I have anxiety. A lot. Most all the time. I’ve had this for more than twenty years, but I’ve really seen (and felt) the effects the last few years. In my business life, I can remember my stomach hurting every day during my one-year tenure at Microsoft under a corporate culture that encouraged confrontation and competition and then later at Juniper during a time of internal political upheaval. 

Friends, let me know if you can relate:  Am I the only one that suffered enormous stress, nervousness and anxiousness before every forecast, business review or customer negotiation? (Just writing about it makes my insides tense up and go into that run from the tiger mode.).  I don’t think I was the only one who constantly worried about their sales quota.  You could wake me up in the middle of the night and I could probably recite percentages and growth – ugh. As some of you former colleagues know, my coping mechanism was to be over-prepared before every meeting including to the point of obsession where people would laugh at me over the stacks of paper, I would bring into every QBR that had red circles, blue lines, yellow highlights, and bulleted highlights. I was talking to my therapist the other day about this, and he asked what I thought would happen if I didn’t do all this beforehand. I had to think for a minute and said something like, “well, they might ask me a question that I didn’t know the answer to, and my pants will kind of be pulled down.”  Which sounds stupid when I write it in retrospect, but this obsessive over-preparation carried over to many other aspects of my life outside of work.  (I told Michelle when we first met that I was a “good worrier”.) 

I always wondered; was I the only one that got super-nervous before most every important meeting? I’d look around at the big bosses and none of them seemed stressed. Or were they like me, putting on a brave face but going home and pouring a large glass of wine and try to forget about the day (except for all the incoming mails, and Slack messages). 

I was thinking about my (now retired) mountain-climbing adventures. Oh man, you can’t imagine – or maybe you can – the neurotic analysis I’d do over the packing list for every mountain, be it Rainier or Denali. I’d spend hours, often with my climbing partner, Paula, discussing every item and often I’d bring two or more of everything, just in case. Summit night for me was spent the day before organizing fricking every single thing I might carry from Chapstick to Crampons. I would lay awake at night and rehearse every motion from the moment I awoke to what I would put on first to last and making sure my pack was completely in order. (Yes, it did matter, thankfully I didn’t die on any mountain despite my inherent lack of physical strength, technical abilities, or navigational skills.) 

Same thing with running. I used to have a written checklist (of course) with all the articles of clothing to bring for a race and spend the night before obsessing and deciding which of the five shirts I brought that I should wear, or which pair of nearly identical socks would be lucky. I’d worry (and still do!) about my music device being charged, trying to get my GPS super-duper smart-watch to synchronize with the satellites, and headphones and Spotify playlist. Stressful! And, of course, would I finish?! Would I get injured or trip or a wild animal catch up to me at the back of the pack? The night before and every race morning finds me with wanting to vomit (but not), but definitely causing anything inside of me to exit one way or another – and preferably before running 13 or 26 miles. 

Here’s the thing when I think about it now… I was conditioning my body to reward that stress and over-achievement with success. I mean, I worked almost forty-five consecutive years in the telecoms/mobile industry, and survived around thirty-five bosses over those years, (and the same number of “next generation networks”) – and it begins to take a toll on one’s body in terms of muscle-memories. 

At Juniper, I had a boss who called me late one Sunday night to scream and yell at me about an email I had written that he took personal offense to. (We made up later.) During the berating, I had a call waiting from my oldest son. After pouring myself a double whiskey, and trying to stop the shaking, I called Jeremy back who told me that for a Father’s Day present, they were pregnant with my first grandchild(!!) – to which I was overjoyed – but my brain was still ragged from the previous call.  (On our first date, one of the first things I told Michelle was that I had just “left a beat-up session with my boss” – a previous one – she should have known better than to stick with me then haha.) 

When I, and my boss and others, were laid off in late 2017, I started suffering from this mysterious back ailment that had nothing to do with lifting or doing anything physically exerting – it was all mental. I remember being curled up naked in our bed, and feeling like Gollum, and were muttering things like, “my pretty, my ring.”  (It might have been the pain meds.)  We moved back to Washington state from Singapore in early 2018 and by late 2019, pre-pandemic, something was happening to my body that I could not control. 

It was so weird. In a couple of months in late December to January I lost almost 20% of my body weight for no apparent reason. (I still haven’t gained most of it back, though I eat better now.) I had suddenly developed a stress response by throwing up before or during situations that a normal person would not think stressful. Twice on golf courses I vomited, once on the 18th tee (Par 3) at Bandon Dunes playing with friends and then on the 9th green at another local course during a silly Sunday tournament. 

I did what any regular person would do, I made an appointment with my primary care physician (who I really like) at Kaiser. Over the coming months, he ran dozens of tests, and found nothing medically wrong. Except I still wasn’t eating, and my body didn’t feel like my own at times. I’d feel chemically imbalanced and honestly, many of the things that still give me unwarranted deep anxiety are, in my mind, “dumb.”  I don’t have to present any more to hostile executives or engage in political machinations and worry about who does or does not support me and my group. 

As many of you know, three years ago, we “bought the farm.”  After leaving my corporate-life during the pandemic, we packed up and moved to Green Acres, er, Summit Farms. The first year was terrible. Michelle and I fought more than we had in the all the years before and we had literally mortgaged our future on a vocation to which neither of us had experience, family, or local relations. This past year, we finally feel that we have “turned a corner.”  We do love our lives and our relationship has honestly grown over these past few years, becoming business partners as well as partners in love and life. 

Both of us feel that we have found a true deeper meaning to life and a purpose. We thought we were doing this to bring joy and happiness to us, but it’s worked out differently. We now see ourselves bringing meaningful experiences to visitors to our little farm and seeing the families walking their dogs or swinging in the barn or just having a campfire on a chilly night. In short, (because I am, laugh), I love what I’m doing and are happiest with my hands in the dirt or when a customer at the Farmers Market buys one of our starts or baskets of hot peppers. 

I’ve learned that farming is one of the absolutely most difficult jobs one can ever take on, while being the least financially rewarding, and the riskiest. I need to be an electrician, mechanic, plumber, handyman, gardener, and weather prognosticator.  But we don’t answer to anybody, and we’ve made so many real friends and allies in the local community. We have folks that will look out for us and vice versa and we couldn’t ever move back to the “city” again. We feel we’re building something hopefully for our children and grandchildren and for later generations to look after. 

But. But. Lately Mr. Anxiety and my “Tummy Buddy” (as I call him) have returned. For no readily apparent reason. I mean it’s winter here and we’re mostly hibernating and getting ready for the season and my to-do list is much more limited due to weather – which I appreciate. I contacted my doctor again and we decided on several things:  One was for a different anti-anxiety medication (that also helps with social anxiety and moods), the second was for a therapist recommendation (to which I’m happy with so far) and finally to start up meditation at the local center and after we get that going, then yoga.  I’m only a couple weeks in, but one step at a time. 

I feel for all of you reading this who are still going through business worries about consolidation, results, and lay-offs, and still dealing with the post-pandemic hybrid corporate environment along with global, political and technology uncertainty. I certainly don’t have any answers on managing stress and anxiety or how to deal with work BS while still raising a family, but just know there are many others in your same shoes. So, take good care of Yourself and do what’s best for You first. For me, writing this, is hopefully another step in the journey towards my own recovery. During these challenging times, we need to look out for each other, so if you see another struggling, reach out to them and they’ll know you care. 

Your Fellow Traveler,