In this episode, Michelle chats with Dan Maby of Big Orange Heart.
Allie Nimmons (00:02):
Welcome to the Underrepresented in Tech podcast, hosted by Michelle Frechette and Allie Nimmons. Underrepresented in Tech is a free database built with the goal of helping people find new opportunities in WordPress and tech overall.
Michelle Frechette (00:26):
Michelle Frechette (00:29):
How are you today?
I’m very good, very good. Thank you for inviting me. Good to be here.
Michelle Frechette (00:31):
Oh, thank you for joining me. It’s really good to have you here. Usually people hear me say, “Hey Allie,” but Allie is taking this week off. She’s doing some things with her personal stuff. And I said I would find the perfect guest for this week, and you were the first person I thought of. We’ve done a number of shows on different things that impact people who are underrepresented. And we’ve talked about what it means to be underrepresented, we’ve talked about how people interact with people who are underrepresented, what it means for employment, all those kinds of different things. And we haven’t really spent much time talking about mental health and how your mental wellbeing can affect your underrepresentedness.
Michelle Frechette (01:23):
One of the check boxes, if you will, of joining as a member of our database in Underrepresented in Tech is neuro divergence. And under all of that actually falls some of the things that make some of us neuro divergent. For me, for example, it’s my anxiety and depression that I think I handle pretty well most of the time, but sometimes I’m that duck who’s really calm on the surface and my legs are paddling like crazy underneath. And so it made perfect sense. You and I, I think most people know you and I worked really closely together over at Big Orange Heart. You are the director of the charity and I am the board president at the moment, and do a lot of volunteer work over there as well. And together, we have put on now three word fests all of which are to support people who are mentally, how did you put it? You said something. The way you said it before was the right way.
So we were talking about individuals with mental ill health, essentially.
Michelle Frechette (02:21):
Mental ill health. Yes. Yes. And there’s a lot… We do talk about this too, the destigmatization, when it’s okay to say, I suffer from anxiety, and some people don’t like the word suffer. I personally find it a suffrage. So maybe you don’t term it for yourself, but I suffer from anxiety and depression because those days when I wake up and struggle to get out of bed, it does feel like a suffering to me. But to other people, I realize that that might not be the right terminology.
Michelle Frechette (02:49):
And so I don’t pretend to be politically correct on the show. I make mistakes. I’m a human being. But I did want to bring you on today and talk a little bit about that, and also put in a plug for what Big Orange Heart can do to help people. So please, I will stop talking now. You can introduce yourself and Big Orange Heart a little bit better than I can, and we can just have a conversation.
Yeah. Sure. I appreciate that. Thank you. As you mentioned, I’m the executive director of Big Orange Heart. Big Orange Heart is a nonprofit focused on supporting and promoting positive wellbeing and mental health within remote working communities. As you mentioned, we do a number of activities throughout the community to try and ensure we can bring people together and help reduce social isolation, and really also raise the profile of mental wellbeing and mental health within the community, and as you mentioned, attempt to try and destigmatize the conversations across the community. A big part of what we do is around bringing people together. We do that through events, and of course, enabling individuals to participate through the events is a real key focus for us.
The pandemic, as many negatives as there have been through the pandemic, we’ve also been able to find some positives in that we’ve been able to obviously bring down the barriers for individuals to participate as both speakers and individuals attending events through the last couple of years. And it’s been a great opportunity to really help enable individuals that may be less represented through various reasons to be able to participate and be part of the community, and be an active voice at the global level when we’re talking into our global community. It’s been a real, real honor to be able to facilitate those services over the last couple of years.
Michelle Frechette (04:43):
Absolutely. We’ve had three word fests in the last year and a half. And one of the things that I’ve been proudest of is the fact that all of our speakers, we have really striven, is that the word, stroved, striven, we’ve really tried hard-
Michelle Frechette (05:01):
… strived, we’ve tried very hard to make sure that we have really good representation of the underrepresented populations in our community as speakers, but also as our board members of Big Orange Heart also, and our volunteers, and our organizers for events and things like that. And I think that that’s super important, and I’m really proud of us for the work that we do there.
Absolutely. I think it’s reasonably easy for entities and organizations to talk about underrepresenation and trying to resolve those problems, but it takes work, it does take… It’s one thing saying that you want to have a diverse… If we just take events as an example, it’s one thing saying you want a diverse speaker lineup, but you have to actively work on that and you have to actively go out and bring those barriers down that have been there for many, many years in terms of enabling people to participate and making sure that people are aware that there is an opportunity here. So it’s not something that just happens. We’ve worked hard, as you said, across the board from board level all the way through to really get that message out there and to try and make sure that this is an organization that is, it’s for a global community and it needs to be represented by a global community.
Michelle Frechette (06:25):
Absolutely. I think we do our best not only just to show that, but to live it, right? So honoring people’s voices and not tokenizing underrepresenation, but actually living what we’re putting out there to try to be as inclusive as possible. And that’s the difference sometimes between, and Allie and I have talked about this on the show before diversity for diversity’s sake is not enough. Inclusion is actually better than diversity, right? So inclusiveness means that you don’t just have somebody in there because of the color of their skin, or because of their status in the LGBTQ community, or any of those things, but that you want to include their experiences, their voices, their skills, etc. of all the different peoples. And I think that’s something that we live and breathe over at Big Orange Heart. So yeah, I am definitely proud of us for that. When-
It is. It is. There is something around the kind of the global audience that we’re trying to communicate with. Unfortunately, I hear this too often, if I’m honest, with conversations with individuals across multiple locations globally, where we’re still hearing that mental health is still stigmatized. It’s still seen as a sign of weakness. It’s still seen as something that people shouldn’t be talking up about. They need to be dealing with it, and just the horrible expressions of man up, or just get on with it, and all those awfully negative perceptions around mental health, which unfortunately there are, as I say, we are speaking with individuals and we hear this, and it’s very, very hard. I’m very, very privileged to live in a country where we have come to recognize mental health and mental ill health as something that we need to be talking about.
However, there are many individuals out there that are not in that privileged position. And just being able to create an environment where people can talk about mental health in a safe and confidential way has been really quite game changing for some of the people that we’ve been able to reach out to. Of course, there’s always more, there’s always a lot more to do.
Michelle Frechette (08:42):
Absolutely. One of the things that I do quite a bit of at Big Orange Heart is a lot of the social posting. And I don’t think you and I have ever talked about this, but I am very conscious of choosing quotes and phrasing things in a way that doesn’t sound like, man up, right? One of my least favorite things is choose happiness. Great. If you don’t suffer from any kind of mental disability or illness or anything, choosing happiness would be wonderful. On those days when my fibromyalgia is acting up and I can hardly climb out of bed, I would love if I could just choose happiness. The butterflies and the bluebirds all show up and just dress me like Cinderella or whatever. It isn’t that easy. And so it isn’t just about choosing happiness. It’s about working through things and finding mechanisms that help you move through the day, whether it’s, and I know you hate checklists, but whether it’s a checklist or some other, whatever other coping mechanisms that you have to help work through specific things.
Michelle Frechette (09:47):
Sometimes it’s a confidant. You’re one of my confidants. I can message you anything, and I don’t feel judged. You might be laughing at some of what I bring to you because some of it, it’s just silliness on my part, and with intention. Not that I would ever expect you to laugh at me in spite of that, but to have a confidant that you can talk things through and get perspective, and who can offer assistance and help pull you through some of those really difficult times. That’s one way, and that’s one of the ways that Big Orange Heart works too, is that we have a community of people where you might find somebody that you have an affinity with, who can help you with those things.
Totally. It’s really important, this environment. We were talking about remote workers, individuals that are really much by definition of remote are individuals are not in an environment necessarily where they’ve got other people around them. And that is really important that we need connection. We’re humans. Humans are naturally, it’s around us to be around other people and to feed off the environment of other people. I’m an introvert. I’ve always been an introvert. And yet I do actually thrive off being around other people. I gain my energy off being around other people. I appreciate there are many people out there that equally gain their energy and revitalized by time on their own. We are all very, very different, but there is absolutely a need for connection as humans. There is a need for us to be connected with other humans. And really the focus for us around community is core to that.
We run a service called life groups, which really what you were just talking about there in terms of that kind of the confidant and that having somebody or people to be able to turn to and talk to in a way that you know is handled confidentially and handled in a respectful way is really at the core of our life groups. It’s a small group of individuals that are encouraged to over time build up that trust and respect for one another to really be able to be open and support one another. Having those discussions that you may have with a coworker if you were physically in an office. You might be sitting opposite them or next to them in an office space. Unconsciously, you are going to be processing things and talking about things out loud.
Whereas if you’re in a room on your own working your eight-hour day or whatever the length of your day happens to be, and you don’t have another person around you, yeah, some of us may be foolish enough to have our cats or our dogs to talk to, but it is that connection that really is incredibly important for our mental wellbeing,
Allie Nimmons (12:33):
Hi, everyone, Allie, here to interrupt. As we approach our 50th episode, we want to hear from you. Have you learned something that has helped you through listening to this podcast? Have you used our tool and found it helpful for your projects? We really want to know. Please go to underrepresentedintech.com/fifty and leave us a quick voice memo telling us what you’ve learned or accomplished. Your voice memo might be featured in our 50th episode. Thank you. Back to the episode.
Michelle Frechette (13:03):
The only reason my cat hasn’t made an appearance yet, I know people who are listening never get to see the video. We see each other when we’re recording this, is that I have earbuds in. But if she heard you talking through my screen, she would literally be tales in my face right now. But there is something, right, so that even if it’s a pet and not another human being, having somebody, a living being in your… it does help, right? Every once in a while, I’ll post on our Twitter, show us your pets, because we all love to show off our pets.
Michelle Frechette (13:33):
Being a remote worker in technology is a double-edged sword, right? So if you are somebody who has depression anxiety or any host of mental illnesses, you can hide it really well if you’re working remotely, but you’re also not getting the help that you need and some of those other things that you need. So it’s very much double-edged sword. And most people rightfully so would not divulge on a work application any disability, much less a mental disability or mental illness. And so it becomes one of those things where sometimes you’re trying desperately to function and produce, at the same time, hiding your mental illness, and because of the stigmatization that comes along with mental illness. And so it is very difficult to traverse that.
Michelle Frechette (14:29):
And I think that the nature of remote work lends itself a lot. We see a lot of people in technology who do deal with mental illness, especially along those depression, anxiety lines, and I’m sure a host of other things. And so it is that double-edged sword, right? So you’re not getting the help you need, but you’re also able to hide it, which isn’t really helping you either. What do you think? I know Big Orange Heart, we do what we can. What do you think needs to happen kind of in our industry to further destigmatize and help people who are remote workers move forward?
I think it’s a really difficult one, this, because we’ve got the two kind of aspects to the industry, and that we’ve got an enormous freelance community. We’ve got individuals that don’t have some form of infrastructure to support them. And then we’ve got the individuals that are employed by a company, where they may have some form of HR or some form of infrastructure to be able to turn to in terms of support. I think if we’re talking about companies that are employing individuals, then there is a lot of work that’s still to be done around raising awareness and how to talk about mental health, how to enable people to talk about mental health, as you mentioned multiple times, how to destigmatize those conversations. I think certainly there are processes in the employment process that could be improved upon. It’s not an easy thing to solve because I think if it wasn’t a problem, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Michelle Frechette (16:18):
When we’re talking about freelance individuals, individuals that don’t have that support infrastructure, it becomes even more complicated, and that’s really where Big Orange Heart was born out of. It was that realization that there’s this enormous community of people that are in this environment where they don’t necessarily have any kind of additional support from multiple aspects. And a lot of what Big Orange Heart tries to do is be a preventative. We’re not here to cure anything. We’re here to try and work as a preventative, and to try to be an organization that can fill a gap, if you like, for that freelance community, where they are working on their own, where they don’t have somebody necessarily to turn to to talk about some of the challenges they’re facing in relation to their day-to-day working environment. We don’t necessarily need to be talking about mental health specific.
If we’ve got a freelancer that is week and week and week is struggling with invoicing, for example, with their clients, and of course that starts to impact their financial situations, which can then start to impact their mental wellbeing. And it just becomes a situation that can very quickly spiral out of control for people. So creating environments where we can enable people to speak up about those challenges that they’re facing really is a key for us in terms of as a preventative measure when it comes to mental ill health.
Michelle Frechette (17:52):
I’ll tell you one of the things that helped me in the last year too is I’ve always called this my mental paralysis. When there’s something I need to do, and I just can’t make myself do it, even if I know I could knock it out of the park in an hour, to actually sit down and get started on it, the anxiety around it is ridiculous. And then I learned through the pandemic, because apparently I’m not the only one who suffrage from that, this term called executive dysfunction, which basically is what I just described.
Michelle Frechette (18:23):
And it sounds so silly, but the joy that comes when you find out that there’s a word for it and that other people have it too, it’s like, I am not the crazy one. I use the word crazy, not meaning the derogatory way, because I hate that word to apply to mental illness, of course, but you do start to feel like that quintessential word or that stigmatized word of crazy, when you think you’re alone and the only person who can’t sit down and build a freaking website when you have everything you need to build the website, right?
That’s right. That’s right.
Michelle Frechette (18:59):
And so to know that you’re not alone is really paramount to being able to move through things
And the mental fog that can come with that as well in terms of that.
Michelle Frechette (19:09):
Oh my gosh.
Yeah. You know what you need to do. You know how to do it, and yet it can be quite easy to put it off, put it off, put it off to the point where your anxiety, your stress levels today are going through the roof. And then that just starts to impact other things in your life. And it really does that, that fog just descends, or certainly this is my experience. Yeah. It can be very, very challenging to come through that. But having people, as you just mentioned, the ability to talk to people, and realization that actually, yo, I’m not alone in this. This is something that other people are dealing with, it really can be quite freeing, you start to realize that.
Michelle Frechette (19:54):
I just had a mental image of The Wizard of Oz. So Dorothy has landed in Oz. She’s opened the door. It’s all technic color. Everybody sung to her. And they tell her that she has to find the wizard. And the yellow brick road is the spiral. And she walks to the very pinpoint part of the spiral and starts to walk around, to follow the yellow brick road. And I think that oftentimes I’m like, I have to find that starting point. It has to be that particular point. The whole road was there. She could have started at the edge and just walked. She didn’t have to walk circles and make herself crazy and dizzy and everything else, and I don’t need to either. I don’t have to find that perfect starting point. I could start anywhere in the vicinity and still be on the road to Oz, Emerald City. So yeah, I don’t know, you just made me think of that.
Well, I think there’s a really key issue there that sometimes it can be very hard to get started. And breaking things down into something smaller is often the easiest way to approach this. And when I’m talking about breaking things down, I’m talking about really breaking things down. If you are in a situation where you are struggling with that kind of level of anxiety or depression or whatever it is that’s preventing you from moving forward in your day, if you wake up, can you brush your teeth? Can you have a shower? Can you make your drink or your food? Each of those things are a win, and recognizing that is absolutely imperative when it comes to working your way through that day.
Find the wins in everything that you’re doing, because if you end up spending your day constantly thinking, right, I’ve not achieved that, I can’t do this, I’ve failed to do that, I’ve missed out on completing this piece of work, you’re just creating all these scenarios and situations in your head where you are essentially, you’re losing. You’re not creating that positive motion forward. And just trying to find those small wins to try and change that and shift that perspective can change well your focus.
Michelle Frechette (22:13):
The other thing is if it’s a… so if it’s a project, so I’d actually get up and brush my teeth and make my bed and make my coffee and those kinds of things, but still not be able to decide what step to take to start the project. We’ve talked about on the show in the last few weeks, I lost my dad recently. And I also was putting on a humongous summit our last Friday of the WP career summit. And the week before, I was like, I have so much to do. I haven’t started. I don’t know where to start. And Allie said, “Let’s meet tomorrow. You talk, I will write and give you step by steps so that you have actionable items.” Wow. 15 minutes with her and I was able to move things forward and not completely suck at the entire event so much so that it was a great event. I literally was the pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain, because she’s like, I was pulling all levers and going nuts behind there.
Michelle Frechette (23:09):
But from the forward part of things, except for like a glitch here or a five-minute late start there or whatever, which is normal, the event came off pretty much without a hitch. But that’s because nobody saw Michelle in the background going, I don’t know what to do next. But I had a friend who could help me. So if you don’t know, find somebody, whether it’s somebody at Big Orange Heart or somebody at work or somebody outside of work, whether it’s a sibling, a friend, whomever, if you have to hire a coach, I’ve talked about coaching before, and having somebody help you work through your executive dysfunction, if you have to pay somebody to do that, and you have the means to be able to do that, that’s a great way to move forward too. But sometimes it’s okay to acknowledge you can’t do it on your own and that you need somebody else’s perspective to help you put things in order so that you can move forward.
Absolutely. And we do need to mention that professional mental health support is something that I highly recommend. If anybody has the ability to receive that support, if you can reach out, then do, because mental ill health is something that can progress and can evolve, and it’s something that’s not to be ignored, and it’s not something that’s just suddenly going to go away. We do need to work towards good health as we do physically, we have to work towards good mental health as well.
Michelle Frechette (24:39):
Your wellbeing is not just your physicalness, your wellbeing is the total package.
Michelle Frechette (24:45):
Yeah. Any final thoughts before we wrap things up for this week? Any place you’d like to direct people as far as how to get in touch with us, or how we could help them?
Yeah. Sure. I mean, if anybody is interested in Big Orange Heart, then bigorangeheart.org is the website. We’d love to see you in amongst the community, bigorangeheart.org/join. We are currently in the process of facilitating both virtual and physical events. If so, we are constantly looking for people to get involved. We are relaunching our virtual events and rebranding into WP Global, and the focus there is actually to focus on our global community, enabling individuals across our globe to come and join us as speakers, as attendees and participating. So we’d love to hear from you if you’re interested in speaking at one of those, big.ht/speak is the short URL for that one. But yeah, just as I’ve mentioned, if you are an individual that is having any challenges in relation to your mental wellbeing, Big Orange Heart is here. You can reach out to us. You can chat with us anonymously. There are other organizations globally. Again, details on those organizations are on our website, so head over to bigorangeheart.org.
Michelle Frechette (26:08):
And you mentioned joining, it’s a one time thing. You don’t have to re-up a membership annually, and it’s free to join. We don’t charge people to be part of our community. So there’s no fear in joining, and we’re not going to gouge you for money or anything else. We do love donations, so you feel free if that you’re so moved to support the organization, but that’s not our purpose.
Michelle Frechette (26:33):
Well, thank you for joining me today, Dan. It’s been great to have you on the show. I look forward to our next… I meet with you at least twice a week already anyway, and we’re looking forward to the next word fest, which will be this fall.
It will. Yes. Things to be announced very, very soon.
Michelle Frechette (26:53):
Very soon. Thank you.
Michelle Frechette (26:55):
Fantastic. Thank you so much.
Appreciate your time and I appreciate the opportunity to come and chat with you.
Michelle Frechette (27:00):
And anytime for sure you’re always welcome.
Allie Nimmons (27:06):
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