blossom, your awesome podcast episode number 49 today on the show, Michelle ca pots is here with us. Michelle is a speaker and coach on mental wellness and resilience. It is her passion and purpose to inspire people by sharing her story of overcoming personal barriers when it comes to mental illness and she is going to be sharing that story with us, offering some tips and guidance. I am so honored and delighted to have Michelle here with us. Michelle, thank you so much for being here. Welcome to the show. Thank you for having me. Oh I'm so excited you are here. I cannot wait to get into this with you. So let's start with your background and how you got into this line of work.
Okay, great. Um so I'm a coach speaker and storyteller and it started um started several years ago where I have lived experience with mental illness but I had been in jobs that were not fulfilling. I just was really off track with what I wanted to do with my life and I found a way to merge my passion with helping others and my lived experience and today I'm a coach speaker and storyteller on mental wellness and resilience. Mm mm mm mm mm I love that. Now talk to us about this lived experience how these two merged. Okay, great. So for me um I have lived experience with mental illness for me drinking and depression are sort of intertwined or they are intertwined.
Um I started drinking after the death of my stepfather in my teens and as a coping mechanism and after that I started drinking for any occasion at all. I was a binge drinker back then, which means I didn't drink every day. But once I started, I couldn't stop Rarely. I could have one drink more than likely. I had 10 or 12. I always said I always like to say that I drank until the switch in my head was flipped and it always made me irresponsible and even sometimes mean. But when I was 25 years old, the alcohol suddenly stopped working. I just had this hollow space inside that no matter how much I drank, I couldn't fill. And if I had to look at it, if I was being honest with myself, that hollow feeling had been there for quite some time. It was there whenever I drank, whether I was with my friends or by myself, um, at first I ignored it and I blamed the hangovers for making me feel so disconnected and all alone.
But the feeling never went away. I'd like to say it was like a song that was stuck on the same lyric playing over and over telling me that everything I did was wrong Soon. I didn't want to be around my friends, I didn't want to be around anyone. So I go home from work, pour myself a drink and crawl into bed where I'd watch the clock all night changed from one o'clock to two o'clock to three o'clock in the morning. My mind taunting me that I was a failure. I've had to ask myself many times if it was the drinking that caused my depression or the depression that caused my drinking. And in the end, it doesn't really matter. My situation isn't unique. It's often called a co occurring disorder, but when you're in the middle of it, you feel like you can't get out of it, wow. And now, um, you know, I love that you're kind of the acceptance around this where we, you know, as you know, we spend so much time needing to validate or explain things, right?
So kind of just, it sounds like you were able to get to a point where it's like, okay, well versus trying to really explain, well, why am I drinking or am I why am I depressed? But acknowledging that hey, these both are happening in tandem and there's an issue here and trying to, and then beginning to try to get to the surface of that. Absolutely. I think that, you know, when you are going through a depression, it is so isolating and alone. You feel all alone and I wasn't able at the time, I was emotionless. I couldn't feel happiness or sadness or excitement or even worry. I just felt nothing. Um, so those thoughts started to scare me a little bit and I went to a doctor, I went to my mom, the one person I knew I could talk to about it and she took me to a doctor and with medication, the depression started to lift, but a short time later I found my moods swung in the other direction.
My mind was spinning and my thoughts were racing so fast I couldn't keep up with them and I had a manic episode and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder which I wasn't expecting. I thought bipolar disorder was something that you were born with. I didn't think It was something that you can develop in your late 20's or 30s. And I also went through a really hard time about what exactly that meant. I thought that maybe it meant that I was crazy. Um it was a very hard time and acceptance played a very big acceptance, played a very big role in it. I had one manic episode which I talked about a lot and it was really a turning point for me where after I was diagnosed I tried to live a normal life on the outside.
I thought that it was about the way I presented myself and I wore flowy dresses and high heels. I wore five inch heels too, the grocery store to work and to walk my dog who was a black lab mix with a polka dotted tongue and a curly tail. But during one of my episodes I was found one day by a fireman hitchhiking on a busy interstate in Tasmanian devil boxer shorts, a t shirt ripped all the way up to my left breast barefoot with my dog Jax beside me, not on a leash. And I was taken to my first psychiatric unit and like anyone I didn't I didn't want anyone to know what had happened. I wanted to keep it a secret. I was embarrassed and ashamed that this had happened the day that I had to return to work.
I was out of work for about a week or so and the day I had to return I remember pulling into the parking lot. I worked in a strip mall and looking at the door for a really long time trying to get the courage to go inside And when I opened the door it had one of those bells you know that are above doors that ding anytime someone enters. So all eyes were on me. Everybody looked up and I froze but the administrative assistant came over and gave me a hug and she whispered something in my ear that told me that everything was going to be okay. She said I take PROzac to and by letting me know she was on medication. She let me know that I wasn't alone. She will never know how powerful those words were for me then or that I still remember them today.
Mm wow, I love it. And I think Michelle, it's so amazing because you know with mental illness there's so much stigma but less than previously, right? It's there's less stigma around it and I just think it's so awesome that you're now out here um you know, talking about this and sharing your story in such a powerful and empowered way. Um so I just commend you for that. Tell me, Yeah, you're welcome. I so, let's talk about this now, you know, with your situation, how do you, do you think? I know you kind of said initially it was with the passing of your stepfather, but have you now kind of come to a different understanding that perhaps maybe there was something deeper there, even aside from that that hadn't been dealt with and that just kind of triggered at all, or what is how where are you with that, that triggered the depression or my illness, do you mean?
Right? Or just the depression? Really? Right, Because I know sometimes we we may be depressed about one thing, but really it's like a layer upon a layer of something else. We're just carrying all of this trauma, that all kind of something else happens and then it all just kind of comes out right? I think that I agree, and I think that alcohol did a good job for me for many years of masking that for me, I didn't have to really look at anything that was wrong, but when I was diagnosed with depression and when the alcohol stopped working at that time, I really had a lot of good things going for me, I had a job as a newspaper reporter that I loved, I was living in a very hip section of Pittsburgh um on the outside, on paper, it all looked very good on the outside, things were going very well, but on the inside Nothing was making me happy.
And I don't know that it has to be one triggering events that happens for someone to be depressed. In fact, I remember one time sitting at a bar with a friend of mine and I had found out that a guy I wanted to date was dating someone else and it was at the very beginning of my depression and and things were, you could definitely tell that something was wrong and she asked if it was about the guy because for her there had to be a reason, there had to be something tangible to pin it on, but there really was no reason I just lost interest in the things I enjoyed, nothing was making me happy. It's as I said earlier, I was emotionless at times, I believe situations there can be situational depression where you can become depressed over a situation, but sometimes there doesn't have to be a reason to set it off, mm wow.
And now, you know, this is so interesting because um you know, the kind of broad understanding is that it's caused by something versus just okay, it's a condition and nothing has to set it off, you could just feel become depressed just because of this internal condition you have, it certainly doesn't happen overnight. Um and just like the healing doesn't happen overnight, the depression doesn't happen overnight. I didn't wake up one day um and feel that way it was a gradual, I lost my concentration and focus. I couldn't concentrate like I could at work, I remember being on a phone call and I was having a hard time concentrating. I was a reporter. So being on the phone and interviewing people was something that I had to do, and I remember being on the phone and having a hard time following along, focusing on what the person was saying.
My concentration and focus started to go, I started to, I think that nobody liked me, I started to get very low feelings about myself, low self worth. Then, all of those feelings had me not want to be around everybody anyone. So at all just kind of started to multiply on top of each other until I was left with the situation that I couldn't navigate on my own that I needed help in order to navigate. And okay, now let's talk about this kind of where the shift happened. Was it one incident, was it a series of things where you have turned this around or you're managing it and you're kind of, you're sharing your story and you're helping other people with this now. So how did that come about? How did that transition unfold for you? So I believe that there are a lot of things that we can do.
It's been it's now been many years since I've been manic or on a psych ward. Um but I believe there's many things that we can do and I focus on mental wellness tools that I use to help me. But a lot of it started in the beginning with acceptance, accepting that this is where I am in my life. I practice acceptance when I realized that bipolar disorder was a part of me and not all of me. So today, for example, I am many things. I I'm a daughter, a sister, an aunt, and I've been a sober woman since 1996. I when I was able to accept that bipolar was one part of me and not all of me, that is when things in my life started to change and I had to become open and willie to move away from mental illness and toward mental wellness and some of the things I had to do a time step meant adopting habits that were out of my comfort zone and some habits that come easily to someone else, but I had spent so much time in crises that I wasn't sure how to take care of myself anymore.
So, simple habits from getting enough sleep to improving my eating to managing my stress levels. There's a lot of different definitions out there about mental wellness, the world health organization defines it as a state of well being in which an individual recognizes his or her abilities, can cope with the stressors of change and contributes to the community. But for me it's a lifelong process that helps us to build resilience and to grow, um you know, everybody will face difficult challenges in their life and some of them are life altering, that change the way we see the world. But there's a great TED talk by a researcher called Lucy home whose own 12 year old daughter had died in a car accident and she talks about the three secrets to resilient people.
And for her, she says that the first is they recognize suffering as a part of life. The second they accept what they can't change and change the things they can. And the third they ask if what they're doing or thinking is helping or hurting them. So in effect they choose to focus on the good and there are five mental wellness tools I use on a regular basis to help me do that. And one of them is simply exercised. We all here on a regular basis how important it is to exercise. But for me, it was always a constant struggle. I had a perfect excuse, I'm too hot or I'm too cold or I'm not dressed appropriately or I'm laying in bed with the covers up to my neck in the morning and I'm all cozy and the last thing I want to do is get up and exercise and in those times I'll have a mental debate with myself and I'll say should I or should I should I, or shouldn't I? And I tell myself that I don't want to and it'll end with me saying I'll do it tomorrow, even though I know how good I'm gonna feel my biggest struggle has been getting out the door, but now I know that moving my body, even if I can't go for a walk or a run, but sometimes walking around the house doing jumping jacks, moving my body shifts my mindset to a more positive space, mood follows action and research shows that exercise is the most important thing we can do to align our bodies and minds.
As you know, I recently broke my jaw and because of complications, I have to have it broken again in the fall and suddenly I lost the luxury of being able to have that mental debate. But to my surprise, I missed it. The exercise had become such a habit that I couldn't wait to get back to it. And I know today that it is the exercise that makes me strong so that when the jaw is broken again, I'm better prepared to handle it, but it's not just exercise. It's other tools like journaling, um which I believe is an excellent tool to help make your dreams come true and to get to know yourself better. Um practicing gratitude. When someone first suggested that I write a gratitude list, I had no idea what to write about but I found that I was often repeating the same things over and over again.
My list looked like my dog jacks or my job or my mom, but I was forgetting to do it. So I started doing it at night before I went to sleep and now it's the last thing I do before I turn out the light I used to find when my head hit the pillow that my mind would race about all the things that went wrong or things I didn't do that day and by focusing on the good, I could fall asleep faster today. My gratitude is for the little things like enjoying my morning coffee or even finding just the right parking space and other times I can be overcome with spontaneous feelings of gratitude like being thankful for my job because I remember what it was like not to have one in my experience, it's very difficult to be negative or unhappy when you have a grateful heart as well as meditation.
And I used to have a love hate relationship with meditation, learning how to practice these things in my life and with meditation, I struggled for a long time because I couldn't quiet my mind, but I was able to find nature as a form of meditation for many years and just being out in nature. I realized my mind went silent. So really being open, two different tools that I became willing to practice has made a world of difference in my life. Hmm, wow, I love that Michelle. Now let me ask you, I know you had mentioned because it sounds like all of these mental wellness tools, it's all kind of all natural stuff, right? This has and there's a, you know, sounds like to me a great level of recovery and healing in applying these. Absolutely, yeah.
So would you say that um you know, I don't know enough about it to even, you know, word that's a certain way, but is it according to what you've experienced your own struggles with it and overcoming it? Is it possible to overcome the, you know, mental illness with just this kind of, all natural stuff, know that to be possible. Now practicing um mental wellness practicing mental wellness does not cure mental illness, but I believe that practicing these tools increases our capacity to build resilience, to connect with each other, to find purpose and to find joy. There's an excellent quote by Jada DeWalt that says when we learn how to build resilience, we learn how to embrace every aspect of the human experience.
And isn't that what we're striving for, to learn how to not just survive, but to thrive in every aspect of our lives. I didn't know how to do that because I used to spend so much time fighting my mind, I would wake up with a sense of fear and dread. I'd go through the motions robotically every day. I couldn't enjoy life because I was so focused on the struggle. But by practice these strategies by becoming resilient, I can focus on the solution. Resilience allows me to thrive. I'd liken it to that feeling of we've all experienced it driving on a summer's night with the windows down, the wind blowing through the car, the radio turned up loudly to your favorite song. That moment of Joy. That's what it feels like for me to thrive. And resilience has enabled me to find that joy to find that feeling in everyday life experiences?
Mm wow I love that. Now, that's so beautiful. Um Michelle tell me like how is so you're practicing applying these tools that you mentioned, the journaling, the gratitude, the meditation, getting into nature exercise. So this is has to be helping exponentially. I know I kind of just ask you this but I'm trying to kind of understand this better. Um this is it makes the rest of it so much more manageable. I mean does does it keep things at bay or is there still a possibility? Right I mean doesn't this help enormously like to a point where you're able you have less of that. I believe that practicing these tools that we just mentioned helped me to achieve mental wellness and overcome any obstacles that are standing in my way but there still are obstacles.
Life still shows up. There are nights that I can't sleep that I worry that I'm about to have another manic episode or days when my anxiety feels like it's spinning out of control. But the difference is that lasts a day and not weeks or months, like it used to I know that if I practice these tools, if I can get somewhere and practice these tools that I will be okay. Mm I love that. Now, Michelle, tell me now, working with people, what has this done for you? This has has to have been just so incredibly empowering for you to kind of get to a point now where you're able to just share this openly without feeling any kind of way or insecurities around it. Like you want to share this story with people. Absolutely. I think that part of you brought up stigma earlier and I think that there's so much misinformation a lot of times and public stigma when it comes to mental illness, but when people stigmatize themselves, when people stigmatize themselves and believe that their illnesses, all they are, that's when the real crisis occurs, it's very easy to feel alone and isolated and to feel that maybe this is all you have to offer.
I've used to feel that my mental illness was all I had to offer. But when I could accept it, like I started to say earlier, I met a woman during my recovery, I met a woman who taught me the power of an old war saying run towards the sound of the Cannon. Because after all mental illness as a battle you have with yourself. And she taught me how to run toward my illness and all the fears I had about it. And instead of away from it like I was as a way to be free. And I did that when I realized that it was only one part of me and there's so much more that I am and that I have to offer this world that we all have to offer this world. But when I check in with my mind and body, like I said at night that there are nights that I can't sleep that I have to ask myself is this me or is it mania.
And when I do that, that is one of the ways that I still run towards the sound of the cannon and that sort of my message and what I want others to realize is that we are not alone. And by voicing it when you voice your story, when you share your story with someone else. It's able to be cut in half. The more we share it, the more it's cut in half And the more the less power it has over us. Mm hmm. However, I do want to say I do not work with people on curing I am not a therapist. There's a huge difference between coaching and therapy and and I am not a therapist. My experience has helped me to help others discover the power within themselves to release old programs and patterns of self doubt and fear and help them to open up to a life of positivity and purpose.
Mm Okay. And this is there are so many things here that I need to kind of address that you've said. It's so beautiful. I love this notion of discovering the power within yourself because it's kind of like And you obviously had that discovery because you really can't help yourself. I mean other people, we can, you know, reach out to other people but we have to help ourselves. So um, how did you come to discover? You know, you're having these struggles and what was it for you? Was there a moment? Was there a situation? Was it a series of things where you kind of said, okay, I can do better, I can heal, I can recover, I can overcome this. I can have less of this. Sure life happens, Things may come up again. But I wanna be empowered around this. I want to run toward the cannon. What was that moment for you? The moment for me was accepting that I had this illness and knowing that I'm not cured but also that I'm not broken because of it by practicing acceptance And it's a practice.
It's not something you do once and then you're done by practicing acceptance. I have been able to be exactly who I am today and not feel that shame or fear or embarrassment as when I had to walk back in the office that day. That feeling that I experienced then I can be exactly who I am today. Except that I have a mental illness and use my experience to help lift others hopefully. Mm hmm. And now this other idea of you know, this kind of notion that you were saying where you are overcoming this and you know and you're wanting to help other people has that helped you. Do you believe that sharing your story and letting go of the stigma around it and working with other people to find these mental wellness tools.
This has to have helped you exponentially. Absolutely. And I think that it's well being the biggest way to help yourself is to help someone else. And that's true for everybody. The biggest way to help yourself is to help someone else. But it is impossible to be well all by yourself. I have had help in People have helped me. I've had so many people that have helped me along the way, namely my mentor that I said who taught me the old war saying in the first place that I love to use today Run towards the sound of the Cannon. It's impossible to do this alone. We all need help mm hmm. That is so empowering Michelle And what is your advice to people? You know, I think this you sharing this and having this kind of deeper understanding around it and saying, okay yeah, I can do better.
And it's not all of me. I think that's so beautiful and so powerful. How you put that and kind of putting that out there for people to understand because we you know, we can be consumed by one issue or one problem, right? One thing comes up and it takes over our lives and our headspace. But that's just one little aspect of our lives. Where did that kind of deeper awareness come from? Um I believe that when I, as I mentioned earlier when I was talking about being diagnosed in the first place that I had a lot of fears around what that meant and the impact that it would have on the rest of my life, I didn't know what that meant.
My life was going to look like, I didn't know what being in a psych ward, what that was going to mean for the rest of my life. I had a lot of fears about what it was going to look like and learning how to face those fears and to face my illness head on and not run away from it because it can be easy to kind of work around it or pretend it's not there or if you don't take your medication then perhaps you don't really have it Or um there are so many things we can do. I believe to try to run away from it. But for me it was only by facing it and accepting it. That my life started to change. Mm hmm. And where does that hope come from though? Michelle Like on a deeper level.
It's how do you you know in the face of this, right? Like accepting it. But then even beyond that, is there a sense of like something more there where it's like okay, yeah. I accept this is happening. This is one part of me. But there I'm hopeful about overcoming this, transcending this. Doing better. Being empowered around it. Is was there that there And if so where how did that come up for you? Where did that come from? Absolutely. I think that you can't have resilience unless there is hope. You can't be resilient unless there is hope and hope is what connects the past and present to the future. You can be hopeful that something may happen a certain way. And even sometimes just thinking that it's going to happen.
Just envisioning that it's going to happen this way can help you to feel better. But there's a wonderful, there's a teacher Judith rich that says that hope sparks inspiration. And I believe that is true. That hope ignites the flame. But we are the ones that add the fuel to it to keep it alive. We are the ones that keep it going and believing that things could be different. It started by being hopeful that my life could be different by one team, a different life. And being hopeful that I could achieve it. That's where the hope comes in and there's no resilience without hope. Mm hmm. And that's so beautiful now. What what was that moment like for you? That kind of where you realized you were healing and you were doing better?
What was that like for you? I think being able um, as more and more time went on and more time passed with Now it's been over a decade. But as more and more time started to go by that I didn't have recurring symptoms that I was managing my illness that I was no longer in therapy um realizing that I was becoming well, I believe there's a big difference for me. There is a big difference between mental health and mental wellness. I believe that mental health is the crisis.
Mental health is what happened. It's medication and diagnoses and therapy. But mental wellness is the tools that we use to get their mental wellness is the whole process and realizing that and that's what I strive for. There are times that you can fall back into mental health. But it's mental wellness that I strive for every single day. And when I was in the middle of my crises or in the middle of my mental health experience. I didn't even know what that would look like. I didn't even know that that was possible. But being able to find it and feel it and experience it is wonderful is mind blowing. It's a different life.
It's a completely different life for me between mental health and mental wellness. Mm hmm. And now, you know Michelle I know at one point you said you were not like the it's still there, right. You still have this um mental illness but you're managing it so well. So do you not, what is that? Help us understand that kind of fine line there between Because you know, we all have these have moments, right? Even if we don't are not diagnosed with something, I may have 5, 10 really bad days out of each year or more. But you know where you have a breakdown or whatever or feel anxious. So now at this stage because it seems like sure you have a bad day here or there, it may creep up. But you've really you are managing it in this way where you've kind of really got it for the most part under control.
Right. So what is that fine line there, is there a point where you say, okay, I'm recovered or I'm fully healed or it's gone or or is it how does that work? But I don't believe it will ever be gone. I live with mental illness. I am recovering from mental illness. I don't believe I will ever be recovered from mental illness. Um there is always the chance that it could happen again. But I believe that practicing the steps that I've mentioned and doing the things that I can to take care of myself and as for having several bad days in a row. No, you don't need to have a mental illness too, have bad days or to be situationally depressed or any of the above. But what it comes down to really is practicing self care, whatever that might look like for you.
Meditation may not be made. Nature meditation may not be sitting cross legged on the floor listening with incense. Maybe it's listening to music for you. Maybe there are other meditative moments that you enjoy. It really comes down to scheduling that time to take care of yourself. To practice self care, whatever that looks like for you. Mm hmm. Okay, Michelle, like you have been so amazing that I have so much like greater insight around this And um just the way you're kind of going about sharing your story and you know, giving us all clarity around this in such a just powerful way. So, I just, I think that's it's so amazing what you're doing And um I just love your attitude around you know, these applicable tools and managing and self care and self love and showing people that yeah, you you really can, while it may not go away, you can absolutely manage it and keep it somewhat at bay.
Absolutely, wow, that is amazing. Now Michelle tell me so what is what are a few? I know you've already kind of mentioned this but for someone who's kind of stuck is there like a just someone who feels hopeless stuck in with a mental illness or something or is scared and doesn't kind of no. What is that your recommendation to that person? Where is the kind of first place? Um you know they should turn if someone feels hopeless I would absolutely encourage them to call the National Suicide Prevention line. I don't have that number right in front of me. I should but if you feel hopeless. Absolutely call the lifeline. Um and if you're scared trusting one person, Finding one person you could talk to would be my biggest suggestion. It can be as I've mentioned so isolating and you can feel all alone like you're carrying this big secret.
But when you share it with someone else, when you allow someone else to help you, that problem is cut in half. It's impossible to be well all by yourself. We are never alone. We do not have to be alone. Mm wow, okay. I just love every time you say this you said it before. I think that's so amazing that you say this tick not han had a similar kind of thing where he you know he talks about compassionate listening and how you kind of take the weight of this burden off of the person. They have their less way down because you gave them that compassionate air. So this allowing others to kind of assist and be there for us cuts the problem in half. That's so beautiful. I love that. It's very true. Yeah wow that is really awesome. I love it. I love it. Now. Michelle in closing. I want to first of all just say you have been amazing.
I'm so inspired, so touched and moved by your story and I think it's so amazing that you're showing people this other um way and helping people who are in this kind of space and struggling. So I just, I think it's amazing that you're doing this work and that you have come so far with your own struggles. So that's the first thing I want to say, Thank you, you're welcome. And now I would ask in closing what if there were one message or or insight or just some wisdom, anything a message that you would want to leave people with, what would that be? I would encourage them to run towards the sound of the cannon. To face their fears and move toward whatever they're afraid of as a way to be free. Mm hmm I love it.
Michelle. I thank you so much. You have been so awesome. Thank you so much. So thank you for having me. Thank you. Mhm mm hmm