An interview with one of us who had a very close call with Mental Health

We all love to tell stories about the amazing things that happen to us but the most learning often comes from challenging times, when life is hard. In this latest in a series about growth and mental health, I sat down with CEO Michael Wendland who generously shared his story, in the hope it can help someone else who is struggling.

Michael, who built a great company over 11 years, was introduced to me in 2019, through a circle of entrepreneur friends who hang out together. When he reached out to me for help with a challenge in his business, although it was clear his business was in a crisis, I was deeply concerned that he might be as well for good reason.



Kevin: When we met, you were going through layers of challenges. Can you give some context by telling us a little about yourself and the business you built?

Michael: I’m a born-and-raised British Columbia boy who traveled around the world, in my earlier years, but have stayed pretty close to home in Kelowna (a small town about four hours east of Vancouver). It’s the best city in the world! I’ve been married for 19 years – far and away the best decision I’ve ever made in my life and have three kids. Outside of work, I love music, play a lot of piano and am slowly learning the guitar. And, except for cricket and rugby, I love almost every sport.

I’m an entrepreneur by trade and ran and scaled my company Refresh Financial, which was sold a couple of years ago. Since then, I’ve enjoyed consulting for other companies, around the world, and have started an E-Comm business because I just needed something to start again.

Kevin: Tell me when life started to get really rough.

Michael:  It was a slow burn out, creeping up slowly, over about five years. As you know, any business trying to grow and scale goes through a variety of challenges, and those seemed to gain momentum and complexity through that five-year period. Then, COVID happened and, suddenly, I couldn’t contain the challenges.

They erupted and overflowed into my home, and even relationships with our friends. The company debt was attached to personal guarantees to some very close family friends, and now, I could potentially lose the company.

I saw it taking a toll on my wife and in my home at a level I had never experienced before. Up to then, I had done a really good job of separating the business from home – containing any challenges – as much as possible.

As much as I wanted to put my best foot forward and pretend things would be OK, life erupted into a heightened sense of real adversity, personally and professionally.

Kevin: That’s a lot of stress and pressure. What happened from there?

Michael: I was really hazy during that time. I operated like a robot going through the motions to maintain existence and get things done in the business to not lose it. My social life was non-existent and COVID obviously played a factor.

I had always been a very positive person and told myself it was one of my strengths, as a leader and an entrepreneur.  But, by summer of 2020, I started having some dark thoughts – not just negative, but dark.

I come from a stoic, German background. We don’t show emotion. People always tell me I’m very contained and appear to have it all together, on the outside. It’s how I’m wired. You put your head down, when things get tough, and work harder to get it done.

But I had an Achilles heel because those things stopped working for me. I hadn’t properly trained my mental, physical and emotional muscles for anything else.

There’s no history of mental health challenges in my family and I could probably count on one hand the number of people I knew who had gone through a mental health crisis. I didn’t respect that it could ever happen to me, so I wasn’t mindful enough to see the build-up.

My amazing wife supports me unconditionally and, on paper, I had the support structures I could have gone to – business coaches, forum groups and CEO groups, friends. But I didn’t let them in to my true self and my true challenges, for a variety of reasons.

That was self-induced and I’ve learned, after the fact, how we play into our stories.

Because I’m a solution-oriented thinker I tried to think about the path out. I started to think if I took myself out of the equation permanently it could be, in fact, the best solution.

I thought I was running out of solutions and time. Then, I actually attempted to take my own life. Thankfully, it was unsuccessful but that’s how bad it got.

Kevin: I think you were in the red zone of the mental health continuum where, cognitively, we don’t make good choices and lose faith. Can you help people to understand how a smart, successful, driven guy, like you, gets to the point of believing that ending their time on the planet early seemed like a solution?

Michael: Quite honestly, that’s still a tough question to answer. Never, in a million years, did I ever think this it would happen to me. I wasn’t thinking clearly, and I felt I was out of options.

When the walls closed in, I never felt so alone in my life. That loneliness came from the lack of support structures in place, where I could process out loud and speak to others who have gone through the same situation.

I thought, I’m strong. I’ve pushed through in the past, and I’ll push through again.

Thank God I’m still here today. I never want to go through that, again, even though challenges and adversity will always come.

Kevin: How did you climb out and get help?

Michael: When I called you that summer to consult for the business, I thought that if I could solve the business problems, everything else would follow.

In our first conversation you asked me, point blank, if I was OK. I remember that moment because it hit me like a ton of bricks that I wasn’t. Nobody had asked me that before or recognized the stoicism I was showing.

The process to heal started with that first conversation. Although you didn’t consult for the business, you said you’d call me once a week to check in, which we did for about four months.

It wasn’t a ‘snap your fingers and you’re good’ but it was the turning point.

Kevin: So, now you weren’t alone and had someone with you on the journey. I’m grateful to have some training and have been down this road with others. It’s not an easy conversation but it opened some possibilities.

From that point, what helped you to heal and get back on track?

A friend who listens

Michael: There are so many things! Definitely, having that connection with someone who is unbiased and in your corner, calling just for me every week is vitally important. There was no invoice and you weren’t trying to earn a paycheck.

Professional help

Second, you suggested I get professional help which was fantastic. I spent two hours a week processing my thoughts out loud and, although I didn’t even appreciate it fully, at the time, it was more healing than I can say. I started to unpack thoughts that swarmed in my mind, that I had internalized for years.

I obviously think about mental health very differently, now, and with the upmost respect. I now think you get to good mental health like you have a physical fitness plan where you work out regularly and eat right.

I didn’t have a mental fitness plan – and didn’t think I needed one.

Kevin: When your brain is broken, you need an expert. Like if you have a compound fracture, friends can’t fix it. You need a doctor. Tell me more about the people around you and why they couldn’t be helpful.

Michael: Although people wanted to help, their advice was similar to the advice I was telling myself: Do this and this and get the business solved. Like me, they went to solutions. It wasn’t inherently wrong; it just wasn’t helpful. Using your broken leg example, people told me I just needed to walk on it more and it’ll go away.

Kevin: There’s a distinction, here, between solution and hearing. By nature, we go to solutions so quickly because our intention is to help people get out of pain. Good counselors listen and have tools and frameworks to help you to move ahead.

Other people’s stories

Michael: Exactly. Another thing that really helped was when you introduced me to some people who had gone through the experience before; hearing other leaders who went through an adversity that struck them to the core, what they did and how they got on the other side of it. Combined with professional help, it immediately made me appreciate that I’m not alone.

One person I talked to probably doesn’t even realize the value of our short, 30-minute conversation that was so life-giving to me. Even though I’ve never met the person face to face,

I’ll be forever indebted.


In terms of practical advice, he said you actually need to rewire your mind and the way to do that is to find one thing, when you wake up, that you’re grateful for.

Some mornings, that one thing is so utterly simplistic – like the soft pillow under your head – that you start to reframe your perspective on the world around you, to appreciate what you have instead of focusing on what you don’t have.

A five-minute journal

The reality is that, in any moment, there are a lot of things that you don’t have but you do have something to be grateful for. A habit is a five-minute journal, every day. It’s a special time to just name all the simple and complex things that you’re grateful for.

Kevin: I now practice gratitude, too. It’s such an impactful technique because the truth is that glasses are either half full or half empty. When we’re in a bad mental (red zone) state, we can only see it half empty and it takes you down to a bad place. Gratitude forces you to see the half full.

What other mental fitness things do you do?

Safe, sustained support

Michael: An important piece is a trusted community around me. I’m part of a guy’s group – five of us who meet every two weeks, usually on Zoom, because a couple moved out of the area. Some guys I’ve known for many years and others, only the last couple of years. It’s a safe space to check in about how everyone is doing, personally, professionally and spiritually. It’s not from a business perspective (like CEO forums) but sharing our thoughts on life and how can we help.


On the spiritual front, the other practice is meditation and prayer. That process of silence, in the morning, is really important to me, and one of the highlights of my day. Without it, I have a more challenging mental health day because I’m not starting off from a perspective of gratitude and service.

Awareness & prevention

The third one is that I am more aware of situations, environments or adversities and am starting to unpack why they trigger me – whether with my wife or in the guy’s group – and to limit those instances. It’s being aware of drivers and prevention.

Kevin: How has your belief system changed through all of this?

Michael: Good question! I think, in a lot of ways, it’s the inverse of a lot of those beliefs that I mentioned (to push through no matter what). I hope this doesn’t happen to that extent, ever again, but I respect the fact that that can.

It’s tough to train yourself, if you haven’t been through something like this. Hindsight is always 20/20!

Respect mental health

I would tell my younger self to respect the fact that (a mental health issue) can happen to you.

Some people think that those with mental health issues are weak and there’s something wrong with them. You think you are not like them – that you are stronger, smarter, and more resilient.

But everyone has a breaking point.

Kevin: If you were to play out your current situation, what would that breaking point look like and how would you prepare yourself?

Michael: I would have done all the things that I just mentioned that I’m doing now. I’m now more mature in those learnings, because I’ve been doing them over a longer period of time, and they have compounded and gained in value.

Be your best self

Having said that, life does throw you punches. You can’t say “I’m going to live this perfect straight line, if I do these things at a young age”.  It’s not about a straight line but, when it comes to mental health, it’s about being your best self.

Kevin: I really appreciate you sharing this because it can happen to any of us. Senior leaders and entrepreneurs are wired similarly: that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

High performers don’t like to admit when things aren’t good. In conversations I’ve had with others, people tell me they feel shameful and embarrassed when they’re in a bad place. Sometimes stuff happens that’s messy, dirty or embarrassing, and a habit of talking to people, early, is important. I have a couple of people and a counsellor I can call and say anything to, outside of friends and family.

Early action

 Michael: You raise a good point to build that relationship before a crisis, so that when things are trending downwards you can call and get back and course.

Kevin: Any final thoughts you would like to leave people with?

Michael: I would just say you are not alone. Maybe there’s somebody out there today that feels alone but they’re not. There is someone who’s gone through a similar crisis. Just hearing those words – through community groups and your tribe and professionals – is healing, in and of itself.


This is a journey that hundreds and thousands of leaders and CEOs and entrepreneurs go through, and most don’t talk about it publicly. Once people realize that it’s normal, they might be more likely to be prepared or get help earlier, rather than waiting for a potentially catastrophic event.

My deep gratitude goes to Michael. By sharing his experience, he is helping others. 

If you, or someone you know, is in crisis, people are waiting to help:

  • Search for the mental health hotline in your area for a number you can call immediately to speak to someone who can guide you to appropriate professional help.
  • Call your psychologist, doctor or counselor or
  • Go to emergency at your local hospital.





About Michael

Michael Wendland is a leader/entrepreneur with more than 18 years’ experience in the financial services industry.

In 2010, he founded Refresh Financial as an answer to a problem commonly faced by under-served people in Canada, access to credit; and was acknowledged as a pioneer in the growing Canadian fintech landscape. In 2017, Deloitte recognized Refresh as the 17th fastest-growing North American technology company. After the business sold in 2021, Michael now consults for companies and launches other startups.

Michael also co-founded the non-profit Launch Okanagan to provide financial literacy training and asset-building initiatives to youth and disadvantaged adults.