C-Suite Profile - Stephen Jurgella
Founder and CEO of Fountain Forward
What physical or emotional traumas, genetic predispositions, or life events have you experienced that you feel had an impact on your ability to feel the healthiest you can feel from a mental health standpoint?
There are a few “lived experiences” that I believe shaped the way my brain works today. One of them was going into a normal check-up with the doctor when I was five years old and leaving needing open-heart surgery. I have been TERRIFIED of hospitals and doctors since I can remember and it would seem that this track started around that time. It takes a ton of preparation to feel comfortable going in for even normal check-ups.
Second, it was in middle school that I noticed I had a hard time retaining information, but I thought that was just because I was dumb. I did all this creative shit outside of school but when it came to the system I was in, I was a complete and utter failure. Now, because I was in a specific system, and my sister who was one year older was a “massive success”, this started a certain narrative in my head. I was a loser. Then as the energy and creativity started to boil over, I began to seek out opportunities to create fleeting moments of satisfaction. When used correctly I did some pretty fun and cool shit, but for school…This resulted in frequent detention, suspension, and ultimately expulsion from my high school. I was brought into the principal’s office, asked to leave, and given no real explanation as to why. Six months later a young girl walked into that same office and explained that she, the girl that claimed about me to ultimately get me removed from high school, had made the whole thing up. Needless to say, the damage had already been done.
Most recently, on June 29th, 2018, my best bud and business partner Cameron, passed away. I was flying back from Wisconsin where I closed a business deal I had been dreaming of for years, & I got a text upon landing in Houston around 9 in the morning. It was from a close friend who was staying at our house for the summer working with one of my companies. I called him immediately, & he let me know that Cameron shot himself in my backyard. As if my compulsive thoughts weren’t already taking me down, now they were compulsive thoughts about death and sorrow and they never stopped.
How did those events impact your state of mind and overall psyche in terms of symptoms? You can describe the feelings and/or share a diagnosis if you would like.
As a kid who had a challenging time succeeding in a structured school environment with an older sister that was the “Golden Child” I had developed feelings early on that I was not good enough for anyone or at any one thing. I worked tirelessly to build my businesses and make a name for myself from the ground up in a city where I knew no one. This was an attempt to overcome these feelings of inadequacy and be granted the long-awaited approval and affirmation of a job well done and time well spent from those closest to me.
My brain is moving at all times, bouncing from subject to subject at a rate that is just mind-boggling. So, when things are good, I’m as high as a kite. Crushing anything that comes at me, excelling to a level I never thought I could, but the problem is, that’s only 50% of the time. Then as the energy and creativity started to boil over, I began to seek out opportunities to create fleeting moments of satisfaction. Those are good and bad as I’m sure you can imagine.
As I have explored deeper into my mental health and wellbeing I understand how these characteristics are demonstrative of Bipolar II. This was due to a myriad of different factors. Do I have a genetic predisposition to mood swings? Yes, but the stress, trauma, and challenges of life set me up for a Mental Health battle. It was incredibly clear as I mirrored the same behavior as a family member that goes in and out of crippling depression and euphoria. Luckily, I am actively working with my medical team to live my most productive life. In learning from Dr. Andrew Pleener and Eric Kussin it’s become increasingly clear that the lived experiences have put me in a compromising position if not handled correctly. The amount of work needing to be done to get through a day is a lot, but it’s worth it. I’ve recently started working closely with a member of the #SameHerePsych Alliance, Dr. Villagomez, in which has pushed my progress further in the right direction.
How did that experience that you’ve gone through change the way you view mental health?
It is hard to put an exact date on it, but the culmination of previous life events in conjunction with the death of my business partner and close friend, seemingly acted as the tipping point for me to fall into really exploring and understanding my mental health and wellbeing.
I am fortunate to have selected a top-notch team in my personal, business and family lives to surround myself with. Through my involvement across the breadth of the #SameHere platforms, I have been educated in and truly believe the notion that mental health does live on a continuum. I slide up and down that scale all the time! Everyone should be aware of where they fall on that line on any given day and be able to establish a network around them to assist in support. I am here to lead by example that the mental health continuum indeed has a place within corporate America and the CEO culture.
Why did you decide to share your story (whether previously or on this site for the first time)? Who were/are you hoping to help and how?
I never felt good enough and quite frankly, I have months at a time where I don’t like who I am and after I started to gather a small following I realized that there was a polarized perception that I needed to clarify. I was getting messages from young followers telling me about how inspirational and engaging I was, and I just had to tell them the truth. I’m a hot mess and I don’t know what I’m doing… I’m just doing my best.
Fast forward, sharing the message of the SameHere organization with my family, friends, and the company has been a game-changer in how I interact with people in every facet of my life. With SameHere CEO, the newest component of the SameHere organization, I am looking forward to going all-in on the message of mental health wellness on a continuum and showing fellow CEOs how embracing that mindset can lead to better team members and client interactions.
Why do you value mental health? What is your motivation to help others?
I truly believe to do great things with the God-given talents and gifts I have, I must first be able to accept myself for all talents and faults that have been bestowed upon me. To accomplish this I must be of sound body and especially mind to enhance full expression of these gifts to fulfill my true purpose of Liberating Greatness. I realize that to spread what I call, “Mental Wealth” I must first find my abundance of Mental Wealth.
When & why did you decide to ask for help to get relief from those feelings or symptoms?
Quite simply over a 6-12 month period, I looked towards death than towards life. The compulsive negative thoughts consumed nearly every moment of every day even when surrounded by my favorite people. I was never present and every time someone told me how great I was doing, I resented them and distanced myself more. I was ashamed of everything.
Moreover, I came to terms with the fact that I could not find joy without immediately looking over my shoulder for the shadow of doubt to creep back in and steal the show. I wanted to lay claim to all moments of my life and fully experience all emotions associated with them.
What methods or practices helped you get/feel better?
I am very much a verbal processor so talking about the thoughts and feelings I have in varying episodes of mania and depression has been very helpful. This is especially true in my close relationships or what I call the “Nucleus,”
I am actively under the care of a Psychologist and Psychiatrist for further deep discussion and dissection of how past events have shaped the present me. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been introduced into my management strategies with success but continues to be a work in progress.
Integrative Psychiatry has aided me in seeing my mental health in a holistic approach and has helped guide me towards medication management in which I have had a Helter Skelter relationship with medication results.
Last but not least, getting back into the gym. Going to the gym every day not only makes me look better, but it helps my brain BIG TIME. Endorphins are amazing, and getting my blood pumping improves my MH every single time I step into the gym. Highly recommend.
If you have told your story before, how did people react when you went public? If you have not previously shared your story, how do you think people will react?
As I have shared my lived experiences with more and more people I am often met with initial expressions of shock, confusion, and surprise. People seem to be most taken aback by the darker and deeper side of possible disorder and how that manifests into my daily life. Even though the expressions of confusion are at the forefront, once I can explain more and dive a bit deeper in subsequent conversations, the reaction is to seek understanding and often share a similar experience from their own life. These conversations are tough and can be awkward for most but those are the conversations that need to keep happening. We need to keep having these discussions to perpetuate the work needing to be done to promote mental health is on a continuum and make it more accessible to the masses.
My door is open, my cell phone is on, and what you’ve gone through is real. Take care of yourself.