Julie Gillis a consultant, story coach, speaker, and facilitator, shares her thoughts, in episode 40 of the Changed, on how we tell ourselves stories about the world and our role in it, along with the pivotal experience of finding herself after battling postpartum psychosis.

Julie Gillis is one of those people who is that lovely combo of funny and pensive. She’s deeply reflective, unafraid of being honest in her expression, and absolutely ready to laugh and play too!

It’s also true that my knowledge of Julie Gillis is personal.

Not only does this episode’s guest reside in this podcast hosts home town. But Julie and I used to perform together in an all-lady, broadway-style musical improv group called Girls Girls Girls and produced a festival (though Julie was MUCH more involved called L.A.F.F. otherwise known as the Ladies Are Funny Festival (enjoy the legacy website here!)

We also played together in incredible shows, like Apocalypse (directed Brandon Salinas, and costumed by Courtney Hopkins).

(If you watch this old promo video, we suggest you watch full-screen with sound ON.)

So it was a delight to sit down in January of 2021, just 3 days into the new year, to reflect not only on change broadly but on how 2020 changed some of the key elements of Julie’s life.

Now that summer has arrived in the US, you may have forgotten what the world was like in January of 2021.

Here in Oregon where Julie and I both reside, while shopping was open, most businesses were closed, unless they provided curbside pickup, and masks were required 100% of the time. Schools were closed, and our children were learning from a distance (something fun and easy for our 8-year-old, and something deeply difficult for her young adult children). There was no promise of freedom and no end in sight.

And in this climate, we were able to connect over Zoom and philosophize for a while about how the stories we as people tell ourselves about ourselves… may have shifted.

Julie also shared the story of how improv helped to lift her back up to herself, when she was at one of her lowest points as a mother experiencing postpartum psychosis, one of the least talked about maternal experiences in this country… and one of great importance because of the consequences that can stem from the condition. As Julie confessed, “the idea of hurting myself became rather entertaining,” and this kind of flawed thinking can lead not just to self-harm. When lines between reality and darkness become blurry, help is needed.

As a deep believer in the importance of building more understanding and interest in women’s health, particularly hormone changes, I’m always glad to hear stories that stem from this place; like the story guest, Maraya Brown shared at the beginning of season two, in which she had to process the unexpected loss of her first pregnancy.

Takeaways from this episode

In the stories, we consume there are multiple roles people play: villain, support character, window character…. a really important tree. But in the stories we tell, we often imagine ourselves the hero (sometimes a reluctant hero) of our own story.

There are times when being the hero of your own story can be really beneficial, like helping to boost your confidence for a job interview for example.

On social media, it’s easy to convince ourselves we’re the hero… even when we’re not. We post a picture, and people like it. We say something and people like it. We forget that other reactions, countering perspectives, and dislikes can slip by the wayside unnoticed.

But What if, we step into another role sometimes? What happens when we purposefully play support to someone else’s hero journey? Particularly in leadership whereby supporting someone else actually boosts the overall success of your organization?

Julie Gillis was saved, not just through therapeutic but through the art of making things up: improv! The lessons she took through collaboratively creating stories, adventures, and musicals with other creative people helped her to feel more flexible, more resilient, and more prepared for the weird wide world.

The art of making it up can feed a feeling of competence.

“Yes, Anding…” (the shorthand improvisers use to mean accepting what is there, and doing something with it), is easy to do when things are going well, feeling fun and rewarding. But the skills we use during those good times, are also incredibly helpful when we face the kind of challenges the citizens of the world have been through over the last year and a half.

This ability to accept what is, also helps us to maneuver with more agility through things that go against our own biases.

We tend to generalize out from our own experiences and then are struck by cognitive dissonance when our observations and beliefs of what’s true, are not echoed by people we value.

The human connection of one on one dialogue carries more impact for its game-changing ability to resolve this dissonance than internet activism ever has.

Stuff we mentioned in this conversation (AKA LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!)

The Hideout Theatre in Austin, Texas

Start Trekkin’ Austin

Selena Coppock and her candle-centered podcast Two Wick Minimum

Lauren Lapkus

Oregon Public Broadcasting

Girls Girls Girls Musical Improv

Friend of the show and former guest, author Mo Daviau

Learn more about Julie by visiting her website: www.juliegillis.com

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