I believe our culture perpetuates ideals that make us feel there is something wrong with us if we aren’t perfectly happy, healthy, productive and successful all of the time. We feel as if we’re not good enough, or as if we have something to be ashamed of, if the sun isn’t forever shining upon us and from within us. I also believe social media inspires this incredible sense of “not enough.” We scroll through our feeds and see images and stories that show only the bright side of life, making us feel we should be more, better, faster, stronger, thinner. This contributes to the idea that the alternative — the darker, more real, raw and challenging sides of life are less desirable and more shameful. Finally, we live in a culture that frowns upon weakness and feeds on fear. If we shame, isolate and chastise those that are imperfect and weak, how can people with mental illness struggle openly without fear of judgment?
As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to normalize the focus on mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Liz O’Carroll. Liz is a health coach, speaker and founder of Misfit Wellness , a platform dedicated to making a healthier diet and lifestyle feel approachable and sustainable, especially for those who struggle with mental and physical health issues. Liz is deeply passionate about exposing people to the transformative power of the holistic and integrated approach to wellness that changed her life. Through the Misfit Wellness platform, health coaching, workshops, and public speaking, Liz provides tools and resources that simplify and streamline the path to optimal health. She aims to create a shared experience around health and healing by providing the resources, support, and sense of community often missing in our health journeys. Liz specializes in helping those struggling with gut and hormone imbalances, food allergies, depression, disordered eating, body image issues, and chronic stress.
Thank you so much for joining us Liz! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
Struggling with depression, disordered eating and a variety of health issues since childhood made me painfully aware of how isolating and frustrating dealing with health issues can be. I was still utterly unprepared, however, to navigate the pain, shame and complications surrounding the PCOS, infertility, hypothyroidism, spinal osteoarthritis and lymphedema diagnoses that would plague my early 30s. Combined with chronic stress, gut issues, my marriage, and my parent’s divorce, these health issues and major life changes came together in a perfect storm that revealed how inadequate women’s health resources and support are. When the dust settled, I became determined to find a way to make health and happiness easier to achieve for other women than they have been for me.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
I believe our culture perpetuates ideals that make us feel there is something wrong with us if we aren’t perfectly happy, healthy, productive and successful all of the time. We feel as if we’re not good enough, or as if we have something to be ashamed of, if the sun isn’t forever shining upon us and from within us.
I also believe social media inspires this incredible sense of “not enough.” We scroll through our feeds and see images and stories that show only the bright side of life, making us feel we should be more, better, faster, stronger, thinner. This contributes to the idea that the alternative — the darker, more real, raw and challenging sides of life are less desirable and more shameful.
Finally, we live in a culture that frowns upon weakness and feeds on fear. If we shame, isolate and chastise those that are imperfect and weak, how can people with mental illness struggle openly without fear of judgment?
Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?
By telling my story on social media, hosting community events focused on mental health, and doing private and public speaking engagements focused on stigmatized health topics, I aim to create safe spaces for people to open up about topics affecting mental (and physical) health. I believe creating more opportunities for people to share their truth in a shame-and-judgment-free environment is the best way I can help de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness.
Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?
My personal experiences with mental and physical health, as well as my experience growing up with a mother who battles mental health issues, have together made me eager to connect women to the support and information they need to be well. I often wonder how my mother’s life would have been different, and how my life would be different, had mental health been de-stigmatized long ago. I hope to make this battle easier on women like us by doing what I’m doing.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
a) Individuals supporting people suffering from mental illness should stay close, speak up, and let them know you are there. Check-in regularly, and encourage them to seek professional support and empower themselves with knowledge around risk factors, lifestyle choices and treatment options.
b) Our society can better support people suffering from mental illness by making mental health a part of the conversation from a very young age. We should all have deeper understanding of mental health that allows us to be more proactive around achieving and maintaining it, and better equips us to manage issues with our own mental health and that of those around us.
c) Our government can better support people suffering from mental illness by providing better benefits supporting therapy, support groups, and treatment across all socioeconomic groups. In addition, education around mental health should be required in all schools.
What are the 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
1. Sufficient, high-quality sleep: Until I changed careers, I had no idea how much lack of sleep was contributing to my depressive episodes. I burned the candle at both ends for most of my 20s and paid the price with crashes as bad as in my hormonal teen years. Once I started to prioritize sleep, I found my depression and burnout periods were far less extreme. Cutting out caffeine and sugar to ensure deep, high-quality sleep has also helped a great deal.
2. Daily mindful movement: Mindful movement helps me check in with my brain and body and be more proactive about what they need. It also adds that endorphin boost that can be really helpful for keeping me from withdrawing and sinking into depression when I feel myself teetering on the edge. Nature, sunshine, and movement all boost my mood and are simple things that make me feel better even when I am depressed.
3. A whole foods-based diet that prioritizes blood sugar stabilization: Until I started to eat a balanced diet full of nutrient-dense whole, real foods, I never realized how much highly processed foods full of refined sugar were contributing to depression and mood instability. Now that I try to eat in a way that supports even moods and healthy hormones, my depressive episodes are fewer and farther between, and less severe.
4. Stress management through daily meditation: Like a poor diet, stress has a big impact on my hormones which in turn impacts my depression quite a bit. I’ve found that managing my stress with morning meditation, journaling, and other mindful practices has helped my depression from being so extreme and taxing. It still comes, but it doesn’t flatten me like it did before I managed stress more proactively.
5. Regular therapy: Depression has a loud and influential voice that I’ve found affects my self-esteem quite a bit. Lack of motivation, overwhelm and fear used to make me feel weak and ashamed before I was in regular therapy with a practitioner that helped me understand those feelings are human, normal and often par for the course with depression. Therapy has helped me separate depressive symptoms from my identity in a way that has been liberating.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
WomanCode by Alisa Vitti
A Mind of Your Own by Kelly Brogan, MD
Mood Cure by Julia Ross, MA
The Hormone Cure, by Sarah Gottfried, MD
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!