After mental health struggles, drummer now teaches about emotional wellness

July 2023


Mike Veny was an angry kid. He'd get into trouble, hit his little brother, yell and fight at school.

"I just thought I was a bad kid," said Veny, a keynote speaker at CHA's 2023 Catholic Health Assembly. "I was told to stop being bad. I didn't know why I was angry and upset all the time, but I just was."

Mike Veny, a corporate wellness specialist, discusses his three outs theory of detecting whether a colleague is struggling. He said to look for behavior that is out of character, out of nowhere and out of the group. Veny was a keynote speaker at the 2023 Catholic Health Assembly.

Veny became a professional drummer, and now he's a corporate wellness specialist. He's written several books, including Transforming Stigma: How to Become a Mental Wellness Superhero, and co-hosts a podcast called Bettermental.

Veny further described his time growing up on Long Island in New York. He had supportive, wonderful parents, he said, but his mental health and behavior issues got him expelled from schools and placed into mental hospitals. At age 10, he tried to overdose on his medications.

Drumming at his desk led to drumming lessons, which led to enrollment in a performing arts high school. He felt happiest at the drums. Starting at age 18, he toured the country as a professional drummer. He still drums, gives drumming and wellness workshops, and also gives people tools to help their own wellness and mental health.

Focus on self-care
He asks people to focus on self-care: for daily living (things like teeth brushing and laundry), for coping (such as preparing for a busy time at work) and for healing (bringing in professionals if needed to deal with trauma).

As Veny spoke, he leaned into his camera, pretending to see his virtual audience. "You're multitasking," he said. "You've got another window open on your computer. You're on your phone. That's OK. I'm multitasking in my head, too."

But if people have open loops in their head and don't deal with them, those loops become stress, he said. Veny recommended a "brain dump" — writing down everything on your mind. "It won't take away your problems, but it's going to make them more manageable," he said.

Veny also challenged his listeners to ask themselves three questions daily: What am I feeling? Where is it located in my body? What do I need right now?

The three outs
In Veny's case, he asked himself these questions before his talk: he felt nervous about the presentation, and the feeling sat at the top of his stomach. "Just that awareness alone grounded me," he said. He also meditated, drank some water, and told himself not to worry.

Veny also talked about castles, which have moats and drawbridges designed to keep them safe from enemies. Like someone who lives in a castle, he said people should be intentional about their boundaries and who and what they let inside. That means keeping boundaries around things like smartphones, social media and the news.

How to tell if someone else is struggling? Veny discussed the three outs: out of character, out of nowhere, and out of the group. Examples of each would be someone who is uncharacteristically late for meetings, someone who spontaneously starts crying, and someone who isolates from friends and family.

'Help me understand'
Don't give advice to the struggling person, Veny said.

"One good thing you can say is 'Help me understand.' Another good thing you can say is 'How can I support you?'" he suggested.

Veny said his time as a mental health patient helped him realize that when health care workers show their humanity, vulnerability and weaknesses it's a sign of strength. Working through anger, grief and fear can help leaders become successful, he said. "Learn to chase it, and work with it, and be an example for others," he added.

Copyright © 2023 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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