To cap off 2021, we gathered some mic-drop meaningful moments from some of the year’s guests to reflect.
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One of the things people may not realize about my job hosting the “Inside Mental Health” podcast is that I really do learn a lot. Having basic familiarity with the subject matter means I read books that I wouldn’t normally read and absorb lived experiences I might not otherwise understand.
Among other guests, this year, it also meant I got to meet celebrities who opened up and poured out their hearts.
When I interviewed Shine app creators Naomi Hirabayashi and Marah Lidey about mental health issues faced by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in the workplace, I wasn’t so naïve that I thought it would be exactly the same as for white Americans.
I was, however, surprised by just how much more challenging it was.
“[With] racist stereotypes, what often happens is when people have something that contradicts that stereotype, they view that as an exception versus actually changing the way they think and changing that stereotype or creating anti-racist thinking and openness.”
— Naomi Hirabayashi
Her co-creator also illuminated the internal narrative challenging BIPOC community members in their professional day-to-day lives.
“Code-switching is what happens when I don’t stick with my authentic language in my native self, right? And instead, I switched to that more homogenous shape and way of being. And so, the way that that manifests in workplaces is often quite literally using different words, it’s suppressing your natural instinct to speak in a certain way or have a specific tone.”
— Marah Lidey
The first quote from Hirabayashi was as painful to hear as it was illuminating. I immediately thought of the phrase “a credit to their race” and how that type of language doesn’t exist for white Americans.
I was equally surprised to learn about “code-switching.” I thought about how difficult it is for me, a man living with bipolar disorder, to not be able to use my authentic voice out of fear of being seen as “unstable.”
The fact that there’s a name to this experience and that it’s a long-known occurrence for BIPOC community members was a revelation.
I’m never going to tell you that interviewing celebrities isn’t awesome, but peeking behind the curtain did take away a little of the magic.
Jenn Lyon and Gregory Zarian are both incredibly talented and beautiful. The only thing that eclipses these traits is their kindness.
Zarian, for example, sent my mom flowers because she remembered him from his time on the soap opera “Days of Our Lives.”
Learning that both actors are challenged by rejection and self-doubt was surprising to me.
“I think I’m sort of trending away from body positivity and towards body neutrality.
“What if how I look is the least interesting thing about me? What if instead of chasing pretty, we chase compassionate? We chase well read? We chase funny? We chase that we’re ambitious about things other than this little outside show? I think that might be just so much more interesting.
“So, the standard of beauty is so narrow and entrenched that whether you adhere to it or rebel from it, it is still the center. And it’s still somehow relevant. And I’m interested in it being irrelevant.”
— Jenn Lyon
Lyon’s perspective on diet culture and her desire to reframe her identity within the space of body neutrality really spoke to me.
Her statement that even she doesn’t look like Jenn Lyon made me chuckle. She said photos we see of her involve “NASA-level shapewear,” wigs over wigs, heavy reinforcements of a hair and makeup trailer, plus regular photo retouching.
When the interview began, I respected Lyon as a hilarious comedian. By the end, I really respected her as a fierce and capable advocate.
Zarian was candid about feeling rejected, unattractive, and worthless.
“You know, it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors when you see me on a red carpet.
“People just assume, ‘Oh my God, look how easy their life is,’ and it’s my job. I am so grateful for my job. And I personally feel I have the best job in the world, but I am rejected more than I am selected.
“So, I battle in my head about what I didn’t do. What did I do? Was I too tall? Was I too thin?”
— Gregory Zarian
Through his words, I came to understand that anyone can be physically attractive and have self-doubt. The two are not mutually exclusive. He opened my mind to self-acceptance being a growth opportunity for all of us.
Arguably the most well-known person I interviewed this year was Dr. Phil McGraw. He’s an often-controversial figure in mental health discussions. However, his message of hope and reason for transitioning out of the pandemic resonated with me.
Dr. Phil boldly stated that we need to stop politicizing COVID-19 and follow the science. Then he went a step further and explained why people may be reluctant. While many people mock those who disagree with them, Dr. Phil offered ways in which we can recalibrate.
“People want to feel that they’re in control of their own destiny.
“And when they realize they don’t have their hands on the wheel, they’re not in control of their career, their economics, their children’s developmental activities, their ability to provide for their family, they get very anxious about that and they get passive because there’s really nothing they can do.
“And I think we need to challenge people to say, ‘OK, look, I need to maximize the things that I do have control over. I need to sit down and say, what can I do?’”
— Dr. Phil McGraw
What he speaks about is a concept called the “circle of influence,” which Psych Central explores here.
Plus, he laughed at my jokes. What more could I ask?
Dr. Nate Klemp and his wife, Kaley Klemp, wrote a book titled “The 80/80 Marriage” and, honestly, it has completely changed my views on marriage and relationships in general. Like most people, I believed (in vain) that if each partner carries their weight (50/50), bliss will follow.
“We think of this idea of 50/50 fairness as almost like the cultural center of gravity in a marriage. Like this is just where we tend to default to, and it creates all sorts of resentment.
“It leads to keeping score. …
“When it comes to me, all of my contributions to our marriage are totally self-evident. I know exactly what I’ve done. I know all the plates that I’ve taken out of the dishwasher, all of the contributions to our marriage.
“But when it comes to what [my partner has] done, it gets really fuzzy.”
— Dr. Nate Klemp
I seldom completely agree with a guest’s concept, but the Klemps’ research and explanations were so compelling that I had no choice but to update my thinking.
If you’re married or in a committed relationship and can only listen to one episode of “Inside Mental Health,” it should be this one.
I almost didn’t include Bershan Shaw, a public speaker and one of the stars of “Real Housewives of New York,” because I wrote an entire article about her here. But I just couldn’t leave her out: Shaw is the only guest in the history of the podcast who is louder and has more energy than I do!
When she spoke, her voice boomed and reverberated with sincerity and raw inspiration.
“No one can understand stage 4 [cancer], [being] given a death sentence. No one can understand that pain. You can’t understand. People are like, ‘Oh, I get it.’ No, you don’t get it. You can never get that.
“So I really needed someone to talk to. My mental health, my psyche, you know, loneliness, feeling like I didn’t have anyone, feeling like I was alone, feeling like I had no support.”
— Bershan Shaw
Shaw is a rarity in the world of advocacy.
She almost died from stage 4 breast cancer. Where most would expect your first endeavors as a survivor to become a public voice for cancer awareness and a cure, Shaw instead took up advocacy for elevating mental health care as both the cornerstone and conduit for physical health survival and recovery.
Shaw was funny, enthusiastic, and engaging, and if anyone can help the world understand that our physical and mental health are equally important, it’s her.
Despite 2021 being a pretty messed up year out in the world, it was a momentous year for the “Inside Mental Health” podcast, thanks to all the great guests and listeners.
I really wish I had time to give quotes from all my guests. They teach me so much — not just about mental health, but about different experiences, cultures, and viewpoints.
2022 is going to be an exciting year for “Inside Mental Health,” featuring guests including Nikki Sixx from Motley Crüe, famed physical trainer Jillian Michaels, and NFL commentator and retired football player Nate Burleson — just to name a few.
Thank you all for allowing me to do what I love. May you all have a happy, healthy new year and a better 2022.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author. Gabe is the host of Healthline Media’s weekly podcast, “Inside Mental Health.” You can listen and learn more here. Gabe can be found online at gabehoward.com.