We had the opportunity to sit down with Non Wels to discuss empathy, his experience with an eating disorder, and how his life experiences all lead him to the point of creating his podcast You, Me, Empathy. Click read more to check out the full interview.

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Nōn (pronounced like known) Wels, I’m 37 years old, and I have unabashed penchant for words, adventure, stories, and the human capacity for vulnerability, kindness, and empathy.

There was a period of my life where I bottled up all of my emotions, which nearly killed me. True story! The doctor told me my heart would stop after I dropped to 118 pounds after years of not eating—and a lifetime of depression, anxiety, and childhood trauma.

After that experience, I knew I had to be open with myself, and with others. It’s been arduous, but it’s been the most fulfilling and life-affirming period of my life. And it eventually led to the creation of my podcast: You, Me, Empathy.

Oh, and I also think that pants are tyrannical leg prisons. Come at me!

(But don’t really. I am a shorts-wearing pacifist.)

 

You are the host of a podcast called, You, Me, Empathy. Where did the name come from and what sort of topics do you usually talk about?
Yup, that’s right! The name—You, Me, Empathy—speaks to two things I believe in with all of my heart:

  1. That we are in this together. There is you, there is me, and there is empathy. We have each other. You are not alone in your struggle, you are not alone in your mental illness, you are not alone in your darkest of darks, you are not alone in your brightest of brights. You are not alone. And in that—in that togetherness—we can create so much beauty and understanding and progress in de-stigmatizing and normalizing conversation around mental illness and inspiring each of us to lead with our hearts first.
  2. See above. Empathy is everything. Full stop.

What’s interesting about the mental health community is that it’s full of people who have created something inspired by their own struggles. How do you feel like your own experiences have led to you making this podcast?
You’re so right. It’s full of beautiful people sharing their struggles. That’s what we need more of. We learn from that. We relate to that. We connect in those experiences.

As for my personal mental health journey, before when I said that I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t starting opening up about my emotions, that’s not hyperbole. I was a sensitive boy raised in a household with an emotionally and physically violent and abusive father. I was a sensitive boy brought up in an Evangelical Christian religion, which operated and thrived in fear over compassion and human decency. I learned to hide myself, both physically and emotionally. That was my coping mechanism; my survival skill. I called it my Heart Guard.

And I carried that Heart Guard with me into adulthood, and into my eating disorder. It took nearly a decade, but I eventually learned that the coping/survival skill, the Heart Guard, wasn’t conducive to emotional healing or growth. So I met with a therapist about four years ago and started to retrain myself in vulnerability, self-love, emotional intelligence.

Which brings me to creating You, Me, Empathy, a podcast that is a direct output of that healing experience. Its intention is precisely that: vulnerability, emotional openness, and giving people a safe, judgment-free space to share their stories.

Have you had any memorable/favorite conversations so far?
It’s difficult to call any of them favorites, as they are all so beautifully shared by my guests, but I’ll call out a few as memorable:

        • Episode 1 with my guest Bethanne Patrick is not only the first official episode of You, Me, Empathy, but it sort of lays the groundwork for a particular goal I have with the podcast, and that is to break free of the stigma that surrounds mental illness.
        • Episode 35 with my guest Lindsay Mack was a stunner for me, as I knew nothing about tarot cards before. Lindsay is doing remarkable work in address mental health and trauma through the beautiful art of tarot.
        • Lastly, Episode 74 with me and my psychotherapist friend Tony, where I talk about a deeply personal experience I had with invalidation. The episode is all about how we can better validate each other as humans, meet people where they are, listen, and accept.

In general, it’s probably safe to assume that most people wouldn’t expect a guy to want to openly talk about things like empathy, vulnerability, and emotions. How has challenging this stereotype been for you?
I try not to see it as a guy or gal thing, but a human thing. We are all in this together, as humans, as wayward specks on this beautiful pale blue dot. You’re right in that there is certainly a cultural and societal perversion when it comes to men and their feelings. Consider language like “man up” or “just be a man.” It’s gross and speaks to this awful interpretation we have held onto for far too long.

I am a feely human, as we all are. So challenging that stereotype hasn’t been about the gender so much as it has been about the human capacity for empathy and deep feeling. Sure, there’s a special case to be made about men and eating disorders. There’s a lot to unpack there, and I am working on a piece on that right now. So stay tuned for that!

Regarding the reaction I’ve got, it’s only been supportive and compassionate. People say, “wow, you’re a dude. Good for you on sharing your feelings!” My usual response is, “Thanks! But let’s face this as humans.”

Was it initially difficult learning to talk about these deeper subjects or was it just something you sort of flowed into?
There is so much to know and learn when it comes to mental health. I’m not a professional, but I’ve had lots of experience just managing emotions I suppose, from childhood into adulthood mediating my parents’ marriage to now, having these amazing conversations with lovely humans reminding me and my listeners that we are not alone. I’m just so grateful to be a witness to their stories.

Do you have any advice for other guys who might be shy or apprehensive about expressing or exploring their own emotional landscape?
I’d say this: You have a great and wondrous capacity for vulnerability. Your empathy and your feelings are your strength. And if you feel like you don’t have support in your direct surroundings, reach out. There are so many wonderful humans out there who will be there to listen, to relate, to embrace their own empathy.

I’m here anytime if you want to talk. You can email me anytime at YouMeEmpathy@gmail.com.

Where can people follow you on social media & listen to your podcast?
Sure! Folks can follow and connect with You, Me, Empathy here:

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