Storytelling Drives Connection with Guest Erin Rodgers

Join the Mental Health Mamas this week as Erin Rodgers entertains us with her storytelling talent and her self deprecating humor, normalizing autism, ADHD and mental differences.

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Serena: Hey everyone, I'm Serena,

Tina: and I'm Tina, and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Serena: Welcome to No Need to Explain. We are so glad you're here.

Tina: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Serena: We come to you not as mental health professionals or experts in the field,

but rather as parents with lived experience who are on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health.

Tina: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis,

please seek professional support. You will find a variety of resources in our show notes, and on our website

Tina: Today we have a guest who lights up the room. She is dynamic and describes herself as a social, fun, go-getter who loves to connect others while connecting with them. But she wasn't always that way. In fact, for years she was, and these are her words, an indoor kid, and had huge difficulties connecting with people, even maintaining eye contact was a struggle.

Serena: And what we know is that being shy is a thing, being introverted is a thing,

and, as I'm sure you'll hear, there was more to her story like there is for all of us. So Erin Rogers is a storyteller.

Tina: We do love storytellers, right?

Serena: We do. Absolutely. She's also a writing coach, and an amazingly interesting person who, while she's not a parent, she does have some deep connections with things that we hold very dear in the mental health mamas. So Erin,

welcome to the podcast.

Erin: Thank you so much. I'm so excited to be here.

Tina: We are excited to have you. So, since you were a storyteller, and I love your description on your website of your experiences storytelling and performing all over the bars in Toronto that smelled. I'm quoting, like, stare, stale beer, and feet. Tell us a bit of your story as it relates to mental health, and kind of finding yourself through that journey. And I know it's probably a long story, and maybe just focus on that mental health piece, and then we'll follow up with other questions.

Erin: Sounds good. I'll give you the, like, the Kohl's Notes version of it, which is I am a person that has, through the process of my life, kind of discovered the steps of my mental health journey. So, I have been diagnosed with ADHD. I am autistic. I am queer. I learned all of those things in my 30s. And let me tell you, probably everyone else knew definitely the queer thing of various people when I came out were like, oh yeah, you're finally like not just dating men who don't treat you that great. We didn't know why you were doing that. We were wondering, and we didn't want to

pressure you. And I was like, oh no, I didn't realize. They're like, oh great. And then ADHD, it was the same thing where various friends, because I live in the kind of the most left wingy part of Toronto West, like West area of Toronto where, you know, it's like a lot of people that I'll just accept you exactly how you are, which is great, except for the fact that when you don't know who you are, then they're accepting something that you don't realize about yourself. So, really what happened is through performance, because I was a kid who was obsessed with like

the muppets. I think thereby number one, I started performing. And then I discovered myself. It was basically I started telling stories, both comedic stories and more serious stories. And I've found, and apparently this is a fairly common trait with people with ADHD, especially people socialized as women with ADHD, that there were so many things I didn't discover until I started saying them out loud. And what I started saying things I started noticing patterns, and my autistic brain is very good at patterns, and started being like, oh wait a second. And then I would

Google things, and just suddenly I would feel something in my body where it was like as if there was like a finger tapping me on the shoulder being like, hey buddy, this is you. And every time I felt that tap, my life got better. And so I realized if storytelling was doing that for me, how could I help or how could I expand that? I want to say how could I help others also, how could I help myself. So I started running shows, and I started doing coaching, and it all just came out of part in the buzzword organically. It really has been a mental health journey. This is going to sound like a bit of a cliche, but my journey really began with a single step

onto the stage, and continued from there.

Serena: Yeah, yeah. So we had had a conversation earlier, and you talked about how when you sought out a diagnosis for ADHD as an adult, that you had expected to feel shame around that. So tell us about what that was like.

Erin: Well, we know when people say like, oh, I don't like labels. Like for example, if you have you've been dating someone for a couple of months, and they're like, oh, I don't like labels. I feel the same way about my mental health journey. Everyone, whatever people's experience is, as long as they're not forcing it on other people, I say go for it. You don't have to have labels. But labels have been really helpful for me. Like, you know, when I go to the library, I go to certain sections, because those are the books I'm looking for. Knowing who I am, what I want, what my struggles are, what my like, I guess strengths and weaknesses or places I'm working on, labels have helped that. So I assume that when I got a diagnosis, I would just feel like, oh, I'm so weird and different. And there's proof that I'll never be normal,

like regular people, which is hilarious because one, I was already weird,

the stuff I like about myself is the weird stuff. The fact that I still can recite

muppet sketches by, you know, I know every Grover waiter sketch off the top of my head, and I won?t force you to listen to them this time. I'll say to you, don't worry, you're going to love it. But I was already weird. This just gave me tools to go about my life, because as a person who is neurodiverse, the world isn't necessarily set up for the way my brain works. And that's the thing. It's like, I would argue, everyone is neurodiverse. There's not one brain that everyone has, or we would be like those, you know, the creepy movies where there's like all these kids that have like, I don't know, creepy eyes are all like, yes, we agree that will be a world without neurodivergence. And if I've learned anything for the movies, that's not a good thing.

Tina: Okay, I agree with that. I'm thinking of all the Lois Lowrey books about

The Giver and others.

Erin: Exactly. Exactly. Also, I love that book. And now, as a very queer person,

I hear it as like the giver, like she's giving, which I would also read, by the way.

Tina: Yeah. So, I also love in our previous conversation, use the term mental differences, which I love, right? That just highlights what you said, which is no two brains are like, right? No two brains are like, I think part of autism is the spectrum, right? Because so there is such a wide, wide spectrum. And I think, you know, people are at very different parts in their journey, no matter what their brain differences, right? So you talk about profound anxiety. I have to say, especially with the pandemic, anxiety was normalized in a way that people like almost all of us felt anxious in some way. And that was also variable. So in it's deep in my world, you know, anxiety can be the A word, but it's handled in so many different ways,

including, and I'm going to just throw this out there, self-medication.

So being a performer, you understand what it's like to have that kind of, and I'm just going to put quotes around this like, normal anxiety, when you stand on a stage, anyone probably feels anxious, it is the rare person who does not. So talk a little bit about that. And I would love to give our listeners some practical tips for kind of dealing with anxiety.

Erin: Yes, it was during the beginning days of lockdown, it was very strange for me when people, and like strange in a positive way, where people were talking about their anxiety, and some people, it was like a new thing, and it felt very like, welcome to my world. It's a tough thing. It is, my brain and I are in a really good place now. We're real good buddies, but there's been various times where that what I would call the lizard part of my brain is like, running around and fighting me. And so I would say one of the things that I found. So I'm going to give you practical tips. I will also say my view on life is a little bit absurdist and wacky. So they might be practical and wacky, pracky. It sounds like I might have invented something,

watch out world. Yes, if we see it in the dictionary later, you can say it was invented right here.

Serena: That's right.

Tina: We'll do it. Give you credit.

Erin: Exactly. Let's all take pride in that. So anxiety is tough. One of the things is I would say embracing that lizard. I have given the lizard a name, his name is Murray and Murray, the thing about Murray is that I learned is that like,

he's trying to help me. He's like, I'm going to do a lot of references that are definitely aging. But as am I, but anyways, and you know, I love Lucy where she's on the chocolate assembly line. Like that's Murray. He's trying his best, but everything's just getting to be too much. And so he's sending weird signals to me. I'm sweating when I don't have to be. My voice goes weird. And one of the things I will do is take a deep breath. And in my head, or you could go to the bathroom if you want to like say it to a mirror because sometimes that's helpful as well is like, don't worry Murray or a better name that you choose. I've got this. Because Murray really thinks he's helping. He is trying his hardest. And the more you fight him,

he loves you. He's going to try harder. Like he's like, no, no, no, no, I've got it. It's like, no, Murray. So that is one of my things is embracing that that part of your brain loves you and is trying to protect you. It's the little baby self. And it just doesn't understand. I wouldn't, I wouldn't yell at like a little kid for like doing things it incorrectly because they don't know any better. One of the things I have is I have and I will, I will send it to you folks, a picture of myself in what is clearly a homemade little domino superhero mask with a little cape. And I have a picture of it on my phone. And when I'm doing really badly, I will look at that picture and say, would you say those things to her? Because I wouldn't, that little weird goofball

just like 4 years old, just like smile and do it or best. That's Murray is trying his best.

So that's one of my big ones. Another one because like many neurodiverse people sometimes I have a hard time with eye contact is doing stuff like looking right between someone's eyebrows. Instead of eye contact because it feels like eye contact. That's really helpful when I'm in an anxious space and my very pracky one is to look at things as a story. So both go into the future and be like, okay, in the future, this is all going to be a funny story. And go in and make big choices. What I did improv, that was one of the best things you could do was make a big choice. So coming into a place and just being like, how many people can I say hello to? If something goes badly, at some point, this is going to be funny. That is a thing I tell myself all the time. I was once at an event and it was a very fancy event. And I am not a very fancy person. Like I, you know, when I put on a lot of makeup, I feel like I'm spackling myself. I love, I love what other people do it. I always just feel weird. So I go into this very fancy event and I'm dressed in a very fancy outfit and I'm constantly just like, don't spill, just be a normal human being, like lean, don't lean too long. Like I'm very much in my head. But I was like, I'm going to take a chance. And there was a U of people very like cool, fun, seeming people.

And they say when there's a group of people somewhere, if it's a you, you can join the group. And so I went up and I introduced myself and the you turned into a circle and expelled me into the party. Yeah. And at the time, it was mildly devastating, especially because there were not good snacks at this party. And if there was not a tiny burger to be seen, nothing, nothing with figs, nothing, just nothing, just boring crackers, like not even a ritz. But that's a very funny story

now. And at the time, I remember going going to the bathroom big like, okay, you would be a very, at some point, this is going to be funny. And now it is. Did it take approximately six years for it to be funny? Yes.

And Erin part of that, right? Part of that is, and I'm just, I'm in, I go to a lot of parties. So I'm, I'm in it with you here. I think having the confidence to say that U closing had nothing to do with me, right? That was about, and that, okay, so we can

tell ourselves the story that it's about us, or we can tell ourselves the story that it's totally like, gosh, maybe they were talking about some work thing that they didn't want me to know about. And I just was supposed to go and find the not burger, no fig. Maybe they were all hungry because they were bad snacks.

Serena: Right.

Tina: Right. 100 stories, right? Part of it is that confidence, and I love

the Murry thing because I think that helped I just hear confidence, right?

Erin: Yeah. And it is, and one of the things that I also find helpful is, as you can tell, I love a funny story. Um, so I will write those things down. And I will also gamify it, like, okay, I all I need to do when my depression and anxiety is at its highest, if I go to an event, I'm like, I have a few different things, like, I need to talk to three people. If I've talked to three people, I can leave. And if I give myself that, usually, I'll stay the whole night. Because I know that all I have to do is that it gives me that

out. Yeah. I don't have to feel like, well, I have to be there and make a good impression. No, all you have to do is talk to three people.

Serena: Yeah. I love the, the self compassion. I was just, um, I was just reading something about self compassion this morning. I just, uh, interesting that you kind of brought up the same topic. Um, but I want to, I want to get real here for a moment because mental health mamas were all about being real. Um, and I'm not saying you haven't been real, but I want, I want you to share. Okay, I'm going to back up just a tiny bit here. Um, as somebody who really struggles with anxiety, I think, I think what I want the audience to hear is that yes, everybody deals with anxiety at one point or another. But when you have anxiety, it's sort of a constant state of being. And, and there are times when it is better and times when it is worse, as you've talked about, right? Um, would you share your nightmare?Pretty please.

Erin: Oh, the nightmare I had last. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. So I, I had a nightmare that,

uh, my sound didn't work and that all that was blasting was, uh, my bright atoms playlist. Um, because despite the fact that I, I, you know, I've been my 40s and I've had a point where I don't care as much about what people think the thought that people will just be like, Oh, man, she loves Brian Adams.

Tina: There's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing.

Erin: He is an icon for a reason. But it is, one of the things I find interesting about anxiety is sometimes people are like, Oh, what's it like to have anxiety? And it could be hard to explain because I've always had it.

Serena: Right. Right. It's part of you.

Erin: When I talk to other people about their childhood, and I'd be like, Oh, yeah, you know, when there's like that thrumming feeling that's going through your body at all times, people were like, no, right. What? When you're hanging from the monkey bars and you're pretty convinced that at some point you're going to fall and then you're going to land on your head and then you will definitely die. And also everyone will be sad and they'll be angry at you. Like that's a normal kid thing, right?

Serena: I'm with you.

Erin: And people are like, no. And that's, I think one of the thing, the gifts that storytelling has brought me because I can, uh, and I love that you're like,

let's get real because here's the thing, like my, I've, I've always loved comedy. Uh, I love speaking comedically, but I, all of these things, once I started talking about them, they didn't have the same power. So sharing stories and working with other people to share their stories. Um, it frees me and frees other people. I've had people come up to me when I thought I was telling a story that was not a big deal about my anxiety. And they're like, I've never told anyone that I feel exactly that same way. I wake up and I cry every day. And I was like, oh, yeah, yeah, you put spoons on your eyes. They're like, what? I was like, yeah, you know, put spoons on your eyes so people can't tell your crying. Like they're like, oh, no. Like that puts some spoons in your freezer. Also probably go and talk to someone because if you're crying every day, like that's, that's, that's not a great place to be in. But that's the thing about storytelling is whatever tone you do, you free people up in the same way that like what I had a diagnosis or even just things I've realized about myself. I don't have an autism diagnosis because, uh, I have medication for my ADHD, the autism, I, I didn't need medication. I just have talked to a lot of people and I was like, oh, now I have these tools based on this realization. Um, but sharing your story frees you and

frees other people. One of the things I tell people a lot of times if the thing I love about the art form of storytelling because I, you know, I've done a lot of different things. Um, I've done sketch comedy. I've done, you know, more serious drama, which I was terrible at by the way. Just you people were like, oh, what an interesting choice, uh, to play that character, like very wooden to describe their inner turmoil. I'm like, yes, that was definitely what I was doing. Anyways, I performed a lot of things. But, um, if you tell a story, it's not just you that feels heard. When I, when I do stand up, uh, I feel heard, which is great. I get some laughs. People are like, what a great person. You're the most hilarious ever. Hooray. That's, of course, realistically, what they say every time everyone gives me a high five. You know, they see out on their shoulders. They're like, Erin, Erin, that might be the other

Erin Rogers, who's a famous football player sometimes I get our lives tangled. Um, but, uh, when you tell a story, you feel heard and the audience feels heard because they're seeing life through your perspective. And a lot of times they'll be like, oh, my God, me too. I thought I was the only one because, to me, the core of a lot of the mental health struggles. And I don't mean the things themselves. Um, I mean the things that make what, one of the things that make having mental health

difference so difficult is the shame. And you carry around in my experience so much. And that's why like a diagnosis, I was like, oh, I'm not just broken. I'm not just doing this on purpose. There is a reason for these things. And when you see other people living their lives and telling their stories and not being ashamed, just I've looked around, I'm famous for looking around at audiences, what I may love. Uh, and I really tried. I need to have those like sleep glasses who it looks like. I'm not looking around. Though I guess that it would look like I was sleeping

at an audience. So never mind. I love watching people listen to a story. I love watching them lean forward. And I love the relief that will spread across the faces of certain people in an audience where they're like, oh, my God, I'm not alone. It's just so beautiful. And that was one of the things that was, I think being in lockdown, it felt, it felt so lonely. Uh, and I was taking part in these online shows. And even though I was maybe a continent away from people, I felt so close to people. That's part of what made getting through it a lot easier for me. And it's also what

inspired me myself and a friend, Jeremy, who I've never met in person, by the way.

He and I are storytellers. And we started a collective that has put out now to the third one is coming out of uh, collections of stories because during the early days of COVID, people sharing stories is part of what stopped what helped me get through and stopped me from basically having a breakdown. I was really worried. Yeah, because when I get isolated, uh, uh, Murry and I have a different relationship. Um, and uh, it's, it's very hard for me to do all the things that helped me take care of myself. Like when I, when uh, my daily diary is like sat down, felt sad for

like days and days, I start feeling like a like a Paul Schrader character. That might be a weird reference. Um, uh, not not taxi driver murderer, just like a guy writing in a diary. Um, but it just gets very sad. And uh, I feel very trapped in my own brain. So I really need stories for my own mental health and my own feeling of connection with people.

Tina: Yeah. So I think if people hear nothing, you know, I like the takeaway, right? I like the takeaway from these things. I think it's good to have people have a takeaway. And I think you may or may not know, I think our audience certainly knows that the way that Serena and I connected and how we have connected with others and part of the reason we started this is that telling stories and not like your whole life story at one blah, but little bits of your story that it's hard to tell your story when you don't feel like and you use the word normal, right? Like I don't necessarily use that term because I don't think there's anything that's normal. But I think to tell bits of your story that seems so outlandish to you, but are your reality? And I'm going to tell this story and I'm going to be very vulnerable. And I don't know that anyone on the planet has experienced this. And when I sat down with Serena, she was cradling her little baby girl at the time who's now like, I don't know,

an adult.

Serena: No, she's no, not quite. She's definitely not a baby anymore.

Tina: I don't know if she cried, but I certainly cried because telling these stories just normalized everything for me, right? It was like, wow, okay, I'm not alone in the world. I can feel all these feels. And I know that there's somebody who's going to always ask me about it. There's somebody who I can always turn to. There's

somebody who I can always tell that will totally totally get me. So I think there's a lot of beauty to that. You do it in a funny way. I don't know. I don't feel that funny. Serena, I know you're funny because we laugh a lot together. And one of the things I love about you is your laugh. So anyway, all right,

Erin: I will, I will also say, so this is a thing I talk to clients about a lot

because a lot of people are like, oh, I wish I was funny. So with storytelling and with life, funny is, is to some extent a language. And I don't speak French. And there's lots of people who speak multiple languages and that sort of thing. But everyone can be funny. It's more along the lines of I have several friends who are hilarious. And they're like, you know, I never thought I was funny until I talk to you. And it is perspectives are funny. People being themselves, being vulnerable. I love when people are just 100% themselves. And that is part of what storytelling has given me. It's given me these rich friendships because for my whole life, to get some of the more serious part, I was a very lonely child. I was like, I love that you're not

using normal. And I'm going to self-identify as weird. I know that can be tough for people, especially autistic people. But like, I was a weird kid. I was uncomfortable. I had a hard time making eye contact. I was obsessed with the muppets. I've mentioned it a few times. But like, you know, I got to a little bit of an older kid age. And you weren't supposed to talk about that stuff anymore because I guess you're supposed to pretend you don't enjoy joy anymore. You know, they've been around for decades. Obviously, people like them. But there was all these things you weren't supposed to do. And I always felt like I was two steps behind. And I was a kid

in the 80s. So that was like a really big time for like, point and laugh at the weird kid.

And so part of what made me funny is that like, I would do stuff people would laugh. And I would basically be in my little science laboratory being like, okay, that laugh felt mean. This other laugh felt better. How did I get this other laugh? And I would just study that way. So, but there's a lot of people that are just naturally funny because having a very clear perspective is funny for a lot of comedians, uh, which I don't necessarily call myself that because I don't do it regularly enough anymore. But like a lot of comedians don't find other comedians that funny because

we've just seen it for decades. And then someone will come out and be and just have a different perspective. And you're like, Oh, my God, you're hilarious. Can I be with you all the time? Because you're like, no one else. Funny is fine. Real is better than funny. I actually, one of the things I do is I embroider, uh, important things. So I remember them because the act of embroidering it sticks it in my head more and, uh, truth over clever. True over clever is my new thing to remind myself of, you don't have to be funny. Funny's fine. Funny can be a distancing technique.

If you're real, people really connect to that. And also, and I hope this is, uh, okay,

to say it's ballsy and it's admirable. I love when someone is themselves, not when they're like hurting someone, but when someone is willing to be themselves, someone is willing to instead of being worried that people will find out they love Brian Adams, be like, yeah, I love Brian Adams. Woo, that is my hero, that person, that they're just like, it's not even necessarily that they don't care. It's just that they won't let that care get in their way.

Tina: Authenticity, one of my values for sure. So we're going to wrap this up and I want you to David Letterman style top three of three tips, specifically for people who are anxious, who are public speakers or speak in public at all or presenting things, which is a lot of us in the world. Top three tips.

Erin: One, think of the things that make you feel most comfortable. So visualize

what will make you feel most comfortable and work backwards. Like picture yourself on that stage, what are the clothes that make you feel most comfortable? What's the food that you eat before that makes you feel most comfortable? What are like the shoes that don't make your feet hurt? All of those things and set those things up for yourself because when you go on to a stage feeling comfortable, the audience is already on your side and at ease and you don't have to fight.

They're already there.

Tina: Okay.

Erin: The second thing is and it goes on with that thing, picture the audience to be your friends. I know that's a thing people are like picture them in your underwear. I'm sorry. I don't picture my friends in their underwear. Feel like that's a very different to each their own. If that's the kind of relationship you have,

I'm queer, go for it. But I like to think that everyone is on my side because if you have left your house, you want to have a good time. I don't go to a show. Maybe there's people out there, but I don't go to a show being like, I hope this is crappy so I could judge that person. Like I could be in my pajamas or in really comfortable sweatpants at home. So just assume that people want you to succeed. Like imagine is there a friend or a relative who just thinks you are the best picture them in that audience. They want you to do well. RuPaul talks about performing in front of his mom in the living room and just his mom everything you did was great.

Picture picture RuPaul's mom. Who I'm in his picture some people that you really admire. And the third thing is that everything is a lesson. So that's the thing is like you're going to do just fine. But if it doesn't go exactly the way you wanted it to do to go, what I would love for you to do is just think about those feelings, write them down, put them in a book, put it on the shelf for a while, and then look at it later and then start to like use your laboratory of like, what worked, what could be better? I don't like giving or taking notes right after something because it puts me in a shame spiral. If they're, you know, if you want to be like, you're the best, I'll take that note. And intelligent. Oh my gosh, you're the best. But right down all the feelings, even right down the positive feelings, put them in a book,

put them on the shelf, look at it later, because that's part of the growing as a speaker is you're always learning and getting better. And it's also fun to look back when you just started and be like, oh, I was really nervous about this thing. I'm not nervous about that anymore. That also shows your growth. If you were so nervous that you felt your voice shaking, and now it's a year later, and that's not a problem anymore, and maybe you've got a new thing, look back at the other thing. You got over that.

Serena: Yeah. Erin, oh, this has been a really fun conversation. We really appreciate you taking the time to join us today and all of your advice and stories. So thank you.

Erin: Thank you so much. And I will say my one last piece of advice for people, and maybe this is a little bit of, you know, hey, join my religion. I probably

said I'm not making you join a religion. Write your stories. Share your stories. Be willing to be vulnerable. You don't have to be vulnerable with everyone. Find the safe people. One of the people who's in the collection that's coming out described Ashley, Pecolia Green. You don't have to give people the full tea. Just give them little sips. You can tell them a little bit of their story. Find out if they're a person that's comfortable and safe for you to do it. You don't have to tell your story on stage. You don't have to have anyone see that story. Share it, write it down.

So you're sharing it with yourself. I will tell you it'll change your life because it's changed mind. If I could go back in time and change one thing, I would tell myself to start sharing my stories and be my authentic self earlier. And invest in Apple stock.

Tina: Yes. So I would say we're adopting the don't drink the whole tea. Just have sips, right? Yes, I love it. I know, right?

Erin: She's a genius. I can't wait for people to read her story. It's so beautiful. She has a wonderful podcast called Ashdeep in Depression and

Tina: tell people where they can connect with you quick.

Erin: Sure. I have a website That's probably the best way to get in touch with me. There's also an email on the Pathfinder's collective website pathfinders I will say our this this collection is our third and final, but we're happy to hear more from people and there might be other projects in the future, just not storytelling collections. And also on that website, you can

find out about our third and final collection with all the money going to Planned Parenthood. There's stories from people all over the world. And one, I would like you to purchase it so the money goes to Planned Parenthood. And two, I want you to purchase it, read it and be inspired to share your stories too.

Tina: Awesome. And so podcast friends, we are, as always, grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple Podcasts. Leave us a review while you're there. We have a bunch of reviews, but we love some more. Please subscribe and share the podcast with others. You will find more content on our website.

You will also find us on all the socials. We would love to hear from you.

Serena: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you're also taking care of your people.

Tina: Thanks so much for listening.

Serena: Bye.