Kari is a Senior Manager & Mental Health Advocate
Kari Hipsak, a Senior Manager at AI CPA, shares her journey of both physical and mental hardships that led her to advocate for mental health awareness. She talks about how finding and losing hobbies due to unfortunate circumstances have helped her realize their importance in an individual’s mental health and much more!
• Getting into mental health advocacy
• Finding and losing her “Ands”
• Pseudotumor cerebri diagnosis
• Starting her first social media campaign
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Welcome to Episode 473 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett. And each Wednesday, I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby, or a passion, or an interest outside of work. And to put it in another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and”, those things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that actually differentiate them when they’re at work.
And if you like what the show is about, be sure to check out the book on Amazon, Indigo, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, and a few other websites. All the links are at whatsyourand.com. And if you want me to read it to you, that’s right, this voice reading the book, look for What’s Your “And”? on Audible or wherever you get your audiobooks. Both versions go in more in depth with the research behind why these outside-of-work passions are so crucial to your corporate culture. And I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s reading it, and listening to it, and writing such nice reviews on Amazon and, more importantly, changing the cultures where they work because of it.
And please don’t forget to hit subscribe to the podcast, so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week. And this week is no different with my guest, Kari Hipsak. She’s a senior manager with the firm Services Team at the AICPA. And now, she’s with me here today. Kari, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Kari: Thanks, John. Happy to be here.
John: Now, this is gonna be so much fun, but I do have 17 rapid-fire questions to get to know Kari right out of the gate. So, hope your seatbelt is buckled and keep your arms in the car at all times, I don’t know, whatever that rollercoaster people say. Here we go. I’ll start with maybe an easy one. Star Wars or Star Trek?
Kari: Oh, no. Don’t be mad. Neither.
John: Neither? Okay. Fair enough.
Kari: I’m really not a sci-fi person. If I really, really had to watch one, it would be Star Wars, but I’m probably going to fall asleep within 30 minutes.
John: That’s awesome. That’s so funny. Okay. Your computer, a PC or a Mac?
John: PC. Yeah, me too.
Kari: Hands down.
John: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. So, on your mouse then, right click or left click?
John: Left. She’s making decisions. That’s how you choose. Right?
Kari: Yeah. Exactly.
John: Boom! There it is. How about do you have a favorite day of the week?
Kari: Favorite day of the week, I think it’s typical that everyone likes the weekend. Right? And I think I’m gonna pick Friday because it’s that day where you get to mentally gear up for the weekend.
John: Okay. Okay.
Kari: So, it’s that taste of anticipation.
John: Oh, nice. Okay. I like that. I like that a lot. All right. Since you have the accounting background, balance sheet or income statement?
John: Both! Okay! Trial balance. Give it all to me. Just give me all of the numbers.
Kari: I want all the information to make the best decision possible.
John: Get all up in your business. All right.
Kari: I want it all. Want it all.
John: All right. Okay. All right. There you go. Would you say you’re more of an early bird or a night owl?
Kari: Naturally early bird. I can be a night owl, but I prefer early.
John: Okay. All right. There you go. How about your first concert?
Kari: First concert, yeah, 98 Degrees—
Kari: …with Vitamin C as the opener.
John: Wow! There you go. Okay.
John: That’s so awesome. I do not know Vitamin C, but I do know 98 Degrees.
Kari: Oh, you know Vitamin C. If you heard her songs, you would know. It was those high school songs. As we go on, we remember. You would know it if you heard it.
John: Yeah. Yeah. No. Totally. It just fits in with 98 Degrees. That’s so great. So great. How about your favorite number?
Kari: Favorite number, 13. Everyone thinks it’s unlucky, but I’ve decided to make it lucky. So now, I pick 13.
John: Good for you. Good for you. How about books? More audio version e-Book or real book?
Kari: I like the real book.
John: Yeah. No, I’m the same. I don’t know. You can go back easier and I don’t know. It’s just old school. How about more oceans or mountains?
Kari: More oceans, but I do enjoy the mountains from time to time.
John: Sure. Yeah. No. Fair enough. Fair enough. How about puzzles? Sudoku, crossword, or jigsaw?
Kari: I don’t understand the point of a jigsaw puzzle.
John: The picture is right there.
Kari: Exactly. Why did you cut up a perfectly good picture so I hae to put it back together?
John: Oh, I love that so much. That’s so awesome.
Kari: So, Sudoku and crossword are my top. Sudoku is definitely the top top. I’ll do crossword. I’ll work on jigsaw with my mother because I love her dearly even though I complain about it the entire time.
John: Right. I love that. That’s hilarious. How about a favorite color?
John: Green, nice.
Kari: Like a dark forest green.
John: Okay. Okay. How about a least favorite color?
Kari: Orange and yellow.
John: Oh, yeah.
Kari: Just because I’m blonde and it doesn’t work well with me.
John: Right. It doesn’t.
Kari: Nothing against the people that like those colors.
John: No. No. Everything against them.
Kari: Not everything.
John: No. But it is funny how we choose our colors based on what looks good wearing.
John: Totally. I mean, everyone that’s been on. I mean, that’s been pretty much the reason. How about a favorite adult beverage?
John: Coffee. Yeah. Okay.
Kari: I’m sure you were going for alcohol, but I need coffee.
John: No. No. Whatever works. Whatever works.
Kari: And I wasn’t allowed to drink it until I was an adult. So, it’s an adult beverage to me.
John: There you go. And it’s every day. The other is probably not every day.
John: How about three more? A favorite actor or actress?
Kari: Okay. My favorite actor is because of the movie The Greatest Showman—
John: Oh, yeah.
Kari: …and I love Zac Efron in that movie.
Kari: I didn’t wanna answer it because if I ever get to meet him, I want to play coy and be like “Oh.”
John: He’s a big fan of What’s Your “And”?
John: So, your cover is blown now.
Kari: Dang it.
John: Your cover is blown.
Kari: All right. I’ll have to come up with a different one. That’s fine.
John: But he was in Scrubs as well, right, and several other shows, but yeah. But from The Greatest Showman. Yeah, there you go.
Kari: That movie just every time I’m on a plane, if that is a choice,—
Kari: …I’ll be there.
John: Yeah, it’s a good movie as well. Two more. Diamonds or pearls?
Kari: Oh, both.
John: Both. Okay. I mean, in case Zac is listening.
Kari: I know. Right?
John: And the last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own.
Kari: It’s everything and nothing at the same time. I’m very intentional about the things that I bring into my house, in my life. But at the same time, everything is replaceable. I am a little possessive of stuff though, so I don’t want people touching my things. But worst case scenario, if it does break or if someone breaks into my house and steals my things, that’s fine. It’s replaceable.
John: Yeah. Just start with the jigsaw puzzles first if you’re gonna steal something.
Kari: Yeah. Just take those first.
John: Take those first.
Kari: I have a couple for my mom’s sake, but those are not meaningful to me. So, I guess that’s probably the exception.
John: Just leave those on the front porch. There you go. Put it in an Amazon box so they get to take it, but no. That’s awesome and I love that. I mean, it’s a thoughtful answer as well, which is really good and which leads kind of into just mental health advocacy and just emotional intelligence and overall well-being. Like how did you get started with this journey because it’s been quite a journey for you for sure?
Kari: Yeah. I’ll try to keep it somewhat brave. I think it started years and years ago with my younger brother. He’s autistic. And going out in public with him was always an adventure because we never knew how he would act or how people would respond to how he acts. And autism doesn’t have look like some other scenarios do. So, people would think that he was just acting out, or being a brat, or being a jerk, or whatever the case was. They’d pass their judgement. People would make fun of him. People would give us dirty looks. And he’s 3 years younger than me. So, we went through the adolescent phase together, and it was hard honestly to see these people making fun of my brother, and it felt personal at that age, and it was hard to dissociate from that. I did struggle with it a lot. And by the time I was 12, I was in counseling.
John: Oh, wow.
Kari: It was just I reached a point of frustration with the fact that my brother always needed more attention. And I don’t mean to take anything away from my parents. They did a fantastic job trying to balance things, but the reality is he just needed more attention.
John: Right. And when you’re 12, I mean that’s hard to process, you know, from your perspective.
Kari: Exactly. And it was just the small stuff like my school was across the street from the hospital where he had therapy. And in the winter in North Dakota where I grew up, having to walk across the street was devastating. Devastating. I just wanted to be picked up like everybody else. And instead, I had to bundle up and walk a block and a half to get to the hospital. It just wasn’t ideal by any means, but we powered through and I became an overachiever. I mean, now looking back, probably because I felt like I had to compensate for my brother in some deep seated psychological way. Right?
But I became an overachiever. I became a caretaker at an early age because even though my brother to some respects made me a little sad because I didn’t get to have a normal childhood, I had to protect him as well. And for some reason, I got it in my head that I had to take care of him in addition to my parents who were doing a fine job, but became my responsibility. And so, I had a really bad anxiety in high school. My mom took me to the ER during my senior homecoming because I had such bad chest pains that we didn’t know what was wrong. So, my anxiety reached a peak at that point and I did what I had always done. I kind of swept it under the rug.
I went to a couple sessions of therapy and told myself to walk it off. The idea of being depressed or being anxious to the point where I couldn’t control it made me feel like I was broken and I did not want to admit that to anyone.
John: Sure. Yeah. Well, especially at that age. I mean, it’s so hard to be an adolescent anyway, you know. But to feel like there’s something wrong or whatever, you know, like you said broken, which now we realize isn’t the case. But you know, when you’re a teenager, that’s tough. It’s so tough.
Kari: Yeah. It wasn’t preferred by any means. It was just, again, the cards that I was dealt. So, again, I powered through. I went to college and I did the best I could and powered through with my test anxiety and all that jazz. And when I got to my senior year of college, I finally determined that I cannot take the CPA exam and have this bad test anxiety. So, I got put on this medication for anxiety. It took one and I was like I can’t do this. And I only took it honestly as a positive that I told myself I could fight through this without the help of anyone or anything. It wasn’t worth it looking back to tell myself that I was fine, but I did it. I told myself I was fine. I started my first career in accounting. I ended up having a job opportunity to move from South Dakota. That’s where I went to college. To move from South Dakota to New York City.
John: Nice. That’s a change. There you go.
Kari: It was a change. Right? I just jumped in. I don’t even really know how it happened. People are like “Oh, did you always wanna go to New York?” And no. Absolutely not. I don’t even comprehend how that happened.
John: That’s not gonna help the anxiety though I bet because I mean that city is big and busy.
Kari: It is. And I just thought this is a great opportunity to start over and just try something new. I’m a big fan of being adventurous in life. You just never know until you try. Right? So, I did it. I moved out there. I was still living in a hotel. And 36 hours after I landed, my dad passed away unexpectedly.
John: Oh, my goodness gracious.
Kari: So, on top of the big move, I just dropped everything and went back home. I took a month off from starting with the new firm and worked with lawyers to become a legal co-guardian for my brother. And I had to write my will at the age of 25 in a way that would protect my brother. And I helped my mom rewrite her will. It was a lot to take in. And I remember my mom giving me this book about dealing with grief. And I just didn’t want to.
John: Right. Yeah. Well, so fresh right then too. I mean, yeah, it’s such a hard thing to go through. All those things in such a short amount of time. Goodness.
Kari: Yeah. I was in denial the whole time if we’re being honest. I flew home. I helped my mom with what I needed to do. And it was heads down and get back to work. And that’s how I’ve always lived my life. If I just worked hard, I could essentially distract myself from whatever was happening in my life.
John: Oh, okay.
Kari: But when you do that, your body eventually tells you you’re wrong. So, I didn’t know this was possible, but my entire neck ended up seizing up. I couldn’t move my upper body for at least a week. It was done. I was done mentally, physically. I just didn’t deal with anything and that’s what happened. So, that happened. And before my dad passed away, I had worked so much at my first firm and that was just my life. And I became unhealthy. And I started working with a personal trainer to lose weight and get back to a place where I could feel confident. I started powerlifting and I loved the powerlifting. There is nothing more exciting to me than going to the gym and watching people watch me put weights on a bar and know that they’re silently judging me thinking that there’s no way I can lift that.
John: And then you go pound out some reps and it’s like there you go. Yeah. That’s awesome.
Kari: That’s right. This is me. Take it. And I loved it so much and I was able to lose a bunch of weight before my dad passed away. But right before I moved to New York, I couldn’t continue with powerlifting because of an injury. So, I had this outlet for work and then my dad passed away. And I’ve just felt like everything in my life had changed. To use our catch phrase, my “and” had been taken away from me. I couldn’t powerlift. I lost my dad. I just had so many changes going on. I didn’t really know how to function.
John: And sort of your identity now is gone, you know, because it’s who you thought you were as a person. Now, whether it’s work ‘cause you got a new job or you’re kind of transitioning as a daughter, as a powerlifter, like all those things now have been removed, which is really, really hard to go through for sure.
Kari: Yeah, it was a lot.
And I finally started with a firm. I reverted back to my natural tendency, which I alluded to a little bit before, which was just to work and work and work and work and put in so many hours that I was working to live. And that’s how I stayed afloat was every day I got up to go to work. It wasn’t to live my life. It wasn’t to be a better person. It was just to stay afloat and work was how I did that. It’s like when you go into a networking group and you ask someone who they are and they define themselves by their jobs. And that’s not who you are. It’s what you do. So, I reverted back to just working, working, working and that was that. And I couldn’t handle that for long. I ended up finding a new outlet in boxing apparently.
John: Nice. Okay.
Kari: I liked the aggressive activities for some reason. Right?
John: Right. All the people that were judging you at the gym now, it’s like “Get in the ring! Like let’s continue this.”
Kari: That’s right. Let’s go. I got this.
Kari: So, I fell in love with boxing. And I remember at one point my trainer told me I don’t hit like a girl, and I was offended at first and I called him out on it, and he said “Well, I understand that we wanna be equitable, but it’s true. You punch with the weight of a man.” And so, I was like “Okay. This is awesome. I really like this. I’m gonna setup a plan. I’m gonna dedicate my time to being an amateur boxer.” I was finding a gym where I could train to be an amateur boxer. I loved having the powerful punches. I loved hearing the sound of my glove on the bag or the mitts if I was with my trainer. Something about having that back made me feel just like I had my life back again. Right? Like I lost my dad. I lost powerlifting. This was awesome. And then through all this, I ended up going into the doctor for what I thought was just this terrible sinus infection that wouldn’t go away.
And I ended up having a CAT scan, and it turned out that it wasn’t actually a sinus infection. And then in another whirlwind, it turned out I was being referred to a neurologist, and I was diagnosed with a condition called pseudotumor cerebri or intracranial hypertension. What it means is my cerebrospinal fluid pressure is too high. So, it puts pressure on the brain and that’s why I like to refer to it as pseudotumor cerebri the most because I feel like it defines it the best. And what that literally translates to is false brain tumor. So, the pressure on the brain causes tumor-like symptoms. It impacts everything in your head. So, it can cause blindness from putting pressure on the optic nerve. It impairs hearing that. It causes dizziness, headaches, visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting. It’s just not a pretty thing that you—
John: That’s not good for boxing especially.
Kari: No. No.
John: Yeah. So, you have another “and” taken away then.
Kari: Yes. I have another “and” taken away. I can’t do boxing. My neurologist basically told me “You can box if you want to, but I don’t recommend it.” And I’m like “Well, I don’t even know what to do with that. Like I have to pick now between my body and my health or having this outlet.” And just through all of this, I don’t want to ramble on and make this about my personal life too much.
John: No. No. But it’s deep and it’s your journey as to, you know, why— ‘cause some people say emotional intelligence and it’s like no, no, no. For you, it’s deep and it’s rooted. It’s something that you’ve had to walk for your whole life really. And so, you know, it’s helping others to understand that they’re not alone, number 1. And number 2, like their journey isn’t also the only hard journey out there, you know. What I’m hearing is just when your body says take a break, then take a break because the more that you put it aside and the more that you just say I can fight through this, I’m gonna work more, work more, put pride and a badge of honor in the billable hour that I did for a year, then eventually your body’s just gonna shut you down, which is a shame because then the things that do actually light you up then can be taken away as well, which is hard to hear.
What I’m encouraged by in hearing this is you had an “and” and then you were like “Okay, you can’t do that one”, “Well, I’m gonna get a different one” as opposed to “Oh, I can’t do powerlifting. Well then, I guess I’ll just work forever.” So, that’s what’s cool to me, is how you’re still searching for those things because you understand that those outside of work passions matter.
Kari: The thing I learned after my dad passed away, once I finally was willing to explore the feeling of dealing with death, was that one of the number 1 regrets people had on their deathbed is that they worked too much.
And it was such an eye opener that, you know, we’re all here for a purpose. And it feels like our purpose is work because adult life isn’t what I thought it was when I was a kid. Right? I have to pay bills. I have to like keep up with the bills. I accidentally missed a bill. And the next thing I knew, the city was threatening to cut off my water.
John: Right. There’s a laundry. It’s like “Ugh.” It’s like all the things.
Kari: And it never ends.
John: Go for shopping, like cooking. It’s like “Ugh.” Yeah. And it’s every day. Oh, we gotta do it again? Okay, awesome.
Kari: But we’re not made to be a strictly workhorses. We have a reason to be here. There are people we can touch and people we can influence. And one of the biggest struggles that I had with my story is every time something happened to me, I told myself it’s not that bad. Someone else has it worse. Yes, my brother was autistic, but he wasn’t in a wheelchair and we didn’t have to modify our entire home. And yes, I lost my dad at the age of 25, but other people lost their dads before that. Or yes, I have these narrow conditions, but it’s not life threatening. And I kept discrediting my own feelings. And I think when you do that and you don’t open up and share your story because you feel like it’s not worthy, you also take away from other people because then they feel like their stories aren’t worthy.
I tried to hide so many experiences I went through whether it was the loss of my dad, whether it was dealing with an anxiety diagnosis, whether it was dealing with these neurological visits and having to juggle the fact that I got escalated to a neurologist and had like 6 doctor appointments in a week. I like hid it all because I didn’t want people to know this about me. And once I opened up and I said “you know what, if we don’t talk to each other about it, we’re all gonna feel like we’re broken”, so I opened up. I did some— I’m gonna loosely call it social media campaigns about pseudo tumor awareness month. I’m terrible at social media. I can never do it consistently, but I opened up about my experiences with that, again, because they’re not well-known. They are considered rare even though I have made contact with a number of people that have been diagnosed with these conditions now.
But I found that in opening up, it gave other people permission to open up as well. And when we do that, we don’t have to live in this fear anymore. And that just does so much for your mind that in my case I had to keep re-evaluating my “and” and it was hard. But now, I’m just in a position where I’ll talk about mental health awareness. I’ll talk about how much it sucks that I hate waking up in the morning and I feel nauseated all the time because of this condition. And I just wanna wake up and feel okay, but it also gives me an opportunity to talk about it and then find a different “and” and that those “ands” honestly, they’re baby “ands.” We’ll call it what it is.
John: They’re “ands.” There’s no size to the “ands.”
Kari: There’s no size to the “ands.”
John: It doesn’t have to be record breaking. It doesn’t have to be something that walked on the moon. That’s the same as making kombucha at home or going on a hike, you know. I mean, there’s no difference. Having an “and”, they’re all the same. They’re all the same, you know. It’s just having that thing that’s outside of work, you know. And I love how you said that, you know. I can even equate talking about mental health awareness in your journey. It’s almost the same. It’s just talking about what lights people up in these other dimensions to who someone is as a person. And I would imagine that it’s good for you like you said, but I imagine that everyone else enjoys it too, you know. Like you said, it gives them permission to also then open up. And you just get closer and you learn about each other. And suddenly, your dimension like it’s a 3D relationship now where most work relationships are pretty superficial, kind of 2-dimensional. But now, all of a sudden, there’s a little bit of depth to it, and there’s richness there, which I love hearing your experience through that. That’s awesome.
Well, I feel like before we wrap this up that I eat rudely peppered you with questions at the beginning. So, I feel like we should turn the tables, make this the Kari Hipsak podcast. And thanks for having me on the show. So, you can ask me whatever you want. I’m all yours.
Kari: That’s right. This is the first episode of the Kari Hipsak podcast. I’ll be interviewing John Garrett. Let’s start with the important questions. What is your favorite comfort food?
John: Ooh, favorite comfort. So, that’s probably gonna be— I mean, ice cream is hard to beat or like brownies with ice cream like a la mode like warm brownie ice cream. Like yeah, that’s gonna be hard to pass up.
You know, some hot fudge like just whipped cream. You know, cherry, why not? You know, like just yeah. That’s gonna be hard to pass that up.
Kari: Why not?
John: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, if we’re going in, we might as well, you know.
Kari: I really like that you’re dedicated to your core food of ice cream and you just add on it for comfort food. Right?
John: Well, I mean, why not? I mean, it’s like we’re already going to triple digits calories, so we might as well go for a comma. Like let’s for a thousand. Like let’s do this.
Kari: For the comma. Perfect.
Kari: Whenever I have an a la mode brownie again, I’ll think of you and say I’m going for the comma.
John: There you go. I mean, look at it positively. Right?
Kari: Have you tried any of the “ands” that have been shared on your show?
John: You know what? That’s a really good question. And this is actually a tangent, but what I would love to have be a TV show because Mike Rowe has Dirty Jobs where he goes and does some dirty job that someone does and then it’s a show, I would love to do a show where it’s me going to somewhere and then somebody likes to ballroom dance. Awesome. I’ll ballroom dance. I don’t know how, but I’ll learn it and let’s do it. And then I talk to you about it. I think it would be an awesome show just to get professionals all over sharing their “ands” and me doing ‘em because I have no shame in doing something ridiculous that I don’t know how to do. And maybe I’ll actually be good at it, but I haven’t picked up any specifically because of, I guess. Yeah, there was someone on who made kombucha. And then unrelated to that, my wife was making kombucha for the first time. So, it was kind of a funny parallel universe I was living where I was like “Well, I can have you talk to her because she’s awesome and knows how to make it for real” type of thing, but I think that TV show would be great. I think people would watch, you know, but I don’t know who to talk to. So, I need to get on that.
Kari: Oh, I don’t either, but I’ll let you know if any connections come to mind.
John: Right, right, right. Exactly. Exactly. So, that’s awesome. You got one more?
Kari: Yeah. You brought TV. So, what’s your favorite reality TV show?
John: Oh, wow. So, favorite reality TV show. For the record, I like loathe reality TV because it killed the sitcom. And as a comedian, like that’s kind of where we’re all going. But I would have to say that Married at First Sight is the only reality show that I watch, and it makes me look like a really amazing husband, so that’s—
Kari: So, it’s your feel good show. That’s what I hear.
John: Totally. I’m like “Look, I’m way better than that.” But I feel like Married at First Sight is such an interesting social experiment, and it makes me laugh, and it’s also just weird to just see how people act. And you’re like “What? Like how is that person doing that?”
Kari: Marriage as a social experiment, that sounds solid.
John: As a whole. But then make it a TV show, why not? Throw two strangers together, meet at the altar, and then we’re gonna film you for the next 8 weeks. It’s like yikes.
John: Yeah. For sure. Well, this was so much fun. Thank you so much, Kari, for being a part of What’s Your “And”?
Kari: Thank you, John.
John: Everyone listening, if you wanna see some pictures of Kari outside of work or maybe connect with her on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. All the links are there. And while you’re on the page, please click that big button. Do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture, and don’t forget to read the book.
So, thanks again for subscribing on Apple podcast or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, that who you are is so much more than what you do.