S3E6 The Being Mentally Healthy in Tough Times Edition with Lis Cashin
James chats with Lis Cashin, an award winning author, TEDx and international speaker and a mental health and well being consultant.
At the age of just 13 she was involved in a major trauma at school when she accidentally killed a friend with a javelin. An event which changed her life forever. She’s now passionate about challenging the stigma around mental health and supporting organisations and schools build mentally healthy cultures that are emotionally engaging, honest, and real places to work and thrive. She also spends a huge amount of time helping people manage their emotions in difficult times.
They discuss living with PTSD, feeling in control, handling emotions in difficult times, Dale Carnegie, Coronavirus, and what you can do to take some control back as we live thought the COVID-19 pandemic.
James Nathan 0:56 Hello and welcome to The Only One Business Show with me your host Jamie Nathan and I’ve got a fabulous guest for you and an extraordinarily timely guest too. This person is an award winning author, TEDx and international speaker and a mental health and well being consultant. At the age of just 13 she was involved in a major trauma at school which changed her life forever. She’s now passionate about challenging the stigma around mental health and supporting organisations and schools build mentally healthy cultures that are enormously engaging, emotionally engaging, honest, and real places to work and thrive. She also spends a huge amount of time helping people manage their emotions in difficult times. And it’s a difficult time at the moment. Please welcome Lis Cashin, Lis hi, how are you?
Lis Cashin 1:45 Hi, James. I’m actually really good. Thank you. But obviously, there’s a lot going on at the moment around us. So thank you so much for having me today.
James Nathan 1:54 No, it’s a pleasure. I’m so pleased the time is kind of worked out, right because you know, when we’re recording podcasts, They get recorded a fair way in advance and at the moment where we’re living in….. and also you don’t want to sort of, you don’t want to date your podcast so that they’re not relevant but right now with what’s going on with the virus in the world, it’s a great time to talk to someone who’s been through some really difficult things and managed to be extremely positive at the end of it all. Lis can you just do us a big favour? Take us back in time? Tell us what happened. And a bit of your story?
Lis Cashin 2:29 Yes, of course. So, I had a…. I had a difficult childhood because I had a step parent who drank too much and with the increase in drinking came an increase in their temper. And so that really impacted my self esteem and I was constantly being told there was something wrong with me and I really over time started to believe that to be true, as children do, you know, we start to believe what the adults around us are telling us. And so that was kind of my background story. And then one way that I really got recognition and a sense of well being I realised now was that I used to play a lot of sports. And I’m sure a lot of your listeners were the same growing up. And you know, I didn’t Netball, tennis, I just loved being outside and playing sports. And one year at the when I was 13, I was in the secondary school, and I was selected to throw the javelin for my school sports team. So I would throw in competitions against other schools and really got a lot of recognition through that, which I really thrived on at that point. And so, I remember clearly it was the 15th of July 1983, and I woke up really excited. I was going to be throwing the javelin for my sports day that afternoon. I’m sure again, everyone remembers having a sports day at school. And when I got to school that morning, my my teacher was asking some of my classmates with a volunteer to help out that afternoon if they weren’t taking part in any of the events. So there was some of my classmates, Sammy, Sarah and Sara all volunteered. So and we went to morning classes. That afternoon I was walking across the field, got to the javelin area and five girls grew before me. The teacher called my name and I went into the throw area. And you know, I waited until they called my name again before I took my throw. What had happened was those classmates of mine who had volunteered in the morning, two of them were standing on the field and just on the line on the field that would… within which would be the throw area, because they were going to measure the javelin throw so they were only 13 years of age and they were out on the on the field.
So, I took a deep breath, did as I was instructed to do, took my run up and threw the javelin as hard as I could because I really wanted to win a medal. You know, I’ve really thought this was a chance for me to shine. And initially the javelin was going straight. And then at the very last minute, it veered very sharply to the right. So myself and the other girls around me, we screamed my friend Sammy, we screamed her name because it was heading right towards her and she and she wasn’t looking. And at the very last minute, she ducked, I thought, oh my goodness, you know, you don’t you think you’ve had a close call. And then unfortunately, the javelin did striker in the head. And then she just stumbled forwards and I just collapsed with the shock as you can imagine, it was, it was overwhelming. I just couldn’t process as a 13 year old, it was like something from a horror film. I just couldn’t understand what was going on. So anyway, to talk about later that day, I went up to the hospital, to tell Sammy that I, you know, to see if she was okay. I thought I blinded her. And we were told that she’d been transferred to a different hospital. I remember saying to my Mum, is she going to die. And Mum said, Yes, I think so. And four days later, she died in hospital from her injuries.
James Nathan 6:22 Liz, I’ve heard you tell this story a few times, and it still gives me the most horrendous shudder. And goosebumps. And, you know, I love that you tell it. I’ve got no idea how you tell it. But it’s it’s an incredible thing. And at just 13 How do you process even what’s just happened?
Lis Cashin 6:46 Well, I couldn’t really I mean, I went into such a state of shock. And I think from what I know now about trauma, it’s almost like a part of me split off, which may sound a bit strange. But in order for me to survive, I had to completely split off from that trauma because it was too much for me to bear. And, you know, we’re talking about the 80s. And there was no counselling back then, nothing. I mean, by today’s standards, that’s unbelievable. A GP said it doesn’t even need to go my medical record, you know, wasn’t that serious? That’s what he said to Mum. I know!
James Nathan 7:25 What, what did they consider serious?
Lis Cashin 7:28 I know. Exactly. Yeah. So I’m really a story of triumph over adversity, but also, you know, we look at the moment about there’s all these cues for CAMHS for young people to get the right help. And, you know, and I’m, they really do need it. There’s a lot of mental health issues. I didn’t get any of it and I have still managed to come through at a later stage. So, you know, I really want my story to be one of hope. I think, you know, that’s the part. Because I lived with undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for over 30 years. It was only in 2017, I had my diagnosis and treatment of that, although I’d tried lots of different holistic things over the years, just to try and feel better because to be honest I didn’t really understand why I was feeling so bad for a lot of time. You know, it’s in chaos in my mind, and a lot of shame around that. A lot of shame. And I think that’s what a lot of people struggling with their mental health do you feel. That shame.
James Nathan 8:30 I guess shame about how you’re feeling but guilt I presume as well.
Lis Cashin 8:35 Oh, yes. I felt so much guilt, I was overwhelmed by guilt. Because I didn’t have any help to process it. And so…. and because of my step parents at home, we couldn’t even talk about it at home. So I literally couldn’t talk but what I did used to do was write letters to Sammy in my bedroom. I used to write to her and I got a great deal of comfort. Obviously I knew those letters would never be posted or read. I felt some connection to her through those letters and being able to tell her that I hadn’t meant it. And I was so sorry. And, you know, I hoped that she would forgive me and I never thought that I would be able to move on from the guilt. I just thought, how can I? Because the inquest said the school were responsible, she should never have been standing where she was. And school should have made sure that she was looking, you know, when she wasn’t. So they said that, you know, I had done exactly as I was told to do, but I had seen what had happened and been there. And as a 13 year old, I thought it was entirely my fault, you know, that there was something inherently wrong with me. But my stepdad was right. But actually, you know, not only was there something wrong with me that I was, must be inherently evil. That’s what I thought. And so I carried those beliefs with me.
James Nathan 9:51 Goodness me. I know in Australia at school, there was a folklore of a similar thing happening in a different state and that was why we didn’t do javelin at school. You know, and so it’s one of those…. what shouldn’t be a dangerous thing. But how they leave you without any help is, you know, is beyond me, really? And so why? How did you….. How did it come through, you know, living with pressure medic stress disorder? I can’t imagine because obviously I haven’t. I haven’t. But how does that how does that come out in your life? How does it affect you?
Lis Cashin 10:29 And well it impact me in many different ways so I would avoid any situations which I felt were too dangerous. So, you know, I couldn’t go on fairground rides, for example, that was just way too dangerous. That’s just one component of normal example, but, you know, staying away from any edge that makes, you know, cliff edges or you know, not being able to go anywhere near and just unconsciously avoiding a lot of situations. I would have things like fireworks…. fireworks is my least favourite day of the year. Because I literally feel that when the fireworks go off, for me, it’s almost like I’ve been shot. You know, my whole nervous system just goes ballistic. You have this fight, flight, freeze, panic response. And so there was all sorts of different ways like that but also I felt completely disconnected from myself and also from other people. It’s like I was living in some sort of glass box. I just felt like I didn’t understand how to function like other people did. So enormous amount of energy would be normal. That’s the best way to describe it. I used to try and pretend to be normal, so that no one would see actually what was really going on inside, and then I went, I was really proud of myself because I focused on my exams, got my exams, moved out of the home when I was 17 into a council flat. So away from everyone. I did my A levels, pass them went off University, and then I really started to fall apart and someone introduced me to ecstasy. And soon as I took it, it was like relief. There was, there was no pain. In fact, there was connection, there was joy. Not that I’m advocating drugs, I’m just saying, for me, that was the first time ever really, I felt… I felt good, even though it was an artificial thing. And so, over the next 10 years, I just took more and more and more, and I’d be going to work in the week, and then out clubbing at the weekends and very ashamed of this double life I was living and oh, I mean, I’m not right now. And I just think how resilient I am in, you know, to have really come through all of that and still kept going and still kept…. still kept hoping for a better day. I think that’s, you know, something that just kept going and thinking at some point, surely this has to get better and then it did.
James Nathan 13:00 But then holding that secret, the secret…. because you didn’t talk about this with people. So how did you keep all that silent and quiet? I mean, with your friends with work colleagues.
Lis Cashin 13:17 I think, I think because I was so ashamed, I just think, you know, I didn’t want I thought if people knew that by what had happened, that they would then reject me. That was my biggest fear, that people know what I’ve done, you know, that’s how I saw it. But I’ve killed my friend even though it was an accident. And that then they would, they would really see this evil person that I had believed myself to be and so built up all this protection looks like I was like Fort Knox, you know, with all sorts of different layers of protection. Just try so that nobody could see inside. And of course what that did was just me trapped as well. Like I didn’t need to, in my mind, I’d already you know, judged myself, been judged and jury and found myself guilty. But I didn’t need to go to a physical prison because I was locked in on inside my head.
James Nathan 14:16 So what changed?
Lis Cashin 14:19 Well, interestingly, I was on a sales training course was my late 20s. And it was Dale Carnegie sales training course. So we had to read the book very
James Nathan 14:30 Very famous, for people who don’t know the sales world, Dale Carnegie’s kind of one of the old style gurus really.
Lis Cashin 14:36 Yeah. So at the unlikeliest of places, but I read the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, as a part of the course and he says, if you think and act positively, you will become positive.
James Nathan 14:50 Very simple.
Lis Cashin 14:50 Very simple. I know that people talk about lightbulb moments but actually this it literally was like as if a light bulb went off in my head and I thought – you mean, I’ve got choice. I’ve got choice over how I think I’ve got choice over how I feel. It really was, you know, another defining moment for me, because up until then I just felt myself a victim. I thought, you know, all of these things have happened to me. There’s nothing I can do. Why was I born to create so much misery for myself and others? And then suddenly, oh, if I change the way I think, will that change, you know, my life? Will it change my experience? So I kind of experiment to see if I could do that. And I remember going home from the training course that day and I, I’m with a friend and I walked in and she said, Oh, hi, how you doing? And I said, oh, I’m exhausted, you know, blah, blah, blah. And I said, wait, wait, wait, I’m going to go out and I’m going to come back in again. She looked at me like I was a bit weird, and I went out. I came back in but she said, Hello, Lis. How are you? I said some really cool things on a sales training calls, and you know, I am a bit tired from work. And, you know, it’s been a really positive day in other ways. And so I started to realise where I was being very negative in my thinking and start to see if I could switch to be a more positive reframe.
James Nathan 16:17 Right.
Lis Cashin 16:19 And I think that is a key thing. If people can hold on to that at the moment, not that I’m saying it’s a positive thing that’s happening, but what I learned was the power of ‘also’. So this appears to be really bad. And also, there are some good things that are happening. And also, I can choose to see what I can do in a more positive way as a result of what’s happening. And also…. and it just helps to shift to not get stuck. At the a moment a lot of us are in panic and overwhelm and anxiety and fear and that’s how I felt, you know, a lot of the time back then.
James Nathan 17:01 Well, yeah, I mean this week, obviously with the coronavirus outbreak, with businesses being closed with people being sent home, schools, at some point will surely close too. We’re being asked to isolate if we’re over 70, or in high risk groups. People have no idea where their income is going to come from. They don’t know how they’re going to look after their children. They don’t know where they’re going to be able to afford their rent or where they can be made homeless. All these things that you think in normal life wouldn’t be a terrible concern for most people. But for most people, now they are. It’s some how do…. , how do you reframe this? I mean, I hear what you’re saying. And also there’s all these good things happening. People are, you know, rallying around in communities, people are looking after each other. But how do you manage your emotions with this kind of thing going on?
Lis Cashin 17:58 Yeah, it’s a really, really good question. And I think the first thing to say is that, you know, we can’t control what is happening on a global level. I don’t know if you know, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People when he talks about the circle of influence and circle of concern. And if we’re panicking about things that we have no impact over, that is not going to be helpful for us. But what we can do is look at what are the things that are within our influence or within our control? And so the first thing… I think a lot of us have been in denial initially, like, it’s probably not going to happen to me, you know, this is a lot of what we see things on the news, oh, that will never happen to me. And suddenly it’s happening to us.
James Nathan 18:46 Just like it’s just flu. Nothing really important to worry about.
Lis Cashin 18:48 Yeah, it’s fine. Yeah, it’ll all be fine. And then suddenly, it’s like, oh, there’s no food in the shops. Oh, what am I going to do? My friend yesterday, there was no baby milk for her baby. You know, no formula. So then, and people are going into that causes more panic. So I think the first thing is accept, accept what’s happening, even though it’s really, really painful, is to say this is happening. This is happening. And what is it that I can now do within my circle of influence and make this the best for myself and my family and my loved ones and my community? What is it that I can influence? So if I’m not in a high risk category, can I go and support somebody who is, you know, can I leave food on their doorstep? That is something I can choose to do in a very giving space? You know, if I…. if I’m worried, I can’t pay my rent, or I can’t pay my mortgage, I can ring my bank, I can speak to my landlord. You know, that’s within my control. So start to take the control that you can take. Even if you’re still really worried about the bigger outcome? There are things that we can start on a very practical level. I would say initially, you know, we can’t choose what’s happening, but we can choose how we respond to what’s happening.
James Nathan 20:11 Right Yeah. Okay.
Lis Cashin 20:13 Yeah. So that’s a key, a key thing. There’s always different perspectives. And, you know, these challenges can be opportunities. But I know that’s, you know, that’s easier for me to say, because I’m not in a higher risk category here. And for people who are, you know, they’re not going to be seeing the opportunity for this potentially right now. But maybe the opportunity is just to be spending more reflective time, you know, maybe it’s being able to…. maybe start to learn to meditate or to read some inspirational books, you know, maybe that’s the thing that they can do, or to learn how to Skype or Zoom and actually keep connected with people worldwide, you know, loved ones worldwide. We may not physically be able to see each other, but we can certainly talk to each other, that is something we can do.
James Nathan 21:03 Yeah. When you mentioned that, I mean, I was I was talking to someone yesterday about this and saying, you know, once this all settles down, before we went on there we were talking about it too that, you know, different ways of work. People don’t like change. None of us do. We like what we know we like what’s normal. You know, when things change, and we have no control over that change. It feels very, we feel very out of sorts. And it takes time to adapt to the difference. And remote working is an interesting thing. I’ve been doing it for a very long time. So I have my own sort of strategies for doing that which includes, you know, getting out of the house, making sure I go where there’s other people, you know, different things that you do each day to, to make it less, I guess less remote. But the ability when…. you know, talking on a Zoom call, I do it so much I don’t think about it, but my wife Mandy is a psychologist. She was doing some sessions yesterday. On on Zoom, she found it difficult because she wasn’t used to it. But you know, in a few days time, it’ll become natural. And I think once we get used to change sometimes little things like this, which throw us out. And when you talk there about, you know, basically looking for opportunities. I wonder how much we, you know, when we often say things to ourselves, like, you know, if I only had time what I’d read that book and he had some time, you know, well, now you may have some time. You know, one of the interesting things about working remotely is when you’re used to having a team when used to having people around you when you’re used to having people placing demands on you constantly. When you work from home on the odd occasion, you get a lot done don’t you.
Lis Cashin 22:47 Oh yeah.
James Nathan 22:48 A huge amount because you haven’t got those distractions. Now. When we work remotely, it’s very similar. And I wonder, you know, if people work in the most sensible way, they can… We can take advantage of this now and use that opportunity to do a few of these things that, you know, we keep saying we wish we had time for.
Lis Cashin 23:08 Definitely. And I think, you know, the way we work is absolutely going to transform coming out of this because I think, you know, at the moment is really good for ecology because no one’s flying. So for a start, you know, that’s, that’s changing, but it’s meaning people are gonna adapt, do more stuff online. So moving forwards that means, you know, even more benefits to the environment, because if we can learn to do more things online, then we won’t have to travel so much. So, you know, that could be great for all of us. So I think there were things that are going to come out of this that we can’t foresee at the moment at the moment we’re…. if we’re in shock, we lose access to our rational functioning. We just go into that fight flight or freeze and it’s, that’s why this is panic, buy in the shops because people are thinking I’m going to die. I’m going to die. I’ve got to go and you know, with a stockpile and it all becomes about our survival mechanism and we’re not thinking rationally about the elderly in our community or it’s just like I’m gonna die I need to get these things in you know and that’s it and then people will start to settle down and then it will will level out more but I think we do need this kind of, this time period like you say where we’re just adjusting at the moment because we’ve had the denial, it’s not going to happen to me. Oh my goodness, it is happening to me. Maybe we’re starting to hear about I heard yesterday about the first person who is in my extended awareness who we think has it, I haven’t been in contact with them, but that’s the first actual person I know, that’s starting to happen now.
James Nathan 24:39 Yeah, yeah, I had that this morning with a guy went to school with no reason Western Australia is a long way from here. But do you think I should I’ll goodness I actually know somebody now.
Lis Cashin 24:48 Yes, exactly. And, that is bound to happen more so I think all fight flight, fight, flight, flight or freeze. I think for me, things like mindfulness and meditation helped me so much with that, you know, I have been doing a lot of meditation this week because I haven’t been through major trauma myself I…. you know, it was triggered in me, I felt it go, Ah, I recognise it, I know what it is, other people won’t be in it at the moment. And so you know, I really want in public to, if you can even just go in the garden and just put your feet on the ground to ground yourself. You know for in shock we can be in our heads and out of our heads and what we really need to do is come back more into our body so just even being on the ground outside go for a walk and just breathing in the air really help us the moment.
James Nathan 25:43 Well, can we talk a bit more about these tools and strategies? Because you talked about kind of you know, accepting where we are Yeah, what we can influence looking at, you know, those things. What else can people do? What when when they’re sitting there thinking Whoa, is me What the hell’s going on? How do they take control back?
Lis Cashin 26:02 I think, just maybe even trying to look at a plan of okay, so this is me now. So what are the things I need to do if you’ve got your family if you’ve got your work, you know, even just starting to map that out even you know, as a family can help if you’re putting it down somewhere, you’re actually seeing it that’s gonna help to be able to then organise around it rather than just being this constant panic in our heads we can start to you know, if we need to look at finances, start to map that out what what finances you need to look at, what can you do now? All of those areas, if that’s your work, you know, how do you need to organise yourself at home, but you say it may be weird for some people initially, but after a few days that will become, you know, we’ll get used to it and that will be okay. Knowing that asking for help is a key one. And I really think this is a massive opportunity for us to normalise mental health because at the moment, I can guarantee you, even those people who two weeks ago said, I’ve never had a problem with my mental health, we’ll be feeling some sort of anxiety at the moment, or stress, most of us must be. And so we’re an opportunity to start to talk about that more, to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. And I’ve got a quote, if I may, if I’ve got I’m just from Brene Brown, I don’t if you know Brene Brown, she’s done some amazing work on vulnerability, which she says, and I think this is really great at the moment in if we can start to allow ourselves to be more vulnerable. Is vulnerability is based on neutrality and requires boundaries and trust. It’s not oversharing, it’s not purging. It’s not indiscriminate disclosure, and it’s not celebrity style, social media information dumps. Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them. And so I think for me at the moment, that means talk to a friend, talk to your family, talk to trusted people. If in your organisation you’re thinking, we don’t have that, and now is it time to really start to think about? How can you start to build more trust within teams so that people can start to share, you know, we’re all feeling anxiety, if we can talk about it, we can help to support each other to move through it. If we’re all sitting here in silence in panic, that’s not going to help any of us. So I think voice in it is a really great step.
James Nathan 28:32
I think that’s a fantastic quote and a really good messages as well. Having spoken with Gian Power earlier in the year, I know you know each other. You know, and he talks a lot about being your authentic self but but allowing your story to come out and to….. and to not, not to hide behind the reality of who you actually are. And that this is a really good time to think about that. We know we’re all in this boat, you know, how are you coping and how are you feeling? And you know what, what can I do to help? It’s not a time to look at what we can get but it’s very much a time to look at what we can give and and you mentioned other thing there actually which was which was meditation. Do you meditate?
Lis Cashin 29:16 I do every day, every day. So there’s loads of things out there. You know, people want to get apps you’ve got Headspace app, there’s Insight timer, there’s Calm. You know, you can…. there’s a free version of them, and then you can pay to extend, you know, and get different levels. But at the moment, you know, it’s good. You can hear somebody else guiding you, then that can take your mind off things for a while. And that can be really beneficial just to help settle ourselves and even a really simple thing people can do is pay three deep breaths. And when I say deep breath, I mean when you breathe in, breathe right into the bottom of your belly and it expands like a balloon. And then you just let it go. Like, really slowly. And what it does is it gives a sign to our parasympathetic nervous system, everything’s okay. And so we start to calm down naturally. So just taking a few deep breaths and really, really help. So if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. And so you can take some really deep breaths, maybe get outside in nature, maybe listen to music, you know, that can be good. Have a dance around your living room. I love music really helps.
James Nathan 30:33 Yeah, you know, sometimes being a bit silly is a really good thing to do. That that deep breath I mean, I, I look at this and think, you know, I used to so poopoo this stuff. I use the Calm app, which is really kind of … it just it just led… it’s not meditation so much as mindfulness and it’s just, you know, you just follow the voice and….. but the focus it gives you and the sense of well being at gives you I think it’s quite incredible. And if people listen to this thinking, who are these old hippies? You know, seriously, do it. Take the breaths, you know, download one of these apps have a go with it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop, get off the treadmill for 10 minutes. And so any 10 minute things, yeah. You know, and then and then come away from it and see how you feel. And the reality for me has been and, for a lot of people I know as well as that, you know, actually, it gives you a sense of clarity.
Lis Cashin 31:32 It does. Yeah,
James Nathan 31:33 And that’s, you know, that’s, that’s really helpful. This I’m so so delighted we could catch up right now, timing couldn’t have been better, but you know, and you’ve given a lot of really good thoughts and lovely, you know, ideas of things that people can do little strategies and things that they can put in their day and then their place. What’s the big one, if you’ve got one big thing that people could be doing now to make Well I usually asked to make their businesses better, but I’m not to make their lives Benefits today and better for the years to come. Lis, what would that be?
Lis Cashin 32:04 Oh, I would say, lead by example. So, allow yourself to walk your talk Be the change that you want to see, you know, be kind, be open, be vulnerable with yourself. And also with those around you. I think at the moment, this is what we all need to do is all to lead by example.
James Nathan 32:24 Fantastic. Lis thank you so, so much. That’s been great.
Lis Cashin 32:28 Thank you. Thank you for having me.
James Nathan 32:31 Pleasure, absolute pleasure.