TRIGGER WARNING: This episode discusses suicide and suicidal ideation. Discretion advised.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal ideation, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
In this week's episode, Billy and Brian ask Michael Mosher:
--We met through Lecia Fox’s Gentlemen’s Guide to Inner Work, and I distinctly remember seeing how emotional some of the conversations were for you and thinking, “Oh boy, something traumatic has happened in this guy’s life”. Can you take us through some of that past trauma leading up to our time together in the Inner Work course?
--So once we started the Inner Work course, it was evident that you were still hurting, and it sounds like you had a relapse shortly following the conclusion of that course. Can you share what was going on during that specific time period?
--You learned recently that you’ve been living with bipolar disorder. I’m curious how you learned this, what steps you’ve taken to manage your emotional swings, and what new awareness of self you’ve developed since learning this?
--Like me, you also took a leave from your job and took your own journey. Tell us how you came to that decision, what that was like asking for that time off and how it was received, and where you went, what you did, and what that experience meant to you.
Like what you heard from Michael Mosher? Contact him at:
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Coming up on The Mindful Midlife Crisis...
Michael: I told my mom those words, maybe a year and a half ago. That was the first time I'd ever said it out loud. At that point, I'd been sober for two and a half years. It took me two and a half years, three years. We're at four years now. I'm still learning. I don't even know. I don't even think that's a good description of me now. I'm still not entirely sure. But I think most of it was, everyone looked at me and when they saw the drug and alcohol abuse, it was one of those, "We pretty much saw that one coming." So, that let me think, well, if everyone else saw it coming, it must just be what I am. That just must be it then.
Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis, a podcast for people navigating the complexities and possibilities of life's second half. Join your hosts, Billy and Brian, a couple of average dudes who will serve as your armchair life coaches, as we share our life experiences — both the good and the bad — in an effort to help us all better understand how we can enjoy and make the most of the life we have left to live in a more meaningful way. Take a deep breath, embrace the present, and journey with us through The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
Billy: Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. I'm your host, Billy. And as always, I'm joined by my good friend Brian on the bass, Brian, how you doing over there, man?
Brian: I'm rejuvenated today, Billy. I am recovering from my dual flu booster experience. So, today, I feel a lot better. So, I'm going to go with rejuvenated.
Billy: That's good. I think it's important that our audience knows that we recorded back-to-back episodes, so they don't think that you've got an entire week of side effects of the booster shot and the flu shot. Because we don't want to scare people out there like that. We're recording back-to-back episodes here. So, I'm glad that you are feeling better. We're recording this the day before Thanksgiving. Brian, what are you thankful for?
Brian: My family, mostly, my financial security, and my friends. I'm thankful that I'm happy a lot. That's the thing to be thankful for. The list goes on, man. How about you?
Billy: I'm thankful that I had that opportunity to travel overseas. I'm thankful absolutely for my friends. I'm thankful for the guests that we have on this podcast. I'm thankful for my family. I'm actually recording this at my dad's house. So, this could be an adventure. I've already kicked him and his buddy out of the house because they're so loud. Well, I'm like, "You guys got to leave. We're doing this at four o'clock." Yeah, don't worry about it. But the wildcard is that, my mom lives a mile and a half down the road, and my sister lives 500 feet away. So, if they see my car outside, I just fear that they're going to come over to like, "Hey, Bill. Where were you?" So, if you hear me yell like, "Mom, the meatloaf," that's just me telling them to get out of here, that sort of thing.
Brian: Why don't we ask our guest what he's thankful for?
Billy: Yeah, our guest today is Michael Mosher. Michael is a father of four, brother to five, son of a couple, and a friend to a few. Michael serves as a faculty for leadership and personal development at a technical college in Kansas, and is the co-creator of the mikeroweWORKS Work Ethic Certification. Michael says, he spent his early adult life failing from one labor job to the next before finally sobering up, long enough to convince a college to let him teach students how to keep a job. He is here today to talk about his path to recovery and redemption after a recent relapse. Michael, welcome to the show.
Michael: Thanks, guys. I appreciate it. Appreciate it.
Billy: Michael, what are you thankful for? It sounds like you've got a lot to be thankful for, man.
Michael: I'll be very short and simple with this one. I'm thankful for the opportunity to share my story. This is cool. I appreciate you guys.
Billy: Michael and I met through Lecia Fox's The Gentlemen's Guide to Inner Work. If you don't know what I'm talking about there, you can go back a couple episodes. I think it's episode 38. You can hear the one-on-one conversation that Lecia and I had. Michael, I imagine you had a one-on-one conversation with Lecia as well.
Michael: I did. I did a couple of them.
Billy: How was that experience for you?
Michael: I love the way it was facilitated. Coming from someone who — you said that mikeroweWORKS Work Ethic Certification. That was something that I developed with my boss. The way that we presented it was hugely my style. It was something that I first got to put a fingerprint on. Lecia is — I don't know if you guys have to do any business training, we do business development or professional development hours for work. Man, I've been in some real rotten ones. I'll be honest with you. I've been in some really good ones. It all has to do with professional development. So, it was wonderful to be in one that had to do with spiritual, emotional, and personal development, facilitated by someone who really knew what they were doing, knew what they were talking about, and knew how to get into the issues that you were actually talking about.
It wasn't facilitator run. It was run by the needs of each facilitant. I don't know if that's a real word. But I think I'm going to go with it — participant and facilitator mixed together. We'll get into this a little bit more. Before I get too deep, I'm going to go ahead and leave a little trigger warning for the audience. This is going to get pretty vulnerable, and there will be talk of suicide. So, if that is something that's triggering for anyone out there, I just want to give you a heads up. Because the question revolves around a time in my life that since I've been sober was by far the darkest. So, the experience was — I don't want to use the word tainted or ruined by my experience of what was going on in my life. But it was a huge testament to, if you're not in the right headspace to dig into the problems that are the root causes, it's going to be really hard to dig those things out. None of the things that most of us deal with on a day-to-day basis.
The problem isn't what we deal with on a day-to-day basis. It's how we react to it, built from the foundation from our childhood. So, if you're not willing to go back to that area, and really dive into it to see how that foundation was built, it's hard to change the structure on top of it. I was in no place to go back there. As I started to, it's like I slipped into my own personal hell. The fact that it was Lecia — someone who I am very dearly connected to — I think if it hadn't been her, it would have ended up being a very negative experience for me. But it was a very eye-opening experience. It was in a situation and time in my life where I thought I was going to kill myself. If at that point, I hadn't been doing something with guys who are going through things facilitated by someone — like I said, who knew what the hell they were doing, and allowed me to speak what I needed to — I don't know how it would have turned out. You'll probably hear me say this a couple of times. I think it comes when it's supposed to. Everything in its time. So, even though I tried beating myself up for not being as involved in as I was supposed to, here we are months later, I'm glad that I survived that period. So, perspective shifts.
Billy: Yeah, and that's something that we're absolutely going to dive deeper into. If people are like, "Well, he just dove into that, we haven't even begun to peel the layers of the onion right here. So, we're really going to take a deep dive. I want to thank you for, first of all, for your vulnerability and your willingness to share your story. I'm glad that you did share that there are going to be trigger warnings in here. Because I just know bits and pieces of the story. The reason why I know the bits and pieces is because we all reconnected here as part of that Gentlemen's Guide to Inner Work Group. You shared that, and I asked, "Hey, I think your story needs to be heard by more people." You've been so willing to share it, and we really appreciate that. Outside of all these things, we know that you have other roles that you play. We always ask our guests what roles they play. What are the 10 roles that you listed as part of your life?
Michael: Okay. So, I did a little bit of homework. I went back and listened to some episodes, so I knew this one was coming. My list is actually broken down into two categories. The first is five roles that I either see myself playing or try to fulfill, as well as I can. The other five, I reached out to some friends and strangers in my life and asked them what role I play in their lives.
Billy: Oh, I love this.
Brian: Nicely done.
Michael: I have such bad perspective on myself. I didn't want to create a shit list of things that I'm not. So, I'll run through my five. First off, I'm a father, an orator and speaker, a lifelong learner, a hiker, and a spirit guide. The next five come from everywhere — from my best friend, to my soon-to-be ex-wife, to one of the guys that works at the gym that I go to every day. The first one is devil on the shoulder, facilitator and guide, close friend, yogi, and teacher.
Billy: Real quick here. The devil on the shoulder, who shared that one?
Michael: My best friend. He is the first assistant DA. Actually, he might be the lead prosecutor in Cook County, Texas now. He went to law school. He went to Texas Wesleyan, Texas A&M. He's a brilliant kid. But he had to explain to a bunch of lawyers, when he was applying for law school, why he had gotten arrested in Breckenridge, Colorado.
Brian: I almost gotten arrested in Breckenridge, Colorado.
Michael: So, everything from staying up till two o'clock in the morning, cutting open a Coke machine that we allegedly took from a high school. There's just a whole slew of things where I'm a jester. I don't take life too seriously. I'm forced to live inside a box where everyone takes it seriously. His second one was jester. It was not like in a clown way, but that is a role that I play. It's to just keep things light. I decided to stick with the devil on the shoulder. Because as much as it hurt my feelings to hear it, like I said, I have bad perspective on myself. So, what the hell's the point of asking a question if the answer that you get isn't something that you like. Take it. Run with it like it's a huge learning opportunity. But it is a role that I played. For the next 30 years, it's a role that I will stay away from.
Billy: I like that perspective, because it reminds me of one of my favorite Eddie Vedder quotes, which is, that person that you used to be is still in the car with you, and will always be in the car with you. But under no circumstances should you allow that person to get back behind the wheel. Even if they're kicking and screaming, do not let them get back behind the wheel. It's something that even, still, I struggle with from time to time. I'd let that old me get back behind the wheel and make some decisions, or allow it to twirl me into a tornado of negativity or anxiety, that kind of thing. So, I empathize a lot with that and connect with that quite a bit.
Of those roles, you said here that you're most looking forward to being a father in the second half of life. So, talk about your role as a father, and what you're looking forward to in the second half of life.
Michael: Well, I got sober at 30. So, I look at my life as a split 30-30 split. I was a net negative to the people around me. I was a net negative, as far as like experience goes. I was creating negative experiences for myself and the people around me. I would do nice things that people would see on the surface, always with an ulterior motive. So, the net gain from that is negative, if that makes sense. It's the way that I see it in my mind. So, the chore for me is to spend the next 30 years, until 60, being a net positive — which means whatever intent that I have, I'm not allowed to do it with a negative intent because that creates a negative balance.
It leads me to being a dad, if I'm living in a way. That is a net positive that kids need. As hard as I will ever be on myself for being a parent, which is very hard, I don't speak well of myself even when I'm doing a good job. But I know that if I am living in a way that is a net positive, my kids will see that. I'm excited to actually leave a positive impact on something for a change.
Billy: I feel like you're very introspective. I'm going to probably say this more than once. I want you to know how worthy you are of love and good things that are going to come to you down the road. I want to make sure that you understand that. I know that you know that. It's just sometimes it's hard to accept it, I imagine. I imagine that that's all part of the lifelong learner process that you also put down here as a role that you're looking forward to in the second half of life.
Michael: Yeah, this one, I actually teach this one. This one's part of the work ethic certification. It's one of my favorite topics to talk about. Because the minute you stop learning is the moment you start dying. I think that that's beautiful. Every single thing that you do has the opportunity to teach you something. I mean, we are just a computer. I don't want to say we're just a computer. But our brains are big computers. So, every time you get to a stop sign, it's never the exact same result. But your brain starts putting together this, like 9 times out of 10, the person on the right understands that they're supposed to go first. But every now and then, I'm going to have to do that stupid little dance with the person on the right, who stopped first. I'm going to have to inch forward and wave them. Then they'll start going, and then I'll stop. You know what I mean? But your brain puts together over time, hey, these are the odds. That's lifelong learning.
If you can go through a situation — I don't want to get too far into like becoming a victim of something. But if you can go through a situation enough times and look at it with good perspective, you can learn who's at fault. Once you learn that you're at fault — if you are, genuinely — you know you're the one who's responsible for fixing it. If you learn that the people around you are at fault habitually, you know that you're in a situation that doesn't serve you, then you should probably turn around. Neither one of those is an easy option. But I love being able to learn what it's like just to be here.
Billy: I can tell you that what you just said there about removing yourself from situations and reflecting on who's at fault, that's going to get cut and printed as a promo for the show. Wow. That was really, really insightful.
Michael: What sucks about that, though, is sometimes you can't learn from a situation you haven't been in, or it's difficult. They say a smart man learns from his mistakes. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others. Sometimes it's hard to see your mistakes, especially when it comes to those situations. Because you never made a change to understand that that was the problem. It's just very difficult sometimes to make it if you don't know that that change is going to make the difference you want it to. But going through and actually making the changes that you trust yourself to make, after learning over and over and trusting yourself to keep making them. You may have screwed up a relationship. It may be your fault. The other person may be at fault. But making the choice and the change in the long run is the thing that you're working towards.
Billy: One other thing that you put here is, you put hiker as a role that you're looking forward to in the second half of life. I think because that ties in so much to the lifelong learner, and it ties into so much of what your story is, I want to save that explanation for the next couple segments, if you don't mind. So, we're going to take a break. Then when we come back, we're going to hear Michael's story of recovery and redemption, and how he used being a lifelong learner, and how he used hiking as an engine to drive him towards that recovery and redemption. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
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And now, let's take a minute to be present with our breath. If you're listening somewhere safe and quiet, close your eyes and slowly inhale for 4, 3, 2, 1. Hold for 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Slowly exhale for 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Let's do that one more time. Inhale for 4, 3, 2, 1. Hold for 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Slowly exhale for 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Go ahead and open your eyes. You feel better? We certainly hope so. And now, back to the show.
Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We're here with Michael Mosher. He is doing such a fantastic job of sharing his vulnerable story with us. We really appreciate that. I think it's important here, at the beginning of each segment for us, to make sure that we mention here that there are trigger warnings here. We are going to be talking about suicides. So, just please be aware of that as we continue on this conversation. Michael, as I mentioned before, the two of us met through Lecia Fox's Gentlemen Guide to Inner Work. One, I remember when I saw the pictures of who was all going to be in this, I'm like, "Who's this guy with the gauges in his ear?" I'm like, what's this guy's story? I remember thinking like, do I like this guy? But the reason why I thought that is because you're so damn handsome, that it made me insecure. So, I was just like, "Oh, my goodness, there's a good-looking guy right here." So, I just wanted to be transparent there.
But I also distinctly remember seeing how emotional some of the conversations, particularly the early ones, were for you. I was thinking to myself, boy, something traumatic has happened in this guy's life. So, I was wondering if you'd be willing to take us through some of that past trauma leading up to our time together in the inner coursework?
Michael: Yeah, I don't really know where to start. Because trauma is different for everyone. A slap by your mother at four years old could be a trauma for someone that leads to destructive behavior down the road. Child abuse, physical, sexual, emotional, could be very deep. Some people get through it much easier. So, when I talk about mine, there's two sides of it.
The first one is kind of self-inflicted, and the traumas that happened in my teen and young 20 years. We'll get to that one. But in my younger years, I grew up in a very militant Christian family. My parents weren't military. My dad was literally in God's army. There's nothing against that. But what happened to me is, I found out there's a term called religious PTSD. I don't share the same beliefs as my mom and dad. I just don't. I wasn't born to fit into the same mold that they are. I have brothers and sisters. There are six of us. My family is still a Christian family. They go to church, and they're great people. My mom came over one time, and I told her, I said, "Listen, mom, I'm a bisexual pagan in an open marriage. I much prefer the seasons to Christianity." She looked me in the eye and said, "No, you're not." The audacity of someone to think that they know who they are so strongly, that they've taken their identity and created it for them. I realized there was no getting through to that at that point. So, relationships with parents, growing up in a household that was —
I'll just stick with the — I don't want to get too into it. Because I always fear. I don't want to offend any Christians who do believe these things. But I do want people to understand that if you live in a household where the only options you're going to live is as straight Christian family that you're supposed to raise. Then you're 33 years old, looking at your life, like what the fuck is wrong? Maybe you have a belief system that was instilled in you against your will from a young age. It's going to take a while for you to break down some of those barriers. But what that created for me was what I like to call self-inflicted trauma. That's drug and alcohol abuse. That's risky behavior. That's leaning into the devil on the shoulder roll, and thinking that that's the only thing that you will ever become.
Every single one of my childhood friends, best friends, their parents, told me that I was a bad example to my face. Even when they weren't saying it to my face, my friends were telling me, "Hey, I can't hang out with you. My parents say you're a bad example." So, the narrative that I told myself or the narrative that was created was something that was just, I got to 30. I got sober and realized I have no idea who I am. So, the self-inflicted stuff. We're all just a sum of our events, man. As much as the biological side of us has been created, there is no play dough that can get thrown into the street and run over, and it's still just going to look like play dough. As biologically built as you are, whatever events you go through, you are going to create the person that you are.
I'm weird. I had a weird childhood. I'm unique. I had a unique childhood. My dad, in 1991, bought a school bus and turned it into an RV. We went from Florida to Washington State, and then from Washington State to Tennessee. We lived in state parks and national forests. My parents were hippies, kind of. It was just a weird mix, and it created a weird person. So, I guess, the trauma at this point is more of, I feel like the world tried to turn me into who I was supposed to be instead of me being who I am. So, now it's very difficult to learn who I am when I still have this story that I'm telling myself, that I'm who everyone else thinks that I'm supposed to be. So, I would say, just an amalgam. Just a mix of events that all came together. We're more than that. I'm trying to figure out what I am.
Billy: Did you run up against the idea or the beliefs from others that you are using drugs, and you are using alcohol because you are this pagan bisexual, and this is God's punishment to you? Did you run up against that at all? Was that ever a conversation that was in the family or with other people?
Michael: I told my mom those words, maybe a year and a half ago. That was the first time I'd ever said it out loud. At that point, I'd been sober for two and a half years. It took me two and a half years, three years. We're at four years now. I'm still learning. I don't even know. I don't even think that's a good description of me now. I'm still not entirely sure. But I think most of it was, everyone looked at me. When they saw the drug and alcohol abuse, it was one of those, "We pretty much saw that one coming." So, that let me think, well, if everyone else saw it coming, it must just be what I am. That just must be it, then.
I think I smoked weed the first time at 11. I got put on Adderall at 11, and then smoked weed at 12. It was like, oh, okay, I don't feel as crazy now. Then that was for a few years. I didn't really start drinking and doing drugs until 18. Then once I was out of the house and had money, I was like, okay, we can do everything.
Billy: It's so interesting to hear this, because our theme for this season is how we can reinvent ourselves. You're in the thick of it right now, as you are reinventing yourself. Because I didn't realize that you're really not that far removed from this trauma that you've experienced, and you're always going to have. But it was something that you were living routinely up until four years ago. That's not really that long ago in the grand scheme of things.
Michael: Let me give you one more time perspective. My oldest daughter is 10. Even now, more than half of her life, I was a drunk or a junkie. That's still a weird thought. It's very fresh.
Brian: Fantastic your motivation, though. As you were talking about earlier, as far as working towards the positive, that has to be a good motivation for you then to set a good example now.
Michael: You might be surprised. I just found out 30 minutes ago that you have kids. A lot of people — this is something that I don't talk about. A lot of people have this tie to their kids where they feel motivated to do things for them. I don't know. It's just, when I look at my — I guess in a way, yes, it's motivation. But at the same time, just fighting off the demons can be a full-time job sometimes. So, the kids. That's why being a father is so high on my list of things that I want to do over the next 30 years of my life, for the next phase of my life. Because I really do.
I think it's fitting that midlife is in the title of this. Because 30, I feel, is if I make it past 60, awesome. At that point, it's all gravy. But when I look at the struggles that I go through, it's hard for me to look at my kids and say,
"You guys are my motivation." Because trying to not kill myself is my motivation. Not getting sad enough to where I get to that point is my first motivation. I'm still struggling to get far enough out away from that to where I can use my kids as like a — I don't know if that makes sense. I'm still trying to process to get those words out. But I understand for some people who are junkies — I've seen it in rehab — they change because of their kids. They change because of their spouse. I'm very much trying to change because of me so that I can be a good me as an example to them, so that I'm not pushing my shit onto them, or making them an active but unwilling participant in my recovery. I don't think that that's fair.
Brian: Well said.
Billy: I think that goes back to the idea of, you can't pour from an empty cup. You can't be a pillar of support for somebody if your base is unstable. So, I applaud you for recognizing that, hey, I got to work on me first. I'm going to be as good. It sounds to me like you're attempting to be as good of a dad as you can possibly be under the circumstances that you have now. You're going to continue to get better and to figure out. Not to say not get better, but to feel better about yourself. That's a better way to say it — to feel better about yourself and figure things out, so that you can continue to be the father that it sounds like you want to be.
Michael: That goes back to lifelong learning. I just haven't experienced these situations sober yet enough times to know how to do it right. That can be frustrating for someone who's very meticulous and likes things done a certain way. It's very hard to keep up with it.
Billy: So, it sounds like from when we talked earlier, a couple months ago, that you did have a relapse shortly following the conclusion of the course. I was wondering if you'd be willing to share what was going on during that specific time period, and what triggered that relapse.
Michael: Yeah, this is a big question. For me, in 2019, at the end of 2019, I decided I go through these peaks and valleys emotionally. When I go through the valleys, the best thing that I can do is just hold on for dear life. When I come up, I'm very motivated. What I try and do when I'm up is set some things. I'm rarely motivated. I think we've all at this point heard how motivation is, what you really need is discipline. So, what I try and do is build these structures that keep me from falling off the deep end when I'm in the valleys, like going to the gym, hiking. There are things that I do. I spend very specific time with my kids doing very specific things. Right before COVID, I had planned on doing a 2,650-mile hike from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail.
Billy: That sounds ambitious.
Michael: Yeah, I mean, I love hiking. I like being alone. I like being with God. To me, God is nature. God is the universe. Whatever someone's definition of God is great. I think it's important to have one. Mine, I see her every time I open my eyes and I'm in the mountains. So, being that close to God for me is healthy. But I'm broke and I have kids? How in the hell am I going to afford a four- to five-month hike, time off work, all that stuff? So, I made a plan. I sat down.
The school that I work at has a foundation for students, a scholarship foundation. I donate to it I love it. I think that technical degrees are the way to go. I just love everything that they're doing. So, I asked the lady who is the head of the foundation. I said, "Could we get employee partners to agree to some dollar per mile kind of thing." So even if I get knocked off trail, we could still get a couple $100 from a few different sponsors. We could end up with $1,000 if we get to hike 200 miles. That's $1,000 for students. If I ended up hiking the whole thing, and we have three, that's almost 10 grand in scholarship money that we could get.
She was on board. I was making my lists of how to get this hike done — everything that I needed, how to resupply, everything. Then COVID hit. We got shut down. It started getting shut down in February. Then March was the real thing. I realized the hike was out the window, and I just moved on. Losing that hike and that opportunity, I didn't realize how devastating it was until I had been trapped inside, doing remote work. I just changed careers. I've always worked in shops. Now I'm working behind a computer teaching students, grading papers, creating curriculum, way out of my league, completely overwhelmed. I'm having panic attacks under my desk with no one else in the office, just bawling, crying in the fetal position. That happened all the way up until — what was that a couple months ago now — September.
It just came. I was at work. We hired a new dean. He asked all of us to submit what hours we'll be in the office. I had a breakdown. Instead of crawling under my desk where everyone would see me, I went out to my car and was going to drive to the walls in the parking lot. I called a friend instead. I've been working on it since. I mean, it's a journey. But that was, by far, the lowest I'd ever gotten. A huge part of it — it wasn't the only thing. I mean, all the things that came with being a parent, with kids in school, over COVID, those frustrations. My wife and I separated. Just everything that felt like it could fall apart was falling apart. I ended up taking a leave from work and have been in the throes of it since.
Billy: I thought that you had told me that you've been living with a bipolar disorder, but then you corrected me. You said you still didn't know if you have a diagnosis with that yet. So, I'm just kind of curious. Have you been working with mental health professionals? Have you been working with medical professionals in order to provide you support during this time? Because everything that you're talking about sounds like it's a lot to undertake on your own. So, I'm curious how you've navigated all of that, and what support systems you have in place.
Michael: Let me start this off by saying, I apologize if this is a rant on our mental health system in this country. But it is a fucking joke. I have never felt so hopeless in my entire life. It was like I was a hot potato. The first medication that I was put on was by a lady over a Zoom call, who I had never seen or talked to in my entire life. She gave me a dose of something that had me a zombie for a week. I thought, oh, fuck, this is my life now. I had to take time off work and had to do all the paperwork. Every single piece of paper and email that I got sent me into a panic attack. I was crippled. I couldn't do anything. Like I said, it was just the most helpless I had ever felt.
I've been in deep, dark situations before, and I've reached out. I ended up in the emergency room. If anyone out there has ever had mental health issues, and ended up in the emergency room because of them, man, I'm sorry. Or, I hope that your experience was better than mine because they treated me like dog shit. Almost every experience that I've had with our medical system and mental health has been a joke, but I can't blame the professionals. Because the way we do it is wrong, what the book tells them to do. But the book doesn't tell them to do what needs to be done, which means, like I said, we have to go back to the roots.
Most of the people who get to the point where they are overdosing on heroin once a month didn't choose to do that because it seemed fun to them. Most of the people who are sitting in a bathtub dressed in a tuxedo, because they don't want the paramedics to find them naked after they cut their wrists, don't choose to get into that situation because it seems fun. It is a dire and desperate situation. We don't do enough as this society to make sure that our neighbors don't get there. This shouldn't be put on medical professionals. It shouldn't even get to the point where I have to call 911 and have police officers show up at my door, because I feel like I'm going to kill myself. I don't feel like I should be arrested for getting there. I also don't feel like we should have gotten there in the first place.
I feel like there's a lot of apathy on the population when it comes to this stuff, too. Because a lot of people talk a big talk about, we need to make the vocabulary and the words around mental health accessible. We need to be able to talk about this stuff and get an open space to do it. But as soon as you mentioned that you feel like you might kill yourself to someone, they fucking run. I don't want to put that kind of pressure on anybody. But we've not done a good job of being there for other people.
That's why I talked about this stuff so openly, and that's why you've seen me get emotional about it. It's because they say that oversharing is a trauma response. But I feel like under sharing as a trauma response from so many people. How the fuck are we supposed to know how to fix these problems? How are you supposed to learn from another person's mistakes if people don't talk about their mistakes? I'm not saying that mental health is a mistake.
But I can tell you that trying to self-medicate with heroin and alcohol is a mistake. I made a lot of mental health mistakes that cost me a lot of time, a lot of relationships. But, man, if I was to reach out and tell any of my friends what I was thinking, I can guarantee that a couple of them would run.
Luckily, the ones that I keep around know how I am. That's why there's a few of them. It says in there 'a friend to a few' because there are a few people who I know understand what that's like. It makes it accessible. But I only know that because we've talked about it. We've shared with each other what that experience is like. Until we understand that you walk into your office at work, or the shop that you work in, or the grocery store that you're buying your groceries at, and half of the people that you're around are in a place that is dire and desperate at any given point in time, man, why are we not sharing more? Why are we not reaching out more? Why is there not more of a sense of community? Why do we put so much on the professionals, the mental health professionals, to fix us, instead of realizing maybe if we did a better job as a community, we wouldn't have to?
Billy: Well, it's funny that you bring that up. Because I was actually listening to the episode we did with Tandra Rutledge, from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, yesterday. I was just listening to it the other day and just thinking about some of the things that she had shared. She had said, "Listen, we need to get past this idea that if we talk about suicide, it was somebody who may be struggling with their mental health, that we fear that it's going to motivate them to commit suicide. It actually might open up a dialogue from them." She said, "If we saw somebody having a physical symptom, we would ask them, are you okay? Do you need help? If we're recognizing somebody 2, 3, 4, or 5 days is not themselves, that it's okay to ask them and just say, hey, I just noticed that you haven't been yourself lately. Is everything okay? That person might not open up. Maybe somewhere down the line, maybe they don't open up to you. But maybe they talk to somebody else. Even just saying, well, if you need someone to talk to, just letting them know that you're there for them, that may open the door to a bigger conversation.
Michael: It's hard to give someone advice in a situation you've never been in. People feel like when someone is in a situation, that they're supposed to give them advice. I don't want any advice on how not to off myself or what I should do first. I just need someone to sit there with me for a few minutes and let the storm pass. I can tell you this goes back — I'm 34 now. The first time I ever got into a situation where I was like, "Well, I think I should end this," has been almost 15 years. It's not all the time. Don't get me wrong. It's only happened a few times over that period of time. But it's been a long time since the first time.
When people come to me as someone who feels like I'm gifted to find the right words when I'm talking to someone, it's still difficult for me to know what to say or what to do in those situations. So, I understand that there may be someone out there who's like, "Well what the fuck am I supposed to say to him? What am I supposed to do?" You may not know what to do. You may not have the right words. But I can tell you this. As long as you are reaching out to people who seem like they're not in the right state of mind, you may not be the one building that house, but at least you're doing something to make sure their foundation is not crumbling, at least in that moment. Sometimes that's big. For me, that's big. I'm sure there's at least someone else out there who could use that in that moment as well.
Billy: Maybe I need to ask this question of you. Are you working with a mental health professional now? What are you doing now so that you are able to navigate the emotions that you've been feeling, and all of that? I'm not going to lie. As I'm listening to it, I'm worried about you. I've been worried about you for a couple months, and that sort of thing, ever since we started. So, I just want to hear, or I just want to know that you have resources, and that you're accessing them. I think that's definitely the teacher in me, to make sure that you're okay, and that you have the resources even though I can hear how jaded you are towards the mental health experiences that you've had, so far.
Michael: The crisis has definitely been averted for now. I am working with — I don't want to get too into the weeds. But I am working with professionals who do this type of stuff, as far as like a diagnosis. This all seems like a joke. But as far as like, I was always very anti medication. I finally got to the point where, "Hey, I haven't been able to do it without it yet. So, I might as well come up with an exit strategy and work with a professional who knows what an exit strategy looks like." I would like to get to a certain point. We've discussed what that looks like. We both feel like it's possible. It's hard to remember that it's possible when you're in the big sad, as the kids say. But it is one of those things that I was vehemently against.
Finally, there's nothing else now. Let's quit running 1000 miles an hour on a treadmill. Let's go for a little walk through the woods. Let's actually start making some progress here. I may be struggling with bipolar. One of the things that really helped me was a TED Talk by Tim Ferriss. He goes through something called "fear-setting." He opens the TED talk off by saying, the average adult will go through like — I don't know — one to five major depressive episodes in their life. It's usually around the death of a relative. He admits openly that he's had well over 50. He has bipolar depression that runs in his family. At that point, in his 30s, he had already had over 50 major depressive episodes. For most people — I share this video with students when we talk about goal setting and fear setting and what's best for you to get to the point that you'd like to be at — I can see the look of shock on some of the students' faces. But for me, it was a huge relief to know that someone who's standing on a TED stage giving a talk, alive, has gone through the same things that I did. That's a weird shameless plug for Tim Ferriss' TED talk.
Billy: I want to go back to something that you talked about before, with regards to medication. Brian and I have been pretty vocal on the show about we don't advocate for medication. Then Tandra Rutledge, again, because she's very wise. She said, "Listen, some people do need medication. They need to figure that out." I actually had a listener who was an old high school classmate of mine. She emailed me. She said, "Hey, don't be too hard on the idea of medication. Because I struggled with my mental health for a long time, and then I got on the right medication." I think she talked about like, "I had to do a couple of trial and errors, that sort of thing, before I figured out what the right medication, the right dosage was. Now, I'm doing really well. I'm able to manage my mental health." I still go back to like — I think medication may be a third or fourth step. But if you have a good mental health professional who is able to figure out, I'm hearing what you're saying, and looking at the big picture, I'm not looking at this one episode. It can't be episodic. It's got to be a full understanding of the course of your trauma or the course of your mental health. Then you might be able to get to that point. So, I wanted to make sure that I said that. Because whenever we get corrected, I feel like it's important to share that. Because Brian and I have said, if we're wrong, please is tell us when we are wrong. But Brian, the good news is, only a handful of people have told us we've been wrong so far. For the most part, we are just crushing it.
Michael: Well, I'll be honest, man. The whole medication thing, you said third or fourth step. It's my 34th step. It has taken me so long to get to the point where I'm willing to do this. It really was a last resort. The thought that always went through my head was, if I get on the wrong medication and off myself, I will have survived suicide for almost 15 years without medication and lost to it on medication. Does that make sense? Because I know a couple of people who were on the wrong medications, and took their lives while they were on medication. So, it's a very scary thing.
Brian: I've heard that story before.
Billy: Listen, anytime I think about Chris Cornell, I'm getting emotional now.
Michael: Yeah, and it's one of those things where I know what I would like my life to look like. But sometimes I forget that you can't spend $10,000 on heroin in a month, bang $8000 of it straight into your main lines by yourself, and then walk away without some deficiency in your brain. When I said that most of my trauma, I feel, is self-inflicted, when you spend 20 years abusing drugs and alcohol, it's going to do something to your brain that you can't just automatically unwire. For me, I don't know how much of it is replacing one substance with another until I zero back out. Because I've listened to a lot of stuff and read a lot of stuff about addiction and recovery. I have hoped that, one day, there's some studies that say for however long you used, that's how long it takes for your body and mind to recover. So, if I used for 20 years, I got sober at 30. I'm going to be 50 years old before the drug and alcohol abuse has even worn off.
So, on one hand, it's a light at the end of the tunnel. On the other hand, it's 26 more years of, what the fuck am I going to do from day to day? It's not the most fun journey in the world. But I can tell you, as someone who does enjoy lifelong learning, I'm always on my toes.
Billy: I'll tell you what. That sounds like a perfect segue into learning more about the hike that you did eventually get to take along the Appalachian Trail. Because that, to me, sounds like that, in and of itself, may lead to a light at the end of this tunnel. It's something to look forward to. It's something to continue on. So, let's take a quick break. When we come back, we're going to hear more from Michael. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
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Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We're here talking to Michael Mosher. The last segment, we know, was very heavy. And we want to continue to remind you that we do have trigger warnings in here. We're talking about mental health. We're talking about suicide, but we're also talking about lights at the end of the tunnel here.
So, Michael, kind of like me, you took a leave from your job. You took your own journey, and you got to do your own hike. So, tell us how you came to that decision, what that was like asking for that time off, and how it was received by your employer, where you went, what you did, and what that whole experience meant to you. There's a lot of questions in there, but break it down for us.
Michael: Well, my boss was wildly supportive of me taking the time off. I should have known that. I know there's got to be someone else out there, Billy. I don't know what your experience was asking for time off, but I felt so guilty. I felt so much shame. One, to admit that I was struggling. Two, to admit that I was struggling so bad that I couldn't even be there anymore. But I had spent six months hiding under my desk crying. I've never been to a job where that happened and I enjoy what I do. So, I was very confusing. I have students that I didn't want to let down. There's a boss that I don't want to let down, curriculum that's fun to talk about but very taxing.
But it really was just that day that I went out to my car. I called my boss from my car and told her, "Hey, I just had another panic attack. I'm heading home, and I don't know when I'll be back to work." I started taking my PTO, and we got it all worked out. I would have liked to have spent the entire time hiking. But, again, it's not the most financially sustainable hobby.
But there's a trail, 223 miles through Oklahoma and Arkansas, called the Ouachita trail through the Ouachita Mountains. My little sister just so happens to live about 25 miles from the midpoint, which came in handy. Because I took this hike through Oklahoma and Arkansas at the end of summer, when it's very dry and hot, humid. Everyone looked at me like I was a moron. I was like, well, the struggle is real. Let's get into it. But it was an absolute nightmare. It was wonderful. It was everything that I had hoped it would be.
The first couple of days it was 92 degrees and 98% humidity. I'm walking through briars that are up to my shoulders. My legs are getting ripped apart. Out of the middle of nowhere, I stumbled across a black bear scat that is fresh. I mean, I've never seen fresh black bear scat before. I just started screaming as loud as I can, running through the Briars as quick as I can, and come across another one that looks even fresher. So, I'm just terrified and hot and sweaty. There's no water. It was wonderful. I had to call my little sister to rescue me off trail.
I ended up spending about four days with my nephews and niece, my sister and brother-in-law. I got a chance to tell my sister that I'm sorry for being a bad brother when I was. I explained how I saw the way we grew up and how it affected me, and why I did the things that I did. So, it ended up not even being about the hike, but getting time to spend time with family that I had neglected.
I went back after a few days. It's supposed to take about 14 days. I just kind of piddle farted around her area and did a little bit of hike, and then recovered. I got back on trail after some rain and did the second half of it. Knocked out most of it. Man, it's beautiful. It's a beautiful hike. The image that you asked me for for this podcast is from Pinnacle Mountain. It is absolutely stunning. My best friend, the one who I'm the devil on the shoulder to, that's where I asked him about this. So, we got to talk and really dig into some of our teenage years' stuff and what we got into. He got to experience that with me. So, it ended up being — I started off, I think, before we're even recording that I'd admit it, I might even say something along the lines of everything happens how it's supposed to.
For me, it very rarely happens like I think it should. Trying to reconcile the two is part of my journey. It's part of the lifelong learning journey. It's, how do you reconcile, that it's supposed to be happening when it's not what you thought it should be. That hike was the perfect example of it. I didn't hike the whole thing. But the last day, we met a hiker who did. Just the words of encouragement and the way that he spoke about it, it really let me know like after it was all said and done — we're on the last day. We're hiking our stinky blistered assets out of there. I have this guy show up. At first, it was just such a kick to my ego that he had done the whole thing and started the day before me. And I didn't finish it. As we left, I was so relieved that I got to see someone who did it and was so encouraged, and was so proud of this complete stranger, that I realized that this is just something that I love, I absolutely love. It was strange to be in that euphoric state where you think about doing a hobby. It brings a similar type of passion that you feel for your kids.
I had never done anything in my life that had brought me that type of feeling. So, it was a really, really good way to — I don't know. It was an excellent decompression after the amount of shame and pressure that I felt for masking off. It really was validating, like this is what you were supposed to do. This is when you were supposed to do it. Everything that happen is exactly what was supposed to happen. It's hard for me to remember that on a Tuesday. But after getting my ass kicked in the woods of Arkansas for a couple of weeks, it becomes pretty evident. That's like my real love for hiking. That's where it comes from.
Billy: As you were hiking — the only reason I'm asking this is because I found myself doing this, walking through the streets of Porto or walking through Lisbon, or wherever — did you find yourself being pulled? Because you were so lost in thought that you didn't even realize how fast you were walking, and how much of the environment and the surroundings you were actually neglecting. Were you able to be present during those moments?
Michael: I love that question, Billy. I look at my life as very much 50-50. Everything is 50-50. It doesn't matter what happens. My life in the wash will come out neutral. So, the walk itself, I am very much a determined type of person. I like to set goals so that I can hit them, so that I don't feel like I'm just floating through space. I found myself hiking 15, 20, 25 miles just because that's what the goal was.
The other goal was to be out in nature. So, I kept fighting myself, like what should I be doing? Should I be timing myself to see if I can break three miles an hour, or should I be looking at the different colors of the trees? What I found out is that I get to do whatever the hell I want. If I wanted to hike 25 miles, because I like hiking to a timer, I got to do that. If I wanted to stop and kick over a rock, and find one of the most beautiful crystals in the middle of some random forest in Arkansas, I got the opportunity to do that, too. So, I think just taking it in stride was the lesson that I learned from it. Because I did find myself fighting myself over and over as to which was more important. Are we supposed to be mindful of our surroundings? Are we supposed to be hiking a goal here? It was like, well, fuck. If I'm looking at my timer every 15 minutes, I'm being mindful of my surroundings, of my time, of of my distances. I'm learning things that I wouldn't learn just walking on the street. I'm learning that when you're hiking a mile uphill, it's going to take you a hell of a lot longer than hiking big miles on flat ground. You think you'll do everything you can to hike big miles. Then something, your knee gets a little sore, and you have to take an extra 15 minutes on your break to stretch. No matter what happens, you still have to stop for lunch. You still have to stop for breaks and eat. It was being mindful of the whole process, and how I enjoy hiking. I found out that I enjoy hiking as quickly as I can, so that I can get to a spot and sit back. Be proud of the work that I did that day and enjoy the scenery, that I'm blessed with where I stopped.
I still took the chance to look at things off to the side here and there, and take some pictures here and there. But for the most part, I found out how I like to hike. I think that was more important. I understand where you're coming from. Because where you were at, man, it was beautiful. So, I would have hated to have missed certain churches that you would be able to see if you weren't —
There's a cool thing in New York, a cool saying. Look up. I don't remember where I heard this, maybe on an NPR podcast. But this guy, his thing in New York is look up. Everyone spends so much time looking at the people in front of them and at their feet. But when you look up, there's so much beauty in the architecture. I make sure to look up. I think that's important. But like I said, figuring out how I like to do this. If I'm in a city like where you were at, I think I could see kicking myself a little bit harder that I didn't stop a little longer to see a couple more things. But out there, the monotony is beautiful. So, if I look up — I don't know. It's hard to explain. But yeah, it was a good exercise. How do you like to hike, Michael? How do you like to do it? What's your optimal hiking strategy here? How do you feel the most? You've used the time as wisely as possible. For me, getting from point A to point B, and having that distance be longer and longer every time, that's what I enjoy it. So, not to diminish looking at the scenery, but I think even more than that. It's hiking your own hike, finding your own process, and enjoying it however you enjoy it along the way.
Billy: I think that's beautifully stated, that just finding your process and doing it your own way. You can get inundated with how to travel and how to do things. There are people who say, "Oh, you shouldn't plan anything. You should just go from day to day to day." That's not how I travel.
Michael: There's comedians add bits on this. But it's like when a complete stranger is like, "Oh, you're going to Chicago, huh? You should eat here." It's like, "I don't even know you." Or they do the opposite.
Brian: How do you know if I like that or not even?
Michael: I'm going to Chicago, what should I get? It's like, I don't know. Who the hell are you? What do you like? But it's the same thing. Giving someone travel recommendations is like, I don't know, blowing in their ear. It's just as pointless. What are we doing here? But I get it. It all comes from a good place. It makes for a good conversation. It's good to connect over conversation. But at the same time, when you get those from people, it really has to be taken with a grain of salt. Because if you're trying to hike the way someone else hikes or travel the way someone else travels — I am very much a dive bar, find a Reuben. I don't drink. But I like to find the shittiest pub that sells a Reuben, and go there. Normally, that's the best sandwich in town. I don't have much else that I care to see in the city other than a good Reuben at a dive bar. Then outside of that, I want to get out of the city and go for a walk.
I went on a business trip to Cleveland, Ohio. The plane landed, and I went to — I don't even remember what the National Forest is up there. But I just went and hiked through National Forest for an hour and a half. I went back to the hotel. I decided to drive to Niagara Falls with a quick little four-hour trip. Psalm at night, got buffalo wings in Buffalo, New York, and then drove back. I got back to the hotel at midnight and woke up at 6am for a conference. The way that I travel and I do a business thing is not going to be the way that you do it. But if you'd like to have a conversation about it, I'd love to. I think that's how we need to deal with that type of stuff. Because as soon as someone tells me, you have to try this, I'm like, oh, I checked out. Sorry.
Billy: It's interesting that you mentioned that. Because when people saw that I was in Lisbon, and those people had been to Lisbon, they're like, "Oh, go here. Oh, go there." I could actually feel resentment towards that person bubble up inside of me. Almost to the point where I'm like, "No, I'm not going to do that." Because you suggested it, I'm not going to do it. I know that's so incredibly petty. But if there's anybody in Portugal listening to this, you know that the Portuguese are the pettiest people on Earth.
Carla, if you're out there listening, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Yeah, it's funny that you say that. It's actually kind of validating, too, that we get to choose the experience. If we ask people for recommendations and how to experience it, that's different than — I think it goes back to unwanted advice, that sort of thing. How often do we give unwanted advice? I try to ask ahead of time. Do you want my opinion, or do you just want me to listen? That sort of thing. So, we don't do that.
Michael: That's one of the main things in the communicating. I talk to students about communicating. There's a listening block where certain people are wired to fix the problem. Some people are wired to just need to complain about the problem. Not in a bad way but just to get it off their chest. When people are together, you get very ineffective listening because one person is tuning out the person giving the advice. The other person is waiting for the other person to shut up about their problems, so they can tell them how to fix it. It's just this weird little thing that we get into.
One of my favorite sayings from the hiking community is, hike your own hike. I love it because it's deeper than just hike. The way that you like to hike, it can be used as a really pleasant fuck off, man. When you talk about unsolicited advice, we interject ourselves into a situation that we don't fully understand. So, we're given bad advice, and we think that it's good. But we don't have all of the information that that person has. We don't have the life experience and the things that they enjoy.
Anyway, I just really liked the idea of just hike your own hike. But I will say this. When someone gives you a recommendation that you don't fully trust that person, I think it's important to, every now and then, act on that recommendation. Because you will be pleasantly surprised sometimes from the people who you didn't think you had anything in common with. They give you a recommendation, and on a whim, you decide to try it. You realize, okay, if nothing else, I can connect with this person on Reubens. I think that's hugely important. Because I don't agree with anybody about almost anything. But if I can connect with them on one thing, we can make a lifelong partnership. We can create something that is sustaining, as long as I can find that one thing that we can connect on.
Billy: Well, I think that's a beautiful way conclude our conversation here. Michael, we want to thank you so much for being vulnerable and sharing your story with us. We want to continue to encourage you to hike your hike, and keep moving forward. Man, I'm just going to tell you this. I want you to know that you're my brother. I love you. Thank you so much for being on the show today.
Michael: Love you guys. I really appreciate this. Like I said, it was hard to stomach thinking about the idea of we need to share this type of stuff. Being able to share it feels great. So, I really, really do appreciate that. I'm very thankful for it.
Billy: Absolutely. So, for Michael, for Brian, this is Billy. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. May you feel happy, healthy, and loved. Take care friends.
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