It would’ve been so easy to step over the edge.
Mike Skrypnek was standing on the banks of the Stawamus River, 18 months into the pandemic, when he first thought about ending it all. At the outset of 2020, the Squamish business coach and author had just published a new book and was scheduled for workshops and speaking engagements all across North America. He had a flush client list and eight books under his belt. Now that was all gone, and he was facing overwhelming financial uncertainty. He figured his family would be better off without him, living comfortably off the life insurance. For a long dark moment, he almost gave into his despair. But then he pulled himself back.
Reflecting on that scene years later, Skrypnek can identify the toxic stew of shame, unresolved trauma, and unhealthy life patterns that had led him to that place. The circumstances were just an excuse — really, he’d never properly healed from childhood sexual abuse he experienced as an 11-year-old, an experience he’d never shared with anyone but his wife. While dredging up these memories and exploring them through therapy, he became inspired to weave his personal narrative into a non-fiction book about the mental health struggles that men often face following trauma, and how silence exacerbates the issue. Called UNLimited WORTH, it shares his and other men’s journeys to make peace with their pasts and come to love themselves.
“I’ve been writing this book for years, but it was always my memoir. Then I went through healing and treatment, and I interviewed these men about the patterns and words that limit and define us when we’re not well, and where we are afterward. That was a curiosity of mine that brought the book into play,” Skrypnek told The Squamish Chief.
“I waited 40 years before telling anyone about my abuse. I want to use this to help men normalize this conversation, so they share a lot earlier than 40 years later. People shouldn’t have to go through suicide considerations just to bring this up in conversation.”
His goal is to reach a million men and their families, through the book and a new podcast that he’s starting, as well as a North American tour after the book is published this summer. He doesn’t consider it a memoir, despite the fact that it includes his personal narrative, because it interweaves the lessons of his interview subjects with reflections on the best way to tame your personal demons and achieve actualization in business and in life.
“I figured, who wants another memoir of a person’s trauma? I didn’t live through a war. I wanted to know what is the lesson, what do we want to gain, how do we connect? I want to say, ‘I get you, you’ve been silent and that’s okay.’ Men bury this stuff for an average of 24 years, and there are good reasons for that,” he said.
“But the biggest fears you have about breaking that silence are not as big as you think they are. The biggest risk is not sharing. The stats say one in six men will experience abuse, and they take decades to break their silence. Now I personally know dozens of men who have killed themselves in the business world or my peer group. You hear these stories, and you don’t know what tormented them. There’s got to be a reason men are killing themselves four times more than women.”
He believes the true statistic of men experiencing abuse is actually much higher. And the perpetrators are often the last person you would expect, as was the case when he was a boy. Skrypnek was targeted by a pillar of the community, a decorated World War II veteran who was often the most respected man in the room. When Skrypnek extricated himself from the situation, he was also able to call him what he really was: a predator and an abuser. From that point forward, all throughout his work life, he carried around a basic distrust for “good men.”
“I was oblivious to all of this. The patterns and the shame, guilt, anger, fear, and worthlessness. Those negative emotions defined me at my core, and here I was in the helping business. I was prepared to never tell my secret. But when I did share, every risk I perceived, every disclosure that I thought would bring too much vulnerability and push people away was wrong,” he said.
“Every concern I had about [breaking my silence] and sharing was wrong, because the reverse thing happened. My family loved me more and stepped up to the plate more, carried the weight while I was healing. And good men who hadn’t brought me into the fold, they opened their arms and their hearts to me. Suddenly I was having better conversations than ever before.”
Skrypnek ultimately interviewed 12 men for the book, from all across North America and Europe. He heard stories of human depravity that absolutely shocked him, but that was coupled by an inspiring resilience that he saw over and over in his subjects. In many ways, their suffering led them to be more compassionate and understanding of what others are struggling with.
“I want to even reach men who haven’t experienced trauma, so they understand what their peers are going through. And to show them that it’s still okay to hang out with your buddies after something like this, you don’t want to wallow in your trauma all the time. You didn’t do that when you were silent, right? We all just want to be well, and normalize the narrative,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter the trauma, regardless of what type, it’s about what gets set in your head and sets you up for a lifetime of negative patterns until you fix it. [I healed with intense EMDR therapy.] Now I know that I should’ve said something all along. I should’ve gotten it out sooner. And it can be a normal conversation like any other injury. Like wrecking your ACL. [In fact, it took me longer to heal that than my brain.]”
Learn more about UNLimited WORTH at Mike Skrypnek’s website.
Corrections: Please note this story has been updated to clarify the timeline. The beginning anecdote occurred eighteen months into the pandemic, not at its beginning. The story also previously stated that Skrypnek was facing financial ruin. In fact, he was facing financial uncertainty. Finally, the story has been updated to add more details and clarity on how Skrypnek healed, among other things.