[00:00:05] Speaker A: Welcome to the Empowered to Connect podcast where we come together to discuss a healing centered approach to engagement and well being for ourselves, our families and our communities. I'm JD. Wilson and I am your host. And today on the show, we've got Dr. Maureen Michelle, who has a fascinating story of walking through unbelievable, difficult early days of parenting and what her expectations were versus her reality. And then her journey of going from a point where she thought was a moment she couldn't go on from and she needed to make some changes and the work that she did internally to change her perspective and her outlook on everything she was going through. I won't spoil it because you've got to hear her story and then what that has yielded in her life as of now in terms of her ability to care for families with long term illnesses as well as being able to care for her own family and her own self. She's got some great advice for parents today. And so Dr. Marie Michelle is a physician, she's an author, she is a parent, she is a life coach and she has a wealth of experience when it comes to helping families overcome unbelievable grief and so she is working in a bunch of those capacities. Now you'll hear all about it now. We're so excited to have her with us. Please welcome now Dr. Maria Michelle.
Hey, before we jump in today to the show, sorry for the pump fake. And I told you that Maureen was coming and now she's not as me again. But I had two big announcements I wanted to make for you. Number one is pay attention to your podcast feeds this Friday. We have got something special for you. So I'm going to say you should check that email that just came in. Probably better podcast for Friday, but check out a special episode, new episode Friday of the Etc podcast. That's all I will say. But we got something for you. It's coming this Friday secondarily. If you are listening to this live as it drops, we are going to be having our first ever Global Connection event, a fundraiser for Empower to connect happening here in Memphis, Tennessee on November twelveTH. As I said, with special guest SNL host Nate Bargetzi, we are so excited for him to come in. Personally, my favorite comedian, hands down, no question, love his stuff. And so when we had the opportunity to have him come in to share his comedy with you guys, oh my gosh, huge win. So Nate will be presenting a brand new full hour of comedy on November twelveTH at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. And so if you would like to attend that event, if you want to come, tickets are available still. We have a few tickets left for the event so you can head to the link in our bio or in our show notes or you can just go to empoweredtoconnect.org slash Investing in Hope. Again, a few tickets available. We'll have dinner, drinks on us and an hour of comedy with Nate. Hear about the exciting updates that we've got going on. What are we working on? What does our future look like? What did we accomplish this past year? We will share those things with you at the event and we just hope to see so many of you there. November twelveTH at the Peabody Hotel to see Nate Brigesi, a brand new hour of comedy from him as well as to hear about the amazing stuff happening ATC, and if I do say so myself, a worthy fundraiser. We are trying to do a lot right now, and we need your support. So hope to see you. November twelveTH [email protected]
. Investing in Hope and we will see you then. Okay, now, for real. Our interview with Dr. Maureen you.
Well, we're here with Dr. Maureen today and we're just excited to hear from you. So thank you, first of all, for coming on. And why don't you know, I would imagine a lot of people are familiar with your story, but for people who are not familiar with your story, do you mind just kind of sharing with us who you are and sort of what the origins were of kind of driving you into the work that you're doing now?
[00:04:25] Speaker B: Yeah, absolutely. So first let me just say thank you for allowing me to be on your show and chat with you and share my story with your audience.
I will kind of start with growing up, that I grew up in a house full of kids. I was one of five very kind of stereotypical family at that time where my dad was very strict and my mom was a stay at home mom who was like, no, wait till your dad gets home. And I just say that because I think that culture of growing up in that house where we didn't really share emotions, we didn't really ask for help, was really the foundation for problems in my life during childhood. Really had two goals, a goal to be a doctor and a goal to be a mom.
And I was fortunate and able to accomplish both of those goals.
I am now a pediatric allergist immunologist and also a life coach who helps parents who have chronically ill kids because when I was a resident in pediatrics, my then infant daughter was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, which is a type of pediatric cancer, and my world crashed.
I stood by her when she went through chemo and surgery and all the whole works that go along with the diagnosis of pediatric cancer and really personally went into a very dark place at that time with time and with kind of some self reflection got out of that dark place. But it was during that time that I didn't want to ask for help and didn't want to share with people how scared I was scared that I was going to lose my daughter, scared that I was going to lose this dream of being a mom and being a doctor.
Fast forward twelve years later.
When my daughter was twelve, I got to be the doctor to diagnose her with type one diabetes, which then again, I thought we had already kind of checked that box on bad things happening to your kid, like you get a pass card for the rest of their lives. But no, it was like in a tiny school bathroom that I was the doctor who figured out that she was urinating frequently and drinking a lot because her pancreas wasn't working to produce insulin. And again, my world crashed.
I knew what life was going to be like in that dark place because I had experienced it before and I refused to go back to that dark place. So at that time really did a lot of work on myself to make sure that all of these thoughts that were going in my head of I don't want her to have diabetes, like being afraid that what if she has a low blood sugar and doesn't have something to fix? It all was like I was spinning on those thoughts and needed to figure out how to kind of quiet the chaos of my mind and be the parent that I wanted to be.
[00:08:58] Speaker A: That's a lot that you hear. First of all, I want to go back to the first so when you are walking with your daughter through neuroblastoma and you just casually mentioned and then twelve years later, it's a long gap, right?
Did the black cloud kind of lift at any point during that twelve years? Did you find that whole twelve years to be a pretty tough cycle of kind of sadness and darkness? Or how did that go and then how did that inform that moment being a breaking point for you in the back?
[00:09:34] Speaker B: So that's a great question and thank you for catching me on the fast forward twelve years and kind of just glossing right over what really happened.
And I will tell you every year that we got farther away from the cancer diagnosis, it became a little bit easier. Like, I worried a little bit less, but there were peaks that came because my daughter throughout that time, still needed to go have follow ups and CT scans to make sure the cancer didn't recur. And every time that there was a follow up, that I could feel myself, all of these emotions coming back. Yeah, I was lucky though, because I am a doctor, which means that I have friends who are colleagues who knew about mental health and knew things to say to me to kind of help me during that time.
I will also say though, that being a doctor was also really hard during that time because when I got the diagnosis of my daughter, I knew exactly what that meant because I had taken care of kids who had neuroblastoma before. So sometimes being naive causes stress, sometimes knowing too much causes stress.
But I was lucky to have a community that cared about me and cared about my mental health to be able to call me out know, Maureen, you keep saying you're fine, but you don't look okay.
We need people like that in our.
[00:11:56] Speaker A: So that kind of leads into the moment of the diabetes diagnosis. And then you've talked about obviously having patients who would come in who you would kind of almost internally roll your eyes at, like, oh, you're stressed out about this. You have no idea, sister. So when that moment comes and you're beginning to wrestle with diabetes, you guys are walking through that together.
I've heard you in other interviews say that that was kind of your breaking point and where you knew, okay, something's got to give here. And so what were your first steps of stepping out of that and beginning to seek some help? Where did you turn for that and how'd you know what to do?
[00:12:40] Speaker B: Yeah, so I will tell you. I'm not sure I really knew what to do.
It was a fear of going back to the darkness that I had when she was an infant. And I was so grounded in my goals of being a good mom and my goal of being a good physician that I knew I needed help because I didn't want to let go of those goals because they were really like, what brought me joy. Like, I loved being able to see patients in clinic. I loved being a mom, but I was being consumed and not really having joy in either of those two roles because I was in my own head all the time and just consumed with being overwhelmed with guilt and fear and just all the things that come with caring for a kid who has lots of medical challenges. So the the first thing that I did, I will be perfectly frank with your audience, was listen to podcasts because I knew the information I needed was out there. I just needed to figure out what was going to work for me. And so going and being able to educate myself was kind of that first step.
But I will even say that before that step, the real first step was wanting to make a change in how my brain was functioning at the time and really being aware that I needed help and being okay with allowing somebody else whether they knew they were helping me or not allowing somebody else to influence how I was thinking about life at the time.
[00:15:15] Speaker A: Who did you turn to? You don't have to say the person's name, but where did you turn to to start that once you were starting to recognize that where'd you turn?
[00:15:24] Speaker B: Yeah. So first was podcast. Then I went to books. Then I was like, look, I need somebody to talk to. So I went to one of the mental health providers at our hospital to really have somebody to be able to really hear me out and allow me to get all of this that's going on in my head, like, just saying it out loud and not judging myself for it. Because I think a lot of times that we feel like we don't want to admit something that is true because we have already said it's too shameful. Like, I can't even admit that to myself, so I'm not even going to say it out loud or I'm too embarrassed, or if I say it, that means I am really scared, but I'm trying to push this fear down so that it's not coming out in my everyday life.
[00:16:44] Speaker A: Make it till you make it, right?
[00:16:46] Speaker B: Yeah, exactly.
And then through all of this, I found coaching. And life coaching is a little bit different than therapy. And I found in working with a coach that I was really becoming at peace with myself.
And I could see that the work I was doing on myself was also kind of going out and changing my kids, changing the way I interacted with parents and patients in clinic and interacting with colleagues.
I became a certified life coach because I wanted the tools to be able to mentor people in my job. But I quickly realized that those tools that helped me as a parent were helping my patients in clinic, too, which is now why I do a lot of coaching in addition to medicine.
[00:18:09] Speaker A: Yeah, with all your free time. Right, right, okay.
Yeah. I'm really interested in that aspect of, like, you begin to experience some freedom, and then the residual carryover is that you're noticing a change in your parenting, but you weren't going to the coaching saying, all right, tell me how to be a better parent.
The better parenting kind of came from being a healthier person, and then you're able to recognize how to give your kids better attention and what they need and all that.
And then I'm also interested in just knowing with your you've got three kids, so one is having pretty significant medical struggles. We know that doesn't happen in a vacuum. And so how were you looking out for your other two kids during this process? How was that for them? And what did you learn about yourself during that time of parenting them as well?
[00:19:04] Speaker B: Yeah, so I have three kids who are all totally different human beings, and I don't know, about a year ago was reflecting on how different they are as humans. And I was reflecting from the standpoint of, well, that's interesting that they're different because genetically they're from same mom, same dad. Like, how can they be that different? But you know what?
They are different because each of them had a different mom. And what I mean by that is that even though I biologically am their mom, I was a different person for each of my kids. And anybody who is a parent will learn things along the way and try it on their next kid. And maybe it works, maybe it doesn't, and then you try something else. And that is just how life happens with anything. And parenting is no different. So I can tell you my oldest, who was two at the time that my daughter was diagnosed with neuroblastoma.
Looking back, I know he lost his toddler years because he didn't really have a mom during that time. And I at some point along this journey felt very guilty about it because I felt like, oh, I should have done better for him. I should have paid more attention or done more kind of one on one time with him. But you know what? That anytime we say I should have it is so not helpful because all it does is bring up guilt and blame and the letting that go and understanding no, I was doing the best I could in that time with what I had and being proud of what I did at that time. Maybe if I could go back in time, I'd do it differently now that I've lived through it. But you have to just do your best and let go the mistakes that may have happened along the way because nobody's perfect.
[00:22:01] Speaker A: I've heard you say this before, but I'd love for us to talk about it now. You are beginning in this transformation. You're starting to notice that all these changes and then it becomes apparent like, okay, now I am a healthier person with my patients in my office and I'm able to relate to them in a different way. Will you talk about that some maybe the difference of you mentioned a little bit the push through personality that you kind of had when you were in the middle of the most stress. And so we could tell us about kind of what some of those practical differences were, whether it was like bedside manner or time you spent or whatever.
[00:22:39] Speaker B: Yeah. So living through all of this, the number one thing I learned was that parents who have kids with health issues, they become very good liars. And what I mean by that is that outside people often ask, how are you doing? And I go back to the way I was raised and like, you don't ask for help because asking for help is a sign of failure. So I would always respond. I'm fine, I'm fine. And those words were so far from the truth.
It's really I learned and appreciated that they were saying that, but not really living a life where things were fine and so understanding that allowed me, when I was taking care of patients, to spend a little bit more time. If I asked them, how are things going with little Johnny's surgeries? And the mom would say, oh, things are no, no, I want to know, how are they?
Is things okay at home? Are you able to spend a few minutes for yourself?
How are things really? So it was going deeper in questions when I got very vague answers back because I knew those vague answers were so not true.
[00:24:33] Speaker A: Yeah, you're like, oh, I know this game, I played this.
So when you think about kind of how it's changed you and then if we're looking at the world on a bigger scale, right now is a pretty unique time in.
I mean, I've heard it described as we're experiencing. Mental health epidemic or possibly pandemic globally with with like we've all experienced a pretty unique shared trauma in the last couple of years and then with constant images of war and violence that are streaming seemingly everywhere at all times. We're in a unique time in history. And so when you think about the future of medicine and kind of maybe what you've learned, what would your hope be for that field going forward, knowing what the needs are going to continue to be for parents and kids and caregivers in that space?
[00:25:26] Speaker B: So I work very hard to make it clear to folks that taking care of your brain is as important as what food you put in your body and how often you exercise. And so talking about mental health is so important because we really need to work on getting rid of the stigma that goes on with trying to get help. And I think we're better at it now. We are not perfect, and especially in the medical field because physicians to be credentialed at a hospital, have to check a form to say whether they've received mental health care. And so I've had physicians that I've worked with that are like, I'm not going to go see a mental health provider because I don't want to check it on the form. So getting rid of things that impact the ability to get mental health care I think is so important.
But we're better.
I, in coaching, am able to make an impact on somebody's brain in a different way than a psychiatrist or psychologist would, but still better able to show them that we have a choice when we face challenges.
And that choice is either curl up in a ball and hide in a corner or understand that life ebbs and flows. We're always going to get challenges in our life and so we can take this challenge and turn it into some sort of gift. And those are our two choices, either crumble up or make it a gift. And I have really learned through my life that those big challenges I face with my daughter, they are an absolute gift. That was hard to say at the time, but the confidence that I have in that now really translates to other parents who are going through it too, and knowing that it's going to be okay. It is going to be okay.
[00:28:11] Speaker A: Do you see a future where those lines are blurred and we begin to just have neighborhood clinics that both serve mental and medical needs without lines between them?
[00:28:26] Speaker B: I hope that we even have better mental health in schools for our kids because if you don't start early, then it's hard to really start a habit when you're an adult. It's way easier when you're a kid. And that goes for teaching a kid a foreign language is much easier than an adult knowing a foreign language. So why not make it part of school in a better way than we do right now? Like right now we have school guidance counselors who sometimes work with a group of kids. Sometimes they're not part of the school.
It is kind of hit or miss on whether there's a real impact there. Let's really focus our impact on making it a habit for young kids so that they grow up with good, healthy way to process emotions and talk about how they're feeling and asking for help.
So, yeah, I would love to see mental health and medical health all being part of the same thing, but I'd like it even earlier.
[00:29:59] Speaker A: Yeah, I love that. I have a friend I am trying to I don't know if bully is the right word, but I'm trying to coax into coming and talking about that very idea. There's a chance that that might get piloted, I'll just say in the southeastern United States somewhere, sometime.
So I'm fascinated by it because I think of and even I have several friends who are guidance counselors who are doing the absolute best they can with the 260 kids per guidance they've got to watch out for. And the guidance counseling covers sometimes in high school settings, college prep and college admissions and bullying, dealing with anger, loss, like that. So it's the impossible task, right?
[00:30:48] Speaker B: Right.
[00:30:48] Speaker A: Yeah, I think that would be fantastic.
I'd love to kind of shift into some of the work that you are most specialized in. It is helping coach and care for parents who currently have kids who have chronic health issues. And so maybe not advice, or maybe it is advice. What are some of the things that you are working on now? Are there issues that you see or challenges you see that face every family in that situation? I know there are some unique challenges, obviously, that pop up interchangeably. What are some of the things that you see happening all the time and how do you speak to those things?
[00:31:28] Speaker B: Yeah, so a couple of things come to mind when you ask me that. And first I will say that when a parent has a kid with health issues and they realize those health issues are going to be around for a longer period of time, it is almost like experiencing a tremendous amount of grief about a life that they thought they were going to have and now realize that that life is not going to happen. And so those stages of grief that we often refer to when somebody is experiencing a loss, a parent of a chronically ill kid goes through all of those stages in talking about denial and then finally getting to acceptance that this is the life that I am now going to live with my child. So understanding that it's okay to go through that grief and it's part of the process sometimes just hearing that is so valuable because it's often felt like it's a very isolating event when the life they thought they had has died.
The other big thing I will say that I talk about with families a lot is advocating for their kid because a child with health issues is going to need somebody to advocate for them, whether it be in the doctor's office, whether it be in the classroom.
And some parents just don't have the courage and confidence to advocate. And then when they do, they feel like, I didn't do it well, I should have done it better. And there's that should statement again, that focuses blame and guilt back on. So it's teaching them to have that courage to really do to advocate for their kid in a way that they want to. And then finally, I would say the other piece is learning to ask for help, that it is not a sign of failure. It is actually a sign of strength when somebody is able to verbalize like, I need help with this, that it's okay because we're not supposed to do everything perfectly and we're not supposed to be the experts in everything in life. So asking for help is okay. And teaching them and getting out of that kind of limiting belief that it's a sign of failure becomes an important part of their journey too.
[00:34:55] Speaker A: I love that. That's huge. And I think a big part of that we've watched friends walk through some of these things. And a big part of that, when done right, is helping to identify who is really able to be here with me in this and really be in it with me and who cannot handle it and who is going to need to step aside during this time and not be part of this inner circle. Do you have advice for how to form that circle of friends or how to pick your partner, so to speak, when you get to this place of needing to really hunker down in your circle?
[00:35:34] Speaker B: Yeah, I mean, sometimes it's being very objective and taking emotion out of it and just kind of picturing yourself as an outside observer and who is it that is going to do the best job at what I need done?
The other part that I would say too, that through my journey with my daughter, I have realized we all need help at some point in time. And I know when a friend's kid is going through some sort of health issues. And they say to me, no, I'm fine. I'm like, no, I want to help you.
But sometimes as the parent who has the sick child, you have so much on your mind that you cannot say, okay, fine, you do my laundry or make me dinner because there's so much on your mind you don't even want to go there. So I now have become better at saying, hey, look, I know you say you don't want help.
I am going to make you dinner, or I'm going to take your other kids to the park. Or I do offer them the tasks that I needed done when I was a parent in their shoes, so that they don't have to think about it and they can just say, yes, come on Monday.
[00:37:19] Speaker A: That's fantastic.
Okay. We're wrapping up with Dr. Maureen. And I think maybe my last question for you would just know with all of the experience that you've had, the things that you're working on now, how have you noticed in your own life like caring for yourself, evolve and develop. And have you had to learn different iterations of taking care of yourself through these different phases of life that have come up?
[00:37:50] Speaker B: Oh, for sure.
And I will say now I know how important it is for somebody who is parenting a kid with any sort of issues they need to take care of themselves.
Just look at riding on an airplane and in the airplane they say put the adults oxygen mask on before the kids.
That is such an analogy to how things go in life.
You cannot do a good job or the best job of taking care of your kid if your cup isn't full and your oxygen mask isn't on. So I now know that taking care of myself is done without guilt and I prioritize it. And it doesn't need to be like several hours or all day. Just give yourself a few minutes to journal or a few minutes to write down some gratitude.
Just time to collect your thoughts and that can be enough to keep your oxygen mask.
[00:39:23] Speaker A: We had. There's a good friend of ours who's a therapist in michigan, krista woodweike, who's on our board here. And she had talked about at one point on one of our shows, there's a difference between self indulgence and a lot of times I think of self care as like, well, I've got to go spend 3 hours at the spa and get all these things done.
And this is stereotypical, but for men, sometimes I need to get away and go play golf or go, whatever. And those things can be therapeutic for sure, but oftentimes they're also not building in what you actually need when you're doing that. And so I think that's super wise and I appreciate that a lot.
Any last pieces of advice or words for parents right now who are just going through it? Anything else that you. Want to say before we go today.
[00:40:11] Speaker B: I would just say just remember you are doing the best you can with the resources that you have right now and give yourself a little bit of grace because it will be okay.
[00:40:27] Speaker A: Awesome. Dr. Maureen, thank you so much for joining us.
[00:40:31] Speaker B: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
[00:40:39] Speaker A: Well, I hope that you got as much out of that conversation with Dr. Michelle as I did.
Man, just what a fascinating story and guest and just that reminder we talk about all the time at Etc. The need for parents to take care of their own stuff, to figure out their own triggers and realize where certain reactions are coming from. But we refer to it often as doing the work. We have got to as parents, do the work on ourselves, to offer ourselves whole and full and healthy for our kids. So if you have a hope of raising healthy children, it obviously comes from the ability to take care of yourself, be a healthy person yourself, to be able to show and model for your kids what that is, as well as being able to then help scaffold and teach them how to do that in their own lives. And so just a wonderful conversation. What a kind human being. So just really enjoyed having Maureen on with us today and hope that you did as well. You should go buy her book. You can find it linked in the show notes for everybody here at Empowered. To connect for Bo ander Director and Senior Program Director here at C, for Kyle Wright who edits engineers all the audio tag, the creator of the music behind Empowered Today podcast, I'm JD. Wilson and we will see you next week on.