Explore the transformative journey of Dr. Anne Hallward in the podcast episode titled, “Epic Begins with 1 Step Forward.” Delve into her unexpected path from marathon running to addressing mental health struggles on a public health level. Uncover the core issue of shame and self-criticism as Dr. Hallward shares insights on feeling unlovable. Witness the birth of a unique public health solution through radio, emphasizing the power of storytelling in reducing shame and fostering connection. Overcome perceived challenges alongside Dr. Hallward and discover the courage-building potential of small victories. Conclude with a call to embrace the transformative power of taking one step forward in our own epic journeys.

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EPIC Begins With Dr. Anne Hallward Part 1

I am lucky enough to have a good friend of mine, Dr. Anne Hallward, a psychiatrist in Maine and the Founder of Safe Space Radio, to have a conversation with us about the epic in her life.


Welcome, Anne.

Thank you. What a pleasure to be doing this with you. I’m really excited about where we can take it together.

Exactly. Like all epic journeys, we know where we’re starting. We’re not really sure where we’ll end up, but that’s part of what makes it an epic journey. I s there anything that you want to start off with to let people know about who you are, what you do, or anything?

No, because that will be part of the story I tell.

One Step Forward

To start off, when I brought up the idea that an epic begins with one step forward and epic journeys, what kind of imagery did you have in your mind?

I had an image of someone climbing a mountain, taking that step up. It looks so daunting. You’re looking up and you can’t even imagine ever being there. I was reminded of my ninth-grade running coach who said, “When you’re running up a hill, don’t look up. Look down so all you’re focused on are the steps on the hill. That’s how you’ll do it.” It reminded me of that, which I haven’t thought of in a long time.

I have talked probably more than people want to hear about using running analogies. I used to run marathons. I have talked about how you break down 26.2 miles because that’s a long way to move your body forward.

It’s ironic that I’m using a running metaphor because I did not ever nor ever wanted to and had the horror of running a marathon.

That was one of those things that growing up, I always thought about doing but I had no idea how I would ever do that. I, at 38, decided that it was something that I was ready to tackle, and I did. Each and every time was its own epic journey. There is a lot that goes into that. Not to talk about athletics and stuff, but our lives in general.

Oftentimes, we have things that we really want to do and dream of like, “I’d love to do this,” and we don’t know how. We could maybe see where we want to end up, but we have no idea how we’re going to get there. Sometimes, it seems daunting and overwhelming because we think about all the steps that are necessary. Ultimately, even in this multitasking, multi-core world that we live in, we are single-core minds. We can only do one thing at a time.

I was doing counseling in high school. I was talking to teenagers all the time about doing homework. I said, “I have yet to meet a teenager who could do math with their left hand and write an essay with their right hand. You can only do one homework at a time.” You and I both being in mental health help people all the time when they’re overwhelmed by a multitude of issues. Ultimately, you have to deal with one issue at a time even if it’s only for a half hour, and then the next half hour, you deal with the next thing. Everything does combine. I am talking way too much. I’m here to have you talk. You have a story for us.

The Problem Of Shame

You asked me to think of a story where I wanted to take on an epic journey and I had to take one step at a time. I do have a story. As you were talking earlier, I was thinking to myself, “Maybe it’s easier the less about the journey you’re about to take on because you’re not as overwhelmed because you have no idea how many steps there are ahead of you.” This is the story about me wanting to do something that I knew almost nothing about. That saved me, ironically.

The story is I had completed my training as a psychiatrist and I was starting to practice seeing patients. I was surprised to hear that almost no matter what someone was coming to see me for, depression, alcoholism, trauma, or anxiety, the heart of their suffering was the same. What they reported to me was this terrible feeling inside of weakness, defectiveness, or failure. The fear made them unlovable.

Whether it was depression and they felt like, “I’m failing. Mind over matter, I should pick myself up by my bootstraps,” all that pressure that’s in our culture, or alcoholism, it’s a moral failing. It’s a weakness or trauma. Someone would feel like damaged goods, that they had been contaminated, or that they could never be lovable again. It was devastating. The core of the suffering was the same. It was this feeling of not being lovable or being bad. You had to hide it because if people knew this about you, you wouldn’t be lovable. They would want to get away from you.


The core of the suffering was the same. It was this feeling of not being lovable or being bad.


I started thinking, “This is a public health emergency. This is at the heart of suicide. This is at the heart of addiction, this terrible need to get away from that feeling of shame and self-hatred.” I thought, “I need to come up with a public health solution to the problem of shame.” I didn’t have any training in public health. I knew that public health referred to things that affect large groups of people. That’s all I knew. I  can’t overstate how little I knew.

I remember my mother reading a quote at my wedding, a Gutta quote that said, “When a person is undecided, everything is chaotic, but once you decide and commit, unseen forces come to your aid.” It felt like that. Once I made it clear, “I need to do this. I’m committed. I need to come up with a public health solution,” all manner of unseen forces came to my aid. I started studying the moment of shame in my office. I would realize we were there because the person would break eye contact. They would look down. They would cover their faces. Shame is so much about being seen at my worst.

One of the things in my experience, and I don’t have as much as you in doing my training and stuff from my licensing, is we are the meanest people in our lives. The self-talk that goes on here goes right into the shame. We are so devastatingly mean to ourselves. We say the worst possible things. I will bring this up. When I hear this happening, I’ll say to my clients, “What if your best friend said something that was as mean as what you said about yourself or about what you think about yourself and they are like, “I’d be devastated.”

I remember someone giving a talk saying, “If you were sitting in a cafe or a restaurant and you overheard at the table next to you, a parent, talking to their child the way that you talk to yourself, you would be so sickened. Honestly, you couldn’t eat another bite and you would have to leave the restaurant.” That really helped me get it. Mean is the word, bordering abusive.

Honestly, our own self-talk is horrendous. That’s part of the shame talk.

I agree. It’s part of why we retreat and hide, which leaves us alone with our worst suffering. That was part of why I felt like, “I’ve got to do something about this, but how? How do I reduce shame?” When I noticed that people broke eye contact, looked away, and covered their faces, I was on a walk with a friend and it suddenly occurred to me that the way to do it is radio. Unlike daytime TV where everything has to do with their outfit, their hair, their weight, and all this visual scrutiny is a nightmare, in radio, the guest is not being seen. It’s not nearly as shame-inducing a medium.

We watch TV with each other and we comment and laugh. With radio, you almost always listen alone. It’s often in the car, on a treadmill, or washing dishes. You’re alone. You can listen to things that people might think we’re shameful. If you’re struggling with sexual difficulties and you want help but don’t want your whole family to hear you listening to this talk about sexual difficulties, radio is the perfect way to do it. It’s private. There’s this intimacy and privacy to it that is not so much focused on shame. I was like, “Radio.”

Here’s that epic first step of the journey thing. I was like, “That’s all well and good, but what do I know? I know how to turn it on in my car.” Here’s my first step. The first step was making the commitment, like, “I want to do this,” and then everything follows. My first step was clarity about, “What do I believe in, value, and want to do?” The second step was making a decision that the format was radio. The third step was research and starting to learn because I didn’t know anything.


The first step is making the commitment, and then everything follows.


What I did was I went on the web and Googled every radio station in Southern Maine where I live outside of Portland and read their mission statement. It was like, “Let’s see if there’s a radio station that has a mission about including marginalized voices or silenced voices of the members of the community.” I found this radio station that offered training to members of the community. Their mission statement was beautiful. It was all about welcoming voices from the community, different voices that had been silenced. I was like, “I’m all in.”

I reached out, found out there was training, signed up, and took it. It was easy. The first step was doing that research. It was learning and knowing to look for the mission statement as a way to see what the core values of the organization were. That was 2008. I took the course. In retrospect, it was four hours. It was almost nothing. By the end of the course, I knew a tiny bit about radio, not a whole lot more. I knew that you weren’t allowed to swear on the radio because of FCC regulations. That was a very important takeaway.

I auditioned to create a show where people could tell their most vulnerable story of a struggle with shame that was effectively their most courageous story. They would be doing it in order for other people who were struggling alone with shame, feeling like the only weak failure who was bad or whatever it was. It was somebody who could hear someone else tell it so they would feel less alone. There was more hope and possibility that they, too, could tell their story and that they would be accepted, understood, and so on. That was the beginning.

That is truly epic.

It felt epic. Am I allowed to tell you what followed or do you want to ask me something else? You tell me where you want to go.

The First Step Is Not As Difficult

I have questions. We’ll continue. Here’s the question. Did you discover that it wasn’t nearly as hard as you imagined it would be?


That has been my experience. Sometimes, these things that seem so epically huge, those first couple of steps or that first step really wasn’t nearly as difficult as I imagined. From a psychological standpoint, when we have a bit of a victory, it buoys us to go on. When we do hit a roadblock, at least we have some positive that we can go, “This worked. I did this. I took my radio course and that was good. It is so that if you then pitch the idea and that station says, “I don’t think so,” you’re not like, “That’s it.”

That’s right. I’ve been doing a lot of research into the forces that support courage in a person because telling a shameful story is a very courageous act. I interviewed this senior psychiatrist who I admire. His name is R.J. Lifton. He has written countless books, including a book about going to visit Auschwitz right after World War II. He was interviewing a number of the Nazi officers and the prison doctors and trying to understand, “Why did you do this?” He has done things like that all over.


The early little steps begin to inform your sense of yourself as someone who can do it. It has this wonderful snowball effect that it feeds on itself.


I asked him, “How did you keep doing these really brave, hard things?” He said, “I came to think of myself as a person who did this.” That’s aligned with what you’re saying. The early little steps begin to inform your sense of yourself as someone who can do it. It has this wonderful snowball effect that it feeds on itself.


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