How Have You Grown This Year?

By Ellie Pike, Carrie Zhang, Eric Dorsa, Gloria, Jen Ponton & Shay

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The end of the calendar year packs a lot into a short amount of time and it can be easy to deprioritize your mental health in all that noise. One of the best ways to refocus on your values is to remember the ways you’ve grown this past year.

So to honor the journey of 2023, we created an audio mural using six short stories from listeners and past guests. Storytellers focus not only on specific challenges but also on how they have built resilience, fostered mental health, leaned on therapy, and tapped into community. Ultimately, these collective vignettes whisper a comforting reminder that we are not alone and that hope is stronger than defeat.


Ellie Pike:
The end of the calendar year packs a lot into a short amount of time. On top of holidays, prepping for celebrations and extra social events, there's the emotional weight of the season with greater expectations from friends and family, and maybe even grief from what's been lost. In all the commotion, it's easy to deprioritize your mental health.

So as you may recall, we hear at Mental Note Podcast like to end the year by filtering out the noise and highlighting you. We do this because you are the reason we make this show. Your commitment to the long work of recovery burns bright in our imaginations. We hope our efforts in turn bring you inspiration and joy.

So today, we have sourced six stories from listeners and past guests to create something special, an audio mural dedicated to the durability of hope and tenacity of life. Storytellers focus not only on specific challenges, but also on how they have built resilience, fostered mental health, leaned on therapy and tapped into community. Ultimately, these collective vignettes whisper a comforting reminder that we are not alone and that hope is stronger than defeat. You are listening to Mental Note Podcast. I'm Ellie Pike, your host.

My name is Alex. I use she/her/they pronouns. This holiday season has its challenges for me because for several years, I have not been included in family get-togethers. For a variety of personal reasons, my family chooses to not invite me or include me in anything that has to do with the family. I also don't have a partner to share the holidays with. I am huge on quality time and physical touch, and having a partner is really important to me, so it makes me sad that I don't have someone to share the holidays with. I also have guilt that my kids won't see their family due to the circumstances because I feel that if I'm not allowed to be a part of my family, that my kids shouldn't go either.

A couple of ways I plan to support my mental health and take care of myself are spending quality time with my kids and friends, traveling to get away with my kids and trying to focus on what I do have rather than what I don't have.

My name is Carrie and I use she/her pronouns. My mental health journey taught me how to truly affirm myself and my own feelings. I always thought that through achievements or relationships or through making my loved ones proud, I would find joy and peace. However, I came across a time this year when all of that was challenged.

See, I just came out to my family and it led to a lot of life changes. It led to many questions on how I wanted my life to pan out that could not be answered through achievements or through relying on what others wanted of me. It felt like no matter what I did at that point, the ones I loved most would be disappointed in me. I had to learn how to trust myself and validate my own experiences. Now, I want to live my life by asking the question, is this something I really want to do? Rather than, is this something I feel is expected of me?

My therapist told me recently, "You seek validation, but it's because you already know what you want, and you have the power to affirm yourself." This is an ongoing journey that I'm still working on, but I'm so happy to enter 2024 with this breakthrough in my mental health journey.

Eric Dorsa:
Hello, my name is Eric Dorsa. My pronouns are they/them/theirs. I'm a mental health advocate. I have experienced a lot of losses this year of people close to me, people in recovery and having to watch people that I really care about struggle with their mental health. I've had to struggle with my own mental health and really understanding the power of grief and the ability to reframe grief as something that has been lost or taken without my permission, that grief is a part of myself. It's the part of myself that has lost something beautiful and vulnerable. And it's not about replacing those losses, but learn from them, love them, appreciate them, and sit in the uncomfortable and know that this too shall pass.

Ellie Pike:
Our next storyteller references being a RAC member from Pathlight, and I want to avoid confusion by explaining what those two things mean. RAC stands for Recovery Ambassador Council, a group that shares their recovery stories with folks considering treatment for the first time or simply people in need of a little inspiration along the way. Pathlight is Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center, the place where Gloria went through treatment. Okay, here's Gloria.

My name is Gloria. I use she/her pronouns. This year, I learned how I can use my trauma and mental health journey to make a positive difference in the world. Through my experience at Pathlight, I learned a lot about how to deal with my own mental health. I was more than happy to share my mental health journey, but I didn't think anyone would care to hear about it. It wasn't until I became a RAC member that I had an opportunity to use my mental health journey to help others. Through RAC, I have been able to speak to perspective patients. I answer any questions people have about the Pathlight program, and I share my personal experience at Pathlight. This year, now I see my mental health journey in a new light because I can use it to help other people.

Jen Ponton:
My name is Jen Ponton and I use she/her pronouns. Holidays have been pretty challenging for me for the last few years. Not only was my life and family deeply affected by COVID, but I came out as queer in the middle of quarantine, upending my marriage of 10 years and forcing an emergency restart. Suddenly, two years ago, I found myself homeless, staying in the arctic of Minnesota with my partner and a suitcase, not knowing I'd never be able to go back home. I was 1,200 miles away from my family and everything I'd ever known.

I mourned my first holiday season away from my mother. I've mourned the broken traditions with no one to fill all the seats at Thanksgiving, Christmas or Passover. I mourned my family who had passed, including my beloved aunt who died while I was in the Midwest.

It's taken a couple of years, but slowly I've replanted and recreated my own traditions, ones that are meaningful to me versus ones that were mandated by my old life. I've found new meaning and delight in creating my own celebrations for the first time as an adult. My mom, my partner, and I are going to a spa for Thanksgiving, deeply untraditional, but the thought just makes me giddy.

The biggest support that I've found along this journey has been to embrace the liminal space. Nothing is as it was. And what if we could find something new? What special discovery might be waiting here in the unknowing if we just show up with a different expectation? My first Thanksgiving in Minnesota should have been so cold and lonely. I was depressed, grieving and struggling, but I wore a fancy Thanksgiving outfit and video called my best friend. I played Spotify holiday music all day. I drank eggnog. I didn't cook a single thing.

Instead, I leaned into an old family joke and got us turkey dinner from Perkins Cake and Steak. We ate from plastic containers with plastic cutlery. Then we hung vintage Sesame Street stockings on the mantle. As much as everything had changed, what was new felt, welcome, refreshing, and magical. The same thing happened for Christmas and then Passover. Each time, a willingness to step into the unknown and see what sparked was what carried me forward, allowing me to rebuild my life in my own image versus fulfilling an outdated role. I wish you all a blessed, fulfilling and sane holiday season.

Hello, my name is Shay. My pronouns are she/her. My mental health journey has taught me this year to be my own best friend. For so long, I depended on the friendship of others while not realizing that I myself am an incredible friend. The thing I learned is that I deserve my own love, care, and affection. I'm worthy of it. The relationships I form with others are to be treasured. They're beautiful, loving and enriching. However, without being the best friend I can possibly be to myself, how can I show up for myself and others the way I want to?

Being in a loving relationship with myself means acknowledging that lots of things from my past are not my fault. It means acknowledging all the awesome things I do for myself and others. It means acknowledging that there is a lot within myself to celebrate, to honor and to love. This realization has been a process. It has been a multi-decade process because for a long time, I was not ready to be my own friend. I had a lot of stuff to work through first.

Now that I am learning to be my own best friend, I am realizing that a beautiful new world is opening up to me. As I close out this year and begin a new year, I'll be exploring this new world and what it can do, what I can do for myself as the best friend that I could ever have. As you go into the new year, may you give yourself the love, compassion, care, and friendship that you so selflessly give to others.

Ellie Pike:
Thank you for not only listening today, but all year. We are so grateful for you and look forward to a new year of possibility. If you have a story of resilience and recovery you'd like to share with the show, please reach out. Our email is [email protected].

Mental Note Podcast is brought to you by Eating Recovery Center and Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center. If you'd like to talk to a trained therapist to see if in-person or virtual treatment is right for you, please call them at 877-850-7199. If you need a free support group, check out or Also, keep a lookout for our Unlearning Weight Stigma Workshop. Eating Recovery Center will be putting on an early 2024 signups are on our website at If you like our show, sign up for our e-newsletter and learn more about the people we interview at We'd also love it if you left us a review on iTunes. It helps others find our podcast. Mental Note is produced and hosted by me, Ellie Pike, and directed and edited by Sam Pike. Until next time.

Presented by

Ellie Pike, MA, LPC

Ellie Pike is the Sr. Manager of Alumni/Family/Community Outreach at ERC & Pathlight Behavioral Health Centers. Over the years, she creatively combined her passions for clinical work with…
Presented by

Carrie Zhang

Carrie Zhang is the founder of Asian Mental Health Project Founded in 2019, the project currently uses social media, multimedia content creation and community events to de-stigmatize topics of mental…
Written by

Eric Dorsa

Eric Dorsa is an LGBTQ advocate, actor, comedian, and drag queen currently living in Chicago, Illinois. As an advocate for the LGBTQ community, Eric travels around the country sharing their…
Presented by


Gloria wants to destigmatize mental health and share her journey. Pathlight provided her the tools, resources, and safety that she needed to build a foundation of lifelong tools she can always use to…
Presented by

Jen Ponton

Most known as the fiercely feminist fat activist 'Rubi' on AMC's critical darling DIETLAND, Jen is an award-winning actress and body liberation activist. With a television resume that includes 30…
Presented by


Shay lives in Colorado with her family. An avid learner and science nerd, Shay loves to read about topics of interest and share them with her wife, who listens patiently. In her spare time, Shay likes…

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