I interview people for a living. I am most comfortable being the one asking the questions. But there I was, in a potentially uncomfortable position, about to be on the receiving end of a potentially tough examination on national television. Worse still, my interrogator was widely known as a no-nonsense, tough-talking psychologist, Dr Phil McGraw.
I had grown somewhat accustomed to discussing personal matters openly since the release of my book, The Last Day of My Life, where I revealed my intimate struggles with depression over finances and my ultimate decision to reevaluate what is really important in my life. The inspirational book which chronicles my journey from emotional darkness into the light captured the attention of Dr Phil's producers and I was flattered and eager to share my story with his audience.
It wasn't until a few days before taping the upcoming episode, when the fear finally set in. After all, the good doctor (he has a PhD in clinical psychology) is not shy about voicing his opinions and I had agreed to a no holds barred interview -- everything was fair game. My wife, Keri, sat with me in the front row of the audience. I was set to go on stage for the second half of the show for a one-on-one interview and Keri wore a microphone so she could answer questions from her seat.
The guests before me were a husband and wife with seven children who were complaining that their youngest child was out of control and creating havoc in their home. The wife claimed that she had tried everything but had been unable to rein in her kids. Dr Phil chided her with one of his signature remarks, "If you use the wrong end of a shovel, that doesn't mean the shovel doesn't work." What was he going to say to me? After all, I had admitted in my book that I thought I was worth more dead than alive and briefly considered ending it all in order to leave my family the insurance money. Would he grill me in front of the 300 people in his studio audience? What about Keri? She had already admitted that being on camera was something she was only doing for me.
After what seemed like hours, it was finally my turn to take the stage. I had never met Dr Phil before that moment. His stature, both physically and as a television icon were humbling. We were alone on the set, seated in chairs so close that our knees actually touched. While still in commercial break, he leaned toward me and joked. "You're used to being on this side, aren't you?" Then we were on. Almost immediately he put me at ease. He treated me as a colleague, with respect and kindness. He was likewise gentle and compassionate when questioning my wife. Better still, he appreciated that fact that my book is about embracing life, not ending it. After the show, Keri and I had our first opportunity to speak with Dr Phil and his wife, Robin, backstage. We took photos together. I saw the 6'4" therapist standing alongside my petite wife with his hand on her arm, as if to reassure her that the appearance went well. I realized then that my fears were unfounded -- Dr Phil is not so much a grizzly bear as he is a teddy bear.