In a world partially governed by a virtual society, social media and anxiety surface as an effective pair towards controlling the way people think about themselves and others. Today, Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen talk to Robert Cheeke, a speaker, vegan athlete, and the author of Vegan Bodybuilding and Fitness. Robert shares about how his anxiety has controlled his body and how he is handling it before speaking events. He opens up how the pressure from people telling him he can be someone great has given him more unease. Adding more pressure is his presence in the virtual industry, trying to please others to like him and his cause. Tune in to this episode to gather some tips on countering anxiety caused by social pressures and learn how to align with your goals.
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Handling Social Media And Anxiety With Robert Cheeke
That’s not a proper way to start the show.
Maybe we should start by explaining what “Yeah, buddy” means and where that came from. It’s something that Robert and I have been saying to each other since 2010. It has been almost exactly a decade since that big trip that we went on together to promote your first book.
My first book came out in 2010. It came out in April.
We went on that trip, was it in April or March?
It was. We went to the Seattle Vegfest within three weeks of the book coming out.
The “Yeah, buddy” joke started because you are telling me a story about Ronnie.
It is Ronnie Coleman, arguably the greatest bodybuilder in history. That’s his number one expression. He’s like, “Yeah, buddy.” He has a few others like, “Ain’t nothing but a peanut. Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder but nobody wants to lift that heavy-ass weights. I do it though.” He’s a character. He’s well-known, well-loved, well-liked for being a little bit of a goofy best bodybuilder in the world. He’s this massive size, but like Mike Tyson’s high-pitch voice on a 330-pound, 3% body fat frame, shouting, “Yeah, buddy,” to anyone who will listen.
How often do you hear other people say, “Yeah, buddy?
All the time, especially at fitness expos where he is. He’ll yell him from across the room, “Yeah, Buddy.” He’ll look up and he’ll say it back, “Yeah, Buddy.” It’s a thing that you do. It’s a greeting like how I met you in the hotel lobby.
I love that. It’s fun when you have a good inside joke that can last many years.
That’s what I have with Jack. They sent it and they said, “Yeah, Buddy. Safe travels.”
It’s funny too because we write that to each other on social media or sometimes we’ll say, “YB.” Sometimes we spell, “Butty,” to be a little cheeky, “Robert Cheeke, Yeah, buddy.”
Sometimes I turn the other cheek when that happens.
We have a lot of inside jokes from that trip. I’m going to link in this episode those videos we recorded many years ago where we have an outtake version. We did a bunch of videos. There are compilations of him saying, “Yeah, buddy.” I’ll link to the videos that we did on that trip. We have a whole book tour.
We saw Santa and his sleigh. It was amazing. We saw an old man who runs a haunted amusement park in Scooby-Doo.
We had a lot of fun moments captured on camera and it brings me a lot of joy to watch that. Robert and I met through Twitter. We’ve got to tell Biz Stone, one of the founders of Twitter that we had met. We’ve done a lot together
I was talking about meeting James Cameron on the red carpet, which is what you got me into.
Before he went vegan.
We interviewed him about that. He was inspired to go vegan from Forks Over Knives. You’re the one that got me into that red carpet event. We interviewed him there. These days, Gary Vaynerchuk is a big investor in a Twitter, but we were the ones that tell Biz Stone in person that there’s this Gary guy. This wine guy who’s a big fan. He didn’t even know Gary back then. I was the one that relays that because I’d met Gary a number of times in person. I was a big fan. I was at dinner with some people and show them the photos of me and Gary from years ago. I was the one to tell Biz that there’s this Gary guy who has a massive fan on Twitter. He’s got a million. He’s the only non-celebrity with a million followers who want to meet you. Sure enough, they met weeks later. Gary’s been a big investor ever since and a big advocate and fan of Twitter.
Speaking of Gary Vee, I got onto TikTok as a result of his recommendations. Are you using TikTok at all?
I’m not. I had this conversation with someone about how I missed the boat with Instagram. I didn’t join for years after a lot of other people did. Once I did join, I had my wife run the account for me. I was completely averse to it. I wanted nothing to do with it. I went through phases where after being prolific on Myspace, I filmed the documentary, the entire soundtrack of the Vegan Fitness: Built Naturally DVD, which we sold a few thousand copies, which was from Myspace.
I went through my storage unit and I found your DVD in there. I was like, “This is a collector’s item.” What does that have to do with Myspace?
I got the entire soundtrack from Myspace musicians.
Myspace is like the SoundCloud.
They were all vegan musicians. I connected with all of them from Nashville to Hollywood to Florida. They were all over the country. Maybe all over the world, some from Europe too. They all agreed to contribute to the soundtrack. I was obsessed and addicted to MySpace and Facebook. I resented having to go to sleep because I wanted to be able to crush it on those platforms.
You also didn’t like to spend a lot of time outdoors, as I remember. You’re like, “I don’t do activities.”
When we first met, I told you I don’t do activities. I’ve been reflecting a lot on that because I am trying to live more. I’m trying to do more things that are meaningful. I reflect on a lot of times that I spent in front of a computer, not spending time with people. One time, a close friend threw me a 30th birthday party and I got upset. This was before my party here in LA. I had one in Oregon. I moved right around my 30th birthday and my friend, Tasha, threw me a party. I got annoyed or frustrated with her because that took time away from me spending time on Twitter to grow my brand. She started crying and all of this. I felt bad because I was like, “What are you doing? We’ve got work to do and you throw me a birthday party.” That was my mindset. That came a little bit from Gary Vaynerchuk. It came a little bit from my upbringing. It came a little bit from outside influence.
How do you feel about Gary’s whole hustle mentality? Jason and I talk a lot about this. I have mixed feelings about Gary Vee. There’s a side of me that respects him. I think he’s incredibly educated. He’s a powerful speaker. He does have great advice like TikTok, for example. It is a great platform to be on. It’s a special thing that we have. There’s also this side of me that feels like it can be detrimental to mental health or push people in a direction where they maybe miss out on the important parts of their lives because they’re focused on the hustle. Is that how you feel? Are you still a fan of his?
I have a lot of mixed feelings. Jason and I were talking in Orange County about a lot of things, including self-confidence and feeling comfortable in our own skin. I’ve often not, which many people may not know. I’ve gone through a lot. I cringed looking back at those videos you mentioned. I was skinny when I was on a vegan bodybuilding tour. The stress got to me. I had no money. I wasn’t eating right. I wasn’t sleeping right. I was even taking over-the-counter Melatonin to help me fall asleep at night. I was drinking six energy drinks a day to stay awake so I could be productive at all moments. I got skinny and I look back, even those times at the post office and everything with the wrong receipt of shipping hundreds of books. I was thin, even though I was excited about the Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness book. I’ve vowed to never let that happen again when I released books. I’ve been training hard and working hard and all of that. Yet, I still have some struggles. I told Jason, it was even hard for me to show up at the event that I was at with all these elite, plant-based athletes, where I’m the bodybuilder guy and I’ve got this new big book deal and this new exciting stuff in my life. I was still trying to come into my own.
To answer your question about Gary, I have a lot of mixed feelings about Gary too. I think he’s changed a lot. He’s done a whole 180. He is super authentic and transparent about that hustle thing. He is one of the leaders in mental health and happiness. I don’t know if you followed him much, but he is obsessed with being happy and finding your own happiness. If that means doing something that’s not your parents’ wishes or what other people expect for you and of you, but that’s following your own heart. Even if it means going back and living with your parents or living with a bunch of roommates so you can afford to live an authentic lifestyle and not a fake Instagram lifestyle. You can afford to be in a comfortable situation where you can pursue your happiness or start a family. He’s changed dramatically. He’s only a few years older than me. He’s matured over the years and his hustle at all cost mentality has been watered down a bit. That’s a good thing.
I’ve perceived that he softened. There’s one quote that I see him come up with a lot of times on his videos, which is people saying like, “I’d rather cry in my Ferrari.” He’s like, “This is insane. I would rather be happy as hell doing what I love in my Honda Accord than cry in my Ferrari.” To your point, Robert, I’ve seen a shift away from him into this hustle at all costs, worshiping the God of materialism that is rampant in entrepreneurship. It’s this idea that we have to hit our metrics. We have to hit our goals. We have to get a Ferrari. We have to get a big house. Even in the wellness industry, I see a lot of that. It’s not a specific type of entrepreneurship. Even for all three of us on this show, I feel still pressure of having to be a certain way or accomplish a certain thing or have a certain amount of money coming in.
That’s something that would be great to discuss, especially for you, Robert. It’s something that Jason and I discuss all the time. All three of us have been vegan social media advocates and users for many years. I got on Twitter and Facebook in 2008 or 2009. Were you on Myspace, Jason?
I had my music on Myspace.
I never used Myspace. It wasn’t a thing for me personally and professionally. We were each on these platforms. Even though you felt like you “missed the boat” with Instagram, you were still on all these other platforms for a while. You’re making videos on YouTube still fairly early.
I had my own show. I stopped feeling comfortable on camera and I stopped. I honestly didn’t feel comfortable on camera for another year and I’m still not. I’m rarely ever on camera these days. I don’t know if anyone noticed. I even did a little Instagram video from the gym, mostly to give a shout out to a friend who gave me a gym membership. It was one of the first videos I’d done in years on Instagram. Even a little story, I hadn’t done an Instagram story that was not a photo. I hadn’t done a video of me on camera.
Do you think that you’re uncomfortable because you’re in the comparison trap? You don’t feel like you look good compared to other people on social media or YouTube?
It’s a lot of things, including a comparison to my former self. We had this talk, me, Jason, some former NFL players and a bunch of influential people in the plant-based space. I went home and talked to my wife, Karen, about this and maybe some other people that in my opinion, there’s a difference between aging as a person and aging as an athlete. As you age as an athlete, you can’t do things you used to be able to do. You’re not as fast. You’re not as strong. You’re not as capable and have to admit that is tough. I’ve had a lot of problems. I’ve had a lot of back herniated disk problems that have legitimately slowed me down and significantly impacted where I resented bodybuilding. I hated bodybuilding for a while because I felt that it ruined me physically. I was in pain and I couldn’t work out. It’s like that classic bodybuilding line, “Did you skip a leg day?” I’ve skipped a leg day for half a decade. I’ve got skinny legs because I can’t train them. My spine doesn’t hold up. I’ve tried lots of things. I’ve worked with sports chiropractors. I’ve tried massage therapy. I’ve done rehab for months. I’ve done all these things. It’s hard to recover.
It’s challenging for me to age as an athlete. I’m not who I was, so I have to transition to, “I’m the writer.” I had to find success out of that and I was still struggling even after releasing four self-published books. It took me such an effort to land a book deal. I was repeatedly told I wasn’t good enough even after I sold over a million worth of self-published books. That’s 60,000 copies at $20 each. That’s over $1 million worth. That’s gross sales. It’s not net, but that still wasn’t good enough. I was told that over and over. At this point and most people probably don’t know, I worked with three different agents all trying to make it. I got one way back years ago, Jean Bauer puts me in touch with somebody but got nowhere. Brian Wendel put me in touch with someone years ago. That book never made it. I was told that it wasn’t good enough.
What do you mean by not good enough? Were those the exact words?
Yes, I am not good enough as a writer and I am not famous enough. I am not well-known enough. “We are not going to take a chance on you. You don’t have enough followers. You don’t have a big enough audience.” I sincerely did not want to use a lot of social media platforms. I don’t like it. I’ve understood from an early platform, probably years before most people think that it’s a highlight reel. I know that because I used it like that. I used Myspace and Facebook and all these platforms, Twitter, Instagram, to show my life’s highlights, “Look how great I am.” That’s what I thought I had to do to sell myself. I got obsessed with that. Because I skipped out on things like Instagram for that first couple of years, the growth was incredible. You could get a thousand followers a day. It was incredible when it was organic growing like with TikTok is now.
I start to resent it because I’ve been vegan for many years and maybe because of my decision to avoid some of those platforms and give up my YouTube show, which had 90 episodes back when YouTube was new. It comes back all these years later almost to haunt me that, “Robert, you don’t have a big enough following.” That’s not just social media, it could be newsletter subscribers and all of that. I’ve vaguely mentioned this book deal and I got weeks ago, but I wasn’t able to do it without a coauthor, without a professional writer and without an agent that took me months to finally agree to work with me. That’s tough because I’m no longer that athlete and even when I use that, sometimes that #VeganAthletefor24Years, sometimes people tease me, “What kind of athlete are you?” I exercise three or four days a week in the gym. I don’t compete in anything.Social media pressure can be a cause of anxiety. Click To Tweet
People are questioning my use of athlete and that makes me a few things. Sometimes I ignore it. Other times I feel like, “Maybe I’m almost 40. Maybe I will get back into bodybuilding and I’ll get all inspired and motivated and then I’ll hurt my back again.” That usually happens every couple of months. It flares up and I think, “I can’t do that. What am I good at?” I am good at writing and public speaking. Then I was told I wasn’t good enough as a writer. I had one of my greatest talents taken away from me a few years ago when I got diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I couldn’t speak. I literally couldn’t get words out. I couldn’t do this show. I turned down every podcast, every video. That’s why I couldn’t be on video. I couldn’t even do Instagram stories because I couldn’t get the words out.
You couldn’t get words out even in private conversations?
I couldn’t speak on the phone even if it was important. I’d have to call 911 or something, but I couldn’t speak. I finally took myself in. We moved from Colorado to Arizona because we thought it was something in the altitude and the air. I couldn’t sleep at night. My tongue would get stuck to the roof of my mouth and we’d had to have these air purifiers filtration things, the hundreds of dollar ones, the expensive ones. I couldn’t breathe. I started taking all these Benadryl pills for allergies, which did nothing. I was loading up on allergy medicine. I had those pills all over my house aside from Melatonin stuff, MidNite brand and all vegan to help you sleep. I had to use anything, but I was using all these things to help with what I thought were allergies, but it followed me everywhere.
I’d go to the Caribbean, Canada, California. I’d go to different climates, Alaska and different parts of the world. It followed me to China. Finally, I had to take myself in. I hadn’t seen a doctor in years, which also was maybe a mistake. I think a lot of people who are vegan are in the health space don’t want to admit that they need to see a doctor and get blood work done or something. I never wanted to. I always thought, “I’m a vegan plant-based guy. I’m an athlete. I’m fit. I’m healthy.” I had to take myself in to go see a doctor. We did everything, including things that were scary for me.
One of the reasons I didn’t go to see a doctor was because I can’t stand needles. I can take shots. I can take pain in the shoulder. I can take pain like nobody. I’ve dealt with spine pain where I’ve been even temporarily paralyzed. I can’t use my limbs and all this. I can deal with pain. I don’t have a problem with that, but I freak out the moment they try to take some blood from me. I almost passed out the first day I went in to take blood. I was sweating, almost dripping on the floor. I was falling over. Karen had to run out to the car and get me some fruit snacks with some sugar. It was about to pass out and vomit all at the same time. That was scary for me. Then they said, “You have to go do this. Once it heals in that arm or uses the other arm, you have to do this IV contrast,” where they put all this iodine in you. You just filled with it your entire body. They tell you ahead of time that it’s going to feel like you’re going to pee your pants and all this. Your whole body fills up with this warming sensation that a lot of people like to go to the bathroom. It’s a weird feeling.
I had to do that. I had to do CT scans, pulmonary tests, cardiovascular exams, CT scan, and EKG. I had to do all these things and it was scary. I didn’t deal well with needles or doctor places or hospitals or whatever. When it finally came down to it, the doctor got to know me for a while. He talks to me for an hour at a time or more, which was pretty cool because I didn’t know that every person gets that time with a doctor. After getting to know me and what I do and a little bit about me and all the medical, the actual tests. They put me on inhalers and beta-blockers, the tests and see if it would work.
When he brought me back in for evaluation a few weeks later, he said, “Robert, there’s nothing wrong with you physically. Your problem is above your shoulders.” It was funny to hear a doctor say this because you don’t expect these words from a doctor. He said, “Robert, your problem is you have to be the best at everything. You can’t settle for anything less.” That was true. I’d been like that, the world’s most recognized vegan bodybuilder for ten years and that was gone. My website was fading with Facebook. I was running out of money and I would still tour and sleep in my car and all this stuff. I still partly believed that I’m still the best.
“I’m still the best at this. If only I can overcome it. I can’t breathe getting on stage. Let me talk to people. Let me tell a story,” because I had done some good things. I sold a lot of books. I had some great high-paying gigs and fully funded all expenses paid trips, plus getting paid to speak in Australia, China, Europe, and the Caribbean. All these great places, all these years in a row. I was obsessed with, “I used to be the best at things.” That started when I was little. I was the fastest runner in school. My name was number one on the mile. I would make special appointments with a PE teacher to set all the time in the history of my high school. I would try to set the all-time record for the mile. I got close and never did. I had to run in four minutes and change and 5:05 was the closest I got. I could run 4:50 in a race or in a 1,500, which is 100 meters short of a mile. I ran that in 4:33, which is on pace for 450 miles. It’s another 100 meters. I probably could have done it. Running by myself on the track, I never quite broke that record. I got accustomed to being the best at stuff. I set academic records in school and I won all awards.
I was poised to be in a place that I would eventually get to years later. I’ve made a six-figure book deal and hanging out with celebrities, including the guy who played a Phantom in the Phantom of the Opera. He also played the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. He performed in front of over 200 million people on Broadway over the course of decades. His voice is incredible. After this, I’m going to go meet up with Def Leppard and Tesla and all these people. It’s a different world, but I struggled with something that I never expected. What I thought was allergies, turned out to be anxiety, which I always thought was a weakness. Even people including some of my closest friends, my wife and others, would suggest talking to someone. That was my least favorite thing to hear. I couldn’t stand hearing that. I talked to Jason a little bit about it, but I’ve been on tour working on this new book and meeting with celebrities and stuff. It’s been cool.
I was on tour with Dr. Michael Greger with his New York Times best-selling book for two days in Sedona and Tucson, Arizona. Some friends were there from Canada. I didn’t expect to see them there. One is a psychiatrist. He went to medical school for sixteen years and is working in a hospital. The other one, I can’t remember what her title is, but she works with military war veterans who have PTSD and all. It’s amazing. There was a point to this comment, what’s amazing is for the last years, I’ve had to survive by applying body lotion to my hands 50 times a day. It is in my purse at all times.
It is a sensible thing that helps you relieve your anxiety.
If my hands are dry, I cannot speak. I literally can’t get words out. My voice will get cut off. This is the real thing. Karen knows when it’s happening. A few other people know when it’s happening and they step in. I have to excuse myself. I couldn’t survive without it 50 times a day.
Any hand lotion.
It has to be unscented. I couldn’t deal with scents. It was awful for me. Soaps, perfumes, chemicals, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer spray, cigarettes, paint, I couldn’t breathe. These were triggers that would set me off. I was talking to my friends at dinner. The psychiatrists and people who treat people with these types of true diagnosed anxiety conditions or I don’t think if it’s an obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s like a necessity. We had a conversation over dinner for a couple of hours. It was tough and it was challenging. It was emotional. It’s one of those things that took my greatest strength away from me, my ability to speak. Even my own honeymoon was awful. I could not breathe even though we were in beautiful Alaska and we were on a cruise, which is where we met. I couldn’t even speak at the dinner. I sat there at a table of eight. They must have thought something was wrong with me. You have to go in and put the hand sanitizer on your hands. That’s what triggers me. I can’t breathe. I didn’t always have lotion on me and certain lotions the scent is too strong. That throws me off even more.
We were able to connect a lot of dots. Through talking to them, I decided to reveal a lot of my issues and where maybe they stemmed from. I drove home from Sedona. I couldn’t even drive without lotion, even though it makes your hands a little greasy, which may seem unsafe on the wheel. I had to have it or else I couldn’t breathe, especially with airflow. Air conditioning sets me off too. I drove home without lotion. I decided I would and it’s after I washed my hands. As you know, I’ve got to pee all the time. That’s why it’s many dozens of times a day or anytime I eat. Every time I wash my hands, I have to apply lotion. I stopped at a rest stop and along the two-hour drive home and didn’t put lotion on. Although, I had ten bottles in the car everywhere I go. I went home and I never can go to bed without lotion. It’s something I have to sleep in, but I didn’t do it. I woke up the next day and I was stressed. I had high anxiety.
The next day, I had a photoshoot with this company and with Dr. Michael Greger. I met some influential and important people in my life in the business world. I spoke in front of 400 people on stage before Dr. Greger took the stage. I was fine and I’ve continued to do it ever since. I did put a little bit of lotion on before this interview as a safety net for me. You may have seen me in the corner do it quietly over there because I went to the bathroom right before. I had to wash my hands and I wanted to be safe. I’ve been able to differentiate the physical need and the mental need for it, which I only knew that I needed it. I couldn’t survive without it until I tried it. It made me suffer because I do suffer. It’s uncomfortable. I can’t speak, I can’t breathe, but I had to go through that in order to reclaim the voice that I’ve had. I am not name dropping for fun, but to put into context.
I met some big-name people for dinner in Hollywood and I’m meeting some of the same people to meet with some of those big bands. I feel more at ease. I feel more comfortable. My whole team knows that at the expo where you saw me speak. I would have to do that same thing, apply lotion all day long and often have to excuse myself from the booth. I almost had to forfeit my entire job and they pay me well. I’m in charge. I’m the director. I run the whole thing for this Vegan Strong. I tour all year long to twenty cities. I almost had to forfeit and said, “I can’t do this anymore because I can’t be in front of people?” I can’t interact.
I went from the quintessential extrovert from all my silliness and my stage presence for years to the quintessential introvert, where I never left my house a lot. Some people even thought I moved already from Arizona. I stayed at home. When people would come to visit, when you came to visit, I would hide it. I would be antsy and moving around by chair and around the couch. I have to keep moving. I even have to pull my sweat or grease or oil off my forehead to make up a lotion all over my face and forehead so I can grab it later. It was weird, but I have to make myself sweat and then I can get the moisture. I can continue on with my conversation.
Why wouldn’t you put lotion on? Are you afraid that people would judge you for putting lotion on your hands?
For the same reasons, it’s easy to say, “Don’t worry what other people think,” but it’s hard in the real world, especially as someone who it’s my own doing, but I’m judged every single day on how I look because of my own doing. I’m the guy that’s been doing the thumbs up pose for twenty years with my shirt off and all this stuff. Obnoxiously posing in front of things, even when I wasn’t even that good a shape and that looking back, it was part of who I was. I’m constantly judged for a lot of things, for what I look like at any given time. When I’m at the gym, I get recognized these days fairly often. What do people think? Even with food. I wrote an entire book endorsed by some of the greatest people in our movement about eating whole foods, “No, you contributed to it. No processed foods, no supplements or whatever.” I went back to eating processed foods and I had to quietly do it in the corner because I didn’t want to let Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. Campbell, Rip Esselstyn or Brian Wendel down. This is true. I quietly will eat in the corner sometimes because I don’t want people to see what I’m doing. When I do post a photo from the veggie grill on Instagram, people are like, “I spent $20 on your book where you said the opposite.”
I’m beholden to expectations that I set for myself and also this healthy fit guy but all the while, I had something wrong with me that I didn’t know what it was. I couldn’t tell anybody. I couldn’t tell anyone that I have this disorder. I have anxiety because that’s supposed to be one of the things that are preventable or a plant-based diet helps you with. It wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to tell anybody. I quietly was uncomfortable all the time until I started talking about it. What I found was as soon as I could talk about it and I’m sure it was a little bit of a bombshell when I told Jason like, “I’ve got all these problems.” When I would tell people, “I have this issue. We don’t know what it is. We don’t know why it’s there but I have it,” I could relax a little bit because I was guarding it. I put the pressure in myself that I am this vision of who I think I am. Even when I failed early on, the reason I was embarrassed is that I had a couple of people tell me I was going to be the next Tony Robbins and that stuck with me. I was like, “I’m supposed to be the one that can deal with this. I’m supposed to help other people with this stuff,” but I couldn’t help myself during those times. I felt that I let myself down.
I wonder if this is happening to a lot of people or is about to happen to a lot of people because social media has been a big part of all of this. You’re constantly in front of people all the time that are seeing what you’re doing and seeing who you are, thinking you’re one thing. There are a pro and a con. The pro is that you can sell your books. Jason and I have books and we have courses. All of us use social media ultimately because it’s a way of marketing ourselves to get speaking engagements, to get people to listen to the podcast. All of the constant promotion. All of us have witnessed this change. We were on social media early and I feel a massive amount of anxiety, not only on my own work, but I feel perceived by consuming social media. I feel anxious about seeing other people’s posts. I wonder how many people are experiencing it and hiding it too.
I’ve only just started talking about it. It was one of those things and I even hate to admit it, I was planning this big Facebook post. That’s where my real friends and family are. I didn’t tell my family. I didn’t tell a lot of people. I hid everything. I was planning this big post because I don’t know if you know, I got off of all social media, all of it. I deleted the apps. I couldn’t get on if I wanted to. I didn’t even know what the password was.
Are you not on it now?
I’m on now.
I remember you took that time off. For how long was that?
Twitter, I was over an entire year. It was one year and six days. I never logged in once the app was gone. I didn’t even know if I would remember my password when I put it back on my phone. Facebook was 4 or 6 months. Instagram was about the same, but my other Instagram account was 8 or 12 months and I would only use one and then I only use it from an iPad. I couldn’t do it on my phone. I set all these limitations for myself.
Did you feel like you were addicted, so you had to physically keep yourself away?
I knew I was heavily addicted to it. I openly admitted that, but I was going to come back with this big post about where I’ve been and announced that I had this thing. Then I realized, I was only doing that again for more feedback, for more likes, for more, “Poor, Robert. Hang in there.” When times get tough, I’ve done that sometimes. When I was sleeping in my car trying to sell books, I couldn’t make it anymore. I would post on Facebook, “I’m done.” It was almost like a call for help. I was going to do that, but I didn’t. To answer your question or your comment, I’ve only been talking about this for a short time. We only use it with a few close friends, even often through text, not even to social media. What happened is people that I never suspected have come to me and said that they’re dealing with anxiety. One of my friends is in the process of getting his PhD. It was eating him alive. Another one job interview stuff. Another one is the pressure of social media. It’s out there and I think a lot of people probably are hiding it. What’s amazing is I can tell both of you is that even in my most severe moments where I was suffering internally for 4 or 5 years, even a lot of people closest to me, they never knew. They couldn’t tell.
That’s the case for a lot of people is if you’re a public figure, there’s a greater pressure or feeling of shame of, “I have this success. I have this money. I have this notoriety. I have this legacy. How could I possibly feel this way?” A lot of that inner dialogue like, “Why me? This doesn’t add up. There’s nothing horrible going on in my life. There isn’t some great tragedy or trauma per se.” I think what you’re highlighting, Robert, and I’m glad you’re speaking to this level of depth and vulnerability on this episode of giving people permission no matter where they’re at to speak their truth into the world. You talked about how the weight was off of you a little bit once you spoke about it. That’s one of the most important things people can do is to admit what is happening to them and not hide it.
You’ve gone through similar feelings, Jason.
It was frightening to me to admit that I was diagnosed with clinical depression and that I had attempted to kill myself and thought about killing myself. I still do sometimes. To be blunt, there are times I still think about killing myself. It’s deep-rooted suffering that goes way back that for all of us, it’s not the blood tests or the physical evaluation. It’s getting to the root of it. I share this with you, Robert. I’ve talked about this in previous episodes. I have to be the best at everything. To me, my psychological part of that work of, “Why do I feel like I need to be that always?” Like in basketball, I’ll talk about our athletics. I had to be the best point guard. I had to be the best track star. I had to get straight-A’s in school. I had to get a 4.0 GPA. I had to be Valedictorian. I had to be the greatest vegan chef on Earth. I had to be the greatest in everything, but why? I dug into it and that was a way for me to get love from people. I was the greatest at something entertaining you, bringing love into the room, showing you how great one can be when they applied, I’ll be valuable. I will be a huge light in the world that no one will ever abandon me. I’ll get all the love that I wanted that I didn’t get as a kid. That was a deep excavation for me of understanding why I felt that way.
It’s a societal thing too. The social media, for better or for worse, is giving people a platform that we’ve never had before in human history.
To get a pat on the back, to be loved, to be admired and adored.
Not only can my friends see how attractive I am, but millions of people can validate me for looking attractive or being talented, funny singing or whatever.
Your good friends who are following you can also see the comments from others and you’re like, “How do you like me now?” You’ve elevated to a certain level and your friends are seeing that too.
A lot of people that didn’t feel popular in school might feel popular on social media. We didn’t have this as kids, the three of us. We had our little bubble. If you weren’t popular there, you weren’t popular anywhere. It’s this big popularity contest all of the time and it’s magnified. I think going back to TikTok, I’m fascinated by it because I’ve been on it since October of 2019. I was excited about it at first, but I started to step back and absorb more and pay attention to what other people were doing, more than posting. There’s a hesitancy that I’ve started to feel the more I observe it, which is many people are obsessed with getting famous and TikTok gives you the opportunity to feel the fame like no other social media platform has before. Practically, part of what is amazing and appealing about TikTok is anybody can get 10,000 followers quickly.
Probably the early days of Instagram and stuff.
More than I think I had ever witnessed on there because I felt like Instagram and Facebook were about talent and hard work. TikTok is also about talent and real friendships and also, the network helped you build a lot. TikTok is more random. If you post one funny video or one good dance video or you are an attractive person, you have to do one thing on there and you’re launched into “fame.” I’m wondering if that’s going to become detrimental because more people than ever are experiencing social media fame because of platforms like TikTok. It’s easier than it has been on the other platforms, from my perspective. I’m worried that it’s going to enhance this anxiety because everybody’s being rewarded. What happens when it’s taken away?
There’s a cost when it goes away. I’ve talked about how you and I were early in this movement and we feel like maybe we’re not as relevant as we once were. Even though we were early and we actively followed the rules, we did all the things but people came out of nowhere and we’re not as relevant.
It’s conflicting for me because we have been taught through the business that if you work hard enough and you’re consistent and you have longevity, you’ll be rewarded from it. That’s not the case on social media for everybody. In fact, I feel like I’m working as hard, if not harder than ever and seeing a lot fewer results. It’s incredibly confusing mentally.
I’m glad you brought this up, Whitney. I was wanting to bring this up. I’m glad this organically came up because to get uncomfortable for a moment and I don’t think I’ve ever admitted this publicly, I often feel a lot of resentment. You talk about being pioneers or whatever it was, Vegan Bodybuilding and activism, sustainability, eco-friendly, vegan chef. I see these younger people come up, having been doing it for months and then out of nowhere, they get massive. I was like, “I’ve been doing this for years.”
They are getting the rewards that you want the instant reward versus long-term work.
It engenders in me a sense of resentment that I have to work through all the time because it’s happening so much of like, “Who’s this kid? All of a sudden, you’re king vegan.” I was like, “You’ve been around for months. That’s my internal dialogue.” I get resentful. We’re laughing, but we brought it up like how do you feel this? How do we deal with these feelings of resentment of these up and comers who all of a sudden get “famous” out of nowhere and we’re like, “We have been grinding at this for more than a decade?”
I was laughing because I was having this conversation. We were walking back with our Vegan Strong team about it. We were joking about there are some big-name people in the Vegan Bodybuilding World and there were a couple of them who are quite well-known probably playfully. They were referencing themselves as the grandfathers of the Vegan Bodybuilding Movement because they’ve been doing it for four years. I even chimed in to be a little cheeky. I hand wave, “Twenty-four years over here. I co-founded the movement.” I feel that too. I talked to other vegan athletes and vegan bodybuilders. We’ve had a conversation about that with a number of the core members of our Vegan Strong team.It's easy to say, 'Don't worry what other people think,' but it's hard in the real world. Click To Tweet
There were many people in our circle back in the day who had potential. They had the look. They had the ability. They had the talent, and they never made it anywhere in social media or with their own opportunities with brands, businesses, endorsements and sponsorships. They got passed over and it’s unfortunate. I felt that maybe my days were numbered too. I already said I resented bodybuilding for a while. I want to buy something. I was planning to sell Vegan Bodybuilding over the last years. I was going to give it away at one point. I was done with it. I was going to do something different with my life then I realized there’s some real value there. We’ve got the game-changers coming out soon, which I had known about for years. Maybe VeganBodyBuilding.com would have some actual real estate value. I could get something out of it because I didn’t want to do it anymore.
I’m still unsure what to do with it. I felt a lot of that. It’s mixed feelings. It’s a little bit of resentment, envy, and jealousy, but also a little bit of excitement because I’m genuinely happy for other people and I’m happy for the movement to grow. There is this quote. I don’t know the exact quote, but something like, “Vegans are the only people who want to put themselves out of business because everyone’s doing it.” There’s no more need for your products and services anymore because everyone is doing it. We talk about that all the time as a vegan business owner or restaurant owner or food creator or whatever you do. We want to put ourselves out of business because it’s common and that makes the world better. I have lots of mixed feelings. I do want to go back on one thing really quick. It’s a little bit going backward, but I want to throw it out there because I couldn’t help but think about it for a long time. I’ve never mentioned it before.
Jason, you wanted to be the best at everything like me. I’ve been able to trace that back a little bit myself. Obviously, it has been in the middle kid but I don’t know how I feel about it. I’m maybe rare. I’m not sure. I hope so, but I’m almost 40 and I’ve never heard the L word from my parents before. That’s for real. I’ve never been told that I was loved before. It took me more than five years to say that word to Karen who I’m married to. She was using it early on and I’m like, “What are you doing? That is a sacred word. That should be saved for something super meaningful. I haven’t even heard that from my parents. You’re trying to use this word.” I wouldn’t use it. I would only use it in playful conversations. We say, “I love you, bro,” but I never meant it at anybody until I got married. I tried to build up the confidence the best that I can. When I moved to Austin, Texas, I did say it to my mom when I left home because I was living at home. I said, “I love you.” She said, “Okay.” She doesn’t know how to respond to it. I spent New Year’s Eve in the Emergency Room. My mom wasn’t doing well. She had some issues. She was in bed for days. Karen and I took around. We missed our flight. We’re not able to fly home. She had double pneumonia and low red blood cell count and was in the hospital for days.
When my brother was taking over, we finally flew back home. I said I love you. I said it twice and she didn’t know how to respond. She didn’t say anything back. I probably recognized that as a kid. I thought that was the root of, “I’m going to be the best in the world.” I was for a while. I was the best “Vegan Bodybuilders” in the world. An old documentary about pro wrestling, Jake “The Snake” Roberts said that he was trying to prove and he was trying to get his dad’s love. He became one of the best. He said, “When I did it? It didn’t matter.’” I feel that way. I became the best at what I loved and the only people who cared were the internet and Facebook people. I’m not even that big or strong or successful, but they love me. People were excited seeing me in LA like, “You changed my life.” Other people were even crying to me. “You helped me believe myself and all that.” I’m glad I did that for a lot of other people, but I was doing it for myself, just like Jake “The Snake,” I did it and I don’t know if it mattered.
I’ve also never heard the P-word from my parents. I’ve never heard them say, “I’m proud of you.” You can ask Karen. That’s the most common thing I’d text her. I take the word out as an inside joke. I said, “Are you proud of me?” I have to ask for it all the time. Even meeting the celebrities, the group photos with these big-time people, “Are you proud of me?” She’ll tell you, “I’m proud of you.” When you were talking about that Jason, I thought that’s probably what’s going on with me is that you use that word like I was trying to win someone’s love no matter who that is, family, friends, fans or the internet. That has honestly been my journey to the point that I joked. I was telling one of my closest friends of all time, my friend from preschool, we’re still best friends. He’s the one that got me into bodybuilding as a teenager. He’s the one that helped me with all my books. He’s come out to see me for my 40th birthday from Oregon. We met Arnold Schwarzenegger together on my 21st birthday. I told them that in my family, I was the joke.
My sister got her PhD. My brother works for the government and got a six-figure job out of college. He owns big, beautiful, fancy houses. My other brother runs a million-dollar cattle farming operations. He’s one of the most well-known guys in the city. I come home for the holidays and my dad will say, “Everyone quiet. Robert, tell us how great you are.” I’ve had that. My dad, probably most of my family, considers me a big self-promoter because I’ve always been trying to sell myself. I’m sick of selling myself. That is what I was going to say to you when you earlier were talking about TikTok and all this stuff. In a perfect world, I will get away from all of it and go live in Costa Rica or in Indonesia and live a quiet life away from all of it, for real.
I only got back on social media because I thought it would help me land a better book deal if I was current on social media. Why do you think I posted all those photos of me and Arnold Schwarzenegger, me and Def Leppard, me and all these celebrities? When they’re auditing me and looking at me and checking me out on the internet, it shows a post from late 2019 that I’m currently on the internet and I’m with famous people. Maybe we should give that guy a better deal or at least some deal offer at all. I don’t know if that mattered or not. It probably didn’t. It probably wouldn’t have even mattered.
In a selfish way, I would get rid of all of it in a minute. I don’t care anymore about positive or negative feedback on the internet. It has become stressful. It’s something that I don’t think brings all the value to my life anymore. I plan to go away again. With this new book, I may finally be able to be completely self-sustainable with book royalties and everything where I won’t need to do this stuff anymore. Part of me thinks it’s a little bit selfish too. If I have the skills and talents and abilities to inspire other people to eat fewer animals and help make an impact on the planet, I feel a bit selfish if I stopped promoting, but I’m one person out of eight billion and I don’t have that much of an influence on social media anyway, will I even be missed?
Will you be missed? I want to answer that question directly because I’m moved by what you had to say.
Before you get into that, is that what went on for you too, Jason? When it comes to these ideas of suicide is, “Do I even matter?” If you get to a point where you feel like you don’t matter and being off of social media, some people go as far as to think, “Do I even need to be on this planet anymore? Will I be missed?
This is apples to oranges or whatever. I don’t think we fully understand the impact that we are having on people’s lives because we don’t hear it from them. Robert, talking about meeting people or on tour, having these interactions where people are like, “You changed my life.” I’m still all messed up about Kobe and I know this is tangential, but it’s related. I’d never met Kobe, Prince, David Bowie and Anthony Bourdain. I never met these luminaries that excelled in their given fields, but there’s something about when someone is creating something that is tremendously powerful, heartfelt, excellent and beautiful like art, music, food, sports that touch us. We may have never met this human, but I was crying over Kobe. It’s like, “Why am I crying over Kobe?” I played basketball. I looked up to him as a kid when I was playing in high school. I was doing my thing as a musician. I looked up to Bowie or Prince or these guys. My point is, “Do I matter anymore?” I’m sure, Robert, that there are people that will never say it to your face or never write a comment or never let you know. For all of us, that we have done something profoundly impactful and we’re never going to understand how deep that is. For me, the sorrow I feel over Kobe is a reminder of that.
It was a deep reminder of that influence I’ve been following as well. Ryan Nelson, who’s been sharing this hotel room with me, had the same reaction. Once I left to go to my dinner meeting, he broke down in the room. We had some wet watery eyes watching hours of TV coverage. After this, we’re going down there to Staples Center to go pay some respects before we drive back to Arizona or before we head to the gym. That’s the plan is to head down there to Staples Center. For me, it’s not the idea of, “Will I be missed?” It’s almost like I want to escape from it but not in a way that I want to disappear or harm myself or anything like that.
I want to be away from the noise. I want to write more books and I want my influence to go up. I’m not worried about that. I’ve got five nieces and nephews and I want to write children’s books and have their names as the characters. They’re all between ages 2 and 7. They’re young enough where they would love that. I want to spend more time with family. When I did go home for the holidays, I didn’t turn on my computer for nine days, which may be the longest in years. I didn’t post on social media the whole time at all. I didn’t write a single email and that was nice. I felt like that was a lifestyle I could get used to.
I’m going full circle. That’s why I’m not on TikTok because I don’t want to be sucked into something that I’m beholden to that has control over me, whereas I don’t have control over it. I’m looking to walk away from social media but have a greater impact because I can be centered and focused. I have many years of experience as a plant-based athlete to call upon. Not just an athlete, I’ve been doing speaking and business stuff and networking, better than a lot of other people. I have a lot to share in that world. Even overcoming this anxiety issue to come back and speak in front of large audiences and reclaim my voice. That’s probably a story worth telling.
Your story is going to move many people. That’s what I was thinking too, Robert. Perhaps, you have a book in your future just sharing this story, however, that form takes. I’m grateful that you opened up and that you trusted us with your story and you were willing to get uncomfortable and vulnerable. It was an important gift to share. I think that we’re going to swing in the opposite direction at some point. We’re going to come back to this. I think social media is going in a direction that’s not the best for our mental health as human beings. We’re going to realize that we’re losing connection with one another. I saw a post on Facebook in a group that I’m in and it was about how we’re no longer real human beings because everything is digital. Our digital selves and our personas. We’ve created these avatars of ourselves.
Everyone’s a character. In fact, many people don’t even go by their real names anymore. We’re all like pro-wrestling characters. We all have a name we go by like a handle that we’re known as.
That’s what we had years ago. I’m working hard to get away from my Eco-Vegan Gal because I don’t want to be a handle.
You’re still listed in my phone as Eco-Vegan Gal. It is Whitney Eco-Vegan Gal on my phone.
People introduce me as Eco-Vegan Gal. It makes me uncomfortable because I want to be known as Whitney. I don’t want to be known as a persona anymore. We all made these decisions. You didn’t as much as I did. Jason’s kept his name as his “brand.” I think that it’s becoming saturated and common that it’s either going to destroy us or we’re going to have to revert back and get simpler again. I’m hoping for the latter because it could destroy us. Mental health is getting bad and in my opinion, no coincidence that it’s with the rise of social media that teenagers are suffering more than ever. Whether it’s physically suffering from all of the technology, mentally suffering from everything they’re seeing on the screens and the comparisons and the pressure and on and on. The need for validation, we get these hits of validation and it’s taken away from us. It’s tough as all of us have shared. I think for you, Robert, your gift of sharing your story and the lessons that you’ve learned over the years, no one can share your story. Nobody has your experiences and that’s where your power is. Your power is not your persona online.
I want to thank you both. This was a difficult one for me. Maybe next time we chat, I’ll somehow make it as a bestselling author and maybe I’ll be on a beach in Costa Rica and influencing more people.
Maybe we’ll be there with you.
Maybe we could buy a commune in Costa Rica and we all move there. I’m 100% down for that plan. Get the animals ready.
Southwest Airlines flies there now, so it’s easy. Thank you both for the opportunity and for allowing me to share some difficult truths about my world that I live in every day.As a vegan, it’s hard to open up about having anxiety because that's supposed to be one of the things a plant-based diet helps you with. Click To Tweet
Thank you, Robert.
For our readers, we will put an opportunity for you to connect and share your story at Wellevatr.com. You’ll be able to connect with Robert. Maybe not through social media, but maybe through email. However, you can buy his books. You can go to his speaking events and see him in person and have a one-on-one connection. We’d love to hear from you so you can leave a comment and share what you thought of this episode and any experiences that you’ve had. We would love to connect with you more. That’s a big aim of ours. We wish we could have had you here sitting in the room and we’re grateful that you stayed. We’ll see you in the next episode. Thanks once again, Robert.
I appreciate you, Robert.
Thank you. I appreciate you.
- Seattle VegFest
- Twitter – Robert Cheeke
- Biz Stone – Eco-Vegan Gal YouTube Video
- James Cameron – Eco-Vegan Gal YouTube Video
- Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness
- Vegan Strong
- Video: Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness Northwest Book Tour
- Video: book tour outtakes
- Video: Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness with Robert Cheeke
- Video: Robert Cheeke Interviews James Cameron About His Plant-Based Diet
About Robert Cheeke
Robert grew up on a farm in Corvallis, OR where he adopted a vegan lifestyle in 1995 at age 15. Today he is the bestselling author of the books, Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness, Shreds It!, and Plant-Based Muscle.
As a two-time natural bodybuilding champion, Robert is considered one of VegNews magazine’s Most Influential Vegan Athletes. He tours around the world sharing his story of transformation from a skinny farm kid to champion vegan bodybuilder. Robert is the founder and president of Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness. He writes books, gives lectures, and maintains the popular website, VeganBodybuilding.com.
Robert is a 4-time magazine cover model and has appeared in more than 40 magazines including FLEX, Ironman, Natural Bodybuilding, Health Science, VegNews, Vegan Health & Fitness, Naked Food, and numerous international publications. He is considered to be the “Godfather of Vegan Bodybuilding,” building the industry from infancy in 2002, to where it is today with half a million online followers of his own brand, a fully funded national tour, and a network comprised of celebrities and influencers.
He is a regular contributor to No Meat Athlete, Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine, Naked Food Magazine, and Forks Over Knives, is a multi-sport athlete, entrepreneur, and has followed a plant-based diet for more than 24 years.
Robert lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife and two rescued chihuahuas. He can often be found hiking among the cactus and wild horses in the Tonto National Forest when he’s not on his Vegan Strong national tour or in front of his laptop writing books.
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