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Being kind during adversity – #036

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Today we’re speaking with Michelle Frechette. She’s been working with WordPress for many years and is currently working for GiveWP as their head of customer success.

Her story today is divided into roughly 4 sections.

First we talk about her WordPress journey, how she got involved with the community in the deep way that she has.

We then move on to speak about her encounters with depression over the years, how it has impacted her life and what form it takes.

Next Michelle tells us about Fibromyalgia… a painful condition which has a profound effect upon how much she can do each and every day.

We end with an uplifting chat about her fabulous initiatives to bring more kindness into the world.

It’s a really broad and deep discussion about so many different subjects. I loved chatting with Michelle, and I hope that you like listening.

As I mentioned we do cover the topics of depression and anxiety and so this is a trigger warning if these subjects impact upon you.

Please go and check out her kindnessis2020 project. It’s wonderful!

Interviewed by Nathan Wrigley.

We hope you enjoy the show, please do subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. We’re always looking for feedback, if you have any thoughts or comments, please do reach out.

And remember… Together we can #PressForward

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Michelle Frechette

Michelle Frechette

Michelle Frechette has been working with WordPress for many years and is currently working for GiveWP as their…

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Nathan Wrigley: [00:00:00] Welcome to the PressForward podcast. I’m Nathan Wrigley, and I’d like to thank you for joining us again, and if this is your first time with us, well, I hope that you like it and that you find it useful. 

We release the PressForward podcast each week and we’d love it if you’d add it to your list of podcasts, the ones that you consume regularly. You can do this by subscribing to us on your favorite podcast player. Go to wpandup.org/podcast/feed/.

Today we’re going to be talking to Michelle Frechette, but before that, I’d like to tell you a little bit about what WP&UP do and how you might get involved. We’re a nonprofit working in the WordPress space with a mission to offer support to those who need it. This could be with your mental health, your physical health, or perhaps with your business or skills.

Whatever it might be, you can reach out to us. We offer a range of support options such as phone, live chat, and email, and we’ve helped many, many people so far. You can find out about this on our homepage, which is at wpandup.org

To function we need to raise money. And until now, that was either via donations at wpandup.org/donate/ or by buying one of the larger, more expensive sponsorship packages.

A few weeks ago, we started to offer a much more bespoke, à la carte way that you can help us out. Now you can pick and choose which areas of WP&UP you’d like to sponsor. So, if putting your brand in front of thousands of live event attendees fills you with joy, well, you can sponsor those specifically.

If you love the longevity of hearing your brand played out across the speakers, then the PressForward  podcast might be for you. 

It may be that you’d like your logo on the WP&UP.org website like Matt Davis from Funnel Packs did, and obviously, that’s an option too. Or perhaps you simply want to give with no expectation of a return.

Well, donation is an option as well. Please go to wpandup.org/fund/ to find out more. Thank you.

So today we’re speaking with Michelle Frechette. She’s been working with WordPress for many years and is currently working for GiveWP as their head of customer success. Her story is divided into roughly four sections. 

First, we talk about her WordPress journey, how she got involved with the community in the deep way that she has.

We then move on to speak about her encounters with depression over the years, how this has impacted her life and what form it takes. 

Next, Michelle tells us about fibromyalgia, a painful condition which has a profound effect upon how much she can do each and every day. 

We end with an uplifting chat about her fabulous initiatives to bring more kindness into the world.

It’s a really deep and broad discussion about so many different subjects. I love chatting with Michelle and I hope that you like listening. As I mentioned, we do cover the topics of depression and anxiety, and so this is a trigger warning if these subjects impact upon you. So, without further ado, Michelle Frechette, please introduce yourself.  

Michelle Frechette: [00:04:10] Hi Nathan. Well, first, thanks for having me here. It’s a pleasure to connect with you. I’m Michelle Frechette and, my day job, my full time job is I am the head of customer success for GiveWP, but I have a lot of other things that I like to do. I am a creative person and I move in many directions.

One of the things I try to do is, you know, work a little bit of a couple of side gigs here and there. So I just launched 404play.com designing custom 404 pages for businesses that could use a little Easter egg and hidden treasure here and there. So that’s kind of fun. But I also have some side initiatives that are not moneymakers.

Things like kindnessis2020.org and just a bunch of other helping people out as I go. I also do a lot of business coaching as well.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:04:55] As you will no doubt hear over the duration of this podcast, Michelle is a remarkable person. She has a lot of initiatives which have the sole purpose of cheering people up.

As she mentioned, she works for GiveWP, a plugin company which enables people to set up donation forms on their WordPress websites. It seems like this is a really super fit for her. How did she come to be working there? Was this a coincidence or did she strive to work there? 

Michelle Frechette: [00:05:28] I will say it’s a little bit of both, but there definitely was some kismet involved. I had spoken at WordCamp Pittsburgh, I want to say it was 2016 perhaps, and Devin and Jason from GiveWP were also speaking at Pittsburgh that year, and I sat in on their talk and I was live tweeting like I usually do through a session when I’m there and connected with Bridget who was at that time also doing their marketing. She was re-tweeting. And so we had connected that way. 

And so I had met them there and it was interesting. And I had learned about GiveWP. I do at least one free website a year pro bono for a nonprofit organization. And so I try to find ways to help them raise money. And I was like, wow, I’d never heard of this before. I’d just been using, you know, Gravity Forms or Caldera or whatever. And so I like, well, let’s check out this Give thing. And I installed Give on a website and I was like, this works really, really well. 

So fast forward to the, I want to say it was the next year, it was 2018 and I was speaking at WordCamp Ottawa up in Canada, and Jason and Bridget were there. I think Bridget was speaking there, and they were sponsoring. And I walked up to the table and I said, you probably don’t remember me from a couple of years ago, but I met you in Pittsburgh, and I’ve started using Give on a couple of client sites and Jason said, “Oh, let me see.” 

So I pulled up the site that I had been working on and showed it to him and he’s like, “This is really good. Could we interview you about this website and you know, do a showcase on our blog about it?” And I said, sure. So the next day we sat down and we started talking through, and I said to him, “I know, I know I have my own freelance agency, but if you ever had an opening at Give, yours is the one organization I’d want to work for.”

And by January, I was employed full time as their new head of customer success, which was a department they didn’t even have. I have never loved the job as much as I love this job.  

Nathan Wrigley: [00:07:20] From what Michelle just said, it sounds like she’s heavily into WordPress. Building sites, attending WordCamps and so forth. I wonder just how deep her devotion to WordPress is. 

Michelle Frechette: [00:07:35] I am all in. I’ve drunk the Kool Aid as they say, and absolutely. I’ve been working with WordPress websites for about 10 years now, and I am the coordinator for the local meetup. I founded WordCamp Rochester five years ago here in Rochester, New York. I am an organizer for WordCamp Buffalo. I am now a mentor for other WordCamps around the world, and I’m on the organizing team for WordCamp US. 

I’ve spoken 36 times at different WordCamps over the last five years and I traveled to as many WordCamps as I can. I absolutely adore this community. I love how we rally around one another, how we help each other, how even though sometimes we compete for the same jobs, we still are a community that supports and works well and helps one another.

I’ve never been involved in a global community like this that is so supportive. And it’s not that we don’t have our problems, it isn’t all Pollyannas, you know, it isn’t all stars and honey and everything else. But when it comes down to, as we say, the brass tacks, this is a community that I could 100% get behind.

There’s almost a magic behind it and how it connects us. And you know, to think that a piece of software could have that kind of a global effect and create a community like it has. It’s just a phenomenal thing. I have a theory that we’re not just open source software, but we are open source community and the way that we embrace open source transcends code and gets right into our own DNA in a way.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:09:07] We’re going to change gears a little bit now as Michelle has a very interesting story to tell about times that were not so easy. You see Michelle experiences depression and anxiety, and this has had an impact upon her life over the years. So I wanted to track back and find out about when she first encountered depression in her life.

Michelle Frechette: [00:09:33] You know, I can’t actually pinpoint a moment in time where I look back and say that’s where it began. But as I work through how I experience life today, I know that some of the triggers for me came from around my teenage years when my parents went through a divorce. My dad, you know, left the family, so to speak.

And my father and I have a good relationship now, but it was rocky for a while. I’m the eldest child. If you ask my mother, there are three of us. If you ask my father, there are six of us. So that’s because he’s been married three times. That’s more children, but I’m the eldest out of six children, and my father ascribed to me a level of maturity that I didn’t actually possess in my early teens and shared with me information about his history that perhaps he shouldn’t have, meaning his infidelities when he was married to my mother. And that had a huge impact on how I processed relationships and how I processed love relationships and marriage relationships. And so that has definitely impacted my global view of the world.

And it’s taken, I’m 51 years old now. And so it’s taken a few years for me to shed that, if you will, and develop my own global views and my own views of love and relationships and what marriage should look like. But you don’t just stop having anxiety. You don’t just stop having depression over those things, but you learn how to manage your own as you go forward.

And sometimes that is for me, in the form of some medications that help me deal with it, especially anxiety. I deal with anxiety far more than I deal with depression. Which I guess is for me a good thing because I can get out of bed every day, but the anxiety can be crippling. I actually posted this in our Facebook group not too long ago.

It is, what is, today is January 29th and I woke up on January 1st ill. With, I thought it was just a cold. We’re now in 29 days of bronchitis and I am not sleeping and I was in the emergency room three times and I had my first public anxiety attack, true panic attack, where I was vocalizing and I couldn’t make myself stop vocalizing, this horrible wailing sound and I couldn’t stop shaking and I didn’t know what to do and I felt like I couldn’t breathe and it was just, it was horrible.

Luckily I was in a hospital and they knew how to help me right then and there. I was having chest X rays done and I got overwhelmed with the whole thing, and that’s where I had the anxiety attack and they sat me down right back on the, the, the gurney and the one x-ray attendant talked me through how to calm myself down and the other one got a wet cloth and handed it to me.

They didn’t like force it on me cause I did, I don’t think they knew what to do, put it on my forehead and I remembered the four, three, two, one. And I try to remember that whenever I have anxiety, you know, four things you can see, three things you can hear, two things you can feel and one thing you can taste and focus myself through those four things.

To try to get myself off feeling like I can’t breathe. I could breathe, and my brain knew I could breathe, but my psyche didn’t think I could breathe. And it was very strange. It felt like about an hour, and I think it was 45 seconds, but it was embarrassing. It was, I felt humiliated and they didn’t make me feel that way.

They were 100% professional, worked me through the whole process. And got me to where I could breathe and move forward. Got me back down to, you know, where my mom was waiting for me, things like that. And then I had to back myself out of feeling humiliated and embarrassed by it. 

And part of getting around the humiliation and embarrassment was posting that story publicly in our Slack and in our Facebook group for two reasons. Number one, if I can put it out there publicly, I control it. It doesn’t control me. And number two, if my experience can help anybody else, then I want that to happen too because I really am all about supporting our community. I am very open with the way that I live with my, I try not to say struggle. I try not to say affliction. I try not to use words that sound like something’s been done to me, but how I live with the things that I have to live with, like anxiety and depression and the fibromyalgia. 

Nathan Wrigley: [00:13:49] If you have personal experience with depression, then you’ll know what it’s like. You might have an understanding of what it feels like and can notice some warning signs. However, perhaps you don’t have this experience, and although you know that it is experienced by many people, you don’t really have an understanding of what it’s like, what it actually feels like. So I asked Michelle to tell us about what it is like for her. 

Michelle Frechette: [00:14:20] I think it’s interesting because some people think that depression is, I’m sad right now and I can have a depressed day, I suppose, but there’s, to me a difference between, I’m going through something difficult and I’m dealing with that and I have sadness and I have these feelings about it versus a clinical depression where I could be in the happiest part of my life and still not understand why I feel sad. 

And so, you know, I, there was a point and being somebody who does battle with depression, I lost a job once. I was laid off. I wasn’t even fired, but I was laid off and it shook me to my core. Was working at a university and I had had two weeks of vacation, so I was feeling really good. I went to work and within an hour of returning to my job, after two weeks gone, my boss and the HR rep came in to tell me I no longer had a job and I was completely destroyed. I had tied so much of who I was into, how I did my job and who am I, who I was in that job that I didn’t even know which end was up.

And I hardly got out of bed for three months. I spent three months sleeping and not understanding why this was happening to me as opposed to understanding how I could try to climb out of it. And so… trying to figure out how to get around that. And so that for me, that was a little bit of both. It was situational in that I was really, really reacting emotionally to external stimulation, which was losing that job, but also being somebody who battles with clinical depression, having to kind of have that be a twofold thing.

And so for me, part of it was not being able to get out of bed, not being able to hold conversations. You know, not showering for a week because I couldn’t bring myself to actually care enough that I smelled terrible and my hair was awful. I’m divorced now, but my poor husband at the time, you know, I think he probably wished I was sleeping on the couch and he didn’t know how to help me. He didn’t know how to, to deal with me.

And so everybody in my family, my two step sons at the time, and I have a daughter, everybody tiptoed around me because they didn’t know how to help and they didn’t know what to do to make it better. And the truth is there was nothing anybody else could do because it was all within me.

Of course, I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist or anything like that, but my understanding for me personally is that we can have situational depression. And situational depression is how we react to situations that are external to us. So losing a job, losing a family member or a loved one, and we can absolutely battle depression based on those things.

We can also have chemical imbalances in our brain. That is what we call clinical depression, and the chemical imbalances can be corrected or at least helped with the aid of not only therapy, of course, therapy is always something that helps, but also medications and you know, external chemicals through those medications that help us bring the right balance of what our brains need to be able to function as we feel to be what is normal.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:17:19] I confess that I did not fully understand that there were multiple types of depression. Situational and clinical. I was only aware that it could be felt more intensely at different times given that Michelle has experience of clinical depression, I wanted to know how this manifests itself. Does it come in where you’ve sort of days, weeks, or months, and could its onset be discerned in some way?

Michelle Frechette: [00:17:48] I think it probably is different for every person. For me, sometimes it’s just that sense of dread. It isn’t necessarily anger and it isn’t necessarily… sadness, but this dread of you don’t want to get up because you don’t know what bad might happen today. And so being able to take the right medications to balance that in a better way. Life is going to happen regardless.

And so you’re still going to have those ups and downs. But if you’re not dealing with parts that need to be medicated or working with a therapist who will talk you through some of those, the downs of a normal person, normal being somebody with — that doesn’t have a clinical depression, are going to be more down than what most people would expect.

So people who don’t have depression, who don’t deal with depression but live with it on a regular basis, they’ll say things they don’t understand why you can’t just be happy. And they’ll try to say things to you that will make you, they think will make it better. You know, I’ll just, you know, Oh, don’t think about that.

Don’t you know, think about the positive. Look at all the good things you have in your life. You should be happy. And that just makes it worse because you know, on a, on a cerebral level that you should be happy and then you feel guilty about your depression. Because if I should be happy and I’m not, what’s wrong with me?

And if other people are perceiving me this way and I’m having a negative effect on other people, you know, how much worse off a person I must be that I’m affecting other people in a negative way. When you look at certain celebrities who have committed suicide, for example, Anthony Bordain, Mrs Doubtfire, Robin Williams, you know, people like that and you think that they had all the money in the world.

They had people who adored them. They had every door open to them. There was nothing that wasn’t possible for those people. How could life have been so horrible that they made a decision to end it? 

And the only thing that you can think in that situation is, it wasn’t a situation that made them that way, that there is a clinical depression, a clinical issue in their brain that doesn’t allow them to see all the good. They still have the dread, they still have the sadness, they still have whatever you know, demon that plagues us. They have the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other, and the devil is the louder voice in those cases. And so we can never put ourselves 100% in somebody else’s shoes. But if we at least try to have the empathy and sympathy towards what others are going through, we can affect how we interact with them in a much more positive way.

One of the things that I have often said to people, it’s — people feel helpful when they say, if you need anything, let me know. That is actually the least helpful thing to ever say to somebody who deals with anxiety and depression because we already feel like a burden, so we are never going to reach out to you to tell you that we need something.

However, if you rephrase that question to, “How can I help you?” That’s a different question altogether. When my best friend says, “Let me know if you need anything”, I know I can reach out to her, but I’m not going to. When my best friend says to me, “How can I help you?” I say to her, “I need some help with my laundry.”

“Do you have an hour to come help me?” It’s a different question and it asks a different answer. It doesn’t feel like you’re being placative to somebody. Instead, it feels like you really are seeking to help. 

Nathan Wrigley: [00:21:04] In the UK we have an institution called the NHS. This stands for the National Health Service. It’s the way that most people access healthcare. This could be a visit to the doctor’s or hospital, in fact, just about anything related to your health. It’s not a perfect system as any UK resident will tell you, but it is free at the point of use. General taxation of the whole population foots the bill.

Now, I don’t know for certain, but I think that many types of medication also fall under the NHS and are therefore free. Now in a situation where you need such medication, this system can be very helpful. 

I wondered if Michelle has access to medication or if she has to pay and therefore budget for it.

Does she sometimes have to forego buying medication because there are other more pressing constraints on her finances? 

Michelle Frechette: [00:22:01] It does happen and it’s all dependent on whether or not somebody has access to health insurance. I, when I was married, I had, you know, had a great health insurance plan and I could get meds very easily.

I think I was paying maybe $35 a month for my medications. My divorce was final last October, and my insurance went away with it. And for a while I had to figure out how I was going to make my pills last. And so I was, instead of taking my medication seven days a week, I was taking it three days a week and trying to make it stretch a little bit until I could get back into affordable health insurance because the medications themselves were over $300 a month, and that was not something that I could sustain.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:22:43] We move the discussion on how to talk about something completely different. Michelle has a condition called fibromyalgia, and I confess that I’d never heard of it before. So I simply wanted to know what it is and how it affects her.

Michelle Frechette: [00:23:02] So fibromyalgia also will present differently for different people. So just like depression, any illness is going to affect different people differently. Even pneumonia, you know, our cold is going to feel differently to one person versus another. And a lot of that just has to do with our general health. A lot of that just has to do with who we are. You know how, where we are in our life journey, I’m 51 so fibromyalgia might affect me differently than somebody in their twenties for example.

But generally speaking and speaking specifically for my experiences, my fibromyalgia manifests in a few different ways. One is pain, and so fibromyalgia is daily pain. And I don’t say this lightly, but I don’t remember the last day I didn’t live in pain, and that’s even with medications to deal with it.

And just like people who live with multiple sclerosis or other autoimmune diseases, you can have what are called flare ups. And so flare ups can make things more difficult. So I could have a period where I’m in a lot more pain and my daily medications may not be helpful. And it can be difficult to even get out of bed physically because of the pain, not necessarily emotionally. Although of course, things, when you have depression, anxiety, and fibro together, they are going to work together. They’re not, as my college professor used to say, they’re not tubs on their own bottoms. They’re all interconnected. So you know, if you are in a lot of pain, that’s going to affect you. Mentally as well. 

But with fibromyalgia, it’s just general muscle pain for me. And so sometimes it works into the way my — it’ll feel like joint pain, but it’s actually the tendons and the ligaments that are being affected. And so when I move those things, to move my joints, I, I’ll have more pain. if I spend more time on the computer, I might have, you know, right shoulder pain from dealing with the mouse and, and things like that.

And so for me, ergonomics has helped a lot. So I’m a short person. Most desks are not the proper height for a short person. So I have to raise my chair up, but then my feet dangle because I’m, I’m a short person and so I have just under my desk right now, even I have a step stool that’s actually, it pivots and it’s made just for that.

So I had my feet up on kind of a riser so that my feet touch the floor, so to speak, even though it’s not technically the floor. So that takes the pain off the lower back and so my shoulders can be at the right height for my workstation. So ergonomics can play a lot into how, how you work with fibromyalgia.

Repetitive motion disorder can really come into play a lot too. So if you are constantly at a computer or you’re on your phone a lot, things like that, you can experience localized pain that has to do with how you’re interacting with your technology, for example.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:25:37] It sounds like Michelle’s work environment is really making a difference.

She’s got some additional items which allow her to be more comfortable and no doubt more productive. I wondered if she’d provided these herself because how would your employer know that you needed such equipment unless you asked for them. 

Michelle Frechette: [00:26:00] And they don’t know to ask the questions, necessarily. You know, especially in the fields that we’re in, the technology fields with WordPress, et cetera. There are a lot of small companies, and so they don’t know to ask those questions. They aren’t some big conglomerate that hires people in HR to make sure everybody’s got an ergonomic workstation. They rely on us to say to them, “I’m having difficulty at my desk. How can you help me?” That’s not how employees work either. We don’t think to ask for the things that we need.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:26:25] Given what we’ve heard over the last few minutes. I’m struck by how positive Michelle is. With so much going on, it would have been easy to have become consumed by it all. It’s like she’s got some inner strength, and I wanted to know where this was coming from.

Michelle Frechette: [00:26:45] Well, I think there’s, there’s not a simple answer, so bear with me as I kind of meander through this. But part of it, there’s, and I’m going to tell you quickly about something called spoon theory and spoon theory is, a woman with fibromyalgia was explaining to her friend why she can’t do some things.

And spoon theory was the idea that there’s only so much energy that you have to expend. And this woman was sitting in a cafe and she gathered up all the spoons from the tables around her, and she had, I think it was 12 spoons in her hand, and she said, these spoons represent the energy that I have throughout the day and energy allotment.

So if I take a shower in the morning, one of my spoons has been used, because for you to jump in and out of the shower may not be anything. For me to take a shower is Herculean, because my arms kill me when I’m up over my, like washing my hair and things like that, so I expend spoons just getting ready for work in the morning, more spoons if I have to take a shower in the morning as opposed to night, things like that.

If I have to go grocery shopping, that could be half of my spoons for the day, just walking through the grocery store, because of the energy combined with the pain. You know, combating pain takes so much more energy. And so, once I’ve expended my spoons for the day, I’m done. But I may still have things I have to do so I may be borrowing spoons from tomorrow. So I ended up in this energy deficit, and that’s what’s — is what spoon theory is about. And so you will hear people with chronic illnesses and autoimmune illnesses call themselves spoonies, because we understand that sometimes you just run out of the energy. 

So for me, it’s been, for me to be able to have the positive spin that I show the world, I do feel positive.

So it’s not that I don’t experience that. Last night I hit the wall, so to speak, and I had a little breakdown and I let myself cry for 10 minutes. Until I was done. And part of being honest with who I am and dealing with the depression and anxiety and things that I deal with is allowing myself to have those feelings and not feel bad about needing to cry sometimes.

I also am not afraid to ask for the help that I need anymore. I used to be, I didn’t want people to see weak sides of myself, you know? But it’s not a weakness to need help. I don’t consider it a weakness to help others. I don’t consider them weak if they need my assistance. So why should I feel weak if I need to ask somebody for help.

With fighting bronchitis for the last three weeks, simple things like changing the kitty litter in my house, taking out my trash, I couldn’t do it. I just had no energy. But I have coworkers who say to me things like, “Do you need gas in your car? I’ll go gas up your car for you.” 

You know, I sit down in the morning and Jeff will make my coffee every morning. I don’t ask for coffee. I don’t have to say — I just turn around and there’s a coffee cup and he knows exactly how — he makes my coffee better than I make my coffee for myself. And so being able to, I don’t want to say rely on people because I don’t want it to sound like I use people as a crutch. I really don’t.

But having people in my life who understand that I have needs that they can help with and that they feel they can do without infringing too much on their lives too. So, you know, having those people just say, “Could I come over and take out your trash for you?” Or last week when I just still wasn’t feeling well, I had a friend say, “I’m bringing you dinner Wednesday night. What time should I come?” You know, things like that. 

And those are the things I try to do for other people. And those are the things that I appreciate when other people think to do those things for me. So that’s one way that I can stay positive is that there are those people in my life. The other is that I really do try to overcome my struggles, if you will, with positivity.

And I was talking to you a little bit earlier, before we were recording, about the idea of what a paradigm shift is. And I had read, and I’m probably going to botch the story completely, but the idea is still valid. I had read in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a story that Stephen Covey wrote, and it was right at the beginning of the book because honestly, that’s as far as I read. I felt like I had got what I needed out of it and I stopped. 

But… He was sitting on what we call the subway, I believe you call it the Tube over there. And he was sitting on the subway and there was a man there whose children were just running. And laughing and just making all kinds of havoc on the subway train.

And Stephen Covey was trying to read and he was just… annoyed as anything that these kids were so disruptive to everybody who was just trying to get from point A to point B. And he was sitting there getting angrier and angrier at this man who wasn’t controlling his children. And then he made eye contact with this fellow and the guy looked at him and he said, “I’m sorry, my kids are such a mess right now.

But I just heard that their mother, you know, their mother just passed away in the hospital and we’re on our way to deal with, with all of that, those issues. And I don’t want to steal their joy until the very last possible moment.” 

And Stephen Covey had, when he called a paradigm shift, at that point. He went from angry at a father who can’t control his children to empathy and sympathy for a man who was allowing his children joy until their entire world was going to be disrupted.

And so whenever I have the urge to be annoyed with somebody or not understand why somebody behaves the way they do, I try to — even if I invent my own paradigms for them in my own head, figure out why somebody might be the way that they are, and then accommodate for that in my head and try to, in every instance, show as much kindness as possible. Because I truly believe that kindness is the way that the world will change to be a better place. And I decided to brand myself this week as the kindness zealot.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:32:10] Michelle has decided to become the kindness zealot. What a fabulous phrase! She really means it, too. Head over to her latest project, kindnessis2020.org and you can find out more.

Michelle Frechette: [00:32:28] So it actually started for me right around New Year’s Eve. I was home alone for the holidays this year. And I was dog sitting, so I was feeling particularly off-put that everybody else got to have a good time. And I got to sit home with my daughter’s dog and instead of feeling sorry for myself, I decided that I could do something to make myself feel better. And then if I could have an effect on others, that would be even better.

And I’d been playing around with the idea that 2020 is perfect vision. You know, I wear bifocals, for the most part. So I do not have 2020 vision, but we can correct for 2020 vision, right? So with my glasses off, I don’t see perfectly, I put them on and I do have 2020 vision. And the idea for me is that if we look at the world through kindness lenses, we can see perfectly and we can perfectly effect a change to ourselves, and then hopefully that will ripple out and create what I’m calling a kindness wave or a kindness tsunami. I would love it if it was that big that it was all encompassing. 

And so kindness is 2020 and of course this is the year 2020 so it was the perfect time to initiate it and that if we can, on a daily basis — so what I’m doing with it is on a daily basis, I’m posting on my own Twitter account, a kindness prompt. So every day — today’s was, donate old blankets and towels to an animal shelter. Something simple, you know, don’t put them in the dustbin. I use your own terminology there. We call it the trash, but don’t put it in the dustbin. You know, donate those things to an animal shelter. They can be used, still. They don’t have to go to the landfill. 

The other day, I think I put that chocolate is the gateway to kindness. Nobody ever says no to chocolate, right? Even if they’re not gonna eat it, they’ll put it in their pocket for later. They’ll share it with somebody else. As soon as you offer somebody a piece of chocolate, you’ve created some kar — some sort of bond with somebody. Simple things like that, being prompt. You know, try not to run late all the time and taking advantage of other people’s time. Things that just show kindness in small but noticeable ways.

If you’re on Twitter and I believe you are, follow #KindnessIs2020. I believe I’m the only person using that right now. And so all of my prompts every day, you’ll be able to see different ideas of ways that you can affect kindness in the world. The other thing that I’m doing with that is I make accepting people’s kindness stories.

So there’s on the website, if you go to kindnessis2020.org there’s a place that says, you know, contact me or submit a story. And you’ll see already there’s, there’s three different kinds of blog posts, categories, and one is your stories, kindness stories. And some of them are one sentence, and some of them are a little bit longer, but different ways people have either experienced, given, or witnessed kindness in the world. Just reading these little stories that people have are, they’re just exciting. They’re just fun things that people have been able to share with me, and being able to share those out again with other people and what the world is kind of exciting, little ripples. Like I said, little ripples that turn into, into waves eventually.

And the third is I’m going to be blogging about kindness throughout the year as well. There’s one post there now, but I’m going to be building more — my, my goal is to actually turn this into a book at some point about how, how we can be kind. How the kindness project that I’m working on works, and you know how, how it’s affecting people.

And so my goal is to just collect information. I’m, I’m very forthright on the blog. You’ll see that it’s not that this some, like nefarious thing and she’s, she’s posting about kindness to get everybody’s stories, but to make the world a kinder place. And one of the initial additional initiatives that I have on there is my kindness postcards, which I think you have seen online as well. And so there’s 366 days this year, which means my kindness prompts, there’s, you get, you get a bonus in leap year, the 366 kindness prompts, but I’m also committed this year to send out 366 encouraging postcards to whoever wants them.

And so I’ve already, it’s the 29th, that I’ve already sent 35 postcards this year. I send them anywhere in the world. And believe it or not, it costs a dollar 15 us to send a postcard outside of the US but that’s okay because for me it’s important to do. And so I’ve sent postcards already to India and Scotland, all over the UK, actually. I’ve sent them all over Canada, the United States. I can’t even think of all the different places, the Netherlands. So there’s, there’ve been postcards already all over the world, just in the first 29 days of January of this year. 

And I sit down and write these postcards about once a week, sometimes anywhere from seven cards to, I think 15 was the most I did in one sitting so far. And I don’t just rubber stamp the same message on every card. If I know you personally, then I can absolutely personalize the card. If I don’t know you, but you’ve reached out to me with an address through social media, I look and see who you are, and I try to write something encouraging about who you are and how — who I see that you are online. And so every person that gets a postcard from me gets something that’s handwritten and personal to them.

And the goal is that even receiving, and we get so much junk mail, we get somebody’s bills in the mail. When you get a postcard that somebody is taking the time to hand write to you specifically, it just, you know, what I’ve heard so far is it brightens people’s days. 

Nathan Wrigley: [00:37:39] What a nice thing to do! Cheering other people up and just being kind. Perhaps Michelle in turn feels good for writing these postcards. A beneficial side effect, if you will. 

Michelle Frechette: [00:37:56] Absolutely, and it really was not — the intention was to make myself feel good about sending postcards. It’s not to make, look, who I am, I send postcards to people. It really is because when somebody receives one of my postcards, a lot of people will message me directly.

And thank me. Some people are taking photos of them and posting them on Twitter and Facebook, and that makes me happy too, because it shares the joy even beyond just the two of us. But you say the byproduct, let’s say side effect. If we’re going to talk about, you know, depression and anxiety, one of the side effects of kindness is you feel better.

I’m not a clinician. I can’t say that that’s going to work for everybody. And I don’t profess to tell anybody else how to deal with any of their own depression and anxiety issues. But for me, putting kindness out into the world, being positive like that actually helps me feel better about who I am and about my effect on the world.

Nathan Wrigley: [00:39:05] One of the purposes of the PressForward podcast is to lift the lid on topics that don’t get talked about enough. To allow people to share their stories, so that other people might listen, and by listening, they may gain an understanding that they’re not alone. 

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That’s it for this week. Please let us know if you’re enjoying the podcast. If you’re finding it useful or helpful, you can reach out to us at wpandup.org/contact/. There’s a serious point to all of this and that is that WP&UP is here to provide help and support. That help is available to you or for the people that you know and can be easily accessed at the wpandup.org website.

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Nathan Wrigley

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