From Despair To Summit: Following The Trail To Healing And Transformation With Keith McNally

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Keith McNally | Healing And Transformation

 

Have you ever felt completely lost after a major life event? Tune in to this powerful episode, where Tina Fornwald welcomes Dr. Keith McNally to share his profound journey of overcoming personal grief and health challenges. From surviving a heart attack to rebuilding his life after loss and unemployment, Dr. Keith offers heartfelt advice on coping with life’s adversities. He opens up about his passion for walking and hiking, which played a crucial role in his healing process. The conversation also explores the importance of community, finding purpose, and staying grounded through practices like journaling and meditation. Whether you’re facing your own trials or looking for inspiration, this episode provides a safe space for exploring resilience and embracing life’s journey.

 

I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.

 

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/suicide-prevention-hotlines-resources-worldwide

Listen to the podcast here

 

From Despair To Summit: Following The Trail To Healing And Transformation With Keith McNally

It is the month of May 2024 and the show is celebrating our founder’s birthday. Yes, that’s me. We invite you to help us celebrate. How? It’s by donating $5 in the month of May 2024. See what we’re doing there with that? How do you do that? Text Hopeful Hearts to 53555. Thanks for helping us celebrate and support a worthy cause. Let’s get into this episode.

We are doing things a little differently. I am heading out to meet Dr. Keith McNally at a park and we’re going to go for a walk. He’s going to share his story and give you some helpful tips on when you are in a crisis on how to manage that crisis. We’re going to talk about how to deal with when life implodes and some healthy coping skills. He is going to share his experience, not particularly with death, as most of the time our conversations are related to the death of a loved one, but his grief has been personal.

There is a trigger warning, suicide attempt, loss of job, and other different things that took him to the end of his self, which he had to rebuild himself. These conversations will help you because when our loved one dies, we find ourselves having to rebuild ourselves. Let’s get into the conversation and meet at the park with Dr. Keith.

 

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Keith McNally | Healing And Transformation

 

Our conversation is with Dr. Keith McNally. We are out at First Landing in Virginia going for a walk. I have pictures of this gentleman all backpacked up and your girl is not doing that. Let’s get into the conversation. Hello, Dr. Keith.

Tina, how are you doing? This is going to be a good day because it’s beautiful. We’re near the ocean. There are not too many hills here or anywhere. That was intentional. I am taking my first trip to the mountains, Grandfather Mountain, in North Carolina in May 2024. I’ve got to get acclimated to the ups and downs. I’m going to go back in July 2024 and then later on in September and October 2024, I’m going to make three trips in different parts of the Appalachian Trail. In my day-to-day, I typically hike a lot in Suffolk. There’s a trail. My neighborhood is pretty cool too so I could walk over my neighborhood.

Hiking And Walking

We met on LinkedIn and I saw your training. Why are you doing all this? The hiking and mountain walking, what is the inspiration for this?

There’s probably a lot of inspiration for it. One, I like to walk.

I do, too. That’s why this was a good idea for me to be able to be someplace out of Zoom, in person but something different.

I’ve been a Marine back in the day. I started exercising when I was fourteen. Getting into it, I had an asthma attack. I was born an asthmatic. That one asthma attack changed everything for me. I wanted to manage my health better. I could easily take medication and do all the stuff the doctor wanted me to do but I never did that.

It’s like most people. We say we’re going to and then not.

I never said I was going to but I wanted to find a way to manage my health where I didn’t have to use the emergency inhaler or take a daily medication. I started running and jogging. We’re going to need to get onto the trail. This is the drive area. I did. I started running that day and never stopped.

Let me ask you a question. Did you have to use medication to manage the asthma or did that get you off of it?

I never started any kind of medication. I do have an emergency inhaler. I use it as needed when I simply cannot breathe. That may depend on how far we go. My goal was to be able to manage my health. I thought I was mastering that up until 2022 when I had a heart attack. That’s when I learned that diet and food are what you have to do.

The equation there.

This is pretty cool because if you’ve not been here, there are different cabins all the way around this area. We’re eventually going to have to go that way.

Let’s go that way.

We have to get onto the trail. We’re on this pavement. We haven’t hit it yet.

Let’s back up a little bit. You talked about the health benefits but from our conversations, there’s a real mission that you’re on with this walking and what you’re working towards accomplishing.

I have attempted suicide twice in the past several years. My mission, if we can call it that, and I always like to use the hashtag #ChangeTheConversation, if we could change the conversation around what it means to be holistically healthy, we’re going to move into a good space. If you say suicide, there are lots of red flags.

 

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Keith McNally | Healing And Transformation

 

The air comes right out of the room. It’s twice. What does that mean?

Am I crazy? Am I depressed? Do I have different diagnoses? No, I don’t. I probably could or should. All of us walking the planet may have 1 or 2 but no, I don’t have a mental illness or mental health diagnosis.

Is that because you never had one done?

I was a mental health professional for a decade but longer in North Carolina after my college degree. I graduated in ’91.

You can’t take care of yourself so what have you identified as the driver for the first suicide attempt?

Life implodes and so for me, both attempts were about my life imploding. I’m not going to get into too many details. For those of you who are not watching, we are climbing up the hill.

Let’s flip this around. It doesn’t even give a concept but you can hear the laboring in my breath. This man over here with the backpack is just yada, yada, yada. This was an adventure already. It’s like going up a couple of flights of steps all at the same time.

When life implodes, I don’t necessarily have the resources to deal with it mentally, financially, or socially.

Life Imploding

Can you give a little concept of what life imploding means?

The first time was when my wife walked out of me with the kids. I didn’t have any resources to deal with that. The second time was when I was unemployed for twelve months and then didn’t have the resources to deal with that either. After about 6 or 7 months and then moving into 12, you start losing the idea that you’re valuable and you have a purpose. Nobody cares. Nobody wants to hire you. Lots of things are going on in your brain.

Let’s pause right there for a moment. Let’s say we didn’t do anything but make a circle with that hill. That was just a warm-up situation he did to me.

We’re going to go up a little bit and then make a left so we’re going to go back where we came from, go up the path, and then there’s going to be this wooden rail. We’re going to go in there.

The things that you experience, unfortunately, are common to a lot of people in this world. Separation of a marriage, unemployment, and those pressures are real because it’s something that a lot of people experience in having to deal with. Were you ever unemployed before or have some type of marital? What made this so much more pressure than before other challenges in life?

This time here was because I have a wife, a daughter, and a house. I wasn’t able to take care of any of that. As a man in those years, you expect to reach a certain plateau in your career and life, and all of a sudden, that was all taken away so I had nothing. I felt I had no value.

There were two separate incidents. What did you come out of the first incident with a different sense of life?

I didn’t learn anything the first time around. That’s probably why it happened again. I’m being told, “If you don’t learn a lesson at one time, that lesson is going to come back and get you.” We talked about me being an asthmatic but I’m 5’5” or 5’6”. I was the shortest person in my classroom growing up.

For the record, since he mentioned, your girl is 5’9”. Let’s back up. I am the first virtual person you have met in the real world. We’re out here making new grounds.

That’s part of it because what I was leading up to never fit in. I’m not athletic by nature. At best, I’m 145, 5’5” or 5’6”. I had academics working my way. I was pretty good at school but that doesn’t necessarily play well with different populations and groups. I never fit in. I didn’t make friends easy.

That’s something that you dealt with for your entire life.

When you reach these crisis moments in your life and you don’t have a friend to phone, you don’t have anybody to call on, things get scary.

I’m glad you mentioned that because when I’m having discussions about grief, as it relates to the death of a loved one, the thing that we often talk about is the value of community. You mentioned it right there. When we are isolated, and all we have is our head chatter, it doesn’t always serve us well.

 

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Keith McNally | Healing And Transformation

 

If you’ve got the wrong narrative, it’s deadly because then you start thinking about all the things that you did or didn’t do, did wrong, turning left when it should have turned right, that kind of thing. You can use any kind of metaphor but what had happened was that was my life. I didn’t have anything working for me.

When you say your life, you’ve been a loner?

The Importance Of Conversations

Yeah. It was always difficult to find a real friend or somebody you could call up and say, “What’s going on? Can we talk?” I’ve got that now. That was my first goal. This is how this all plays out. I started reaching out to people. The only people that I knew, by profile and picture, were those connections. I had about 2,000 on LinkedIn. I had to get out of my comfort zone and figure out a way.

Was this in the second round?

Yeah, this is 2021. This is where I started putting pieces of my life together and where my life changed. I started having conversations with perfect strangers on the virtual door, “Do you want to have a conversation?” Put this in context, during COVID quarantine, everybody’s isolated and going through their chaos. I attempted suicide and failed but kept breathing.

Do people know these conversations were recorded or just regular conversations?

It was regular Zoom calls and conversations. The experience that was unique to everybody across the globe was that people needed to do that. COVID-19 and the quarantine hit us all in the gut. They said, “I need to make some changes.” Not everybody was doing the freak show that they were going to say, “My life is no longer worthless or worth anything,” and wanting to kill themselves.

 

 

Divorce was on the rise. There were a lot of realizations, relationships, and people that could maintain a relationship. With two people being at the house during the day, you’re both in the house and quarantine. Crime was going up at that time. There were a lot of different things. It may have not particularly been your experience but there were a lot of social signs of the pressure of what was going on in those years of COVID, the initial part. People did not have jobs and still had the same financial obligations. The pressures were felt.

What I found with all the conversations was that one of two things under the big picture. People were looking at themselves in the mirror and not liking what they saw, even though they had achieved success and whatever that looked like. They had the money, cars, and everything. They felt that their purpose and who they were in life was in line with who they wanted to be, their values, and maybe their mission in life. They made significant efforts to change. The other side is also true. People lost a lot. People lost loved ones and their jobs, cars, and homes but underneath both of those umbrellas, people said, “I’m going to go make a change and find a way to live my life on my terms. I want to find a way to live and find value and purpose in it.”

I don’t want to brush over the lives that were lost during COVID. A great part of the conversation that I’m having with people as it relates to grief connects to so many people who lost a loved one. With being quarantined, they didn’t have the social norms to be supported in grieving or the opportunity to carry out many of their faith-based rituals and say goodbye to their loved ones. Those people are trying to seek value in their lives.

Even though your story led to you living and living more, it is relevant because those people are struggling with the same thing for different reasons that you are, trying to find a purpose in this life that doesn’t look the same to them anymore and doesn’t line up with how they valued and what was important because the person that they love is no longer here and that has driven them to this conversation to understand about trying to find purpose in their life now.

As you were having those conversations with people who were identifying with COVID and after COVID, what they thought was important, these material objects no longer held the value that they were looking for and needed to reinvent themselves. Even though they love that person immensely, their story is continuing and they’re trying to find purpose in their life, too. Thank you for mentioning that.

You’re welcome. They were finding it in different ways like through journaling or maybe arts, crafts, and projects. They were finding ways to release that energy, sadness, hurt, and frustration. Some of them started meditating or other spiritual journeys, which isn’t necessarily in my space but everybody, at least the people that I talked to, were finding a way to make sense of it for themselves.

I don’t know if it’s sad or not but I wasn’t connecting with the people who were still hurting. For some reason, those people who were saying yes to a conversation were the people who were making the shift, pivot, and transition and finding a new path and light for themselves. Even before I started recording, tears came out on both sides of the camera.

In all of that, I did start saying, “Maybe these conversations should be recorded.” We’re pushing towards through 2022. I wrote a book that was part narrative, fable, and then contextual but how I look at it is that my subconscious was feeding the story, even though I put it inside the context of a leader’s journey and that’s the name of the book.

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Keith McNally | Healing And Transformation
Walking the Path: A Leader’s Journey

You make a point about the people that you met, if I understand correctly, were not the people deeply enthroned in depression or grief. That becomes the challenge because people are in a space and they don’t know how to make the steps to move or get out of themselves or that current situation to make a change. That part is important, that first step in making a change. It doesn’t have to be something large.

You mentioned very small things like picking up a journal for the first time, writing about your situation and getting your thoughts out of your head. Also, finding your creativity. There are adult coloring books. There’s YouTube and anything. You can YouTube Dr. Keith’s podcast. It’s the opportunity to find a way to get outside of your head when you look at yourself and see you’re stuck. It can be going for a walk like we’re doing. Changing the narrative of how you see your situation can be a survival tip.

It’s not easy.

That first step is the hardest, the first time trying to do something because you have wrapped your mind up in how hard this is going to be. “This isn’t going to work. It works for other people. It doesn’t work for me.” After you rip the Band-Aid off the first time, it gets a little bit easier with each situation. What do you think? Maybe I’m wrong.

This started as a means of connecting. I say, “Do you want to have a conversation?” People who I was connecting with wanted to share. I thought, “There’s something here. Let’s create a ‘podcast.’” For me, this is my means of reconnecting with life.

You were saving yourself in this process.

I was without knowing it. Even though I started recording them with permission, if you go back to my YouTube channel, those first twenty recorded conversations were with people I knew. They were either previous students or people that I knew virtually. The one man’s name is Mitch Gray. He’s my shout-out. I did 40 episode seasons. I was told that’s not how podcasts work but I’m not the standard podcast host.

I met Mitch through what was called a quad meet. I don’t know if they still do quad meets. Everybody was creating their space to connect with people so quad meets were designed. This guy structured a 4-person meeting with a 30-minute conversation. There was an opening prompt. We didn’t get to talk about who we were a little bit. I then met Mitch.

Mitch was a former pastor in a Christian church way back in the day. He was a leadership coach. He had spent some time in retail. He’d been on stage so he was also a speaker. He was the epitome of things that I wanted to be. We started talking and connected at a deeper level, saying it wasn’t just a superficial conversation. He was interested in things that I wanted to say and vice versa. I quite said, “Everything that you are, public speaker, coach, author, and you wrote a couple of books, I want to accomplish all that. Most importantly, I want to get on stage.”

Have you met Mitch in person?

Yes, twice. He invested his life into me through text, Zoom calls, and cell phone calls. We just talked. For a while, he was willing to give up at least 30 minutes a week to talk with me in one way, shape, or another.

As I understand you, this was a relationship. This wasn’t a coaching-paid situation. This was Mitch being a genuine person.

He invested himself in me. Through that, I found not just the will to live but the means to live. He says, “You breathe and show up.” I’ve been breathing and showing up for years.

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Keith McNally | Healing And Transformation
Healing And Transformation: “You breathe and you show up.”

 

That’s the first step.

Sometimes, it’s about settling down and breathing because there’s lots of crying in the closet going on.

That’s important because men need to have a safe space to express their emotions and the hiding of all that. Men have tear ducts, too. There’s a reason for it. I don’t think our society has done them well but not giving them a space to be able to release that.

He’s pouring himself into me. That’s part of it. I’m having every conversation possible. They’re being recorded. I’m learning about people’s lives in a way I’ve never had before and people are willing to share them. People are willing to say, “I lost this. I had it with climbing the corporate ladder.” Whatever that space was that they needed to change, they were finding a way to change. I was digesting all of that. People were courageous, taking risks, and grieving in front of me. That allowed me to do the same.

I did a lot of that in hiding. I do have a closet. I cried in my closet. There were days when that was like, “I did.” I still did the same two things that Mitch told me to do, breathe and show up. That meant showing up for the next quad meet, Zoom conversation, and podcast recording. Show up and give yourself 30 minutes to journal. Show up and eat that peanut butter sandwich. Go out for that walk. Show up and make it happen. I’ll be honest. It came to eleven months. After about eleven months, I had not paid my mortgage in three. I’m not quite sure how I slipped through the cracks because easily, the mortgage company could have foreclosed on my house. They didn’t.

 

 

There were too many people at that point.

I don’t know. I slipped through the cracks but it was May 2022. If I don’t find a job at the end of May 2022, we have to go. There’s no more money. We got to go home to a shelter or wherever that is.

We was?

My wife, my daughter, and myself. Something happened. I can’t tell you why, how, or all the majestics behind it but there was a resolution or resolve. I am a US Marine.

“Once a Marine, always a Marine,” I thought that.

Anybody who’s reading or watching your show regarding this could say, “Keith, you did it wrong.” We live here in Hampton Roads, Virginia. It’s a big military town with veteran services, social services, and any kind of helping services. I would have had to have lost my house before I got any support because the house was still an asset. My goal was to not lose the house. If anything, I had the house still. I was resolved to, “What would happen if I lost the house?” Something about that resolution or resolve in me gave me some kind of peace.

It took the pressure off.

It did. It was still a scary space to be in.

It’s like the worst thing that can happen after what you’ve been through is you lose a material object. You’re like, “I can live with that.”

That’s exactly it. I said that in my head. I didn’t say it out. I don’t have the words for but it wasn’t necessarily peace or anything like that. It was like, “I can live through this.” I can’t tell you where that came from or why. It’s not a typical thinking process for me. I’ve been going through a series of new job interviews and whatnot. I was offered a job.

It was once you accepted your circumstances.

I guess that’s how it works. I’m learning that space, too.

The reason why I say that is you said you’ve been told that if you don’t learn a lesson, it will come back to you. The lesson from the first suicide wasn’t prominent. In the second suicide attempt, it became a reality and led you on this path. From there, it still became a struggle for this last large material item. When you learn the lesson that it’s a thing and it can be replaced, another door opens. That’s what led me to see it that way.

Walking The Path

That’s good. That was a big relief because I showed the mortgage company proof of my offer letter. They did not foreclose on my house. It took a while. We’re still working through some of the financial garbage but we’re still employed. Double thumbs up to that. I wrote the book, Walking the Path: A Leader’s Journey.

Here we are walking the path.

The vehicle I own is a Dodge Journey and I bought that many years before I even thought about the title of my book. The story in the book is about these four young individuals trying to find their path in life and purpose. To do that, they have to leave their home community and climb over the mountain. That’s where the Appalachian Trail comes into play. It’s serendipitous, the alignment of things. My whole life, even though it’s a misfit, I played it safe. I was never stirring the waters or challenging things. I was always accepting my life for what it was, which sucked, to begin with. I exercise. Even through all that stuff, I still went out and walked. For the sake of your audience, I’m old so I don’t run anymore.

I don’t do that either. As we’re walking, I have a knee brace on because I need to make sure.

I still went out and exercised. Mitch calls them anchors, those things and routines in your life. No matter what situation you’re in, you always go back to those things that hold you grounded to ground your life. I never let go of any of those things. I love my routines. Routines are good for me.

No matter what situation you're in, you always go back to the things that hold you grounded. Share on X

I can agree with that. When my husband died, there was the need to get back into doing something consistent and familiar, and something that made me feel grounded. For me, that was exercising and going for walks to be able to read baseline, my thoughts, and put things back in perspective. For me to take power back in my life, I’m dealing with this on the left but this on the right is still moving. This is consistent and helps me let me know.

In time, things will be at an even keel. It’ll be okay. It’s not always going to look like what’s on the left. That’s important for people to find. What are those things that ground them? What are those things that give them some solace in the bumps and roads of life? That is something to consider, what that looks like for every person.

Like you, for me, it was exercise. It was something I’ve been doing since my asthma attack when I was fourteen. It’s a part of my life but I thought it was time to go beyond the comfort. For me, comfort is my house. I’m a homebody. I don’t even go out shopping.

Your wife goes out shopping?

When COVID was here, we got stuff delivered to us.

COVID changed that. Also, no delivery fee. Anything you can have. That’s a whole different life. My husband’s like that. If he didn’t have to go out, he wouldn’t. I’m not the typical lady who likes shopping. I despise it. He does the grocery shopping and takes care of all of that.

I thought about what I wrote in my book and maybe I should turn it into reality. I have four kids who go climb a mountain. I said, “Let’s go climb a mountain.” At first, you say you’re going to do something and maybe it’s like a New Year’s resolution. Two weeks later, it’s not even an idea. The challenge became a reality. The challenge is real. There are at least thousands of people who attempt and a couple hundred do it every year. Here I am stepping out of my comfort zone.

A thousand people attempt to do what? What are we referring to?

A thru-hike of the Appalachian. There are three major trails here. There’s the Pacific Crest Trail on the Pacific Coast of the contiguous states and the Appalachian Trail, which goes from Georgia to Maine. It crosses fourteen states on the East Coast. There’s one that starts in the Keys and goes up to Canada. I forget what that one’s called. That’s double the Appalachian Trail. It’s 4,000 miles. I’ll do that when I die. The Appalachian Trail seems to be right here in our backyard.

I’ve hiked a portion of it myself with some friends.

I said, “Let’s do it.”

Are you doing it to just do it or is there some gold or connection with all of this?

For me, it was about, “Yeah, let’s go do it. Let’s identify for myself the pathway to change.” I learned that if I continue to do what I did prior to my suicide attempts, not connect with people, take risks, challenge myself, learn things, or learn from people, I’m probably going to end up back in that same cycle again. I figured this helps me identify a clear purpose and plan to achieve that purpose. It’s not just about doing something. It’s about doing something big and important. It’s about showing everybody that if this man who has been through his personal hell, if I could redefine my life and achieve something this monumental, you can too. Maybe that’s simple or maybe too simple but the story doesn’t end here.

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Keith McNally | Healing And Transformation
Healing And Transformation: If this 54 year-old man who has been through his own personal hell could redefine his life and achieve something this monumental, you can too.

 

Some of the things in life are that simple. In our heads, when we are isolated, we don’t bounce these troubles off of someone else and make them bigger. We cannot overcome them. Even though losing the house could have been devastating. It would have been the house when you look back at it and you get another house and move on but having those conversations creating community lets us know that sometimes it is simple.

There are big benefits from these simple changes but a lot of times, it is a simple thing. That’s why it impacts mostly everybody because we’re all being impacted by the same events in life. When it’s our world, it seems different. That is why when I’m dealing with people who are grieving the loss of a loved one, when they know that when their spouse dies, it is this awful. I spoke with a gentleman. He was talking about how he wakes up every day crying. He can’t believe how hard it is.

I told him, “That’s what it looks like. It is that hard. I wish I could tell you it was easier but what I can tell you is this time, next year, it will look different. It’s going to be miserable for a while. You don’t bathe for a while but if you get up and feed your children, if that’s what you accomplish, that’s more than enough.” That’s a simple thing but me telling him that gave him peace and knowing that this is what it looks like. The book and sharing those simple things will help somebody.

Heart Attack

Life hit me again. This time it wasn’t a suicide attempt. It was a heart attack. Life kept up on me again. My goal was to manage my health. I thought I did a pretty good job because I thought that meant exercising every day. That was a cure. For me, it was. It was a way of balancing when you’re out. I used to run. I would run or walk for hours, miles on end. Your brain is free to think. If I were smarter, I probably have developed a cure for cancer. It thinks and creates this space where you can be yourself.

There’s something amazing about running and your body taking you to wherever you want to go. You see things from a different angle. Let’s say you drove the same path and you ran it. It’s a different perspective. It is liberating. I did the Army Ten-Miler and I remember practicing for that when I was in the military. My son and I, when we lived in Pennsylvania, would do a 5K every Saturday. He would dust me like nobody’s business but doing that in the body, your perspective, and the way you think, it changed for me being able to run. After the breast cancer, I’ve not been able to get my bearings to do it again but I can go bike riding. There are other things. To your point, it is a beautiful thing to be in nature and have the ability to connect.

I like to challenge my body. It’s something that I do. I’m tiny. See, you’re laughing.

I’m not laughing. When you say tiny, I’m thinking stature. For the point, when you go look at Dr. Keith’s YouTube, he shows pictures of him working out and preparing for this hike. He is killing the game out there. He’s got the weights on and he’s doing pull-ups. He is not just lollygagging and going for a walk every now and then. He is putting in the work to accomplish this. The cool part about that is as you’re reading, whatever goal it is, start with the little things and build up from there. You’ll be surprised at what you accomplish. You don’t start off doing the big things. We start with the little things.

In 2022, I was working out in bulk. I wanted to get stronger and put size on my body. I had done this when I was in high school. I went back to those old routines of eating a lot of protein-rich foods, doing whey milkshakes, and putting the pounds on. I cyclically have done this before. My body plateaued at a certain point but I was determined to break through that point. What I was doing, however, was destroying the inside of my body. When you eat an abundance of protein, it destroys your kidneys.

Especially when the kidney is a little older than it used to be.

My kidneys were failing me. My grandma died of a heart attack. Heart disease runs in the family. Cholesterol was about higher than it should have been. My heart attack was in October 2022. My blood pressure was higher than it should have been.

Were you monitoring these things?

I’m a guy.

My late husband died of a massive heart attack. When I finally had the nerve to read his death certificate in full on the seventh anniversary of his passing, it was full blockage in all arteries. Get yourself checked. You can say, “We’re all going to leave this world one day.” That’s true but you much rather go in your sleep than the awful pain of that heart attack. Take care of yourself for yourself and the people that love you. Your life is important. There’s a reason you’re still here and why we are having these types of conversations because we care. We want you to know that you’re not alone in this journey of life. Take care of yourself because it’s important.

My blood pressure was reading 128, 130 over 88, 90, which is on the higher end of what it should be. I was prescribed medication. It wasn’t high blood pressure but it’s a warning. I didn’t take the medication as prescribed.

Let’s not do what Keith did.

Lo and behold, my heart gives out. The artery did block. It was October 15th, 2022 at 3:00 in the morning. I am in so much pain. I don’t even know how to describe that thing, to be quite honest, but it’s enough to put you in tears.

The tear is a thing. I’m seeing a pattern here but go ahead.

I was thinking, “This can’t possibly be a heart attack,” although all common sense is telling me it is. I waited out for two hours. I am on the floor in my bedroom dying. Tina, I didn’t die. For men, it’s the whole chest or ribcage area. Also, the jaw. You could Google it. This is what it looks like for men at the very least. At 5:00 in the morning, it subsides enough that I can get some sleep.

This is where the stupidity comes in. I sleep a couple of hours. I still go up and walk for 5 miles. I wasn’t in much pain. I was still sore. After 5 miles, I can barely breathe, which isn’t typical for me because I’ve exercised to manage my asthma. I did my 5 and went back into bed. It’s about 11:00 in the morning on a Sunday. I tell my wife, “I’m thinking I’m having a heart attack.”

We go to the emergency room in Suffolk. They couldn’t even find it. He’s like, “Are you sure?” Even doctors say, “No, we don’t believe you.” I’ve had those stories too with other people. It’s not that they said that. There weren’t the common symptoms but they did a series of blood tests and apparently, there’s this count. I am a doctor and I am trying to be but I’m not a medical doctor. Don’t you dare. For your audience’s sake, I’ve got a Doctorate in education. I’m not a medical doctor.

As some blood tests said, the count was five times what it should have been. The medical team said, “You’ve got a heart attack.” I went to Maryview and stayed there for four days. The cardiologist put a split in my heart and I was released after four days. He prescribed me four different medications. I couldn’t tell you what they are. One of them is a blood thinner. I took them for 30 days. Stop. I know what you’re thinking.

For those who are reading, I’m staring at him intensely on this walk, waiting to hear the next thing he says.

I took them for 30 days. They’re expensive. I was determined to do this my way. It’s not recommended for those who are reading this conversation. I went back to walking but this time intentionally, I reevaluated my diet and changed it drastically to oatmeals, yogurts, granolas, and fruits. I don’t even drink milk anymore. Maybe with my coffee or peanut butter sandwich but that’s it.

No meat?

Occasionally. I was eating more fish. My diet completely changed.

We are what we eat. I can take that.

I did not take my medication.

I do feel like I need to interview your wife but go ahead.

You can. No more heavy lifting, not the massive single-double reps. I still exercise. My gym is in my garage. I went back to walking. The idea of making this all purposeful hiking the trail, redefining and redesigning my life after all this stuff. It was 2021 and 2022. We’re in 2024. My cardiologist has cleared me for the hike. He knows I’m going on it and I’m training, doing what you see with this 30-pound pack.

Let me ask a question. How did you come to the terms of the diet you selected?

You see a dietician in the hospital. They encourage you to make all the changes and show you what they should be. It’s easily a Google search. Once you’re out of the hospital, get in touch with people. It was 2022. I’ve been having conversations with all different kinds of people like energy healers, coaches, grief coaches, and wellness coaches. I’ve got the resources. I can tap into a whole bunch of people and say, “This is what’s going on,” without having to pay them and say, “Can you give me some heads up into maybe what I should eat and shouldn’t eat?” I have those resources that I didn’t have prior to the suicide attempt and heart attack. My whole life has changed.

It’s community a lot.

I talk about it all the time, having those conversations and building those communities and your network of personal and professional people around you. It’s who you build in social media, that no-trust relationship but then it goes deeper than that. You appreciate who you are and who I am. I’m not on medication. My cardiologist knows it. This is a daily stress test on my heart. I’ve got 25 to 30 pounds on my back. I’ve got a fanny pack here. I’ve got four. I’ve got 3.5 liters or maybe 4 liters of water. I’ve got a pack full of gear. That’s my tent, sleeping bag, and coke gear.

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Keith McNally | Healing And Transformation
Healing And Transformation: Have those conversations. Build those communities. Build your network of personal and professional people around you.

 

My general practitioner and cardiologist know that I do a daily stress test on my heart, which is what this is. My blood pressure is 102 over 70. Compared to what it was prior to the heart attack, I said 128 over 90. It’s in a very good range. The EKG test that I did in February 2024 was all good. I am not showing any signs. The stint in my heart, my artery, has probably been eaten up by my white blood cells.

You didn’t have a procedure?

I did have. They had to open up the artery again.

How many stents were put in? Do you recall?

One. It’s up here at the top of the heart. Diet and exercise have changed. Inside, the blood tests say my kidneys are better. I’m not killing my kidneys anymore with the stuff that I was eating.

This is not a dibble dabble do it once or twice. You have turned your medicine and eating into your medication. You’ve taken this seriously. You’re committed to doing this and you’re doing it like somebody would take medication on a daily basis. You’re not skipping. You’re doing this for the long game.

If even if I wasn’t training for the Appalachian Trail, the pack probably wouldn’t be as heavy. This is how I live life and challenge myself. This is me.

Speaking of challenges, in your quest to help other people and endure this, is there some fundraising to this mechanism, something else you’re doing, some other events that are leading up to, or some areas where you’re helping people?

Hiking For Hope And Healing

I’ve got a web page up. It’s called Trail to Transformation: Hiking for Hope and Healing. It can be reached at WalkingThePath.net. I have a very large goal so I would like to raise $1 million and it’s not just because I’m greedy. Throughout all my conversations, I’ve met people along the way who haven’t been impacted by suicide and have become grief coaches, wellness coaches, holistic coaches, or whatever they call themselves but who are out there helping people.

If I could raise money to help you, that’d be great. Michelle Ann Collins, Ghulam Fernandes, she’s out in the UK, and Richard Mabe or Coach Rick got a nonprofit up in the Eastern Shore, The Hope Institute, and Kevin Strauss, who’s got a community app to help people reconnect, not a social media app. It’s called Uchi, Uchi is Japanese for community. I’m not doing good on the fundraising part but nonetheless, I’m still going to hike the trail.

There’s room for people to participate if this is a cause that resonates with you. If I hear you correctly, it’s not you. You’re raising it to help other organizations and nonprofits that are doing things to help people in that space.

They’re not all nonprofit. You’re a nonprofit.

It’s organizations that are trying to help others.

People who are in the game because Ghulam lost her sister to suicide. Michelle lost her husband to suicide.

Both of those people have been on our show. You can go back, look at their journeys, and see what these ladies are doing along with me and how we’re showing up in spaces to help people so they know they’re not alone.

In addition to that, I’ve created the Envision Speakers Series, which is “my official podcast” because it does get down into the podcast world in addition to my YouTube channel. That’s where those conversations around social change are designed. I bring multiple people and professionals. This is not just a one-on-one conversation. My goal with the Envision Speakers Series is to create a space where we can have a conversation but guide it toward actual change, not just about, “This is a great story to have. I’ve lost my whomever to whatever.”

I’ve had conversations around the workplace where you were on it, you and your colleague, Dr. Will Ramey. We talked about how leaders in companies or organizations can change policies and procedures around how to deal with those who are facing a grief situation and still have to go back to work. I’ve had a couple of conversations since then. The typical policies were 2 to 3 days you get for life. That’s it. Those are one. I had another on workplace toxicity where the work culture is horrible and I’ve faced that in my life outside of the military. A lot of the conversations are around wellness and wholeness. Specifically in 2024, I’m doing a series of virtual events leading up to an on-premise event.

Leaders in companies and organizations can really change policies and procedures around how to deal with those who are facing a grief situation. Share on X

Let’s back up a little bit. You did a large seminar on a Saturday. Was it in 2023? We had a large panel of people in the conversation.

I’m doing these larger special events live-streamed on YouTube. In January 2024, I brought ten people together. I can name them if you want. Timothy Dean Smith is a leadership coach but we talked about what it means to build community. From there, I moved to Sheyenne Kreamer because she’s a coach coaching consultant. She’s more of a consultant but her idea is if we could put business leaders together and change the community that they’re in, what power is in there in that?

From there, I went to Mitch Gray, Eileen Bild, and Kevin Strauss. We talked about the emotional aspects of community and what it means to deal with emotional health. I took a break because I didn’t need to go to the potty and came back and we did two more hours. This was a four-hour marathon for me. I had Brenda Yoho because she is a coach and consultant in the education space and she’s seen too much. She wrote a book, Lead with True Rules: Feeling Good & Feeling Safe. Her space is where we can create an educational environment that allows kids to feel good and feel safe, we could teach them something but it starts with the leaders.

I did bring Michelle Ann Collins back on and we talked about what it means to be emotionally healthy in terms of what that process of grieving looks like. Finally, I brought in Marlene Mier, Sarah Cotterill, and Carrie Allen. I had ten people, not all of them at the same time. This was a space of four hours. We were able to get into deep conversations about change, what change looks like, and how to be healthy in your body, emotionally, and in the workplace. Go to my YouTube channel. It’s a recorded conversation. It’s also a live-stream. You can find it on Apple Podcasts as well.

I brought Mitch back. I had Martin Brossman. He is a leadership and business coach in the Raleigh, North Carolina area. Sabriya Charles is a coach consultant in the mental health space. The issue here is what’s bringing us together for these conversations with the increase in suicide rate at the collegiate level. Unfortunately, NC State University got called out for having a significant number of reported suicides in 2023.

Other people are touching that space. It’s unfortunate that they got to highlight it. Myself, Sheyenne Kreamer, Rick Mabe, and some folks out of North Carolina see this as such a significant thing that we need to address that we are bringing the Envision Speakers Series down there live and in person in September 2024. We’re trying to do some fundraising for that with Rick Mabe having the 501(c)(3), maybe we could get some grant funds.

We are building local community support. We don’t have support from the college yet or any of the colleges at this point but we’re not trying to create animosity between us and the collegiate systems. We’re here to provide additional services, trying to figure out what’s going on and why our younger generation’s field is lost.

When you say that, it makes me think about, unfortunately, the high rate of suicide dealing with people in the military, leaving home for the first time, that pressure of real life, and feeling isolated. They’re away from family and may feel like they can’t express what’s going on because it means they’re not standing up to what’s been put up before them for maybe a “failure.” They don’t say anything and they keep it inside instead of letting it out. I can see those same types of pressures with someone in college similar to what someone experiences somewhat in basic training in your T school and those first big times being away from your family and community that you’re accustomed to.

I’m going to do a series of. Envision Speakers Series live-streams on YouTube probably once a month but if not, every other month, at least up until September 2024 when we go down to North Carolina, focusing specifically on addressing suicide. It’s not just about pulling in the statistics and grieving over the losses but identifying what’s going on in our culture. How do we address emotional problems?

Find out the why. Dig into it.

We need to figure out what’s going on. I no longer think this is a mental health issue. It’s a societal issue, maybe even on a global scale. I don’t have the answers but what I’ve learned to do in the past years is how to orchestrate a conversation and that’s what I’m doing.

That leads to a change in the conversation. It’s another simple step in the process leading to something bigger.

That’s how this is all coming together. It’s different pieces of the same puzzle. Whether it’s the Appalachian Trail thru-hike, the Envision Speakers Series, or my GoFundMe page, it’s all about providing an opportunity to make people aware and hopefully give them a new set of ideas about who they are and what their life is all about. I was given a couple of chances to figure that out myself and I’m paying it forward.

That is a beautiful thing. This has been a thorough conversation. We’ve talked about a lot. When we thought about having this discussion, were there particular topics that in your mind you wanted to make sure we covered?

Actual fundraising ideas. I don’t know what that sounds like. All I know is that without money, I can’t do anything. I can’t help the people who need help with these Envision Speakers Series events. I’m looking for fundraising ideas and for people to donate. If they’re not looking to donate directly to me, and that’s okay, I get that, you can do so by either purchasing my book or sponsoring the Envision Speakers Series conversations. I’ve partnered specifically with Coach Rick. The Hope Institute can receive tax-deductible donations. That all works. Through you, if you can help me out, that’d be great too. I thought that we could do a walkathon. Do you want to walk with me?

I have to say that the show has a walkathon scheduled for the first full week of August 2024 and we call it Walk for Love. For seven days, we ask people to walk 1 mile. 1 mile is usually not that intense if you’ve never walked before. When you are grieving the loss of a loved one, you isolate, often stay in the house, and disconnect from people. Our goal in doing the walkathon is twofold. One is to raise money for us to continue helping people. We are looking to create a scholarship fund.

When someone loses a spouse, they may have to return to the workforce and they may not have workable skills and may need to re-educate themselves. They may have children in the education system that they can no longer afford. We want to be able to show up to do that. A grief garden and then also a grief cafe is something that we’re looking to start. The Walk for Love allows people to see other people walking with them. Some people walk into their homes because they haven’t got to a space where they’re leaving the house.

We have people put up the hashtag that week and show where they’re walking. They purchase t-shirts and raise funds through the walkathon. I’d have to pass on this one. That is our annual event, Walk for Love with Widowhood. That is on our website and you can also see it on Eventbrite. The shirt purchases will probably be out in May 2024. Get the app to be able to start registering people for your walk. We did it in 2023. We had people in Singapore posting the hashtag and that they were walking in part of the crew. It was pretty cool.

I’m ready to do something like that. Maybe once or twice in 2024. I think you Noemi Beres. She has this website Walk Everyday.

I see her posting on her IG.

Maybe I’ll connect with her and build an international community around some type of fundraising event. People around the world walk in. Maybe they’ll donate $1 a mile or something.

There are some pretty cool apps out there about that. I’ll share some with you that I’ve identified. I’ve been on your podcast before but are there any questions of me that you have before we wrap this discussion? We’re nowhere near where we need to be finished walking but we’re probably going to be done with the talking part of this.

How do you feel?

Good. I don’t have that back rucksack on. I thought I had the rucksack on. I need to call my husband to come get me. Any questions for me, Dr. Keith?

I don’t think so. I appreciate the time.

You’re welcome.

Also, the company.

I allow the guests to wrap up the conversation. Any final thoughts or things you’d like to say? I’ll leave that to you.

One is walking with Tina. How tall is she? 5’8”, 5’9”, or 5’10”. You have to understand, I’m the one who’s 5’5″ so my legs are shorter and I got 30 pounds on my back. I’m still keeping step with her. I’m proud of that but she may be slowing down the pace for me.

If I were in my neighborhood walking, it would be a different pace but I’m clumsy sometimes and this terrain is a little different so I’m not leaving anything to chance but he has a rucksack on.

What we talked about is critical, at least it was for me. Maybe part of that is having routines. Mitch Gray calls them anchors. Whatever those things that may even seem mundane or safe for you every day, even though you’re in crisis, your brain is running 1,000 miles a minute. You can’t put a thought together. You’re crying in the closet. If you could hold on to those routines and find somebody to talk to, even if that’s Tina or me, that’s a good start. It’s a good end to this conversation. Wake up every day, breathe, and show up. Those would be my final words.

Wake up every day. Breathe and show up. Share on X

Thank you for allowing me to share your journey and have this conversation. We will talk to you on the next episode.

 

Important Links

 

About Keith McNally

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Keith McNally | Healing And TransformationDr. K facilitates conversations by bringing like-minded people together to provide help, hope, and healing to those challenged by life’s circumstances. He uses his space as a podcast host, author, and people-connector to help others find real value in their lives. Having faced several challenging circumstances in his life, he helps people find their value through in-depth conversations, coaching, and mentoring and allows them to share their stories across several different podcasts. He is always open to new connections and will converse with anyone.

Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.

I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/suicide-prevention-hotlines-resources-worldwide