Surviving or Thriving?

At the start of practice today, my client couldn’t speak, he couldn’t look at me, he was barely holding it together breath by breath. I asked a few questions and quickly realized his brain was on tilt. He’d lost the battle of living an unaddressed, stress filled, anxiety ridden life. He’d been avoiding pain for so long that his emotions took over and his self control was gone. I’ve seen this look before, I recognize those tears, I know that breathing cadence. It was me 8 years ago.

In 2006, my wife and I decided to adopt a second child from Guatemala. Life was going really well, I had good control on things, and in general, our days were predictable and manageable. Any little blip out of the norm was no big deal because we could usually get everything back in order fairly quickly. However, when my son came home at 8 months old, I realized this might not be a blip.

I joked with people that two kids felt like three. I’d lost the ability to course correct and create a predictable and manageable life. Over time, my wife’s feedback got more and more hard to hear. “Why are you always on edge, what’s wrong with you?” was the melody line. Naturally I received this feedback incredibly poorly and redirected the blame to her and my son. We grinded our way through the pain with a don’t ask, don’t talk, avoid at all costs, approach.

Like all well ignored problems, it disappeared into a new norm of numbness, so we decided to adopt another child, but this time from Ethiopia. As the trip got closer, I grew more and more nervous about traveling to a third world country. It started with, “What if I get sick? Wait am I feeling sick? Is my throat sore, I think I might have strep.” And grew into “What if our daughter is really sick and really hard to care for?” On the official travel day, Christmas Eve 2009, I made it all the way through security and half way down the terminal before I began “surviving” breath by breath. I lost the battle, my brain went on tilt. I started sobbing uncontrollably and refused to get on the plane.

Somehow my wife managed to call the orphanage in Ethiopia (Christmas morning there) and get confirmation she could come without me. My brother had bought a ticket to travel with my wife and pick up my daughter for me. My sister-in-law was waiting for me outside of the airport and gave me one of the most loving hug I’ve ever received. The road from there was a painful one and started with me admitting I was not doing well.

My stigma of mental health was obliterated when my doctor told me he sees more patients regarding stress and anxiety than any other issue by a mile. From then on, I chose to embrace leaning into the pain, seeking out what it was that was messing with my head, literally. I can’t pin point any particular moment when I “got better” but I can tell you that I did. Day by day, brick by brick. If you’re still reading this rant and my story hits close to home – take action my friend, take it now before you’re just “surviving” breath by breath. Surviving or thriving? The choice is yours.

9 thoughts on “Surviving or Thriving?

  1. Nice 1-2 punch from you and chet this week.

    I’ll send you how I’m doing when I can, and soon, b/c I have an idea I have to run by you. Life is a storm right now, but I’m doing work to move the needle.

    I’m definitely not thriving, but I’m not the breath-to-breath surviving I was a couple months ago. The breakdown, the sobbing, the inability to do any action at all – this story is too familiar. More to come, have to be Dad right now….


    1. Thanks Fisherman. Breath by breath leads to day by day leads to brick by brick. Don’t quit, keep going.

  2. Yes, a story that hits home on more than one occasion, let’s say it used to be on a regular basis of waves. Your story was raw and conveyed an all too familiar emotion in my stomach.

    Your experience, insight, and melody lines are a gift and are irreplaceable for me. You are my head partner at work.

    Being alone at the helm of my tiny business deprived me. The time it used to take from me personally, and from my business was not a benefit to either. The ocean swales were big, deep, and I could not see at all when I was in the bottom. The time it took to feel it, be smashed by it, become immobile, curl into the fetal position to regain some semblance of understanding, realize and identify that I was there, realize i could not stay there but needed to decide if I wanted to fly or fight, weather I even have the option, identify the options, and start to breath slowly and from a beat up position licking my wounds, begin some mobility weary of the direction, then move to fly or fight, rarely becoming stronger before the next one came, made me think that that, was the ebb and flow of life at work; Long winded sentence, long winded weary work. The energy and breadth sucked out.

    Since work and life go together, it affects both. In fact, that is the reason I work with you, David. I don’t experience that pattern for more than the time it takes for me to call you and have you talk through the storm with me. The swales are shallow and short. You bring a perspective that seems right on, every time; working with me on thoughts, options, analysis and narratives in my head. You keep the conversation and focus on who I am, and the connectivity/strength to my business with questions, that lead to alternative thinking and voices that lead to productive actions, preparing a navigational plan (you call it abs) not only to see the storm at sea coming, but to run towards it using the wind in turn to accelerate my progress rather than have it topple me.

    You did it again form me Friday last week. Instead of chaos and feeling less than because LNB is different from other Architecture firms, you helped me define my actions, validating the why. It was a growth experience, and we missed it by a hair. This week i understand my most recent failed opportunity is actually a new brick in my wall. Instead of licking my wounds, I am energized. I see future decisions to make, and new productive actions. The wind has gotten me to this new direction faster and with excitement.

    What a change!
    Would have made it shorter, but I am out of time.

    See you this afternoon.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind note Laura. And more importantly, thank you for doing the work. Together WE have improved. See you in a bit.

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