“Success without fulfillment isn’t success, isn’t joy” -Michelle Dickinson
Success starts with the right mindset and a right mind health. Sadly, modernization comes along with tons of anxiety augmenting what’s already troublesome to the human populace. This is a global issue that brings a lot of stigma and shaming. Thus, it’s severity is being kept in the dark. Today’s episode brings to light the real struggles associated with mental disorder, both for the one afflicted with it and their family members as well. Our guest, Michelle Dickinson has gone through similar situations and she shares how to win against this enemy. As much as biology can shape us, our environment also plays a major role in who we are and what we can become. Sometimes we hold no control over them but what we do now and how we take care of ourselves can have influences far greater than these adversities.
Listen to the podcast here:
00:56 Bipolar Disorder- A Real Struggle
10:50 What’s Right or Wrong?
15:47 Life Event by Choice
24:32 Raising Brain Health
32:05 What Sort of Caregiver Are You?
37:53 The Impartiality Between Genders
44:10 Walk the Great Path to a Healthier and Happier You
Breaking Into My Life: Growing Up with a Bipolar Parent and My Battle to Reclaim Myself by Michelle Dickinson
Make your path healthier and happier despite tough circumstances. Join @myexpectation and @mdickinson13 in a great conversation about mental health awareness. #mentalhealth #compassion #awareness #wellness #genderissues #greatpath #decisionmaking Click To Tweet
“Marriage is no piece of cake. It is not this fairy tale thing that were sold in the movies and everything else… It takes hard work,commitment, and love just to see beyond all of the fairy tale part of life” -Art Costello
“One of the greatest gifts that we can give a child is the gift of learning how to expect- the gift of expectation” -Art Costello
“Success without fulfillment isn’t success, isn’t joy” -Michelle Dickinson
“As much as you love your relatives or your family members, you have to have boundaries and really take care of yourself first. Because you can’t take care of anyone, if you’re not taking care of yourself.” -Michelle Dickinson
“We live in a world where we’re virtual… simple thing as extending yourself and just asking each other, ‘how you’re doing?’, you really make a difference for someone, they may need to hear that someone cares.” -Michelle Dickinson
“Amplify things when they are good.” -Michelle Dickinson
“When you have those lows and you are able to navigate … slow down … then life resumes and things are good. -Michelle Dickinson
“There was definitely a lot of pain growing up, but it shapes who I am, and it has ignited this passion to make a difference in the world” -Michelle Dickinson
“There’s ups and downs but I’ve always looked at the down points as a time to self-reflect.” -Michelle Dickinson
Growing up in a pretty interesting household, Michelle Dickinson has seen how deep mental disorders can affect its victim and their family. She took on a caregiver’s role for her mother who is suffering from bipolar disorder and decided this is her purpose in life. Today, she has tailored her life with passion for mental health awareness. She is a Mental Health Advocate, TED speaker, author and volunteer for various programs that help youths elevate their well-being. Along with this, she also established her own children’s program called Just the Way You Are, which has been in operation for over five years now. There are many paths and many destinations but for Michelle, she walks this great path and leads others away from being victimized by a ruthless enemy— mental disorder.
Art Costello: Welcome to the Shower Epiphanies Podcast. Today I am honored and thrilled to have Michelle Dickinson on our show. She is a professional. She is a passionate mental health advocate at TED Speaker and then published author, and then more entitled Breaking Into My Life. After years of playing the role of child giver, 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. Welcome to the show Michelle.
Michelle Dickinson: Thank you so much for having me.
Art Costello: I’m glad to have you, and I’m excited for you to tell us your story.
Michelle Dickinson: Oh, well thank you so much. So, my story, let me synthesize it. So I grew up with a mother who had bipolar disorder, and for people that don’t know what bipolar disorder is, it’s someone who has a mental illness where they have rapid cycling from extreme depression to extreme mania. So I grew up in that environment with my mom’s constant changing from mania to depression. And so that really shaped who I was. And I grew up in that environment, And I understood a little bit about what that looked like. So, I found myself giving a TED Talk about my experience and I got really connected to wanting to really share my story in my memoir because of the difference it had need for people who heard my story and the impact it could have. Just to humanize what mental illness is, to have people understand it and fear it less.
Art Costello: Can you tell us, and I actually have a lot of experience in bipolar because I worked in the mental health industry, the early years where they called it manic depressive.
Michelle Dickinson: Yes.
Art Costello: And can you kind of tell us about what it was like for you as a child dealing with somebody who is got these extreme manic phases, and then the extreme opposite of a depressive phase?
Michelle Dickinson: Yeah, so the manic episodes my mom had were wonderful. She was in a great mood. She was upbeat. I compared it to like Disney, like we would go shopping. Nothing was off the table. She could buy whatever she wanted. It was like I was experiencing herminia with her, and it was wonderful because she was happy, and that was so welcomed after her deep, dark depressive days where she would just cry uncontrollably for these and for hours, and there was nothing I could do to relieve her sadness. So, you know, I mean, that was a priority, right? Mom’s wellbeing was a priority, so I quickly learned as a little girl that my needs were to go on the shelf, and everything revolved around trying to keep my mom just stable, and not too depressed, and not too excited.
Art Costello: How did that make you feel?
Michelle Dickinson: How did that make me feel? You know, I didn’t know any different until I got older, and you know, went through my own self-discovery, my own therapy, that it wasn’t normal for a little girl to try to console her mother, or try to distract her from her sadness when she was depressed. Like I thought, I literally had control over her upsets. You know, how did I feel? I probably felt invisible because there were a lot of things that I wished I could share with my mom. You know, it’s those adolescent years when you’re going through just trying to figure out your body and trying to figure out boys. I wish I had a mom, was similar to like my girlfriends moms that I would see, you know, and I just didn’t have that.
Art Costello: Yeah, that was my thought. I know how, because when I was young I was in essence abandoned, but it was not the traditional abandonment where I was left on the firehouse step. I was put from urban New Jersey to a small little farm in Upstate New York that had no neighbors within three miles. And even those that were nine miles away, and my parents kind of dissolved and separated, and didn’t pay any attention to us kids. So I know the invisible feeling that it is. And I know, you know, I always tell the story about when I was in high school, I had gone and asked the girl at school, the prettiest girl in school to go to the school, dance with me, and she told me she wouldn’t go anywhere with me because I stunk, I smell, and that hurt my feelings so bad because no one ever told me about deodorant. No one ever told me about that, I know it was–
Michelle Dickinson: So basic.
Art Costello: So basic and all that, so I know the invisibility. Was your mom undiagnosed or diagnosed? At that point in your life?
Michelle Dickinson: My mom was diagnosed, in fact, and it was a term we were all very familiar with, and she was treated and took herself off of treatment when she started to feel better.
Art Costello: It just seems very common with manic depressives. As soon as the minute they start feeling better, they think they’ve got a hold of it, and they go back into the manic phase, and they lose control. What were your high school years like for you then dealing with that?
Michelle Dickinson: You know, and so this is why I talk to people like you, right? Because there was a lot of shame, there was a lot of embarrassment and I spent a lot of energy, emotional energy concealing the story of my mom, and the experience of our home life as a secret cause there was a lot of shame, right? So that’s what a lot of energy, you know, go to school, pretend everything’s okay after being out of school for like a week and a half, taking care of my mom because she’s so fragile, she can’t be left alone, but she’s not sick enough to be hospitalized. So that fell on me cause my dad, you know, couldn’t stay home and work with her. So it was a challenge because I didn’t want people at school, I didn’t want anyone to know what I was dealing with at home and I had to muscle it on my own. So it was hard. It was really hard until I think, you know, I write a chapter in my memoir about finding my youth group and when I sound my youth group, I found the safety to finally share with this community what I was dealing with. And then I was felt surrounded by support, which is what I think I would always wanted, was just someone to just be like, yeah man, I get it, that’s rough what you’re dealing with, and you’re not alone, and we’re here for you.
Art Costello: Was your dad supportive to you through this process?
Michelle Dickinson: You know, my dad was doing the best he could, so my dad was as supportive as he could have been, but he was the sole provider. So he was really consumed with long days of working as an engineer for IBM. And you know, there were some, some nights when he had to work, so he took care of her to the best of his ability, and he supported me as much as he could, but it was kind of unspoken that, you know, his work was his priority.
Art Costello: Yeah. In dealing with your mom, I know that, when I was working in the mental health field with people that had manic episodes, there was some really hilarious episodes that happen and stuff, and it’s fun, and I know it’s tragic, but yet out of some tragedies we’d find these great joys and great memories. Do you have any memories of your mom doing something that you could share with us that just, it was just so fun for you that (laughs).
Michelle Dickinson: Yeah, I mean, my mom had her moments, right? Like when, you know, she was Irish, she was like a 100% Irish, and we used to laugh and just be like, you just never knew what would come out of her mouth. Like, she’d save the things that everyone was feeling in the room and you’d just be like, yes, someone said it. You know, there were family affairs where we would go to where my mother was the life of the party. Like everyone would be laughing because she had this energy about her that would just generate so much fun and people were terrified to upset her. So you can only imagine the dynamics in the family, right? Like, okay, let’s keep her laughing because God knows if you crossed her, it was not going to be pretty. So she was just a very vibrant, fun person when she was manic, and like, just would say anything and that was fun. That actually was fun until, you know, obviously it went a little too far and then were like embarrassed. But until that point it was great.
Art Costello: It reminds me of my dad. My dad was a little Irishman about 5″7′, about 130 pounds. So stoic and quiet. But the minute you put beer in him, the moment he had a beer, he just went crazy. I mean, it was like you let out this comedian and he was hilarious. I mean, I can remember as a child going down the street in Dumont, New Jersey, going down the street in this old 51 Chevy Woody kind of station wagon we had, and my sister and I were in the backseat of the car. My dad didn’t drive because he had been in a bus accident in New York city. And he had this huge phobia of driving a car. So he would always be the passenger. Well, when he’d have a beer and we’d be going down the road, he’d be hanging out the window yelling, you know, kidnapping me, they were kidnapping me. We were going to the drive in to see the King and I drive in, and I can remember my mother being so mad at him. She used to get furious, but he was hilarious, I just remember so many funny things. So, but anyway, after you got out of high school and all that, what did you do then?
Michelle Dickinson: So, I write about this in the memoir as well, you know, we gravitate to what is familiar to us. My mom was also, when she was really sick, she was abusive, right? So she was physically abusive, emotionally abusive, psychologically abusive, and very controlling, and very manipulating. So that was my conditioning is a little girl. And so I gravitated to that in the first marriage that I had. I met someone who was very similar to her, and my therapist coined as the male version of my mother. And I left our home because at the time I had wanted to go away to college, but my mom and dad didn’t want me away, they wanted me at home, I think selfishly to look after my mom because she was still unstable. And so the only way I could leave the house was to get married. So I met a man that I would have worked with who was very similar to my mom, and I gravitate it to that, and eventually married him, and eventually divorced him. So I had left the home in my early twenties at that point, and I still had responsibility of my mom. My mom was still reaching out to me. I was still trying to do my part to look after her even though I wasn’t living at home anymore. She’s still like really manipulated me into like, you know, spending time with her, coming back and looking after her. So it’s tough.
Art Costello: Yeah, people don’t realize that even though when someone, a caregiver leaves the company is somebody that they actually work very hard at pulling you back into that. I’ve got an odd question for you. When you got married, and you were going down the aisle, or however it was, did you know that you were marrying for the right or wrong reason at the time?
Michelle Dickinson: Hell no. I was too young, and I was too disconnected. I just saw this as a way out maybe and I didn’t see, I didn’t see any of the flaws in him. I was unable to see any of the similarities. I couldn’t see the similarities between my mother and him until many years later. It was just familiar. It was like, okay, so this guy is going to control me, manipulate me, there’s going to be emotional abuse. It feels like an easy chair, very comfortable. And you don’t know better, you know?
Art Costello: Yeah, how old are you?
Michelle Dickinson: I want to say it was just legal. I want to say it was either 20, or 21 when I got married.
Art Costello: I’m always interested in what people’s thoughts are because in my work, I have found a lot of people are very aware that they’re making the wrong decision at the time, and I’m so into following your expectations, you know, and your core expectations, what you have or what you live by, not to what the expectations of other people. So you know, so it’s important to me.
Michelle Dickinson: You know, and it was clouded. You got to get to, it was clouded over by this fairy tale wedding that my mom and dad gave me, right? I think that’s what happens with young girls. You know, you’re enamored by this gorgeous day and this, you know, big to do that you can’t really have the clarity and validate that what you’re doing is for the right reasons because you’re so consumed by all of that.
Art Costello: Yeah. Well you get caught up in the moment, the thrill of the planning and all of that just goes into it. And it’s probably one of the best reasons that people that, you know, pre-marriage counseling is the best way to really help identify some of the differences. Because listen, marriage is no piece of cake. It is not this fairy tale thing that were sold in the movies and everything else. It takes hard work, commitment and loving each other. Just seeing beyond all of the fairy tale part of life and all that.“Marriage is no piece of cake. It is not this fairy tale thing that were sold in the movies and everything else… It takes hard work,commitment, and love just to see beyond all of the fairy tale part of life” -Art Costello Click To Tweet
Michelle Dickinson: Totally agree with you there.
Art Costello: Anyway, struggling with your mom’s depression, did it depress you? Did you end up depressed?
Michelle Dickinson: You know, people ask me that, right?And I’ve had conversations with the folks in the neuroscience world. It’s funny, I actually was like, really, you know, I’m adopted. I was adopted when I was six months old. So I was like, Oh, I’m adopted. I’m new to this, right? Well not necessarily. I mean, I think I had sad moments. I would never been diagnosed as depressed at like dealing with depression until last year when I was dealing with some major life events. But I’d always found myself having those LOL’s, those sad moments. But you know, I think, the thing that I learned from my mom was resilience because even when she was crying uncontrollably for days, like I found a way to keep my head above water, right? So it’s hard to be in a room with someone who’s doing nothing but crying. And I just remember pulling myself up and really trying to focus on the positive, and that’s just something that I learned. So I think that that experience taught me resilience to bounce back when I was feeling those LOL until last year when I had like this life event. And then I was just like, you know, I had a therapist and I was really dealing with depression for the first time at 46 at the time“There's ups and downs but I've always looked at the down points as a time to self-reflect.” -Michelle Dickinson Click To Tweet
Art Costello: when people talk about being depressed and sad, I mean, because everybody goes through some type of depression or sadness that, I mean, you can’t go through life, if you do, you’re not, you haven’t been living, I mean, there’s ups and downs, but I’ve always looked at the down points as a time to self-reflect, I’ve tried to take the positives out of it, it gives me time to slow down because I’m so high energy, you know? And I’m always going and doing that, those moments for me become points of self reflection, and self examination, and self dealing with the things that I need to deal with to get my life, you know, back so I can help others. So you know, that’s kind of my view that–“When you have those lows and you are able to navigate … slow down ... then life resumes and things are good. -Michelle Dickinson Click To Tweet
Michelle Dickinson: Yeah, I think the contrast is a gift because it also amplifies things when they are good, right? When you have those LOL’s and you are able to navigate them, and you slow down like you said. And then, you know, then life resumes and things are good like you appreciate it. I dunno, I do. I appreciate it more in that, in those moments,“Amplify things when they are good.” -Michelle Dickinson Click To Tweet
Art Costello: Do you want to tell us, or talk about your major event in your life?
Michelle Dickinson: Yeah, sure, I can. I mean, a couple of things happened. So I got remarried after my first husband, and we were together for a very, very long time. We were together 19 years, divorced after 16 years of marriage, but we were together 19 years. So I was really dealing with that because you have to understand, as a little girl, I did not speak my truth, I did not speak my voice. So this is something that I continue to navigate with my therapist, even at my age, the importance of speaking my truth, the importance of speaking off if I am not happy, the importance of asking for what I want. You know, I found myself in a marriage where I wasn’t happy, but I was paralyzed in speaking that truth. So I finally mustered up the courage to speak up and say, this doesn’t work for me, I’m not happy. And ultimately decided to end that marriage. So that was really hard because, you know, that was a long piece of my life that I was having to, you know, end. So that was really hard, I was dealing with that and then I’d lost my job shortly thereafter. So I was separated, I was living in the same house with my ex, it was challenging, and then I no sooner get divorced legally and my position was eliminated. So there, I’m dealing with two major life events, the end of the marriage and the end of my job. So that was really hard.
Art Costello: What was your job? What do you do?
Michelle Dickinson: Yes, I spent 19 years in the pharmaceutical industry, and I spent the last eight years in regulatory quality. So restructuring happens, and my friend said to me: “I’m amazed you were in the farm industry 19 years, and this is the first time you are experiencing this.” And I’m like: “All right, great.” But it does, I mean if that’s something that has, you know, become who you are, unfortunately our jobs sometimes define a little piece of us, it cheeks you. So definitely was a challenge to deal with both of those instances.
Art Costello: Yeah, I think our job particularly more so maybe for men than women. Men are defined by their employment in what they do and how they do it, so I think that’s very true statement. After you ended up losing your job and ending your marriage and you went through this transition, what was the major point that got you through this whole process? How did you keep yourself sane, and happy, and going?
Michelle Dickinson: Yeah. You look at the areas of your life you have no control over, right? I didn’t have control over a relationship. I didn’t have control over my job. What I did have control over was my health and my wellbeing, and I knew that if I focused on taking care of my body and my wellbeing, that things would start to shift for me. So I threw myself into training for a triathlon. I just really took on my health and wellbeing and wanted to make sure that I felt as good, physically as I could. I really do think that that was what helped me and served me because it gave me something to work on while I was navigating all the other emotions.
Art Costello: And plus it keeps your mind busy when you’re training and doing that keeps your mind off of what couldn’t be and put your mind on to what could be. So I noticed that people that go through transitions, one of the biggest benefits is to physically get active and help themselves, pull themselves up. So you pulled yourself up out of this, and then what’d you start doing?
Michelle Dickinson: So this is all in full transparency, this is all recent. So, I started, I dealt with my depression last year when I was separated and I was just dealing with that. And then I legally was divorced a few months ago, and then lost my job a few months ago, so this is all still pretty fresh. So the one thing that you will see is I launched my website, right? So when life turns, you know, kind of gives you lemons, you make lemonade. And so, one of the things I’d always been doing for the past two years, I was really connected to wanting to remove stigma, and you know, out in the world, whether it was in the workplace or within schools. So this really has given me the opportunity to get connected to wanting to bring change and make a real difference in the world. This was my side hustle and this is something now that I really want to pursue full time. So therein lies the gift, right? Like, as much as I was shook, I really am connected to wanting to bring change and help people understand mental health. So yes, you know, success without fulfillment isn’t, success, isn’t joy, right? So that’s what I’m up to, to really have, you know, success, and fulfillment, and be bigger contribution in the world.“Success without fulfillment isn't success, isn't joy” -Michelle Dickinson Click To Tweet
Art Costello: And in the process, I know that you’re doing work with CASA, and helping others. Could you tell us about what you’re doing with that?
Michelle Dickinson: Sure, sure. So a few years back, I had created a children’s wellness program targeting middle school children, teaching them how to nourish their body and nourish their mind. I’ve always been a lifelong volunteer for children. CASA was one, the Court Appointed Special Advocates to just make a difference with underserved communities largely. So I created this wellness program and it recently has evolved into a mental health fair that I’m bringing to middle schools, basically it’s a one day fair. The children get a lot of great tools and have experiences to help them understand their emotions and their wellbeing. So they have the courage to raise their hand if they start to feel anxiety, depression, or whatever at that young age because their feelings are just as real as ours. So I’m really committed to seeing that this program expands. Recently, I had the opportunity to present at a board of education meeting, just the great work that the school has done around mental wellbeing. Because I think, especially in the state of New Jersey, we don’t have a mental health curriculum, you know, schools are required to teach, you know, and until that day we have a great opportunity to bring something like this to kids so that they’re empowered around their emotions and their wellbeing because it’s a stressful time as they go from middle school to high school, and then high school to college, let’s shape the relationship to brain health now, you know?
Art Costello: Yup. One of the things that I strive to do is, I think one of the greatest gifts that we can give a child is the gift of learning how to expect, the gift of expectation because it is so rudimentary to our psychological being, but yet it’s so overlooked because we have so many expectations every single day. We have societal, we have relationship expectations, we have school expectations, I mean they have, you know, parental expectations, and they have to know how to maneuver through those expectations in order to really be self satisfied and happy. So that’s one of the things that I do and try to work with on that.“One of the greatest gifts that we can give a child is the gift of learning how to expect- the gift of expectation” -Art Costello Click To Tweet
Michelle Dickinson: That’s awesome.
Art Costello: So you’re doing some stuff with big sister and little brother kind of things.
Michelle Dickinson: So what you’re referring to the CASA, Big Brothers / Big Sisters, The Make-A-Wish.
Art Costello: I said little brother (laugh).
Michelle Dickinson: Makes sense the little brother (laughs). These are just the organizations that I found, my passion for making a difference for kids. So those were organizations I was a part of growing up, like, you know, throughout my adult years because I don’t have children of my own. I always wanted to make a difference for them. So those were kind of the earlier volunteer opportunities that sort of set me up to want to create my own program for kids.
Art Costello: Yeah, I was going to ask you if you have had children, you know, I know that kind of personal, but you know?
Michelle Dickinson: No, it’s a great, honestly, it’s a great question. And until recently, I didn’t really understand why until I started to think about like, Oh, well the roles were reversed as a child. I really did take care of my mom. Maybe that’s why I didn’t want to have children.
Art Costello: No, that’s an interesting thought. I mean, you know?
Michelle Dickinson: Maybe.
Art Costello: So it was by choice that you–
Michelle Dickinson: Yeah.
Art Costello: –don’t have children. I just remarried, just eight years ago, nine years ago (laughs).
Michelle Dickinson: It isn’t how it sounds for you, right? You sound like a newlywed if you say, I just and it eight years (laughs).
Art Costello: Well it is. And when I met my wife, she was 10 years younger than me, so she was 53 and I was 63, and she hadn’t ever had children, hadn’t ever been married before. And one of the blessings that I have found in it is that I have three children and my wife loves my kids as if they were her own. And it’s just such a great relationship, particularly that she has with my daughter. And you know, boys are boys, but you know, they’re good, they’re affectionate with her and all that stuff. But my daughter’s really close to her, and my granddaughters have four granddaughters, so they all just are, but there’s, you know, I guess my thought was is that, I think that when we’re adults and we look back and we haven’t had children, we look at it through a different lens than what I’ve experienced having raised children and everything. And you know, it just is, it’s just a choice we make, and we live with our choices and we get through it. But there there is a joy in having that, but also, I have a friend that is my age, which he’s a year younger, he’s 71, and he just adopted, he has no children, and he just adopted a two year old boy. And he had adopted him because he’s has assets, he has a lot of assets, physical assets and he had no one he could ever leave him to, and he wanted to leave his assets for somebody. But we talked yesterday and he said to me: “Art, I never knew the joy of having another.” Because for years I’ve told him: “Adopt, adopt, adopt, adopt.” And he just, he finally did it and it just brought him such joy. So I’m going to let–
Michelle Dickinson: So great.
Art Costello: I encourage you to keep working with the kids because you will find your joy in that.
Michelle Dickinson: Yeah. Oh, absolutely.
Art Costello: You’ll find your happiness in it.
Michelle Dickinson: Absolutely. And you know, for the record, I am not opposed to dating a man with children. I love children, I absolutely do. It’s just never unfolded like that for me, so I get it. I can only imagine your friend’s joy that he’s experiencing.
Art Costello: Hey guys out there, you hear that? She’s very cute. I’ll tell you right now, Michelle is cute as can be. She’s got a great personality, so maybe I’m going to start Art’s dating service and try to find Michelle a man (laughs).
Michelle Dickinson: (laughs) You’re she sweet.
Art Costello: She’s very special, but let’s see, let’s get back to this. When you look back and reflect back over your childhood, or let me ask this question first. Is your mom and dad’s still alive?
Michelle Dickinson: No, they passed away, yeah.
Art Costello: Looking back over it now, would you trade your experiences for a different life?
Michelle Dickinson: No, nope. And I write about that in my book as well. I talk about how, you know, there was definitely a lot of pain growing up, but it shaped who I am, and it’s like ignited passion to make a difference in the world. In the back of the book, I have an epilogue where I share all the things that my mom taught me that has made me a better person.“There was definitely a lot of pain growing up, but it shapes who I am, and it has ignited this passion to make a difference in the world” -Michelle Dickinson Click To Tweet
Art Costello: Can you share some of that?
Michelle Dickinson: Yeah, sure, sure. Like, you know, deep empathy for someone dealing with mental illness, compassion, the resilience I mentioned before, the ability to see sunshine on a rainy day, you know, that I had to learn how to do, like, I think that above all, like, being around someone and feeling their energy and understanding, you know, they may not be okay, and having that extra sense of empathy about me to check in with someone cause I literally would absorb my mom’s energy and I could feel it, so I was so tuned into her. So I think that the connections that I have with people, this insatiable hunger to want to make someone else’s life a little less challenging and a little less painful, especially when it comes to acceptance of people with mental illness. Like my mom was ashamed, she was embarrassed. Like, if I could have an impact on other people not being ashamed of who they are, I mean, like, how is my childhood not serving me if I’m out to do that? You know?
Art Costello: It’s a great way to look. I mean, I think it’s the proper way to look at it, but it’s a great way. But other people have taken adversities that you faced and turned them negative, you know? And just let it bury them. I want to ask you another crazy question that pops into this crazy head of mine. You know, caregivers can serve two purposes. I mean, they serve a lot of different purposes, but they can either become enablers or be empathetic. There’s a big difference in being empathetic to somebody and then enabling them, enabling behavior. Did you feel at any point that you are enabling your mother’s illness?
Michelle Dickinson: Sure. As a little girl, I mean, I was doing whatever I could to keep remember the goal and the home was keep it as calm and even, and keep her happy as happy as you can make her. And I have this false belief that I had the ability to alter her mood, right. Because I would say something, or make her laugh, or whatever. So absolutely, you know, when she was paranoid that people were stealing her things, and she, you know, needed help, you know, let’s just look through all of this now and make sure that no one took anything out of the Curio cabinet. Of course, I enabled her, I pacified her, I didn’t stand up and say, mom, you’re being ridiculous. I just did what I needed to do to keep her grounded. Like that’s what she wanted to do, I did it. There wasn’t any hesitation. Now as I got older, I started to learn what boundaries were because I started to go to a therapist, and I started to recognize that when she calls me relentlessly and she’s crying after I have spent five hours with her because I’m leaving that that’s not normal. And so, if I was to enable her behavior, I would stay another five hours when I was visiting her. So I had to start to create those boundaries so that I was taking care of my wellbeing and I wasn’t getting sucked into her illness. And I think that’s the biggest message that I have for caregivers is, like, as much as you love your relative or your family member, like you have to have boundaries and really take care of yourself first because you can’t take care of anyone if you’re not taking care of yourself.“As much as you love your relatives or your family members, you have to have boundaries and really take care of yourself first. Because you can't take care of anyone, if you're not taking care of yourself.” -Michelle Dickinson Click To Tweet
Art Costello: That was what I was thinking. You know, if you’re not well and healthy, you can’t take care of anybody else, but you bring up something that I think is really, really important is boundaries. You know, personal boundaries are really, really important to a person’s wellbeing because that gives you the time to take care of yourself. And I know it goes from person to person, it’s all different. But how do you set up boundaries for someone who is so dynamic in their behavior? Is your mother was with her manic phases? How do you do that?
Michelle Dickinson: Yeah, it was not easy. It was, you know, absolutely met with upset, absolutely, and my head embrace brace myself for that. So I remember my therapist saying to me: “Michelle, for your own wellbeing, you have to distance yourself from your mother.” So that means don’t talk to her every day. Maybe talk to her at a specific time on a certain day. Limit the time because that’s not good for you. Every day talking to her and letting her unload on you is not good for you. So I knew that I had to do that and it was the hardest thing because I knew she was going to be even more irritated with me, and I would have to deal with that backlash. But I had to, and I did. And I started to almost recondition her expectations of me. You know, at first it was like, Oh my daughter’s abandoning me, you know, I would be riddled with guilt and manipulation, and then, you know, she started to appreciate the time that I did spend with her. But at first, it would’ve been very easy to not take that advice and just continue on. But at first I knew it was going to be difficult, and it was, but I did it.
Art Costello: Yeah. I mean, I can only imagine how difficult it would be because if you’ve not ever been around somebody in the manic phase, it can get wild. Their thought process is just go, I mean, when you were saying going out, going shopping and stuff, or I’ll tell you what I’ve seen, what can happen with that, especially with credit cards.
Michelle Dickinson: Absolutely, absolutely. You know, I have a talk that I give, I’ll be giving in New York in a few weeks for World Mental Health Day on 10, 10. And a piece of the story is about the experience of being with mom when she was manic, going to the craft store, and it was like filling the cart with anything and everything, and you know, hundreds and hundreds of dollars of materials later, and you know, she’s never going to touch it. It’s going to sit in bags, it’s going to sit in the living room, and she’s never going to do anything with it. And I just remember my father just like freaking out, it’s expenses, you know, sitting at the dining room table, processing bills and going, you spent what? You know and that was just another reflection of the mania, and that’s what she needed that day, and that’s what she did.
Art Costello: Yeah. I know people that have gone out and bought 20 and $30,000 diamond rings, and just, I mean cars, you know, and stuff during the manic phase and then trying to figure out how to, you know, husbands or wives trying to figure out how to, I mean, cause manic depression and bipolar affects not only women, men and women both. That’s a good question. Dealing with your mom, you may not be able to answer this, but it just had this thought about how different women are treated than men with bipolar. When I worked in mental health and we had men that came in with bipolar, they were treated different than the women with bipolar. I just had this thing go through my head, and wow.
Michelle Dickinson: How? How? So now I’m really curious, how were they treated differently? Cause I only know how my mom was treated.
Art Costello: Yeah. I think men were treated differently in the sense that what they did was more accepted than what the woman did. And I’m just going through this in my head, and I don’t know if you understand what I’m saying. But when women went out and spent large amounts of money, it was not okay. But if a man went out and did it, well, he’s got to pay for it, mentality went in and it became more acceptable. I’m only processing this as we’re talking because I thought it. I also see because the majority of psychiatrists that I worked with, and four were males. Their perspective of women affected how they treated the women, and how men were treated. I’m just processing this all as we’re talking because it just dawned on me that the men were treated differently, it was obvious when I’m looking back on it now, at the moment I didn’t think about it because I was because I was involved in their care. But for instance, we had certain psychiatrists that if a woman came in was manic, automatically ECT treatment, Electroconvulsive therapy known as shock treatment. Women would get shock way more, much more faster than the men, whatever, and sometimes the men would never get shocked.
Michelle Dickinson: That’s fascinating.
Art Costello: Yeah, and I’m just processing this in my head as we’re talking and I’m thinking how sad, how the word I’m looking for misogynists? I don’t know what it is.
Michelle Dickinson: Yes.
Art Costello: But I lost my wife to ovarian cancer.
Michelle Dickinson: Oh, I’m sorry.
Art Costello: I was married 38 years, and one of the things that I noticed in the medical community with that is her first oncologist was a male and we stopped seeing him after a year and a half, and I took her to a female oncologist. The treatment between the female oncologist in the male oncologist to my wife was so blatant. It was sickening. The male oncologist is absolutely flat out lied to her about diagnosis, about the stages of cancer she had. And when we went to the female, she said: “Art had you come to me originally, I would’ve told you, you and Vicky go enjoy your life. Because at her stage it’s only a 2% success rate.” Would changed the whole way we did everything, would have changed how and our last, you know, three years of her life would have went. We would have traveled, I would do anything cause I would’ve given her an inch. She gave me 38 years, she actually gave me 40 cause I know her for two and a half, but she gave me all these wonderful years and I left everything that I was doing at the time, my business and all that to take care of her. We never had hospice, we never had any of that care. I cared for her for the last three years of her life. And I did it gladly because I was so grateful for what she had done, and done for me all the time. But my point of this whole thing is male doctors treat female patients differently. And I’m not saying all but–
Michelle Dickinson: Yeah.
Art Costello: I would tell any woman to see a female gynecologist over seeing a male gynecologist because they can empathize, because I can remember when my wife would go to the gynecologist and he would tell her: “Oh, it’s just a female thing. Yeah, your stomach’s a little swollen and blah blah blah.” And you know, it’s just a female thing, and they recognize some of the things, and she had some issues that were really big trigger signs that doctor should have seen, but they didn’t. They just kept on saying: “Oh, can’t figure it out, don’t know what it is. It must be a female thing.” And I literally cringe now when I hear my female friends say something about, you know, how they get treated by male doctors. But I went off on a tangent and I didn’t mean to. So, you know, I just think there’s a difference, there’s a difference.
Michelle Dickinson: Yeah. And when you see it in a loved one that’s hard.
Art Costello: Yeah. You know it isn’t, but again, it is what it is and we have to deal with it, and we have to be resilient and we have to, we have lots of things to take care of besides them. We have take care of ourselves
Michelle Dickinson: And my mom did have ECT treatment just to mention that to you. She had a quite a few times, and I remember, like, that was the fix back then. You know, and she was too nervous, and upset, and crying, and shaking, they took her to Carrier Clinic and that’s where she had her treatment, and it did, you know, pull her out of it.
Art Costello: What ECT treatment does is it shock your brain and makes you very disoriented. It’s like getting electrocuted.
Michelle Dickinson: I know she was a zombie. My mom was a zombie when she came home. I would just be like, who is this woman?
Art Costello: Her brain cells were scattered. And then what the idea behind it was is when they reform, you reform the person back into a better person, a healthier person and all that. What they didn’t understand was the chemical makeup of bipolar. I had the pleasure of having a friend who was bipolar in college and she went under a treatment that was done completely with B vitamins. I mean, massive doses of B vitamins and it had an amazing effect on her. But yeah, she was great with these B vitamins, and then she would do the same thing that every bipolar patient does. They go and they say: “I am okay, and I’m not going to take these massive doses of these vitamins.” And we’d have to deal with it again. Anyway, anyway, we’ve covered a lot of stuff and a lot of ground.
Michelle Dickinson: Yeah.
Art Costello: I’m going to give you five minutes. Actually. I’ll give you as much time as you want to tell us any parting thoughts, any ideas, any things, what you’re doing, where people can get ahold of you, and all that stuff.
Michelle Dickinson: Yeah. You know, I think, you know, we live in a world now where mental illness is being talked about more, and I do think that we are on a really great path. You know, unfortunately we’ve had to lose celebrities to give this the attention it needs. I live in a community where my mayor is wanting to create a stigma free town. I feel like we’re on an amazing path, but we have a lot of work to do as well, you know. So my goal, you know, through my website, and through my experience, and through my programs, my websites michelleedickinson.com, you can reach out to me there. I have a program for children as I mentioned, I’d love to bring your middle school wherever you are to create more understanding around children’s feelings and emotions, and give love to talk to more companies, have them understand what it takes to create a more compassionate workspace. You know, diversity and inclusion, includes, you know, physical disability, but it also includes invisible disability. And those are the mental illnesses that people struggle with and they have to, you know, wear a mask when they go to work. And wouldn’t it be great if there was more empathy, compassion, and understanding for that group of people that they felt included. So I’m out to make a difference in, you know, communities, and organizations, and in schools that, if there’s one thing I would like people to remember is something so simple as checking in with one another and just asking how you’re doing can really make all the difference. You know, we live in a world where we’re virtual, where, you know, we’re not necessarily sitting next to someone as we used to in the workspace as simple thing as extending yourself and just asking each other how you’re doing. You’ll really make a difference for someone, they need to hear that someone cares. So that’s what we can all do. You know, every day is just check in with the ones that we love and care for. e them tools. I also have two years of great experience bringing an employee resource group to my company.“We live in a world where we're virtual... simple thing as extending yourself and just asking each other, ‘how you're doing?’, you really make a difference for someone, they may need to hear that someone cares.” -Michelle Dickinson Click To Tweet
Art Costello: Eloquently stated, you did that beautifully.
Michelle Dickinson: Thank you.
Art Costello: That really, really, really touches my heart because our children and our young ones are our future, and will always be our future.
Michelle Dickinson: Yeah.
Art Costello: And how they grow up in this world that is so divisive right now. And so it just seems almost on a path of destruction that we’re heading down. So imagine being 9, or 10, or 8, and trying to look at this world and seeing the bright part of it. Michelle, you’re bringing the bright part of it to them and I love you for it, and that’s what’s really important.
Michelle Dickinson: Thank you.
Art Costello: Boy, what a way to end a show, what a way. You so eloquently stated what so many people think and feel.
Michelle Dickinson: Thank you.
Art Costello: With that being said, I thank you my audience. Thank you, and it’s been a pleasure, and I can’t wait to do this again with you, and put my big old arms and hug you in person sometimes. So cause you’re definitely a huggable person and that’s–
Michelle Dickinson: Thank you, Art, you’re sweet. Thank you so much.
Art Costello: Everybody, that wraps it up for today, and thank you everybody.
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