109. Breaking into Your Life with Michelle Dickinson

The Do a Day Podcast from Bryan Falchuk

Michelle E. Dickinson is a passionate mental health advocate, a TED speaker, and a published author of a memoir entitled Breaking Into My Life. After years of playing the role of child caregiver, Michelle embarked on her own healing journey of self-discovery. Her memoir offers a rare glimpse into a young girl’s experience living with—and loving—her bipolar mother.

Michelle spent years working to eradicate the mental health stigma within her own workplace by elevating compassion, causing more open conversations, and leading real change in how mental illness is understood in the corporate setting and with the first responder community. She also knows first-hand what it feels like to struggle with a mental illness after experiencing her own depression due to challenging life events of her own. Michelle recently concluded her 19-year pharmaceutical career and she has emerged with a strong desire to positively impact the mental health landscape.

Key Points from the Episode with Michelle Dickinson:

  • Michelle is a mental health advocate, trying to change the perspective on the issue and more care and knowledge around it
  • Michelle has noticed a change in terms of the increasing openness and acceptance of mental illness and support for it in companies and communities.
  • This was not the path she expected to be on, but it happened and was something she couldn’t avoid.
  • Michelle grew up with a mother with bipolar, which she then spoke about in a TEDx, and wrote a book that was a memoire of her experiencing growing up with a parent with mental illness.
  • We all have stigmas of what mental illness looks like, and Michelle is trying to help paint a different sense of what it really is.
  • Her mother was physically, emotionally and verbally abusive because of her illness
  • She talks about the pain of watching her mother crying inconsolably for hours and not having the ability to stop that pain
  • It made Michelle feel paralyzed and powerless
  • While this hurt, it also fueled a strong empathy an compassion within Michelle and connect with and see the pain in people
  • It’s a powerless situation living with someone with mental illness, and a default for a lot of people can be to tell them to snap out of it, which is what Michelle’s father defaulted to often
  • Michelle is adopted, so she did not worry about inheriting her mother’s mental illness, but life has taught her that no one is immune to it
  • Michelle ended up going through a painful divorce that taught her that lesson first hand
  • Michelle talked about the struggle in writing the book, and going back to her purpose helped her push ahead – she was trying to change the world around the issue of mental illness.
  • As the book was being completed, Michelle’s marriage was coming apart.
  • The two events coming together was the start of Michelle’s life moving to a new, open place.
  • It was really three events as her big corporate job was coming to an end as she got downsized (as she was working on a mental health awareness group at the company, ironically)
  • She made a decision to take that opportunity to make a shift in corporate culture around supporting employees as they struggle with mental illness
  • She’s also focused on the first responder community given the mental burden they can easily face in their work, and the stigma around it as a weakness you have to hide
  • Michelle is working with a local police department Sargent who struggled with PTSD herself to bring resilience and deescalation training to the first responder community.
  • How can you help effectively if you can’t tell the difference between a criminal and someone in crisis?
  • For companies thinking about creating a peer support community, having employees who have navigated a mental health crisis of their own can create a resource those currently struggle will resonate with and benefit from
  • Michelle also developed a children’s program so these kids learn the tools they will benefit from throughout their lives
  • They have the kids teach their peers, which resonates so much better than having an adult tell them about it 


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