When you hit rock bottom feeling like happiness is out of reach, and there’s nowhere else to go, remember that life is full of surprises. There is always an opportunity to heal and recover so you can live your best life. Join your host Timothy J. Hayes, Psy.D., as he talks with Morgan Beard about managing depression and anxiety for personal development and health wellness. Morgan deeply craved love, connection, and deeper conversation because of the circumstances she had growing up. In this episode, she discusses how she navigated life, searching for her purpose despite everything she’s been through. She explains how she went through a tough transition, found happiness, and began building a life coaching business to help people rise from challenges and obstacles. Today, she has dedicated her life to using creativity to heal and empower. Listen to this episode and be reminded that there’s a lot of positive stuff in the future!
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Managing Depression For Happiness And Personal Development With Morgan Beard
Morgan Beard has dedicated her life to using creativity to heal and empower. Managing depression and anxiety since age thirteen made her personal development something that was non-negotiable. After getting her Master’s in Art Therapy, her life came to a screeching halt and she burned out doing what she thought was her life purpose and yet entered another depressive episode.
Focused for the first time ever on her own happiness, Morgan started over in Los Angeles, California and began building her life coaching business. She was focused on helping others to restore belief in themselves, rewrite old programs that were keeping them stuck, and build lives full of fun and meaning. This gave her the confidence to embrace her passion for singing and to make music to help people move. She is working on her debut pop EP to be released in 2022. She can be reached via her website, MorganBeard.coach.
Morgan, thank you so much for being here.
It’s my pleasure.
I’m grateful that you agreed to do the interview. I wonder if you could start us off by talking about how you got into the work you do and what drives your passion for it.
The reason that I’m in the wellness space, the mental health and emotional health space is because it’s something that I’ve always needed access to myself. I’ve been struggling with major depression and anxiety since I was about thirteen. I grew up in a high-pressure, intense prep school academic environment. I was also an only child. I was very scrutinized by my parents. Everything I did felt like I was under a microscope. At the same time, I wasn’t being seen. That’s a pretty common story, especially for people who grew up with parents that weren’t seeing themselves.
Remember that you are worth it and capable of living a lighter life.
I always felt like the world was at my feet, yet no one cared about me. I developed this low, an understatement, opinion of myself. I was self-hating as a teenager. I would look in the mirror and think, “There’s no one that could be uglier or more of a waste of space than me.” I didn’t know what that was at that age. I didn’t know it was dysmorphic. I didn’t know it was major depression.
I was blocked from getting mental health support. It was something that I deeply craved. I deeply craved intimacy, love, connection, deeper conversation because my parents weren’t that emotionally mature and didn’t understand their own emotions and didn’t get the support they needed when they were growing up. I always felt tremendously out of place until I went to college.
I got away from that under a microscope environment. Towards the end of my college career, I finally was able to get counseling and that was the first time I was put on an antidepressant. That was a tough transition for me but it helped me keep going and get to the next step, and at least not be bogged down with thoughts of wanting to die all the time, thoughts of total worthlessness.
I went out and I tried to do the career that my parents thought I should do, which was an independent film. I moved to New York City for that job. It was good but I always felt I was living in someone else’s dream job. I’m not doing what is true to me. I still felt there was that deep disconnect that I’ve been trying to get away from my entire life.
Through being in therapy, continuing that journey, having that safe space of being with someone who was understanding, listening, and seeing me, I got the sense that I might like to do that myself and provide that for other people. It came to me naturally because a lot of my friends and people in my network came to me for advice, support, and a safe space because I understood that need to be heard, felt and seen.
After three years in that job, I went back and got my Master’s in Art Therapy. I’ve always been creative and I wanted to combine my creativity with my desire to help people. That dual-purpose has continued to guide and help me reshuffle the cards to get me to where I am now. After that Master’s, I started working at my first job. After grad school, I was like, “I’m going to be financially independent. I found my purpose. I’m done,” but I wasn’t.
In five months of working at a large firm nursing home and still living in New York City, I completely burnt out. I hit my worst what I come to term rock bottom or depressive episode that I had thus far in my life. My suicidal ideation came flying back in with a vengeance. Every bone in my body hurt. I was leaking pain all the time. I was calling my mom and crying twice a day. I’m like, “What do I do? This is awful. I couldn’t bear it.” You heard the beginning of my story. I’m not close to my parents. It was bad.
I had been trained in psychology. I knew what was going on. I knew about suicidal assessments and I was in the phase of planning. That’s not good. That’s not where you want to be. I quit that job. I had never quit anything before. I’m a super type-A. I can do anything super perfectionistic. It made me feel that incredible sense of heavy self-hatred, guilt and shame for like, “Why can I hack this? I’m supposed to be able to do this.” Looking back, I know that I wasn’t at all where I was meant to be. The universe was like, “No. Don’t go further down this path. This is not right for you.” At the time, I didn’t know that.
I left that job. I tried to stay in New York for a little while to see if I could make it work. I went back to a position that I liked on a volunteer basis working at a psych unit that I had been in grad school. Still, I felt nothing. Everything felt like garbage. For the first time in my life, I said, “I’m at my wit’s end here. I need to do something purely to try to make myself happy.” I tried to figure out, “Can I be a happy soul on this planet?” For most of my life, I felt like the answer to that question was no.
I saw other people doing it and I was like, “Why can’t I do this one thing that kept evading me, living with some internal sense of peace and contentment? I had all the academic achievements. I have all of the economic privileges and opportunities. Why does my inside not match my outside?” I took a big risk on myself that I’m fortunate to have been able to do with the support of my parents. I moved to Los Angeles. That was the first decision I’d ever made that wasn’t purely focused on, “How am I going to help other people?” This was like, “How can I get to the sunshine and try to live a life where work and play are more balanced and be around people I felt like I would vibe with?”
I packed up my car and I remember it was parked on 33rd and 3rd in Manhattan where I lived in that last apartment. All my stuff was in my car and my parents said, “Bye.” I hit the gas on my cross-country road trip and 50% of that depression melted. I felt free again. I felt unburdened by the prison I had trapped myself mentally and externally. The road trip was great. I got myself out here.
I found jobs. The one job I stumbled into was working as an assistant for a woman who was a business coach for creative female entrepreneurs. I watched what she did. I saw her interact with her clients. That was the first positive and meaningful exposure I had had to the coaching industry. As a therapist, I looked down on that type of intervention because I was like, “Wow.” I was all high and mighty in my fancy academic world thinking, “They don’t even have a degree.” It’s ego nonsense.
She helped me to see the connection between my financial wellness, my sense of self-worth, and money being this currency or this energy. Your mindset towards it is a huge piece of the puzzle. All these things in our world externally represent and are connected to all these things in our world internally. There’s that direct connection between how we feel about our sense of security and self-worth that’s reflected in how we pursue jobs, how we pursue money in the world, and how we think about that. I was woo-woo-eyed living in Los Angeles. The trade-off was I was happy now. That felt like a pretty worthwhile trade-off, to go from someone who was from the East Coast and hovering above everything with a super judgmental lens and thinking in a way that happiness was untouchable for me.
If you hold on to that super judgmental lens, happiness is out of reach.
You never measure up because you keep listening and buying into the same narrative over and over. You’re not waking up to what’s there, what’s around you. It’s not to say that it’s easy. That’s a pretty oversimplified look. When you’re in that depressed state, it feels impenetrable. It’s like being in a torrential downpour and someone going, “Turn off the rain.” You’re like, “What?”
“Show me the valve.”
“Can you give me the knob, the faucet?” I then started my own coaching business.
You got healthier, happier and lighter. You opened yourself to the possibility of coaching. Where did that take you? What were you using? How did you blend the things that you love with coaching people?
Listen to people’s emotions when they are depressed. Then combine your creativity with a desire to help people.
It was a pretty easy and natural transition because I had this incredible parallel training with my Master’s in Art Therapy. The degree that I got was called a Master of Professional Studies in Art Therapy. The learning of the school that I went to was very much client-centric. Meet your client where they are, deal with what’s there, and be with them.
I trained to be a volunteer with the Suicide Prevention Center out here. That was also fabulous training on active listening, empathy at its most basic level, being with the person, building a rapport, and then transitioning them from a place of, “I see you in your darkness and you feel felt. Let’s move up that ladder together.” Versus telling them they’re supposed to be away from other than suicidal, which I intuitively understood because I’ve been that person.
I remember one time when I was in New York and I would sit for nights and nights. I would go up to the roof of my apartment building and look over the edge and think about the reasons that I shouldn’t jump or review all the reasons I shouldn’t jump. One night, I called the Suicide Prevention Line myself. I had a pretty bad experience. Based on my own experience, I understood how to listen to people that are in that state.
Being trained to be an art therapist specifically opened me up to the incredible richness of creative modalities for healing, which we all intuitively understand. We all flock to live music because we get this experience of communion, emotional connection, feeling felt, seen, and dancing and painting. What I learned in this program are the reasons that these things are healing and profound. Having that lens of using creative tools, being with the person as they show up, and sharing a little bit of my personal experience.
For me, I got a Master’s in Art Therapy. I was an art therapist and then I crashed and burned. There was still a missing piece. It wasn’t like, “I’m solved,” as I thought I was. What I learned is it’s much more about taking risks on yourself against all of the fears in your head, buying into that tiny part of you that says, “Maybe this could work. Maybe I could improve my circumstances. Maybe I’m not going to be happy tomorrow. Maybe I’m not going to be happy in a month. Maybe I’m never going to feel contented.”
If I can make it through the next minute, make it through the next hour, make it through the next day, and make these little micro shifts in my situation, things could get better. There have been moments in the years of my life where I didn’t believe that at all but I also didn’t kill myself. I kept going for some reason, even though I never believed that I would be one of those people who turned the corner.
Turned the corner to do what? Is it to follow through on suicide or turn the corner and get out of depression? Which did you not think you would ever be?
I never thought I would be someone glad to be alive. I thought, “I’m either going to kill myself or be faking it.” I had this 50/50, “I’ll make it to 30,” idea in my head. I believe that. I still do, looking back. That was my reality. Now, I’m here and thriving. I still get depressed sometimes. I still deal with hopelessness but I trust fundamentally that it will pass because I’ve gotten through it before.
What are the things that have been most effective or influential in you turning that corner and getting to the point where you now understand that these depressive thoughts will pass and there is the potential for you to be a happy person?
As I said about my travel from New York to Los Angeles, so much of my hope came back in making that decision and setting off. Even in those last few months of being in New York, where I was bottomed out and miserable, I had this hope of, “I’m planning to move to LA. I’ve got something on the horizon that I’m excited about.”
When I talk to my clients or when I think about myself when I’m in these depressed states, a lot of times we feel like, “I don’t have anything to look forward to. There’s nothing in my future that feels worth waiting around for.” Whether you think you’re going to kill yourself or not, whether your suicidal ideation is active or passive, it’s important for your overall well-being to feel there’s a hopeful thing that’s going to happen in the future. It doesn’t have to be enormous. It could be, “I’m going to go for a walk.” It could be, “I’ve got a concert at the end of the month.” It doesn’t have to be monumental. Have something that keeps you going through those tough moments even if you feel, “I’m in a complete black tunnel.” That’s at the most basic level.
Stretching beyond that, some of the most instrumental things that have caused other giant shifts for me in doing this work and working with other people has always provided me a tremendous amount of value. Connecting with other people and seeing my journey reflected in them and seeing my usefulness to them. Having a purpose is fundamental to getting out of depression. We all need to feel that.
Modern society dilutes a lot of the average person’s sense of purpose. We don’t necessarily feel like we belong, we have a critical role in making the world a better place. I’ve been fortunate to get to go into spaces and feel valued and feel like an expert at what I do and see my impact on people. It’s the sense of being seen. I could name many other things, tangible to intangible, that have helped me. I’m curious if you want me to go somewhere else.
Did you stumble into your purpose or did you have a tool that helped you define your purpose?
Sometimes it does feel like I’m falling behind backward into things. You have a random spark or connection with someone. It feels like what we see on TV or in the movies where a character sees something and they don’t know why. There’s a sparkly, little light around it and it becomes their function to move towards that. I would liken it to that.
When I was living in New York, I had all these friends who had moved to LA. There was something in me that was like, “LA.” This little sparkly, little intuitive whispers, “Maybe I could be happy there.” What makes me laugh is people say, “You are brave to move across the country.” I’m like, “I had no choice.” I was miserable. I had nothing to do other than follow these intuitive whispers and cross my fingers.
What they’re saying is if they had done that, they would have had to overcome a tremendous amount of fear. It would have been brave for them to do it. For you, it felt like you didn’t have any choice. You have to pursue that because the other option is waiting at the top of the building.
Sometimes my anxiety and my fear space prevent me from doing things and that’s real for me, too. A lot of times, for me, my motivation is the other side of this is numbness and all-consuming grief. It’s a pit that I’m familiar with. My function or my necessity has been, “How do I move away from headspace? How do I move towards light and away from the darkness?” Although sometimes still, it’s not perfect. I wouldn’t want anyone reading this to think, “A hundred percent of the time, Morgan feels amazing.” That is not the case. That would be a harmful representation.
If you would talk a little bit about when that happens and the less than joyful moments arise, what are some of your go-to behaviors, tools, tips that work for Morgan?
I am moving into being a musician as well as a coach. I’ve been coaching other people to overcome their fears and go for the things that they’re passionate about. Music has always been that for me. I buried it for decades and I’m back to it. It’s because it’s something that’s intensely deep for me, it brings up a lot of fear, a lot of overwhelm, and a lot of, “I can’t do this.” It takes me to that very sensitive place. It also brings back all those feelings of black and whiteness. I regress back to that sensitive place.
An old habit of thought.
There was a week or so where I was struggling to put together the pieces. I fired my manager. I’ve been doing every single thing and trying to make the art and advocate for the art. I had a fight with my partner. It was all these things that converged. My system was like, “This is too much.” I tipped back over temporarily.
The biggest behavior or thing that is important for me to tell myself and remember in those moments is, “I’ve been here before. I know what this is. This isn’t random.” This isn’t me returning to, “This is how I always am.” Having spent a lot of my life being in that place, it’s easy in those moments for me to feel like, “Here I am, back to this place where I belong. I belong depressed.” I reattach to that label. I lose my sense of time. I feel like it’s permanent. I have to work hard to remind myself and remember that there is positive stuff in my future. Also, not to try to beat me out of it.
When you’re stuck, remember that you have been there before, and you can go through it again.
The weather analogy, I love that one. You don’t stand out in the middle of the downpour cursing the rain. You go inside. You lift up an umbrella. You wear boots. In this case, I would sit on the couch, pull up a blanket, get cozy, make myself feel warm, physically nurtured, watch TV and pass the time. When I felt up for it, I went for a walk. I know the importance of moving my body. I know the importance of asking myself the most basic questions like, “Have I eaten? Am I thirsty? Am I tired?” Being tired is a huge part of it.
A lot of people, when they’re depressed, want to be in their bed. There’s a component that’s like, “I want to avoid life. I want to be dead.” On the other hand, a lot of us need a lot more rest than we’re getting. Our lives are stressful and we forget to take ourselves out of that from time to time. Let our nervous systems recover.
It’s still that same thing of, “How can I meet myself where I am?” Ask yourself that question and listening. The biggest thing that I haven’t explained more and that’s a big tool for me is developing a dialogue with myself and being able to identify, “This voice telling me that I’m garbage, that’s that voice that always tells me that I’m garbage.” I know that’s there. I expect that to be there. I don’t have to believe it just because it’s in my head. I have this other voice when I close my eyes and I breathe deeply that says, “You’re going to be okay. Let’s eat something. Maybe you want to talk to someone.”
What I learned from taking big and small risks on myself is that those are the moments where you need to take those little leaps of faith. Maybe I’ll call someone. Maybe I won’t be the biggest burden in the world to them. That’s another mental distortion that depression does, it wants us to isolate. The most harmful thing we can do to get ourselves out is we need to connect and we need to be seen. If you don’t have someone that you can connect to or you don’t feel comfortable connecting with someone who is in your phonebook, call a warmline, call hotline. Hearing another voice and hearing that they’re hearing you, shift something in you might make that self-belief a little more accessible.
It’ll get you to the point where you can believe the other part of your mind that’s saying, “This too shall pass.”
It’s hard because, for a lot of people, depressive episodes aren’t 24 hours. Sometimes they’re weeks, months. To do that, waking up every day and feeling like you have to move a mountain, is exhausting and can feel impossible. You have to treat it the same as the weather analogy, like, “I’m waking up in this rain. It’s still raining. How can I meet myself where I’m at now and not force myself to feel like I’m not okay as I am?”
Not go back into the judging. Most of us who work in the field understand that if I’m going to be harsh and judgmental of others, I will also be turning that on myself. That is about as contra-productive as when I turn it on myself as it is when I turn it on somebody else. I love Sylvia Boorstein, who talks about how whenever she gets upset and has a negative emotion going, she puts her hand over her heart space and she says, “Sylvia, you’re in pain. Take a few deep breaths and then we’ll calm down. We’ll then look at what’s going on, and then we’ll decide what to do. For now, Timmy, you’re in pain.” That being gentle with myself is the opposite of what my depressed voice would tell me to do. Building the habit of being gentle with myself even when I’m in a relatively good space is an important thing.
One person I work with has cats instead of children. They’re cheaper. No college you have to pay for. She loves her cats. She’s constantly talking to them gently and lovingly. At one point, when we were doing our work together, I suggested that she be gentle with herself. She came back the next session and said, “It seemed weird when I thought about it but I decided to start talking to myself the way I talked to my cat. It didn’t seem weird. I’ve been doing it and it works.” Whatever works to get me to be more gentle with myself and to build that as a habit, builds a buffer for me against those times where the depressing thoughts come in or the high anxiety comes in.
That’s another reason that it’s important to try to seek out others when you’re being depressed because it’s such a tangible reminder that you wouldn’t talk to someone else the way that you talk to yourself. One thing I try to explain to my clients is when you get this anger and criticism lodged into you, it’s usually at a young age, by a parent figure or someone who you want, need love from, and need the goods to survive from. If they get angry at you and don’t let you express yourself towards them or let you have an appropriate negative reaction, you’re always turning it inward on yourself because that’s the only thing you can control.
A lot of people say depression is anger turned inward. You have to recognize that your intense self-hatred in those moments is like that thorn lodge deep inside of you that’s saying, “I can control this. I can make this better by causing pain to myself. I can help some caregivers imagine past caregivers to be right if I criticize myself.” If I tell myself, “I’m a piece of garbage and can’t do anything,” then they’re right. In some backward way, that protects me. You have to recognize that as an old program that you have to overthrow to get to that next level of not just barely surviving but thriving yourself and acting not out of a fear of disappointing others but acting from a place of, “I want better for myself.”
To do that, most of us have to identify, and then remove the negative beliefs that say, “I don’t deserve better.” It’s that two-prong approach of building the habit of thinking positively and gently toward myself and being willing and honest when I run into the old negative thoughts that are born from a belief that says, “I don’t deserve better.” If I’m equipped with some tools for accessing, and then dismantling those negative beliefs, I can make progress.
You do that, you chip away at it, and you have to have a tremendous amount of patience for how long it takes. I have to remind people all the time that these patterns have been built for decades and you’re not going to overthrow them in a week. I have one client and we joke about, “I’m going to be done with this in a week.” We laugh about that because that’s distorted.
Unless you had a bad childhood, it might take a month with a good coach.
If you pay them enough, you’re going to heal faster. It takes time and you have to celebrate the little wins that you get along the way. It sometimes helps to have someone else reminding you, “You might not be healed. A month ago, you didn’t even believe this was possible. You would have never opened up to that person in your life and let them into your truth and gain that connection.” Those things may seem small when you compare them to, “I want to be instantly happy.” They’re enormous to get you on that path.
Having someone like you as a coach to help point out the mile markers in the progress is indispensable.
I like to advocate in my work for, “You have all the tools you need.” I make sure my clients know that they have everything that they need to make this happen for themselves. It’s within them. They can connect to their internal guidance and get answers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Like Dorothy, she had the power all along to get home. She had to click our heels and say a thing.
The power of learning how to do it in a relationship is you have to know that someone sees you. You have to get that initial nudge of, “If this other person believes in me, maybe I can believe in myself. Maybe I can click my heels.” The container of a relationship in therapy, coaching or whatever gives you that sense of being seen and gives you that bedrock on which it’s easier to overcome the fears about connecting with yourself. It’s easier to buy into that positive version of yourself because someone else is telling you, “I see it.”
People can help hold up the mirror for you when you can’t hold it up for yourself. What’s an aspect of the work that you do, your story or a success story with one of your clients, that you want to share before we wrap up?
There are many things I could say. I’ll tell a story about a client that I met and she’s a young woman about my age who also suffers from depression. She is such a funny, bright, fun, and self-deprecating young woman from the Midwest. She lives out here in Los Angeles. She is a Music teacher. She teaches young kids and gets them excited about music, collaborate and try new things. She is such a shining advocate for them.
I’m always in awe of my clients. I always think they’re amazing. I love getting the opportunity to hold up that mirror to them. We went through an exercise and she was having some real challenges in seeing that hope that I was talking about, seeing herself as worthy. She said to me, “I already feel like I’m a lost cause.” That makes it hard to take those little risks on yourself. I asked her, “Where don’t you feel like a lost cause? Where do you feel like you have something to offer? Where do you trust yourself?” We were talking about how she doesn’t trust herself to move forward.
She described to me what happens when she goes to school and teaches her kids. She works with them to overcome their fears about trying a different instrument or something like that. She’s like, “I stand at the front of the room and I say things with total confidence. I believe every single thing I say. I know that I’m helping these kids. I know exactly what I’m doing.”
Getting someone to see this version of themselves to reconnect with the version of themselves where they feel that confidence, trust, security, that sense of value and purpose, all these things that I was talking about before, then you unlock their internal access to that version of themselves. Now they’re wearing their own What-Would-Jesus-Do bracelet where they can go, “What would this empowered version of myself do?”
I got her to clearly picture that version of herself. If she was at the front of the classroom teaching kids in her dream world when she was the most confident, what would she be wearing? She was like, “A pink ball gown.” “Tell me more about that pink ball gown.” “It has polka dots. I’d probably also be wearing long gloves and I’d have a little headband. Maybe I’d be wearing pearls.” It’s important that she gets a clear image of who that highest version of herself is. The clearer it is, the more touchpoints she has for being able to access it when she doesn’t believe it, and the more real that version is.
I even made a joke with her of saying, “I can see you at the top of the class fully decked out in your ball gown talking to a roomful of students that are little versions of you going, ‘Teacher, tell me what I should do.’” We both laughed about that because it’s silly. I was imagining an adult head on all these children’s bodies. Bringing it into laughter and into a clear visual makes it stickier, easier for her to access in the future. She can go in any given moment of her life, “How can I make a decision that aligns with that best version of myself?”
A corollary to that is that when anything negative or less than that comes up, it’s another picture image. It’s another version of myself from an earlier time where I didn’t have all the resources. What you’re doing with that visualization and having her tap into her actual core strength that she feels in certain situations, it’s opening the door to this discovery process about other parts of her that might be younger or wounded and need reassurance. They’re just as accessible.
You don’t stand out in the middle of the downpour, cursing the rain. You go inside, lift up an umbrella, and wear boots.
I love doing visualizations with clients. Guided meditation has the benefit of relaxing you on a physiological level, which takes you a little further away from being in that fear space, that fight or flight space. You have more room to talk to your deeper wisdom. You have more tools to hack. I did another visualization with the same client and she showed up as a small version of herself that traveled all the way down her body into her stomach.
Her stomach was like a jungle of these thorny black vines. Initially, she felt incapacitated and hopeless. She imagined her little self curling up into a ball. Through talking to her, we uncovered maybe there’s this superhero version of her that comes down, has a machete, hacking through and making the problem smaller. It’s fun to get into someone’s creativity.
How do people get ahold of you?
It’s easy. You can go to my website, MorganBeard.coach. There are lots of links that are like, “Get in touch with me.” You can find my socials there and fill out a little form and let me know what you’re interested in and why you want to get in touch with me. I hope that it translated through me talking to you.
I’m extremely accessible, warm, understanding and open. Anyone who wants to work with me and has an interest in what I do or sees me as maybe an access point to that little hope, that little version of themselves, “Maybe this could exist. Maybe I could buy into this. Maybe she could help me.” Go for it. I will nurture Jesus out of that little self. Together, we’ll figure it out. If you get that inkling from anything in your life, move towards it.
Thank you so much for sharing with us and being part of the show here. Journey’s Dream is all about empowering people to do what you’re doing, finding a way to carve out a healthier life or a healthier path through the mental health challenges that, truth be told, all of us face at one point or another. Thank you so much for all that you do and for being willing to share with us.
Thank you so much.