It Happened FOR Me

I never thought it would be me, suffering from a mental health crisis.

Born and raised in a mid to upper-class family in rural Minnesota, I had the best childhood, EVER! I had so many friends, loved my small town, and was crazy about sports, especially tennis. Loving Parents. Amazing upbringing and I was “happy”, or so I thought.

Looking back, I realized that early in my life, I was already figuring out ways to deal with my mental health and cope and didn’t even know it. I first started drinking when I was 15 years old. It was kind of a rite of passage for small towns living in Minnesota. Looking back, drinking was a Band-Aid for me. Scared, low self-esteem, unsure, unmotivated, and anxious teenager. Drinking gave me wings. In all the insecurity, it gave me security with my anxiousness and inability to truly love myself. Until it didn’t.

Fast forward to June 2009. I was going through a LOT at this time. Walls were caving in. Lots of stress, poor diet, financial ruins, drinking, and trying to still progress through this life as best as possible. I was living on the brink of a disaster and didn’t even know it. It would all come crashing down on me like a ton of bricks and it took me YEARS and YEARS to figure it out and how to live through anxiety, depression, and raging panic attacks.

My first panic attack.

I was in the middle of my work at the time, and my heart started to palpitate at what I thought was the speed of light. My vision became impaired, and I couldn’t find my words. I had to step outside of my current employment in the middle of a meeting and raced to try and catch my breath. My legs felt like jello and balancing became rather difficult; I was trying to find something to brace myself. I thought I was having a heart attack! I was only 28 years old, there was no way I was actually having a heart attack and going to die. My mind started to race. Energy drink? Caffeine? Lack of sleep? After about 5ish minutes, I started to come to. All I could think was that was CRAZY! I’d never felt anything like that before. I didn’t know that would lead me to almost a decade of panic attacks and debilitating anxiety affecting me in every facet of my life.

In my late 20’s, I moved from Duluth, Minnesota to Minneapolis St. Paul and was struggling with panic attacks more than ever. No one and I mean NO ONE on earth knew I was dealing with panic attacks and a severe anxiety disorder. I was ashamed, and embarrassed, and would lie all the time to not have to attend social events that didn’t include alcohol. With alcohol, I could find my superpowers for 1-2-3 plus hours and would be fine, especially if I was intoxicated just enough. Disclaimer: My relationship with alcohol will be a story for another time. The purpose of this blog is to focus on my struggle with mental health and how I was finally able to turn my anxiety into my superpower and use it to my advantage.

Even during this time, I finished grad school (2 graduate degrees), and graduated from a few entry-level roles (which I am forever grateful for) to finally land my first major career move working for a larger corporation in Minnesota. I felt proud, despite my mental health shortcomings as a human being. Friends, finances, and fun…. second to none. Mental health condition=debilitating.

I will give you 5 examples of how bad it was for me. There are hundreds more, but these specifics give you a detailed vantage of what this condition can look like. I am not glorifying the condition; I am explaining so that someone who relates or who is experiencing the same/similar might ultimately get the help they need to live a more fulfilling and prosperous life.

  • Having to switch my flight three different times on the same day. This happened to me A LOT. I would be unable to sleep the night before. What if I had a panic attack? What if I throw up? What if I am stuck on this plane in mid-flight and it (panic attacks) starts again…is a Doctor on board? What if I don’t get an aisle seat? From laying on the floor when the flight would start, to asking for the back row right next to the bathroom to try to control my breathing. Over that stretch of several years, I do not remember one flight in which I was able to conquer an entire flight from start to finish without a panic attack. It was HORRIBLE.
  • US Open tennis tournament. I was there with my wife and a couple of friends. We were watching the Andy Murray vs. Feliciano Lopez match. It was roasting hot! We were switching from one stadium to the next and I needed to stop in the middle of the hallway. Imagine in grade school when they are teaching about the protocols during a tornado and how you need to put your head in between knees/legs and cover your head, well that was me in Flushing Meadows at an event I had dreamed about being at since I was a kid. Demoralizing.
  • I took a leap of faith and began working for a non-profit organization specializing in the substance abuse and mental health space. Best decision I ever made in my life. It was about 40 minutes away from our home. The drive-up gave me lots of time to think, which is both good and bad for us with severe anxiety. When I would arrive to work, I would usually sit outside in my car for 15-30-45 minutes and listen to my boy Michael Seeley and try to get my mind right and complete at least half the day until I can get back into my vehicle for another round of Michael. This man became my best friend (unbeknownst to him) on earth during this time. The entire team at this non-profit organization, even my closest friends had NO IDEA what I was dealing with on a daily and what to most, unusual basis. The cycle just keeps getting worse and worse and worse. The more it happens, the more you dread the next panic attack. This causes your brain to basically live in fight or flight all day long. It is SO debilitating and draining. I never want to step foot into that parking lot for the rest of my life.
  • I was driving home one weekend and promised my folks and brother that I would help them move. The night before I had a few beverages with some friends and would say that I was slightly hungover. Think headache, brain fog, and that jittery feeling. Welp, this condition combined with a history of panic attacks and anxiety is a match made in heaven or hell, depending on your vantage.
    • On the way home, I became so paralyzed for lack of better words that I checked into the emergency room. Yup. True story. I actually checked myself into the ER. They treated me for exhaustion, IVs, etc but I wasn’t fooling anyone. At the end of the day, it was a severe panic attack that kept coming back over and over. Just when I thought that was the last one, another one would pop. Again, constant fight/flight. I soon recovered and was able to help my family move, but man what a secret to be hiding from my family, friends, relatives, etc. One other thing I realized, when I would drink to excess, the panic attacks and anxiety would be OFF the charts. So, the more you drink the worse it is. Just a vicious cycle.
  • I was on a date with my amazing wife, and we were walking around the mall afterward as she wanted to hit up some stores before we bugged out and did something awesome. When we were walking through the mall, it started. My hands started to sweat, my heart raced, and my legs became wobbly. No reason for this abrupt moment. No partying the night before. No bad thoughts. Just all of sudden I found myself reaching for the side of the wall at the mall and holding on tight and just telling myself, “Get to the exit, get to the exit. Is that a bathroom up there? I can hide in there until it’s over.” I can’t believe I was able to hide it from her for so long. I was so embarrassed to tell her what was actually happening. To this day, I am forever grateful that my wife married me for who I am, the Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder human being.
    • Obviously, anxiety can flow through the genes, and we already had our now 9-year-old tested because he was beginning to exhibit anxious tendencies. He was too diagnosed with GAD. Lucky for him, we talk about our anxiety together. We talk about our worries. What he doesn’t know, as much as it is helping him, the more it brings clarity to my life. Parents, ask questions. Dig deeper than “are you okay?” I wish someone would have asked me when I was younger why I wouldn’t sleep the night before a big tennis match or when I gave a speech I would virtually blackout. You can get help and identify ways to cope as long as you have a plan.

So how did I get here today? How did I get this under control? Sure, the resume looks good on paper. The family is thriving. My towel gets rung out almost every single day. But, this is not an easy process. You will need to be prepared for a journey with many ups and down. I am committed to living a life where panic attacks and my anxiety could be minimized where I am the best husband, father (4X), business owner, friend, colleague, and community member in this world.

Simply put, in order to change this ONE thing, I changed EVERYTHING. Here are some things that I determined to change to see where the chips would fall.

  • Open up about your anxiety — Talk about it
    • Being open with my wife about this has allowed me to reduce shame, and embarrassment, and allowed me to better cope. The idea surrounding mental health and the other individuals who have had the courage to share their experiences/stories has allowed me to realize I am not alone (Mardy Fish, Dan Harris, Kevin Love, Lena Dunham, etc). These people, knowing what this is like, are some of my heroes. I watched the Mardy Fish documentary, and all I could think was, “I know exactly what that feels like.” Or Dan Harris having a panic attack live on air “man, I can’t imagine if my condition would have been open to the world.” What a dynamic human being for going back to the drawing board, doing the work, and facing his fears. Well, this is officially my first “public” statement to the world in regard to my disorders. Some of my best friends will read this and not have a clue. I hope this can help you!
  • Consistent exercise/physical activity
    • I do at least a 10+ miler every single weekend no matter what. I have the receipts to prove it. I shoot for 140K steps every single week (at least 20K/day on average. Most weekends I have goals of 80-100K steps. I believe I am in year 3 of this at this point. It’s just my lifestyle. This is just who I am. Lack of exercise produces my brain to almost accelerate in overdrive. Exercise slows it down and gives me the think tank time I need for preparation. Sauna, cold plunge, meditation, deep conversations with my wife. These are other things I find so much value in for my mental health.
  • Helping others and living out my purpose
    • The place where I had all the panic attacks, gave me the inspiration to help others. With help from my business partners, we started an organization about 7 years ago called Northstar Behavioral Health. NBH helps individuals suffering from opioid and stimulant use disorder. I found my purpose. I found my “why.” Although I have never used these chemicals, helping to serve these individuals is a privilege. I feel more alive than ever when individuals can see the ability to make their own changes and live a life that they never knew existed. I’m so proud of that organization and the folks that have lived this mission, vision, and values over the years. We always talk about our 1a and 1b, those we serve, and those that serve them. And we MEAN EVERY DAMN WORD OF IT!
    • Second, how can we help more? Through the pandemic, lots of individuals had additional time. I used it for family and think time to help solve that problem, “helping more.” Through this, the wellness platform Cadre was born. Cadre is a technology platform focused on wellness and is ultimately destined to revolutionize the coaching space both for the individual and to support businesses helping individuals/employees like myself before becoming too acute and needing a different level of support for help. What if Cadre was around in my late 20’s? I would have been educated, informed, and could relate to others who are sharing their real experiences with real people and even had coaching available in the palm of my hand (AMAZING!). To be a part of a community like that would have changed my life. We intend to do that with Cadre. We are better than this as a society. This startup experience has rejuvenated me to the VERY core of who I am and has opened doors to individuals that I have met around the country that are doing so much for humanity. It’s a big dream and vision that we have at Cadre, and I am confident we will reach our goals to provide timeless content that gives people the opportunity to go on an empowering journey of transformation. To be the Beatles of the wellness space!
  • No or very limited caffeine
    • Cut out the coffee, pop, and sugar drinks. It simply fuels your fire. I have found over the years that the more caffeine in my system the worse it would get, then couple it with alcohol….not good.
  • Therapy
    • This wasn’t my jam, but it could be yours. I have met some incredible people that help others through either therapy or coaching. If you are struggling to “do it on your own”….reach out for help, like yesterday! I also have received advice about CBT and how that could benefit an individual with Panic. Look into it!
  • The Medical Medium Book
    • If you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for? Celery juice! Beet Juice! Some of these simple human health hacks will make you feel better and live a more refreshed life. There is so much more to this book, but I would encourage you to read this book immediately and implement some basic practices.
  • Alcohol
    • Drink very minimum amounts or try to abstain altogether. I used to love social drinking and partying with the best of them. Weddings, friends, date nights, pro sports. It was tough to find the same joy at these events without alcohol, but it was a conscious choice I had to make for my anxiety to improve. Now, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Going through this development was paramount for me. It also separated where I stand with many individuals-which was a blessing.
  • Sleep
    • Man, sleep is a superpower. The level of patience, anxiety, attitude, etc. for me is sometimes directly correlated to my sleep. I found that my nighttime routine is invaluable for my success in this life. I use Fitbit and the Oura ring. I like to compare and contrast both sleep and exercise to try to reach my goals.
  • Keep your brain active and dreaming
    • Although I don’t read some of the novels that my wife recommends, much to her chagrin, I read every article I can get my hands on regarding mental health, substance abuse, leadership/management, and wellness space. I live on LinkedIn with new business articles. I would have to guess I read some 200-300 articles a week. This fuels my fire and keeps my brain engaged in good, healthy thoughts that matter to me.
    • New ideas for any of the businesses that I am partnered to and/or with. This fuels me and keeps my adrenaline riding high yet staying focused on my Big 1 or 2. Staying laser focused is pivotal. Having my brain race all over the place is not a good thing and can breed anxiety. I keep it laser-focused on the 1 thing and go all in, i.e. NBH and Cadre. Then, how can I impact those businesses with all my head and heart.
  • My inner circle
    • I used to be a social butterfly when I was younger. That has drastically changed. My circle is SO small. I enjoy the depth of conversations. I am over the surface stuff. I’ve been around for over 41+ years now… I don’t have time to waste. I don’t sweat the small stuff and I don’t care if you do or don’t like me. It’s irrelevant to me. I have a much bigger purpose with the people I love and trust and will go to extremes to help support them and vice versa. Cutting out the fat in relationships has been so beneficial to me. Saying “no” and giving yourself permission to be honest….”no, I don’t want to go and meet for coffee/dinner today to talk surface level on x, y, z.” Get rid of any negativity in your life. Cut it. Jobs, people, relationships. Be done. Now! Doesn’t serve you or others, launch it!!
  • Understanding my triggers and how to deal with them
    • What I am about to say may shock people. I feel like I am out of control on the freeway, so I drive the backroads a lot of the time. I am willing to give up 30 minutes to ensure my panic attacks do not occur on the freeway. So, when possible, I drive backroads and listen to some awesome podcasts and find my mind having positive thoughts rather than bracing for another panic attack. I also understand that this is an avoidance tactic on my end. So, facing this a different way in the future is something I will grapple with. But, for now, this serves as a win/win for me and I LOVE IT! For your listening pleasure, I suggest Lewis Howes, David Goggins, Cameron Hanes, Jesse Itzler, Rich Roll, Tom Bilyeu, Sarah Blakely, and many many more. If you ever want me to share, more than happy. Just email me. I will email you some of my all-time favorites. [email protected]
    • I have stressful roles. Owning and operating a couple of companies is stressful. Let’s not pretend like it’s not. Sure, the 80+ work weeks sometimes still exist. But I have found balance. It’s ok to take a break right during the day and go for a walk or a run. Trust me, the 15-30 minutes of missed work, those minutes will be right there waiting for you when you return with the work. Take care of yourself. If you don’t have your health (mental, physical, or emotional), you don’t have ANYTHING.
  • Find your super hero
    • I need David Goggins in my life. David came around right at the right time for me. He’s someone I look up to and find ways to keep fighting. His no-BS approach is inspiring, and I look up to that in how I show up EVERY SINGLE DAY. I think David also gives you permission to understand that you always have more in the tank and that you can power through darn near anything with the right mindset and/or team around you. I have developed this and I have built this around me. Those people know who they are and I am forever grateful. Finally, there are more individuals sharing their personal stories of how they dealt with their mental health—find them! Try reaching out and learning, “how did you do it?”
  • Be your own super hero and use anxiety as your Super Power!
    • So, you have anxiety and suffer panic attacks and are still doing this life. Imagine what you are able to accomplish when you have it under control. Imagine all the energy you are using for your fight/flight symptoms turns into advantageous energy towards your dreams and goals. For example, I never thought in a million years some 10-15+ years ago that I would be a runner. I never thought I would own and operate businesses. You can too!
      • I will be running a 100-mile race next May 27th, 2023. WE are doing this for the 100+K lives that have been lost in the last year to opioid overdose. I hope you can find your own 100-mile race and be your own hero! If I can do it, trust me, you can do it. Maybe that’s a 5K. Maybe it’s forming your own LLC. Maybe it’s reducing your panic attacks. Regardless, go all in on YOU and become your own SUPER HERO!

I hope this level of vulnerability and removing the mask per se, will serve and help you. Some of these tips and tricks and easy hacks may provide value in your life. Try it. Nothing is easy and it won’t be “fixed” overnight, it is a process and one that you will want to give up on time and time again…don’t! Follow some of these simple protocols/steps above and you can do it too! Individuals that care are just a phone call/text away.

I can’t wait to see and hear from you on the Cadre airwaves. Now, you have a better understanding of our companies’ why’s and why this matters so much to us to support those and build philosophical change agent companies that help the world be a better place.

Today, I am ok. Tomorrow, I must continue to follow my script and work on myself so I can be the best for my family. It’s proven to work for me over the years, and I am encouraged about that. If I can be the best me, the rest will fall into place everywhere else. Work hard on yourself. Ring out the towel every single day. Be patient with yourself. Love yourself, ALL of yourself. Learn to love the process and give yourself grace, you deserve it!

With love,