MARCH 31st, 2016
By JOHN LILIES
In Part One, Sally graciously shared with us her experience growing up and how she has learned to cope with depression and anxiety. We also learned about how important it is to Sally to speak openly about emotions and mental health challenges; and what Outta is all about. If you haven’t read Part One yet, you can click here to start.
In this final part of our interview with Sally, we learn more about her vision for Outta and her desire for us, as a society, to be able to speak of mental illness like we speak of the common cold or other health challenges, with no stigma. We’re excited to bring you the last part of our chat.
So put on your comfy clothes, get yourself a soothing drink, settle into your favourite cozy spot, and join us now for part two.
[John] You’ve talked about supporting mental health initiatives; what type of mental health initiatives are you really focused on?
[Sally] I really want to focus on youth. I would really like to begin in schools and bring mindfulness programs into schools. I know that there are schools that already have this implemented, so it’s a lot of contacting and reaching out. Starting with even just one class, to kind of show these kids that self-care is important at any age. There are a lot of kids suffering from – sorry, I don’t like to use the word ‘suffering’ – experiencing anxiety at a younger and younger age. They don’t know what to do with that. It’s a scary feeling and I know from myself, when I was a kid, if somebody sat me down and said ‘I’m gonna teach you how to focus on your breath’, oh my gosh! When my parents were fighting I could have gone to my room to focus on my breath and calmed myself down; and instead I would just daydream and kind of watch TV. I don’t know what I did but I know it wasn’t healthy; I just tried to escape what was going on. Kids are so easily influenced that I think if we can teach them certain techniques that make sense to them, who knows – that might stick with them and help them later on when they’re in high school or university and they become young adults. I just feel like you learn how to survive as a kid and if you’re not aware enough, you use those same survival techniques as an adult and they don’t work anymore as an adult; because you’re not in that environment anymore, but it’s almost like you don’t know any other way to be. So if you don’t have those coping skills as a kid, how are going to know how to do that as an adult? So, that’s kind of my main focus and that’s really what I want to try to implement, but I’m not limited to that. Mental Health Week is coming up in May, so whatever programs are going on there we will look into that and see how we can help. There are great organizations like New Leaf Yoga in Toronto, and they teach yoga and meditation to at-risk youth in more under-privileged areas. So it’s a lot of independent, smaller charities that need help and I kind of want to focus more on that.
[John] I think it’s so great that the youth demographic is a huge part of your focus, if not the focus, because it’s the missing link.
[John] We have barely, not even close to enough programming for adults. We have next to no programming for children and not even just kids under 16; at 18 you start being able to access the adult programming and you’re barely an adult at that. So we really need more support and awareness and focus on that youth demographic. I am so happy that you are looking there; and not that it isn’t important to also look at the adult demographic but we need to foster our kids and help them to understand how they can help themselves.
[Sally] Exactly! Yeah, that’s the most important thing is knowing that you have the strength – the inner strength – to handle life and life’s stresses. There is always going to be stress, we can’t avoid it. If you have some sort of technique, skill, and then the confidence, I think then we will have better functioning adults. I’m not very good with statistics but speaking from my friends who work in more of a corporate world, there are so many adults that take off time from work because they’re depressed or super anxious. Again, mental health is a huge spectrum so I’m not speaking on behalf of people that have Bipolar or Schizophrenia or something like that because that’s a completely different side of mental health. I don’t have enough knowledge to talk about that and those are more permanent illnesses. But people who get depressed because they are just overwhelmed, and that’s how their bodies react to it, that’s how their minds react to it, or kids that get depressed because they’re overwhelmed. There are so many different anxieties now - like generalized, social anxiety - you know, there are all these anxieties that I think a lot of them do stem from environmental situations, stress, that people just don’t know how to cope. They just don’t know what to do with decisions, workload and home life, school and all of that. Then you shut down because you just don’t know what else to do.
[John] We’re rarely given the tools that we need to cope and to find our way through life.
[Sally] Yeah, so I think with kids, if they’re not learning it at home – and I mean, I ask my kids all the time to meditate and they rarely do because I’m their mom and I’m also telling them brush their teeth and make their bed. However, in school if their teacher said ‘oh we’re going to take this class’, then they would do it. You can try to do it at home but I know I don’t have any success half the time. However, this morning we all did meditate. The cat was in the bed, and the four of us [people] were in the bed and the kids went for it this morning; and we all meditated for 15 minutes. It was really nice.
[John] Such a special experience.
[Sally] Yes, but I don’t know when that’s going to happen again; but I think that it’s enough that the kids see us doing it. Actions speak louder than words. We’re setting the example and I’m not saying I’m some sort of Zen Master – I might meditate for 15 minutes and then I’ll be yelling at my kids again 15 minutes later. I didn’t say it was sustainable [Sally laughed a lot here]. I think the only time it’s really sustainable is if you live up in the Himalayan Mountains somewhere and you’re secluded and isolated and you don’t have any sort of triggers. That’s not really what it’s about; I just know that I don’t get to that point where I can’t handle my kids fighting (they’ll probably disagree with me on that) and I know I’d be a lot worse if I didn’t do that – if I didn’t meditate and do yoga.
[John] So, having those tools that you’ve learned and having that awareness of your self and what you need to do to maintain your own healthy mental state and emotional state; I’m assuming it has really lent itself in a very positive way to you being able to manage a business on your own and the stress that goes with that. You are much more aware of your own mental health than many people are, or at least are willing to admit to themselves because it’s a tough thing to admit to. You have these really cool tools that you’ve learned and have taught yourself over the years of how to manage your own anxiety, stress and depression. Are you finding that that’s helping you, because it’s got to be very stressful to take on your own business and do it fundamentally by yourself.
[Sally] Yeah, I think that it has. I’ve actually been practicing more; meditating more and doing more yoga, going for walks and just making sure that I do take care of myself because I am very busy now. I know that if I don’t do that then I’m not going to be able to handle all of these new things that I’m learning. I’m learning a lot too, because like said, just social media alone is a full-time job. It’s a lot of work and I’m not tech-savvy at all, so just that alone takes up a lot of time. I’m making the stuff too; I heat-press the shirts myself, I make the hair ties myself, I mail everything – I do all of it on my own. However, I don’t find it work – I actually really like it. It’s a lot of fun. The hardest part for me right now is the writing, the posting – that kind of stuff. I’ve got to get into a routine with that. But again, like I said, my husband is very calming and he reminds me that this is all part of the adventure and things are going to go wrong and that it’s always slow in the beginning, so he brings me back down to earth because I’m often up in my head.
[John] You’ve talked about posts and maintaining the website, and you have a blog on your website. Why is that important to you?
[Sally] [Long, thoughtful sigh] Well, it’s an open book. I really wanted it to be for anybody, to post anything about their own experiences, or information on mental health and self-care. I wasn’t really expecting to do much writing, to be honest with you. At the same time, I have to be open about my own experience if I want people to open up about theirs. So I will be posting stories about my own issues that I’ve had or still do have. I just want to keep it open for anyone that maybe has a story to tell and they just feel like they have to tell it. With my business, I want it to be built around vulnerability and transparency, so I’m very open about my own experiences with it. It’s not always easy to talk about, I’m not going to say it’s easy to talk about, but I hope that we do get to that point where it is easy to talk about.
You know, I’m hoping that some day we’ll just talk about mental health like we do any other health issue. If you were to break your arm, I would say ‘John, what happened to your arm?’ Then you’d say ‘oh I broke it! I was skiing and I fell and it was really painful, and I had to go to Emerg and they gave me these pain pills. Now I’m healing and it might take four to six weeks’ and I’d be like ‘oh my God! That’s crazy!’ and we’d talk about it, and you’d have a story, and I wouldn’t judge you. I wouldn’t think that you are the broken arm and pass judgment on you. I’d think ‘that’s a crazy story’ and we would connect through that because you’re sharing your experience with it. So, I hope that we get to a point where we do the same with ‘what’s wrong with you John?’ and you say ‘oh I’m depressed’, and I’d say ‘why? Tell me about it, what’s going on?’ and you’d tell me; you’d say you’re in pain and you’re seeking help, and you’re doing this for it and that for it. Maybe you took up yoga, you’re going to a therapist, or whatever it is that you need to do and you say, ‘I’m healing but I don’t know how long it’s going to take’, and I’d say ‘okay, let’s go for a coffee’. You know what I mean? I hope we get to that point where it’s just the same as anything else. It’s not even the mental illness that there’s a stigma around [now], it’s the discussion that there’s a stigma around.
[John] Why do think that is?
[Sally] I think because somewhere along the line, we got so identified with the illness that we attached ourselves to this ‘mental’ illness, you know? I mean, the mind is such a mystery and it affects everything, so when you’re having some sort of mental health issue it really affects your whole being. That’s what it feels like, anyway, and I don’t think we know how to separate it like we do everything else. Your liver is damaged – well that’s your liver, it needs some TLC, it needs some medication. But with our heads – with our minds - we don’t do that. It’s like all of me has this and it becomes you, which is really silly! Because, imagine if you did that with anything else, it would just be silly. Then you would judge that person. You would, I guess, judge that person in the same way that there’s been judgment with mental illness. So, I think it’s hard to separate it but I think we have to start looking at it like it’s a separate issue so we can move forward, so we can get the help that we need just like you would with anything else. You would not go home and suffer in pain if you broke your arm. You just wouldn’t do that. You would go seek help, right? Because, you know that it would cause other problems. Why is it, if you’re depressed, you go home and you suffer in silence?
[John] Do you think that it has something to do with the intimacy that’s involved in that? In the sense that it is your mental health, it is your emotional state; it is affecting every other aspect of your life. So it is such a personal thing. Do you think that has an effect? Or is it because people equate it to the way that we loosely use terms like ‘crazy’ or ‘nuts’ (and there are more derogatory terms)?
[Sally] Yeah. I think that it’s definitely a combination of both, for sure. Again, there’s a huge spectrum. We have to remember that and it’s just not all the same. We have to change just that little part of how we talk about it and how we support one another through it. It’s almost like, and I don’t know if this is going to sound insensitive, but it’s almost like ‘don’t make it such a big deal’. Do you know what I mean? If you came to me and said ‘I went to the doctor’s and they told me I have Diabetes’, that would be awful; but we wouldn’t make it such a big deal that now I’m judging you because you have Diabetes. Or I’m thinking maybe, ‘well you shouldn’t have Diabetes’. You know what I mean? It’s like, if somebody’s depressed it’s not like they’re really sad. There’s a big difference. So I think that the way that it’s looked upon is not helpful to the person that’s going through it. So, if somebody says ‘I’m depressed’ you’d be like ‘okay, let’s talk about it’ but leave the big deal part of it at home. Don’t make the person feel like there’s no hope for them, or on the other side of that, make them feel like they should snap out of it.
[John] Diminishing the whole thing.
[Sally] Right, so it’s kind of contradictory I guess, in a way.
[John] I think I understand what you’re saying; that it needs to be a more natural conversation and not so dramatic. Even though it may feel dramatic and the events that surround it could be dramatic, the topic shouldn’t necessarily be dramatic.
[Sally] Right, the topic shouldn’t necessarily be dramatic. Somebody saying that they have depression, I think, should be looked at as somebody saying ‘I have…’ whatever it is… pick your medical issue. If you said you had cancer, that would be horrific but we wouldn’t really be focusing on the cancer. We would be focusing on what we need to do to help you with the cancer. Right? So, the same thing with mental illness; ‘you have this, okay, so what do we need to do now to help you?’ Let’s not focus so much on the illness part of it.
[John] The diagnosis part of it.
[Sally] Yeah! Again, you’re not the cancer. You have the cancer. You’re not the depression. You have the depression. So let’s move forward and get whatever help you need to get. But, the other thing with mental illness is there aren’t tests that you take for it. You can’t go for a test. The doctor or the therapist pretty much tells you, ‘okay this is what you have’ by your symptoms, by what you’re feeling. But, with anything else, you go for blood work, you go for CT scans, you go for x-rays, so they know exactly what it is. So I think that probably plays a part in it too. I think it’s a combination of a lot of things, but the reality is that people do have it and it’s, unfortunately, on the rise. We can’t ignore it and I can only speak from my personal experience with it; I always say I would take grief over depression any day. That’s how bad it is. I would rather take grief – and grief is pretty bad.
[John] And you know grief well.
[Sally] And I know grief well. I would take grief – that feeling of grief – over depression any day. Grief I can handle. Depression… [not so much]. I handle it better now, but it’s really just a dark, dark place to be in.
[John] So, mentioning that you know grief well, you’ve experienced some significant losses and quite recently at that.
[John] Do you think that one of the reasons that you can say you would take grief over depression is because you know where the grief is coming from? You know what’s causing it whereas, with depression, we don’t necessarily know the root cause. It’s just there and you don’t know when you’re going to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Whereas, at least with the grief, you can hope that as the days go by you’ll be able to manage it a little bit better. It never goes away, but you can understand it a little better.
[Sally] Yeah, for sure. I think that, usually, there’s a reason for grief – it’s not a good reason, but depression can sometimes come out of nowhere for a lot of people. That you’re kind of like ‘what’s going on? I was fine and now I have this feeling of gloom that just won’t leave’. Grief can feel similar. It can. A lot of people grieving do get depressed, because it’s heavy. I can see how you would get there. But I, luckily, did not become depressed after my dad and brother passed away [a few months apart]. I did have moments where I felt like I was kind of going down that road but, again, I had my tools. I reached out. I didn’t wait. I emailed all my friends and I said ‘look, I’m having a hard time. I’m feeling like I might be heading down that dark road and I just need you guys to check in on me’. You know, I reached out and that’s what I did when I was depressed the last time.
I had three things that I did: I created my own support group, I started yoga and I meditated like crazy; and those are the three things I do now when I’m feeling like ‘meh, I’m not doing so well’. I reach out right away to my friends because I have an amazing group of friends; I’m very, very blessed. And, I increase my yoga and meditation. I connect inside. That, I think, helped me not to fall back into a depressed state. I didn’t do that in the beginning when I was depressed; I was isolating myself, which I know makes it worse and that’s why I don’t want people to do that because you’re just digging a deeper hole for yourself. If you don’t have a support group, there are support groups – there are people out there, especially now online – there are so many support groups online. Just don’t try to go through it on your own because you’re ashamed or embarrassed or whatever. I just tell it like it is and for me, it helps. I don’t have a problem now saying that I’m not doing well and I need help, I need to go for a walk, or ‘somebody ask me to go for a walk or take me out for coffee, or let’s just meet up or have a phone call’, or whatever. Just debrief. That connection - you need that connection with people.
[John] Which is tough to do, because often when you’re feeling that way you want to retreat.
[Sally] You do want to retreat.
[John] Your natural inclination is to hide away…
[John]… and I think it takes a lot of courage and a lot of awareness – a lot of self-awareness – and a lot of strength, to not only recognize that you’re hitting that point but to recognize that you need to reach out. And then, to take the step to actually reach out, which is probably the hardest part of it all. You can tell yourself ‘ yeah okay, I probably really should go out and see some friends or have some human contact, or be forced to talk to people and put myself in some uncomfortable situations’, because they’re not comfortable when you’re feeling that way. But then to actually go ahead and do it… usually we say ‘okay, yeah I need to do that and [instead] I’m just going to crawl into bed’, right? Or, ‘I’m going to go and sit in the corner and cry for a few hours’.
[Sally] Which sometimes you need to do, too; but I think that if you have enough self-awareness, you know when you’re crawling into bed and you’re okay, like ‘yeah I just need to be by myself but I’m okay’. Or when you’re doing that and you’re not okay. So, I know the difference now. I do that. Sometimes I’m like ‘I’m putting myself to bed. I need to be alone’ but it’s good. I just need to retreat in a healthy way, not in an unhealthy way. So I know the difference now.
[John] That’s so important.
[Sally] It is really important. That can be helpful, too. We all need to do that as well, but you need to know what state you’re in. So I know now when I’m getting to that point that I’m feeling so overwhelmed. I haven’t felt like that since my brother and dad passed away but at that time, there were days when I needed to be surrounded by people who cared for me and helped me and encouraged me and let me talk; just let me grieve, just let me sob. I’m lucky I have that. It’s important. It’s not a big group of people; I can count them on one hand, but it’s an important group. So that’s part of self-care; reaching out - that’s taking care of yourself because sometimes you can’t take care of yourself and you need others to do that for you. But if they don’t know, then how are they going to be able to help you? If you don’t have it in your circle of people in your life, you can find it now; there are a lot of groups and online groups, it’s just finding them.
[John] You have to take that first step to start building it.
[Sally] Yeah, exactly.
[John] So what else should people know about Outta? Is there anything that we haven’t covered that you want to share?
[Sally] I think that Outta is my personal story. It’s my personal journey but I feel like it is [that] for many people too. I feel like people who have had mental health issues want to speak up, they want to share their stories or they just want to speak up about how important it is and I don’t feel like it’s just my thing. I really feel that it’s going to become a community and I want it to be a community. I want it to be open. I want it to be for anyone and everyone who understands that message on a deeper level. On our home page, it says “Get Outta Your Head and Into Your Heart” and that just means that it’s so important to connect to that inner self that is always there, and that gets neglected. The only way to get there is to move from your head space, and however you get there is different for everyone. I’m not saying the only way to get there is through meditating or doing yoga or anything active; it’s whatever gets you there and so share that! Share that with others, because then we can bring more awareness and we can help youth and adults and whoever has gone through a difficult time, or is going through a difficult time, and create some sort of change. Really, that’s what it’s all about, I think.
[John] Alright, so where can people find Outta?
[Sally began laughing again here, as she emphasized once more, her lack of tech & social media knowledge… it really is quite endearing when you realize how much she’s taught herself in such a short time.]
Online, at getouttayourhead.com. The company is called Outta, the website is called getouttayourhead.com - that’s our main message, is to get outta your head. So you can go there, you can purchase a tank, purchase hair ties; t-shirts are coming. When you do that, you’ll be supporting mental health initiatives. So, in the future when we do build up enough proceeds - and it’s all going to be documented because I don’t want you to feel like you don’t know where your money is going - so everything that we do will be documented and it is going to be put on our website. So if that month we’ve chosen to go into a school, then there will be pictures. Hopefully there will be some interviews – questions that we will ask students – and it will all be posted there; and you’ll know that if you purchase something that month, that your money went to that initiative or charity or whatever. It’s going to be posted month-by-month because I know for me, when I donate, I want to know – really – where is it going? It creates an interaction between the customer and the company, too. So that will all be on the website as well and I think that will be informative. Again, it’s bringing awareness and kind of showing what our communities are doing and I think it’s a fun way to engage. It’s all about engagement.
Also on the website, like we talked about, there’s a blog and I welcome anyone to submit anything that they want to submit, whether it’s their personal story or some new statistic, or some new program that’s going on, whatever. I want people to have their own voice but in an appropriate manner. If it’s anything that’s more research-type then of course it must be accurate, especially with mental health that’s important. Personal stories though, I mean it’s your own story and if you want to share it that’s what it’s all about. It’s about connecting and we can only connect on that deeper level if we’re truthful and honest and authentic. Sometimes it’s really hard to be that way, it is for me still. You know, before I launched my site I had lots of people telling me ‘oh my God I had no idea that you had to go through that!’ because I didn’t talk about it for a really long time, and I’m still learning to get comfortable talking about it but that comes with time.
[John] You’ve encouraged me too, because I wrote that guest blog article for you and that was probably the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to write.
[John] I know I’m going to be writing more for you and I almost have to talk myself into it because I’ve realized that I kind of mention in passing once in a while, that I have anxiety or that I’ve got some mild PTSD and that I experience it. But to have to sit down and actually write about it, and be really open and honest about it, is a scary and difficult thing to do. So I understand that, because it is tough to be authentic. I don’t know that we really can be authentic 100% of the time but just starting is really important.
[Sally] How did you feel after you wrote it?
[John] Awesome. I felt relieved and freer. It started a different journey for me. So thank you for that.
[Sally] Oh you’re welcome! I had no idea!
[Sally] Oh yes! Our Facebook page! Please come to our Facebook page! I’m going to be totally honest here okay… [Deep sigh] I would boycott social media if I could. I really would. It is not my thing. But because I have an online store, I have to be on the social media platforms. So, please help me and follow us on all these things! [Laughing] Follow us, like us, share us, whatever you’re supposed to do on it; because to gain a following is really hard. I’m new! No one knows who I am and I have no problem asking people. I’ll go up to people I’ve just met and ask if they’re on Instagram and if they can follow me. [Laughing… a lot]
[John] I have three last questions for you.
[John] These are what Lana calls the tough questions.
[Sally] Oh no. This is already tough! [Laughing]
[John] What inspires you?
[Sally] Oh man. [Sally took a long, thoughtful pause here…] People that are authentic inspire me. You know, I listen to a lot of podcasts and I’m attracted to people who are just raw and real and tell it like it is. That inspires me to be me, in my own way; a you-can-take-it-or-leave-it kind of approach. Those people inspire me. That’s really why I’ve started this, is being inspired by those kind of ‘real deal’ people.
[John] What is your intention in this life?
[Sally] [Another long, thoughtful pause…] Hmmm… It’s to do good. It’s to be a benefit. I’ve always known that I wanted to do something that was meaningful and that kind of penetrates life at a deeper level. I don’t want to live a surface-y, shallow life. It’s to create meaning.
[John] What do you want people to know - to really know - about Sally Goncalves?
[Sally] That I am just as scared as anybody else about starting anything new. That I am just as emotional and as uncertain; I’m full of all those things. Just because I’ve started something doesn’t mean I don’t have that; I do, but I’m not going to let it stop me anymore. In the past I have. In the past I talked myself out of doing things that deep down I knew I really wanted to do. I don’t know why. It’s just a nudge but it’s a nudge that hasn’t left me, so it’s now or never. I’m going to be 40 [soon], so I’m moving forward with kind of a new outlook. I’m going to go for it and whatever happens, happens. At least that way, I won’t regret not doing it. With that being said, I still feel all those feelings of fear. It’s all there. It’s all there, but I just let them hang out and I don’t let them take over anymore. So, that’s kind of my progress from where I’ve been to where I am now. It’s not that that goes away completely. It’s there but I’ve learned to just let it be and not let it bully me anymore.
[John] Well I have to say that you have, over the years, inspired me a lot in ways that I’ve never shared because I just stay quiet.
[John] We have been friends for about 15 years now and over these years you’ve actually taught me a lot. You’ve taught me a lot about myself and you’ve helped me, you’ve encouraged me, without intending to but just in you leading by example and being who you are as authentically as you are. You have inspired me and encouraged me to be strong in myself and so this has actually been a really cool experience for me, to be able to do this, so thank you for that. You’re awesome.
[Sally] Aw so are you. This was fun!
END PART 2
Well dear friends, that concludes my conversation with Sally Goncalves.
This has been such an enlightening experience for me. I feel like I receive more and more life learning with each interview we do and this one definitely deepened that awareness for me. I hope that you have all gained from this experience as much as I have. Lana insisted he not read the interview in advance and has gone on this ride along with all of you. He wanted to take it in just like everyone else would, so it’s been a new experience for him too. It has been a change from our typical form, however I know its importance and we are passionate about the topic.
Thank you so much, to all of you who have commented and contacted us, expressing gratitude for bringing this topic to the table. We appreciate your words and support very much. We are incredibly fortunate to have this Carbon Lilies world and the friends who come along with it.
Keep the conversation going and don’t be afraid of the discussion… Get Outta Your Head and Into Your Heart.
If you would like to have a look at Outta or contact Sally, please visit: