Claire Rogers. Credit: Cassia Lawrence Photography

When the world turned upside down in 2020, Claire Rogers was 46, living in England with her husband of 17 years, and five years into her third career, this one as a professional speaker.

She’d already been a successful model; had climbed the corporate ladder at an elite banking corporation in the travel industry; rubbed elbows with celebrities; and made some big bank. She was crushing it.

Life didn’t start out that way. Rogers’ parents emigrated from England to Canada in their late teens with 3-month-old Claire. Barely six months later, it was over. Her father was able to afford a better lawyer, so she spent the first 15 years of her life with him. 

“I wasn’t one of those kids who were gifted,” Rogers says about her studies. There were, she says, three things she was interested in: animals of any kind; books, particularly the mysteries, adventures and fantasy worlds of Enid Blyton; and the faraway places on the postcards she collected.

Dad remarried; her stepmother lived up to the fairy-tale hype and kicked Rogers out. She spent her high school years with Mom; just weeks away from graduation, she hadn’t a clue what she was going to do next. Mom told her she could be a model and travel the world, but Rogers thought every mum says that about their kid.

“I thought modeling was dumb,” Rogers admits. “It was never going to be my passion.”

But … “If you were going to be dumb enough to pay me 10 grand to just sit in a bathtub in a bikini for eight hours, I’m gonna sit.”

The next five years were spent in Japan doing ad campaigns, runway modeling and visiting the places on those postcards she’d collected not so long ago.

By 23, Rogers was bored. She went home, earned an honors diploma in advanced travel and tourism, got recruited by a Fortune 500 company, moved to England, then started moving up, with higher titles, more responsibility and bigger payoffs.

She married an equally ambitious man, and they could have been the poster couple for “having it all”—until the day Rogers had her first panic attack.

The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10,000 other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe. —Michio Kaku

Mental health has come a long way since the 20th century, but it’s still mischaracterized as weakness by many in the corporate world, and probably by your nonagenarian uncle. It was those old, negative fears that filled Rogers’ head—she’d be talked about in hushed tones around the watercooler until someone said, “She took an early retirement,” and they’d all nod knowingly and whisper. She lost it, poor thing. Went off the deep end. Couldn’t handle the pressure.

Claire Rogers married an equally ambitious man, and they could have been the poster couple for “having it all”—until the day Rogers had her first panic attack.

Instead of telling on herself, Rogers went full assault with self-help books (300 over 18 months), learning how to recognize triggers and mitigate their damage. It became abundantly clear that her brain was wildly unhappy with her career choices, so she quit.

She took some courses, earned certificates and started coaching. One day, she ran into a particularly prickly client from her corporate days. He insisted on knowing why she’d left the company. So, she told him. He replied: “I don’t know how many times I have locked myself in my office and had a panic attack before a meeting.” He followed up with: “Can you come speak at my company retreat?”

Over the next five years, Rogers was a keynote/motivational speaker for Fortune 500 companies aimed at minimizing stress in the workplace.

Now we’re back to where we started. The shutdown meant no speaking engagements, so Rogers started podcasting, with her guests telling their own healing stories. And this is when, depending on who you are in this tale, everything dramatically fell into place, or dramatically blew up.

On a recommendation, she booked ex-felon and motivational speaker Sonny Von Cleveland. Something clicked. They spent hours on FaceTime for months after the show, until they both had to admit this was much more than friendship.

Her divorce didn’t go well, “but I’m not going to tarnish 17 years (of marriage) by three months of a shitty divorce,” she says. “I’m not gonna say, ‘You’re a fundamentally bad person.’ You’re not.”

Her beloved British Blue cats were, for her, a casualty of the divorce, and the incredibly dreary winters made her miss them even more. She thought of one cheery place where she’d vacationed as a kid. Didn’t she have all the postcards?

When her plane landed at Palm Springs International Airport, Sonny was waiting. It was 2021, and she had one more dream to realize before she could relax into her new life.

Frisky Business Palm Springs Cat Cafe opened in December 2022 at 4781 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite F, with a room full of adoptable kitties, and a separate cafe serving coffees, teas and delicious local bites. Photos of her “Baby Blues” are on the wall when you walk in. She still misses them a lot.

Rogers uses her voice to smash the narrative that mental illness is weakness. In actuality, it is just something that can happen to a brain, like anemia happens to blood, arthritis to joints, IBS to stomachs.

One in five Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year. —

If that’s you, reach out. You might be surprised by how many people in your circle have firsthand experience.

I will leave you with a great quote that made me think of Rogers. It that has no solid attribution, so I took the liberty of giving it one:

A strong woman knows she has strength enough for the journey, but a woman of strength knows it is in the journey where she will become strong. —Likely a badass girl who fought a battle but wasn’t allowed to put her name on her own damn quote

Kay Kudukis is a former lead singer in a disco cover band who then became a Gaslight girl, then an actress, and then the author of two produced and wildly unacclaimed plays—as well as one likely unseen...