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(Some of…) My Story

In this excerpt from The Credo (now also an interactive course!) I open up about some of the mental health and other challenges that helped to form my world view and helped me to become a better person and practitioner (still very much a work in progress!) ~ Cliff

From The Credo

I have a strange jigsaw underpinning my moral basis. The first and biggest influence on me and my values is my Mum. For so many reasons, she is a towering figure in my life.

Mum was a devout Christian, and while she went to physical church less frequently as time went by, she always held her faith and this was the foundation of how she lived in the world. Interestingly, despite being so strong in her Christian faith, she was never conversional. She recognised that in a spiritual sense, ‘all roads lead to Rome’ and she never pushed the Christian faith on me or my sister. In fact, our parents decided that we would not be baptised into the Church because they felt that we would make the appropriate decision, for ourselves, when the time was right. Suffice to say, I never did get that baptism! Ma brought me my first books on Hindu philosophy and Buddhism, and they became the foundations of my spiritual life.

My Dad was and is agnostic, but he leads what I could only describe as a ‘spiritual’ life. He introduced me to Yoga and Eastern philosophy when I was a young child in the early 1980s. He initially became interested in Yoga as a way to become more flexible for marathon running but came to realise that these were practices that were so much more than stretching and entailed ways of acting to improve one’s lot in this life, and also, were not dogma. To him, the concept of ‘God’ was simply not important to living a good life. He is a hedonist, in the sense of an ethical hedonist, not someone who is selfishly seeking pleasure, but someone for whom pleasure and experience are not just merely enjoyable, but the point of life, and are a spiritual journey in and of themselves. He is a master of stopping to smell the roses (or the wine!) and it is only with age that I have appreciated the spirituality within his truly experiential existence.

I initially rebelled against the Christian teachings, not those of my Mum really, but those that were forced upon me as a child at a Christian school. And my Mum supported me in that rebellion. She hit the roof when the Reverend at our school stated that “Children with the devil in them don’t glow, and you Mr Harvey, do not glow!”. She told that old wowser not to dare ever say anything like that to her son again. For that and the many other ways that she defended my spiritual freedom, I can’t thank my Ma enough. She was the archetype of a ‘true’ Christian, who lived in Christ and was an example for others. She wasn’t someone who expected you to do as they say but instead was an example of someone that you wanted to be like, because she lived her values.

After drifting through school, not really having to exert much effort to do well in class and particularly in exams (which came easily to me) and spending probably more time on flights of fancy, independent learning, and sports, I eventually found myself on borrowed time at high school. I struggled with severe depression through my teen years and I began to feel more and more stifled. A story for another time is that I was asked to leave school for wearing a skirt, but the coaches of the high school rugby 1st XV team of which I was the captain, intervened and allowed me to at least stay through to the end of the rugby season. What a contradiction! The nail-polish and skirt wearing jock of the school!

It was through my love of rugby that I became enamoured with the structure and function of the human body and this led me to study strength and fitness training, and nutrition at University. I felt I had finally found something which I was passionate about, that could also translate into a career. It would also give me a chance to show my Mum that I wasn’t a fuck-up and that her trust in me was not misplaced. Being kicked out of nutrition class at Uni (but given a pass!) probably wasn’t the best start to that but as I approached the end of the year and graduation, it was clear that I would at least have a qualification under my belt along with a brand-new business that I was starting with one of my buddies from Uni.

Things were underway!

But my Mum never got to see that business, nor any of the (albeit humble) successes that I have since achieved. She passed away the night before I was due to open my first nutrition supplement store and consultancy. I lived at home at the time, and when she collapsed in the middle of the night from an asthma-attack I tried, unsuccessfully, to revive her with CPR for what seemed like an eternity, continuing to help the EMTs when they showed up. I never really came to terms with her passing, and in retrospect, I think that was because I was so engaged with the process of trying to save her that I never really accepted, either in-the-moment or maybe even later (maybe even now?) that she was actually gone. I felt guilt and shame for not being able to save my Mum and that is a burden that has weighed heavily on me.

Mum’s passing was the single biggest event in my life. I have been punched on the street, attacked with a bottle in a small town in Argentina, held up at gunpoint, threatened with a knife; I’ve won world titles and set world records, but nothing compares to losing my Mum, that night, at that critical time of my life and no weight that I have hoisted compares to carrying my Ma’s coffin.  

I hadn’t had a particularly ‘straight’ life up to that point. I had done my fair share of drug-taking and drinking, from an altogether too young age. I began smoking pot and drinking heavily from about the age of 11 and took whatever drugs I could get my hands on from that age until I became involved in weight training and nutrition at around the age of 17. That gave me a few years of sobriety and a respite in which I developed habits of health and wellness that thankfully were able to re-emerge later.

But after Mum died, I was alone, metaphorically mostly, but somewhat in reality, too. My Dad was around but emotionally absent. I don’t blame him, because he needed to find his way through his own turmoil at losing his soul mate. He did that with his mates and at times with the bottle. He never lashed out at us and was always there for us if we asked for help but for a while, he really just wasn’t around. My sister too spent her time with her friends, and I with mine…and like father, like son, also with the bottle. But when I do things, I like to do them well, and so, unlike my Dad, I also added pills, speed, acid, mushrooms, and really anything else that could distract and dull the pain to the mix. The drugs also provided the energy to keep on moving. I was angry at the world and angry at people around me and I distracted myself with work, with drugs, and by covering up my pain with brash and bravado.

I still started that little business with my buddy from Uni and we were successful…really successful. But that success was due to our brains and our personalities and the ability to think on our feet (despite our brains being somewhat addled by intoxicants and lack of sleep!) We were the right guys, at the right time, doing the right things…but also doing plenty of the wrong things…

 We succeeded despite what else we were doing. We would be out on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. Sunday afternoons and evenings would usually be for sleeping…but not always. Despite that, I still went to work, 7 days a week from 8 am until 6 pm, not to mention the 1-hour minimum travel time each way, battling traffic to and from work, which was across the other side of the city from where I lived. This ‘life’ was not much of a life and after those first few years, I found myself burnt out and suffering from serious chronic fatigue. I became sick, lost most of the muscle I had gained over the previous years and struggled to even make it out of bed. That took away my ability to party (good 😊 ) and lift weights (not good ☹ ). It also forced a massive re-evaluation of who I was, what I was doing, and who was around me. I realised, through the haze of my fatigue and pain, that my business partner had become a drug addict, that many of the people around us were, quite frankly, losers, and that we were at serious risk of falling deeper into the underworld of crime and violence that we were skirting, of which, for my safety and sanity’s sake, I will say no more!

But I needed out. So, I sold my share of the business to my partner. He went on to not pay me what I was owed, and he fell in with a well-known shyster who cajoled him into ripping off many innocent people in retail scams. Despite the large amount of money that I lost, looking back, it was the best decision to get out. Years later I reconciled with my business partner, who apologised for the way he treated me and at that singular moment, I let go of any resentment or anger towards him. We were stupid kids and we got tied up in stupid shit. I forgave him and came back to a place of love. Unfortunately, he remained embroiled in drugs and later, he committed suicide. I’m sorry that I couldn’t have been around for him more but by that stage, I couldn’t be around any of that junk for my own safety’s sake.

The years following took many twists and turns. From working as a consultant to major food and supplement corporations, through to helping to run one of the top strength-and-conditioning companies in Canada. I have written seven books, worked with hundreds of top-level athletes, and many, many more people with severe and debilitating illnesses, and have been on a post-graduate journey that has included study in mind-body healthcare and masters and doctoral research in nutrition, specifically ketogenesis and ‘Carb-Appropriate’ diets. Through this time, I’ve also faced some health battles of my own. Starting at high school but worsening in my twenties and again reaching crisis several times through my 30s, I have fallen into deep, suicidal patterns of depression. It was only more recently that this was properly diagnosed as type 2 bipolar disorder. I have to step back and look at the benefits this has provided me. While the depression has been at times debilitating, the hypomania has expressed as boundless energy, inspiration, work ethic and creativity that has allowed me to do so many of the things for which I am proud, and I am the proudest overall of how the work created by this energy has helped other people. I also suffered physically with autoimmune conditions. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at the age of 20 and while the worst effects of this; losing massive amounts of blood, suffering acute fatigue, anaemia, and losing around 20 kg of body weight, were relatively short-lived, some of the chronic effects that I suspect are tied into a complex of inflammation and auto-immunity (chronic pain and fatigue especially) and that are also linked to the mental health ‘stuff’, have been, shall we say, an ongoing project. Despite these health battles, I was able to come back from the worst effects of Crohn’s Disease, recover my bodyweight and strength, and win two world titles in All-Round Weightlifting, also setting world records, and performing feats of strength on television and in exhibitions.

After giving away strength sports due to a severe back injury in which two of my spinal disks are basically, well, not even there anymore, I moved back into martial arts, Muay Thai, boxing, and eventually finding my ‘forever home’ in the world of grappling, catch-wrestling, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Interestingly, I was told years after becoming interested in grappling through Judo as a kid and reinterested via grappling and BJJ, that my grandfather had been a prodigious catch-wrestler who had bested the American champion in an exhibition match in New Zealand, and my Dad was also a Judoka when he was younger.

Some of those feats of strength, for those interested (at a bodyweight of under 75 Kg) were a one-handed deadlift of 180 Kg, A ‘rack’ deadlift of 385 Kg, and lifting an ‘Inch Dumbbell’ replica with one hand.

I had always, from my earliest years been a seeker. I don’t say that in some smarmy, self-aggrandizing way. People use ‘seeker’ to pump themselves up. I don’t mean that. I mean that I was, and still am, a seeker, because I know jack-shit!

I’ve wondered long and hard about why we are here. What’s the goddamn point of it all and how the fuck do we live a healthy, happy life and help to spread that to others? And while I screw up with great regularity, over the years, my spiritual practice has evolved and more importantly, I have become comfortable in my own skin. At times I truly thought I had ‘it’. I felt like ‘enlightenment’ was just around the corner. But seriously, fuck that! What the fuck is enlightenment anyway? I guess those who are truly wise are correct. If you think you have it, or you think you’re close, you’re probably as far away from it (whatever that is) as you can be.

Through the years, I found myself praying with Muslims at Sufi meetups, meditating with Buddhist monks, doing extensive transformational breathwork, conscious communication training, living in a meditation house in Vancouver, and continuing with a practice of mindfulness meditation and yoga. Somewhere along the way, I stopped thinking about how awesome and goddamn spiritual I was (look at me, look at me, I’m special) for doing these practices and instead just kept on in the process of doing, come what may.

Some of the comfort in my own skin and continuing to simply do the work while releasing some of the ego-attachment to it came from losing it all…

After taking a break from clinical practice due to burnout, I spent the best part of a year travelling in South America,  taking the time to think and write (I wrote my first book ‘Choosing You!’ in the beautiful barrio of San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina). Coming back to New Zealand, I was in a good space, mentally, physically, and emotionally, but shortly after arriving back, my partner didn’t come home one night. I found out the following day that she had run off with her ex-boyfriend and was now living back with him. Boo-hoo, poor me. My problem after this was that I wanted to hold on to everything. We had some shared property and I wanted to hold on to it all because, well, fuck her, that’s why. I was naïve and pig-headed and having had quite a lot of success at an early age, I didn’t think I could put a foot wrong. Sometimes though, when you try to hold on to it all, you lose it all instead. The global financial crisis of 2007-2009 hit and my property values crashed, while at the same time the heat went out of the residential rental market. So, I was left for relatively long periods of time with greatly undervalued properties that were not returning any income. I held on to them by propping up the mortgage repayments with my life savings and by selling shares. I figured things would come right. It didn’t help that I also decided to move to Canada to get away from it all and so, I wasn’t around as much as I needed to be to really manage the properties and investments in the way that I should have in an economic situation like that! I realised my folly too late and in order to come out relatively unscathed, I had to sell both my properties when I could have probably been in-the-clear if I had sold just one, earlier.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time in Vancouver, Canada, and stayed there for around four years. I met and worked with pro-athletes, partied with rock stars, and capped off my OE by helping to road-manage my best mate’s band, Like A Storm (now NZ’s most successful hard-rock band….ever!) for six months on tour around the US and Canada. But I also suffered from a huge ego-hit, especially when I finally returned to NZ. I hadn’t realised how much my perception of my self-worth would be affected by losing everything. And by everything, I’m not being overly dramatic. I had sold my properties, having previously sold my shares and stripped my savings to support them, and had, over a few years been supporting myself with the aid of the kind people at the credit card companies. I had a shitload of credit card debt, nothing left in the bank and when I came home to NZ, I had an epiphany at Starbucks…

Having been in the US and Canada for a good while, Starbucks was pretty much the lingua franca for coffee. Come on, it’s pretty good. It’s consistent and offers fair-trade, organic options…but I digress. I went to my local Starbucks for a coffee and to do some writing like one of those jack-off wannabe poets who sits in a café writing their perpetually unpublished works to impress god knows who… I ordered my coffee and, lo and behold, my card declined. I left, checked my balance, and realised that the only card I had with any money left on it, had a balance of $2.37.

Fuck!

Now, when I say I lost everything, I am only talking about the material. I had the support of my sister (who let me stay with her rent-free for a while) and my Dad, an electrician, who gave me a short-term contract job painting a commercial building and working with him as an electrician’s labourer to get enough money to start getting back on my feet. Plus, I’m a straight white dude and I’m fully aware of the implicit advantage that provides!

Long story short, I got back on my feet, started my clinic, was lucky enough to be involved with Nuzest as a co-founder/formulator and since then have started or reimagined several successful ventures, including Nutrition Store Online, reconditioned.me and The Holistic Performance Institute, along with writing another half dozen or so books.

Most importantly, and what I am most proud of, through my 22 years in practice, I’ve been able to help thousands of people to improve their health, their performance, and their happiness.

My main drive in the years ahead is to be able to help more people, especially those who can’t always access good, evidence-based, holistic healthcare because of their social and economic position.

Check out the brand new course by Cliff based on the book The Credo

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