Updated: Aug 22, 2019
For me, the turn of events that happened in 2018 has landed me in a spot that I never even realized was, like, a thing, that I could do? -- I started working side-by-side with a licensed therapist, producing and co-hosting a reasonably well-received mental health podcast about pop culture that we call Pop Psych 101.
Before meeting Ryan It didn't occur to me that I could be peers with a professional person. This may sound uneventful to you, but you have to understand, I am the opposite of a professional type of person. I'm silly, I'm very weird, and I can be entirely inappropriate in my humor. I also have Bipolar Disorder, so things can get pretty wacky on that end.
Well, now we are 39 episodes in, we've been invited to New York by our podcast host, we did a stint on satellite radio, we admin an amazing mental health support group, and we continue to grow almost every week (Ryan: I know you're reading this. "Almost" isn't good enough and I think you need to step your game up).
This is all awesome and exciting, and exactly the kind of thing I want to be doing, but something happened along the way that I didn't necessarily consider when teaming up with a therapist: I started learning things... a lot of things. Ryan just so happens to be the world's greatest therapist, and every week I'm hit with something I didn't know before.
I've picked 1 thing from each episode that I've learned directly, or indirectly from Ryan:
Part 1: Episodes 1 - 5
*trigger warning on #4: suicide*
1. The portrayal of multiple personalities in movies isn't very accurate
Dissociative Identity Disorder, or what many still call Multiple Personality Disorder (The name of the diagnosis was changed in 1994) is an incredibly interesting plot device used by a whole bunch of movies. Now, there are bits and pieces that we see in these movies that are accurate (i.e. In Fight Club The Narrator character talks out loud to his alternate, Tyler Durden), but most of the portrayals are greatly exaggerated, or just outright wrong in some cases.
For example, in Fight Club, the narrator:
Doesn't remember his own name
Is entirely unaware of his alternate
Doesn't "split" personalities until his 20's (this is said to occur in early childhood)
2. Personality Disorders aren't like other mental illnesses
After giving me a disclaimer that he hasn't treated Lars from the movie Lars And The Real Girl, and therefor his "diagnosis is complete speculation", Ryan offers that he does see symptoms of Schizoid Personality Disorder. Uhhhh... What? I think this was the point where I knew I was in over my head with this stuff.
So, I learned that Schizoid Personality Disorder is part of a short list of disorders, and often presents itself during the teen years or the early 20's; all personality disorders usually do. Here's the thing, once someone "has" a personality disorder, that's it.
Unlike things such as depression or anxiety that have symptoms that come and go, personality disorders become a literal and permanent change. It becomes that person's personality.
3. It was going to be difficult to talk about certain subjects
I have Bipolar Disorder. I have no problem saying that, or typing it, or yelling it. I am completely desensitized to the feelings of embarrassment and shame that I once felt if I were to tell someone. That's because I've talked and written about it a million times now. It's a good thing; I'm proud of my ability to be transparent, and I hope that can help someone else like me.
...but it wasn't like that when I first started working with Ryan. Once I realized that real people, especially people I knew personally, would likely hear all of this, it was tough. Ryan stuck by me (and still does) through that discomfort. He let me know that I didn't have to continue, but that if I did, he would be right there, too. You can actually listen in episode 3 where I was unable to talk about this movie, and Ryan was right there with me.
4. Certain portrayals in pop culture were going to piss me off
The subject of suicide has been hands down the hardest discussion to have. Not only does it hit close to home for me, it does for a lot of other people, too. Ryan and I do not take anything we talk about lightly, but I would say that we try to be extra careful when talking about suicide. It's a huge and important topic that has to be treated with respect and backed up by knowledge.
That being said:
13 Reason Why blew my mind with it's lack of self-awareness. I mean, you would think they would have had some sort of committee to approve scripts that involve the subject of suicide. Especially for a show where the entire story-line was centered around it! Instead, we saw a show that used suicide as a way to create a super-cool mystery, dude.
Not only do they show us an absolute horror story of what school counselors look like, but we also see adults mostly portrayed as either complicit or absent.
...and then there's the main character, Hannah, who's had some very real and traumatic things happen to her, but the show barely even tries to explore the realities of what this has done to her mentally. We get next to no conversation about the actual mental health issues that surround her suicide. Does she have PTSD? Anxiety? Panic? Dissociation? Depression? None of this information is ever given to us specifically. She's just shown as sad and angry. That's not enough!
This show was marketed to teenagers, and if they wanted to create a mystery around a suicide, they needed to use that as a way to provide a whole lot more insight to their audience than they did. As it is, we have a show where a young girl takes her own life, creates a National Treasure-like puzzle, and then, even though she's dead, still appears in every episode -- securing a visualization of suicide as an impermanent thing.
The show didn't even put a disclaimer/trigger warning at the beginning until people couldn't get their jaws off the ground.
5. My co-host was all about trying new things (just like me)
Even though Ryan and I had worked together on his previous podcast in producer/host capacity, we didn't actually talk very much until we became co-hosts for Pop Psych 101. So, at this point it's episode 5, and we've decided to do a Halloween special ("special" lololol).
In my head I wanted the episode to be really light-hearted with spooky themed music, and I had made up a game show that I thought would be really fun to play!
Here's the thing though, Ryan and I barely knew each other. Even worse, I don't think either of us even knew what we wanted our show to be: we were just kind of... making something.
The rest isn't even complicated, I just said, " I have this idea (for the game show)", and he went, "Yea, we can try it." That was it. It never even occurred to me that this other person who was making a podcast with me, might also, uh, enjoy it.
Even though there would be many, ridiculous, overly self-conscious questions and conversations (on my part) in the future, I learned it was okay to try new things with new people.
...Stay tuned for PART 2: Episodes 6 - 10
Mike Graham is a mental health advocate, podcaster, producer, husband and stay-at-home dad. He co-hosts the mental health podcast, Pop Psych 101 | Mental Health in Pop Culture