Women's History Month: Lindsay Johnson
Someday I'll Wish
Upon A Lantern
By: Lindsay Johnson
Life Happens, Not Always in This Order...
CHAPTER 1 - My Brother, Cory Thomas Bailey
CHAPTER 2 - If I Could Turn Back Time
CHAPTER 3 - The People We Meet
CHAPTER 4 - Wellbeing At Work
CHAPTER 5 - Take What Works and Leave The Rest
My Brother, Cory Thomas Bailey
Some days I feel selfish for being sad, some days I'm angry for not thinking about him, or that I'm not sad enough. And, some days every other thought is a reminder that I'll never hear "I love you sis" from my baby brother when we say goodbye.
As a kid I couldn't wait to be a grown up, I thought, "then I'd get to make decisions.” I couldn't wait to move away from adults that told me what not to do. I'd scrunch my baby face in the mirror, hoping to make a wrinkle. My girlfriends and I laugh about the times we'd lather ourselves in baby oil, then crawl out of the bedroom window to lay on the black rooftop. Today, I invest more money on wrinkle reducers than I will ever admit.
Five days prior to my brother's car accident I participated in my first bikini competition. For three and a half months I was working on me, physically and mentally. Walking the fine line of taking care of myself, yet selfishly disconnected from anyone not in fitness. I’d make ‘tentative plans’ with friends or online dates, then more often than not “something would come up.” That “something” was either to exercise or that I feared the tempation of unhealthy food, not on my plan. I’d call mom when I needed her to boost my self-esteem, or to vent. She let me know Cory was not in a good mental place. I called him a few times, but he wouldn't call back for weeks. The last time I heard his voice was around my birthday, mid-May. I remember talking his ear off about all the things happening in my life. He talked about how depressed he was over his ex-girlfriend and his hopes of the new job working out. I had just parked across the street from my apartment, then said, “call me back in a few days, I want to hear about your job and life stuff!” Neither of us picked up the phone.
It was July 2nd, I was on a high after the competition. It was the first time in my life I actually believed I looked good. Although, I still heard the voice say, “don’t eat that you’re too fat.” On this day, I was between personal training clients, with three minutes to pee, take a bite of food, one sip of coffee, and glance at my phone.
Time stopped when my phone read two missed calls, and one text from mom that read 911.
My mind immediately went to, "Oh no, my stepdad, Greg had another heart attack" then, "maybe it's Greg telling me mom is hurt.” Phew, mom answered, "hey, what's up," I said. In a shattered tone, she whimpered, "Your brother was killed." I gasped, "WHAT...which brother...how?" With little breath she cried, "Cory...car accident." Cory's accident happened at 7:32 am, while driving to his new job at a printing press shop in Troy, Michigan. In his new, used truck, Cory drove head-on into a guardrail, hit two trees then slid down an embankment, nearly into Elizabeth Lake. One witness said, "it didn't look like he hit the breaks.” We learned that he received an auto text from his bank that his account was low. Cory text back ‘bal’ just before steering off the road.
Moments such as this, in which we have zero control over our mental and physical reaction, fascinate me. As my body radiated heat head to toe, my knees buckled and hands grasped the countertop. My mind was present, but far away, like deep in a black and white tunnel in which I could see colors and movement in the distance, but nothing was clear. I didn’t know who was in the break room at work, it didn’t matter, but I heard muffled whispers and gasps. Physically in the room, mentally in another dimension. As children my Mom would sing Somewhere Over The Rainbow to my brother’s and I before bed. The visual was so clear.
I was Dorothy riding her bike away from the tornado, seeking shelter from the reality of pain.
Cory hadn't been at this job long, nor any job for that matter, but being his second in this field he found a gig that kept his interest. Here he could express his creative talents. All artistic genes bypassed my other brother, Shaun and I. Cory had a knack, and passion for creating music and art. He could hear a few lines from a song, pick up an instrument then play it spot-on. Guitar and drums were his greatest strengths.
Unfortunately, the kid never got a health break. Brace yourself, it’s a detailed list of 'how the hell' can these things happen to one person. At 4 months old, Cory developed Rickets, a calcium deficiency brought on by his allergy to milk. Being a boy, playing near swampy water he contracted viral meningitis at 8 years. Taken in for immediate surgery when his appendix ruptured when he was 9. But, the doozy that marked his destiny happened at age 13 when Cory was hit by a drunk driver while riding his bicycle. Having broke nearly every bone in his body he underwent 13 orthopedic surgeries. His traumatic brain injury was undiagnosed for 8 years. As an adult he had low self-esteem and his mental health spiralled into depression and drug addiction. So, if you’re ever stuck at the Pity Party or the Just My Luck Luncheon, remember how much Cory endured in his 28 short years, then thank your HP (Higher Power, whatever that is for you!) for your health.
The story book ending that every Mother wishes to read ideally sounds like this: “Child hit by car becomes Prom King, later successful businessman…” It’s hard to say “why” Cory was robbed of that chance at such a young age. In recent years, my spirituality shifted to believe everything in life has purpose. We may not understand why at the time, but eventually the storyline circles back with an explanation. If we are in tune, and compassionate with others then our heart is open to accept the explanation. When someone close to you dies, the last thing you want to hear is, “time heals all wounds.” That may be true, but the eternal question, “why?” is all I cared to find the answer to, initially. Low and behold, time has passed, and I have come closer to a place of peace to accept the truth that Cory is gone. Yet, living across the country for 9 years, it wasn’t unusual not to speak to him frequently. To this day I have thoughts to call Cory, and then the meaning of ‘harsh reality’ is clear, and excruciating.
I’m grateful Cory and I had the opportunity to create adult memories when we visited San Francisco in August of 2012. We went to the Mystery Spot and Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz. We hit every tourist trap from the Bay to the Ocean and all those in between. My favorite memory was at a guitar shop in the Haight Ashbury. He picked up an acoustic guitar, and as he could, Cory strummed Stairway to Heaven, people stopped to listen as if he was hired talent. This is the photo of that memorable day.
It may be unintentional, but many people show their ‘truth’ around death. In the movies you watch a character choose to fight evil or flee the scene. She’ll either stand up for what’s right, she'll hide in fear or worse, she'll push someone else into the fire. My friends who had loving intention, in which they were not seeking personal gain, never had to say a word. They’d hold me, do something goofy to make me smile or remind me of good memories. I was taken back by the ‘friends’ that never showed because of a work obligation, or other lame excuse. I’m not just talking about not showing to the funeral, it’s like they disappeared completely. Analyzing now, I believe they feared feeling pain. Is it true that people “don’t know what to say,” or is it fear we'd be vulnerable to feel someone else’s pain and feel obligated to fix it? To be fully attentive to someone who is in need we have to open space that may be currently occupied by personal ego. It’s easier to keep the space blocked, not to stir up emotions and fear. This experience taught me to hold tight those true friends that share common beliefs in what matters in life. Those that know all they have to do is show up and listen.
Cory’s funeral was Monday. The following Thursday festivities began for my step-sister's wedding. Kaylyn had been planning her special day for well over a year. I was honored having been asked to be a bridesmaid. With proof of Cory’s death, the airline kindly allowed me to fly the day he died using the same ticket I pre-purchased for her wedding. Outside of our immediate family we made it clear that we didn’t want to talk about Cory at her wedding. It was hard enough to put on a smile, let alone when you’re overwhelmed with sympathetic hugs and new people constantly asking, 'how did it happen.’
Kaylyn’s DYI wedding was so creative, she blew my mind. It looked like a Pinterest professional planned her wedding. My favorite was the leveled cupcake wedding cake. By night's end I had eaten 7. I justified the over indulgence with,“everyone else is getting drunk, cupcakes are my vice.” That was just the trigger my addictive brain needed to resurface what was a managed eating disorder. After 2 slices of pizza around midnight I snuck away to ‘get rid’ of the bad food the quickest way I knew how. I remember staring at myself in the mirror, ashamed. I live, breathe and preach healthy living, but I felt so lost, disconnected, insecure and alone.
A few weeks later I was back into my routine in San Francisco - work, exercise, eat, sleep, repeat…except sleep was slim to none, and the food was whatever, whenever. The extreme opposite that I lived for months prior while in training. It was around this time the idea to use my corporate background in combination with my fitness passion to start a Corporate Wellness business emerged. I buried my brain and time into designing a business plan, building relationships with quality instructors and guerrilla marketing to friends and former colleagues. I was drained, I’d work to not think about Cory, I’d eat to not think about work; mentally and physically I was sick.
If I could turn back time…I wouldn’t. Mistakes are made to learn from.
In May of 2007, I followed a boy to Northern, CA. Predictably that relationship did not work out, but he gave me an excuse to escape my hometown for my first big girl job as a Marketing Manager in San Francisco. If it wasn’t for my mom encouraging me to take a video production course in college, in which we road tripped across the US, making a documentary of our experiences, I don’t think I would have had the courage to leave Michigan. San Francisco was a stop on the trip, and I clearly remember thinking, “I could live here.”
My first job in California was for an event planning company who sells dining cruises to individuals, and charters yachts for large groups. What a blast that was for 3 years. Marketing events on boats during the day, drinking till dark most nights. Oh boy, do I have some embarrassing drinking-at-work memories, some hilarious, most not so much, but those stories deserve a chapter of their own.
From the yacht company I moved on to an advertising agency, with a Manager who’s ego and attitude made most of us cringe when she beckoned from her office chair. Although the working environment was torture, I learned a lot as a Senior Account Executive, working on an international food portfolio of brands.
After a year at the agency, no longer could I endure the negativity, nor could the toxic workplace tolerate my naivety in the sneaky world of old-school advertising. At this same time I was going through a break-up with my live-in boyfriend. Rather, I lived with him, his brother and girlfriend - the only way most my age can afford to live in San Francisco. After moving out, and looking for a new job, I thought, “maybe now is the time to knock one off the bucket list, and take that Euro trip!” From Italy to Greece, Amsterdam to Prague, and a few countries in between, I drank and ate my way through Europe for 5 weeks.
Just prior to leaving for Europe, we learned my good friend, Hilsia’s cancer had come back in full force. I visited her just before leaving, but I certainly did not think that’d be the last time I’d hug her. Hilsia and I met while working at the yacht company. She played a significant role in introducing me to the Bay Area. From raw fish to wineries, she showed this Midwest girl the ropes. I only wish her great fashion sense would have rubbed off. I learned of her passing moments after my plane landed back in the US after my 5-week trip.
Having sublet my apartment in San Francisco while traveling, my plan was to stay with family in Michigan until I got a new job in the Bay. Using the death of my friend as an excuse, I continued the senseless over eating and drinking habit that ignited in Europe. Only now back in my old stomping grounds, I remembered how I lost weight quick in my early 20’s by making myself sick. And, my arrogance thought I was invincible to drinking then driving. Low and behold, after fishtailing out of a gas station, and driving over a curb, the officer deflated my ego when I blew a 1.8.
While awaiting arraignment, I thought for sure my ass was grass when a bald, tattooed girl stared me up and down, then said with an un-amused tone, “pretty pink toe nails.” Needless to say, I was in the fetal position for 14 hours in an open floor jail room, until they called my name to say the judge will see me.
The Judge didn’t buy my excuse of drinking too much because my friend passed away, and that I drank on an empty stomach. When I told her my friend's funeral was next week, she said, “to ensure you don’t leave the state you’re required to wear a tether until your hearing in 2 weeks.” After 3 weeks of community service, and nearly $10,000 I was free to go back to California. But, only with a machine in which I had to breathe into daily. Michigan has a zero tolerance law. Meaning for the entire term of probation, for which I was sentenced one year, I could not drink a sip of alcohol. Well, that lasted 2 months when I learned a way around the system. Or, at least I thought I had until my sentence was extended another six months. One day I knew I was going to fail the breath test, so instead I didn’t blow. But, that’s not acceptable to the court. Did that stop me from drinking? Not a chance.
The People We Meet
January 3, 2012 as I’m walking toward The Grove, a casual restaurant near my house, to meet an OkCupid date for the first time, I see this guy on his phone across the street. After spending several months in shame from the DUI, aside from work, I rarely left my house. As I walked toward the restaurant, he’s crossing the street too, I say to myself, “Is that him, oh wow.” I’m nervous. I hadn’t felt butterflies in quite some time. Andrew was Midwest raised, now a tech guy that snowboards and races a corvette. That’s him I thought and he is as tall dark-haired and handsome as the OKC photos!
From hobbies to career goals and life values, Andrew and I had common interests from the get-go. It was one of our early dates that I went into the restroom, spun around in a few giddy circles, looked in the mirror and said, “I’m going to marry this man.” Okay, that was after two bottles of wine, but still we made great memories for a year and a half. Then one day, his letter to me read, “…if you don’t realize you have a drinking problem... you’re toxic, and I can’t be in your life…”
After 10 years at Apple, Andrew set off to build his dream, a software platform for which he, and millions of car enthusiasts could save and purchase car parts, communicate with each other and more. Here I was, yet again, laid off from my marketing job, spending more time drinking while networking then I was following my “dream.” Mostly because I had absolutely no clue what my dream was. Aside from a recent peaked interest in exercise, travel and planning events nothing made sense. I was lost, insecure, and now, alone.
When I read his note, I recall hyperventilating while on the phone with my mom, sobbing with confusion. So clearly I saw cloud-like visions of the house, the kids, the life we’d have together, burst above me. Alcoholics Anonymous would call that my moment of clarity or a “god shot.” The future I designed in my mind was gone, and I had no control. A couple weeks passed with little communication with Andrew.
I neglected to mention that in the spring of 2013, after a mess of a drunken night, my mom suggested I see what AA was all about. She said, “maybe they can teach you how to drink responsibly.” Little did either of us know that’s not at all how Alcoholics Anonymous works. I didn’t drink for two months while going to AA meetings, and half-heartedly worked the program. Then I thought I learned enough to give drinking a try again. Now rewind, we see how well that worked out for me.
The idea to go back to AA was in my mind for a couple weeks, but I was convinced life would not be fun without alcohol. Thankfully AA welcomed me back, and this time I felt comfortable, like these are my people, we have so much in common, although we’re so different.
Today I’m grateful to say, September 14, 2013, was my last drink of alcohol.
My world has grown bigger than I ever could have dreamed. Today it’s not just a dream, I live each day doing what I love, helping others along the way. I believe with my whole heart that had I not admitted I was powerless over alcohol, came to believe there's a power greater than myself, and turned over my will to the care of that power, I would not be in the positive, peaceful place of love and light that I am today.
Wellbeing At Work
As mentioned earlier, after Cory’s death on July 2, 2015 I was running on empty - I’d work to not think about Cory, I’d eat to not think about work; rinse and repeat - I was sick, mentally and physically. After a few months of this cycle I gratefully retreated to the tools that I learned in early sobriety and yoga. I knew that I needed to step away from the hustle and bustle to rediscover happiness and health. I decided a solo trip backpacking through Asia for two months would do the trick.
While in Asia I had three indescribable spiritual experiences that helped me know that my brother will be with me always, and that I have a greater purpose in life. Two of those experiences were at breathtaking waterfalls, and one was in Chiang Mai, Thailand during the annual Northern Lights Festival. At this event the Thai culture has a tradition of lighting these practically human size lanterns and sending them off into the sky only after giving gratitude and making a wish. The words that came to me that night will forever live between me, Cory and my higher power, but I will say this -
I was forever changed after wishing Upon A Lantern that night in Thailand.
Personal Training and Coaching was a rewarding career from 2014 to 2016. I loved helping people and having one-on-one relationships, but given my first hand experience working as a corporate marketing professional in a silly-putty colored office led by Managers who didn’t know how to help their staff balance work and real life, I realized that my purpose is to help others find health and happiness using the tools that helped me. What better place to do that then in the workplace? It was on an island Thailand that I flushed out the business plan for what would soon be called FitPros.
Before leaving Asia I contacted a Graphic Designer friend, Kyle Kemp who I worked with at the yacht company so many years earlier. Kyle was doing freelance projects at the time and she was intrigued by my idea. Her response was something like this, “I’ll expect a lot of home-cooked meals until you can afford me… let’s come up with a brand!” We spent countless nights playing name games and rounds of logo edits. Right along with me Kyle put her heart into this idea that we could really help people by bringing fitness and health experts to people at work. FitPros launched January 2016. After about a year Kyle was offered a sweet gig at a company who could pay her what she is worth. But, to this day I have the utmost appreciation and respect for her creative input.
The first few years of FitPros was a whirlwind. Gratefully, I met Maggie Valiunas who came on as my right hand person. Looking back, I think had a case of Imposter Syndrome which led to a lack of defining our job titles or work assignments, but boy did we learn and grow together. Later joined by a kind-hearted Designer and Operations Coordinator we accomplished so much as a small team in 2017 and 2018. We brought on several of the world’s leading tech companies in multiple cities producing wellness programs and receiving great accolades.
In 2019 FitPros hit major milestones being able to hire full-time employees in HQ and provided jobs to hundreds of health and fitness experts to fulfill our programs in 52 cities across the United States. Today FitPros is hired by companies around the world to offer more than 30 wellness activities that help employees make positive lifestyle and habit changes. With our Wellbeing Manager ("sales") team growing I am able to step away from the day to day to focus on new business opportunities and marketing.
There is a ton of opportunity still in the workplace wellness space, and we have other verticals on the horizon. One vertical launched in 2020 is FitPros Kids for which children will have access to wellbeing programs that are not taught in school or found in other kids camp concepts. This light bulb idea came to me in 2018 after memory of being bullied in middle school. How cool would it be if we were able to teach kids how to think on their feet in an Improv Workshop, similar to those we do in the workplace? Or what about teaching kids how to use Self Defense for good if they were ever in a situation of getting harmed? Depression and obesity continue to be on the rise, how great would it be for our hip and in the know Wellness and Nutrition Coaches could get kids to listen to them more than the school counselor? We're currently selling these to corporations who offer this as a benefit to their employees children, with hopes to impact the greater community of underprivileged youth.
Take What Works For You and Leave The Rest
It’s human nature to crave a level of attention and recognition. Can we find that contentment within ourselves? I like to think so. But, for me it’s only possible after having fallen from grace (a few times) and humbly stood back up to make right the harm that I put onto others and myself. When I'm feeling lost I have to disconnect from inbound temptations and surround myself with people to guide me on a path that felt right for me. From South America to Asia learning from varying buddhist lineages, AA meetings, and random people - both kind-hearted and not so much - I heard what they all had to say, then formed a belief system that’s sustainable for me. To put it as plainly as it is: ‘be good, to receive good’. That’s it.
Someone once told me that the baseline of all choices are either made on Love or Fear.
The good choices come from a place of love, meaning that our only desired outcome is that good will come to anyone involved. We don’t wish harm or that someone will come out as a loser. It is tough to make a decision with love when the outcome is unknown. It’s also tough to choose love when we want to control the situation. I believe that fear-based choices are made when we there’s a chance we’ll lose something.
Oh, do you recall that adorable guy from OKC that helped me see that alcohol and I do not play nice? Well, after a few years separated to do our own self-soul-searching, today I call that man my husband. The reason to make a drastic change, such as deciding that alcohol has no place in my life could only come from within me, however I have eternal gratitude for that man who set a boundary and had the courage to say what he would not tolerate from a partner. Although it was painful at the time, I see now that he made that good choice from a place of love.
After experiencing rock-bottom and tragic loss my outlook on ownership of ‘things’ is much different. I care about the company that I built with my whole-heart, and I will experience deep sadness as I grow older and more people in my life pass away. However, I know now that it is the evolution of life. All things in my life are there at a particular time, for a reason. All things will come to a physical end. I hope to continue facing each day like it’s my last. Living with good in my heart and hope in my hands.
With love & gratitude always,
Lindsay (Bailey) Johnson