Episode 34: Mental Health Awareness

Chris Wells & Emma Nicholson

Release date: May 23, 2023

**Content warning**: Please be aware that this episode contains sensitive topics such as addiction, death, suicide, and trauma.

In episode 34, Chris and Emma talked about mental health. The episode is a part of SENG’s outreach efforts for Mental Health Awareness Month. We discussed the theory of positive disintegration as an invaluable tool for reframing our personal beliefs.

How can big emotions be helpful in your development and not a sign of mental illness? We talk about our experiences with difficult emotions and tough times, and how the theory of positive disintegration offered us a new way to see ourselves as “not broken.” We also discuss how Dąbrowski’s invaluable work is contrary to what we see on mental health websites—and how the theory’s absence (and the lack of information about neurodiversity) in mental health spaces could be robbing people of essential tools to help themselves. We’re left with the ultimate question of how we can make positive disintegration more visible in mental health spaces, where it can be of real benefit.

Also, in this episode, Chris shared about the loss of her friend and mentor, Dr. Frank Falk, who was our guest in episode five. Frank was a social psychologist and statistician who worked closely with Chris for the past several years as they studied Dąbrowski’s theory together in depth.

Frank will be deeply missed, and we dedicate this episode to his memory.

Links from this episode:

SENG website (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted)

Obituary for R. Frank Falk, Ph.D.

Episode 5: Researching Overexcitability with Frank Falk

The Origins and Conceptual Evolution of Overexcitability by Wells & Falk (ResearchGate)

Advanced Development Journal (via GDC website)

The Primary Importance of the Inner Experience of Giftedness by Chris Wells (ResearchGate)

Stories Lived. Stories Told. Podcast with Abbie VanMeter

Resources from the Dabrowski Center

Peace Pilgrim’s book can be acquired free of charge

Transcript

Emma: Welcome to Positive Disintegration, a path to authenticity. In this episode, Chris and I are going to be discussing mental health for Mental Health Awareness Month, and a shout out to our good friends at SENG for asking us to do this episode. We're going to be talking about some difficult themes, so I'd like to start with a content warning. We talk about addiction, trauma and suicide, so please take care with this episode.

We're also sorry to announce that Dr. Frank Falk, Director of Research at the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development, passed away on April 23, 2023, in Denver, Colorado. Frank was Chris's friend, colleague and mentor, and joined us on Episode 5 about Researching Overexcitability. Frank was a social psychologist and statistician who spent more than 40 years studying Dabrowski's theory. He was a major supporter of the Dabrowski Center and the podcast, and he will be deeply and sorely missed. His wife Nancy is also a close friend and colleague and long-time student of the theory, and our sympathies go out to her during this difficult time.

We hope that by talking about difficult emotions, mental health, and the theory of positive disintegration, we do justice and service to his memory. Frank, this episode is for you.

Welcome to Positive Disintegration Podcast. I'm your host, Emma Nicholson, and with me is co-host, Dr. Chris Wells. G'day, Chris.

Chris: G'day, Emma. How are you?

Emma: I'm decidedly average this morning. My niece got married last night, which was a fantastic event, but poor old Aunty Emma forgot that she doesn't drink a whole lot these days and had decidedly too many beers. For those of you who don't know Australianisms, you're about to get a whole heap of them. So, obviously, I was on the piss, as we say, was drinking, it was a good night. I then took a stack, which means I fell over into a garden bed. I've got one twisted knee, I'm hobbling around in a knee brace. This morning I was feeling quite poorly and spent a little bit of time, as we say, driving the porcelain bus. I was a little bit ill. So, I was not feeling the best physically.

Chris: I'm sorry to hear that. I hope you can still have this conversation. But just saying that, I know that you can. Don't feel bad because I'm also feeling very average today. My mind is not where it usually is when we record because I have had a tough six weeks at this point.

Last month, I got COVID for the first time and I was quite sick. It surprised me how sick I was. I had a bad cough and was having a hard time breathing at times. I have asthma and I haven't required an inhaler in years. So, it was a lot. And then, just as I was recovering and feeling well again from COVID, my friend and mentor, Frank Falk, passed away. And so, I'm not in a great place. I'm still really struggling with that. And yet, this is real, and this is how life is. So, I still wanted to show up and have this conversation with you.

Emma: Because that's what we plan to talk about today, I guess. We don't have a guest on today. It's just Chris and I having a chat. But we wanted to put an episode together for Mental Health Awareness Month. Sometimes these things happen to us in life. And I guess, Chris, you're an example of sometimes things can be fine one minute. And then the next minute, stuff in your world just isn't quite right. So we want to talk about the theory and how that can possibly sit in the mental health space and how it might help us navigate some of this tough stuff that we might be going through.

Chris: That's right. Although I have to say, as I was trying to prepare for this episode, I kept thinking about my own experiences with mental health treatment and the fact that I used to really see myself as mentally ill. I've thought a lot about stigma. So, those are the places where I was coming from.

But when it comes to the theory, I thought, Frank died and how do I deal with it? I go to what I've written about him because I'm a writer, and I've documented so much about these relationships in my life. So, I've been reading what I wrote about Frank and looking at our emails, listening to recordings that I have of him. I have an interview I did with him about Michael Piechowski. I have recorded sessions of the Dabrowski Study Group. I have recordings of conference presentations we did together.

When I first was getting to know Frank and his wife Nancy, and Michael, I saw myself as mentally ill. When I met Frank and Nancy, I was still taking medication for bipolar disorder and ADHD and anxiety. I was still going to a psychiatrist. I had a completely different perspective of myself than I do now.

It really comes through in the writing with Frank that he was the one who sat down with me and really delved into the theory. We would meet week after week after week at the Gifted Development Center here in Colorado and sit down with Dabrowski's writings, and with Michael's. We examined data. We studied this together. That's what's on my mind when I'm thinking about mental health tonight—my own experiences of it from a lot of different perspectives.

There's so much to say about what's wrong with mental health treatment and how hard it is to get the right help, to find the right framework, to understand what's going on with yourself. And that is where this theory really shines compared to the typical understanding that's available for people, at least in my opinion.

Emma: I agree. One thing I wanted to talk to you about in particular—because obviously you know the theory so well, and you've gone through this experience of having it reframe how you see yourself. I think the first thing I wanted to dive into was, what is it about the theory that Dabrowski says that people who are struggling with this, what are the key aspects of the theory in particular that you found resonated with you or were helpful as part of that reframing? I have my thoughts on it, but I just want to hear your perspective first.

Chris: Well, when I read about the overexcitabilities, that was the first thing I was reading about. Because I came to it first from the gifted ed literature and Michael's work. I remember reading the descriptions of overexcitabilities and thinking that these were things that I had considered wrong with me, especially emotional. Imaginational, too, because I had that experience of having an imaginal world, and I considered that something wrong with me.

The same thing with emotional overexcitability. I saw that as a personal failing, a flaw, a mental illness, a mood disorder. It had never occurred to me that there was anything positive about being so emotional like I am or being so intellectual because that's always been something that really sets me apart in a way that is isolating. I have felt like very few people in my life have ever related to how intellectual I am, and so seeing these things reframed as positive was pretty mind-blowing.

Then there were the dynamisms. All of them I recognized in myself, and I had not seen these as strengths at all. So, this new perspective really blew me away. And it's not like I came to it and immediately embraced it because I didn't. It took time. But as soon as I read that material for the first time, it definitely permeated my consciousness in a way that immediately led to cracks in the foundation of my belief about myself as mentally ill. I thought, it's alarming. It's interesting. It was a lot to take in. What about for you?

Emma: I feel similar about that. What you said about cracks showing is an interesting analogy for me because I found it was a long journey to really start believing these sorts of things. You read them on an intellectual level and your mind takes it in, but it takes a while to actually believe it and it's almost like a disintegration of how you view yourself.

So, similar to you, I found overexcitability enormously helpful for the first point. All those traits and things that I thought that I had, as you said—oh, these are obviously flaws. Why can't I cope with life? And it's like, oh, okay, maybe these aren't flaws. And you start having these little paradigm shifts.

The other thing that really resonated with me was the concept that psychoneurosis is not an illness. Seeing those big emotions, and that they actually had a role in development, and that all those big feelings that you have aren't necessarily bad mental health. Because, similar to you, I'd always thought that I was just struggling the entire time, and why can't I maintain good mental health like everybody else does? This actually explained to me why I was the way I was, that it was okay to feel those big emotions and more to the point that they could actually be useful and purposeful.

Even in the last year, what you said about the dynamisms, it's taken me a long time to see those—what we'd call negative emotions normally—as being useful and purposeful. I did that Hartman Value Profile a while ago. So, this value profile judges how you see the outside world and also how you see yourself. I got such a shitty score with my self-esteem that I broke the tool a little bit. And that really rattled me. I'm like, why do I still feel so badly about myself? And I had a series of realizations after that.

That propensity for me to find fault in myself wasn't just a lack of self-esteem, it was actually dynamisms at work. So, all those things like guilt and shame and dissatisfaction with yourself, they're actually what Dabrowski calls out as being necessary for reshaping your behavior. Looking at the dynamisms has really helped me go, these things actually have a purpose. How can they be flaws if they actually serve that mechanism of the carrots and the sticks, the good feelings and the bad feelings? You still need the sticks, right? You still need those bad, negative feelings. How can there actually be something wrong with me if they're helping me develop and they're helping guide my behavior.

It wasn't just the overexcitability part for me, it was seeing that all those big, scary emotions that normally, when you go to mental health websites or services, they're like, don't feel that stuff. That's bad. We don't want to feel those things. Hang on, if they've got a role in my development, why am I trying to shut them out? Why am I trying to get rid of them? Maybe they serve a purpose, and if they serve a purpose, how can they possibly be flaws?

Obviously, you've got to figure out a way to harness that and do something with it through your autopsychotherapy and stuff. But how can I be flawed if on the other end of the scale you've got someone who's a narcissist who thinks there's nothing wrong with themselves, that they're perfect and there's nothing to change? Clearly this stuff has a useful role and maybe we shouldn't be stigmatizing it so much or trying to shut it out. Because the minute you do that, you're really shutting out your own development. It took me quite a while to make that shift in thinking.

I think the mental health space is like in this in-between phase where they talk about these big emotions. They're okay to have them. Everybody goes through them. I think there's less of a stigma about talking about mental health, but at the end of the day, their solution to this is to, well, shut it down, get rid of it. And I think there's still another part to that journey to embracing and accepting it and going, okay, how do I actually use these to my benefit?

Chris: I was just making notes because you're prompting a lot of thoughts for me. The first is that I think with the dynamisms in spontaneous multilevel disintegration—some of these dynamisms are very emotionally charged, like dissatisfaction with yourself. So let's use that one actually as a good example of what I was just thinking of—action and developing your will, moving forward. All of those things are what have to happen. That's what I saw you do after the Hartman value profile. It was like a shock to see your results and you could have just wallowed in that, you could have pushed back from it, ignored it. But I think the most important thing is that when you face something about yourself, that's hard, taking action and making that vertical move out of it.

I'm writing a book right now. So are you. I think you'll find it interesting listeners to know that we're each writing a book right now. You have a head start in the sense that you have a much higher word count than me right now of actual text for your manuscript.

But I'm behind you because I have this huge amount of writing that I've been trying to go through and write from—that's my process. I've been reading a lot about times of disintegration in my life.

But unilevel disintegration—you talk about like the carrot and stick dynamisms—and those dynamisms are so different than the unilevel ones. The unilevel ones: ambivalence, ambitendencies, the second factor—they're different. They don't have that stick part that makes you realize that you're screwing up. So what happens is you have these fluctuations in your mood. You have self-sabotaging behaviors. You're worried about what other people think. You're worried about how you look or how you're presenting yourself to a degree that is getting in your own way. Unilevel disintegration can look a lot of different ways. It can also have multilevel elements present. When I look at my times of unilevel disintegration, I know that there are multilevel elements there, too.

What's interesting to me now is that the worst times of my life, when I really saw myself as the sickest in terms of mental health—when I was taking 17 pills a day, when I was like in and out of the hospital numerous times—those were times when the unilevel dynamisms weren't pushing me into growth, adequately. I was making the same mistakes, and I wasn't really facing who I was and what was going on. I was also going through trauma though. I think that that's important to note that.

All of the times of unilevel disintegration for me were also times of trauma. But ultimately, the movement comes when you start taking action, when you take your development into your own hands. I've seen that look a lot of different ways over my life. And it looks different now than it did when I was young. But it's been really fascinating for me to work on this book and see my development and how it's changed. And I'm sure that you must be going through the same thing right now as you're working on your book.

Emma: Yeah, it has been. And because I'm trying to write about the theory in a way that the layperson can easily grapple with and figure out—where am I in this particular journey and what can I do about it?

One of the things that has started to become more and more obvious is you've got to put the work in to walk your talk. And sometimes you don't really know what that work's going to look like for you. Because I remember early on when we first met, I was like, where is there actually a description of what you're supposed to do in autopsychotherapy? Why hasn't Dabrowski said that?

Eventually, I grappled with the realization that it's going to look different for everybody depending on what they're going through and what they respond to. So, for you, writing is a major tool. And for me as well—writing, going back and writing about my life and certain things has helped get through realizations, but that's not going to work for everybody. Some people just don't write, so maybe journaling or whatever is not the answer.

I think that's part of the challenge. I've seen that the dynamisms, they're pretty universal. Dabrowski did a really good job of describing this thing that gives these underpinning principles to and experiences that could be very broad and vast, but those sorts of feelings are pretty common. But it's like, well, what do you do with yourself insofar as the work and how do you push through it?

It's a little bit like self-love. Even if you don't get it wholly right and you don't end up getting to a place where you're 100% comfortable with yourself and you always love yourself and sometimes you can still be hard and beat yourself up a little bit. It's the trying that sometimes counts, even though you might be going through cycles of—okay, well, that didn't work completely.

Because I think sometimes, we view mental health as there's going to be this one magic bullet that's going to just fix everything. And for a long time, I think that's been medication. It's just like, take this pill and it'll fix all your problems. It's like, no, no, it fucking won't. And I think having that view of it being a longer journey, you're going to improve things little bit by little bit in little cycles and step-by-step.

I think for me, that's the that's one of the important things that's come out of this whole process of writing. That you find a new thing, and you fix that, and then you find the next thing, and then you fix that and eventually, if you fix enough little things, and concentrate on doing those steps to the best of your capability, eventually it'll make a difference. That's the one thing that stood out—that while it's all well and good to understand the landscape and that, it's like, well, how do you move forward when moving forward looks different for everybody? It might be a slow, laborious, piece by piece process.

Chris: I think one of the things that I've gotten from Michael Piechowski's work that has been such a blessing for me is his case studies of the exemplars because I feel that they do exactly what you're describing in that they're talking about the way to live—this is the way to the higher path. The writing of Peace Pilgrim, Eleanor Roosevelt, these people that he's written about say things that when I read them, I'm like, yes, this is the guidebook to how to do it. It's really clear to me.

On the other hand, I hear what you're saying. The layers and layers and layers in my story of what was going on, how much I was in my own way because of the way my mind works. You said it's the trying that counts. I had this drive to actualize who I am, even when I was young and even when I thought I was mentally ill.

I kept trying to go back to college. I went away to school right after high school. Then I had to leave after two years because my parents couldn't afford for me to keep going. I came home and I started going to school part-time. And then I had a couple of suicide attempts, and I was hospitalized. Then I went on disability for mental illness, but I never stopped trying to go back to school. I would try and I would fail and not finish the semester. I would try again, and I would fail, and I would try, and I would fail. I went to 10 colleges and universities over my educational history because I knew that I wanted to be a scholar and I knew that I had this mission, right?

But that took years and years and years to work through. And so, each layer of the story was like chipping away at who I really am, and that's a theme—every disintegration brought me closer to who I really am. I kept learning, and I learned how to be a better person. I learned how to be a person and how to treat people well. Ultimately, it was also important to learn how to treat myself well.

I think that's what I'm doing right now in the aftermath of Frank dying. I've been protecting my time. I can't talk to people right now. I'm the kind of person who needs to grieve in solitude. So, if you're writing to me right now, I normally am much more open. I have not been on social media. I don't want to do any of that right now. I need to be on my own. But this is something I've had to learn—how to have boundaries, how to really honor myself and my process. I feel really good about being able to do that relatively kindly. And I appreciate the people in my life who have supported me through this, continue to reach out. I appreciate you, even though I'm the kind of person who likes to withdraw.

The other thing you said that I wanted to touch on is the magic bullet of pills. Because when I was a kid, I was sure that there was some medication that was going to fix me. I tried pill after pill after pill. It's sad to me now to look back on my journal entries and see, well, if I double this one, and my doctor went with that. It's hard to look back and see that no one could reach me. I was so defended against being able to hear that I wasn't really mentally ill.

There were actually clinicians who were like, you're not really mentally ill. You can get out of this by changing the way you're living. By changing the stories that you're telling about yourself. That was part of my problem. As long as I was telling myself I was severely mentally ill, I was going to be severely mentally ill. I had to learn a way out of that.

That's one of the things I got from Dabrowski's theory. It gave me a way out of thinking of myself as broken. It gave me the tools that I needed to move forward. But all of that happened in relationships. I think one of the things that's important to remember is that our personal growth doesn't happen in a vacuum, and it's the relationships in our lives that allow us to let the dynamisms unfold to some degree. A lot of what we learn about how to act right in the world is based on our relationships with people.

Emma: Well, not only how we've learned to act in the world in the first place is based on relationships, but the more I've thought about this theory, particularly trying to get my thoughts on paper about it, this comes back to values and relationships. When I think about values as being the things that are important to you and the standards of behavior that you have, all our behaviors—they're based on our values for a start. So, what we think is important, what we think is right. But also most of our stuff is in relation to how we act with other people. It's like interpersonal things.

What we consider right and wrong is all behavior towards other people or the world at large. That's why our values are so important because they drive us to acting towards other people in appropriate ways that are in line with how we feel. Without other people around you, without a world at large, your values are pretty meaningless because if it's just you, and you're the last person on the face of the earth, being empathetic doesn't matter anymore. Whether or not you steal doesn't matter anymore. None of the stuff that we think about authentic behavior, that all goes out the window, because there's no one to behave with.

I think the other thing that I wanted to touch on, Chris, is what you were saying with everything about the magic bullet and how you see yourself—whether or not you see yourself as mentally ill. We've got this framework that talks about how our feelings help us develop. We're talking about our stories as it's a long series of realizations and hard work and doing things bit by bit, and figuring out who we are. All that is completely counter to what we see in mental health spaces because, for a start, those negative emotions are seen as the exception, not the rule, so there's no recognition of the fact that, well, maybe you do go through a very long series of bad feelings and working on yourself for a very long time, and that's perfectly okay.

That's really what Dabrowski is getting at, but that's not what we see in treatment. It's all fix this and fix it quick. And your bad feelings, your negative emotions, all those stick dynamisms, they should be the exception, not the rule. That should make up such a small portion of your life. We don't want it to happen, if preferable and if possible. So, the way that we tackle this stuff, generally speaking, is so counter to what we see play out in our own stories and the stories that we hear of other people about these long journeys of self-exploration and figuring out that all the shit that we go through, all those negative feelings, they're not actually a sign of being broken.

There's nothing to fix. What we're trying to fix isn't those dynamisms and isn't those emotions. What we're trying to fix is aligning our behavior to our true values, figuring out what our true values are in the first place, working on self, figuring out who the hell we are in the first place. That's what's important, but it's like sticking a freaking band-aid on cancer. It's not helpful. The root cause of the stuff is still going to be there, no matter how many freaking pills that you throw at it. All the shit that is causing these dynamisms, all that misalignment with values that causes the stuff isn't even being looked at.

Chris: It's true. You made me think of a conversation I had with Michael at some point where I was trying to think about the essence of my story and how to describe it in this writing process. He was like, well, your story is of discovering and affirming your own values. I think of it that way, and it's true. At the end of the day, that's what it comes back to—when I was struggling, when I was younger, when I was using drugs especially. When I say “using drugs”—I was trying to kill myself with drugs. It's because I was living with my alcoholic father, I realize now, and it's so interesting to me.

I've thought a lot about what—were the multilevel shifts in my story? I see that I had these times of unilevel disintegration. Well, what were the moments that took me out of them?

One thing that is really clear is that I was always able to see things in my imagination and then make them happen. I was able to watch myself get well, and then I could make it happen in real life. That's something that happened multiple times for me. And the emotions were always there, too.

I think the most important shift that I've had in my adult life happened when I was first getting to know Michael and first studying the theory. I decided to take my life in my own hands. I stopped taking medication and I stopped going to the doctor. I'm not saying that anybody else should do that. I'm not recommending that path, but that's what I did because I was studying this theory of positive disintegration. I said, okay, I need to see what happens when I'm not on any medication. I had been taking medication for like 23 or 24 years. I didn't even know who I was [without medication]. So, I had to figure all that out and it took time and was the best decision I ever made.

The third factor is all about choice, but not just choice. You're not only making the choice and you're not only affirming the things about yourself that are you, and rejecting the parts that aren't, but you're also taking that action. It's more than an intellectual exercise. You're engaging your will and enacting, embodying in your life.

Emma: Part of that will to take action starts with that whole feeling like you're worthwhile fixing. And maybe there's not something grievously wrong with me that can't be fixed. When I made attempts on my life, I was at a point that I'm like, I'm so freaking broken. There is something wrong with me. I'm defective. And it's never going to be fixed. This will never be solved. I am just a waste of space. I'm an oxygen thief, and I don't deserve my place on this planet.

Which is a huge difference to how I think about myself now. I don't see myself as broken. The challenges and the negative feelings that I have are purposeful, but also that I'm worthwhile working on and that working on myself in the right way using the theory can actually bear fruit and is useful and it's helped me so much. I talked to you about the fact that the whole reason why I started writing that book is that we're sitting on this tool that can be so helpful to some people that are going through these things. Because unless you actually know about the theory, you can't utilize it.

We've got this tool and it fucking works. In some instances, it's an absolute lifesaver. In my mind, we've got a responsibility to get it out there in as many places as humanly possible so that it can help other people because I've seen the magic that it can do because it's happened in my life. It's happened in your life, Chris. It's happened in the lives of plenty of the people that we've had on the podcast. Even some of the feedback that we get with emails is how much of a game changer this theory can be, but it's just not out where it needs to be.

Chris: I'm glad you mentioned the people who write to us because that's part of what I feel bad right now. It's hard to keep up. We get a lot of emails from people who resonate with what we're saying and who get it. I want you to know how meaningful that is for us. We try to get back to everybody and we will get back to you eventually. We appreciate everybody's patience.

It's amazing to me that I went through all of this. I wish that I had known when I was young that all of that suffering meant something. That something positive would come from it. I had no idea, and I wanted to kill myself. I couldn't see what was on the other side of my suffering.

Emma: We're talking about this tool and how useful it is, and one of my observations is that anytime that I go to a mental health website looking at what their content is or how they're framing mental health, you never see any mention of neurodivergence. So, when we're talking about why people might feel depressed or anxious, never any mention that, oh, perhaps you might be neurodivergent, maybe that's why you've got really big feelings, or perhaps that's why you have a bit more anxiety than the average Joe. There's no mention of that.

That really bothers me. But there's also a real lack of recognition as to Dabrowski's theory—of that role of emotions and how they can be normal responses to the world. There seems that fundamental lack of saying that sometimes it's okay to feel like shit, particularly when circumstances in your life are shit, and this is going to be a normal response.

Because that's part of the reason why I ended up on antidepressants at one point, and I decided to stop taking them. If they had just probed a little bit further before tucking me on pills, they would have understood that I was in such a shit situation with my home life that it's like, dude, you've got to leave. Really, that's your solution. The pills were not the solution. The solution was to get out of the shitty circumstances that I was in. But when you're looking at mental health websites, they're all like, well, it's something within you that you're just having these bad feelings. And it's like, where is the recognition that there's some really vulnerable people out there and they're just having a normal response to the crap in their lives?

Even if you're not conscious of it, some people can be struggling, maybe they're getting career fatigue, or their relationship's starting to go sour, or they're just struggling. We're now seeing articles about finances lead to adverse mental health. It's like, I don't see that as adverse mental health. If you're struggling with money and you're always broke, it's normal to feel like that. But there's no recognition of the normalcy and the situations where sometimes these things are quite fine things to feel.

Chris: Oh, absolutely. You made me think of a conversation that I had with Frank, actually, about this book Developmental Psychotherapy. It's an unpublished manuscript from Dabrowski. And Frank, when he was reading that book, he was so blown away by learning about Dabrowski's therapeutic approach with his patients. Dabrowski would sit down with his patients and help them come to conclusions about who they were. He would help them understand their developmental potential and frame it for them as strengths and identify what kind of dynamisms were going on with them.

So, when Frank was reading this stuff, after spending his career working with overexcitability, he was seeing that it was this theory that applied to mental health and to helping people out of suffering. It was like such a cool thing to work through that kind of book with him and see the way that this stuff really holds up and that that's what we want to do for people now.

We should be helping people identify—if you have overexcitabilities, these are not things that are wrong with you. You do have to learn how to live like this, but like you said, you also have to take stock of your environment—what is my life like right now?

When I was suffering in these times that I've been describing today, I was living with my alcoholic father, like I said. This man died at 52 from alcoholism. It was a traumatic situation to have a parent like that. There were also traumatic events happening in my life that went along with how we were living. I've witnessed violent events, and it was traumatic on multiple levels. It was a natural reaction to my environment to be feeling those feelings and struggling like I was. It's sad that I thought it was something wrong with me. It blows me away that I was always like, oh, this is a mental illness. It's not a natural reaction to this environment where my father has signs of dementia in his early forties from alcohol. That was traumatic.

Emma: It probably is. And it's a perfectly normal trauma response as well. When I say normal, I mean like anyone else who was going through that probably would have had some of the same reactions, but this is the whole band aid on cancer thing, right? It's like we're looking at the symptoms and, oh, you've got these bad feelings, let's like deal with that. And sometimes when people go to therapy and that people are trying to dig down to the underlying causes of this.

But for people who aren't actually engaged with a professional and aren't going to therapy, maybe they can't afford it, or maybe they're a bit nervous about it, some of that information needs to sit in the public space. To open up those conversations in the first place, to say, okay, this is how anyone would react to those circumstances. Maybe you've got circumstances in your life that are giving you trauma or bad emotions, but that's okay, and it's okay to need to talk to someone about it. But if you don't mention that and open the doorway for those ideas to get into people's head, if you don't start saying the message, maybe you're not broken, and open that door of thought, then there's so many people that are just going to stay hidden and aren't going to come forward with their stuff.

Chris: You have to crack that door so that somebody can see that there's another way of looking at it. That's absolutely what happened to me.

Last weekend, we had the Dabrowski Study Group and Frank ran the study group. It was our first one without him. So, we were talking a lot about him. It's hard for me to believe now the way that things unfolded. That I met these people, and they had the impact that they had on me.

I met Frank and Nancy, and Nancy was like, oh, you should write a paper for the journal Advanced Development about the autoethnography you did. Because I was telling them about the study that I did to figure out what had gone wrong—the research question for my autoethnography was what went wrong with me? How did I go from gifted child to mental patient? I was trying to understand how I could be gifted and mentally ill. So, I'm describing it to them. She was like, well, you should write a paper about that. And I did.

I wrote this paper, I submitted it, and that's how I met Michael. He first wrote to me as an editor, and he offered to help me with this paper. He was like, this is pretty rough right now, but you have the stories, and you did this work. So, yeah, I'll help you. But I saw him as so intimidating. I didn't want to work on the paper with him. I was like, I don't want to [work with] Michael Piechowski. He's going to tell me that it's overexcitability. I knew that I was mentally ill. It's such a trip in retrospect to remember that I was like, “Oh, I don't want this guy to challenge my thinking.”

But that's exactly what he did. He was like, “I don't see your ADHD. I don't see your mental illness.”

He definitely just saw it as overexcitability and giftedness. But there was a lot of truth to that. It turns out that there's not something wrong with me. I identify as neurodivergent. I don't know exactly what labels I would have, but I know that I'm atypical. But there's nothing wrong with me.

Emma: No, but can you imagine having that conversation on a large scale? If it was hard for you to take that message and shift your thinking that, oh, maybe I'm not broken. Maybe this is not mental illness. Doing that on a large scale is daunting, to say the least. To try and put this theory out and say to all sorts of people that are currently working in the mental health space, “Hey, here's a new way to think about things, but it might really break your head open and challenge the way that you're thinking about shit.”

That seems like a monumental hurdle because the way of thinking with the theory is so drastically different and you are going to push those things that people are holding on to, these really deep-set beliefs, not just about how people see themselves, but how they view mental health, anxiety, depression as a whole. This is not an easy conversation to have on a broad scale, let alone with one person.

Chris: Yeah, absolutely. I think that that's what I'm hoping we'll be able to get across with the podcast. I know that there are practitioners who listen to it. We have a variety of listeners.

Emma: We do have a variety of listeners, but I think it's necessary that we start talking about this stuff. Because if we just try and talk about it from a therapist's perspective, we're going to get pushback. And there's going to be people that don't want to work with the theory. We can't rely on people who are in treatment to take this theory to their therapist and go, “Here's something I want to discuss. I found this new way of thinking. Can we talk about it?”

I think we have to attack this from as many angles as possible even to make an inroad simply because it is so challenging to the way people are thinking about stuff at the moment.

Chris: I hope we can reach people. I never know how to talk about it. The most effective way to reach the most people—I realize that I have a tendency personally to be too in the weeds with details. It's because I have been trained to be a scholar. This is my job is to be in the details about stuff.

But I realize that that's not going to be my most effective way to bring the theory to the to the people. And that's who I want to bring it to. Of course, I want to do academic work, but at the end of the day, I want to reach you, listener, and help you get the most benefit out of this theory. Whether you need it because you're struggling right now or because you're doing work with people and you want to help them with it, I think that we're just trying to cast the widest net.

Feel free to give us feedback on what you think would help us be more effective if you have it. We're certainly open to that.

Emma: We went on that CMM podcast and we were talking about—we've got to try and hang our mirrors so people can see themselves reflected in this thing in as many places as possible. It's like, we've got the mirror, but has anyone got any nails or a hammer or some spare wall space that we can stick this on?

So, it's funny that you said, give us feedback. I'm thinking, yeah, if anyone's got any ideas on mental health spaces or other places that we can talk about this theory, I'd invite you to let us know. Because that's the challenge Chris and I have at the moment. How do we open the door, get our foot in, to enable us to talk about this stuff and have these challenging conversations in the right spaces? I'm a bit stuck. I don't know the answer to that question.

Chris: I think it's more than even just asking the question. I want to give permission to people who are listening right now—go forth with the theory and apply it. Use it however you see fit. Use it to make your lives more effective and to help other people. We need to constantly be thinking, who can we help with this theory? How can we bring it to somebody who can benefit from it? That's the thing.

I want to acknowledge that it was SENG who asked us to do this episode and be a part of Mental Health Awareness Month. I'm grateful to Lin Lim. She has given us a chance to share with their audience. I'm grateful because I know that gifted people are the majority of our listeners and people who work in this field. This is who we're probably reaching more than anybody else right now, but we need to go beyond that population. This theory has such broad applicability beyond the gifted, that it's really important that we do the best we can to get the message out there. We're not able to do it on our own. So, thank you to everybody.

Thank you to Abbie [VanMeter]. I'm glad you mentioned that Stories Lived, Stories Told is the podcast that we were recently on. It's so great to be able to reach new audiences and to have these chances for collaboration with other people who have similar aims and goals.

I see a generational shift right now when it comes to those of us who or using the language of neurodivergence. When I said earlier, I don't know what labels I should apply to myself—I am comfortable with ADHD. That’s not something I think is wrong with me anymore, but I certainly used to. I put in my dissertation that I had “cognitive deficits” from ADHD. That's how I saw myself several years ago—as having something wrong with me. So, I know that when we're doing an episode like this, we're just trying to hold up a mirror to people. We're always trying to do that. We talk about that a lot.

I'm glad that we did this episode. I feel a lot better. I'm grateful that I was able to talk about Frank. I really needed to do that. Frank was on Episode 5 of the podcast, talking about Researching Overexcitability. He was such a kind, gentle person. The day I founded the Dabrowski Center, he sent me a check. He supported me in every way. I couldn't have asked for a better friend and mentor than Frank.

I have been very blessed to have Frank and Michael as my mentors. I needed both of them. They're such different people. Frank was so willing to get in the weeds with me. I could send him any thoughts. He was there for me and such a great person. I appreciated him so much and I miss him already. So, thanks for letting me talk about him, too.

Emma: That was beautiful. Thanks to you for being so open and talking about your stuff. I know it's a really difficult time for you at the moment, and Frank was a lovely, beautiful human, so no doubt you’re feeling his loss quite strongly. And for someone who feels things quite strongly anyway, that's saying something.

But also thanks to our listeners for being with us through what was a difficult conversation at times. I hope everybody's out there looking after yourself and, you know, Chris, it's an absolute pleasure and honor to be here as a friend to you and allow you the space to talk about this stuff. So, thank you. Thanks to our listeners. It's been a great conversation.

I'm going to challenge everybody out there—do it Frank, do it for Chris, do it for yourself. Whoever you need as your inspiration, go out there, share the message, as Chris said, work with the theory in whatever way is applicable to you, but share information as well. We sometimes talk about the fact that we don't never know who the theory is going to help. It might be someone in your life that you don't know that they need it, and we're really looking for needles in an eight billion human haystack who might not know that they're needles.

Share resources, links, whatever on your social media, talk about positive disintegration in as many spaces as you can and share this wonderful tool that's clearly made such a difference through beautiful, loving humans in both of our lives because you could be that beautiful, loving human that makes a difference in someone else's life.

Chris: That was perfect. Thank you so much, Emma. I've so appreciated your friendship and support through all of this. And thank you, listeners. I always feel connected with you. Frank was in the hospital at the end of his life, and he wasn't able to read anymore. But he was listening to the podcast, and it was so heartwarming to know that he could do that. He will be missed.

It's been a pleasure, as always. I didn't know that I was going to be able to do this, so thank you.

Emma: Thank you for sharing. Thank you for being here. It is always a pleasure. And thank you, listeners. We always appreciate you, too.