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Being diagnosed with breast cancer can be scary, and being told it’s terminal even more so. If it goes unaddressed, this kind of trauma can — and often does — lead to a mental health crisis. While the medical community does a stellar job addressing our physical needs, mental health is often ignored.
Today’s guest, Bershan Shaw, featured on this season of “The Real Housewives of New York” shares her journey from a stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis to reality TV star. She tells how during her cancer treatment her physical health was cared for, but her mental health was not. Listen in as she shares how we can do better to help people who are diagnosed with serious and terminal conditions manage their mental health.
Bershan Shaw is an international motivational speaker, business coach, author, entrepreneur, and tech founder who is appearing on this season of Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New York City.”
Bershan is a powerhouse tech founder, recently launching a new health and wellness app, URAWARRIOR. She wants to bring some diversity to the tech space. The platform is centered on four pillars: personal development, self-improvement, motivation, and support, and is a one-stop-shop for mental health and wellness including resources, coaching, chat rooms, self-help quizzes, and more.
Bershan has an incredible story. After being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, Bershan’s experience with depression and loneliness led her to look to many places to find the answers and support she needed. After beating cancer (twice), it was important for her to create one dedicated platform where those in need could connect with others. The app is for all people and was coded by a team of Black women and is women-invested.Bershan recently released her new book, “The Unstoppable Warrior Woman,” highlighting the stories of incredible women who have survived unthinkable odds and found strength to succeed through their struggles. She also hosts her own podcast Buckle Up with Bershanwhere she challenges her listeners to live life on purpose. She also runs an interior design business, Shaw & Shaw Design.
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.
To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast. I’m your host, Gabe Howard, and I want to thank our sponsor, Better Help. You can get a week free by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. Calling into the show today we have Bershan Shaw. Ms. Shaw is appearing on this season of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York City and is an international motivational speaker, business coach, author and entrepreneur. She also hosts her own podcast, Buckle Up with Bershan, where she challenges her listeners to live life on purpose. Ms. Shaw, welcome to the show.
Bershan Shaw: Hello. Thank you so much. I appreciate being on here. Hello, hello, hello.
Gabe Howard: I am so glad that you had time to call in, it’s really appreciated and honestly, I don’t know where to start. We have such a short amount of time and so much to cover. So let’s start with your stage IV breast cancer diagnosis. You describe feelings of depression and loneliness, which is entirely understandable. But did anyone address your mental health after that diagnosis or was the entire focus only on your physical health?
Bershan Shaw: You know, I have to tell you, no one really addressed my mental health. It was more physical. It was like, OK, exercise, eat. Right? But I was going through loneliness, depression, feeling like no one could understand me because they told me I was going to die. So it was a small percentage of a chance that I would live. So I went down a downward spiral and I didn’t know how to get out of the hole.
Gabe Howard: If nobody addressed this with you, how did you know what work to do?
Bershan Shaw: Research, research, research, the internet, study, because, remember, mental health is taboo. You don’t want to tell people you’re depressed and it’s like, oh, God, there’s a problem or you feel lonely. Mental health is now starting to become something where we can talk about it and not feel ashamed. Thirteen years ago, it was like, oh, God, if she’s depressed she needs a pill or she needs something. So no one was really talking about mental health, no one was really talking about their issues. They were just like, yeah, I’m going to deal with it and get by. Now, thank God, people are really expressing themselves. And that’s what I wanted to do back then. But there was no outlet.
Gabe Howard: Mental health and physical health are intrinsically linked. Yet people seem to disagree about it, our minds live in our body, our minds are our brains. That’s our body. What are your thoughts on the concept of separating them out like we do into these two unique categories, rather than just discussing mental health and physical health as simply health?
Bershan Shaw: I think we do ourselves a disservice by separating them. You’re right, our minds are a part of our body. Everything is mind, body, spirit. When you’re off in one, you’re off in all. You have to be in line. And that’s why people are like, oh, my God, I’m so tired. I’m all over the place. Like, I’m misaligned. Because you’re not aligned in your mind, your body and your spirit. When you really take the time to meditate, to do affirmations, to manifest what you want, to be positive, and then you exercise to get your body right and your spiritual, whatever your spiritual journey is, believe me wholeheartedly, you will feel joy, love. That is what you will feel.
Gabe Howard: Ms. Shaw, I would be willing to guess that the majority of people listening right now have never been diagnosed with breast cancer, or, as you worded it, told that they were going to die. Can you talk about how you felt in those moments?
Bershan Shaw: That’s a story that every time I think about it, I really can’t believe. I had stage I breast cancer, it spread and metastasized to stage IV and I didn’t know. I had bad back pain. Like my back was killing me. I went to doctors, I got x rays. I was trying to figure out what is wrong with my back, why is this happening? And so the doctor said, let’s do an MRI. And I remember coming back to get the results. I thought nothing was wrong. I’m just going to get the results and go to lunch with my family. And the doctor said, sit down and no one wants to hear the word sit down. I mean, those words really just jar you and shock you. He said, you’ve been diagnosed with terminal stage IV breast cancer. Even to this day, I can’t believe that. I still can’t believe, wow, I was so healthy. Everything was going so right. But I always say cancer was and is my gift because it was a gift to wake up and start living and stop being afraid and stop living in fear. That was the gift. And now that journey of getting healthy, beating it, understanding that my time is now. Stop waiting on life, do it now. That’s what it taught me. So, yes, that moment I went into the hallway and I said, God, if you keep me alive, please just keep me alive. I will motivate and inspire people all around the world. Just keep me alive. And that’s what I’ve been doing since 2007.
Gabe Howard: Let’s talk about that motivation. This is a mental health show. This is Inside Mental Health where we talk about all things mental health, mental illness and psychology. We’re not a surviving breast cancer show. So I think one of the questions that I have and that I imagine the listeners have is why didn’t you become a prominent breast cancer advocate? Why are you a prominent mental health advocate?
Bershan Shaw: Well, because breast cancer is what happened. Mental health is what you go through. And what I realized is that, wow, so many people when I speak about mental health, so many people were coming up to me and saying, you know what, I tried to kill myself. You know what? I’m depressed. I’m bipolar. I’m dealing with this. See, that was the avenue to open up for people to talk and share their story because it said, I’m just like you. I’m no different. I dealt with a life altering issue. You’re dealing with a life altering issue or life changing issue. And during that, you have to deal with mental health. And so what my sweet spot was, was to help people during that journey. That’s what I love, to help people going through what they’re going through because they are alone. They don’t have anyone to help. They don’t have anyone to tell their stories to. They feel alone. I don’t want anyone to ever feel like I felt. So, that became my mission.
Gabe Howard: Ms. Shaw, especially considering your own experience, do you believe that anyone who receives a serious diagnosis like stage IV breast cancer should be immediately given mental health treatment?
Bershan Shaw: Everyone should have mental health treatment, right? So it starts
Gabe Howard: Yes.
Bershan Shaw: With you. Yes. So I don’t believe, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a cancer diagnosis or you’re just going to work every day. You’re dealing with stress, you’re dealing with chaos. You’re dealing with a lot of stuff on a daily basis. So everyone needs it. Yes. I think it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you need to check in. Everybody needs to check in on their mental health. That is the problem. What’s wrong with society now? Everyone doesn’t want to do it because they’re like, oh, no therapist. I’m not crazy or I’m not doing it. Who said you’re crazy? We’re just saying you need to check in on your life.
Gabe Howard: How long did it take you to realize that from the time you were diagnosed? Is it something that you came about suddenly or did it linger?
Bershan Shaw: It didn’t come suddenly, it came after saying that I need help, I need someone to talk to, no one can understand what I’m going through. No one can understand stage IV, 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.
Gabe Howard: It can be so scary to ask for support, do you have any advice or wisdom to share with our listeners about taking that first step and admitting that you might need mental health help?
Bershan Shaw: I think we need to start being honest with ourselves. We as people need to start being honest what we’re dealing with, because let me tell you and your listeners, everyone is dealing with something. Everyone has issues. You are not alone in depression and anxiety, worry, stress and dealing with any kind of bipolar, manic depression. Whatever you’re dealing with, you’re not alone. Millions are like you, too. Let’s start talking about it. Take the first step and just talk to someone. Take the first step in getting the help you need.
Gabe Howard: One of the things that you talk about that I love is giving up fear, but the first time I heard it, I’m going to be honest with you, I thought, well, that’s ridiculous. You can’t give up fear. Should I just make more money, eat better, exercise more, lose weight? But you did start to make sense. That’s why I’m asking the question. But for our listeners, how do you give up fear? Because at first glance, it just sounds absolutely impossible.
Bershan Shaw: It does sound impossible. Why? Because we’re scared. Because we like the same. We like to be comfortable doing the same old thing, we don’t like change. And that’s why many people don’t change. It’s so funny. When I was getting my certificate and masters, they asked for an exercise. Do this exercise. If you drive to work, go a totally different way, go a totally different way three times that week. And you know what? Only one person in the class did it. Why? Because we don’t like change. No, I’m a go the same way I know how to get there. No, I’m not going to do it that way is too long. It could be an accident. In our mind, we will say anything that won’t work. It’s uncomfortable. Fear is false evidence appearing real. It’s not real. Why are you living in fear? Fear is just saying, oh gosh, this is going to happen. What if I die? What if I don’t get the job? What if my marriage doesn’t work? What if I leave? And what if this, what if that? That’s all the things that’s not even there. You’ve made up your story to keep you stuck. Change the story, change your life.
Gabe Howard: Change the story, change your life. It’s simple, but you can hear the power behind the words. And, of course, you practice what you preach, you personally use mindfulness techniques to combat your own depression. Can you explain what mindfulness is and how it can be beneficial to our listeners?
Bershan Shaw: Yes, I start every day with candles, affirmation, meditation and manifestation. I’ve literally been doing that for 12 years. Mindfulness, being mindful in what you need. Right. So we get up, jump up. Oh, the kids, got to get the kids to eat. Let’s go. Meeting starts at 9:00. Oh, my God. In a frenzy and a riot all over the place. Stop and breathe and take care of yourself, because if you’re not great, no one else will be great. So mindfulness is being mindful of what you need. See, we’re always like the kids, the kids, or my husband, my husband, my mom, my this, my that. If you’re not OK, how can you help someone else? You can’t. And that’s why it never works. That’s why things break down and they’re never fixed because you never start on yourself. No one does the work. Do the work on yourself. You’ll change everyone else.
Gabe Howard: We’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back with Bershan Shaw from The Real Housewives of New York City. Many people believe that if they’re focusing on themselves, they’re ignoring their responsibilities or they’re being egotistical or fill in any word that you want, but people don’t want to do self-care because they’ve convinced themselves that if you’re paying attention to yourself, you’re doing something wrong. How do we break out of that mindset?
Bershan Shaw: We breakout by, it’s so funny, you’re so right about this question, we break out by stop telling ourselves the lies. You see, we tell ourselves that because we don’t want to do the work, you don’t want to work on yourself. You know how hard it is to. It’s not hard. Let me let me take that back. It’s not hard, we tell ourselves it’s hard, because we don’t want to do the work. So we don’t want to take the time to do meditation, do candles, do all the stuff. We don’t want to do that. We sit and want to be comfortable. We want to put our feet up on the couch, do the same old thing routine over and over again, never doing the work. How do you ever get better? How do you grow? Cancer made me grow. How do you grow if you don’t ever do the work? You never grow. There’s just the same. Same thing doing it over and over again. I don’t subscribe to that. I’m a coach. I take you from where you are to where you want to be, period.
Gabe Howard: Let’s talk about your coaching for a moment, when you say that you take people from where they are to where they want to be. Where do the majority of people want to go? Because I was thinking about that as you said it, and I thought, huh, where do I want to go? And it’s all over the place. It’s all over the place for me.
Bershan Shaw: I go from the heart. What do you really want? What makes you smile? What makes you happy? I go from what makes you happy and what do you want? People don’t want to ask themselves because they realize, wow, I’m really not happy and no one wants to really say I’m not happy. No one wants to say I’m not happy. I’m dealing with stress. I’m depressed, I’m lonely. You know your number one thing. How are you doing? I’m doing good. Great. That’s just a throwback line that we all say. How are you doing, Bershan? I’m doing great. Am I really doing great? No. But I just say it.
Gabe Howard: You mentioned that when people say, how are you, we’re supposed to answer, it’s fine, and in reality, if you don’t answer, it’s fine, people think that something’s wrong with you and yet they don’t give you help. You know, like, for example, if you say Gabe, how are you? And I say, oh, I’m, I’ve been very depressed. I’ve had a problem. The person who asked me thinks, oh, Gabe’s an overshare-er. Why is Gabe doing this to me? So even though I have reached out for help to the person who asked me how I was, I’m still not getting the help I need. So my specific question for you, Ms. Shaw, is what can the rest of us do when we ask people how they are and they say anything other than I’m fine? What should our response be? Because I don’t think the average person knows what to do when somebody asks for help.
Bershan Shaw: Well, I think you’re right, but it’s because we put all of these stigmas up that we can’t really share the truth. We have stigmas around it. That’s why no one’s getting the help. That’s why all this is, is a circle of toxicity around and around the same old thing, never getting the help. You should be able to say, you know what, I’m really not doing that well. And someone should really say, wow, what can I do? Do you need a listening ear? What do you need? But we don’t do that because we never did the work and we never do the work. You’re exactly right. People don’t help. And they say, oh, you’re sharing too much. But what if we change that? What if we change that and start sharing and start getting the help we need?
Gabe Howard: I would love to see that change. Everybody listening would love to see that change. But let’s talk about motivation for a minute. How? How do we find that motivation? I think back to my own bipolar disorder and depression and I was so fortune to have close family and close friends who supported me. But what if you don’t have that family support? What if you don’t have those friends? How do you build that support?
Bershan Shaw: You have to find groups. There are so many groups out there. You have to just look online, support groups, Internet. I mean, I found groups like you have to do the work. You really have to do the work. If you Google mental health support groups in your area on the Internet meet-up groups, there are places you could talk on the phone, on the Internet. You just have to take the first step. Therapy, coaching. Right? You have to take the first step and know that you’re not alone and you can’t do it by yourself.
Gabe Howard: The one silver lining to the pandemic and the COVID-19 quarantines is that a lot of support groups moved online and we really saw the benefit. Now, we had online forums and groups before, but they’ve really ramped up, especially with Zoom, where you can see other people or remain anonymous. It sounds like the first step, Ms. Shaw, is just to do something.
Bershan Shaw: You’re absolutely right. Do something. Right. So don’t stay where you are. Do something. Fear, it can paralyze you. Fear can make you stay stuck. But it’s time to do something, get out of your own way. And I’m telling your listeners to do something about it. And today, do it today. Not tomorrow. Today.
Gabe Howard: Beating fear is difficult, but things worth doing are often difficult. So I hope the listeners, they get infected by your energy and they work to move forward in their own lives. But I also hope they find the energy to help other people, because that’s the other side of this, right? We can yell help forever, but if nobody helps us, we’re just not going to get very far.
Bershan Shaw: Right, but also you have to yell help and maybe the first person you tell is not going to help you, but you yell help again. I mean, nothing happens overnight. How you got there didn’t happen overnight. Habit doesn’t happen overnight, right? It takes time for these things to happen. It’s going to take time for you to get better. You have to want to get better, more than you want to stay in this rut. I wanted to survive more than I wanted to die. That’s how change happens. I wanted to be happy more than I wanted to be depressed. That’s how change happened in my life. So you have to want it more. It’s just like with any addiction, alcohol addiction, drug addiction. You get tired of being tired. I was tired of being tired.
Gabe Howard: Ms. Shaw, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask about The Real Housewives of New York. What’s it like? And is it good for your mental health? Did you enjoy having cameras following you around, or was it incredibly stressful?
Bershan Shaw: You know what’s so funny? I’ve been with so much stress, I mean, when you beat stage IV breast cancer, I don’t think anything is close to that. I think my stress level, I can handle a lot. Right. But I think I wanted to challenge myself and do it and see the women and see how I interacted with them as a coach. And, you know, I’m no Mother Teresa. I’m not Gandhi. I’m human. I’m real. I’m authentic.
Gabe Howard: Ms. Shaw, you wrote a book called Unstoppable Warrior Woman. Can you tell us about that?
Bershan Shaw: You know, Unstoppable Warrior Woman is a book about 40 women who have been through something, they’ve been through challenges, they’ve been through ups and downs, they’ve been through the ringer and back, and in the end, they survive. So it’s a book of giving women hope. And that’s why I call it Unstoppable Warrior Woman, W O M A N, because it’s about each and every woman out there. That you are not alone. We’ve been through the trenches and it’s helping you with your mental health, helping you get motivation from others to say that you can do it, too. If they can do it, you can do it.
Gabe Howard: Now, warrior is a big word for you, right? You’ve used that in other things, you’ve used it in your app, you used it in your book. Can you tell us why Warrior? What is it about that word that Ms. Shaw loves so much?
Bershan Shaw: You know, it happened when I was speaking, Johns Hopkins, the doctor wanted me to speak at an event. It started my career years ago. She said, I want you to speak. And I was like, why me? She said, Because you’re so motivational. I used to come into the chemo room with, like, red lipstick, fur coat, red pumps, having my hair done because I was like, I’m living, not dying. And when I told my story, it was so authentic and real and true to my heart. I’d never spoken so honest. A woman stood up and was like, you’re a warrior. Wow. You can beat anything. And the room started saying, you’re a warrior. And that’s how I became the warrior coach. Everyone started chanting, You are a warrior.
Gabe Howard: You are a warrior, and Ms. Shaw, I love that story. Thank you. Thank you so much for being here. Where can people find you online? Where can they get your books? Where can they learn more about you?
Bershan Shaw: Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, everything is @BershanShaw. You’ve got to spell it, B E R S H A N S H A W. My website is Bershan.com. To help you get motivated and stay connected and get what you want. And my app www.URAWarrior.com. I’m here for removing the stigma of mental health so we can get what we want and deserve out of life.
Gabe Howard: Thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it.
Bershan Shaw: Oh, thank you so much.
Gabe Howard: Well you are very welcome, and of course, to all of our listeners, thank you. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” and I am also a nationally recognized public speaker, who would love to be at your next event. My book, of course, is available on Amazon, or you can get a signed copy with free podcast swag or just learn more about me by heading over to gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this podcast, please follow or subscribe, it is absolutely free. And hey, do me a favor, tell a friend. Word of mouth is our best advertising. And we will see you next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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