As the founder of a movement dedicated to bringing down walls and opening doors for high-achieving executives to share their struggles – and their advice – Michelle knows how scary it can be to reveal your inner self in this way.
As the founder of The Truth Behind Our Titles®, Michelle realized she needed to be the first to share her story, she started with the inaugural event in New York City last October, and then, in a much larger scale, with Women You Should Know.
Michelle believes when more of us are able to share the stories of our personal challenges that have been the undercurrent of our careers and shaped who we are, the better able we will be to fully integrate ourselves in the corporate workplace, and The Truth Behind Our Titles® movement is dedicated to helping us all embrace our whole selves and bring our whole selves to the corporate workplace.
I was Tiffany & Co.’s global director of training and development when I was hospitalized for a crippling depression. The real truth was, a suicide attempt forced an involuntary commitment to a psych ward. This was followed by being admitted to a longer care facility. It was the beginning of a 21-year period where depression has been the undercurrent of my corporate and business life. Two more suicide attempts would follow, accompanied by stays in not the nicest of psychiatric facilities in the New York area.
How Did It Affect Your Life and Work?
At my lowest points of my illness, it is literally like walking with a 1000-pound bag wrapped around you. The heaviness is hard to describe. There is no joy, utter fatigue, memory issues, no appetite, no enthusiasm, crying easily, and wrestling with suicidal ideation almost daily. I am not able to make any personal plans or commitments – I usually can’t show up for anything (except, interestingly enough, my jobs). I lose interest in most everything and can sit for hours at a time staring into space. I lose incredible amounts of weight. At work I need to be deliberate. I stay focused on one task at a time. I deal with comments that I’m not friendly or open. I keep to myself and hide in my office. I take rigorous notes so I don’t lose track. Being high-achieving has saved me, as I somehow pull off the miraculous and manage to get by in my jobs. I have taken long leaves of absences – sometimes up to a year to cope with the stress and unending heaviness of depression.
What Was It Like Still Having to Perform as a High Level Executive?
Living with that much darkness and in that kind of pain, while still having to perform as a high-level executive – and not having the freedom to share what I was going through – created enormous pressure. I have lived with this for years and it has become “me.” You become your stress, you become your illness, and you become your darkness. For me, depression and thoughts of suicide just is. It is like a form fitting glove – I know it well. It slides on easily.
And what about my life today? I am treated successfully for my illness and I am educated about my symptoms. I lead a full and vibrant life. My last serious bout was in 2006. This is the first time I have gone this long without being hospitalized. I pinch myself! I run my own company. I work with senior leaders, CEOs, and business owners regularly. I love what I do. My company’s tagline is “when people thrive, business thrives.” I came up with it because I know when I thrive I can help others thrive. And I am thriving.
How Did The Truth Behind Our Titles® Affect You?
The Truth Behind Our Titles® is my vision for a collective effort of sharing stories, stories marked by strength, hope, and resilience, while finding relief in conversation. No woman (or man) should feel alone and without a life-line of support for their professional journey. We need to pull back the curtain on these struggles and provide practical strategies and solutions to manage the ever-complex professional lives we lead.
What Are You Reading Right Now?
What Makes You Smile?
Hearing my husband talk to and play with our Bernese mountain dog, Zoey.
Looking out onto the Hudson River from our deck.
Knowing I have my husband’s unconditional love and support, always.
Michelle’s Share Your Truth Advice
Ask for help. As high-achieving women, we often “go at it alone,” as if making our own way demonstrates strength. This has many truths to it – but the real truth is, strength comes from asking for help – and regularly.
Confide in trusted friends and colleagues. Whether it is someone internal to your company or external, find someone who is not only a good listener, but a great listener. Someone who is willing to give you input and objective guidance.
Utilize support systems. Whether you go to HR, your EAP (employee assistance program) or an external group; find a group of like-minded, kindred spirits where you can share your struggles and challenges openly and honestly.