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The time it took to get Dan on the phone for an interview was a pretty quick turn around. He was down from the beginning and the conversation was so genuine and refreshing, I knew that there would be many, many people who would benefit hearing his story. Take a look at the interview below.
Elyse: Let's get into it! Can you start off by giving us a little bit of background on yourself?
Dan: Cool. Yeah. My name is Dan Dover. I am 33 years old. I work for Sole Classics. I've been in footwear sales for about 15 years now since I was a teenager. And when I was in college, I went for computer engineering then switched up to business management, decided that I didn't really want to do either one and started working full time for Finish Line. I have an older sister, and older brother. I'm the youngest one. I have two beautiful nieces.
Dan: My mom and dad are doing well. I'm the only one of my siblings, and family that lives in Columbus. Everyone else is spread between Cincinnati, Springfield and D.C. And I love what I do. Aside from what I do here, I'm a maker, so I make leather goods and that's really about it.
Elyse: That's really cool. How did you get into the leather goods?
Dan: Basically I started out just customizing shoes back when I was like probably 15 or 16. And I've always been very artistic. My brother and sister are both artists, same as my mom. So it was just kind of embedded in me. I used to paint a lot of shoes and then I got into deconstructing. And once I started doing sole swaps on some of my older Jordans, I started getting into materials which led me to kind of understanding how shoes and how different bags and things like that were put together. So it's honestly just a natural progression. It was like the next step for artistry for me.
Elyse: I definitely feel that in terms of like the natural progression. And I think, you know, just starting out - a lot of people can identify with going to school and starting out with a particular path and taking something completely different, like even including myself.
Elyse: So I kind of wanted to also just a take a pulse on you personally, how are you doing today?
Dan: I'm doing well. This week, Dionte and I are just meeting up about the brand and really just trying to figure out how we can scale the business bigger. So it's been a bit of a different week so far for us to just hash out some things for a few hours each day. But aside from the rain and everything, I'm feeling all right. How are you?
Elyse: I'm doing well. Yesterday was kind of a challenge. I'm kind of one of those people that bottles things in. And I think yesterday was one of those situations where it was just too much. And you kind of have to just step away. And it's kind of interesting now that we're having this discussion about mental health and being really cognizant and thoughtful of ourselves and being very self aware. So my question to you is, have you ever experienced challenges with mental health personally?
Dan: Yes, I have.
Elyse: And have you ever been diagnosed with a mental health condition?
Dan: No, I have not, actually.
Elyse: Can you talk me through your experience where you have had challenges?
Dan: Yeah, yeah. There's been a few in my life, it seems like at a certain point for years. And I don't know if this is me just being superstitious or me being paranoid, but it seems like every August from like the age of 18 to 28 or 29, I felt like something major happens in a negative way. Starting at age 18, my mom and dad, I noticed that they were splitting up and just weren't getting along well. And this was after a twenty six year marriage. So I think it was already going on beforehand. So, you know, with me being the youngest to me, moving out to go to Wright State for college, I wasn't going to be there anymore and they were just growing apart. So that was kind of like a spiral for me to really understand that, you know, life is more than just being a kid and not really having to worry too much about anything. That's what I really started to become aware of, what my feelings were, what my emotions were.
I think some of that was just me coming of age anyway. Being 18 years old and going through changes myself off to school and having to be a little bit more responsible for my own self. But that was kind of a big blow to me and that it's kind of hard to pinpoint exactly what happened each year after that. But it just felt like I was anticipating something bad to happen. And I think I think the anticipation of something that potentially could happen was the thing that put me into a mindset that, OK, well, yeah, something's going to happen this year. I better not get too happy about it. So, in essence, I think that was a little bit of a depressive state for me, and it was something that made me kind of negative and put a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. The chip on my shoulder kind of worked for me, though. I didn't end up finishing college. I ended up working at Finish Line, like I said, and it allowed me to push forward and focus on things without having to worry about what was going on in my personal life.
And, you know, given that was great at the time, it also made me suppress a lot of the things that I was going through. So, basically what I'm coming down to is through my twenties, I spent a lot of time working heavily and suppressing my issues. And ultimately that led to depression. It led to a marriage with my high school sweetheart, but then ended up getting divorced when I was 28. And around that time, I was really in a bad spot. So that was the first time when I was really starting to think about just ending my life. And, you know, I didn't think there was really anything that could stop me from wanting to do that, but I could say around 2016-ish was when I really started to think about, you know, not wanting to go on forward.
Elyse: And what stopped you from going through with your thoughts?
Dan: Honestly, what stopped me was my friends and family. I've been fortunate enough to have best friends that I've had since I was in as early as second grade, actually earlier than that, preschool. A lot of my friends, we've known each other from the ages of like four to like 10 years old and now I'm 33 so, I still keep in contact and I'm still in group chats and we still meet up - twenty three to thirty years later. So, they were the ones that really helped me to remind myself of who I am and what determination of what drive I've had.Â They helped me to realize and understand the accomplishments that I have made in my 20s and made a way for myself and being independent and really I just started to value who I was as a person. Working for a corporation and just being in your 20s in general, you tend to or at least I - I I don't want to speak to everybody - I tended to really focus on the things that were making other people fulfilled. So instead of looking inward, I was really projecting outward and trying to help everybody else out without taking care of home base.
And with that, I would get home and I would feel empty. So I would I would drink a lot. I would do drugs and things and a lot of those things just didn't really help me out. And I figured after this episode in 2016, where I really started to, to come back and rebound and focus on myself, I found that there was a lot more to life. I found that I could express myself. I wasn't ashamed of having tattoos. I wasn't ashamed of not finishing school. If anything, I felt like my brand as a person was bigger than anything else because I have the utmost confidence. So it really was like that turning point of going back to my friends and family and and realizing that I have loved ones that are there for me. And I think that really helped me to push forward.
Elyse: That sounds amazing and, you know, just pouring yourself into something, I can really identify with that. So just kind of taking a little bit of a step back, so were you able to come to this realization yourself? I know you said that you had your support, but was there any specific person or any kind of tool or tactic that kind of helped you get through that moment?
Dan: Umm yeah, so it wasn't in 2016 when I went to therapy, it was 2018 but 2016, like I said, that was probably my toughest year to date because one, I was going through a divorce, two, I quit my job later that year but quitting the job in December, quitting a major retail job in December actually made me feel kind of vindicated. Given, it probably wasn't the best move for everybody because I left - not under bad terms, but I left, if you know anything about retail, leaving in the middle of holiday is not the best look. But that was kind of my last F U to everybody. It's like, I'm doing this for me and I needed to because I wasn't even present there mentally. I was starting to miss work physically and I just had to do it for me. So honestly, like December 8th, 2016, when I put in my two weeks, is when I really started to focus on on what life meant past that. I had saved up a little bit of money.
I decided I didn't want to do it anymore. I quit and I didn't work for like a month. And, ultimately I had already talked to Dionte here at Sole Classics about potentially getting on part time and I already had known him for years prior anyways, one the homies. I started working here and it just kind of went from there. But yeah, I would say the starting point for me was really getting rid of some of the toxic things that were in my life that just didn't feel good.
Elyse: And so with that, it sounds like there's this thing with your story of like, acknowledging and being aware of your self-worth and your purpose, and I think that, you know, a lot of black men have challenges with that. You know, I think a lot of the time, you know, as as black people, we are confident because we're strong. But I think it's it can be tough sometimes because we lose ourselves in our strength.
Dan: Right. I would definitely agree with that.
Elyse: Yeah, so you talked about therapy a little bit. Can you can you walk me through that? Like, did you see that on your own or was that suggested? And do you get therapy today?
Dan: So I did not seek it out on my own, my friend Chris, I've been talking to her, she's a little older than me. Her sons were some kids that really looked up to me just because they were starting to get into shoes and I just met her just Instagram and since I had worked for Finish Line for so long and kind of like this pivotal person in the sneaker community, they had kinda looked up to some of the things that I had done so far. So I was just talking to her very openly one day because she had a blog called Big On Vulnerability, I believe. And really, it was just talking about being vulnerable and showing the strength within it and being able to address yourself. So I was talking to her one day in 2018 after I'd gone through a few things and again, I was thinking about just ending my life and she suggested a therapist, his name is Mike.
I was kind of hesitant at first because I wasn't sure if I really needed help. But I came back around after 12 hours after I had talked to my old district manager at Finish Line and just expressing what I was going through and I'm a pretty hard edged person at first until you get me talking about a subject that I'm sensitive about and as soon as I called my old DM, I just started bawling, crying. I talked to him for three hours and then I messaged Mike and let him know, like, what my situation was and he got me in the next day and it was really good for me. We formed this bond and ultimately after three months time of me going once a week, he suggested that I don't really need to come see him anymore because it was really me just paying them to hang out and talking about music and talking about life. You know, he had tattoos. He was in a band.Â We would talk about some of our favorite bands and things like that. So I obviously look forward to it, but I also understand that from what he said to me, you know, you can move forward. I think that you are understanding that life does get difficult, but it doesn't mean that it needs to end. It just means that you're going to grow through this adversity. He told me that my adversity is what brings my character. And I firmly believe that.
I think that all the things I've gone through past that and before that, I have matured enough to be able to handle adversity. And now I covet the adversity and I covet the stressful times in my life because those are the things that give me a lot of the strength that I do have.
Elyse: So with that, what does your support system look like today?
Dan: The same support system I've had for years, still my best friends for the past 20, 30 years, very close with my mom, brother and sisters and then also my work family is great. There's 10 of us, we are very tight knit. One of my very best friends is one of our managers as well, his name is Derek, he's my neighbor. So, like, I just have a really great support system.
Dan: We all support each other very well. And then, aside from that, for myself, since I do a leather working, it's become my hobby, it's also become my business. It's my LLC so, being able to take something I'm very passionate about and apply my skills and my trade to that every day and to see others love it, that is something that supports me and gives me fulfillment.
Elyse: I love to hear that. I love to hear that. And so kind of going back just a little bit as we're in October and as you said, you anticipate the worst once August comes around, how was this past August for you?
Dan: This past August was great, actually, I didn't even think about it. I didn't think about it last year either, now that I'm going back, because I believe ever since I've gone to therapy, I stopped putting time frames on things. I got over the trauma of the months and certain things that would happen during certain times and started looking forward to getting through each day and each hour and being able to put praise into what I have going presently. Stopped worrying so much about the future, if I'm fulfilled every single day and I'm doing things right and doing the things that I want to do and I'm making others feel good. There was no reason for me to really attach a certain month to some of the negative thoughts.
Elyse: And how do you maintain mental and emotional wellness?
Dan: Honestly, just through a normal routine. I love to cook every day, I'm generally a healthy person in most occasions, but I continue to work on my fitness as well as learn new trades and hobbies. I have a girlfriend who is the same way, she's very much into hobbies and continuing to learn things and continue her education in a non-traditional way. I just surround myself with good people and continue to push forward.Â I don't really thrive in the negativity anymore. I just like to live my life very positive and move forward and help others when I can. Try to be a role model for myself as well as others.
Elyse: And you are certainly are a great success story and you are on the other side of a dark experience. What are some challenges, do you think, that black men face in regard to mental health?
Dan: I think that, number one, it's not knowing that it's not as taboo to talk about now. You know, growing up black, there's a lot of things going on, growing up black, as you know but one of the biggest things is like your elders tend to say, " Oh there's nothing wrong with you boy," and things like that. So, some of the times that I can hearken back to and think about as a kid, that might have been a bigger deal, I just brushed off because, you know, my elders told me it wasn't a big deal. I think now with the age of social media, it's good and bad but I think that there's more outlets now, there's more people that are like minded. And those conversations are better to be had these days because you can find help a lot faster. And also, I think campaigns like With You Here, I think that's that's a great message. It's good to see yourself on a flyer or on a billboard and when I say yourself, I'm talking about being black. Seeing another black person on a billboard, it immediately shows that it's relatable, it feels right and if there are things that were hard for you to talk about previously, if you just get a group of brothers or sisters around then it's immediately going to come to light and is going to feel a lot better. So, you know those things in itself, right there, just having exposure to these things is number one.
Elyse: And touching on that sense of something being so taboo to talk about, what are some things that you would tell a black man who is experiencing similar struggles that you have in the past?
Dan: I would say that number one, is to seek out help, you know, whether it's through a hotline or somebody else that you may know that has had similar issues, because I think in today's day in age, it's hard to find someone that hasn't had mental health issues. It is hard to know somebody that hasn't talked about it so align yourself with someone who does understand and then pass that, really start to focus on what you love, what you love in this world, the thing that brings you the most joy without stress. I think that's one and two right there. And then, I would call this continuing education - once you feel like you're in a position where you can talk about it and influence others, do it. You know, speak up, speak out about things. This this is something that if I didn't seek therapy years ago, I wouldn't be talking about right now. And chances are, I still have it bottled up. So, you gotta let it out.
Elyse: Yeah. Well, I really appreciate you being open and vulnerable by sharing your story. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Dan: Um, no, not really, I just I appreciate everything you're doing and everything you guys are doing, I think it's a great cause. You know, obviously at the end of the day, I want as many people, especially black men, I want us to be able to be open and be tender and vulnerable to all of the things are in the world.