Mortality – that’s all folks!

For the last 7 years, I’ve suffered from severe anxiety attacks. It’s a genetic predisposition – mom suffered from it terribly – and it is debilitating. I don’t mean the “oh – I’m a little anxious. That makes me sad” kind of anxiety disorder. I mean the “OH FUCK!!!!! I’M GOING TO DIE!!!!!” Kind of anxiety disorder. This morning, I was hit with one of those. I hadn’t slept well, brain was going a million miles an hour but that’s not abnormal. I had my daughter here, so got I up and went through the morning routines to get her to school. Off she went across the garden to meet with the two (older) girls next door to walk to school. This is one of the primary reasons I moved to this house. That walk to school is a wonderful thing. She loves it, and especially loves that she can go without me and with her two new friends.

That weird, all consuming sense of your body running out of control started up. It’s difficult to describe, the closest I can do is saying it’s like your body is filling up with jangly stuff from the feet upwards, and when it hits your chest you know it’s serious. When it hits there, you feel like your heart is going to give out there and then, which amplifies the sensation tenfold. Strategies for reducing that sensation at that stage of severity are tough to come by, but start with very deep breaths, walking outside and if that doesn’t work, head to the ED. So I packed up the recycling while breathing deeply, walked it out to the recycling bin and dumped it, then walked back. Still feeling like imminent collapse, it was into the car and a slow drive with the window open and radio blaring through town to the ED.

Now hospitals have become much more security aware in the last few years with good reason. The amount of nutters out there with firearms and nothing better to do apart from getting roided up and heading to the hospital to shoot up a bunch of SICK PEOPLE!!! Is astonishing. So most hospitals are pretty security conscious. My ED was staffed by a truly compassionate woman who was in exactly the right job for her. I relayed the story “anxiety disorder, massive attack, can I sit here until it calms down please?” She was immediately sympathetic and off I went to sit and read. And read. And read. Then call my doctors to get a tranquilizer prescription but get run around their IVT system (which should ALL be abolished right now by the way) And read some more. After a couple of hours, this started to do the trick and the worst of the attack started to subside. Things were looking up. I packed up and headed out.

Life has a nasty habit of throwing curve balls at you, and mine this time was the ice storm that had started while I was inside contemplating imminent death. The sidewalk, road and car were covered in that oh so wonderful Vermont specialty, the thick sugar coat of ice sealing everything and rendering all walking surfaces slick as a 50’s haircut. As it turned out – this was wonderfully distracting as I figured out how to cut ice off windshields, doors, mirrors and wipers while balancing on unbelievably slippery icy surfaces. Eventually I managed to actually get in and start it up and made my way along the bobsled track which was the parking lot and access roads an hour ago. Again – a wonderfully focussing experience.

My attempts to reach my doctors had finally born fruit and they’d promised to call it in to my nearest pharmacy. Of course that hadn’t actually happened. What is it about basic medical systems that do not allow them to function? Why do we just expect them to go wrong? A discussion for another time. More phone calls and I am the proud owner of grade A narcotics which I know from prior experience will knock me out for about 8 hours, hence rendering them utterly useless as I am now 5 hours away from having to pick my daughter up from school. That just about sums up my life right now. I can’t even schedule a fucking breakdown. FML as the kids say.

Temperature up (no matter what the gas bill does), eat something, drink something, get under a blanket and put on comedy shows from netflix to distract. Of course – that isn’t the end. I needed to write about it all, which is why your reading this. If you don’t see any more posts from me, just take comfort in knowing I was thinking about you all, and there’s a rather tasty 2002 mountaineer in the garage. If you’re going to take it though, please just hop into the house and grab my decaying ass and throw it in the back, then dump it somewhere so I don’t stink the place up. Thanks.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

It snowed this weekend. Not a lot by our standards, but it was enough to make it wintery. So wintery in fact that my partner slid off the road on the way to meet some friends last night and had to be rescued by a wrecker which promptly charged her $100. This was somewhat annoying as the cop who stopped to help her actually called it, and she did in fact have AAA but was too distraught to call them, so she was pretty shook up. It didn’t set up the rest of the weekend well.

I love Sundays. I love them even more when there is nothing especially planned, and the day can unfold itself according to whatever wisps of need and desire arise and fight their way to the surface. Today was one of those. It was my weekend with my daughter, so she woke early – about 6 – and got me up to make breakfast. It snowed again in the night, not much – about 3″ – but enough to make it white over for the first time this year in the valley and make that transformation from nice backyard to winter wonderland. Seeing the look of excitement on her face as she realized what lay outside and what she was going to do with it was one of those moments which bring a tear to a cynical wizened eye. It makes me want to get up and make everything happen for her so she can have that amazing experience I know she will remember and take with her into adulthood long after I’m gone. I know it will because I have similar memories from days with my father taking me sledding in my home town so long ago. If she has her version of those memories, I can die a happy man.

The breakfast routine was unremarkable, but the flurry of padded clothing being thrown on while the last fragments of bacon were being masticated most definitely was. She was a force of nature pulling on al that winter clothing, preparing to head out and get all up close and personal with the freezing fluffy stuff. I giggled openly as she dove into the snow, flipped over and started scraping the first of many snow angels into the back yard.

After the initial burst of craziness, I gave her a snow shovel and she actually shoveled the deck! I got pictures! And posted them on Facebook! That was also a wonderful moment. I think this was the first moment she had actually done a work activity without being prompted. After eight years of just one way support, the pivot point is reached! Work starts flowing the other way! Oh deep joy!

Weekend days tend to be a combination of time to herself and activities with me. Yesterday we went to Stowe for the opening day of that wonderful mountain. I had no clue that with deals Stowe would be actually cheaper then Sugarbush on opening day, but that’s exactly what happened. We spent hours up there getting our ski legs back, or in my case trying desperately to not stress the foot and ankle injury I’ve been recovering from for the last three months. The air cast I’ve been wearing to support it has about as much support as a snowboard boot, so I figured it would be a wash and shouldn’t give any problems. Oh boy how wrong I was. The pain was so bad on the last run I honestly thought I wouldn’t make it down and actually contemplated calling the ski patrol to take the sled of shame down the hill. Luckily it didn’t get to that point, but it shook me greatly to be in that position.

So today after the snow in the valley overnight, it was time for the yearly first weekend sledding ritual to happen. We live close to a well known sledding hill in the next town over, so after a few hours of hanging out watching TV (catching up on Marvel movies for me, Buddy movies for her) we ventured out to make more memories. This hill is short but fun with a long run out making it perfect for family sledding days. It’s rare to go there with no munchkins zipping down the hill, but that’s exactly what happened when we got there. Our few runs were short lived though as family after family arrived, and soon we were laughing with tons of kids, Zoe making new friends and borrowing other’s sleds as fast as she could convince them. It was incredibly cold though – with a biting wind, so I cooled off very quickly and despite my winter layers, managed to freeze up quite effectively.

Returning home we fell into the same self entertainment patterns as the morning and before we knew it it was time to get the evening meal and bath time routines going. Cranking up this machine to tap out a blog post, I got to thinking how wonderful and rare a lazy day is at this stage of life. I am truly thankful for them, and look forward to them immensely. They recharge the batteries and set up the work week to come. Can’t wait for the next few weeks!

Don’t be afraid of the dark

My 8 year old daughter lives with me 50% of the time. Her mom and I share all her expenses, and decisions in her life. It’s a typical modern arrangement and it works. Mainly. Of course, the stability we’ve engineered isn’t perceived nearly so favorably in the mind of an 8 year old, but we as the adults know it’s the best thing for her right now.

She suffers from night terrors, and growing pains, and a myriad of other symptoms of real and imaginary maladies most nights. I’ve spent many many hours sat on the end of her bed just being a presence there so she can feel safe and finally drift off to sleep. It’s lucky that my own sleep requirements are lessened with age, but I sure do know at least one reason why people generally have kids in their 20s and 30s. The energy required is colossal and it’s a real challenge to muster it up most of the time. But we do. I know her mom has similar issues. We choose different ways to deal, but both have our daughters best interests front and center.

I’m sat at the end of her bed right now, having comforted her through some recurring headaches she insists have been going on for a few days. I’ve done everything I know how to – taken temperature (97.2F), administered children’s Advil and reassured for hours, and she’s finally managed to get to sleep. It’s restless though, so I don’t know how long this is going to last.

This all got me thinking – what is it about the dark that puts the fear of God into us? It is after all just the absence of light. The physical environment doesn’t change, except for the lack of photons doing their merry dance on everything. The dark represents the unknown, and what might be lurking in there to do us harm. It’s the mind, in other words that constructs all manner of ghoulies and beasties to be scared of. They’re no less real to an 8 year old though. Her terror is real, and her need for reassurance is real, so here I sit. In the dark. Tap tap tapping away on the keys trying not to think of what made that noise. Oh great. Now I’ll never get to sleep.

Fabulous at Fifty?

Today is my 50th birthday. Nothing more to say about it really. 50 years on the planet. 50 years of knowing others on the journey. 50 years of life, love, trouble and strife. It’s the kind of milestone that makes you suddenly take stock of your life and re evaluate your priorities. In my case, this involved a move to a house I really couldn’t afford to provide a better environment for my daughter, starting a skateboard company on a shoestring, getting divorced and staring imminent destitution in the face. It’s not a comforting feeling.

The biggest surprise I’ve found is just how disposable anyone over 50 seems nowadays. Age discrimination or not, companies won’t look at me for jobs I am completely qualified for. Vermont is a small state, and I’ve pissed enough people off in it to expect that the informal referral network buzzes with vitriol and stories every time my resume hits a desk. I know without a shadow of a doubt that at least one ex boss has systematically destroyed my professional reputation in this state. The frustration about not being able to do anything about that is extreme, but I have found ways to focus it into steely resolve. In my situation, I have to find gainful employment in my own business, selling stuff outside of the state but allowing me to live within it in something that has manageable stress levels. I am finding this to be a tall order and I’m not exactly sure why. I have a bucket of skills that is huge and deep in good, relevant areas. I don’t have the pseudo qualifications needed to play the game in the traditional way. In short – I’m an oddball. Put me in the right situation and I’ll blow your socks off. The wrong one however will quickly lead to frustration, dissatisfaction and a burning desire to leave. I’m just not cut out for spending years of a finite life working for douchebags who’s main skill is residing in other peoples rectums and who’s only active product is carbon dioxide.

So I fight my personal demons daily, somehow finding the strength to face the enormous challenges and make progress. It has to be this way. The alternatives don’t bear thinking about (although I do – frequently). The business will expand and gain momentum. Money will start to flow and life will get better. I have to believe that. Doing that daily though – well that’s the biggest challenge of my life so far.

Thanks for reading this rambling post. I’d be interested to hear your comments on all this, especially if you have ideas on what I can do.

Hotels, airlines, rental cars and consulting gigs.

I’m in DeKalb IL right now having just done a small consulting gig for a former client. This consisted of about 5 hours of workshops designed to re energize their organizational transformation. I’ve been designing the course for the last week in conjunction with the excellent team there (who I trained initially three years ago while with GEHC). It went very well, considering I had to adjust on the fly having had my transport arrangements shot to hell by United and Advantage Car rental. I couldn’t get a flight out the same day though with that schedule and pricing so I had to stay over.

I’m in the excellent Country Inn and Suites in Sycamore IL. I love this hotel. When I was working with this client before, I stayed here a lot and was always blown away by the quality and value this hotel gives. I think because they’re in a small town they have to try that bit harder. It never ceases to amaze me what the big hotel chains can get away with in big city locations. Charges for parking, internet, late check out, extra anything… It piles up on top of the already inflated prices for rooms. I’m sorry, but I have a moral problem with paying $200+ a night for a hotel room anywhere! Especially if that’s a base price.

I dug into my frequent flyer account and brought my partner along with me this time. She’s sleeping blissfully right now. We’re heading into Chicago for some sightseeing a little later before heading back to VT this evening on the late flight. Just getting out of the routine for two days is a wonderful thing. Especially when you have access to the hot tub 🙂

So this is more of a rambling, not very focused post today. Just wanted to put fingertips on touch screen for a bit. I hope wherever you are, you’re not overpaying for hotels, being shafted by car rental companies or fuming at airline incompetence.

And a postscript – United got us into Burlington International Airport a solid 5 mins early, but we had to wait 13 mins for a ground crew to guide the plane in as they only have one! The final kick in the gentleman vegetables was when they couldn’t be bothered to take the gate check bags off the plane and give us them again plane side, but put them through the check baggage system instead. So yet again I stand at a crowded carousel waiting for a carry on bag having another 30 mins tacked onto my journey. BTV – you suck! #btvsucks

Kids and friends and the tale of a fantastic Saturday.

I’m constantly amazed how kids are molded by their environments. This week, my 8 year old daughter had her iPad taken away because she ran up $700 in “in app” purchases, charged to her Mom’s credit card. Now, apart from the obvious retort of “why weren’t the purchase restrictions activated?” It illustrated some interesting facets of childhood in 2013 for me.

I like to think of myself as a somewhat cool and groovy dad. I know technology. I’m a professional skateboarder and run my own skateboard company. I’m not an accountant, doctor, architect, counselor or any of those professions that have an inherent air of stuffiness about them (although I do know many people with those occupations who are way less than stuffy). I’ve even had my share of video game addictions and understand all too well the lure of the demon screen. I can relate to the kids, man.

It was a big old blow to the forehead then when I realized my little bundle of genes has an iPad addiction. She is withdrawn without it. She finds minecraft parody songs on YouTube and learns them. She gets jittery without a screen in her hand. I take at least half of the responsibility for this, but only half.

This latest transgression landed her a week without iPad privileges and she was due a 7 day stretch at my house so I was more than a little worried about how this would go. So imagine my surprise when this morning she found the girl next door, and they spent three hours happily fishing for minnows in the stream by my house. I have t seen her that happy in quite some time. No screens involved/. For a few hours I had the extraordinary experience of pottering about in the autumn sunshine happily emptying boxes and putting stuff away while being as to hear the girls having good old natural mud between the toes fun catching minnows.

Not to be a sentimental old hector, but I had to smile – a lot. It revived some of my increasingly cynical outlook on kids and the future. Give ’em a stream, a net, an old branston pickle jar and a friend on a gorgeous sunny day and you really can’t help thinking “yeah – they’re going to be a all right”. It’s moments like those I was hoping for when I decided to make this move. Yay me!


About a month ago my ex emailed me with a lead on a freshly renovated house about 5 mins WALK from my daughter’s school. I contacted the owner, kept in touch and decided to move there from the second story condo I’d been renting. I just completed this move last weekend, and I have to tell you – I cannot believe the difference being in a place you actually enjoy and appreciate makes.

I work a lot by intuition and empathic tuning, so things such as energy levels affect me deeply. This place is surrounded by trees and is amazingly quiet considering it’s about a quarter mile from the major highway in VT. I feel instantly at home, which is something I never had at the condo. I mean – I thought I had it, but it was very different. This is a visceral “down in your scrotum” feeling of natural belonging. I love it.

I’d love to continue espousing the benefits of country living, but my point in this blog was to highlight the actual process of moving itself. See , I thought that moving out of my marital house with minimal stuff was easy. Sure , I needed help with the big items like couches, but everything else was a breeze. Not so this time. It seemed like the boxes would never end. The move took three days total, including one with a borrowed van to move the big stuff (thanks Dave) and we’re still unpacking. It was also physically hard. I guess sedentary life has a habit of creeping up on you. Once in a while deep physical exertion is a good thing.

Despite the turmoil, I would recommend moving regularly. It keeps you sharp, forces you to be somewhat minimalist and cull unneeded items every time. That being said – I don’t intend moving from this place any time soon. 🙂

The Stockbridge Paradox

Jim Collins in his epic book “good to great” describes a condition each successful leader needs. It’s called the Stockbridge paradox after an admiral Stockwell who was captured at war. Each day he had to reconcile thoughts of indefinite optimism that he would either be rescued or escape, while simultaneously understanding the brutal realities of the situation he was in.

A start up is like that. Day to day there are many things thrown at you which could erode your confidence to the point of doubting the original premise of the business. It’s up to you to understand the scope of the realities and change course as necessary to accommodate them. The one thing that cannot falter is the founders belief that the enterprise will work. If that falters, the shop is directionless and starts to drift off course. It’s a unique set of circumstances and takes some getting used to. I hope I’m strong enough to make it through this.

The Dark Hours

When I was a little boy, I used to see my Mom getting upset at small events in life. She would get all quiet, vague and contemplative as she thought through it all. She wasn’t an educated woman, but had the sensitivities and empathy of a medium and a fierce love of my sister and I. When these events would happen, I would see her go through this process and think “mom you’re weird” and go about my business.

As a teenager, I saw this behavior get worse and as she retreated into the twin vices of smoking and alcohol, I saw her become this confused figure, like a passenger on the giant steamship of life, unable to affect how and where it is going. She often complained of “her nerves playing up” (it helps if you read that in a strong Lincolnshire dialect) and went to the doctor a lot for it. Of course, this being the 80’s , diagnosis and treatment of anxiety related disorder basically evolved around doctor ordered rest and Valium, which she took religiously. Added to the mix of alcohol and nicotine, this often rendered her a lifeless husk of a person, asleep most of the time and with a terrible, palid appearance. I was very much alive though, rampant with hormones and the excitements of life. Determined to live as fully as I could. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about Mom and how she felt. It was that I really had no frame of reference about what she was going through. I thought she didn’t have a clue about me, or what I was growing into. Boy was I wrong.

Fast forward twenty years, and with one failed marriage with a bitter, jaded, psychopathic and morally bankrupt woman producing two great daughters who I had to see systematically molded into their mothers image, an emigration and second marriage to a woman I thought was way closer to what I wanted in a partner and I too started to feel “my nerves playing up” regularly. Being a skater since 14 years old, I didn’t really know what to do with these involuntary reactions to difficulties. My skating career had taught me that if you tried hard enough and practiced long enough at something you could succeed, no matter what the perceived difficulties. I had achieved great success on the competitive skateboard scene in the 80’s, then lived through the forced decline of that component of my life as I devoted energies to the first marriage train wreck, education, emigration and career path. It was with a shock that one day I realized I had something going on inside of me that I could not easily control. Something psychosomatic which debilitated me as easily as breathing. I felt – anxious. Not the “oh – I’m a bit worried about that” kind, but the “holy crap – I’m going to have a heart attack right now” kind.

Fast forward even further to the fall of 2007 and I’m in front of a group of hospital employees in a southern Vermont hospital training them in some Toyota production system techniques. I start feeling this (by now) familiar build up of anxiety in my chest. Normal coping mechanisms won’t control it, and it starts to spiral. I make it out of there with just enough composure to pack up my kit and start the long drive home, get on the interstate and find myself hyperventilating, with the window open and severe chest pains. Convinced I’m going to die right then, I pulled over and called my wife. I got out and breathed deep, jumped about a bit, got some blood flowing. That helped a little, and I managed to get back in and drive a little more. This happened about a half dozen times on the way back. Finally getting home, I got a good slug of vodka into me and managed to finally find fitful sleep.

The next morning, I went to Bristol to see my wonderful doctor to sort this out. She went into containment mode, ordering me off work for two weeks and prescribing a powerful anxiety control medication of the SSRI group in a dosage which did in fact control the difficulties I was experiencing at that point, but had terrible side effects such as a completely suppressed sexual function. I knew I was in trouble.

Over time the dosage was reduced to something more liveable, but it took about three months to get these debilitating attacks under control to the point I could function relatively normally in the world. For someone with my skating background this was an incredible wake up call and announcement of my own deficiencies and potential mortality. It was a life changing event. Something I clearly couldn’t ignore and had to actively manage in order to exist. This was new territory.

It was a shock to learn that these events could spring up almost unannounced if I allowed the right combination of factors to happen in the right sequence. I succumbed to several more bouts over the next few years, with the doctor helping me discover acupuncture, self hypnosis and other medical treatments. Perhaps the biggest change though was how it forced me to confront the stresses in my life and how they contributed to this condition. I remember one day sitting alone trying to make sense of this and having the bombshell realization that this was exactly what Mom had suffered from. I cried a lot that day – not for me, but knowing what she must have been going through in that decade she retreated into her chemical world.

I learnt that stresses are cumulative, and that it doesn’t matter which area of your life you’re getting them in, it’s how they add up that counts. A highly stressful home life, coupled with a stressful job and stressful relationships combine to push me over a threshold value above which I am not in control of my responses anymore. Knowing this led to some very stark decisions to be made in 2012 when I split from my wife of 17 years and went into an unfortunate series of employment and self employment cycles which destabilized life significantly. Through all this my doctor helped me understand so much about the condition, and my own susceptibility to it. She led me through, enabling me to see clearly what I needed to do and helping give me the strength to make the changes that needed to be made.

So now I live alone, with my 8 year old daughter 50% of the time. I have a new partner who is wonderful and understands the depths of these difficulties, and my working life has been transformed to something that although highly unstable is exactly what I want to be doing. All of these things have reduced the stress level to the point where I could wean off the SSRI based drugs (a painful, two week long process where your head seems to be having electro convulsive therapy all on its own all the time) to one without the unfortunate side effects. I’ve made the changes and am living.

Which brings me to the present moment, at 4:30am writing this. See, even with all of this self discovery, medical and alternative treatment, stress reduction and lifestyle transformation, the condition is still there. It most often manifests in the night, when I’ll wake around 3 or 4 and can’t get back to sleep. A cup of herbal tea helps, as does deep breathing and some self hypnosis sometimes. Others though, the mind races out of control once more and nothing stops the chest tightening, panic driven “omg is this it?” experience. I’ve found that writing helps me work through it, which is why you’ll often find me posting blog and Facebook entries in the Dark Hours. It’s my curse, but if I can do something productive with it I will. If you suffer from the same issue just know that it can be controlled, but it’s not going to lie down quietly.

The Truth About Jobs in 2013

Today I concluded anther pointless exercise in attempting to fit into a box I’m clearly not shaped for. For the last year , I’ve been looking for another position with a local company – ANY local company – which would fit my skills and experience. You don’t know this , but I’ve done so many things in my career that it is not easy to pigeonhole me into one job category. 30 years ago that wouldn’t have been an issue as companies were willing to take a risk on the person based On good old human intuition about a person gained in informal interactions over time. Nowadays that’s been replaced by pseudo scientific BS like the “PI Survey” which purports to ascertain your entire personality by asking you to identify yourself in two sets of words. Whoever dreamt up this bullshit and sold it is a genius. It’s now accepted in many many companies as a pre requisite to employment. I can’t even begin to express my utter disgust with any company that uses such a blunt instrument to decide the poor applicants fate. It’s inhuman and sad and should be banned, frankly.

So this company is looking for someone to lead their manufacturing operation through a growth phase and wants someone specifically who knows lean manufacturing inside and out, but ALSO (supposedly) someone who is a master of change management. I’ve not only been trained in change management, I’ve been a national level trainER of change management methodologies for some of the biggest consulting companies in the business. I’ve advised clients for years on how to successfully manage their change initiatives. Of course – none of this mattered as apparently they were looking for someone “who had led something like this before”. Well here’s a news flash – there is NO ONE out there who has successfully led something like this to the level you are seeking who their present company will willingly let go, and if you can find one you can be sure they’re a huge liar. I’ve seen way way too many messed up companies to know that the person who can really (really) do this is an extremely rare animal. Thing is – you had one ready and willing to commit ten years of the last segment of his work career to doing this right there in front of you. Someone who was not only eminently qualified but actually wanted to join your organization despite the shitty compensation and benefits packages you offer. But you blew it. Good luck with your future endeavors and all that.

If this sounds like the rant of a bitter person – you’re partly right. I’m embittered for sure, but more than that I’m saddened that organizations have become so stagnant and risk averse that they won’t take chances on people anymore. Their atrocious management continually self perpetuates in an ever decreasing spiral towards guaranteed mediocrity. Unable to throw off the chains of organizational imperialism, they allow their ranks to be swelled with yes men who have stellar PI profiles, but actually don’t know shit about really managing people and change.

I want no part of it. I’m not cut out for it. I’m a natural born entrepreneur and I’m finally standing up for what I believe in. I’m going to do it my way or go out in a fantastic blaze if glory.

And now I’m going to get coffee. I have boards to sell.