared. I'm thinking to myself, oh my god this is career suicide. You are never going to work again once you admit what you were going through.
But I remember looking through that audience thinking one in every three or it's one in every four and there's 500 people here. So my people are in the crowd. There are people in here who are going to recognize what I went through.
So I went out there fearlessly, and I told my story. And after I gave my keynote, I think it was an hour long speech, I was mobbed. I had so many people come up to me that I couldn't possibly talk about it with everybody. And they all said thank you, because you just shared my story.
And that's where my new career began. I've gone from a place of hiding what happened to me with my mental health, and with the grief that I went through. I've gone from hiding it to now I want to scream it and shout from the rooftops, because I don't want people to go through what I went through and feel so incredibly alone.
And I have no fear anymore. The new me that I built after that intense therapy of one, meaning I didn't go and see a therapist, I put myself through my own therapy by myself. Once you put yourself through that and you shine a light on that darkness in your life; once you have been in rock bottom, curled up on your bathroom floor, willing a panic attack to go away and feeling like you're going to die every single freaking day, you become fearless. Because nothing can be worse than that.
So the new me that I created and built up again? She's awesome.
I'm passionate. I'm resilient and tenacious. And I'm a deeply kind and compassionate, empathetic person.
I think once you crush your ego - and I've talked to a lot of people about this who've done the same thing, once you are able to crush your ego, once you lose your self-confidence, once you get to that place where you think nothing matters and nobody cares about you, I think it changes you. It makes you a stronger person. It definitely did in my case. It made me a kinder and more compassionate and empathetic person. I was always kind and compassionate, but I feel deeply now. I feel deep, deep love for people. I deeply love the people that are in my pack and I will lay down in traffic for them. I freely tell people that I love them now. I no longer seek approval. I no longer fear rejection. My boundaries are like a fortress.
I've thrown all of the awards that I got from Corporate America in the bin, in the recycling bin. They went years and years ago. I figured I don't need that ego wall and that external validation to feel good anymore. I am deeply, deeply grounded in who I am. I'm deeply grounded in spirituality.
And, again, I'm going to go back to that soul crushing feeling of lying on your bathroom floor thinking that you're dying and that you're losing your marbles and you're never going to feel good again. When you can pull yourself out of that, you learn what the meaning of life is. Certainly I did. I came away thinking the meaning of life for me is no longer working every hour under the sun to chase rainbows that society is selling me. Now for me the meaning of life is 100% to be kind, compassionate, authentic, share my story, shout it from the rooftops, I don't hide a damn thing. And it's to serve people.
And actually I now say I look back on that private world of hell that I lived in as being the best thing that ever happened to me because I came out on the other side of it a much better human being. And I now know the meaning of life. My meaning of life is definitely to help people and so for that I have to be grateful for every single thing that happened in my life.
And I no longer need to dress and act the part. If you see me all dressed up to the nines and give a speech or I'm presenting in corporate workshops, and I'm all dressed up in the fancy shoes and a handbag and a cool dress, it's because that's what I'm expected to look like.
Know this, when I am not in that environment, when I am not in a professional setting, the first thing that happens is I wash that crap off my face, my hair is pulled back in a ballcap, the jeans and T shirt come on and if I'm not in the great outdoors, I'll be rocking the house with my air guitar like nobody's business.
Because, once you've been to that absolute soul crushing rock bottom, you no longer care what people think about you. And you definitely do not think about or care about what does not matter in life.
So that's it. That's me. That's my truth. That's the real highlight reel.
So, if you've got questions about my story, or if you want to know more, I'm cool with it. I am a total open book. I don't hide anything anymore. I'm more than happy to share it all if it helps. So if you want to know more about me and you've got questions, then drop me a note, you can find my details at my website https://www.itopiacoaching.com/ . Let me know your questions. If there's loads of questions, then I will probably have a guest co-host come on and asked me those questions and we can go through my story if you want, or if there's only a few then I can answer them on future episodes.
Finally, I want to say this episode I'm dedicating to Ang, Adrian Umlah. That's my guy that I lost, because his passing helped me to find my fire again and so for that I'm going to be grateful. I love that guy so much. I can now listening to Pearl Jam, and I don't cry anymore. I know he's in a good place, which I can tell you all about that another time.
And also, I want to dedicate this episode to all of those ducks out there. The ducks that are smooth and calm on the surface but are always frantically kicking their feet below the surface. Know this; if you are a duck, you do not have to kick so hard, and you're not alone. Take it from a fellow duck. I have discovered that although I'm very good at kicking my feet, I'm also a really good swimmer. And I have no doubt that you are too.