I Got Back Up
The room was dark. I didn’t want light.
The room was quiet. I didn’t want noise.
And the room was empty. I didn’t want people.
For two days, I laid in bed, only getting up to use the bathroom, eat and occasionally amble downstairs to visit my wife and kids.
Most of my time in bed was spent buried under several layers of blankets. It was winter, and I had enough blankets to keep me warm. But for 48 hours, I could not stop shivering, and I could not get my mind to shut down or relax.
I was having a nervous breakdown.
Looking back at photos of myself during that time is difficult. Especially one of my little girl and me at the Daddy-Daughter Dance. My face was sunken in, and my suit looked as if it had swallowed me whole.
I should have been at work the two days I spent lying in bed. I told my colleagues I was sick, and I returned on the third day. I continued to smile and act as if nothing was wrong. I continued to blog about the happy moments I had with my children. And I continued to wear a mask.
That was a big mistake. A mistake I was unaware of at the time. Even though I was undergoing some of the darkest days of my life, I was pleasant and upbeat at work. I told no one what I was experiencing. The weight loss was noticeable, but I think my colleagues thought I was sick.
I don’t remember the day or even the week that I decided to share what I was going through. But I do remember why I finally broke my silence. I heard about other educators who had either written or spoken about living with anxiety and depression. As I read their words and heard them speak, it let me know I was not alone. They inspired me to share my story the best way I knew how—through my writing.
I wrote a blog piece titled . The response from readers, friends, and colleagues was heartening. They empathized with what I was going through because many of them were living similar lives. And I exhaled.
I soon realized that keeping my pain locked away—wearing a mask —had been a mistake. I could have leaned on others for support. But I didn’t. I was afraid of how I might appear. Like something was wrong with me. Men need to be tough. They need to be able to handle their emotions and show strength.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. There wasn’t anything wrong with me and being tough had nothing to do with repressing or hiding emotions. As months passed, I learned that the more vulnerable I was, the stronger I felt. I no longer worried about appearing to be perfect, and I no longer tried to hide my insecurities or my mistakes.
While this sounded good in theory, I wanted a sign that let me know that sharing mistakes and displaying vulnerability was good. Not just for me but for others.
And then something unexpected happened during one of my daughter’s soccer practices. The temperature was 60 degrees, typical fall weather for the eastern shore of Maryland. The sun was setting, and I had plans of picking up a warm dinner at Panera Bread on the way home.
Life was good.
I was happy.
And then I wasn’t.
Because from across the field, I witnessed my daughter score a goal for the wrong team. Mind you, it was only a scrimmage, but this type of mistake had the potential for tears. The kind of tears I wasn’t sure I knew how to comfort. I wanted to rush over and give her a hug. That was my baby girl out there, and the thought of her being sad made my heart sink.
I knew embarrassing moments like these are rarely forgotten. How was my daughter going to handle the embarrassment? I hoped for the best—but prepared for the worst. Minutes after my daughter scored this unfortunate goal, her coach gave the team a short water break. As my daughter walked towards me, my mind began to race.
How would she handle the embarrassment?
Would she be devastated?
Did I have time to hide in the bathroom?
While I braced for her reaction, I frantically tried to think of what to say. At the time, I had been an educator for more than 15 years and should have been capable of offering some comforting words. Yet, I was not prepared for this teachable moment. Then something happened that profoundly changed my life. I didn’t see it coming. I had prepared myself for tears and disappointment, but I got neither. Instead, out of my daughter’s mouth came the words, “I too.”
At first, I had no idea what she was talking about. More than anything, I was just glad she wasn’t crying. But then she explained, “Daddy, I too scored a goal for the other team.” She reminded me of a time when I had scored a goal for the other team. The wrong team. I was a sophomore in high school, and we lost in sudden death overtime. It sucked. It was embarrassing. And I never forgot it.
Back to my daughter’s words, “I too.” At that moment, I recognized sharing my screw-up with her was one of the best decisions I had ever made. Because if I had not shared that embarrassing mistake with my daughter, she might not have viewed hers the way she did.
Inspiration didn’t find me that day or even that month. But a few years later I had an epiphany. At the ripe age of 45 (or half of 90 as some of my younger friends enjoy pointing out), I realized the importance of modeling vulnerability and sharing mistakes. Now that I see how powerful sharing mistakes can be, I have begun doing so all the time. And I am much happier.
Sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true. And that’s when the seed was planted. But the kernel lay dormant for almost a year. During which time, I wrote almost exclusively about my children and the beauty I found in everyday moments. I even had someone on social media criticize me for my Pollyannaish view towards life. I laugh when I think back on this. Little did this person know what was about to happen. Then again, neither did I.
As of today, more than 120 diverse men and women have appeared on the program—from New York Times bestselling authors to educational consultants, from superintendents to supervisors, from classroom teachers to assistant principals.
I hope one or two of the stories in the book that will encourage you to share one of yours. Maybe not one you’re proud of, but one you believe might inspire others to share one of theirs. If we can do this together, well, I think it will be the start of something special.
Imagine knowing you are not alone—that, like you, others make big mistakes too—and ultimately became stronger because of them.
This was a brief excerpt from my new book. If you can relate and want to read more, just click the image below. I can’t wait to hear what you think.