Michelle Williams, CHECKING IN

Michelle Williams, CHECKING IN

“We’re waiting on everybody to check in on us. No, you can check in on somebody, too. You don’t know what they’re going through.” Grammy Award-winning member of Destiny’s Child Michelle Williams opens up to Zibby about her experience living for over a decade with undiagnosed depression and how she hopes advocating for mental health awareness will help others who might be struggling, too.


Zibby Owens: Hey, Michelle. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Michelle Williams: Thank you so much for having me. I think that the name of this podcast is absolutely amazing.

Zibby: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Michelle: Yes, Zibby, yes!

Zibby: Speaking of names, by the way, I know in the book you reveal that your name is not even actually Michelle. It’s Tenitra. You had to give that up because people thought that was a better a stage name. It became this whole question of identity. Now your family calls you Tenitra, but fans call you Michelle. I was like, what am I supposed to call you?

Michelle: I know. Michelle, this is part of my name. It is my middle name.

Zibby: It is your middle name, yes.

Michelle: It is my middle name. Friends and family call me Te. If I’m ever out and about and I hear somebody call me Te or Tenitra, it’s because they really, really know me. After word gets out, I’m sure more people will probably be calling me Tenitra. You guys can call me Tenitra or Michelle. I’ll answer to both.

Zibby: Hopefully, after our conversation, we’ll feel like we know each other so well that I can call you Te.

Michelle: Yes, come on, I love it. It’s comforting because Te or Tenitra, that’s the little girl that needed to be healed. Every time I hear Te or Tenitra, I feel more healing. I feel like maybe I’m going back to Tenitra, that courageous, brave little girl.

Zibby: Aw. Checking In, your book, first of all, it made me want to check into the next hotel that I could ever find with all of your references to the sheets and the room service and everything. I am with you, that’s the first thing I do. I’m like, where’s that little packet in the hotel? I’m opening it up. What are we having? I don’t want the goat cheese salad. I was like, yes!

Michelle: Yes, I don’t feel alone.

Zibby: I’m like, they need to have chocolate chip cookies and popcorn, and then I will feel much happier.

Michelle: See? Not only do I judge the menu, but I also judge because I’m like, let me see the little kid’s menu. If there are chicken tenders on that menu, I’m like, okay, I’ll be okay. Chicken tenders solve everything. If there’s ninety other things on the menu you don’t like, chicken tenders is always safe. It’s still protein. It’s okay.

Zibby: I love that. I know. Sometimes I’m like, should I tell them that my kids are not actually with me at this hotel today? Are they going to card me at the door and make sure I’m six?

Michelle: I have no shame ordering from that children’s menu. No shame.

Zibby: Of course, in addition to talking about hotels, for you, checking in is so important. It’s the major theme of this book. For so long, you kind of checked out. It’s so important to check in, to check in with God, to check in with yourself, to check in with others, your community, and how that recentering is so essential, especially with you when you were caught up in depression mixed with fame, which is sort of a toxic combination. You realized that these are the things that you needed to do the most. Tell me about how you decided to take those realizations and make them into a book.

Michelle: In 2018 when the hospitalization was made public, I made it public because I think TMZ or someone had reached out to my team. They wanted confirmation that I was in the hospital. I was like, I know they’re going to post it anyway, but let me say something first. I didn’t want it to be splatter, and then you got to come and try to make a statement afterwards. It was like, you know what, guys? This is what’s going on. I’m taking my own advice. I tell people to get help. Well, now I’m having to take my own advice. I’d been an advocate as it relates to mental health. It’s like, it’s my turn to get some help. I knew that, all right, I can’t just leave it at that statement. Work had to be done. Healing had to be done, a lot of intensive therapy. I said, you know what, let me let people in on this journey. Let me take the power back in those words, checking in. Initially when I had to make that announcement, there was so much shame, guilt. I felt like a hypocrite, then feeling humiliated because here I am having to tell my business before I’m ready to tell it.

Zibby: That’s hard. That must be really hard. You had a great quote in the beginning that I just wanted to read quickly. You said, “We’re busy, we’re tired, and when we get a minute alone, we want to check out, not in, but this step matters because we can’t be honest with anybody until we’ve been honest with ourselves.” So true. It’s so easy to run away from everything, but it always catches up.

Michelle: Yeah, it’s so easy. The good thing is you are aware. The first step is the awareness that, I’m so tired, I just want to go check out. That’s what we want to do. Checking out can be, I want to check out from everything going on at home, but as long as you’re checking into a spa or checking into a counseling office or something like that. Don’t just check out and not check in somewhere else. Fill yourself back up so that — listen, life happens, motherhood, being a wife, husband, being a student, working, all these things. Some are all of those things. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. I would not dismiss those feelings of feeling overwhelmed. Just the other day, I was feeling overwhelmed and so much pressure. I just had to say, okay, do like a runner would do in a race and pace yourself. Then try to nurture yourself along the way.

Zibby: What was stressing you out the other day?

Michelle: This book. Releasing the book reminds me of releasing music. Zibby, it’s kind of like, will people like it? Will people support it? This is my first time releasing a book versus another product, which is music. There are actual book snobs and bookworms. People are going to be like, why should I get this book? I’m having all those thoughts.

Zibby: You know what? Those are not your people, then. That’s okay.

Michelle: Yeah, and that’s okay. If I’m being honest as I’m checking in with myself, I’m like, well, I do want a whole new crowd. I want people to see me more than just a singer or more than just that girl from Destiny’s Child. It’s probably the little girl in me that wants to be embraced by a whole new world as well.

Zibby: You can start with me.

Michelle: You’re the best.

Zibby: Like everyone, I listen to some music. I’m not a hardcore music person, but I am a hardcore book person. There were so much in this book that I related to myself and that was so — I love your voice and your honesty and the experience you had and the willingness you had to just go there. I loved it. This will stay with me more than any song. This is something that lasts. It’s something that people need to hear. Let me read another passage. Because you were so lucky to be in Destiny’s Child and have all this acclaim and fame and all of this, you had this extra — I’m envisioning something sort of on your back — burden to carry, which is, how can you be depressed? How can you be depressed when you’re so lucky? But that’s not how depression works. Anyone can be depressed. You said, “You might be thinking, excuse me? What does Michelle Williams got to be depressed about? You got a little bit of money. You got a little bit of fame. You sang in one of the most successful groups of all time. But one message that doesn’t get shared enough is that depression can hit anybody. It hits male, female, upper class, middle class, lower class, no class, every race, and every spiritual background. It can seek you out and find you anywhere with or without justifiable cause. What I mean by that is that depression comes in all forms. Sometimes it’s chemical. Sometimes it’s genetic. Sometimes it’s situational. Sometimes it’s because of unmet spiritual needs. Sometimes it’s because your husband left or you can’t get pregnant or you got fired. Depression is an assassin. It acts like a silent, slow killer, and if you don’t deal with it, it can just swallow you up.”

Michelle: Not only is depression an assassin, it’s a thief. It’s a thief of joy. It’s a thief of time. It’s a thief of productivity. I had that realization after, so I couldn’t put it in the book. I was like, man, depression’s a thief. We know the enemy wants to steal, kill, and destroy. To me, depression is an enemy because it robs, it steals, it kills.

Zibby: You tried to express that you were going through this and were basically, not ignored, but dismissed, your feelings. People were like, you’re okay. You’re burnt out from touring, or this or that. It made it so hard for you even when you were reaching out for help to get the help that you needed at first.

Michelle: I think that was my first time saying it out of my mouth. Hey, this is feeling like depression. I still went probably close to ten years even after that person was kind of like, no. You know what? I’m not mad at that person because when I look back, I feel like they were just wanting me to see the bright side of things. Girl, y’all are good. You got so many great things going on. People don’t realize that, yes, you can have great things going on, but there is something still — I’m still grateful. I’m still thankful, but man, I still feel burned out, low, or overwhelmed. I’m just feeling fatigued. That’s depression, but I was going through that since the seventh grade. Let’s go from the seventh grade up to that point. Say I’m thirteen in the seventh grade. Then when I disclosed the thing about depression, say that was eight years later. Say I’m twenty-one at that point. Then I go from twenty-one to in my thirties without a proper diagnosis. I’ve gone from the seventh grade to my thirties trying to cope and manage this. How many more people are like me who have been feeling like you’ve been depressed for a very, very, very long time? Now you’re trying to unlearn some coping skills. You love people, but you’d rather be at home. You’d rather isolate. To this day, Zibby, when there was the lockdown that happened in 2020, it was heaven for me because I like being alone. I like to isolate. I don’t know if I’ve taken the negative and turned it into something positive because now when I isolate, I feel recharged when I come out. I feel so good. Okay, let’s tackle the world, but I don’t want to tackle the world with a lot of people all day.

Zibby: That’s also the difference between being an introvert and extrovert. Introverts get their energy, you store it up when you’re alone and then you bring it out, versus, extroverts get the energy from the crowds.

Michelle: Zibby, the older I get, I’m like, am I turning into an introvert?

Zibby: That’s okay.

Michelle: Oh, I’m not mad. I love it.

Zibby: I’m having a hard time, to be honest with you, getting back out. I’m still spending so much time — I can justify it with, I’m working. I have the emails. I have to do this. I’m not getting out in the world the way I should be after this pandemic. I think it’s hard transitioning back to what it was.

Michelle: Yes, yes, yes. I had to go meet with someone for breakfast earlier. Traffic was really bad. I was like, where’s the pandemic traffic where no one was out, where you could just zip in and zip out? A part of me was happy to see people out and about. Then a part of me, I’m like you. I couldn’t wait to get back here. I couldn’t wait to talk to you because I’ll be home. By the way, I don’t know if that’s an office or a living room space, but it looks so cozy.

Zibby: Thank you. This is my office. It looks bigger on Zoom.

Michelle: I would curl up right there in that corner, in that section where those pillows are meeting.

Zibby: If you’re ever in New York, you just come on over. I had author events all the time, and salons. I love having my home filled with people.

Michelle: Wow. Please let me know when you do it again. I’d love to.

Zibby: Awesome. You talked in the book about the experience of thinking through your funeral, planning the whole thing out. PS, I have also done that. I have specific instructions. I have letters for all my loved ones. I’m totally prepared. I understand. However, you then went a step further and started really thinking about ending your life and what that would look like. You described it beautifully in the book, how it feels when you’re in a room and it’s completely dark. Even though you know you’re in a room you know, all of a sudden, you feel uneasy about stepping forward and touching everything. Tell me about your darkest moments there and how you got yourself out of it.

Michelle: Even though I was having those moments, the suicidal thoughts, I still keep that plan. I still want the white orchids. Keep all that.

Zibby: We got it.

Michelle: Now I think about it from a thing of planning if something were to happen, not because I’m thinking about it now from a place of wanting to die by suicide. Those dark moments, you just feel hopeless. You feel like nobody cares. You feel like maybe people just got what they needed from me, but they don’t see that I’m in need, not in need of money, but I need care. I need to know that you love me with or without all of this. You can sometimes feel alone because people feel — it’s not that you change when you get successful. They change. I’m the same girl. I’ll go to Publix. There’s a certain grape that I like. I go get them. The muscat grapes, I love those grapes. If I’m in my hometown and my mother needs Jiffy cornbread mix, she sends me to go get it. I haven’t changed. It’s like, almost, people kind of extract themselves from you because maybe they feel like you’re up here and they’re down here and they don’t deserve to be with you. It’s like, I need you. What are you talking about? I need connection. Those were the lies of the enemy too. Those were lies. Maybe I could’ve reached out to someone because it’s a two-way thing. We’re waiting on everybody to check in on us. No, you can check in on somebody too. You don’t know what they’re going through.

Zibby: That’s true. When you went through all of this, what was it like to then go back and revisit it to write this book? What was writing this book like for you?

Michelle: When I started writing it in 2019, I was still in the emotional part of my engagement ending. I was writing it from that point of hope. When I look back at the book now, I’m like, girl, you were so hopeful. It was fresh pain, fresh tears still being cried, but it was so healing. If you see on the first page of the actual book, it says, “With Holly Crawshaw.” That’s the person that sat there like a therapist and listened to everything that I’m saying that you see in this book. She helped make it make sense. That was so healing, Zibby. I’d do it like that all over again. Do I want to go through that pain all over again? No, but in 2021 when I look back at those words, I’m like, God, you brought me a mighty long way. I’m thankful to be telling this story. It’s like I want to knock on every door of my high-rise building and just tell people there’s hope. Hold on. I know. Hold on. It does get better. You might have to put a little of the work in, but it gets better. It’s so hard to confront pain, to confront the parts you might have played in it. When I talk to my therapist today, we talk about those. She met me in my darkest moment at the end of 2018. Sometimes she’s just brought to tears by the growth and healing. I thank her. She’s in the back of the book too. I have no shame in thanking the people and practitioners that really helped. When I say no shame, everybody listening today, have no shame in seeking the help that you need. You don’t have to be like me and announce it and broadcast it. You don’t have to write a book or actually put the name of your therapist in the book. You don’t have to do that. I encourage you to process. Guess what? You don’t have to process trauma. Maybe you just want to process a transition, a divorce, or a new job, the loss of loved one.

Zibby: Wow, it’s so inspiring to hear you say it like that. So many people need to hear your words. It’s so great to use your platform in the world to spread this really important message. If you can be sad and you can go through this, then other people surely are and need to hear it.

Michelle: Absolutely. I just want to encourage the listeners. The name of this podcast is amazing, “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” I pray that you have time to invest in yourself, steal away and process, get counseling, pour back into you. Moms, you do so much. You contribute so much to your home and to the community. Make sure that if you don’t have time to read, get my audiobook.

Zibby: What is coming next? Now that you have this book coming out, I’m sure this is completely consuming every moment of the day now, knowing how book launches are. What’s after this?

Michelle: You know what? I’m thinking of those infinity pools that are looking at the ocean. That’s what’s next. What’s next? The cool thing is I do have a journal accompanying this book. There’s a limited edition at Target where you can get a guided journal. Then there’s going to be a separate external journal that comes out in 2022. We’ve already got that. It’s ready to go. I really think I want to take Checking In everywhere. When we can be in person, I want to check in with people and just really make this a thing where people are checking in. A friend of mine has an organization called Silence the Shame. I said, “Shanti, not only are we silencing the shame around the topic of mental health, but we’re going to amplify silence. We’re going to amplify bravery and courage.” That’s what I’m going to do.

Zibby: I’m on the board of an organization called the Child Mind Institute. One of our main missions is eradicating the stigma around mental illness and helping kids and young teens and young kids from an early age and giving inspiring role models like you to them.

Michelle: That’s so good. Let me know, I’d love to do something with you guys.

Zibby: That would be awesome.

Michelle: That warms my heart, especially with kids.

Zibby: That’d be great. They do clinical work. They do research. Then they do these big campaigns, one of which is going on now, where celebrities talk about “my younger self” and all the things that they wish they had known. I’ll email you after.

Michelle: Definitely, let me know, whatever I need to do.

Zibby: Awesome. I’m very interested in this whole area for various reasons, and so your book really spoke to me. It’s amazing.

Michelle: Wow, Zibby, thank you.

Zibby: What parting advice would you have for aspiring authors, someone who’s just starting to tackle this huge project?

Michelle: The authenticity is so real and so important. I know I wanted every fiber of me to be heard and felt. It’s amazing when you can read the words and you feel like they’re right there with you. Even if you’re writing a fantasy, it’s like, wow, I feel like I’m right there. Just put you all over it. Don’t overwhelm yourself like I’ve been doing. Please don’t. Please don’t do that. Like you said, the people will find you. They’ll find it.

Zibby: I recommended your book for my list on Good Morning America today. I can send you the link. Then when I was tagging you, because I know you have a whole thing in the book about people improperly tagging you, I was like, I’m going to triple-check that I did not tag the wrong Michelle Williams. I’m going to check one more time because that would just be so classic if I messed that up.

Michelle: That’s so funny.

Zibby: Anyway, I think it was great. I’m so glad that you decided to get real. I think you should do a branded hotel suite with this sign. I think you should make it look like this with the sign behind you and this awesome wallpaper and this cool couch and this whole pink and green thing. I think you should have an amazing room service menu and present the Checking In experience for people who need to check in with themselves. You have to partner with a hotel and get that set up. That’s my idea.

Michelle: That’s awesome. Thank you so much. I need to have you part of it for the idea. That’s a great idea, Zibby. Great idea.

Zibby: No, you take it. You go and run with it. When it’s up, I’ll come stay in it. How about that?

Michelle: Okay. Oh, my gosh, yes.

Zibby: There we go. Michelle, thank you so much. Tenitra, Michelle, whoever you are, thank you. Thank you for this time together. Best of luck with your book. I am rooting for you and am so grateful for your honesty and all the people that I know that you will help.

Michelle: Thank you so much for having me. We will do this again.

Zibby: Take care. Thank you.

Michelle: Take care. Thank you.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Michelle: Bye.

Michelle Williams, CHECKING IN

CHECKING IN by Michelle Williams

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