Life after Fleeing ‘The Cult of Speed’: The Cost of Living a 4ish Hour Work Week

Time and I have always had a tenuous, love–hate relationship. Like many of my colleagues and coworkers, I’ve measured my life by the clock, and my happiness has been in no small part dependent on how productive I am day by day, yet recently I’ve realized the error of this mentality.

Recognizing that I was caught up in The Cult of Speed was the trigger for me to take stock and reassess my life after being in the workforce for a quarter century.

I’d been experiencing a general malaise that leaves you drained at the end of a working week, and mildly anxious on Sunday nights in anticipation of the week ahead. I knew something had to change, and that I alone was responsible for making that happen.

So, I bit the bullet and negotiated my role into that of a remote part-time worker. Then did the one big thing that needed to happen if I was to give myself the best chance for a real life ‘post cult’, I packed up my house and bought a ticket to Estonia.

As a writer, I find that books often play both a practical and a poetic role in my life. They inspire me to action, and likewise impel me to seek more adventurous paths. After re-reading Tim Ferriss’ #1 New York Times bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek I was (I admit somewhat naively) emboldened that Estonia was indeed the panacea that would help me reclaim my life as my own.

Within days of arriving in Tallinn I discovered the hard way how badly I’d bought into our cultural predilection and esteem for being productive and constantly connected.

I became frustrated because the pace was too slow, and my calendar was too clear.

Looking at the past two months, nothing could have prepared me for the ‘barrage of me’ the moment the clock’s hold over me waned. I found that the days that were once filled with a seemingly endless stream of tasks demanding my attention – days that all too often stretched into weeks and months – suddenly became quieter, simpler. But this quiet quickly became deafening.

The first sign that there was trouble in paradise was when I noticed a nagging self-doubt had surfaced. A new inner voice emerging that asked me what I was doing, what I’d achieved today, did I still think I was doing the right thing.

I honestly began to fear quiet moments.

I’ve had a 20yr love affair with efficiency and speed. I’m as guilty as the next guy in that every time I had a quiet moment for reflective thought, I almost immediately avoided it by escaping to my mobile devices. So, the first thing you do when you find yourself doubting yourself is you overcompensate. You discover – much like a recently released prisoner – that you crave structure, the safety of structure. You fill your calendar with little tasks, minor missions to accomplish, just so you have the satisfaction of ticking off another item on your to-do list.

At the same time, you notice that small things take on near epic proportions. Your ever so recently overextended brain goes into overdrive trying to fill the void, seeking distractions. Truth is that the sheer volume of free time is almost overwhelming…almost.

But something interesting happens between the nagging inner voices and the time wasted fussing over small things, you start to appreciate small moments: the way you’re pulled out of your head by the feel of snow against your skin as you cross the street; the taste of different foods in a country on the opposite side of the planet; quiet, uncluttered city streets.

As enough time passes – after you experience a few of these moments of fleeting happiness – you begin to let the voices in. You hear them, but you also start to challenge them. When I started this journey, I was awaking around 6am and realizing I didn’t have anything particular to get up for.

The thought was simply terrifying.

Same thing happened this week, but this time I laughed and let the thought go.

Living a simpler, unplugged, 4-Hour-Workweek lifestyle has turned out to be a blessing and a curse. It’s forced me to stop and listen to voices than are far darker than I could have imagined. Voices that are deeply rooted in a Western mindset that does not favor quiet introspection. Yet these very same voices, these softly spoken doubts that result from our ingrained mindset of being focused and productive, reveal the inherent flaw in our thinking.

We’ve become a hyper-focused species, yet our point of focus tends to be external.

Too often our attention is focused on something ‘out there’, with our attention and focus turned toward, engaged with someone or something outside of ourselves. Similarly, we’re so focused on the return we get from the investment of our time – on our productivity – that we’re fundamentally blind to the benefits of ‘down time’.

IMHO, we’ve inadvertently become a species who need to be constantly distracted and entertained; almost as if we fear confronting our own realities. Yet if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this time away, it’s that there’s immense joy to be had in unplugging and spending time disconnected.

Those thinking of taking on the nomad life need to be aware that it won’t always be comfortable or easy. But what would you give to have the opportunity to discover a quiet place within you that is yours and yours alone? I gave up an entire life, and I think the price I paid was fair.

It’s my hope for people who find themselves contemplating the ‘’nomad’ existence, a ‘no fixed address’ itinerant lifestyle, find the courage to take that first step, because it’s worth it…

Dents in the soul – living with PTSD

Two years ago, my untreated PTSD cost me my marriage, and almost my life. Why? Because I didn’t think it was as bad as it was, and I was too ashamed to ask for help, which when you think about life in the military is a completely bullshit excuse.

Military units are the sum total of ALL its moving parts. When one part isn’t working, the unit starts to break down. In uniform, when we saw a mate struggling through the obstacle course, or out in the field, we helped them. But out here on ‘civi’ street where we  often don’t have our mates within arms reach, we try and deal with our shit alone.

The fact that so many of our fellow veterans are harming themselves, and even worse – taking their own lives – is testament to the fact that trying to fight this alone doesn’t work. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, or just know in your soul that something just ain’t right, the only way you get better is to understand what PTSD is, and isn’t, and then begin reach out to mates or professionals to get it under control.

Here’s a primer on PTSD, gratefully supplied by the DVA.

PTSD – The Basics

Traumatic events such as those involving actual or threatened death or serious injury, or witnessing human deprivation (eg. regions ravaged by famine or war), can have a strong impact on your mental health and wellbeing. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is one of a range of mental disorders that individuals can experience after traumatic events. PTSD can be distressing with negative consequences for your health and wellbeing. It can affect anyone, but there is help available.

Army, in conjunction with Joint Health Command and singer songwriter John Schumann, have produced a 30-minute documentary designed to address stigma, offer support and raise awareness of the issues surrounding PTSD for Army personnel and their families. Featuring Army members who share their own experiences with PTSD, the movie supports the important message of look after yourself, your mates and your family.

This documentary aims to de-stigmatise PTSD and to show that it can potentially happen to anyone who has been exposed to a traumatic event. Developing symptoms of post traumatic stress after exposure to trauma is not a sign of weakness it is simply being human.

Recovery rates from PTSD are high but early diagnosis and treatment are particularly important. Generally, the longer the symptoms persist, and go untreated, the longer the eventual recovery will take and the greater the disruption to the person’s work, family and enjoyment of life.

Singer Songwriter John Schumann, who wrote I Was Only 19, is the narrator of the documentary and helps walk viewers through diagnosis, treatment and effects of PTSD on individuals and their families. John Schumann also shares his personal experience with PTSD in the film.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a traumatic event?
What is traumatic for one person may not be so for another. However, it is generally accepted that certain events, like threat of death, serious injury, seeing dead bodies, death or serious injury of a close friend/colleague/family member or witnessing wide spread human degradation, have the potential to cause significant distress.

What are the main symptoms of traumatic stress?
Most people will normally experience strong reactions after traumatic events. Commonly, these include re-living the event, having intrusive thoughts about the event, avoiding anything that reminds them of the event, feeling sad and tearful, feeling highly anxious or panicky, sleep disturbances, being easily startled, extreme irritability, difficulties concentrating or remembering, excessive use of alcohol or drugs, and relationship problems.

If I am experiencing symptoms of traumatic stress, when should I seek help?
The initial symptoms of traumatic stress would be expected to subside after 2 to 4 weeks since the traumatic event. If the symptoms persist longer than this, you should seek professional help to manage the symptoms and to reduce their impact upon your ability to function.

If I have symptoms of traumatic stress, will I automatically get PTSD?
No. There is a continuum of how people react to PTEs or CIs, from mild disturbance to quite severe impact. Generally, the more severe the reaction, the more likely a person is to develop PTSD – however, if the symptoms diminish within a few weeks, it is less likely that the person will go on to develop PTSD.

What is PTSD?
PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a serious mental illness that can occur after exposure to a traumatic event. It is characterised by repeated and disturbing images or memories of the event, avoiding places or situations that remind people of the event and significant hyper-arousal including exaggerated startle responses and sleep problems.

If I have PTSD, does this mean I’m going crazy?
PTSD is a serious mental illness that will significantly impact upon a person’s quality of life. It does not mean you are going to change to an entirely different person, or not be able to lead a quality life.

I have watched the DVD, now what?
The booklet and website accompanying the PTSD DVD includes guidelines for accessing support for issues or questions raised by viewing the DVD. The booklet suggests that questions are written down and then discussed with local mental health professionals or providers. These are described in the booklet as Nurses, Chaplains, Psychologists, Social Workers, Psychiatrists or Medical Officers. The possibility of discussing the DVD and questions that arise with mates or the Chain of Command is also suggested.

The booklet and website includes contact details for additional resources including the Army Wounded Digger website, DCO, VVCS, DVA, Defence Families Australia, Mental Health, JHC, the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health and the All Hours Support Line.

Additional Resources and Contacts

All Hours Support Line (ASL)
– 1800 628 036
– http://www.defence.gov.au/Health/DMH/AllHoursSupportLine.asp

Defence Family Helpline (Defence Community Organisation)
– 1800 624 608
– http://www.defence.gov.au/DCO/Defence-Helpline.asp

Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS)
– 1800 011 046
– http://www.vvcs.gov.au/

Mental Health
– http://www.defence.gov.au/Health/HealthPortal/MentalHealthOnline.asp

Joint Health Command
– www.defence.gov.au/health/

Wounded Digger
– http://www.army.gov.au/Army-life/Wounded-Injured-and-Ill-Digger

Defence Families of Australia
– www.dfa.org.au

Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA)
– 13 32 54
– www.dva.gov.au

Australian Centre for Post Traumatic Mental Health (ACPMH)
– http://www.acpmh.unimelb.edu.au/

The text message that saved me from suicide inspired my business

As a start-up founder, PTSD Awareness Week almost killed me… The irony of this isn’t lost on me for a moment. As a veteran with Complex PTSD, maybe putting my foot into the start-up ring before I had all my mental ducks in a row wasn’t such a good idea.

But, I jumped in anyway, because the army taught me that courage is acting despite fear, and relentlessly pressing forward is how we win.

Yet, in the very week the media beseeched us to spare a moment’s thought for those 2M Australian’s dealing with PTSD – the very same week I discover my 66wk old start-up has received Defence funding and received an invitation to meet with the Minister for Veteran Affairs – I’m completely unable to leave my bed. I spent three days wrapped in blankets, working hard to deny the voices that reify my Imposter Syndrome, telling me I’m not qualified. I can’t do this. I’m a failure / fool / traitor / etc.

I just wanted to find some peace

I launched Soldier.ly after my suicide attempt in 2016 was interrupted by an SMS, and we’ve since created world-first, international award-winning tech that lets people detect and manage stress on a Fitbit smartwatch. This year, I’ve been flown to Switzerland to accept a global innovation award and recently returned from the U.S. after meeting with people who will turn our little company into a global catalyst. While all this sounds incredibly exciting, the point is despite all the bright lights and attention, all I wanted to do was pull away from the world and find some peace.

But, I’m a veteran, and this kind of thinking isn’t new to far too many of my veteran mates. Our rate of mental health issues spans depression, anxiety and chronic stress from our service to this country that’s twice the national average. But after 16 months in this space, and after speaking with other founders who’ve burnt out, literally collapsed in the streets from exhaustion, and destroyed intimate / personal relationships out of their commitment to ‘the win’, I’m glad to find I’m not alone.

I’m not here to whinge. Quite the opposite. I’m simply openly saying what too many of us fear to say, start-up life is a fucking hard slog, and things need to change.

Entrepreneurs, according to a study by Michael Freeman, are 50% more likely to report having a mental health condition, with some specific conditions being incredibly prevalent amongst founders. Founders are:

6X more likely to suffer from ADHD

3X more likely to suffer from substance abuse

10X more likely to suffer from bi-polar disorder

2X more likely to have psychiatric hospitalisation

2X more likely to have suicidal thoughts

The first thing that falls away is the time I spent looking after myself

It’s no surprise why. I spend so much time worrying about finding, hiring and firing the people we need, making sure we can keep the doors open, filtering good advice from bad, choosing to pivot (or not), balancing work, life, money, time etc. that the first thing that falls away is the essential time I used to take to look after myself.

Our economy, our society, desperately needs entrepreneurs. Our self-selected, self-flagellating gig is to create jobs, new markets, products and services, and hopefully, make enough money to live…let along thrive and survive. To be honest, I have zero desire to be the next Elon Musk or Mark (the robot) Zuckerberg. But I’m 100% committed to solving the problem I’ve invested my life savings and reputation on.

I’m not going to end veteran suicide; I accept that. The Senator from Townsville’s recent impassioned speech about the burden on our community and the families who are left to grieve – after those we love or served with did the unforgivable and gave up – is what gets me out of bed 99% of the time.

I accept during my dark moments that I have to be alive to play a role in being part of the change that’s needed so we bury less mates. So, whilst it’s difficult to admit that I have a mental health issue, I have to go on record as I’ve discovered I’m not alone.

Ridiculous transparency and admitting when we struggle, fuck up or miss a turn is a crucial part of Soldier.ly’s company culture. So yes, I often contemplate a world where I don’t have to get out of bed, far more than I’d like to admit. But then I remember why I started, and I turn and face the wonderful people around me who’ve been such a significant part of our journey. I do what the women I lost getting to where I am today reminded me almost daily to do: breathe, and be vulnerable.

You must have courage to ask for help

Vulnerability means admitting we can’t do this alone. It also means having the courage to ask for help. Both of which are deeply foreign to me, though I’m slowly learning to step outside my comfort zone.

Darren Chester, Minister for Veteran Affairs Darren Chester is deeply invested in supporting our veterans, and the Department of Veteran Affairs are working hard to serve the veterans who reach out to them for support, but even in my community, far too few of us ask for help, for a range of reasons spanning confusion, social stigma, and lack of time. That’s why it’s essential start-ups like mine, RedSix and Swiss 8 do the grunt work that desperately needs to be done at our level to create change.

I’d argue that the start-up community needs to do the same thing we’ve started doing in the veteran community. Start-up founders need to support their peers. Likewise, we need to have the courage to admit we’re not OK.

Famed TED talk social researcher and vulnerability guru Brene Brown said specifically about my community that when pondering life after service, the problem for men and women who’ve served ‘on purpose’ is that when transitioning to life as a civilian ‘just living isn’t enough’.

I’d argue that’s equally true for founders. We don’t choose this life because it’s an easy path. There’s a measure of hope, belief and sweat required to stay on mission. It’s that certainty of purpose that got us started, but as I’ve recently learned, it’s the support of our cohort that keeps that fire alive.

As a veteran & founder, I find I’m getting better at surviving this epic journey the more frequently I have the courage to admit I don’t have all the answers. Today, when I find myself struggling at this vertiginous life, I actively seek support.

That doesn’t mean that I always find it, but it’s certainly helping me stay out of bed on the days I’d rather emulate a Groundhog and avoid daylight, and that’s a start…

Will a royal commission into veteran suicide address the larger issue?

Republished article from Defence Connect

Australia’s service personnel answer the call to protect the nation and its interests – with single-minded dedication and commitment to keeping Australia secure. However, when they return from far-flung combat zones or from responding to humanitarian disasters, they face another battle, one the nation needs to do more on to support them through, writes Chris Rhyss Edwards of Soldier.ly.

As a veteran, I want to go on record to say I support the aims and intent of a royal commission into veteran suicides. But, I’m saddened that it could cost $100 million, take five years, and drag families who’ve suffered the loss of sons and daughters through even more hours of unnecessary pain – most likely without any thought to the emotional wringer this will put them through – for what we ‘hope’ is a set of findings that will effect real change… though likely not. It’s going to get ugly.

In recent years, the public’s become more aware of the suicide rate in Australia, likely because of increasing news coverage of veterans who’ve safely made it home from war zones, only to take their own lives for all manner of complex reasons I hope the commission comes to understand. The statistics are sobering.

We’ve lost more soldiers to suicide than fighting in Afghanistan, and – on average – we suffer another veteran death by suicide every four days. That’s why I am grateful the public outrage is finally catching up to the redacted outrage in our community. But, if this royal commission solely focuses on veterans’ lives lost by suicide, or almost lost (like me) through suicide attempts, then we’re missing the larger point.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians 15 to 44 years of age. Yes, one segment of the veteran community sits at twice the national average when it comes to death by suicide, but our deaths make up only a fraction of the circa 3,000 suicides in this country each year.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to diminish the importance of undertaking an official inquiry to understand why we lose around 80-100 veterans each year. That’s why I support the intent of Julie-Ann Finney’s petition as it’s attracted much-needed attention and support for change in our community that’s been too long coming.

The royal commission’s findings can’t come soon enough, because by the time they hand down their findings in five to seven years, roughly 600+ veterans will have died by suicide, and another 6,500+ will have planned to, or tried to, die by their own hand.

If the royal commission must go ahead, then why doesn’t the government serve the entire nation – rather than the 2 per cent of us who’ve served the nation in uniform – and increase the scope to focus on our national suicide crisis? Likewise, why not include all first-responders and workers in industries that are exposed to trauma and stressful environments? Absolutely, we need to answer the one question the government seems to have been reluctant to ask: how many veterans die by suicide each year? But we also need to know why so many ‘regular’ civilian teenagers and adults die by their own hand every year in the lucky country.

Knowing these number puts everyone on notice.

In the veteran community, it’s my hope that the royal commission also clearly reveals that the government’s current model for supporting veterans needs a dramatic overhaul. It’s likely (if they dig deep enough) that they will discover that the government – however well-intentioned, and for all the good it’s doing for a good percentage of the veterans and their families that are engaging with it – is inadvertently playing a role in some of these deaths.

I don’t make this claim lightly.

In the US, data reveals that veterans engaging with Veterans Affairs for mental health reasons are twice as likely to die by suicide. Some of these men and women in the US literally died of frustration, dealing with an oftentimes protracted support process. Others tried and simply couldn’t get the support they needed. The ABC revealed in March that veteran crisis help calls went unanswered due to DVA being short on counsellors to meet the demand, so it’s not a huge leap to consider that some of our veterans died because our current system failed them.

The commission should equally dig as deep into the data for the national population. Knowing the answer to these ugly questions will provide essential data points that must define the foundation and scope of a royal commission’s impending actions. Because when we know how many men and women died by suicide, what contributing factors led to their untimely deaths, and what support they needed, wanted, sought, and found – or didn’t find – only then we can start looking to shape policies and programs to deploy at the right time and place to do the most good.

One potential quick win in the royal commission’s undertakings would be to engage the general population, sooner rather than later. Invite those families directly affected by suicide, attempted suicide, or suicidal ideation to participate in a vox populi process via a national hotline that empowers them to share rare insight that would reveal vital information that could well lead to shaping solutions, programs and policy that would save lives.

Allowing a wider audience to engage with this investigative process to contribute their grassroots insight into their loss could shape the royal commission’s national research agenda. Having said that, my final question is, do we really need a royal commission to accomplish the above?

From a financial standpoint, a royal commission is an expensive process. From a human standpoint, we don’t yet seem to be asking whether it’s the right thing to do to retraumatise these families who’ve been through so much already, even if they are the people asking for it?

There has to be a better way.

Speaking as a veteran, I’m a little ashamed we are viewing the suicide of a veteran as more important than the suicide of a civilian. We volunteered to serve this country, to defend and protect all that it holds most dear, most significant of which is its populace. If we must have a royal commission, then my suggestion is we hold one that focuses on the national interest. That’s what my brothers-in-arms fought and died for – some overseas, some here at home.

By all means, dig into why our Diggers are taking their lives, but please also take steps to protect the populace of the country we once volunteered to protect.

Chris Rhyss Edwards is the founder and CEO of Soldier.ly and a proud veteran who recently spoke with Defence Connect about the importance of supporting veterans, and the role technology can play in preventing veteran suicide.

PODCAST: Utilising technology to save the lives of military veterans – Soldier.ly

Podcast republished from Defence Connect

Veteran Chris Rhyss Edwards came within moments of taking his own life. In this episode of the Defence Connect Podcast, he recounts how it was an SMS at exactly the right time which changed that decision and is the reason that he is alive today.

Joining host Phil Tarrant, Edwards shares how this occurrence shaped his decision to explore how technology could be used to avoid veteran suicides, unpack the technology that he is developing and share how Soldier.ly is future-proofing its business plan to utilise new and upcoming technology.

Edwards also reveals his advice for those looking to start a business in the defence sector, who he is hoping to recruit as part of his team, and the biggest challenges facing Soldier.ly today.

 Listen here…

Veterans shouldn’t be sleeping on our streets…

At present, there are 110,000+ Australians currently roofless, homeless or living in insecure housing – which is tragic in and of itself – but as a veteran I’m heartbroken knowing that in NSW 8-10% of these are veterans.

1.6% of Australians volunteer to wear a uniform and serve this country, yet after they leave the service they are twice as likely to die by suicide, three times as likely to be unemployed or underemployed, and up to five times as likely to end up on the streets.

We clearly need to do more.

Which is why I’m doing my small part to make a difference by taking part in the Vinnies CEO Sleepout to raise money for the St Vincent de Paul Society to support all Australians in need. For one night, I’ll be sleeping outside to raise awareness for all of Australia’s homeless men, women and children – but I’m putting the spotlight on veterans specifically.

I’m fortunate to be one of the majority of veterans who are gainfully employed, and as such, able to put food on the table and keep a roof over my head. Now, I clearly don’t know what it’s like to be homeless, vulnerable and nigh on invisible, but recently a young veteran was sent to us for mentorship and his story involved recently living on the streets.

He offered to share his experience, this is what he had to say.

I asked him what his greatest struggle was…

“I’ve found the hardest struggle is no stability, from not having my own place and not having a purpose since leaving the army,” he said. “But I’m determined to tough it out and I think things will get better when I have a job, a roof and independence again.”

I asked him about what he wants to do next…

“I just need to save enough to get my own place and a car so I can attend my appointments and start my training to work in the fitness sector. I want to one day work within addiction and rehabilitation, that’s why I figured I’d start with PT.”

And then I asked him what the underlying problem was…

“I struggled when I first got out to find what I wanted to do next whilst looking for a job where I feel important and challenged.”

His story is no doubt common among the veterans who are lost in our streets and parks, so to help break the cycle of homelessness, I need your support. Will you help me to change this statistic for good?

In the US, a program called Built for Zero is ending veteran homelessness in a number of cities. With 5,000+ ESO’s operating around Australia, there are plenty of people waiting to help veterans and their families before their situation gets this dire – or with capability to support them if it does.

Our community needs to be linking in with local shelters and support services to ensure they are aware of the free help available to our vets. Sadly, organisations are under-resourced and often don’t have the capacity to be talking to each other, you could be the missing link.

Money isn’t always the answer. You can choose to link a local homeless shelter with a local veteran ESO. Or you can also donate to my CEO Sleepout campaign by following this link:

https://www.ceosleepout.org.au/fundraisers/chrisedwards/sydney

I don’t want to die anymore, but some of my friends do…

Reflections on men, masculinity and male suicide (by a survivor)

Dave hung himself from the lowest branch of the only tree in his backyard. Only weeks before he’d walked into my lounge room – his lower face covered in shaving cream, a machete in his hand, play acting the tough guy – an unexpected act of levity on his part.

He died of what we can only assume was a broken heart after losing his father, pain he tragically endured in silence. It was a heartbreaking end of a good man. He was the kind of man I knew enough to love a little; a stoic guy who was seemingly invincible…or so we thought.

Dave is dearly missed, he was as silent and strong as the tree his body swung from.  I was so very wrong about him, we all were, and I wish we saw it coming.

Months later, Dan took ‘one pill too many’. A tragic accident, we told ourselves. He was warm, robust and delightful, though not so much so when he was discovered ice cold on his bathroom floor. He chose to snuff out his own light due to what we can only – somewhat poetically – hope &/or assume was overwhelming despair.

I will be completely honest, what was I left to think when the life of the party had taken his own life, and a man who was seemingly invincible turned out to be gravely vulnerable?

I found it impossible not to ask myself the question; who am I to survive my own relentless sadness if better men cannot?

My particular brand of broken was forged on my drunken father’s fists. Of all the things I remember from those years, few memories are happy, most are better left unsaid. But I will say is this, a part of me died with every kick or punch. Every angry, ugly word that escaped his enraged lips left a scar that took me years to notice, and many more years to find the courage to turn and face.

This is the stuff that shapes – and far too often, ultimately ends – men’s lives. Our inability to turn and face the darker side of the oftentimes messy path that led us to where we stand today.

Another Dan once told me our friendship was over.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you lack vulnerability”, he replied.

I was at a loss for words. Why, I thought, would a friendship need to be grounded in weakness? The army taught me that vulnerability was the enemy, which is why we often heard the joke; “all I feel for the enemy is the recoil of my rifle.” It’s a somewhat rudimentary tactic for distancing yourself from pain and suffering, but the best &/or worst part is, it works.

For example…

I watched a man die. He tried to thread his motorcycle between two cars at high speed. He failed, then bled out at my feet. A lady friend was in the car beside me when this happened, and she was shocked that I wasn’t. Our friendship also died that day.

As a victim of childhood trauma, a start-up founder and veteran with Complex PTSD, I’m well aware of the various struggles’ men face with mental health and the ever-complex vagaries of what it means to be a man today. Everything from the #MeToo movement, to Gillette’s ad about toxic masculinity – and I’d argue a general ennui with the lack of existential satisfaction hair buns, flat screens and tight abs brings – has led to the astonishing fact that in many western countries the leading cause of death for men aged 14-44 is suicide.

In 2016, when my marriage imploded, I ended up on top of a seven-story building, doing the math whether the drop would do the job. Thankfully, someone reached out to me in real time, which is the only reason I’m here today. But, and here’s the big but, I 100% own the fact that I ended up on that rooftop because I was broken and too scared to ask for help.

Today, thanks to the support of friends, highly paid professionals and some WebMD searches I’ve come to learn that being a bit broken doesn’t mean I’m worthless or life is hopeless. Today, being a bit broken on this epic journey that we call life means I’ve lived, I’ve made it through whatever’s been thrown my way, and I’ve (proudly) got battle scars to prove it.

I heard a well-respected psychologist talk about the hierarchy of suffering and the way it stops one man with a broken heart from seeking support because he’s not suffering as much as his mate who lost a wife. What we aren’t understanding here is that one man’s trauma isn’t the same as anyone else’s, nor does it need to be. I watched a man die and didn’t blink, but I’m not sure if I’d be alive today if I’d been through the sexual assault one of my good friends has to live with daily.

A somewhat lumpy metaphor, and potential path forward, is to view the stuff that breaks us in much the same way the Japanese approach broken porcelain. They rebuild that which was broken with gold, making the once broken thing far more beautiful and precious in the process.

Globally, 800,000 people take their lives each year, despite the various well-funded government programs, community initiatives and a ridiculously pervasive ‘hopes and prayers’ mindset. With 1 in 4 of us having to deal with anxiety, stress or depression at some point, my question is why aren’t we doing more?

Not government. Not media. You and I.

We need to be courageous enough to reach out to those we see wavering, we likewise need to have the courage to speak up when life is pulling us under. I’m literally alive because someone had the courage to show me they gave a f@ck, so I pray more of us ‘man up’ to do the same.

I’m a veteran, and proudly so. I learned how to be a man from the toughest school there is, yet despite our years of training in how to be tough, resilient and fearless, my military brothers from another mother are taking their own lives because they are too afraid to talk about being broken.

We lose one every hour. I’m calling BS on that, we can change this. Likewise, too many of my civilian mates have killed themselves because they were lost or alone.

This simply needs to stop.

The hardest conversations we’ll ever have are with ourselves. They’re also the very first conversations we need to start having. Ask yourself, do I need support? Or do I know someone who does? For me, standing in front of a mirror feels like standing in front of a firing squad. But that’s what real courage is, we need to face up. We need to directly address death by silence.

One time, I sat in a bar for hours, drinking and chatting with an old friend. After all the usual benign banter the topic shifted to more meaty stuff. He talked about feeling isolated and sad. He talked about his latest stint in rehab. He talked about being disillusioned with life.

He asked me, “Why are so many men so sad?”

I didn’t have an answer. I quickly finished my beer and went to get another round before the tears started. Here was one of my best friends baring a measure of his soul to me, and my instinct was to run away. But I stayed, we got drunk, solved the world’s problems and then went our separate ways.

Later, I felt like a brick had been lifted off my soul because I understood that other men felt pain too. Later, he attempted to take his life.

I failed him.

So, we need to learn to turn and face this stuff or men will keep dying. We desperately need to change the narrative. The world needs more men to step up and speak out, to set an example. It takes real courage and strength to break this cowardly silence.

We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to our fathers, sons and friends.

Brand Tales: A word with …Chris Rhyss Edwards

Republished article from Brand Tales

The soldier turned content expert now helps military veterans face the future.

Chris Rhyss Edwards is not your average content specialist and author. After serving his country as an army combat engineer, Edwards became a successful digital media professional and content director, most recently at Comexposium. Last year, he launched Soldier.ly, a business that develops apps to help the quality of life of former soldiers.

Brand Tales: What is Soldier.ly?

Chris Rhyss Edwards: I’m a veteran who has post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of a fairly violent upbringing as well as a decade of service in the army. I formed Soldier.ly as a company to develop smart apps for my fellow veterans to help them monitor and manage their anxiety, stress and PTSD. The sad fact is a veteran takes their life every hour – we lose about 10,000 a year in the Western world. My team and I are working hard to create a smartwatch app that’s purpose-built to help veterans stay in control of their stress and PTSD, with the ultimate aim of trying to reduce the high suicide rate in the veteran community.

BT: Why is this project so important to you?

Edwards: We’ve lost more veterans to suicide than in combat in Afghanistan, so I’m deeply frustrated every time I hear that another veteran has taken their life because either the system has let them down or because they can’t find support. I honestly believe that one of the fastest ways to help veterans is to give them a practical app they can use on their smartwatch to help them help themselves by tracking and managing their anxiety and stress before things get out of hand.

BT: How did a former soldier end up as a content strategist?

Edwards: The only two things I ever wanted to do in life was be a soldier and a writer. After I left the military I moved into the digital media sector and by luck ended up almost exclusively working on projects that focused on developing commercially successful content for various brands like Blockbuster, NewsCorp and Clemenger BBDO. I love the written word – I’m a total word nerd – so I enjoy employing words well to engage people and persuade them to change behaviour.

BT: You completed a postgraduate Master of Creative Industries, majoring in Content Commercialisation, at QUT in 2012. What was the main thing you gained from that experience?

Edwards: How to write for different audiences and mediums. I originally signed up for the course to learn how to write non-fiction better as I’d been working on a book for over a year. What I took away from the course was a set of skills around writing for screen, print and social media, and these skills have been incredibly useful in recent years.

BT: In 2014, you wrote: “The only way content will ever regain our attention is when brands start giving us real value, when they start leveraging the age-old idea of storytelling to recapture our attention and imagination.” Have you seen much improvement since then?

Edwards: Absolutely. There are so many brands finally investing the time and effort to create deeply personal or compelling content that gives consumers value for the time they invest to consume it. The quality of long- and short-form text and video content has significantly improved, though there’s still a lot of absolute drivel out there because far too many people are still creating content for content’s sake. I’m genuinely excited about the way some brands are tapping into influencer marketing and using brand advocates to create content that tells truly personal brand stories that engage. The category doing this best has to be cosmetics – there have been some fantastic user-generated content campaigns in recent months from Estee Lauder and Lush Cosmetics, so I think a lot of other verticals could learn a few lessons from this innovative category.

“More brands [are] approaching the content sector more carefully, with more rigour and better success metrics than just ‘being seen’.”

BT: What kind of content marketing works best for you as a consumer now?

Edwards: I think influencer marketing is true to its name. I tend to trust recommendations from friends, family and Facebook over blatant brand marketing, so when I see someone I respect who has a significant social following sharing news or reviews of a product, I tend to listen.

BT: What are your favourite examples of Australian content marketing (or branded content)?

Edwards: One of my personal favourite local brands creating beautiful content that’s caught my attention and swayed me to purchase has been Mon Purse. It manufactures and sells premium made-to-order bags and accessories, and I’d seen its beautiful social assets for months, thinking “yeah, that’s beautiful, but I’m a guy and bags aren’t my bag”, then I saw an ad for a patent leather monogrammed wallet and I was hooked. Because it’d been pushing out good content across various social channels for months, I felt comfortable enough to purchase something I’d never bought online previously. Brilliant.

BT: Globally, which company does a great job with its content?

Edwards: Everyone says Red Bull because it’s a media powerhouse these days, but I’d say Tesla is the best ambassador for content marketing done well. Its recent launch of a Tesla into space captured the world’s attention, and that’s just the latest example of the great work it does inside a company that operates on a ridiculously slim advertising and marketing budget. Its entire marketing focus is on two things: earned media and cultivating a global community of raving fans. To me, there’s no other brand out there that does this as well.

BT: What’s the future of content marketing in Australia?

Edwards: I think Australia’s had a bumpy start in the content marketing space, but I see light at the end of the tunnel. The sad debacle around the iSentia acquisition of content agency King Content – quickly followed by the closing of the agency – took the wind out of the sector for a while, which I think that was a good thing.

When content marketing became the buzzword, almost overnight every agency pivoted and became a content marketing agency. There was a lot of noise, smoke and mirrors that resulted in clients paying way too much for meagre campaign-focused work that had little genuine brand insight or well-thought-through strategy. Thankfully, I now see more brands approaching the content sector more carefully, with more rigour and better success metrics than just “being seen”. Some agencies have truly earned their stripes in this space; the work out of Edge and Edelman has been great.

I’m also gladdened to see the content discovery sector has evolved, too. Too many people assume content campaigns go viral simply because they’re cute or compelling content, when the truth is most viral campaigns have a significant paid component to them. So, seeing the growth in the integration of content discovery platforms, such as Taboola and Outbrain, as well as paid social media advertising across Facebook and YouTube in media plans and schedules is a great sign marketers understand that content marketing is as equally about creating great content as it is about ensuring the content gets seen.

Feature article: A Revolutionary New Weapon for Combating Stress: The Soldierly Smartwatch App

Article republished from HOTDOC

We talked to the founder and CEO of Soldier.ly, which has built a revolutionary new smartwatch app focused on improving the lives of veterans and others prone to high stress.

Chris Rhyss Edwards is a former soldier who spent a decade in the Australian Army as a Combat Engineer and Peacekeeper. Many years after leaving the military, on his honeymoon in Thailand, he and his wife were having serious problems. Rather than enjoying what should have been a romantic vacation, they were at each other’s throats because they felt socially isolated from their support networks, and were struggling spending so much time together in confinement. At his lowest moment, Chris found himself on top of a building seven stories high, emotionally burnt out, and contemplating whether to jump.

As he stood there, peering over the ledge, he was interrupted by a text message from a friend asking, ‘Are you OK? I haven’t seen you on social media’. Fortunately, that was enough to change Chris’ mindset, and he stepped away from the edge.

What was happening to Chris, happens to too many veterans. Bouts of depression, anxiety and PTSD affect almost half of those who leave the Australian Defence Force.

Although his wife returned to Australia — and Chris subsequently struggled with insomnia, heavy drinking, and loneliness — he carried on, realising he wanted to do something to help others in similar stressful circumstances.

After thinking the idea over, he was inspired to create an app linked to wearable technology. The app would help people identify stress early on, so they could turn things around before their stress worsened. As an army veteran, Chris thought this technology would be particularly useful for those who had served in the military.

Stress and the military

If anyone is to know something about stress, it’s Chris. Growing up in the shadow of a violent alcoholic father, Chris became accustomed to witnessing regular beatings of his mother, as well as enduring many beatings of his own.

From a young age he recalled standing in front of his mother when his father returned home drunk and angry. This compulsion to protect ultimately led Chris to want to become a soldier as soon as he could. So, at the age of 17, he joined the army and never looked back.

Unfortunately, by then Chris had already developed complex PTSD, and his time in the habitually chronic stress environment of the army only worsened it.

As Chris described, “It’s a fairly stress filled environment that comes at you from many directions. There’d be car accidents with people killed or seriously injured, so if you were first on the scene you’d be scraping up your mates or patching them up until help arrived. Other times, there’d have been a suicide and you’d be the first on the scene so you’d need to try and keep people calm, things like that”.


Pictured: Chris Rhyss Edwards during his time serving in the ADF.


As a result of those experiences, Chris developed complex PTSD or CPTSD. Whereas PTSD is caused by a single traumatic event, CPTSD occurs after months — and even years — of repeated traumatic experiences. It also has more debilitating symptoms than PTSD.

For instance, while both diagnoses are associated with nightmares, flashbacks and hyperarousal, complex PTSD also includes symptoms like: uncontrollable feelings, dissociation, negative self-perception, relationship difficulties and a strong sense of despair.

Regrettably, this condition is relatively common among military personnel. As Chris explains:

Only about 20% of soldiers in operation are shot at, but 46% of us leave with some form of mental illness or injury, and about 28% suffer from post-traumatic stress. PTSD actually derives from being in a sustained period of stress and never having the chance to power down. Basically, the brain rewires and you stay in a state of chronic stress.

The development of the Soldierly app

As a result of his army experiences, Chris was easily able to see how wearable technology could benefit those currently serving in the military, as well as veterans. So, he sat down with various factory executives at Apple, Fitbit, Samsung, and Google Life Sciences to discuss the idea with them, and it was met with great enthusiasm.

Based on those conversations, Chris founded the company, Soldier.ly, to produce his smartphone app. The Soldierly app which will be released in early 2019 — runs on Fitbit smartwatches and works on popular iOS and Android smartphones to detect stress and help the wearer take control.

It does this by tracking various behavioural biometrics including heart rate variability, sleep cycles, time spent in exercise and time spent using a smartphone. Then, based on various signals, it interrupts the wearer when it senses the onset of stress. Chris describes this as especially important, because many military personnel have become so accustomed to stress that they don’t even realise when they’re beginning to experience it.

He explains:

We lose a veteran every hour in the United States, and in Australia, it’s one every four days. The goal of the Soldierly app is to reduce suffering in the veteran and first responder communities by actually helping people who are accustomed to living with chronic stress to become mindful of it.

“The interesting thing is because they get so used to stress, they actually don’t recognise the signals anymore. So, when you can actually look at an outsider — your device being the outsider — and say ‘Hey, I’m detecting sustained periods of stress, do something about that right now’.

“This does two things… the first is that the app makes them mindful of stress and then helps them calm down, but what it also does is help them start to notice when they’re in these scenarios that have previously caused stress so they’re less stressed when facing them in the future. That was an unexpected outcome for us”, he says.


Pictured: The Soldierly app walking a user through a breathing exercise to alleviate mild stress.


How the Soldierly app works

“Basically, your average Fitbit sits on your wrist with its array of electronic sensors and apps that quietly run in the background, looking at how far you’re moving, whether you’re sleeping or moving around at night, noticing if your heart rate is steady for a period of time etc.  There are several different algorithms running at once and it’s building up a baseline”, Chris explains.

The Soldierly app then notices when there are significant variations from the baseline. When these are observed, Chris explains, “It alerts you by vibrating. On the screen, it will say, ‘Hey, are you okay? I’m detecting elevated heart rate levels’.

“If you say, ‘Yeah, I’m OK, then it asks ‘OK, so how serious an event was this?’ and it then asks you to rate the triggering event. So, for example, you may have been playing Xbox, which is a positive stressor, so now the app learns that this biometric incident profile isn’t a threat, so it knows not to worry about that in the future’. Basically, the device learns about you as an individual as you go about your day to day life, becoming smarter daily”.


Pictured: The Soldierly app showing (left) the screen that appears when stress is detected, (middle) the screen that appears when ‘mild stress’ is selected, and (right) the screen that appears on other wearers’ smartwatches when a friend alerts them of ‘severe stress’.


On the flip side, if the user is experiencing stress, the Soldierly app identifies the level of stress and then makes suggestions to bring users closer to their baseline. For example, in the case of mild stress, users are guided to do a breathing exercise — breathing in for four counts, holding their breath for four counts, and then exhaling for four counts, until they return to a calm state.

In the event of moderate stress, they’re directed to open up their smartphone and go through a guided visualisation and auditory exercise that uses binaural beats — in conjunction with guided meditation — to calm the brain down.

Then, in the case of severe stress, the Soldierly app does one of three things.

The first option it will offer is to reach out to the users chosen social connections, letting them know via messenger or SMS that their friend needs their support right now. If the user wants more formal support, the app asks, ‘Do you want to find support in your local area to go and see right now?’ If they choose yes, the app recommends whichever of the 3,000+ national Ex-Service Organisations that are located within the persons postcode. If there’s no local support available, the app will connect them immediately to the Open Arms (formerly VVCS) national hotline.

“We’ve tested this tiered approach and it’s just gone down so well. The boys will literally prefer to let their friends know, so when I hit the reach out button, it automatically pings the phones of the five people in my network, where we’ve found that at least two of them pick up in real-time and that, for our community, is awesome”, he says.

The Soldierly app has so much potential to serve the veteran community that Chris and his team are in discussions with the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct a national trial. The aim of the trial is to better understand what is causing veterans’ stress, as well as to help veterans achieve better mental health by helping them take control of the stress in their lives.

Other uses for the Soldierly app

As useful as the Soldierly app is for the military, it has the potential to be far more than just a tool for improving the lives of veterans. The app can readily be used in other vulnerable communities, such as helping people with disabilities, first-responders, the elderly and even stressed out executives.

To that end, there’s a lot of exciting research underway at Soldierly who have recently partnered with UTS’ Neuroscience Research Laboratory to conduct medical grade testing of the app with a view to it receiving TGA approval as a medical device.

“By the end of January, we hope to have enough data to make one final tweak of the algorithm so that we know we are achieving accuracy scores above 90%”, he said. “We plan to run tests on veterans and first responders, and then validate the learnings from these tests with mainstream civilian audiences so we can make the app live on the App Store and Google Play Store where it’s available to the 40 million Americans and 2.5 million Australians who are dealing with severe stress”.

Chris mentions that in addition to helping those individuals, the Soldierly app also has the potential to be extremely valuable in the corporate world. To this end, he considers himself especially fortunate for his amazing experience with HCF Catalyst, Australian’s leading health tech accelerator program.

“HCF Accelerator has been so good to us in the sense of supporting us through our journey and connecting us with some amazing people along the way. They have also agreed to participate in a pilot trial with 100 executives using the Soldierly app, which I think is a great start for us to move into the corporate sector where stress costs big business around $300 billion a year.

“It’s very much thanks to Sheena Jack, CEO of HCF, that we’ve been able to develop a fully-functional prototype which we have been able to take to trial in under 6 months. They’re a very proactive supporter of ours, and we’re deeply grateful for that support”, Chris says.

How the Soldierly app can benefit GPs

While the Soldierly app will be especially useful to individuals suffering from stress, it can also make it easier for GPs to treat their patients. For instance, after speaking to a large group of GPs in Australia, Chris realised there’s a very specific need for improved patient monitoring. This is seen as particularly important, because a whopping 70% of visits to doctors are stress-related.

“We could lessen the burden on the National Health System if there was a proactive monitoring tool that a doctor could use to help patients who come in frequently”, Chris says. He believes that with this capability, doctors could monitor patients from their office and give them a call if it looked like they needed additional help.

It’s great for elderly people as well… Some older people can fall over in their houses and may lay there for hours or days undetected and unable to reach out for help. With the Soldierly app, we could see they were incredibly stressed, and that persons GP, neighbours or family could be immediately alerted to offer support.


Pictured: The Soldierly app displayed on the wrist of an elderly wearer.


Chris encourages doctors who are interested in the technology to visit the Soldier.ly website. He also appreciates receiving emails from GPs and other people who offer suggestions for other use cases for the app, saying, “I get the weirdest and most wonderful emails at all hours of the day from people offering their support, it’s been amazing”.

To reach Chris by email, you can contact him at chris@soldier.ly.

The bottom line

Stress in itself isn’t bad, yet we’ve normalised stress to the point that it’s become dangerous. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. It also leads to negative mental health outcomes that affect our entire society, impacting people of all ages relationships and working lives, and resulting in billions of dollars in productivity losses every year.

While stress impacts almost everyone at some point in their lives, there are some populations that are particularly vulnerable, such as military personnel, veterans, the disabled, the elderly and those with mental illnesses.

Until recently, there were few reliable solutions to help these individuals identify when they were beginning to experience stress, so they could turn things around. With the advent of the Soldierly app, that’s changed.

Perhaps, in the not-so-distant-future, GPs will be able to monitor patients’ conditions from the comfort of their office with the use of wearable technologies — allowing them to proactively provide patients with the best possible care. Sounds to us like an idea whose time has come.

What I think about when I think about running…(and life)

A little over 30 years ago, Haruki Murakami, famed Japanese author of Kafka on the Shore, Norwegian Wood and the enigmatic trilogy 1Q84, decided to quit smoking and start running. He based his decision upon the idea that he could all too easily get out of shape and gain weight as a writer sitting at a desk for hours a day.

His logic is sound, yet the ends he went to are extreme to say the least.

On average, he runs 60kms a week, typically running 10kms a day 6 days a week. To date, he has completed 25 marathons, one ultra-marathon (100kms) whilst filling the time between penning 11 novels, most of which have won awards &/or critical acclaim. The man is both a hero to me and the reason I wake up wondering at 45yrs of age ‘what the f@ck have I done with my life?’

As a writer, Murakami has a wonderful way of transporting a reader to worlds that are same-same different. I love reading his work because it’s wonderfully written, elegantly paced prose, with well-formed characters interspersed with a smattering of slightly left of center elements that sit somewhere between ‘uncanny valley’ territory and ideas that are ‘odd but not too odd to be jarring’.

Spending a day lounging on a couch or in bed with his work is like spending a day between the sheets with someone you love. As reading experiences go it’s akin in sentiment to the line Michael Fassbender serenades Penelope Cruz with in the movie adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The CounselorLife is being in bed with you…”.

Murakami is however less famous for a non-fiction novel he penned on his experiences as a runner, titled What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. The title itself is a play on Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which is fitting indeed because Murakami conveys his twin loves – writing and running – in this uncharacteristically light 180 page read.

Having recently finished this agile tome, I have been inspired to commit to completing the New York marathon this year. At first glance this may sound extreme to my non-runner friends, but as someone with 30+ years of running under his feet it’s more a goal than a guillotine for me. It also turns out to be fairly simple to achieve, I found a suitable charity to join, I raise some money for them, and voila, I’m off to New York in November.

From a runner’s perspective, the New York marathon is the Holy Grail. It’s a goal, nay, a raison d’être, that’s lingered in my mind longer than any other idea I have every managed to concoct. Last November I had the good fortune to be in New York City the day after the marathon, and I had the joy of being able to run through Central Park through the marathon finishing line gates without having to have spent almost four hours of my life earning the right.

But, this year I intend to earn that right. The reason ‘why now’ can best be encapsulated in three quotes that I often see or hear from running friends;

“Because we can, we must.” Bono

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Haruki Murakami

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” John Bingham

So, to all my running friends out there, and to those who know they should, but who are teetering on the edge of starting, I wish you many happy hours on the roads, trails and tracks. Every step taken on the road is a step taken towards a healthier life. Every run a building block towards even greater goals.

All it takes is one step, and then another, so go on, take it and see what happens…