May 2023 Mental Health

V a n e s s a  S h i l i w a l a

Thriving as Your Authentic Self
An interview with Vanessa Shiliwala

Vanessa Shiliwala

Why did you decide to create a platform focusing on mental health, Thrive Spice?

In March 2021, I distinctly remember the report from Stop AAPI Hate came out, documenting nearly 4,000 hate crimes against AAPIs - over 60% of them against women, often in places like the sidewalk, public transportation and local businesses. The next day, the Atlanta Spa Shootings made headlines as 6 out of 8 victims were Asian women. All of the sudden, I saw my lived experience of casual racism, discrimination, and bias - with deadly consequences - in the national headlines, and it deeply affected me. I started to research mental health for AAPIs and learned that we are the least likely racial or ethnic group to seek help for mental health services. We have the highest rates of suicide in ages 15-24. AAPIs who have experienced racism have heightened symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, PTSD, and physical symptoms. It was then that I felt compelled to pivot and heed a call to action for true sustainability - making the world a better place socially, emotionally and culturally for the next 7 generations.

It was in this spirit of asking for help - for myself and our communities - that I created Thrive Spice in May 2021 as a safe space, podcast and platform for AAPI mental health and community empowerment. It was a career pivot for me, even though my experience with AAPI advocacy and community building had started over 10 years ago when I was co-chair of the Asian Network ERG at Avon. I have 15 years of experience in marketing at Fortune 500 and startup companies, a degree in communications and journalism from NYU, and lived experience as a mother, wife, sister, and daughter of immigrants. I felt that all of those experiences helped prepare me as a storyteller and social impact leader.

Thrive Spice Media

"It was in this spirit of asking for help - for myself and our communities - that I created Thrive Spice in May 2021 as a safe space, podcast and platform for AAPI mental health and community empowerment".

How does this platform reach companies and corporations seeking additional tools in addressing employee mental health?

Currently, I’m offering 3 new mental health and leadership workshops that are for AAPI and intersectional groups. However, I also created custom workshops for clients over the past year based upon each organization’s specific needs (i.e. burnout prevention, retention, engagement, building leadership pathways, etc) and the ERG groups in attendance. Each workshop includes a 1-2 hour Mental Health Masterclass with culturally relevant data, frameworks, interactive group exercises, and customized resources.

Are there any mental health challenges you've had to overcome throughout your personal life?

I grew up in Wisconsin as one of few people of color and even fewer Asian Americans, as the eldest daughter of Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants. So that survivor mentality, where the Model Minority Myth was quite prevalent at the time, has been something I’ve worked hard to unpack and understand.

After the birth of my first daughter, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD) - to my shock and surprise.

It was hard for me to accept, because I had achieved many of the goals I had set out for myself to accomplish - I felt like a failure. I went to NYU, worked my way up in Fortune 500 and startup companies and became Director of Marketing by the age of 30. I met and married the love of my life. We had a beautiful Chinese-Taiwanese-Indian fusion wedding. We bought a house in the suburbs and got a dog. At 32, I gave birth to our first-born daughter, Mila. She was absolutely perfect. And yet, 3 weeks later, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. I felt like a failure, but I realized I was falling into the “Success Trap” - a false narrative that if you achieve all your goals and outward markers of success, you’ll never be impacted by a mental health condition.

Through therapy, I learned to create space to prioritize my mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing and detach myself, slowly, from unhealthy beliefs I had about asking for help, thinking that my worth was only connected to my productivity, and working to the point of burnout. And the more I shared my story, the more people told me that my experience resonated with them.

Are there any challenges you've had to overcome in launching an independent platform?

As a solopreneur, I received a lot of feedback and advice via mentors and networking. While I appreciated the sentiment and recognized most people are just trying to help, it can be overwhelming.  At some point, you have to filter out all the noise and trust your intuition as a leader, do your research, and know when to ask for help.  Otherwise, it leads to decision paralysis and a lot of emotional turmoil.  You have to become comfortable with failure as a growth mindset instead of a roadblock, and take advantage of your natural bias for action - you can move quickly and make big changes as an entrepreneur.  Making mistakes is part of the journey - people just don’t talk about it enough. Focus on what you can learn from it, and how you’ll do differently next time.

Thrive Spice Media

"Making mistakes is part of the journey - people just don’t talk about it enough. Focus on what you can learn from it, and how you’ll do differently next time".

What’s one daily wellness tip that our readers can take away?

Burnout is not a badge of honor. Untether yourself from the belief that you are only worthy of self-care based upon your productivity or value to others. Once you’re able to validate yourself, you can make time and space for self-care, boundaries, rest, joy, and self-compassion. This will naturally empower you to create more positive impact in your relationships, community, and places of work.

Follow at:
Instagram: @thrivespice
Facebook: Thrive Spice
Spotify: Thrive Spice
LinkedIn: @thrivespicemedia and @vanessatsangshiliwala
YouTube: Thrive Spice
Apple Podcasts: Thrive Spice

Photographer: Heidi Hapanowicz
Artwork: Thrive Spice Media


B o n n i e  F a i t h

Mental Health and Performance Coach

Bonnie Faith

Hello Bonnie! Your company is called "The Imperfect Human, LLC". What inspired your brand's name?

The brand name, “the imperfect human”, stands as a clapback to perfectionism. Perfectionism upholds systems of oppression by perpetuating exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. It’s the societal standard that makes us all feel flawed or incomplete. The Imperfect Human, LLC aims to dismantle systems of oppression by empowering people to create positive change in their community and within themselves.

I lived my life from birth to age twenty-three entrenched in perfectionism. It wasn’t until I thought my dreams had come true that my nightmare truly began. I played rugby for ten years, three of those at the D1 Elite collegiate level, while simultaneously studying nutrition. It was everything I had ever wanted. Then the unraveling happened. After sustaining a career ending head injury while playing rugby, I experienced clinical burn out. Clinical burnout results from experiencing chronic physical and mental distress for a prolonged period of time.

Recovery began the day I received my diagnoses of bipolar, social anxiety, anorexia, migraine, and post concussion syndrome. All of a sudden, I made sense to myself thanks to the labels. See, they gave me the opportunity to do something about the chronic distress I was experiencing. They gave me the language I needed to ask for help and foster connection.

After a head injury, I dropped out of my nutrition program in 2020. I was left with a lot of free time. This free time turned to boredom and the antidepressants I had been prescribed were triggering a very acute episode of bipolar hypomania. This was the inception of The Imperfect Human, LLC.

Now, I am back in school and graduating with my Bachelors in Psychology this June 2023. In the fall of this year, I will begin pursuing my Masters in Social Work. All of my efforts are leading to me being a better trauma informed performance coach.

What is a performance coach?

I encourage people to take messy actions in their lives. Dismantling systems of oppression is no simple task.  Being a pioneer of equity involves making some mistakes along the way. As a performance coach, it’s my intention to keep my clients focused on the goal, especially through their failures. The Imperfect Human, LLC aims to support others in prioritizing their mental health, while making their wildest dreams come true.  Authenticity, vulnerability, and compassion are not only at the core of my value system, but are also the primary tools I use to thrive in dirt like a plant!  As a performance coach, my goal is to show others how to use these tools to cultivate a life they love.

I think this is an important note about myself as a performance coach, and performance coaches in general.  My ideal person to work with is someone who is currently in psychotherapy or counseling. I believe performance coaching, or life coaching, is a great complement to therapy. It’s not, however, a replacement. It’s not within our scope of practice to handle crises. When I begin working with someone who is not yet receiving any sort of mental health care, I prioritize helping them piece together that support team first. We cannot begin to talk about thriving if your basic needs are not consistently met. Therapy is a great tool to ensure this is happening.

What type of services do you offer? 

Currently, I have an e-workbook for sale titled “The Imperfect Human’s Guide to Thriving in Dirt”. It takes goal setting theory and breaks it down into digestible pieces.  There are forty journal prompts and exercises designed to help you develop the skills necessary for creating and executing your goals.  This e-workbook sells for $25, but I have generated a code for LDL readers to get their hands on The Imperfect Human’s Guide to Thriving in Dirt for $10!  Use code “IMPERFECTIONISM” at checkout to get access to your digital copy!

When I designed the workbook, I intended for it to be used independently by anyone.  And it is. Sort of.  After piloting it with a friend, I realized the process can be quite complicated for the amateur goal setter.  The Imperfect Human’s Guide to Thriving in Dirt e-workbook is for the seasoned goal setter looking to add more tools to their toolbox.  For the person who feels they’ll need a bit more guidance and support, I am booking discovery calls for June 2023!  A discovery call is for you if you’re interested in interviewing me as a member of your support team.  Working with me 1on1 is a really cool opportunity where I give you access to the e-workbook for free, and we work together to bring your goals to fruition.  Your time investment will range from 3, 6, and 12 months with a financial investment of $50/cultivation call.  During cultivation calls, we will talk about your progress on the e-workbook.  I will gently challenge unhelpful thought patterns while holding space for us to explore journal responses. 

Can you leave us with a daily mental health and wellness tip that the readers can take with them?

If I were to share any piece of advice, it’s to at least consider radical self acceptance as a daily practice. You don’t have to love yourself or even like yourself, but accept that you are human and have a place in this messy world. Radical self acceptance is an investment in ourselves. It costs our ego, but gives us a chance at true liberation. Radical self acceptance says, “I am neither good nor bad. I simply am”. It’s at the root of my body neutrality and mindful self awareness, which are crucial to me having the capacity to thrive!

Bonnie Faith

"If I were to share any piece of advice, it’s to at least consider radical self acceptance as a daily practice. You don’t have to love yourself or even like yourself, but accept that you are human and have a place in this messy world. Radical self acceptance is an investment in ourselves. It costs our ego, but gives us a chance at true liberation".

How can people overcome stigmas they might have when seeking help for mental health?

Honestly, understand that the stigma is not about you. Homophobia is not about the queer community being scary. It’s all about the homophobic person’s fear. It’s the same with mental health stigma, or ableism. The people who perpetuate stigma around seeking help for mental health likely need support themselves and are terrified to reach out for a number of possible reasons. For me, it helps to show myself compassion as I do what’s best for me despite the stigma.

When I reached out for help, I was at the end of my rope. I was more terrified of what would happen to me if I didn’t seek support than what people would think of me for seeking it. For anyone reading this, don’t wait until the fear of what happens to you without support outweighs the fear of marginalization. If it’s weighing on your mind to reach out for help, this is your sign to do it.

How have you navigated your personal life experiencing bipolar disorder and social anxiety?

Medication and therapy are key in navigating my mental illnesses. Daily, I take a mood stabilizer, antidepressant, antipsychotic, and vitamin and mineral supplements. My wonderful therapist and I meet on a weekly basis. During the start of our sessions, she has me check into my current mood and update her about my week. We will take time to explore anything that triggers intense feelings more deeply. She often has me do homework that we will go over in session. My therapist is really cool in that she doesn’t shame me for not completing assignments, but rather helps me identify barriers. My entire treatment plan is overseen by my psychiatrist who initially diagnosed me with Bipolar and social anxiety.

A solid support system is crucial to any human’s survival as we are social creatures, but especially to those navigating neurodivergence in a neurotypical world. Bipolar and social anxiety come together as a pretty nasty combination when it comes to fostering connections with other humans. They make socialization rather difficult between intense mood shifts and a phobia of public embarrassment. My medical team and my chosen family hold me together during times of instability. For them, I am forever grateful.

Are there any challenges you've had to overcome as a performance coach?

Most successful women have had the experience of feeling like an imposter in their field. I am no stranger to this feeling. When The Imperfect Human was still a few months old, I was told by a person in power that my experiences with mental illness and disability made me inherently unqualified to work in the field of mental health. For a long time, this person’s words sat in my mind and ate away at my self-confidence.

See, when you’re diagnosed with some of the things I live with, you sometimes wonder if you have the capacity to be anything more than “sick”. When people in positions of power discredit your efforts, a big flashing sign that says “what’s the point?” appears. If I’m being honest, that sign was directing my behavior for a long time. I would consider working on something for The Imperfect Human, LLC and would stop in my tracks thinking “what’s the point?” This not only affected the development of my small business, but the toxicity spilled into other areas of my life, such as university and my relationships. “What’s the point?” became my motto.

I don’t remember the exact day this changed. Maybe it was the class project on imposter syndrome that put things in perspective. When I was diagnosed with Bipolar, I finally had the language to get the help I needed to navigate this neurotypical world. So, discovering the term “imposter syndrome” gave me the language to name my experience, and to do something about it. Imposter syndrome is just perfectionism with a bit of pathology sprinkled on it. Imposter syndrome is not actually a syndrome at all, but an experience. A common one at that. Lucky for me, dismantling perfectionism is what I do.

Bonnie Faith

What kind of topics do you discuss on your podcast?

So, I don’t have my own podcast… yet. However, I have had the honor of appearing on a couple of episodes hosted by some incredible people. Paris Prynkiewicz of Live Well Bipolar invited me on for an episode discussing how I used self acceptance to adapt to intense and abrupt change triggered by a head injury. If you’re curious to hear more, check out episode 135: Self-acceptance in Transition on any platform where you can listen to podcasts. Also check Paris out @livewellbipolar on Instagram.

Todd Rennebohm of Bunny Hugs and Mental Health invited me to join him for a fun Instagram live where we discussed mental health and performance coaching, my workbook “The Imperfect Human’s Guide to Thriving in Dirt”, and neurodivergence. This conversation can be found on my instagram page @the.imperfect.human or Todd’s page @bunnyhugspodcast.

What are some words of advice you can give to future coaches who want to help people with their mental health?

Invest time and money into being able to offer trauma informed care. Trauma informed care requires that we, as coaches, listen to and believe in the experiences of the people we work with. All too often, professionals forget that the person they are working with is the expert on their own body and life.  Trauma informed care also required that we as coaches work through our own biases. I have had to do deep introspection every step of the way to becoming a better trauma informed performance coach.

In my experience of having coaches, mentors, professors, and healthcare providers, their ability to facilitate trauma informed care determined how difficult it was for me to maintain my own mental health. If we are going to say that we support people’s mental health, then we have to put our money and time where our mouths are.

"Invest time and money into being able to offer trauma informed care. Trauma informed care requires that we, as coaches, listen to and believe in the experiences of the people we work with".

On your Instagram page there is a phrase that says, "C'est la vie". What does this phrase mean to you?

Such is life, to me, means to accept what cannot be changed so as to leverage the controllables. During my time playing college rugby, my team would make commitments before matches.  My commitment became to take each task as it comes. Before every game for two years, I made this commitment. My performance on the field bolstered with this small adjustment to my internal dialogue. Today, whether in university, sport, or my career, I offer this gentle reminder to myself.

Bonnie Faith

Outside of your business, what are some other hobbies that you enjoy?

Currently, my extracurricular endeavors mainly include puppy cuddles, caring for houseplants, and Brazilian jiu jitsu. I have two emotional support animals, Khaleesi and Little Bear. Khaleesi is a seven year old stafford shire terrier who struggles to cope with the fact that she is, indeed, a dog. Then there’s Little Bear, or The Bug as we like to call him. He’s a fifteen year old schipperke and spends most of his existence following me around. It’s honestly so adorable. I also have two ferrets, Nagini and Loki. They’re happier playing tag than cuddling. Their comical personalities do a lot for a person’s mental health though.

I have been an avid collector of houseplants since the pandemic. Plants became my friends when I couldn’t see my human friends. At one point, I maintained roughly sixty thriving houseplants. In the beginning, though, I threw out a lot of dead ones. At one point, I spent way too much money on plant care supplies, and even dedicated a whole room to my plants.  Now, things have reached a comfortable balance in which I care for my plants and my plants care for me. It’s truly beautiful.

A couple months ago I received my blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. I have a long history of being a competitive athlete in a myriad of different sports beginning around the age of four.  When I tell you jiu jitsu is like no other, I mean it. Not only is it a safe way for me to harness my athlete identity and compete in a contact sport, but it has also given me forever members of my chosen family.

Bonnie Faith

Outside of the big three, I also enjoy painting, crocheting, weightlifting, photography, and napping. There was a time in my life when I thought I had to dedicate all my time and effort into one endeavor. Radical self acceptance and the inner child framework helped me realize just how multifaceted my personality is. I am far more than one, single identity. When I encourage my clients to do the work of introspection, it’s only because I have done, and do, it
myself. It’s hard, but it works.

Follow at:

Instagram: @the.imperfect.human

Photographers: Ly & Jerry Phillips