Mike

Director

Team

When was the first time you heard the term 'mental illness?'

 We've asked this to so many people on and off the podcast. I've had a lot of time to think about it. When I was about 13, my mom started taking me to see a therapist. I don't think there was a specific incident that sparked it but I was an overall angry, restless, and annoyingly curious kid. My anger, like a lot of psychological disorders, drove me to the point of irrational thought and sometimes irrational behavior. Anyway, that therapist taught me how to play chess and I knew he was paid to answer questions I had, so I let it fly. I don't think he or my mom knew how much I picked up from that room. It's been useful later in life and I've gone to therapy on and off since then.  

Describe a time a medical diagnosis changed your perspective on a situation.

 My pops has had a lot of medical complications over his lifetime. Beside him missing an ear and occasionally using a long cane, you wouldn't be able to see any of them on the surface. About a year ago, he was in the hospital, and by that point I knew a lot of his medical history. No idea if a doctor is supposed to do this, but he showed me the full history. I saw the words "Bipolar Disorder." I didn't inquire any further, the diagnosis was almost a decade old and thankfully I accept that diagnoses in the mental health world are sometimes subjective and never the end of anything. They're only a tool to understanding our own path to a happy life. But as open as my dad and I are, he never told me about that, even after I started volunteering for the Foundation. My frustration with the stigma engulfing mental health really sunk in that day.  

If you could replace the term 'mental illness' with another word or set of words, what would it be?

 
I think about this every day and don't have a good answer. I've heard so many strong stances on so many different ways of phrasing it. I use a range of terms and try to feel out what the other person or group is comfortable with. Ultimately though, I know that only 7% of students surveyed in the Brooklyn College Grant endorsed avoiding stigmatizing language as a path to ending the stigma of mental health. Use what you feel comfortable with and don't apologize for it. But if you don't have a strong stance on it, meet somebody in the middle.
  

Who is John Kelly to you?

 
Legend is the term always applied to John. It's true, no doubt. But he's a force to me. Always has been, always will be. I never encountered John in the flesh but I first met him in February of 2017. I was helping John T get the podcast up and running. Learning how to edit audio was beyond frustrating and I cringe looking back at the sound quality of the early podcasts, but making mistakes with audio sometimes sounds awesome. Any time I was ready to pack it in for the night and possibly throw my laptop in the garbage, I would hear this hysterical little sound that was a random disported clipping of John Ts voice or background noise or music we put in. I was like a child every time I heard one, just giddy with random creativity. I was never sure how we pulled off those first 4 episodes, we really didn't know much. But that strength to have a good laugh in the middle of an infinite loop of frustration is something that's never come easy to me. I think that's what John needed me to know. You need to be your own force in this world but I've felt a gentle guidance since John Kelly entered my life. It's brought an extraordinary amount of comfort, confidence and energy during a tough couple years. I couldn't be more grateful to be a part of this - cheers to the Johns and everyone who makes this Foundation go.
  

One thing John Kelly taught you.

 That kindness can be an instinct.  

What projects have you worked on at the Foundation?

 
If we're working on it, I'm working on it.
  

All-time favorite breakfast?

 
The diner is one of my favorite places on earth, just the clang of the kitchen puts my mind at ease. Therefore, I keep it classic - 2 eggs over easy, side of bacon, homefries (preferably the shredded type), rye toast with butter and strawberry jam. Side of pancakes if I'm hungry. Chocolate milk, coffee and water too, in that order.
  

Describe a daily struggle you haven't found a good solution to.

 
Picking my nails. Literally since I can remember, I've picked at my nails. I laugh whenever someone tells me it's a nervous tic. I wonder what actual nervous tics they're missing if they're looking! I do find that when you occupy your hands, you can't pick them, so I try to stay busy...
  

What are you listening to right now?

 
As I'm writing this, I have this playlist called Goodbye Stranger going, titled after the SuperTramp song. It's a real soulful playlist and has some Amy Winehouse, Booker T. and the M.G.'s, the Kinks, Stars, Dirty Projectors, Otis Redding, Van Morrison. But to be honest, rap was my first love and still my favorite style of storytelling.
  

Favorite episode of the podcast?

 
John Kelly anniversary episode. Hands down. Getting to hear all those stories from his friends and family was such an experience. It was like shading in the picture I started of him. I learned that day that kindness was actually an instinct for John. The episode also released when I was traveling the coast of Uruguay. I listened to the full episode lying on the beach, under the stars on the anniversary of John's passing.
  

What's your dream for the mental health movement?

 I have many but if there's any policy makers out there: stop nipping at the heels of progress. This is definitely not an endorsement for anyone of any party but congrats to New York and Virginia to take the first step in mandating comprehensive mental health education in schools.
 
 

Any interesting jobs in the past?

 I've done a lot of things since I started working at 14. I'm just going to list all the things I can remember in somewhat chronological order. Busboy, waiter, barback, gardener, snow shoveler, warehouse laborer, pyrotechnician, insurance intern, front desk employee at SoulCycle, law clerk (2 weeks...), research assistant, investment banker, field staff for Bernie Sanders in Norfolk Virginia, finance staff for Democratic candidates in NY-1, project manager for SoulCycle's software development department, Director of the JCK Foundation and Editor of the Collected Layers podcast. I still do pyrotechnics on the side and work the brunch shift Saturday at Abilene in Brooklyn, come on down and chat.  

Who's your hero?

 
Willie Esposito. Almost all the work I've done on this website has been at a desk with his picture above it.
  

Any big regrets?

 Not starting more conversations with "how are you."  

Any hidden talents?

 
Getting people excited on rollercoasters. I remember my friend Justin Vertichio came with my family and I to Dorney Park. He wouldn't ride a coaster all day and finally an hour before the park was closing he tried one. We road it 7 times in 60 minutes. It was one of the best moments of my life.
  

What would you tell someone struggling right now looking at this page?

 
As much as you may feel like you need to get "stronger" to deal with what you're going through, sometimes stripping back the layers of any perceived strength is the difficult first process to getting help. Oftentimes it may be the strengths that society wanted us to have, rather than the ones we actually want. Don't be afraid to search inward to find the willingness to get help.

ChakshuJohnTeam