Mental Health Champions: “Try to make others smile” with Sherry Genga

My last strategy for healthy wellbeing is easy and free to provide. I really try and make others smile because when I smile they smile and all their quiet sadness escapes them for a while. A smile is contagious and infectious the best medicine for the soul, changing the grey clouds to shinning blue skies […]

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My last strategy for healthy wellbeing is easy and free to provide. I really try and make others smile because when I smile they smile and all their quiet sadness escapes them for a while. A smile is contagious and infectious the best medicine for the soul, changing the grey clouds to shinning blue skies changing their mood.

As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to normalize the focus on mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Sherry Genga. Sherry is the owner and founder of Spring-eze women shoe inserts. Sherry’s entrepreneurship evolved from her current 25-year career in the High Roller lounge at Foxwoods Resort and Casino. She has spoken in classrooms to young entrepreneurs at local colleges. Inspiring them with the skills and resources on how to invent and develop a new product. This philosophy led her to the Connecticut Manufacturing Resource Center program, which helps small and midsize businesses in areas such as supplier development and securing a manufacturer for their product. Sherry is married to Jason Genga and has two children, Justin and Nicole. She resides in her small town in Connecticut where she grew up.

Thank you so much for joining us Sherry! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

Growing up with someone really close to me who was fighting mental illness inspired me to write this book, The Shattered Oak. My character “Barbara” had the courage and determination to give her the strength to move forward. Her powerful story needed to be told to help others like her fight domestic violence, depression, suicide and a misdiagnosis of mental illness that led her to an institution. A quote from her physician is compellingly saying, “We as physicians, must always question that the obvious answer may not be correct. Medicine is a career of learning, unlearning and learning anew as new diseases and cures are discovered. We should avoid questioning a diagnosis or treatment as was well demonstrated by this book.-Mark Tuttle, MD

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?

Mental illness can still be used as a dirty word. Emotional and physical abuse are still something we hide. You put these two words together and you enter the explosive narrative that is in Barbara’s world described in The Shattered Oak. Her incarceration of a mental institution created the stigma of guilt, failure, and shame.

Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?

The Shattered Oak story is based on a true story leading readers to discover that the past can ultimately affect the present. Past neglect, the stress of child abuse, and abandonment feelings in early adolescence can carry deep emotions through our adulthoods lives. Even though Barbara attempted to commit suicide three times, she was unaware of the underlining medical cause of her depression. Sometimes stress can play major roles in making us ill. Even though our psychologists may deem some minds mentally unstable, there may be an underlying condition affecting the patients’ behavior. Some people are not lucky enough to discover that they are not mentally unstable but ultimately their mind may be convoluted because of a disease.

Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?

The story I want to be told is to help others cope with mental illness by inspiring them with courage and the ability to move forward with determination without feeling alone. By reading Barbara’s story in The Shattered Oak I want to empower those to stay strong by embracing their stance with two feet on the ground. This will fuel their survival with the power of faith.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

We as individuals can play a huge part in society by listening to what we hear. Everyone wants to be heard. We all need is to look for the warning signs. Sometimes we can’t fathom that our friend, sibling, mother or father committed suicide. People around them felt like they were so happy, always laughing and smiling, never revealing signs that they were so depressed. Look at Robin Williams the famous comedian, who was always passing a joke. Suicidal people often wear a mask and rarely share their depression or feel alone where they cannot trust anyone, and they keep their thoughts a secret. Suicidal people want their privacy and don’t have the courage to ask for help when their mental state manifests the thoughts of choosing death. They feel like they are in a vacuum, with darkness slowly seeping in and their breathing trending towards hyperventilation. Suicidal minds can feel blurred and even upside down, bringing them to the brink of insanity. In successful attempts, their demise is silent and not very forgiving. I know first-hand as having a family member who experienced several suicide attempts.

The survival of the victim and her family in The Shattered Oak inspires us and reminds us that if we are struggling with thoughts of suicide there are resources available. Family members should watch for the warning signs and not let the victim distance themselves from everyone. Suicide is on the rise and it is time we looked more closely at the link to stress from a variety of conditions.

As far as government policies go, I feel they can play a role to make sure insurance cover patients with mental illness. Without insurance, many people suffer silently and alone with no choice because they cannot afford to get the professional help they need.

What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

1. First, I always remind myself to be grateful. Gratefulness gets me through a bad day. On my way to work if I pass a homeless person, sadness engulfs me and my heart sinks. There is always something we can find in our lives small or big to be grateful for. When our minds in that perspective fill us up inside, wonderful things happen.

2. A huge role in my personality is to stay focused on the positive. In any given situation there are always two ways to look at life; a positive force and a negative. Negative thoughts just wear you down to the brink of insanity, so I try and shed light on the positive. My own confidence gets stronger and I have healthier, happier wellbeing.

3. With positivity running through my mind I try and stay focused and try to surround myself with positive people as much as possible. The people you associate with can influence your self-worth. By having a good friend, coworkers or groups this can make you feel worthy and grounded to help you through your own difficult times.

4. I get inspired and enjoy that I tend to gravitate towards the wise person of the group, creating that feeling of warmth and inspiration that helps me to grow. We do learn from the environment that we choose to surround ourselves with. This will instill me the courage to be united and strong.

5. Daily exercise for me is a dose of medicine. I need this to release toxins and unload my stress. The harder I work the more I exercise. It feels like my dose of vitamins to me. Nature and fresh air enhance my wellbeing. The smell of the ocean and the moss of the trees find me great peace and serenity, raising my endorphins and lowering my cortisol levels from stress.

6. My last strategy for healthy wellbeing is easy and free to provide. I really try and make others smile because when I smile they smile and all their quiet sadness escapes them for a while. A smile is contagious and infectious the best medicine for the soul, changing the grey clouds to shinning blue skies changing their mood.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

My favorite books are two memoirs The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls and Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan. Their emotional journey these women take to remind me vividly of Barbara in The Shattered Oak. Their similarities show tremendous strength and courage.

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