This week’s post is a conversation with Tim Brown. We were introduced to him by Sally Spencer-Thomas of the Carson J. Spencer Foundation, who has always been thoughtful about pointing out people who speak openly about this. Tim, an entrepreneur and former CEO, spoke at a recent event that Sally organized _ the video is above _ and he’s now releasing a book about his experience:
In my book, I write about the difference between cracked glass and shattered glass and the way they leak at different rates. You think about professional jobs out there and everything tied up in it. There’s the false perception out there that if you’re a doctor, lawyer, etc., they’re not affected by things in their life. But we’re all human, we all have emotions, different perspectives depending on where we are in life’s journey. My goal with my story was never about my story, it was about their story, giving people the perspective that they’re not on an island. They’re worthwhile, worthy, not as hopeless or helpless as they might have thought. At least for me, as my depression got worse, I was isolating myself more. Everyone has a story, and we can all learn from one anther’s perspectives and life experiences.
It’s different, right, when you’ve gone to the edge. When you come back, you come back changed. Everything about your life is different.
If we lose 105 people a day in the U.S., that’s a petty massive number. When I was doing a lot of research, I found that 40 million Americans suffer from depression and that 80 percent of those people are curable without long-time medication. That shows me there’s a lot of hope here, there’s a path out, and part is people feeling like they’re not isolated. That it is curable. Eliminating the stigma of mental health.
In 2009, it was the first time for me, late July 2009. I went on medication, anti-anxiety and an anti-depressant, Lexapro, and I had a really bad reaction with Lexapro. And I still stayed on through the end of the year and then started using more Xanax. That went all the way through August 2011, when I decided that it was time for me to fully live my life again without any kind of medication. I was on an airplane 52 consecutive weeks that year.
What sent me into a tailspin? I grew up very poor. Everything I touched was very successful, then the markets collapsed and the cost basis for my business assets was much higher than where the market had corrected to, resulting in the loss of $55 million. This is all in the book. The money was my former father-in-law’s money. He was the first person in my life who loved me unconditionally. But he said to me that this is nothing more than an event, and I have to get over it. That was much easier said than done for a person who had always connected their worth to their works. Just a few months ago, I finally came to peace with it.
I found myself at the Bentley Hotel in New York on Nov. 29, 2011. I almost went off the balcony. And I remember, you know, standing in the elevator, and I was three floors from the top.
I had developed no tools. I was off my medication, away from home, working 70-plus hours a week, my marriage was struggling, and I was feeling like a complete failure. “The world would be better off without me here. My son would be better off.” When I look back on it now, the life-changing event it was … I stood in the elevator for about 40 seconds. Some of that started to become clear to me this year. Our bodies go into this numbness, like a survival circuit kicks in where we can no longer feel. I have been working with three different therapists and coaches to unlock this because I had dark thoughts, and I still have two or three a week, though each day gets better.
When I wake up in the morning, I recommit to living every day. It’s the same as a recovering alcoholic. You get up and make it through the day. So much was attached to me being ashamed, growing up poor as a kid, these ridiculous perceptions I had of myself. I finally said, “The way to heal myself is to go public. I need to declare this in front of God, others. I need to be vulnerable, to shine light in a very dark place and start to heal.” I started praying about it. On Aug. 1, 2012, I was at the MGM Hotel in Vegas getting ready for a sales call when the idea for a book was placed on my heart. I was really scared and still am.
The more I talk about it, the more people come up and talk. I gave a keynote to about 50 men, and I had five guys come up to me and say they were struggling. If 10 percent came up, that means there was another 10 percent who didn’t.
My point is, there is an immense need out there for people to know they’re not alone. And I don’t have anything really fancy to say about that. I look forward to the day, though, when I don’t have those thoughts in my head. And for me, it was based on soul loss. I had become so disconnected from myself, I didn’t know myself. I had a different set of values because I wanted to appear a certain way, because that would mean I would be more loved.
I guess I’m not telling you anything you haven’t heard before.
I finally came to peace with it: “I’m gonna put my story out there and hope it goes on to impact a million lives.” This is the first step on that path. And I’m letting the path find me, to some degree. Let’s see where things ultimately go.
If I’m teeing off on the back nine of my life, it’s important to me the lives I impact. We’re our best selves when we’re serving others. It manifests in different ways for each person. If some people want to make light of my story, or the taboo feelings of this topic, I guess if they can do that. It’s my truth, and I’ll stand in my truth. And maybe it will be a bit less taboo because people are willing to take a stand and get vocal about it.
A lot of the books out there, the resources available to us, are written by well-meaning people, but there’s also a one-size-fits-all platitude approach to this. And it’s not the way it works. We all have our own unique stories, and we all have a program that’s running in the background, and until we change what our perspective is, we can’t go on to live a meaningful life. There’s a good side to the bad. The whole experience I went through made me a better father and human being. It made me want to work at the next level. Once upon a time, I thought I could intellectualize my feelings. You can’t. You have to feel them and know what they’re attached to. For me, I have a lot of anger, and that led to depression, and that depression led to me having a fear of my fears, you know, and then dark thoughts, I call them, about how it would manifest itself. And you start giving control to those thoughts because you lack perspective to know where the feelings come from.
I had this notion at an early age, 7 or 8. It was me digging through dumpsters in South Florida looking for bottles and cans. I said, “Making money is my way out of this. I’m done with this. If I can make it out there, I’ll be fine in here.” And that doesn’t work, making it out there and being fine in here. You have to know yourself.
We have 320 million Americans. And only 10 percent goes in for mental health services. Only 10 percent go see a psychiatrist or psychologist. Of that 10 percent, only 3 percent do the work. One of my psychiatrists told me that.
We stand under these banners that are our title. Then you have someone come up and say, “You’re worth so much more than your title.” And you can kind of get it, but not really. I drew it out on paper two weeks ago. I drew lines out from my name and boxes with all the other things I am: father, son, future husband, photographer, church member, entrepreneur, a guy who likes to serve others, a writer, public speaker, baseball player with my son. It was all these things, and when you see them on a piece of paper staring back at you, it’s riveting: “Oh, I really am more than what I do for a living.” The three coaches I work with help me in three areas. One for self-awareness, one for how I integrate tools, another helps with my accountability side, how I’m doing living the life I told him I want to live.
I created a workbook of 13 modules, to theoretically go through one a week, how to transform your life. I wanted to create a way to tangibly give to somebody, if I were coaching them, “Here you are. You’re about ready to go through a painful transition, but things are gonna get a lot better faster than you think. But we’re gonna have to unwind some things. You’ve learned habits that have not served you well.” You have to learn new tools. A big tool for me is, I’m gonna have to go and write down everything in my life that’s going well right now. We have a tendency to run that victim program in our minds, and it tends to take me right back in the direction I don’t want to go in. It’s a spiral that can happen really fast.
Another big thing in our lives is how important our community is around us. You are the average of your five closest friends. And it’s so true. But in terms of having a strong community around you, when you’re inside a bottle, you can’t read the label, you need friends and family to read it for you. Even how I view my faith has changed. I’m going out trying to manifest things in my heart, things that bring me joy. I’m figuring out who I want to spend time with, understanding I could love myself fully.
How can we change the reactions about mental health?
I think you change it based on the people willing to go public about it. It’s the same thing as members of the gay community have been doing for 30 years. People who have come forward and said, “This is my truth. I’m standing in my truth.” They fight for it. And I think you’ve seen that with other groups who have historically been minorities. Look at Rosa Parks. She got tired of it. She was one of a number of people who started an important movement around civil rights. She put a face to it. And that’s how I think you accomplish it.
The fear of discrimination seems to play a big role in keeping this topic silent.
Yeah, people fear things they don’t know. That’s why you have to step forward. Yeah, maybe I’m denied something, but whatever. The fact of the matter is, I have one life to live, and for me, my healing is around serving others and me being able to talk about it. And I think there are several million people that are affected by this. Look at Canada. At the forum I was at with Sally, someone said the Canadian army changed where soldiers with PTSD could wear ribbons saying they were injured in battle. That’s huge. You think about all the soldiers in war. A lot of these guys, women, coming back with PTSD-based trauma, and a lot of them feel they can’t talk about it, living with fear of their fears, living with ghosts haunting them, and feeling they’re being judged. So they run away because they think this is a community where they can’t be loved, accepted. That’s BS. That’s my opinion. Who knows where my professional life is gonna go. But I put my odds at 100 percent that it will be better since I’m not stuffing it in silence and carrying it around with me.
What does your son think?
He knows parts of it right now. I don’t want the power of suggestion in his mind right now. He’ll be 12 this month. But he knows the ending of my book, how it turns out. I’m here, and it’s simply the beginning of a new chapter in the blessing I call my life.