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Isaac’s Journey to Recovery

Slowly and steadily, things were getting worse. An unconscious downward spiral had begun.

2021 had been a rough year for me. Right at the beginning, everything was great. I was brimming with energy and hope. I was knocking my job out of the park, I was expecting a new addition to my family, this was the year our finances really turned around, and nothing could shake my natural optimistic overview of life.

And suddenly, blow # 1: Two weeks before my baby would arrive in February, I was terminated from my job. Abruptly, the weeks and weeks of paternity leave that were going to give me time to enjoy our newest addition were gone. Now, I was faced with the medical bills without income and the prospect of having to find another source of income.

When the baby did arrive, we celebrated. However, a sense of responsibility and weight also accompanied the birth. This feeling lingered. Rather than enjoy the season to its full while secure in my employment, I held the precious sleeping baby and thought, “What am I going to do to provide for you?”

Then, I realized it was time to pursue my dream. Self-employment was something I had wanted to do for some time but lacked the confidence to just step out and try. I would build my own brand, launch a website and start marketing. Create a community that needed and wanted my coaching and resources and was willing to pay for it. I ran the numbers. I only needed a few hundred people to sign up to break into profit and I could support my growing family. This was how I would turn “lemons into lemonade”.

And then a soft but strong warning came from my previous employer, “stop doing what you are doing. We consider this a breach of your non-compete…”

This blow #2 was a bombshell. I had intentionally made sure I was swimming in another pool from them and didn’t think I would be impacting their business in any way, but they saw it differently. Either way, the months of planning my new venture on the backs of napkins while helping with the new baby were now at risk of simply disappearing. Knowing I didn’t have the mental or financial reserves to fight anything in court, I decided to simply drop the whole endeavor and start picking up any coaching work I could find.

As an Agile Coach, I had been trained in the art of helping teams and individuals improve their performance. One of the elements of my training was to listen deeply and understand when a group or person was exhibiting signs of burnout or was possibly near the edge of quitting. Now, this training for helping others wasn’t working for me as I looked into my own mirror.

I pressed on and found opportunity after opportunity to perform remote contract work for different companies. Was this it? Was I living the self-employed dream? It didn’t feel like it as the now 2-month-old baby and financial urgency coupled with the threat of lawsuit and demands of marketing and sales all started to pile together.

And then, blow # 3a, I received the chilling call.

My father was in the hospital again for his ongoing medical issues. This had happened before. He had always recovered. I rushed down to visit him and be present with family, but after a few days, he was back home and quickly seemed to be returning to his former health. I returned to my now overloaded work schedule juggling multiple clients and thought all was returning to normal.

And then blow 3b, I received the second distressing call.

This one was more urgent. Things had taken a turn and I needed to come down right away. This visit was much more disruptive to my over-packed schedule, but the moment I set foot in his room, I understood the urgency. This was different. He had never been like this before. The next several days, hospice helped to make him as comfortable as possible, but as I stayed beside him it was as if time slowed down and moment by moment, everything else in my world faded away. Life had suddenly become very, very simple. I needed to just be there. And sit. With my dad. And say my goodbyes. And wait.

The full blow #3 descended as he passed and we entered a time of mourning. The family gathered, ceremonies were planned, eulogies were delivered. And all the time, a sense of loss that started at the beginning of the year compounded inside of me and became far more than just a lost job or a threatened lawsuit or the loss of a father. It became the loss of my optimistic hope.

And of course, there was the lengthy, treacherous blow #4, simply surviving Covid-19, and all the plethora of problems and unconscious trauma it silently triggered to all of us.

In addition to the recent changes to my emotional state, I gained weight, and was starting to feel physically differently too. I had become frustrated and more easily disappointed with my ability to show up for both my job and my family. Then, I noticed that sleep started to become less effective. I was sleeping longer and longer each night, but feeling less and less rested. Waking up was getting so much harder.

A mental cloud was forming and all I knew was I didn’t feel like myself anymore. But, I reasoned to myself each night, I will feel better in the morning. All I need is sleep.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I thought to myself as the early morning zoom call with Dr. Meyer was loading on my laptop. I fully planned to tell him that I needed to step back from my active role planned into the Mental Wellness Society and tend to myself and my family. However, I didn’t know what “stepping back” would look like. I just knew sleep was eluding me and the early morning calls on top of my family on top of work on top of… whatever this new “zombie-like” darkness was all added up to too much.

As we started talking, I explained to Dr. Meyer that I had been distracted from helping the Mental Wellness Society move forward by too much work, lack of sleep, and generally feeling tired.
He quietly listened to my long list of ache and complains, then:

“Wait,” he said, “Does your wife complained to you that you are snoring at night?”
“And you are sleeping longer than usual, but are still tired when waking-up?”
“Have you added weight since your father passed?”
“Did you stop doing physical training?”

“You are exhibiting signs of pre-burnout”

He went on to diagnose more symptoms that I was experiencing and tell me that I needed to make rapid changes. He explained that each of the blows I listed had a compounded high stress and unconscious traumatic effect on my mind and body. In addition to my professional setbacks and an unfinished grieving process for the loss of my father, the most disruptive but unconscious factor was the long fight surviving Covid (fear, anxiety, uncertainties, impossibility to plan ahead, to travel, to go at the office, to quietly isolating for work at home, and not knowing how to protect my family, in addition to all the unknowns about my work and job).

Dr. Meyer shared that he still witnesses a lot of executives who were successful prior Covid who are now totally becoming disoriented, demotivated, hesitant about everything without understanding that changes that are impacting them.

He explained me that very strong Internal Locus of Control individuals (with the attitude: I can change things to become what I want), gradually shifted their internal locus of control, to become strongly External Locus of Control persons (with the attitude: what happens to me does not depend on me). This change happened over a long period without their apprehending the transition.

The situation was serious and sleep apnea, weight gain, lack of restful sleep, and stress were all working together to push me into an unhealthy and dangerous place. I agreed with him, but knew that if I just tried hard enough, it would eventually all turn around. And then he said the phrase that caught my attention, “You go to sleep each night and think it will just get better in the morning, but better never comes.” Bingo.

He had my attention and I finally realized I needed real help and dramatic change in my life. What followed was a multi-step process to turn things around. “You need to see a doctor about sleep”; “You need to talk to a specialist about food and diet, and maybe consider health supplements”; “you need to actively restore a better Health & Wellness, by first working on regaining better fitness and stamina to increase fresh oxygen flowing into your brain, and we will also help you with MindfulChoice™ Meta-Cognitive Positive Psychology quick intervention! You cannot do it alone, let us provide you with the proper team of coaches. By not having a fulfilling life, you will get burnout. If you have burnout, you will get on this call and tell me that you won’t be able to continue helping the Mental Wellness Society and that you want to quit.” Bingo again.

He continued, “Right now, you don’t have time and focus to do the things you need for a fulfilling life. We will address the physical issues first, because they are the most limiting. Eventually, we will grow to focus on making time for you to experience POD (Personal time, Others time and Downtime). The cycle you are in now, being sad, then depressed, then anxious, will lead to a bad place. You are a ticking bomb close to imploding. It is not a simple problem. At this moment, nothing makes you happy. Everything takes a toll.”

And so began my journey to recovery. Dr. Meyer put me in contact with Mental Wellness Society members who might be able to help me. A diet and exercise coach and a supplement provider. He coached me on the importance of breathing and that I needed to get more oxygen to the brain. He explained POD and how I needed to make time to enjoy my life. All the while, a little thing was changing on the inside of me. I was starting to feel hope again.

As I followed the programs from my new friends and mentors, things began rapidly improving. Weight loss started in earnest, and I quickly lost 25 pounds. The supplements started having an effect and I began waking up with energy again. I spent a lot more time with my family and new baby and didn’t feel guilty for not working extra hard. I simplified my client list and limited how many commitments I agreed to. I added more and more healthy habits that used to be automatic for me back into my schedule. I changed rapidly.

And that leads me to this revelation, in all my training as an Agile Coach, Agile focuses on the mindset and the actions, but it doesn’t take into account the physical person. I could identify problems with individuals and teams, but didn’t really have a framework for helping the whole person improve. Dr. Meyer provided just that framework. In fact, as things got better and better, he introduced me to Evoke PSI (Psychology Skills Icons) his system’s 81 cards. “Everything we just did for you to get you out of your state of burnout,” he said, “that was all just one card.”

It was that moment that I realized this system is profound, applicable, and something I had been missing in my coaching practice. I needed more than just the ability to recognize something was wrong in a person or team. I needed a framework to engage and help that person or team move through burnout or whatever their limiting factors were and get to the other side. Get back to hope.

This is MFC – MindFulChoice, and Mind Focused Coaching. This is my new journey. I am so happy to be leaving the early recovery stages and moving into the areas of profound significance. I am continuing to learn and internalize these skills and ideas for myself and I look forward to sharing and spreading them to many

There can be hope. There can be recovery. There is more we can do than just recognize and empathize with someone who is hurting, burnt out, and ready to quit. We can give them a path out of the downward spiral. We can give them a path to health. We can give them a path to impact.

I hope you will join me on this journey.