On Getting Un-Stuck: Health Coaches Are Mirrors For Our Psychological Blind Spots

by, Kirk Klocke

Years and years of therapy and doctor visits made virtually no difference. The best therapeutic advice I ever got was “quit going to so much therapy.” That freeing moment came to a head in the course of seeing a Jedi-Master level psychologist as part of a broader mental health treatment program. She was the kind of psychologist who treats other psychologists — those who need someone who can cut through graduate-level bullshit with an emotional machete. By session two, she had identified my long-standing pattern of befriending therapists and doctors to meet a need for connection with smart people. A connection I had not yet learned how to meet on my own, out in the normal-people world. Join MENSA, she said. That’s what I had to do. I haven’t followed up, but since then I have learned how to find and keep intelligent, like-minded friends — and rebuild my career.

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Somehow, I stumble upon unique pockets of success. In the past year, a former graduate school colleague living in Italy, whom I assumed had long forgotten about me, invited me to stay with him and his wife in Rome. A physician-led non-profit org in San Francisco seeks my advice, and a recorded live story performance about a rare occurrence in the emergency room I helped them produce will air this weekend on a nationally distributed radio show from WNYC in New York. In June, a former DEA agent who now runs a consultancy out of World Trade Center One - whom I advised on a successful application to the Council on Foreign Relations - reached out to me to consult on another new project. A few years ago, I live-blogged an ocean research voyage, from sea, from the Capital of Greenland all the way to Woods Hole. Yesterday, the hiring manager who brought me on to my current day job told me they’re pleased with how I’m doing. The day before that, the CEO of the company told me, “we’re lucky to have you.”

In some ways I suffer from imposter syndrome. I can’t believe some of the opportunities that come my way. One of those doctors recently referred to me as a “baller” amid a flurry of collaborative texts. I had to look it up. Turns out it’s quite a compliment.

But when it comes to success in ordinary life, I have fallen short for a long, long time. If you’re squeamish about the truth, read no further. Reading Gandhi’s biography, “The Story of My Experiments With Truth” inspired me to be fearless. Satyagraha, roughly translated from Sanskrit, was his guiding principle: Truth + Firmness. People don’t know the truth unless you tell them, and they don’t hear it unless you do so firmly.

The money I earn just barely places me on the upper edge of the working poor. I am 20 pounds overweight, and if photographed at a bad angle, I appear to have a double chin. I’m balding on top. I have to wear glasses, because I can’t afford contacts and don’t want to risk LASIK. I haven’t been in a romantic relationship for over 13 years.

The last time I experienced happiness was sometime in 2007 and again briefly in 2009 after being accepted to graduate school in New York. I am just now starting to feel fleeting glimmers of happiness, and I want that to continue and grow.

These aren’t complaints, and I’m not a victim. Just the hard facts of my life. I still have much to be grateful for. Things can and have been a lot worse.

Seeking higher and higher levels of care in the establishment healthcare system made me worse, never better. The higher I worked my way up into specialty psychiatrists, the higher my expectations, and the more disappointed I was. I finally decided to let all that go, except for one mildly stimulating depression med that helps me stay engaged in work. Paradoxically my life has gotten better and better with less care. Right now, I don’t have health insurance, because I can’t afford it, and even if I could, I couldn’t afford the $6500 deductible on the lower-cost state-subsidized plans.

There is a glimmer of hope deep down inside whispering, you deserve better. This can’t be IT.

If someone were lonely for a year, or even two, you might chalk it up to bad luck. Maybe they’re not completely over their ex. Maybe they need to work on their self. But more than a decade means to me there is something seriously wrong, and that’s where health coaching will enter my picture.

Everyone has psychological blind spots. There are some basic things I can work on to improve my chances at achieving a love life — something that is a medical need, not just a want. People who have someone to care for and someone to care for them live longer. I can work on smiling more (though I have a problem with faking it), make better eye contact (again, tough when you think of so low of yourself), get in better shape, and keep progressing in both my day job and my creative career, so that I see myself as ambitious, and not a loser.

But what else? If I knew, I wouldn’t need someone or something outside myself to tell me. That’s why I’ve decided to give integrated health and wellness, aka “health coaching” a try. Before my blogging collaborator and health coach Barbara introduced me to the concept, I thought of health coaching as a luxury afforded only to the rich and otherwise well healed, mostly people in L.A. and New York.

I went to see Barbara expecting to just sample health coaching, so I might help us better explain it for this series. What did happen was more: We touched base on where I’m at in life. I felt a surge of difficult feelings - anger, sadness, regret. That always happens when I focus on my present reality for what it really is, and not what I wish it was. My default is to run from discomfort, but this time I’m going to try walking through it. I will reflect on the experience more here at Not Quite Sunday, for better or worse. Barbara has a boundary will seeing friends as clients on an ongoing basis, so next time I see a health coach, it’ll be someone else. But she served as a springboard into the possibilities of her world.

In the last 15 months I’ve established solid work history and a healthy home environment. I’ve found meaningful activities and connections. Life is looking up, but with more clarity comes more pain, because forging ahead entails looking in the mirror with brutal honesty. I don’t expect to move up a rung on the hierarchy of needs this coming year, but I want to. I’m willing to run. I’m willing to talk. I’m willing to let myself feel the anger and sadness and mourn the loss of time spent hiding inside myself.

I look forward to sharing more as I go along, and I hope like a message in a bottle, these experiences leave at least one person out there feeling one person less alone in the universe.