2017: The good, the bad, and the ugly

I’ve received a vast array of e-mails this week from folks that I follow recapping their 2017. I never paid attention to how common this practice is until now. So, I thought about my year and whether it would be useful to look back at my 2017. I took about 15 minutes to jot down all of the meaningful changes that took place in my life – some good, some bad, and some ugly. Turns out that my year was actually pretty eventful. At the risk of getting too gory, I’m going to run down my year as succinctly as possible without leaving out anything major. My goal is not to brag about my wonderful life as seems all too common on social media, although I’m pretty damn grateful for what I have today. My goal is to share my experiences in hopes that someone might relate to the things that I’ve gone through and help others use their experiences in 2017 to prepare for a positive 2018 and beyond.

I started 2017 off with a big bang. Around January 15th, I left my job at Ernst & Young in pursuit of a career as a mental performance coach. Quitting my job came with an 80% reduction in my income level. Sweet. It only took me three years and a gaggle of anxiety to get to this decision. I struggled mightily with leaving my very stable and very uninspiring career. That same month, I began consulting independently to earn a bit of money to pay for my Masters in Sport Psychology program that would start in April. In January, I was diagnosed with a bladder infection and prostatitis (i.e., prostate infection), which led to my very first prostate exam (about 8 years too early). Sorry if this is too much information. However, having a prostate exam was indeed a milestone in 2017 albeit a relatively ugly one. PS: This would NOT be my last prostate exam in 2017…

In February, I formed my first business. I’m not sure this is a monumental accomplishment in and of itself. I filed the proper incorporation paperwork, paid the fees, and voila, I have a business. Pretty much anyone can do it. I’m not special in this respect. However, forming Follow The Ball (LLC) was a huge step forward psychologically. It was an actionable goal that I had identified as integral to my career change process.

In March, I had my first cystoscopy, which is a bladder exam. Sweet. I won’t get into the particulars, but put it this way… I was put under general anesthesia and had a difficult time urinating for a few days after. Not pleasant. I was diagnosed with a chronic bladder condition called Interstitial Cystitis (IC). There is no explanation as to why IC develops and there is no cure for IC. My doctor indicated that IC symptoms will likely come and go for the rest of my life. Despite the frustration of being diagnosed with such a condition at 42 years old, I was just happy to figure out what was causing my discomfort for over three months. I learned a lot from this experience. I learned that health is not a black-and-white issue. Shit happens that doctors often can’t explain. I must accept whatever comes my way. I can only control my actions. In this case, this means avoiding stress, avoiding bladder irritants (coffee isn’t going anywhere), and immediately seek care when symptoms develop. That’s it. IC is now a part of my life. I must decide how to deal with it going forward.

April was a great month. I turned 42 years old. Baseball season started. I played and coached. Nothing is better than baseball season. I also started my Masters of Sport Psychology program at John F. Kennedy University in April. Going back to school full-time after 18 years away was nerve-wracking. Going back to school online added to the stress. Nevertheless, it was like riding a bike once I got through some initial growing pains. It was great to re-enter the formal learning environment particularly in pursuit of a carefully selected career that combines my love of athletics with an intense desire to help people. My experiences as a business professional, volunteer youth coach, and parent have enhanced my learning experience and interaction with professors and classmates. Starting the program was the highlight of my year.

In May, I took a social media training course. I’m not sure this is very exciting on its face. However, this experience really jump started my thinking about how I would like to present my personal brand in the marketplace. The course instructors were two highly respected professionals in the sport psychology field. I was able to interact with them closely and learn about their experiences in building recognizable brands in the field. The course also helped me to take an honest inventory of my proficiency with social media, which isn’t very proficient at all. I really started to ramp-up my usage of social media following the course. I have made many important connections during the second half of 2017. I have also put myself out there as someone seeking to learn from others and share what I have learned.  I still have a great deal to learn about leveraging social media to build a brand and a business. I’m looking forward to taking on this challenge in 2018.

June was relatively uneventful, so I’ll move on to July in the interest of time. I started taking the medication Lexapro for general anxiety disorder (GAD) in July. My first psychiatrist diagnosed me with GAD almost five years ago, but resisted taking medication to treat it. I have seen multiple psychiatrists over that period. Finally, my anxiety surfaced with a vengeance in early 2017 due to health issues. I worried about the future. My anxiety has generated a number of unexplained physical symptoms over the years in addition to unwanted, unhealthy thinking patters. I finally surrendered and visited yet another psychiatrist. He agreed with the prior GAD diagnosis and prescribed the Lexapro. In retrospect, electing to go on the medication was a good decision. Yes, the medication seems to be working, but who knows if it’s clinically effective or just a placebo. Frankly, it doesn’t matter to me. More importantly, I got over the fear of the stigma of being on anxiety medication to make a positive and seemingly life-altering decision. In July, I also learned that I have a meniscus tear in my right knee, which had never been detected. This is small potatoes compared to going on Lexapro, but I believe it is important because it is another challenge that I will need to deal with eventually.

In August, I visited an orthopedic spine surgeon to address neurological symptoms related to a previously diagnosed neck injury. After viewing my MRI, my surgeon’s recommendation was three-level Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF) surgery. I sought second and third opinions. All three surgeons concurred that surgery was the only long-term solution to address the symptoms of weakness and atrophy in my left triceps. So, I scheduled surgery for September 18th. Like my decision to start Lexapro, my decision to pursue surgery was strong. It was clear that I would ultimately need to have surgery to properly correct this injury. My choices were to kick the can down the road in fear because this is a major, major surgery, OR, I could address it head-on now when I am relatively young and healthy. I would go into the surgery with a positive mindset, which has proven to help in my recovery.

I also finally started this blog in August. I had aspired to start a blog for at least a year, however, I continually put it off. Finally, I put it out there to my career coach that I would finally just write something. My first post was effectively a book review of Rick Ankiel’s The Phenomenon in which I compared Ankiel’s experiences with anxiety to my own. You can find that post here: https://michaelvhuber.com/2017/08/10/just-like-a-big-leaguer/. This is the first time I had ever wrote about my anxiety. Ankiel’s story was similar to mine in many ways and his willingness to tell his story inspired me to share. This was a very gratifying experience. I’m glad I shared something so personal.

In September, I focused on preparing for surgery. During the first part of the month, both “pre-habbing” physically and mentally preparing with meditation and learning about the surgery. I was strangely looking forward to the surgery. Perhaps it was because I was so proud of how I owned the decision-making process. I was curious to experience it first-hand. I had never had a surgery before. My ignorance was probably beneficial. I had no preconceived notions about how it would go. I also think my anxiety medication really helped me as I would have obsessed about the possible (negative) outcomes in the past. Instead, I believed that the surgery would go well. Finally, September 18th came. I went into the hospital early in the morning. After doing some testing, they brought me into the prep room. I put on my gown and waited in the gurney. The anesthesiologist came in to give me medication to “relax.” I was out in about five minutes before even getting to the operating room. About three hours later, I woke up in my room with a neck brace on. My throat was extremely sore and I could barely talk. I was still loopy from the anesthesia. However, I was grateful for being awake and alive. I was also grateful for the opportunity to pursue recovery. Rehabbing a major surgery would be a new experience that I’d keep with me forever.

Part of building my new career involves building a network within the sport psychology field. In October, I attended the Association for Applied Sport Psychology’s (AASP) conference in Orlando. It was worth every penny that I invested to attend. I met my professors in person. I met my classmates in person. I made new contacts, including a few in the field of professional baseball. This was incredible. All the people who I met were so generous with their time during, and after the conference. I am so excited to be a part of a field where giving back to others is the standard.

With my physical recovery progressing nicely, I started working with a new personal trainer in November. This is a huge step forward. I am a tremendous believer in having coaches in my life. I found my trainer through multiple referrals and my choice to work with him has been a great one. We’ve started from scratch following surgery, which is quite humbling. However, it wouldn’t be the first, second, or even third time that I started from the bottom in rebuilding aspects of my life. It is a familiar place. I don’t have elite physical abilities. I’m an average guy that knows what he wants and puts in the work to get where he wants to go. In less than two months, I have gone from doing wall planks and standing push-ups on a bar to bench pressing, deadlifting, and squatting less than three months after multi-level spinal fusion surgery. I feel great about my progress and look forward to continuing to push myself. I’m tackling my work one day at a time and trust me, I have a LOT of work to do.

Finally, we have reached December with 2018 in sight. Flying on a pink cloud following surgery, I decided to commit to running my first marathon in 2018. I entered the Chicago Marathon lottery with three high school friends in hopes that we will run together. Three out of four of us, including me, were selected to participate. There is no turning back now. I look forward to starting my training in a few months. My goal of running a marathon is fortuitous since I’ve gained 15 pounds this year without even really realizing it. In retrospect, there have been a number of lifestyle changes that have contributed to this result. First, I stopped working in New York City. I walk significantly less than I had been working from home every day. Second, I let my eating habits slip. At the end of 2016, my diet was free from grain, dairy, sugar, and alcohol. My body fat was down to about 12%. I was 185 pounds and felt great. When my bladder symptoms started in January, I started to feel sorry for myself and justified sacrificing my discipline for emotional comfort. My physical activities changed in response to concerns about my bladder. After I sorted out my bladder issues, I was then staring surgery in the face, so I significantly decreased my activity level. I was eating more, drinking more, and burning fewer calories – a recipe for weight gain. Before I knew it, my pants didn’t fit the same way any more. It was time to get back to work again. However, I wouldn’t wait until January 1st. I started on December 26th.

As we close out 2017, I feel good about where I’m headed in 2018 despite dealing with some serious ups and downs in 2017. Today, I’m happy and confident, but I know that shit happens and that can change in a minute or tomorrow. My 2018 goals aim squarely at becoming a competent mental performance professional. I will achieve this goal one day at a time. If I get too far ahead of myself or focus too much on results, then I’m more likely to get stuck in a rut and reintroduce my old friend anxiety into the picture. My experiences from 2017 were extremely instructive regarding what to do and what not to do going forward. Summarizing my year in this blog has helped me take a comprehensive inventory of where I am at today. I’m glad I took the time to review this past year. Hopefully, you took something of value from my experiences and will spend a few minutes reviewing the past year, as well.

Enjoy the remainder of 2017. See you in 2018. Happy New Year!

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