Michelle Dickinson is Dr. Brad Miller’s guest on Episode 171 of “Beyond Adversity Podcast.”
Michelle is a passionate mental health advocate, a TED speaker, and a published author of a memoir entitled Breaking Into My Life. After years of playing the role of child caregiver, Michelle embarked on her own healing journey of self-discovery. Her memoir offers a rare glimpse into a young girl’s experience living with—and loving—her bipolar mother.
In this episode, Michelle shared her journey of overcoming depression, self-discovery, and her experience growing up with a bipolar mother.
When she started sharing her story of growing up with her mother, she became very connected to the power of storytelling. Before giving a Ted talk, Michelle had to go through years of counseling and therapy because her mother treated her when she was young. By finding compassion towards her mother, she then wrote her book and understood why her mother was the way she is.
Therapy was instrumental to Michelle’s journey of healing. Finding healthy vices to lean on was how she coped.
Michelle then shares a book that was also instrumental in her healing journey. Loving What Is by Byron Katie made her realize that we create our upset if we disagree with our reality.
“You create your upset by disagreeing with it. There’s no amount of disagreement that’s going to change the reality.”
Michelle was very fortunate to have friends that supported her and held her accountable. Surrounding herself with people who truly cared reminded her that even though she lost so much, she still had so much.
Michelle says that when dealing with depression, it’s very easy to isolate ourselves. That’s the point where we should reach out. Surrounding yourself with people you trust and love, especially in those moments, is critical because they will hold you accountable to who they know you used to be, versus all the negative banter that we create in our heads.
Michelle constantly reminds people of where they have control and what they have to be grateful for. The Gratitude Practice is something that everyone should do daily. We should assess ourselves whether we are getting enough of what we deserve.
Michelle Dickinson’s resilience is truly an inspiring story. With her mission of elevating compassion, causing more open conversations, and eradicating mental health stigma, she has emerged with a strong desire to positively impact the mental health landscape.
Episode 171 of The Beyond Adversity Podcast is perfect for anyone looking to create change in their life. With an inspirational story of overcoming abuse and depression, the episode will surely give light on mental health.
“The Beyond Adversity Podcast with Dr. Brad Miller is published weekly with the mission of helping people “Grow Through What They Go Through” as they navigate adversity and discover their promised life of peace, prosperity, and purpose.
Welcome to beyond adversity Michelle Dickinson.Michelle Dickinson:
Thank you so much for having me. I'm thrilled to be here.Dr. Brad Miller:
It is an honor and a privilege for us to have a conversation. I know you're into some really interesting work in terms of helping the corporate world to be more effective and efficient by dealing with some difficulties and that people have, but a lot of that I believe stems from the personal experiences we all have. And I got a feeling that you've had your circumstances and situations that you've had to deal with to kind of lead you to the work you do now. So interested in Michelle, a little bit in your story, what are some of the things you've had to face in your life that's led you to this point?Michelle Dickinson:
It's been quite a journey. I mean, I didn't know any different growing up. I grew up with a mom who had bipolar disorder, and I cared for her for a large part of my childhood and young adult years. And I got to sort of seeing what it looked like from the lens of a caregiver, and the role reversal of Mother parent sort of took place. So that experience is one of the reasons why I do the work I do. And then, I also navigated a divorce. And I was diagnosed with depression when I was going through that divorce. So that was a challenge. And then, after that, my corporate job was eliminated. So I had to figure out what am I going to do next. And so that's another piece of adversity that I've sort of navigated and learned from so. And along the way, I was invited to give a TED talk about my mom. And that led me to write my memoir, which connected me sincerely to want to advocate for mental illness. So that led me just to want to talk about it because talking about mental illness seems to help us remove the stigma. So I got connected to wanting to do that and then ultimately decided I would create my own company. And I'm going to make a difference.Dr. Brad Miller:
And obviously, you already are making a difference by writing the book Breaking Into My Life. Then, by the counseling and the workshops you do to help individuals and corporate entities, you mentioned that you just have to talk about it yourself. You had to get it out. What did that mean for you and any other actions you took to help you to break out of the places you were at? What are some of the actions that you took?Michelle Dickinson:
How my mother affected me growing up, I never even looked twice at. I just figured what I was able to get a good job, I was able to work. I never really even spoke about it. I think in spite of all that, I was proud of myself. But then when I started talking about the story of growing up with my mom, and then I gave the TED talk, I got really connected to the power of storytelling. But I will be honest with you, I could not have done that if I didn't go through my own healing journey. And so before I gave the TED talk, I had embarked on years of therapy, years of counseling. I did some self-discovery work with landmark education and Tony Robbins and I started to find a place of forgiveness for my mom because I was really angry about how abusive she was. I was focused more on being at the effects of her abuse and really finding compassion in my heart for what she was dealing with. So that had me arrive at a much healthier place to be able to actually give a TED talk and talk about her and not be angry, and then write my book. So I would say therapy was instrumental therapy and being curious about why you are the way you are and why you believe what you believe, was huge for me. And then when ultimately I was diagnosed with depression going through my divorce, I learned to find healthy vices to lean into, and oftentimes when we go through things, we're leaning on vices that might not serve us but I had a wonderful therapist who said to me, I really want you to find things that you can do to help yourself feel better. And so I started training for a triathlon, I started running, I started riding, I started swimming and I just got lost in the training piece and focusing on my health and that gave me momentum in other areas of my life.Dr. Brad Miller:
I love that terminology which I've heard before but I haven't heard it for a while. Healthy vices kind of gets something to have a habit or hooked on it. Something that you can focus on other than obsessing about your mother or your divorce or anything else that comes into play. So you took some action you develop with the therapist, you became much more cognizant about your own situation, you did physical exercise, and you got obsessed with the healthy vices. So these are great action points that are helpful to help people to deal with adversity. But let's go to a little different place. I think a lot of folks, Michelle, when they do change, when they do transformation, they find themselves also thinking about no longer being so self-absorbed on their own situation and thinking about that which is greater than themselves, or something that motivates them on the inner life. Maybe a spiritual basis, or some motivational thing that they're involved with, tell us about any inspiration spiritual otherwise, that may have been a part of the process of your transformation.Michelle Dickinson:
Sure. I would have to say the self-expression and leadership program that I took when I was engaged in the work with landmark education was huge for me because, in that program, you create community projects. And you basically create it and then you give it to another person to execute. So it's like this whole big leadership journey. It's remarkable. And so when we sat down to create the project, they said, what is it that you would want to leave? You're like, how would you want to leave your mark in the world? What would you want to do? And I thought about what were the things that I missed in my childhood? My mother was very emotionally unavailable, not very supportive. I definitely didn't get the things that I hoped I could get as a little girl. So I said, Well, if kids could realize their greatness, and if kids could realize that they were limitless, and whatever they wanted to achieve in life, two things that I missed. And so I created a project around that. It was delivered in the community, it's spread, it went from New Jersey, to Pennsylvania to New York. And here, I was just giving back, and in that giving back, I was healing a piece of myself in preventing another child from feeling like I felt, which was that I wasn't worth anything. So that was a big, big part of my healing journey.Dr. Brad Miller:
So you're motivated by this image of how you could be helpful beyond your own self-absorbed circumstances that a lot of people find themselves going inward. This has all happened to me and expect some sort of outside force to save them. And I believe that we do have to have an outside force, but we have to open ourselves up for that and be let ourselves be influenced by something greater than ourselves. And sometimes that can be a motivation for this project. You're talking about something that could be a spiritual thing, or meditation, or whatever it is prayer for some folks. But we do need to the inner life and be expressed in the outer life. Let's talk a little bit about some of the specifics about what I'd like to call the cognitive piece, the mind piece, which has to do with how we change our mind, change our mindset. And that comes into play things like habits, disciplines, routines, or breaking of old patterns to create new patterns and tell us what about any of those things along that line. The cognitive piece how does that works for you?Michelle Dickinson:
I got a lot from training for the triathlon. And I also had adopted some principles that they teach and some of the programs that I took, one being that life is always happening for us, not to us. And, and even that simple phrase and then Dr. Wayne Dyer used to say, change the way you look at things and the things you look at change. Little things like that would help me to get out of my head and get out of my stuff, and just remember that a small incremental step forward is better than no step or a step backward. So for me, it was filling my mind with a lot of that kind of, I don't know if it was motivational, but it would shift how I would approach things right. So instead of something when I was down something happening to me and being poor me, like, how could this happen? On top of all of this, in some weird way, this is going to serve me and I really need to just have patience and take a step back and just deal with it and move forward. And I also learned a lot from books like loving what is by Byron Katie right? Loving what is by Byron Katie was instrumental for me because it just had me realize that we create our own upset. In disagreeing with our reality, it's like I use the explanation of the flat tire, you can jump up and down and scream and be miserable, or you could just deal with it and move on it. You create your own upset by disagreeing with it. There's no amount of disagreement that's going to change the reality. So just stop and just change the tire move along.Dr. Brad Miller:
Here we have a lot of that going on in our world. We're individuals in groups screaming yelling a lot, but not really helping them move the conversation a lot too much. I think it's I love your phrase, you just kind of screaming yell at the tire, but it's not gonna change itself. I have a phrase I use with my three adult children and two grandchildren. Whatever it is, you got to have to deal with it. You can’t expect me or any wants to rescue you all the time. Tell me a little bit about some of these actions that you took in these habits that you developed in breaking old patterns. Tell me a little bit about some of the results of that, for instance, I know when someone does something physical, like a triathlon, you have to have physical progress that also overcomes when you have the setbacks. Tell us about some of those affirmations and overcome some of them. When we get through adversity, it's not just a straight line. There are ups and downs. But tell us about some of the things that helped keep you going when you were going through the process here.Michelle Dickinson:
I needed to realize success. In one area of my life, when I started training for the triathlon, I just filed for divorce. I think I lost my job at that point too. So I had a lot of bad stuff going on in my work, life, and my relationship. So I thought about it. And I'm like, Well, where do I have control? Because I didn't feel like I had control in those two areas. So I thought, Well, where do I have control? I have control of what I eat, I have control of what I do in terms of my physical activity. I'm gonna cross the finish line. Like, that's my goal. And that honestly was the quest was I'm gonna train and I don't care if I beat anyone. I care about showing up and being a better version of myself and completing this. And let me tell you the euphoria when I crossed that line because it's like I did it. Like I did it. No one can take that from me. And it was just a proud moment, that gave me a lot of positive momentum to be like, if you could do this, you can get through whatever.
Dr. Brad Miller:
It's the high of that accomplishment that you did it and you powered through. You mentioned how you went through some difficulties, you went through a divorce, you lost your job, and your depression, and so on. And those are some pretty powerful things. But another thing we mentioned about the inner life, and some of your habits and things like that, that helped you get through that. Let's talk about people, when you lose a job, and you lose a marriage, that's losing or altering relationships, but sometimes other relationships can step in to be helpful. I'd like to talk about relationships, either, professionally, through your therapist, with your friends, or family or whatever, or maybe even through books and so on. Tell us about the influence and place of helpful relationships and help you get through what you went through. And then maybe let you teach a little bit to others.Michelle Dickinson:
I'm sure others might be like me that you just don't want to burden people. But it's in those moments when you're dealing with adversity, those moments, your friends would be very angry if you didn't lean on them. So I was really fortunate to be surrounded by good friends, my family that supported me that I could lean on. And that was really important. And I remember just surrounding myself with them, I think I hosted a gathering in my place to just have all my friends around me. And that was huge because it just reminded me that even though I might have lost so much, I still had so much. So it's also very easy when we're dealing with depression to isolate ourselves. So as hard as it is to reach out when we don't want to like that's when we need to and I would remember forcing myself to reach out to a friend and just say, Hey, I'm not in a good space. And that would really help me they would be there for me. So I think friends and surrounding yourself with people you trust and that you love, especially in those moments is so critical. Because they're gonna hold you accountable to, to who they know you used to be, versus all the negative banter that we create in our heads of we can't.Dr. Brad Miller:
You said two or three things that I think are just so important, Michelle, that you chose to reach out, that's an action that we take. And sometimes we tend to isolate ourselves or play the poor me game, that didn't help. Most of the time when we reach out to somebody, they are more than happy to respond to our needs. And that helps him feel affirmed as well, to know that you have been vulnerable for the care of and care enough to reach out to them. But also the thing you said is accountability. Sometimes we need those friends and those others folks to, you know, kind of, you know, pull yourself up a shell let's get going on or whatever it is keep moving and to help you be accountable to if you make some commitments to whatever it helps you keep accountable to your commitments. So did they tell me a little bit more about the importance that when you teach others know how to get through some of this stuff? about things like reaching out and accountability? Are that is that a part of what you help others to do?Michelle Dickinson:
In my Resilience Program, the one thing that I start off with is the self-audit, the importance of reflecting on how you're really doing, if we are so busy in our lives, and we don't even reflect that we might not be doing okay, mentally or emotionally, before you know, it could escalate. So it's really important for people to remember to do that self-audit. But more importantly, to know who you trust that you can go to when you're not doing well because it could be as simple as a phone call or a conversation to say, You know what, I'm in a funk. And I just need to talk to you for a few minutes, and then I'm going to carry on. But if we ignore it, it can easily escalate. So I always tell people that they need to know who they can trust and who they can reach out to. It's like who's your lifeline. And because a lot of people are not comfortable reaching out for therapy. So I want them to at least have someone that they trust a friend that they can talk to because then they're getting out of the vortex of their head, and they're talking, you know, and that's the name of the game. If you keep talking, it can help you navigate where you need to go.Dr. Brad Miller:
Well, let's go there a little bit in terms of what you offer to folks, then you, you have now translated or not only transformed your life, Michelle, but you have now chosen to love others enough to share what you've learned. So you've written a book about this, you've had a TED talk about all of this, and you have programs of resiliency to help corporate entities and other groups. Tell us about how you translated your experiences into serving others. Let's talk about service to others now.Michelle Dickinson:
They say that there are two days in your life; the day that you're born and the day that you find out why. And I honestly think that when I lost my job, it was very confrontational to be like, Okay, so now what are you going to do? What are you going to do with the book? What are you going to do with the TED talk? What are you going to do with the heart, that is your heart that's being pulled to help people versus, you know, sitting in a corporate job for the rest of your career. And I was just like, if I could do anything, I would want there to be more compassionate cultures, and there'd be healthier people. And then the pandemic hit. And I was like, Oh, my goodness, like, for the first time so many people who had never dealt with a mental health imbalance were struggling, and I and I thought, if ever there's a time for me to dig into my toolbox of things that I've learned throughout my journey is now so that's when I created my Resilience Program. And I've been delivering it to corporations, and organizations, churches, restaurant workers, everyone, to help people stay empowered. And remember that there are things that they do have control over because, throughout the pandemic, we've been very much reminded of what we don't have control over. But then we also are reminded of how much we've lost whether it's loss of life or loss of routine or loss of things that we once loved. We're acutely focused on that. So I try really hard in my programs to remind people of where you have control what you have to be grateful for is something you should be practicing every day, the gratitude practice, and then you know, what are things that you need to be doing to feel good physically? So are you taking care of yourself physically Are you eating well? Are you exercising? Are you getting enough sleep? These are all such things. important fundamentals that we can easily forget how they all compound and help us feel. So the Resilience Program has been something that I delivered throughout the pandemic. And recently, because of my client's request, we have a hurdle in the workplace where people leaders just don't know how to engage in a conversation with their direct report if they sense that they're struggling. So I've developed a people Leader program to give them the confidence in engaging with their direct report, but also respecting their boundaries. So they can support them because the last thing you want to do is take a challenge that is emotional or a mental health challenge and manage them for performance. So I'm trying to cultivate more compassion within leaders. So they care for their people.
Dr. Brad Miller:
With the pandemic, that also has the kind of unique thing with being a near-universal experience for all of humanity. So we all have our individual stresses, whether it's, you know, depression, or divorce or disease or, you know, death in the family, whatever. But this was a universal thing, where we all had to deal with it and still are dealing with it even as we speak here. And then you're applying it to another common experience, the workplace of how do you then deal with this, in terms of the people you report to and HR, and the dynamics of a workplace where to have the most effective and efficient, you still have to deal with these personal issues, and things like this, and to be productive in the workplace where you have all these other dynamics of interpersonal relationships going on. So so when people go to your website, and what they want to get into involved with the Resilience Program, if I'm, if I'm either a person who's struggling a little bit the workplace, or perhaps Simon, management, or HR person or something like that, what are they going to find on your website, or perhaps through your book or TED Talk? That's going to be helpful to them? Let's talk about the practical applications now.
So there's a couple of things. So on my website michelledickinson.com, I have five steps for cultivating a culture of compassion. And anybody can do these, they're they're real straightforward. So you can get you can get those, they're one of the things that I do share, is having leaders go first grade, there's something profound about a leader who's willing to acknowledge if they struggle with anxiety, because it gives everyone else permission to just first of all talk about them. And, you know, and just acknowledge, oh, my goodness, that person is a human being before they are a senior level leader in my organization. So the power of the ripple effect in leaders going first can really create a better culture. Yeah, and then if you go to my other website, care for your people that calm, you'll learn a little bit more about me and a little bit about the programs that I offer.
Dr. Brad Miller:
We'll put connections to both of those websites in our show notes at drbradmiller.com. Well, just one more thing. Michelle, let's talk about how the results here. What I mean by that is, can you share with us about you know, you mentioned about your program and view about your personal experience. But it was really important when we share that personal experience with others. And then we see results, can you share about any either individual or practice corporate group that has gone through some of what you have taught and seen a difference? Can you share an example of your work?
If you would have talked to any of my clients, they would, they would tell you that there's a different energy in their organization in terms of how people interact with one another. You know, it goes beyond creating more understanding, it's the silent cues that have shifted in most organizations, it's, it's the leading by example, when you have leaders that are leading by example, through their practices, and they're not emailing you at 9 pm. And instead, they're saying, I'm going to go and take a run at lunchtime when they're modeling good mental health, hygiene, and good and good. Just good practices that have an impact on the whole organization. So I've heard a lot of people telling me, we have departments that are doing little meditations in the afternoon for like, 15 minutes. And it's really creating a better sense of community, even though they're virtual. So that's really refreshing to hear. And I've heard from individual employees that they feel good about where they work now, because their employers doing more than benefits, they're doing more than EAP. And they just feel proud that their company cares about them. So those are some of the things that I've been hearing in terms of results or outcomes.Dr. Brad Miller:
I'll extrapolate this out and I'll make an assumption here that may or may not be true. But maybe you're here to report. It's my understanding when companies do this type of thing. Oftentimes, their productivity increases as well, including their bottom. Well,Michelle Dickinson:
It's two things. Yes, it's absolutely productivity. Its productivity, but it's also loyalty. You're, you're breeding loyalty in an environment where we're talking about the great resignation. Companies are holding on to their people now because they are engaged there. They feel proud to work there and they feel cared for.Dr. Brad Miller:
Well, a lot of great stuff here. And for what we've talked about here, today, about how you can apply your own personal hearts and situations and adversities you personally have gone to transform your own life, then apply them to other people and organizations and make a difference and I get a feeling you're the type of person Michelle, who is really passionate about making a true difference. And to make a difference. You have to be resilient in what's happened to you and to make an impact on others. So we thank you for being our guest here on Beyond adversity. Her name was Michelle. The tickets in her book are breaking into my life, and we'll put connections to both of our websites at Dr. Brad miller.com. And we thank you very much, Michelle, for being our guest today on beyond adversity.