The Mindspace Podcast #1: Christian Roy on Depression, Anxiety, and Work

okay so welcome to Mindspace I’m Dr.
Joe Flanders I’m the founder and managing director of mine space I’m
really pleased to have Cristian wah with me today for this which should be a very
interesting discussion of well-being resilience at work you can get more
information about this conversation and everything that we’re doing at mine
space at on the internet on on the web mine space well being calm and at mine
space clinic on Facebook LinkedIn and Twitter so I’m very pleased to introduce
young he is an executive vice president the Health Division and a partner at
tank which is a large advertising agency in Montreal and he’s got a really
interesting story to tell about his experience in the last six months to a
year so really looking forward to getting into that yeah why don’t you
tell people how what you do and how people can find you online good so as
you mentioned I’m an executive vice president for the division that tank
which is a large agency in Montreal and we have about 50% of our businesses and
the consumer types of business banking insurance companies retail industry but
the other 50% is health mostly pharmaceutical and because of my
background that was I spent over 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry so
I head up that division and online they can find me under my name somewhere on
Facebook and then we’ll post my blog information on on your site yeah so
that’s a key a key note here that Christian has written this really
compelling sort of blog post or short story or something that kind of gets
into the details of what we’re going to talk about here and we’re really excited
to see that online and that will definitely flag it for everybody so
people can check it out on his blog so if I understand correctly you went
through intense burnout yeah maybe you can just
provide a little context around that so what was going on at the time so
basically it’s it’s interesting so in late April of 2017 you know we had just
so you said I was a partner at tank I used to be a partner a tank what we sold
the business so technically I’m no longer a partner but I’m part of a what
you call an earn out period so so in December of 2016 we actually sold to a
large network we had been looking at attaching ourselves to a larger network
to really help us fuel the growth and and we’ve really found the right
partners so we sold the business but as part of the deal we were gonna stick
around for six years actually and as part of the as part of the earn out you
know there was a payment upfront and then there was a payment payment after a
year and X years and another so without giving you too many details there was an
incentive a financial instead incentive not to just stay but also to perform so
we started 2017 with with really good momentum and my division the health
division had been running very smoothly and strongly very big growth over the
previous three four years and we were doing really well and we had really
helped fuel tank to a point where we we were interesting to a larger network to
be acquired and and we finished 2016 with good momentum but like in any
business stuff happens and you know January came along
results were okay February were not good but hey you know shit happens
so it’s a bad month March was really bad made sherry look pretty good and and
April was as bad I actually went on a one-week vacation with my wife we
attended the wedding in the Dominican Republic at the end of April and frankly
if you had asked me coming out of the airplane after a week how I felt I would
have said feel great just spend a week in the Dominican weather was great there
was a wedding lots of good friends people I love and we had a great time so
all in all pretty good but there was like almost that ticking time-bomb and I
knew that at that point February was good March hadn’t been good and here we
are at the end of April and in a few weeks after coming back I was gonna get
the results for April hoping that things turned around but you know as you
probably know Joe I hope is not a great business strategy so I knew inside
myself that April was probably gonna be pretty pretty bad as well and so I went
from thinking I was feeling pretty good to dreading to see those April financial
results and then they came in and they were they were bad and to a point where
after four months I knew that we weren’t gonna achieve our 2017 financial target
now you know you could listen to this and say okay like what’s a year in the
business the problem was that as part of the the deal that one that year one
target was extremely important in terms of a payout and we were five partners so
all of a sudden it wasn’t just about me so the performance of my division was
now impacting four other individuals who were working super hard we’re getting
good results but as time progressed I realized that
this was weighing very very hard on myself and that started to create a huge
amount of stress and I need to be clear my partner’s never came to me at any
point to say hey what’s happening you know you’re not performing we’re not
gonna hit our target we’re not gonna hit our you know our financial reward they
were all from the very beginning very supportive saying things like you know
what you know you helped us get to where we were if it hadn’t been for for your
division who knows if we would have gotten an offer and you know what we’re
a team we win some we lose some but we do it as a team so don’t put pressure on
yourself and so much so that at one point they stopped sending me the
financial reports because they knew it was it was gonna stress me and it wasn’t
a good thing so from that point things I started to become really anxious which
then you know you don’t sleep well therefore you’re not rested I didn’t
want to eat I kind of slowly stopped eating I was still exercising but I
wasn’t as diligent as I used to be and then then the little voice inside myself
starting to take more and more space and becoming louder and louder it sounds
like it was really not necessarily letting you know yourself down or not
achieving your goals it was really the impact on your partners that was really
the trigger more than anything else is that fair yeah that that was the the
weight because I could I could handle okay I’m not performing my divisions not
performing there I’m not getting the reward I mean that’s
that’s part of the game and but now it was having an impact on these four other
people who were my partners and my people that I’m very very close to
brought me in as a partner trusted me and I gave I gave back a lot I mean I
was when when I got in and I invested it was a good deal for both parties but now
at the most critical moment in our history at least that’s what I was
saying to myself now is the time that I’m letting them down and and I was just
struggling and at a time where I needed to be really focused and look for
solutions I started spinning and spinning down and
I just I was losing control right so you mentioned that you felt really anxious
yeah and you also mentioned that there was this very critical or negative
self-talk or voice in your head or whatever how did this anxiety manifest
so I want to hear more about the you know what this voice was saying but also
what are you experiencing day to day feeling on edge it’s difficult to relax
do you feel tense like yeah so so all of those like on edge difficult to relax
and to a point where for example I couldn’t meditate I I thought okay I
need to calm down so I meditate and I haven’t been
meditating as much as I used to in the last two or three months see you let go
of all the good things that you do all of a sudden you stop doing them and at a
time where you need them most so I couldn’t meditate but I just could not
meditate I would stop you know and and try but my my my head was spinning so
fast that I just couldn’t meditate so I would stop I didn’t I didn’t stick to it
and then as a matter of fact I I came to understand at one point that in some
cases people can’t meditate or they they will stop meditating
through this and then the voice was just it’s just you know again it’s not it’s
not a it wasn’t psychosis or it wasn’t I wasn’t schizophrenic and I I knew that
the voice is that it’s the the eye of the mind you know it’s that little thing
that is always with you that you know I say if you’re playing golf and and you
miss your drive it’ll say oh shit you know you missed a drive or it’s always
that that voice that that we have that really talks to you and gives you
feedback and tends to be negative but in my case I was a pretty positive person
so the voice was often very very positive prior to that period and say
hey you know you’re doing well and you know when I transition from the
corporate world to the more entrepreneurial
you know agency it was like hey you know not a lot of people are able to make
that switch and be so successful in in both and but now that voice really it
was negative it’s like now you know you’re letting them down you’re not you
you know you’ve let things slip away and why weren’t you on top of things and how
could you let that happen and now these individuals who trusted you you know how
can it trust you and you know frankly if if one of them had done that you know
how you’ve reacted and it was just it was louder and louder more present and
more and more negative and it was just me beating myself down and so you know I
the the being on the edge anxiety so I would fall asleep because I was tired
but then I would wake up at 3:00 or 3:30 or 4:00 and then the voice started it’s
like the wheels are spinning and it’s you know thinking about and not so much
solutions oriented but problem focused and
and there was just no way and that lasted probably a good three or four
months if I was awake it didn’t matter what time there was just absolutely no
way I was gonna fall asleep again well you know fortunately my youngest kid is
in high school and he gets up early and so my wife gets up and the house wakes
up so I would just go through the motions and just crawl out of bed go
into the shower and just get dressed and just put myself in the car and and get
to work but very quickly I became completely
useless at work I mean I I was able to focus so to the anxiety became all all
these other cognitive symptoms so my ability to focus on a task my ability to
concentrate my short-term memory all these things started not working the way
they they used to so I I just wasn’t very useful at work at a time where you
really needed to be at your best to try to right the ship on what was happening
in your apartment there and and what was even you know we were talking about the
voice is that when I was in the corporate world often they would refer
to me as the crisis management guy in times of crisis this is the guy you want
to be with this is the guy you want there because he’s super calm when
things get really messed up and so I was thinking I like I’d lost that all of a
sudden and now and I started to think that that was a bit of a fraud like I
was just at the right place at the right time and I
the right people around me I wasn’t really the guy I just sew because see
now it’s happening and when you need its now it’s your crisis and you’re not even
showing up to the contrary now you’re you’re panicking I mean I used to be the
guy who would see a an accident on the highway I would pull my car get out of
the car and just you know get involved right and my wife would say or my kids
would be afraid that I’d get in trouble one time because I just get right in
there if they’re if there’s a crisis and there’s a need for action I’d be there
but when my crisis came I wasn’t there so I I started thinking that that whole
thing was a bit of a fraud so you’re slogging through the workday
for three or four months yeah presume you know doing your best but
maybe not as productive as you’d want to be what happened then yeah so what
happened is so you know end of April is when I come back from them and it can
republic start you know kind of sliding down or spiraling down and you know my
my partners would say something like you know you need to take care of yourself
you know you’re putting too much pressure you know we’re gonna get
through this you’ve only been with us for four years and you know we haven’t
had much of a down cycle but that’s that’s par for the for the like what
you’ve lived the last four years is amazing but what we’re now living is
just part of a cycle and but it just didn’t resonate with me so but showing
up not being able to do things participating in executive meetings and
not being able to contribute and just be sitting in silent and that just wasn’t
the person that they were used to so at one point it was towards the middle of
the month of June and Mark whose my who is one of the partners and is now
my my boss said to me said listen I think you need to take some time off why
don’t you why don’t you take some time off and just find a way to get better
focus on yourself let us take care of the business
we can manage you know it’s things are not gonna stop and so I agreed I had a
meeting in Vancouver coming up the following week so I said let me just
continue what I’ll do is next week I won’t come in on Monday the I’ll leave
to go to Vancouver on Tuesday and do the meeting on Wednesday and then I’ll take
it was gonna lead to session about this so I’ll take that and I’ll add a few
days and we’ll see how it goes so that was the plan the following days I just
kept on getting worse and now I was like I didn’t know how I was gonna make it to
Vancouver like how can I get into a plane and fly for five hours and find
the hotel like things like that that I had done like I traveled the world and
and been in meetings in you know in Seoul and in Tokyo and travel on my own
now I was afraid that I wasn’t gonna make it to Vancouver so I did I remember
I took a red-eye flight and I bought myself like a business class ticket so
that I could sleep you know and go to the meeting the next day and just so I
did that you know thank God
the client was a good client and I managed I went on autopilot as much as I
could I probably give myself like a six out of ten on the way I managed that
meeting and the way I moderated maybe I’m a little tough on myself I think I
have a lot of experience so I managed came back home and then just I was happy
that now I was home I’d made it through the trip to
Vancouver and I took some time off but as I thought okay now I can relax but
that didn’t happen as soon as I was off the Monday where I should have gone to
work I became obsessed with going back to work because now what the voice was
saying now you’re really bailing you let them down and now you’re now you’re
bailing you’re not even showing up at work right so I became obsessed but I
knew I’d spoken with Mack and we talked about like at least two weeks you need
to take a significant amount of time so I don’t even remember exactly what I did
during those two weeks but I remember being obsessed about going back so I was
going online logging on to my email you know responding and so I didn’t really
disconnect and I came back and I said okay it’s cool I’m back
I took some rest and and so I felt good for a short period of time about okay I
managed to get back and I’ll get through this but stayed didn’t well it took a
couple of days of vacation and and by the way I’m anybody who knows you I’m
another workaholic like I I’ve always had a good life work/life balance I
would take two weeks in the summer sometimes I took three weeks like I take
my breaks and not want to stay in the office until 11:00 at night and them so
I kept on showing up at the office but within 48 hours the pattern was back and
now I was just starting to you know continue to spiral down luckily for me
it was the July and August month so less busy a lot of people on vacation but
frankly there were days I would in turn my computer on and I’d look at
my screen for hours and hours like I was past the going on la crise website or
CNN or III just I can even focus and by that point I I liked watching series on
Netflix or I didn’t watch anything nothing I didn’t feel like watching
anything not even comedy nothing I’d stopped reading I couldn’t watch the
news I had there’s nothing I liked to do anymore
that was really and it just I was just spiraling sure so it sounds like you
might have moved from a high level of anxiety and either in combination or or
maybe the new trend was the sort of depressed mood with the lack of interest
and fatigue and not and just sort of being a zombie yeah
so and that’s kind of the conclusion and we’ll go into you know how I got help
and all that but I am convinced that the anxiety caused the depression rather
than the other way around so I went from being very anxious to now I was
depressed and I was going through depression mm-hmm yeah and so you listen
to some of the symptoms there maybe what else why do you call it a depression
what were the sort of the characteristics of that mood state
well I’d yeah it’s like the it’s like the joy of life had been sucked out of
my body there was just nothing that gave me pleasure anymore
and like I’ve got I have four children very close to them and I would say that
even that the fake like I still enjoyed having them near me but there was
nothing that was giving me like it’s like life I’ve been sucked out of myself
so I so I had on top of that you know I didn’t remember if I like my wife
needed to take the garbage that say out I didn’t I had to check outside whether
I taken the garbage out like in the last five minutes
so like memory concentration ability to have like I couldn’t contribute in even
social discussions like the guy who knows a lot about a lot of things and
he’s always talking to everyone all of a sudden like in with friends I would just
I’d be on my chair and I would listen not understanding half of what they were
talking about I loved how you talk about this fantasy your negative thoughts
conjured up about the end of this whole thing was you being in Cavite / VJ
square in Montreal and maybe you could just tell us that paint that picture for
us yeah so you know so I had started around the month of June or July I
started to see a psychologist actually you you were kind enough to refer me to
somebody that you knew so I started to see this psychologist his name is John
Mackey does a cognitive behavior therapy and we’ll talk a little bit about that
later so during one of the sessions with John
Mack I had some good conversations so I had I had good moments with him we were
still able to you know he would start and say how are things and I’d say
they’re awful like I’m feeling like shit like I I’m just yeah I just I’m feeling
horrible and but we were still able to have with him some intellectual kind of
conversations and and because he would tell me about you know if he gave me a
explained a tool something that we could do you know you would explain that I’d
say yeah that kind of makes sense but not gonna work with me it’s not kind of
kind of stuff that it’s gonna bring me out of where that hole that I’m in so a
conversation we had it was that how I told them I was going to wind up within
six to eight weeks I was going to or maybe I may be a
little bit more than that be in the next six months but it was a short timeframe
I was gonna wind up in car EVG as a homeless man he said oh that’s
interesting he said why do you say that I said well first of all I’m off work
I’m never going back I’m never going back to work and if I do it’ll be like
in May I’m gonna be there I’m gonna fail and they’ll see that very quickly this
time and at one point these guys are just gonna say enough is enough they’re
gonna throw me out so I’m gonna wind up without a job and I’m not gonna be able
to find it how can i I can’t even keep the job that I know how am I gonna find
another job so nobody’s gonna hire me and so I’m that’s gonna create a
financial issue for me and my wife is there she’s supporting me but at one
point she’s gonna get it gets fed up I mean she’s in their early 50s she’s
beautiful she’s intelligent she’s gonna say okay I need to survive this like I’m
drowning she’s not gonna allow herself to drown
it’s at one point she’s gonna call it quit and my kids they’re like you know
they’re 13 or in their early 20s they’re like at one point they’re gonna move on
with their life the last thing they want is to spend time any significant amount
of time with your loser father who’s just like and so financial difficulties
no job no wife no no kids no friends therefore I mean eventually I’m gonna
get kicked out of my house and what am I gonna do I have no money no jobs so I’m
gonna wind up in County VG right and I my I was like if you had been sitting
there Joe I would have told you the story and I was convinced and jean-marc
was nice about it you know you can imagine he had a different perspective
than me and he said interesting he said you know if I could put all the money
that and if I could mortgage my house and
take my kids savings for education and if I could bet on the fact that that’s
not gonna happen to you I would put every single dollar that I have because
I know it’s not gonna happen to you how did you respond to that one here while
we left it’s funny enough we like I chuckled I said yeah well you you don’t
you’re not me you’re not inside of me you don’t know and I’m I want to think
too like you think he said listen first of all the story you’ve just told
probably happens you know once in a while in a very specific but not in your
condition not with the kind of support that you have from your partners from
your wife from your children the environment the fact that you’re sitting
here with me and we’re talking this through he said it’s just not gonna
happen but he said I kind of get that yeah that’s what you think so he
challenged the fantasy a little bit and did some reality testing with you which
yeah obviously as part of that cognitive beaver therapy model I’m guessing that
was part of your work with Jean Malky anything else that sort of stuck out in
terms of what was helpful about the therapy yeah I mean you know there’s and
again without doing in too many details of the the technicalities of CBT but one
is trying to retrain yourself to say okay if you know who’s your best friend
okay my best friend is Johnny so if if Johnny came to see you and and told you
the situation and what his fears are what would you tell him you know so for
example he’d say about the the work environment you know okay so you you
weren’t able to deliver on the the revenues with this client because
this happened and you’ve got an explanation if that happened to Johnny
would you say Johnny you’re a loser like I can’t believe you know you’d say
Johnny this business par for the course you win some you lose some
stuff happens that’s out of your control and so funny enough I was still able to
say yeah that’s what I would tell Johnny but my little voice wasn’t buying that
right my little voice was still telling me that I was a loser because that’s I
had to let that happen and so curious to hear what sort of snapped you out of
this and sounds like there’s a really interesting and important story about
your experience trying medication yeah and then some of the your own resources
that kicked in at some point yeah and maybe before I go there so just to how I
because I I did go back off work so I continued to go to the office and kind
of look at my screen and at one point actually my wife Wanda god bless her
soul she she she was looking at all sorts of ways to get me out of this
situation and she said why don’t we go to New York you know we’ll take maximum
our youngest and we’ll go to New York for four three four days and so she
rented an apartment right on Times Square and so to me that was like if
you’d stick a knife in an electrical outlet I mean my nerves were shattered I
like I you know I couldn’t hold myself and I wind up on Times Square in a hotel
like even in our room in the middle of the night even with the blank the the
blinders down I would still see lights flashing I mean you know I think her
intentions were really good but we like we still laugh about it
day but probably not a good we need to go back to New York now but so I came
back from from those four days off went back to the office for the week it was
the week following the Labor Day weekend and on the Friday we had a executives
meeting and at the end mark kept me and he said okay it’s not this is not
working and I’m now it’s mark your friend of 25 years guy what are we gonna
do or are we gonna wait until I need to go in the office and call 9-1-1 and put
you on in an ambulance and like this is it’s not working
so I feel I absolutely need to tell you to pick up your stuff and go home and
you know what forget about the rest of 2017 take three months we’re gonna take
care of business you know we were well covered with insurances and all that
it’s not gonna make a difference financially for you but you need to take
care of yourself you need to get better because right now you’re not helping
yourself you’re not helping us you’re not helping your wife you’re not
helping your kids and I’m just afraid that there’s gonna be no end to this so
you just need to pack up so and I just I I actually I started crying and I said I
think yeah you’re right so the only thing though
in that meeting is I asked him he said we’ll manage we’ll tell people and I
said you know what when you tell people tell them that I had this urge and I’m
not sure why and I guess it’s because it’s who I am like fundamentally but I
said tell them tell them that I’m in a depression tell him it’s a burnout and
we tried like a couple of weeks and you know I tried to come back but it’s not
working and I just don’t want whenever I come back
want this to be tiptoeing around this or are pretending that so I did that’s the
only thing I asked him to do and he did that so I went back home and I was off
that was early September and I went back in mid-november so I was off or
completely off and they disconnected me like I they blocked all my access to
emails anything on the server I could not access any information and
they give they gave strict directions to people not to be in touch with me unless
I did from a social point of view not to get in touch with me but it sounds like
that speaks to the culture a tank that they handled it in in this way
particularly your partners but yeah that’s setting the tone for everybody
and yet transparency that you requested what can you say about the culture of
tank that permitted all that yeah I mean it’s definitely in our DNA the the the
transparency the the collaboration we’re a big collaboration organization and I
know that I was extremely fortunate to be in that kind of environment that
allowed these things to happen and I think as a as a as an organization we
grew up out of that they they you know I was talking to the partners and they
were all super supportive I mean little anecdotes of I would you know when I was
fed up of watching the screen for two hours I’d leave and I go we’re in Old
Montreal so I’d go for long walks and you know one of them would would find me
or would call me where are you well I’m at the corner of this street and this
street okay I’ll be right there and they’d walk with me you know and it was
always about you know you need to find a way to to get better and maybe you
shouldn’t be and sometimes they just say nothing and
we would just walk so you know valya Lyn they would do that and I remember then
it was my one of my key people at work with tell me a guy you know call me guy
yeah I think you know I think you need to go home and so but that’s the kind of
culture that that we have you know it’s it’s a lot of people saying we’re one
big family but we are and so we grew through that experience because here I
was one of the key you know executives at the company one of the former
partners going through this and you know I remember Mack saying it’s you know
it’s a it’s a humbling experience for all of us and the fact that you’re going
through that it just tells us that we need to be careful and so yeah so we
just have that kind of DNA that allowed me to go through this the way I did okay
well and so you finally sort of cut and run your home you don’t have any access
to work and now you’re only mandate is to get better yeah so you know you
referred to to medication so back in 2000 I’d had when I went through my
divorce I had a bit of an episode where I was wasn’t feeling great and so my
doctor at the time had put me on an antidepressant
and it it worked really well helped me get out of it rather quickly
so when around probably mid May mid to late May when I was starting to feel
that anxiety and so my my doctor and I had a discussion and throughout this
episode it’s always a conversation with my my GP who’s an amazing guy and it
would we talk about it what do you you know what do you feeling so I I had told
him about what I had lived through in 2000 and he said well why don’t we put
you on the same medication so it worked and but it worked for me at a high dose
so he said but I can’t start you at the high dose let’s say that I don’t says
forties all set start you at ten and we’ll wake it wait you know ten days
well bring you up too so the whole thing about the medication and it’s so
critical is that first of all medication helps it’s not a magic bullet but it
really helps it can help you and if you physician things that you can and you
should but you have to stick with the process
I hear of many people who will try antidepressants for five days or a week
and they get side effects and they stop and it’s almost a guarantee that if you
go on antidepressants you will have side effects they’re there for a transient
period and then they subside by and large they subside to a point where a
lot of people have no side effects but every time you up the dose or you change
medication you’ll go through that so 10 days 10 no impact okay let’s go to 20 no
impact wait another ten days to two two weeks
go to 40 which was the dose that I’d been on then wait one week no impact two
weeks going back okay so guess what it happens it worked seventeen years ago
it’s not working anymore so let’s try to change
to another medication similar one but that has because I also had difficulty
getting out of bed no energy in the morning so we tried a different one
same pattern first dose second dose third dose no effect so now it’s like
it’s we’re talking weeks and weeks and now months and I’m not feeling so where
am I gonna wind up being one of those people that doesn’t respond to pharmaco
therapy and we decided on the third one to try a different class first dosage
didn’t work second dosage didn’t work third dosage oh I’m starting to now feel
better now by by that time there’s the medication I’m doing a CBT with my
psychologist and the one thing that I never gave up when I was at home is I
would get out of bed and when my son would leave to go to school I’d find a
way to get my body to the gym my wife got me to join the gym in our area I
would go to the gym so I either do a spinning class I go on the treadmill I
would do the stairs the elliptic whatever it is but I would try to get at
least an hour and that gave me you know the endorphins would kick in and I it
would make me feel better when I was at the gym and then for maybe a couple of
hours after I was getting a bit of a break and getting a break becomes what
you’re looking for so it’s it’s getting that pain of depression because it’s a
real pain it’s like a pain in your soul where you you wake up and then there’s
two or three seconds before you start feeling the pain
and you’re thinking oh maybe the pain is gone and then it kicks in and so you’re
looking for how can I get that pain under control so in my case and I and I
know it’s the case for a lot of people exercising would give me a bit of a
break it wouldn’t completely go away but I would get a bit of a break and then
the afternoon I’d go on my bike and I’d ride for an hour two hours so you know
combined the not eating because I wasn’t hungry I had I was nauseous I didn’t
want to eat so I was just getting shakes and and then exercising like crazy so
when I landed from the Dominican back in April I was a hundred and eighty nine
and now I was 159 pounds so I’d lost thirty pounds for a guy who could lose
ten if he wanted to get in his you know tip-top fighting shape maybe ten but not
thirty so then at 1:59 my clothes don’t fit my pants don’t fit and don’t talk to
me about going shopping for clothes because I can hardly get out of bed last
thing I want to do is be in a shopping center so I’m putting my baggy pants and
my my belt and I have to put another yet another hole and my t-shirts are too big
and so every time I look in the mirror I see this guy who’s just I can’t
recognize so you know yeah yeah yet another really interesting anecdote
about you know so you get the break from the exercise but there’s also this break
that you get sometimes you took some medications help you sleep which is
obviously super important and there’d be a brief moment after you take the
medications before you fall asleep where the pain is gone or yeah what was that
one yeah so I would take the medications called benzodiazepines
so in addition to the antidepressants I take these sleeping pills and they what
they do is they manage the anxiety so now I would sometimes take some during
the day but it makes you a bit of a zombie so so I would definitely take
them to sleep and so that was kind of the golden few minutes maybe 15 minutes
of 30 minutes when I go to bed I take the medication the anxiety would go away
and I was in my bed I was either reading if I if I was or he was just trying to
fall asleep or playing on my iPad and then the anxiety would go away and I
would feel good and all of a sudden I I’d start thinking wow now I’m I’m okay
like that’s it that the pain has gone away and and then I started thinking
okay well tomorrow I you know what if I because I have two kids who live in
Quebec City who study there and I thought what if I just took my road bike
and buy a couple of bags that I can put on it and why don’t I cycle to Quebec
City and I then I get all revved up and thought okay I’ll do that that’s a great
plan and and then then I’d fall asleep and then I’d wake up the next morning
and there was the pain again and then I so the voice would then say
like you’re freakin stupid if remember last night you’re thinking you would you
would cycle to Quebec City so now I was back into how do I get out of bed and
facing that you thought you were gonna cycle to Quebec City like right so that
just brought me down even more and I thought when I thought I was feeling
better I was actually almost delusional but
when you think about it I’m I wasn’t like I was in great shape I did rides
for hundreds of so to think that I could go and do this
while I have the time and I’m not working he’s actually not such a stupid
idea and I have two kids there I could see them so but in the morning I thought
wow that was the craziest idea you had so that kind of compounded the the
anxiety so yeah yeah so just it’s incredible how that that emotional state
will color your perception of reality in perception of yourself and the
medication can just move you so easily effortlessly from one state to another
it’s incredible all right so you’ve got this recipe
right the exercise and did you want to elaborate on that or I feel you you sort
of well I mean you know at the end of the day so all of a sudden I’m starting
to feel better the the fog is lifting the pain is lifting so and I’m
exercising now all of a sudden I’m eating I’m starting to feel better I
don’t have the the nausea that’s related to both the anxiety and perhaps the
medication so I came out of there with basically a my recipe to be mentally
healthy and basically it’s I need to be compliant to my medication you know I
saw a couple of times psychiatrists actually to help my GP and
I on the are we on the right path for pharmacology because I had these you
know failure successful successes of failure and so he said you know he said
my er my recipe from a pharmacological point of view this first year first
episode you’re on a medication for a year and then you start winging off
second time second episode you’re on medication for a year and then you kind
of go off slowly third time this medication for life so that was his
approach so for the next year I need to be compliant on my medication
mindfulness so my practice of mindfulness and meditating and doing all
the exercises around mindfulness to focus on being in the present moment I
need to do that what is it what is being in the present moment do for you well it
makes me enjoy life because life is happening in the present tense so not
not dwell on what happened or didn’t happen in the past and not care too much
about what’s gonna happen tomorrow but like right now I’m with you like you’re
the most important person in the world because you’re the and you two guys are
here like so you are the most important people in my life
because you’re the only ones in my life right now and so so what it does is that
it’s really about enjoying what I’m doing right now the moment and the
mindfulness practice because it is a practice I need to practice it everyday
and and I there’s tools and exercises that I can do and meditation is one of
them where I focus on taking all my attention and and focusing on the on the
present moment so by practicing this I can be more in the in the now so the
second exercise is is critical I need to continue to do that and so for me the
recipe is you know five to six days a week
find a way to do something so I continue to do that my support network I need to
continuously manage nurture my soul my friends obviously taking care of my
family making the occasions for to to go and
have lunch with my buddy and I you know when when life got busy
you know the great thing about your close friends is that you can not speak
for six months and pick up right away but you know what you need to nurture
that so maybe the six months is is is there if something happens but why not
like just in a little email or a little phone call and so so I nurture my
support network I make sure that my people are there and I have a I have a
coach his name is Mike Lipkin and I’ve known him for 15 years and Mike is one
of those guys who who actually went through severe depression himself and so
he knew but and he’s a motivational speaker so in spite of what he does the
fact that he had gone through depression I gotta say he pulled every freaking
trick in his bag to try to keep me on the phone you’d call me like every week
he’d called me for you know four for two minutes or for 15 minutes and whether he
was in Istanbul or in Toronto or in in Mexico
he’d pick up the phone and he called me and just they he was a bit of a lifeline
you know kind of but you’d say wow wow that’s a and we went from focusing on
forget about work and how can you build yourself two at one point it was making
it through the next three hours that’s what’s important like just make it to
the next three hours we’re not it’s nine o’clock in the morning just focus on
between now and and twelve and when it gets to 12 you’ll worry about that when
you get to 12 so it was just so that’s also a big part of my support network
and those are things that you need to to to nurture and and just having what
he calls and what we call like powerful conversations and that to is being in
the moment and I mean I’ll give you an example I was coming back from New York
on Wednesday and I was sitting beside this woman and I kidded I just hide my
headsets I could have put them on and just relaxed but I thought huh I’ll
strike a conversation so she happened to be somebody who was doing fundraising at
McGill and and the girl across the aisle was at Concordia doing managing the
buildings and we just had this amazing conversation so you can have powerful
conversations all the time and so I tried to really so that’s that’s my
recipe that kind of works what works for me and not everybody has the same recipe
but some of the fundamental elements are I think common okay so you you’re
starting to feel better you gained some momentum with that you do a progressive
return back to work yeah I love to hear you tell tell us how you addressed your
team when you went back to the off yeah so just to give you a little perspective
there so I started feeling good in late October early November and at one point
talking with my psychologist my GP I I wanted to go back and I wasn’t obsessed
about going back but I thought it’d be cool if I could go back for a period of
time before the Christmas break do they go back the kind of gets reintroduced to
the business and and then we’ll have two weeks in at Christmas and then I can
start 2018 like everybody else so if I can get that out of the way so I didn’t
get any pushback the timing seemed to be good so we decided there were six weeks
between mid-november and Christmas I would do three weeks three days a week
and three days at four days of I would bring us to Christmas so again
you know that was welcomed by my partners although Mac said why don’t you
why don’t you wait why don’t you just enjoy these last six weeks I explained I
said I would really like it to just get that part out so that I’m like everybody
else in 2018 and I can start in January fresh so that’s what we decided to do
and so the day before I came back or it was a Monday so let’s say the the Friday
before we had a conversation about what we were gonna do and I said you know
authenticity and transparency worked and it’s gonna continue to work for us
because that’s how we that’s how we roll a tank and I said if you’re okay with
that when I get back on Monday I’m gonna do so one other thing that I do is every
Friday at 11:30 I do a couch meeting so in our agency in front of the near the
door there’s a couch where people go and crash and have social or business
conversations so on Fridays I do a little 10 15 minute couch meeting we do
a retrospective of the week what went well what didn’t go well you know who’s
knew anything you know just to ground people and what what has happened in the
last week before the weekend and wish everybody a good weekend so we do that
so I said I’m gonna have a couch meeting on Monday morning when I get in and I
normally stand up behind the couch and people are in the couches and some are
standing and so called the meeting and everybody
came I was sitting on the couch you know and I said to the people arason am happy
to be back could be here telling you that I just finished chemotherapy and
I’m in you know I’m able to come back or that I had knee surgery I had a knee
replacement but that’s not what happened right I think Mac and the rest of the
team were clear I went through a burnout I had a depression I had a mental
breakdown and I said that’s what happened to me I said I I wanna be and
I’m sharing this with you because we say we should talk more about mental health
and we’re a communications agency and we’re at health care so if if we don’t
do it who’s gonna do it so I said and I don’t want to be any
malaise and people being uncomfortable that’s what happened to me I kind of had
cancer I could have needed knee surgery but I had a I had depression
I had a burnout so it is what it is I’m back now I’m lucky I got out of it I
said I’m not gonna go into details about the journey or what helped me or just
because I don’t want to bore you with the details but if any of you wants to
talk to me whether for personal reasons family reasons or just out of curiosity
just booked some time with me we’ll go have lunch we’ll have a coffee whatever
I’ll tell you everything and anything that you need to know I have no problem
discussing anything that happened to me and I said but that may not be for
everyone and I said it happened to me doesn’t mean it’s gonna happen to any of
you but it also means that it could happen to any of you this is just again
it’s like cancer it’s like we don’t get to choose these things and it’s probably
some things in my genetic background I know that I’ve had big stresses possibly
bigger stresses than what I went through and I came out of it you know unscathed
and no depression no burnout but this time you know what it hit me and I fell
down and I’m back I don’t know if it’s gonna happen to me again
it might I’m certainly playing the odds and I’m applying my recipe and I’m
disciplined I’m extremely disciplined about it and
so that was it that meeting lasted 10 minutes people were they just reacted
the way they reacted some were just ok like this business as usual some I could
tell got teary-eyed and you could tell that for some reason it hit home but
that’s it the awkwardness was gone I tell you by the end of the day it’s like
if I hadn’t left as you know this is you know a very interesting approach it’s
not very common there’s still huge stigma about mental health in the
workplace and you know I sort of see that as sort of an act of courage to
really put yourself out there and be vulnerable like that in front of your
team who you know you look looks to you as a leader I’m just curious about the
rationale to approach it in that way and what that might say or what you might
say to any other leader in an organization for how they might approach
tagua mental health yeah so I would say to you very truthfully I think it’s the
way I did it it’s probably the most selfish way to do it because I didn’t
want to deal with the malaise I didn’t want to deal with having to pretend and
like so by coming out and being authentic
what happened and I didn’t make it bigger or smaller than it was it’s just
the way it was for me then by doing that this whole thing went away and it just
so it was easier for me you know I I compared it to I lived to a divorce with
I had three kids at the time and I I’ve always said like doing make taking the
decisions in the best interest of your kids it’s the most selfish thing you can
do because if you do that they’re gonna be happy and as a parent so you know if
your kids are happy you’re happy so it’s very selfish to do that and it’s
also the right thing to do I believe it is the right thing to do to
be transparent about these things because I don’t see myself as a weak
person I think I’m a very strong person but you know what I got into depression
I burned out and so the same way I couldn’t tell somebody who has lung
cancer that they’re weak right I mean it’s so we can I mean if you need to get
your knee operated am I gonna say that you’re not an athlete you’re weak right
so that’s why I I fundamentally believe and I think it was given to me as a as a
gift in many ways and I’m I’m going to use it and like I said healthcare
communication if a guy like me doesn’t do it who’s gonna do it that’s really
interesting it may be one last question before I wrap up here you mentioned
someone in your entourage during this period said you might see this burnout
as the best thing that ever happened to you and if you just mentioned that it
was a gift and it took you a while to sort of reach
that conclusion yourself but I sort of got the impression that at this point
you’re almost grateful yet this happened to you that is a gift so how does that
work so so first of all it was the it was the psychiatrist who was a very kind
gentle man and very had a lot of empathy and the first time I went to see him and
I told him a little bit of where I was at the time and my story and and he said
you know sir I have to tell you something you you’re very lucky to go to
a burnout at your age I was 53 and he said not I and I looked at him and I
thought what did it like and he said yeah he said you know not a lot of
people have the opportunity to take a break in their early 50s and just take
an inventory of where they are in their life and so I got the concept I thought
okay interesting it did not resonate with me emotionally
I could not see this as being lucky who wants to feel like I feel but with time
and it didn’t take me a lot of time because we’re two months posts my return
from work or almost three months and this analogy came to mind of the of a
boot camp so let’s say Joe that you had let yourself go for the last five years
you stopped exercising you’re eating junk and you’re piling up the pounds and
you’re now a hundred pounds over your weight and and you decide like I need to
do something and you sign up for a two month boot camp if I went to see you on
day 30 and you are just you’re done a Honda knee climbing up a mountain took
you two hours with a backpack full of rocks and then they came back they threw
you in a nap with weights on your legs to do laps for
two hours and now you in the middle of doing a hundred push-ups and I want to
see you want to say Joe how are things you’d say I want to puke like I just I
want to die and you know what get me out of here
I want Iowa enough out time out I’m done okay I just want out but I I’m a good
friend so I don’t take you out I and I leave you there and then a month later
you finished you’ve lost 105 pounds you’re in the
best shape of your life you now are back into healthy eating
habits you you exercise you’re just on top of the world if you look back at
that boot camp I bet you that you would not see that as a negative experience
right you would see that as you could still remember the day I went to see you
and you wanted to puke and you were miserable
but even that day wouldn’t be a negative thing it’s just what you had to go
through in order to get to lose 105 pounds and have this new body and this
new lease on life so to me you know it’s a mental boot camp I got to go through a
mental boot camp I had the opportunity and I was well surrounded
I had a great psychologist I had an amazing GP I have an amazing wife and
children and friends and support and people like you who referred me so it’s
like the ultimate Biggest Loser boot camp but it was mental and so I look at
it and I see that as a positive experience because I when I’m a
different person I’m not a I’ve not changed completely but I’m a better
person than I was prior to my burnout that’s a really inspiring story I really
appreciate you sharing with us and I wish you continued fitness and
yeah and well-being thank you very much Joe thank you sir

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