Episode 25: The Non-Episode Episode, in Three Parts

Welcome to the podcast! I’m your host, Christopher Gajewski.

Let’s unmask mental illness!

That is the new title I am going with for the podcast. My book is now available online and globally: the transcripts for the first 22 episodes with a little bit of editing. Let’s Get Naked About Mental Health!

Due to technical difficulties, I had to publish a second copy of my book with a different title. It’s all explained on my website, with the webpage titled appropriately enough, “The Book.” The new title I came up with was “Let’s Unmask Depression.”

The new title felt better. As I discuss my journey through depression more than anything else, it seemed right to give that book that title.

I do struggle, however, with titles.

A few people reached out to me and loved the new title. The old title evoked the wrong things. “Getting naked” was a metaphorical allusion to unmasking. I take off the mask that I showed the world to show the real me, with the depression and all the rest. The word “naked,” though, I found, made people shy away, whether it was triggering something or something else. Unmasking is more comfortable for a lot of people, and I think can do away with metaphors now.

It is still not quite there as the new title rattles around in my mind. Any help?

But the book! That is what I wanted to talk about in this the episode. I’m still stranded here in Tijuana so still trying to work and function in between breaths. I’ve had my car packed since the 13th and just unpacked it so I could drive and do some things. So, now I have a pile of stuff in my living room instead of in my car.

Why the book?

There are a bunch of reasons, but I can’t help but laughing as I think about lecturing my sister, daughter and many other younger people. It got so that I was repeating myself often. I got to the point where I wanted a book of lectures.

Let’s open our hymnals and turn to lecture #182…

As I plug myself into the mental health network on LinkedIn, I found myself not wanting, but needing, the same thing. I wrote it often. In response to one post or another, I found myself writing, “that is episode so and so” and then posting a link to that episode on my website. Now, I can just post “that’s in the book.”

I also wanted to get something out there to spread awareness. Is print dead? I don’t think so. I was able to edit the transcripts to hopefully draw in more people and spread the word. As I say, I really do repost, “that is episode so and so” very often. With the physical book that I will have in my hand, which I will get once I am in Minnesota, I can start having fun with videos. Annoy the living hell out of people?

The book can also help me spread awareness by mailing it to various groups and associations.

I also hope to earn some income. It is not the best business decision, but the eBook version is available free to anyone that requests it. Making money is not really the point. Spreading awareness is.

I know. Now, due to my situation, I completely understand the power of a few dollars. $7 here in Tijuana, the price of the eBook on retail sites, is food for two days. I just don’t want anybody having to decide between potentially getting help with my book and not buying it because they could use the $7 somewhere else.

More information can be found on my website.

When I get to somewhere that is more quiet, I’ll make an audio version of the book. My apartment here has too many sounds that intrude and the audio publishers are very strict when it comes to that.

I am already loading the new episodes into a part two.

That has been my last week. Waiting. Holding my breath. Thinking. Writing.

I’ll be adding two new features to my website this week, columns and articles. I wrote one of each. The columns will be shorter pieces that I actually always used to write and post on my other website, The Chris Chronicles. These will feature more of a “Let’s Unmask Mental Illness” slant and may contribute to podcasts.

The articles will be researched based. I’m breaking out the old journalism cap.

As I write about, but don’t really advertise because I am so bad about it, I am hoping to make this a full-time job. I have a Patreon account that has been well hidden. In my page, “Supporting the Podcast,” I now write about it a bit more openly.

Patreon allows people to become patrons of the podcast and website for as little as $4.95 a month. Unlike other Patreon accounts however–again, maybe not the best lure or business decision–there is no extra content for patrons. There are a few perks, however. Again, I just want to make the information available.

Patronage will allow me to expand the podcast into something that I have in mind now for a very long time. Even before I graduated college in 1997, I envisioned a magazine and non-profit to disseminate news and information about mental health.

I need your help, though. This isn’t easy and I really have no idea what I am doing. I have done it before though. Life, and the depression I am learning, took me along other paths and into the orthodontic laboratory industry.

It was not a bad life, but not really fulfilling. I felt fulfilled when the industry and many of my friends were threatened by the new technology that was changing everything. A new paradigm was unfolding. We had been so used to an industry that had not really changed since the mid 1970’s. The shift threatened to kill labs and may have contributed to the deaths of people I knew.

Two people I knew took their lives.

I was overwhelmed myself but had started a Facebook group to help others learn what I was learning, really staying just one step ahead of them–and a few steps behind the big labs that could afford to invest the money and time that us small labs could not. Aye, I had always been at my best when I was overwhelmed. Long story. That’s a past episode.

I believe I was one of the first small labs in the country, if not the first, to be 100% digital capable. I began speaking, spent hours and hours on the phone with other lab owners, went to a conference for dental labs where I gave a two-hour clinic, and then I formed a non-profit and started our own orthodontic lab annual conference, the first of its kind in the world.

I did it once. I can do it again. But I’ll do it right this time.

The second part of this non episode is the first column I wrote for the website, inspired by events on Christmas day.

Chance Encounters

This might be for my Coffee Chronicles or this might be a part of Let’s Unmask Mental Illness! Anyway…

I firmly decided not to have a Christmas. It was not a choice to be miserable, but just make it another day. There’s a podcast about it, The Holiday Special. In the podcast, I talk about my aversion to Christmas and how I need to work on it.

The Universe (God if you will) works in mysterious ways. Sometimes, it’s not so mysterious. It gives you a smack across the back of the head.

I’m still stranded in Tijuana. Long story. Tijuana celebrates Christmas differently. They ignore the song “Silent Night” and start setting off fireworks on Christmas Eve. In the US, think 4th of July on steroids.

The fireworks made me think of something and I reached out to Dani’s original owner who I had met on a few occasions.

Alyssa had come looking for Dani, whose first name was Soledad, about a month after I adopted her. With me not speaking Spanish, and her not speaking English, I never got the entire story. It was a sad one, though, with Dani placed with her brother, then escaping, living on the streets, rescued by someone who could not take care of her, and then adopted by me.

As soon as Dani saw her, she went crazy. The bond between Dani and Alyssa was apparent. Instantly. Love. I invited her to stop by any time. She did, then with her boyfriend, Allan, a few times. A fine young lady and a fine young man. It was supervised visits at first because, well, I am from Philly, and I have been around the block a few times. But there was something about Alyssa and the way that Dani reacted to her that made me trust her, want to trust her. The supervised visits went to unsupervised, and they took her for walks and Dani even spent the night once in the house they had rented.

Alyssa has been following me on Facebook and I mentioned in the text I sent her on Christmas Eve that I would be leaving any day and that she was more than welcome to stop by any time.

She replied to come over and enjoy Christmas Eve with her and her family. I had the urge, but the car was still packed, it was late, and I had just taken my nightly pills. There was also the push/pull of my feelings about Christmas. It’s just another day. Nothing to celebrate. Only something to endure.

I replied that I couldn’t possibly, but thank you.

She replied, “then tomorrow.” I received the text after I was in bed.

Christmas Day. Sipping my coffee. Just another day. Alyssa texted me again. That’s about when the Universe slapped me across the back of the head again. Harder this time.

As I have mentioned in my podcasts, and seem to have forgotten, each morning we are given a choice: to continue on in our rut or take a chance to be happy. It is so much easier to continue on in our rut, follow the path of least resistance. It can be extremely difficult to take a chance. There was the packed car I would have to unpack, the altering of my routine, the trouble of getting Dani into the car, the fear of how she would react to a house full of people, and, really, the fear of bumping and mingling with my aversion to Christmas that I talk about in my podcast.

I’m slowly learning to ignore the baggage that surrounds me, layers me, and follow my gut…and the slaps by the Universe.

I finally texted a reply to Alyssa: “Okay, let me empty my car and take a shower.” Dani and I made the 15-minute drive.

Alyssa and Allan were waiting for us as we pulled up. Dani went crazy and it took the three of us to unhook her from inside the car–I keep her leashed inside to keep her from jumping into the front seat and into my lap.

The family adopted me as soon as I walked in the door. Before I was even there. Alyssa had texted me I was family.

I was home. There was Alyssa and Allan, parents, an uncle, young kids and even a grandmother that reminded me of my own–I received a hug and a kiss. Dani was excited and happy: the vicious beast was climbing into people’s laps to give kisses and get pet. She can be very overprotective, but she loves to be loved. She knew she did not have to protect me from these people. She knew that she was safe and that I was safe.

Lessons from the Universe? Lessons from a dog. Who rescued who?

I had a fantastic Christmas with people that I barely know, that are family. I struggled against the embarrassment at times as they would not allow me to do anything, getting my drinks and food. I laughed with the family, and especially the uncle and father. There was a discussion at one point about hairy chests.

Hairy chests is just one example. They were having fun. Allan was translating. They started showing off their hairy or non-hairy chests. The layers of baggage that I had wrapped around me screamed at me to smile but not join in. I told it to “piss off” and lifted my shirt to reveal the hairiest chest to a round of laughter.

At one point, I had to leave. I was exhausted. I have not been doing much and the food, exercise, and two drinks were getting to me. I needed a nap. I made my goodbyes, with them insisting I return after my nap. They did not believe me, I think, when I said I would.

I did.

It was much, much easier to shrug off the baggage and hesitation after my nap and coffee. I went prepared with a cup of coffee for after the drink and the food to stay a bit longer. Everybody, including Dani, was starting to nod off so I said my goodbyes again. I was offered a place to sleep, a ride home, anything. I was good. I wanted to return home and just be happy.

It really does come down to choice, acceptance, and learning lessons. That was my Christmas present from the Universe: a lesson.

It’s not the pony I still want, but a damn good present all the same.


PS. I do not have another place where I post stuff and write columns. You can find it in the link below.

Home Page

And now the final part of the non-episode that seems to becoming a bit of an episode. It is the first draft of an article I am writing based upon some work I did for the founder of Simply Mental Health. It is about…well, that’s the point of writing an article.

Speak Up! And Turn off the Video in Video Conferencing!

I personally love video conferencing. With the pandemic, it has become a part of the way we do business. I also realize that many people do not love it. It can cause stress and anxiety and add to deteriorating mental wellness. Research supports me.

Speak up! Tell your boss. Ask to be able to turn off the video. Send them this article if you have trouble articulating how you feel.

Studies suggest that one in four to one in five people suffer from conditions that could make forced video conferencing from uncomfortable to traumatizing. It can negatively impact employees and their contributions.

Adam Nemer, former CFO of a 3+ billion-dollar health care company and current founder of Simply Mental Health was one of those people and now campaigns for the ability to turn off video.

“I had always struggled,” he said, “with meeting people in the eye. It was even brought up once during a performance review, where my boss feared that it may make me seem untrustworthy. I struggled with the feedback.”

He continued, “It has only been since the advent of video conferencing that I put two and two together. The feelings that I experience on a video call are the same as when I’m in a room looking in someone’s eyes: anxiety and panic.  It was not that I couldn’t look people in the eye, it was that it brought on anxiety and panic that made me less effective in meetings, so I avoided it.”

I understand. Though I like video conferencing, I encountered similar issues when I first graduated and started interviewing for positions. I was very qualified and had much to contribute, but I have a speech impediment, a stutter, and the first interview was always over the phone–a situation that made my stutter even worse. I did not get any second interviews for a long time.

There is an old school thought that does not consider reality, being human. It is how I was taught. When you meet someone, you give them a firm handshake and meet their eye. If you do not, you are thought of as less.

A weak handshake can mean a weak person. Not meeting someone in the eye can mean they are lying or untrustworthy. Imagine meeting Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest minds of our lifetime, who suffered from a physical disease that made a firm handshake and meeting the eye impossible. You would not think less of him. The same is true for 20-25% of people on video calls.

From autism to PTSD, researchers have found many reasons why turning on video and making eye contact is difficult for many.

Sustained eye contact overstimulates a certain area of the brain for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), causing extreme stress and discomfort. Eye contact for people with PTSD can cause responses like fear, pain and anxiety. There are many other examples. Some have to do with mental health issues, some with invisible physical disorders, others with a person’s personality. 

“I struggled daily with making and maintaining eye contact and had no idea why,” said Nemer. “It would make me panic and lose my train of thought. I was actually at my best when I looked out of windows in conference rooms. Staring off into space allowed me to collect my thoughts and be more effective as both a leader and a contributor.

Nemer finally brought the idea up to allow everybody to shut off video during conference calls and explained why. When allowed, many people sent him private messages of thanks.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business and University of California found that, despite contrary thought, video conferencing can reduce the effectiveness of employees at meetings.

In an article, “Speaking out of turn: How video conferencing reduces vocal synchrony and collective intelligence,” they explain how verbal cues, as opposed to visual ones, increase the collective contribution of the team.

Employers benefit by taking Nemer’s advice.

  1. Don’t require video for conference calls
  2. Don’t assume a 1:1 conference call is okay before learning the person’s preference
  3. Don’t use negative verbal cues
    1. “We paid a lot of money for video so let everyone turn on the camera.”
    1. “Let’s see all of the brave people turn the camera on.”

Speak up and let your boss know. The benefits of allowing people to turn off the video after a quick introduction are both for you and for them, along with the company. With communication and understanding comes better mental wellbeing as well as a healthier work environment.


And that is a wrap for this non episode, finishing it just before it is time to record it.

Check out the book and the website. Remember, if you would like a copy of the book but cannot pay for any reason, just email me and I will email you a copy of the book.

If you would like, check out the “Support the Podcast” webpage. Help me help others.

I hope everybody is having a wonderful holiday season. With the way things are going here in Tijuana, I am both preparing for a new, regularly scheduled podcast. Simply, I am waiting for the deposit returned to me that the GM said I would receive on the 13th.


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