On this episode of “Healthier”, Oscar interviews Mitch Wallis, founder of the social movement, Heart On My Sleeve. 1 in 4 people are affected by mental health issues.
This movement lifts the taboo surrounding mental illness to let people know that they aren’t alone in their experiences, empowering them to live more fulfilled lives. Join the movement at https://heartonmysleeve.org/
The following is a transcript:
Do you ever just sit there and wish?
Well, in this podcast we talk to people that refuse to wish... They 'do'. They take action and get results.
Our goal is to inspire you to achieve greatness, dream bigger, aim higher.
This is 'Healthier' by Health With Results.
Oscar: And welcome, we have Mitch from 'Heart On My Sleeve' foundation, an incredibly inspirational person that I've come across in my ventures and I knew I just had to get him [laughter].
I just knew I had to get him on the show today to help inspire other people to stop dreaming and just to start taking action. That's what this is all about.
How are you going today Mitch?
Mitch: Totally man. Oscar, thank you very much for having me. I'm doing really well and I think you summarized it well.
You know, in my space, in mental health, we've got to move the conversation from awareness to actually going and talking.
Oscar: Yeah, absolutely man and so, tell me the backstory, who is Mitch? What do you represent?
Tell me about growing up and stuff, and just give us a quick summary of who Mitch is.
Mitch: Yeah, well I think the important thing to note is that the world saw Mitch one way, and I saw Mitch another. Ultimately, Heart On My Sleeve came about because I needed those two things to integrate.
For too long, there was tension between the social media me, flying around the world killing it, to, I'm actually a mess and hurting really, really badly and I need to sort of, share that pain in order to help heal.
So I'm a Sydney boy, born and raised. I grew up to a very good family with an incredibly privileged life and I think that's partly why I'm doing what I'm doing because I believe we all need to act from a place of privilege if we have it and be in service.
Yeah, normal. Very normal in its traditional setting, high school, girlfriends, parties the whole works.
After finishing high school I did quite well, Commerce, Sydney Uni, Undergrad. First intern at Microsoft.
Worked my way up through Microsoft in marketing and business planning. Got promoted over to Seattle where I was running part of the global product marketing team for Surface, their hardware division.
It was just this ticket that I couldn't have ever have scripted and you know receiving daily messages from my friends being like,
"Oh dude, just saw you in Milan with vogue. You're killing it over there!"
But what no one saw was, that whole time in the background, there was a debilitating level of anxiety, obsession, depression, depersonalization... That was making a lot of it... Was taking the taste out of a lot of these beautiful fruits that I was given.
So from about seven years old, I think I experienced my first signs or symptoms of mental illness.
I remember being in front of a grocery store with my mom, repetitively touching the dashboard of her car and blinking, and she sort of looked at me and she's like, what are you doing? I said I don't know, I just always feel anxious, I always feel upset.
She said why are you touching things?
I said well, it makes me feel better.
So we went to the doctor and the doctor said 'This is quite an anxious child. It looks like he's developing early signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder.'
That was, to me, the first time that someone officially said 'You're a crazy person'.
I didn't know what it meant, but that was my interpretation of it.
From then I guess, started a very confused life and self-identity where I was feeling things and thinking things that none of my friends would ever verbalize.
For example, I'd be walking down the street and be like, why do I feel like I could lose control of my body at random moment in time? Why do I feel panic when there are absolutely no threats in my environment? Why am I consistently ruminating on what that person said to me three days ago and I can't get it out of my mind? No-one was like that that I could see.
So, you know, I'm dealing with the s**t that's going on inside my body, in my brain, that's causing all this stuff. Plus I'm dealing with the shame and the guilt that was around that.
But because my career was going so well and because everything on the outside seemed to be stacking up, I didn't really stop and try and fix anything. When I did to go and see a counsellor or a psychologist nothing really happened.
I never really thought they fully got what I was saying and would tell me to go home and practice on breathing techniques and I'm just like... No... Like you really – something's missing the mark here, so I lost faith in the system.
It was about two years ago where I... For whatever reason, on this day, it's going well at work, but with incredible amounts of pressure and an increasing achievement status in my career. But I was having diminishing returns in my happiness, so I was like okay, something's going on and I was just like researching the s**t out of the mind and psychology every night trying to figure myself out.
So I'm like, well I need to formalize this and actually get into the meat of it.
So I applied to do my master's in psychology over in New York at Columbia University, somehow bribed my way in and got accepted – I didn't actually bribe them, just in case the law enforcement agencies are watching(or reading) and in that degree, the first day I was there I was like,
'Holy Moses', this is what I'm doing with my life. This is my calling. I need to do something in this space.
The second thing was, I can't operate in this space until I have serviced and worked out what's happening in my own self and in my own life.
Conveniently, after finishing my first semester there, I was blessed with the biggest mental breakdown in my entire life.
I think you know when you answer the call and when you really say I want to show up, the universe goes, okay.
The path to success isn't always pretty and I don't just mean the grind, because I guess people expect the grind. But when you answer the call about something that's yearning deep inside you, it also unearths all of the things that you need to process and integrate in order to even get to the grind.
For me, that was a very painful process of forcing myself into self-introspection and contemplation around who I was and why everything had started to happen.
I vividly remember I was in Seattle, I was having this meltdown. I dragged myself back to therapy because I had nowhere else to go and yet again, the psychologist just threw a bunch of diagnosis at me and I was just like, I'm officially lost.
I walked outside, fell to my knees and just started crying in the street. I honestly thought it was the beginning of the end, and I was pretty convinced of that.
That night out of desperation, because I had nothing else to lose – I started googling and YouTubing what I was going through and came across this guy's video, he was the rawest dude I've ever seen in my life.
He just told his story for about an hour and he's a no one. He just recorded himself with a webcam in his in his bedroom and I was like, wow.
Everything shifted in a single moment because it was the first time I'd felt understood and I was interested - it was interesting to me because nothing had like, he hasn't changed anything about my biology or my genetics. He's not a psychologist but yet, if this cup is full of pain, like 50% of it just evaporated because he gave me permission to be me. No longer was I fighting and resisting against the reality that I just wanted to deny and deny.
But it gave me – it allowed this sort of 'I'm weak, I'm broken, I should or shouldn't be something' an opportunity to dissolve, and with that dissolving came space to deal with what was going on.
So it didn't make me better, it just gave me room and changed my willingness to be vulnerable, 'cause, if he can be vulnerable, if he can be authentic, so can I.
I promised myself that if I ever felt stable again I would do everything that I could to share this space and this insight with a connection to as many people as I could. So I quit my job at Microsoft, flew home from America to Australia, moved in with my parents, literally gave up everything.
The only thing I had left was my story, my grandmother's car and my relationship with my parents.
I've had to do something so I grabbed the webcam, went down to the beach and was chatting to a friend and he's like 'Well, you're being really vulnerable and wearing your heart on your sleeve' and I'm like, why don't I just do that?
So I made this video, I drew a heart on my arm and I said, 'I don't know, I just don't anyone to feel alone, here's what I've been through. I'm shattering the illusion of this perfect life – if you feel the same way do it too.'
That night I'd landed on national news and within a week we'd reached a million people. A global movement started called 'Heart On My Sleeve' where people finally felt like there was a place they could come to be real – to use all their pain to transform that into meaning, to help another person relate to them and let go of the b*lls**t narrative – let go of the second layer, so that they could find the room to go and get better.
Now, twelve months down the track I'm no longer in the tech industry, I run a mental health movement and I devote my life full-time to helping people realize they're not alone, and reimagine the healing power of the mind.
Oscar: Yeah for sure man, and I think that a lot of people want to do good in the world, but I think we don't get to a place where we actually understand ourselves fully.
As we go through our lives as we do our jobs and I share a similar story to you and the whole corporate thing – You're conditioned by the people around you.
You're conditioned by the drive to feel success. You're conditioned by certain behaviours of people around you, and sometimes you can feel lost, not knowing really who you are, what your values are, what motivates you, what gets you out of bed or what makes you feel whole.
Part of the recovery is really finding meaning and taking a responsibility – like you said something amazing there, which really captured my attention: I believe if you are privileged you should act from a place as if you were privileged and help other people.
I resonate with that so much, because I come from a war-torn country and I'm an immigrant here. I just feel so privileged and I just want to help other people find themselves a lot more.
But that takes a lot of courage. That takes a lot of determination and strength because you're putting yourself under public scrutiny when you tell your story.
How did you find the courage to really get out there and say something?
Mitch: So I really resonate with what you're saying about 'If you've got a platform you got to use it' and a platform isn't something that exists right now – the platform is you.
I'm a straight white male who's born in an affluent suburb in one of the safest countries in the world.
That alone makes me a vehicle for change, whether I like it or not. And so I feel like I have to do something. Then layer on top of that the fact that I am currently surviving and managing my life with a mental illness.
Not a lot of people get to do that and so like, there's just no choice.
For me, it was less about finding the courage and more about – this is my life, I couldn't think of a better way to live it than being in service and making meaning from a painful experience.
So yeah, part of part of it was s**t scary and there was courage. I was bursting an illusion or a bubble, but the dividends and rewards that it pays to be real and be seen for who you truly are, far surpasses the fear.
Oscar: Yeah, absolutely. So, what does it mean to you to be able to help people and what's the best way for people that – 'cause you know, I help people that are trying to lose weight and you help people with a mental illness and I think there are some intersects there.
How do people get help? What's step one when you feel like the world is just crushing you beneath its weight, because that's what it feels like.
Where do you start?
Mitch: Yeah, there are huge similarities between body and mind, in the way that how you feel is such a body thing. Emotions are physically in the body. An emotion can't exist without a body and I think the way that you treat it is a two-way relationship.
I think similar to what a gym trainer would tell someone is kind of what I tell people about mental health, which is 80/20. 80/20 everything to do with your mental health. Pareto Principle that s**t as hard as you can.
Just because someone is flying to Bali and doing a quinoa diet doesn't mean that you have to as well, because that's not necessarily your path to mental well-being.
I think it's very much around like, the mindset and then the practices.
So the mindset has to be, 'I'm ready to embrace who I am'. Nothing can happen until that happens.
It's been proven in numerous models that's true, particularly Alcoholics Anonymous right, which is a great mental health model of how, until you surrender and say you know what? Before I make a change I need to accept where I am today and try and love that person first, because that makes the room for all the rest of it happening because you are pushing s**t uphill unless your mindset is in a place of self-acceptance and self-worth.
Then there are really practical, intangible things that you can go and do following the 80/20 rule where, for you – not this peanut butter approach – for you, what are the 20% of things that make 80% of the outcomes. That is a whole spectrum of things, but particularly when it comes to the body and the stuff that you're doing.
I'm a huge believer in body practices as one of my key 20% of inputs that give me 80% of my outcomes, and a couple things just to rattle off that are super random and highly impactful – Temperature. Temperature is something I play with a lot for my mental health.
I find that steam rooms and getting into a heated state in a night really helps me unwind. I'll have a hot shower, a hot bath or go to the gym and have a steam room every other day because it literally gets me back behind my eyes, into my skin after I've been operating up here all day at work.
Another thing is like my diet. I didn't really believe in the gut-brain connection before, I thought it was b*lls**t.
Now I'm hugely a believer. Anxious people, in particular, need to follow an anxious diet, which is low sugar, numero uno. I'm a real big believer, if you have mental health issues, particularly on the anxiety spectrum, you need to wash your sugar.
The second thing is, when it comes to diet, I'm not a huge believer in gluten. That's not a hipster statement. That is a scientific one. I think that leaky gut is causing a lot of nutrient deficiencies in people, so I try and eat as little gluten as I can. I'm not obsessive about it, which is again, is a key mindset to take into these practices – which is let yourself fail a little bit.
Let yourself have a bit of buffer room.
I guess it's the equivalent to a cheat day in a diet perspective. I think you need cheat days with your mind as well, where you do just f**king drop the ball and you roll into your bed in a fetal position and cry.
Give yourself a day a week to go do that and then for the rest of them be like okay I'll take another step forward.
Oscar: Especially people operate at 'high performance' like you, like to do what you're doing, you're carrying the burden on your shoulders and man, that can feel overwhelming sometimes.
Sometimes I just feel like just going, you know what, just having a big cry because I'm like, this is hard. And you do give yourself space to just feel sorry for yourself for a moment. Go, you know what, yeah, it's hard, but for some reason, I've just got to do what I'm doing. I've got to pursue this passion and yeah, sometimes I feel inadequate, but that's the journey of transformation.
It's like any transformation is going – I am not who I need to be today and to become that person I'm gonna go through s**t, I'm gonna go through hardship.
There's gonna be pieces of me that fall off, that shouldn't be there, and god, that's hard. It's just like when you're trying to come to a better life with mental health, or when you're trying to come to a better life of overcoming obesity. It's going to be a hard journey, but you gotta, you gotta fight the fight, because the rewards are there.
Mitch: Definitely man. One hundred percent.
What you said reminded me of an interview I did as part of the 'Heart On My Sleeve' series, getting these stories and this girl is hospitalized – friend of mine – she's hospitalized, probably, I don't know, two weeks out of every two months for a physical illness that they still don't know what the cause is.
I said, how are you doing this? You're not living. You don't get your 20's. Doesn't that destroy you?
She said, yeah but the thing is, is that, anger is the most toxic emotion. It will melt through metal, and if you constantly stay bitter at the world... You will dissolve.
Not in a good way, you will literally melt away. And so she says, 'I give myself a pity party every now and then', where she literally throws her toys out of the cot and she says 'Why f***ing me?' This is b*lls**t.
And, sorry for cussing on the interview but like, it's real.
She gets into her real self and lets that part of her out, instead of pretending that it's fine.
But she doesn't wallow in it. She has the moment, she closes that moment, and then she uses that as a way to move forward, to inspire people and to inspire herself.
Oscar: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's like the most powerful thing you could do, is come to an awareness of self.
One of my favourite psychologists, Carl Jung, talks about knowing thyself. And that's such a – because people don't know that – like, you can only really know yourself once you start studying psychology and you understand the various parts of yourself.
Stuff like integrating the shadow and realizing that there is, there is part of you that is a piece of s**t, you know.
There is part of you that is pathetic and useless and can't face up to the world. But there's also part of you. That's like a hero that's really strong and kind of going – what there are parts of me that aren't nice?
But, just learn to accept those and that's where all that – your message of authenticity resonates with me so much. You spend your whole life being inauthentic because of the pressures in social media, because of your career and the expectations that other people have you.
If you stop to be authentic like, your life can materially change.
Mitch: Yeah, definitely, a hundred per cent. Carl Jung is the man.
He says everyone in the world has split personalities. It's not just a multiple personality disorder.
Everyone, there's this multiplicity of selves that live within us. Some s**t scared and want to roll into the corner and go to mummy's leg, like the actual child.
The other is the adult that once tried to change the world. There are so many different parts of us and I think, from a clinical perspective, but also from my lived experience; I would say that it's about integrating those paths, not eradicating.
You can't send that child away and wish it wasn't part of the house.
You can't get rid of that really defensive protector that's trying to guide you from all this pain, but is also causing a lot of pain in the interim.
And you can't just cut them out like a balloon and hope that they float away.
I think it's around bringing them around the campfire and letting them have their say and everyone within the 'self' kind of starts to get along. This whole notion of integrated chaos, so, let it be chaotic, but let them all be chaotic together and communicate. Because a complex system operates its most effective when it's in its most complex state.
Oscar: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's such an important way to live. I think it brings about so much more meaning when you live life in that capacity, and when you fight for something greater than yourself.
To fight for the highest form of good that you have to contribute to the world, I think is a really powerful way to live authentically.
What would you say to people out there that have these dreams, deep, buried – and I'm talking about buried deep, deep, deep within layers of confusion and pressure and just, stuff?
Like, what would you say to people that feel that there's a dream of greater in there? How do they start to flesh out what that dream really is?
Mitch: Yeah, two things. And like anything, I'm a huge advocate for finding the grey, as in, there's never... There's never one way to do something.
I believe that all medicine is therapeutic, but depending on dosage, can be poisonous. So if I say... 'Do something one way' or 'My opinion is this', used to the fullest extent, that will always be dangerous.
So I believe all solutions need to have a bit of insight from both its counterparts. I'd say it's this delicate journey of listening and doing. From a listening perspective, it's all the parts of you that are saying "I can't, I can't, I can't."
It's not a matter of getting in there and f***ing whacking that voice out, and just being like, shut up and like, Tony Robbinsing that b**ch down, you know?
I'm not really a fan of that.
What I'm a fan of is breathing into that voice and saying, interesting. Not even needing for it to be something, even if it's the bully. We're never gonna punch the bully up. We just need to go, hmm, okay.
Let those voices be present and realise that you do have the strength and the power to sit with that uncertainty. To sit with that doubt.
To sit with that negativity and not become it.
That's the thing – just because that voice is saying that, doesn't mean that that's you and that doesn't paralyze you from taking action.
So once we've listened, we then tap into a bigger part of ourselves which can transcend all that b*lls**t chatter and we take one step forward every day. We focus so much, we're in an era of the Mark Zuckerberg and the Amazons where we think that if we don't create something in a year or overnight, that we're wrong.
I love Gary v's message on Instagram because you could summarize his 10,000 hours of content into one message, which is 'Be patient'.
Just be patient.
These things take time, and like losing weight, like getting your mental health right, all we need to do is take one step forward every day. One tiny step forward, because often when we don't know what to do, by taking that step forward we create the momentum and the universe just delivers the answer.
Or even if you don't believe in the universe, it physically will come to you. You'll know. But break that down.
'What one thing can I do today to get me one step closer to where I want to be' and that's all I need to worry about right now.
Oscar: Yeah, I harp on about understanding your 'why', because, and Frederick Nietzsche says 'If you understand your why you can overcome any 'how'.
So it's two things (I agree). It's like taking that like one small step forward, like, how can I be a little bit better than I was yesterday? But then having the reason to step forward and constantly reminding yourself of those reasons over and over and over and over again.
What's... What's your purpose, Mitch? What is your 'why' for moving forward every day?
Mitch: To make meaning out of pain.
Oscar: That's awesome.
Mitch: I think, I think that would be what keeps me going, is that some of its a refusal to have gone through everything that I have for nothing.
I don't believe that that there would be a God that evil.
And then the other part is how alive I feel when I'm doing what I love. And whenever I lose sight of that – because anything you love has s**t parts to it – and whenever I'm like, Heart On My Sleeve hasn't grown in a while, or, I'm sick of filling out grants for the government, or I'm like, what am I doing?
Something will happen where I'll have a conversation like this, or meet someone in the street who said 'Heart On My Sleeve to saved me from having a panic attack last week', or something that'll be like,
Oh yeah... This is what I'm here to do in this world.
I literally have one lady from Heart On My Sleeve, her face is – I work out of one-note, so every time I open one note the title of the tab is 'This is why you do it' and it's her face, and she literally told me – this community is... Is everything.
It changed her life and whenever I lose faith I look at her and then I look at me in the mirror and I'm like, 'other and self', this is why.
Oscar: Yeah, for sure. The power – you mentioned something there about looking at yourself in the mirror.
I truly believe in the power of self-talk you know, do you ever just look at yourself – Like, 'cause I do this all the time – Do you ever just look at yourself in the mirror and just talk to yourself? Like is that a, is that a good coping strategy, you think?
Mitch: Yeah, I mean... Self-talk, whether it's verbal or
nonverbal is really important because it's sort of just articulated thoughts, and your thoughts are incredibly important to mental health.
I think the reason why I like verbal self-talk is I'm a big fan of action. Like – stop planning start doing. The same thing applies to mental health.
Stop thinking about the way you can live and actually live it.
And I think saying it out loud is just a tiny representation to yourself that you want to make this real, that you are taking action. And even though you might not be physically performing what you're saying, if you're like, 'I want to be confident'. You are confident. You can show up well to this meeting. Although you're not physically in the meeting or showing up well yet, saying it out loud I think is the bridge between making it a thought to a reality, because you're bringing it into this world to be a real thing.
Oscar: Yeah, the power of speech man... It's powerful.
It's like, you know, you speak and things happen.
People divide. You can yell and a crowd will move for you. I think we need to act from a place of authority when we speak over ourselves and when we tell ourselves the behaviours that we want to adopt and the mindset shifts that we need to remove from our lives.
The power of the spoken word is, is so incredible.
Oscar: Mitch, I could easily speak to you all day man, but I know you've got so much to do – you're off to Europe tomorrow
You've got so much going on, so I just wanted to thank you for coming on the show and sharing your message of hope – being an inspiration to others – because I wish there were more people like you in the world that are taking action towards creating meaning out of pain.
If anyone out there is listening, that has been through a painful situation and you want more, it's like well, then help people around you that you could possibly help.
That's a pretty good way to live your life and it will lead to a lot more fulfilment, joy and meaning. And so that's, that's my message for today.
Mitch what do you want to close with?
Mitch: Exactly that.
I would say sometimes we think that we lack the tools, or you know, some people say 'I don't know what I'm good at', 'I don't know what to do', 'I don't know what I love'.
And I think that the thing that we all have is our experience, is our story. Relating to someone is more medicine than you ever think, and so if you don't know what to do, if you don't know where to start, use your experience to let someone else know that they're not alone.
Whether that be 'I'm a s**t tennis player and I'm not playing tennis well'. Use that experience to let someone know you know, "I've been there too".
It doesn't have to be mental health. It doesn't have to be losing weight.
'Connection' can apply to any single field that we're in, so start with your story and by using that vulnerability to connect, you'll help one person, which I think is the greatest gifts that we can have.
And thank you very much for having me on the show, Oscar.
Oscar: Yeah, thanks so much, Mitch.
Thank you so much for watching this video. But as we always do, if you've got thoughts put them in the comments below.
If you disagree with me, put them in the comments below.
Also, we're trying to change lives here and we're trying to help people Live Healthier Longer. So if you or someone else you know wants to Live Healthier Longer then please like, share and subscribe and help us get our message into the world.