Devin Williams is the host of the Sour Topics podcast for men’s mental health and self-help. He is also the blogger of Devinism.com a guide for millennial entrepreneurs. Devin is the father of 4 and lives in Maryland. I interviewed Devin on May 21, so we chat about coronavirus and its effect on his family. Because Devin is considered an essential worker, his routine hasn’t changed that much during coronavirus. Given the topic of Devin’s podcast, we also discuss difficult conversations.
Topics in this episode include work, marriage and separation, raising children, mental health, suicide and depression. Devin shares how he is taking action towards your dreams and he challenges men to a vulnerable act that can improve their marriage. However, this challenge can apply to anyone and any type of relationship.
Challenge – Get Started with Difficult Conversations
Go to your partner and ask them what you can do better. And ask them what you are not doing. Give them the opportunity to say the thing that they hold back because they don’t want to cause trouble. Those are the things that cause problems. They carry into other situations and heighten the anger and discontent in your relationship.
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Timeline of the Chat
0:52 – Devin introduces himself
1:11 – About his podcast, Sour Topics
4:05 – Effects of the pandemic on his family
5:02 – About his children
9:14 – About co-parenting
10:15 – What motivates him to go back to school
13:17 – Future plans for career change
12:19 – The biggest change
18:19- The biggest driving force in his life
19:21 – What he’s excited about right now
20:45 – An invitation and challenge for the building your relationships
22:31 – Advice for someone feeling stuck in their life
24:18 – Mental health in the Black community
27:52 – His current treatment for mental health
27:52 – His sources of inspiration
29:18 – Final advice
Quotes from the chat
Full Interview Transcript
Click to read the transcript
Damianne [00:02]: Thank you for listening to Changes BIG and small. This is Damianne, your host. Each week I interview guests or share research to help you take action to make changes in your own life. This week, I’m speaking with Devin Williams. Devin is the host of the Sour topics podcast for men’s mental health and self-help. He’s also the blogger of devinism.com, a guide for millennial entrepreneurs. Let’s get started. Welcome, Devin.
Devin [00:35]: Thank you, Damianne. It’s a pleasure being here.
Damianne [00:40]: Can you tell us where do you live and then a little bit about yourself, two or three sentences.
Devin [00:45]: Yeah. I’m from Maryland in the United States and I’m an engineering technician by day. And then my night, I attempt to make a podcast and I try and run a blog. I write articles about making money online and helping people try and live a better life, dealing with stress and stuff like that.
Damianne [01:08]: So tell us about sour topics.
Devin [01:11]: So sour topics. I don’t know how I came up with that name, but sour, meaning like that’s something that you don’t really want to talk about. And then I wanted to do something for men. Just talking with guys, you’re not going to bring up hard to talk about subjects. Like, you know, bro, I might be an alcoholic; that doesn’t come up. It comes up as, yeah, I’m going to go chug a couple beers. It’s not like, oh, I need help or I need mental help. So that’s basically what it is. The first few episodes, it was mostly me just talking about several different issues that men can have like relationships and life, and should you go to college, stuff like that. And then I started interviewing other mental health therapists. I Interviewed a mental health coach, Jade Stanton;, that was a good episode where she talked about men with bipolar disorder. So there’s a lot of good, interesting topics that we cover on the podcast.
Damianne [02:11]: How did you decide that this podcast was a necessary topic?
Devin [02:16]: Right. So about a year ago is when I had separated from my wife. And I was going through a really bad time in my life. I had just wrecked my car and we were fighting a lot and we split up. So I started seeing a therapist. And then recently I started taking some antidepressant drugs. So I’ve just been on this mental health journey for the past year. And you know, sometime back in 2012 or maybe 13, I went to my primary care physician and I told him, I was like, look, you know, my wife’s having either the second or the third baby. And then we were fighting a little bit. I was like, you know, I think I don’t feel right, like I feel depressed. And then he just kind of convinced me that, you know, this is just life, just life issues; it’s not depression. So yeah, it went untreated for six or eight years. After that; I started drinking a lot and men do that a lot. They will self medicate by drinking or other types of drugs they might abuse. Depression shows itself in a lot of different ways.
Damianne [03:29]: And so after all this time, how did you get back to a place where you were able to get some help?
Devin [03:37]: Well, it’s cause I completely hit rock bottom. Like there was only a way up after that and I feel like I could have gotten help before it got that bad. The end of my marriage, there’s nothing worse than that, than a family being separated.
Damianne [03:53]: So you’ve been separated for about a year. Now you have four children. What’s the situation with custody or with seeing your children, especially now with the pandemic.
Devin [04:05]: We were very iffy and scared when this first started happening. She was afraid for me to come over because I still go to work. I have an engineering job; they told me I’m essential so I have to go. I commute. So I come to a part of Maryland that’s more in the metropolitan area of DC and Baltimore. And she didn’t want me to come over and then she didn’t want the kids to come over to my house. Well I didn’t want them to come to my house because my mom, last year, maybe February, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She’s been managing, she did like one round of chemo. Now she’s just taking some pills for it and she’s doing a lot better. But anyway, most people know that that’s high risk for COVID. Anyway, I see them every weekend. And then usually on Wednesdays, I’ll pick them up and help them with their homework cause they’re all doing homework from home now.
Damianne [05:02]: And how old are your kids?
Devin [05:04]: So I have a 10 year old girl, a seven year old boy, six year old girl and a 15 month old son.
Damianne [05:13]: You shared in your email when we were discussing having this interview about some circumstances with some of your children as well. Would you like to tell us more about that?
Devin [05:24]: Yeah, so we got the shock of our life about three years ago. So my oldest daughter, let’s see, she had the flu or something. She had a cold, so she was taking steroids to loosen up the muscles in her esophagus. I can’t remember what the steroid is called, but it raises your blood sugar when you take it. And she wasn’t feeling well. And my wife was like, oh, I need to take her to the hospital just to make sure she’s okay because she wasn’t getting over the sore throat or cold. So they took her in and then I don’t know why, but they checked her glucose in her urine and it was extremely high. And they were like, Whoa, like what is this? And then they were scared. They’re like, they didn’t want to say type one diabetes, but that’s what it was. We thought she just had a cold or a sore throat. That night, we drove to the University of Maryland hospital and we were there for a week. We caught it extremely early. For that first year, she didn’t take any insulin. And now she’s doing well. She has a, what they call a Dexcom and we can check her blood sugar with her phone and she’s got to take insulin before every meal. We’re all used to it now and she’s used to it. She manages it. It’s definitely a life-changer; for COVID, it’s another risk factor for it. So we don’t want her to get that either. And then my son, he has autism. So he was born with that. He’s just got some social problems. He’s extremely smart. He throws tantrums; it’s another thing that you manage. He’s always been the way he is. We love him and other people that have kids with autism, like, you know how they are. And they’re so loving and caring and they’re just misunderstood by people that don’t know what’s going on.
Damianne [07:18]: Well, there is a wide spectrum with autism too. And most people tend to see the edges of it and don’t really know all of the different ways that autism can manifest. I think the biggest thing is a lot of understanding about neurodivergence and some people are born with their brains a bit different. And so we have to understand that.
Devin [07:41]: Yeah, it’s been a long, long journey for us trying to help him learn differently and help him cope with his emotions and feelings. His sensory is just, he gets overwhelmed by sounds and feelings and touch. You know, it’s a lot to deal with. I love them so much. He’s extremely smart. And he reads at like a fifth-grade level and he’s in the second grade. And then bringing up the rear 15 months old. I didn’t think we were going to have anymore, but yeah, he snuck up on us. So he was born with Downs and he’s just a regular baby too. He’s so lovable. He’s going to do everything that kids do just at a later date. The reason why he came into this world was to give us even more love. I think we really needed him. So I’m really glad he’s here. And then I can’t forget about Taleah. Oh my God. She’s the motor mouth. She’s adorable. And you just can’t forget her.
Damianne [08:47]: It sounds like you live with your mom.
Devin [08:48]: Yes.
Damianne [08:50]: So we’ve talked a bit about sour topics and certain topics are not really discussed. So for example, one of those sour or seldomly discussed topics might be what the experience is like for you going through the separation and only seeing your children on a weekly basis. How are you experiencing this?
Devin [09:14]: It’s very difficult because I was very hands-on. I can’t imagine a father not being hands on but I hear that all the time; he never changed a diaper he never did anything. And that just, that wasn’t me. So I cooked for them, cleaned for them, played with them. First of all, when the separation happened, the judge was like every other week. And I’m like, it’s nearly impossible, only four days a whole month. My ultimate goal is that I want to, first of all, I need to stop commuting so far and I want to try and work from home or work from the town I live in so I can get more time with them. But other than that, co-parenting with my wife has been fine. We do get along pretty well, more than you would imagine, but then ordinarily, you have spats here and there, but we do manage the kids well. So I’m going back to school right now and I’m trying to be a psychologist.
Damianne [10:15]: OK. What’s the motivation?
Devin [10:18]: I want to help people basically like kind of what I’m doing for the podcast.
Damianne [10:22]: I mean, it does seem to tie in very nicely with …
Devin [10:25]: Yeah, it does. I guess my thing is that I don’t have the information that can help people, but I can go and find the people that have the information?
Damianne [10:37]: Those are very different things, right? Like engineering on the one hand, which tends to be very, we could call it more of a colder, factual science and then psychology, which is much more emotional and people related.
Devin [10:52]: Right. It’s been an interesting career. I’ve done well, but I’m way more creative than I am able to measure something correctly or draw a straight line on something and then cut it. But engineering has been fun. I like electronics. I enjoy computers. I used to build computers when I was younger, but just the creative expression is something that I need. Like, I feel so much better after I complete a blog post or something like that, or I upload an episode. So it’s just always going to be a part of my life even if I don’t go back to school and change careers,
Damianne [11:36]: This is making me think of a lady that I talked to in episode 24, when she talks about how we teach what we need. And that idea comes back to my mind often in terms of a lot of the time, what drives us or what inspires us is helping people through the same journey that we need to take ourselves or that we find ourselves taking.
Devin [12:03]: Right.
Damianne [12:04]: So that’s pretty exciting. How long will this take?
Devin [12:09]: 2024 is when I’ll graduate. And then I’ll be a licensed therapist for counseling.
Damianne [12:19]: Would you please share with us what you feel is the change that you’ve gone through so far that has been life changing, that has really changed the trajectory of your life?
Devin [12:34]: So I feel like most of my life I’ve always lacked faith, faith in God. I definitely feel like if that was a factor in my life, then I wouldn’t have been so lost. So about a week ago, I found that faith and I started believing in God. It’s been a really emotional time when eye-opening. It’s realizing Oh my God, he’s always been there. You can talk to him anytime. The stories from the Bible, if you’re not a true believer, then you hear that and you’re like, wow, that’s like nonsense. What? That doesn’t make any sense. But we need to be grateful for every day that we wake up and our eyes are open, it’s a blessing. And that’s something I did not appreciate at all. Life-changing, completely life-changing. So it comes with a bit of a story. About seven days ago, I was driving home and I think I mentioned earlier that I crashed the car. So I crashed the car and I survived. I survived. I was not injured and the airbags deployed; the car was totalled. The day after that, I started drinking a lot. And I realized that I need to get myself together and change my life, make it for the better, and just be a better father and do better at everything. And I had this conversation with my dad about three days later; that was emotional cause I hadn’t talked to him in so long. My dad always talked about God, but I just didn’t pay attention to him. And then for some reason, like the next day after I talked to him, I woke up and I prayed. And I’ve prayed before in my life, dozens and dozens of times but it, it was kinda fake. It was like I was going through the motions. But I woke up and it was like automatic. Like I just did it. I just thanked him for everything I was thankful for. And then the next day I had a conversation with my mom. And after that I was like, wow, my parents are so wise. And then that night, I went in my room and I prayed one more time. And I swear, it felt like the Holy Spirit came to me and I felt it. I was like, God’s real.
Damianne [15:08]: You felt some confirmation.
Devin [15:09]: Yeah, I don’t know if that sounds crazy, but I felt confirmation. And then as soon as that happened, I was just thankful for everything that I saw in my house. The fact that I get up and I complain about some things. I still see my kids. My kids are still here. I love them. I could see them any time when I’m not working. It could be a billion times worse. I could be dead. I could have died in that crash. I could have been injured. I could have been in a hospital. I could have been paralyzed.So I just needed to be thankful.
Damianne [15:46]: You talking about developing this faith, recognizing the presence of a greater power, God. And it sounds like how that’s showing up for you is in a sense of gratitude and noticing all of the things that you can be grateful for in your life. Is that something that you’ve struggled with generally?
Devin [16:13]: I believe so. I think I’ve taken a lot of things for granted, for one my wife, I don’t know what can I say? Your wife is always there for you and I’ve let her down. And that’s just not the only person, my mother and my dad and my brother, they’ve been amazing people. And I do that, just take them for granted. But you gotta really love the people around you and show them that you love them.
Damianne [16:43]: That’s a very exciting place to be or headspace even to be because it opens up so many opportunities. Nothing changes if we’re not reflective, if we don’t stop and take a moment and think about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, why we’re doing it and appreciate the good that we do have in our life. Then it’s very easy for us to just continue in the rat race, running around in circles and losing sight of things.
Devin [17:13]: Right. Because I have a short term memory.
Damianne [17:17]: I don’t think you’re the only one.
Devin [17:20]: I took a picture of the car right after the accident. I was just gonna blow it up and be like a 20 by 30 picture in my bedroom so I can see it every morning and realize what a fool I was and I need to do better. I need to learn from my mistakes instead of repeating them.
Damianne [17:42]: Well, they say that we keep having the same test in life until we do look from them. So it sounds like there is an opportunity for some growth to happen.
Devin [17:52]: Oh yeah. I think I’ve noticed a pattern in my life. Definitely. I’ve had deja vu so many times. I’m like, yeah, this has happened before. So hopefully this is the moment where God’s like alright, Devin. I know I put you through all that, but it was just so I can get you to this point. Now you need to help people. He saved me from the car so I can help people. Thank you.
Damianne [18:19]: What drives you with your goal for being a therapist, with the whole idea that you’re going through right now and trying to make a change? What’s the biggest driving force in your life that you would say?
Devin [18:32]: You probably would have guessed, but that’s my kids. The biggest reason, maybe even the only reason why I was trying to make money online was so I could work from home. To some people that might sound like you want to be lazy. You want to just stay home and do nothing.
Damianne [18:49]: I work from home.
Devin [18:50]: Oh okay. So, but not you. I wanted to spend more time with my kids and be home so I can do things for them at home that they need. They love playing, Oh my God, they jump on my back. I had to start lifting weights. I had to get more buff. My oldest daughter, she jumped on my back and I just flipped her over my shoulder. And then I just fell down and I was like, Oh my God, I think this is what happens when your back goes out. I’d just turned 30.
Damianne [19:21]: That’s such an important lesson that kids can teach us in terms of how to play and to slow down and to be in the moment if we’ll allow ourselves to have that experience. Yeah, it’s true. What are you excited about right now?
Devin [19:40]: I’m excited about podcasting. I’m very excited about the sour topics website and doing more things like this. Like this was amazing. This was a boost. I’m glad that you invited me. Thank you.
Damianne [19:56]: You’re welcome.
Devin [19:57]: So the podcast, I plan on doing a lot more and actually the next one that I have not uploaded, I interviewed a marriage counselor. He has some good tips for guys out there doing the wrong stuff.
Damianne [20:09]: If there are any men listening to this show, what’s the most important message that you would like to share with them, that you would like them to get from this episode?
Devin [20:22]: It’s like my life lesson. I don’t know what is my life lesson.
Damianne [20:26]: Well at Changes BIG and small, we say that change begins with one small step. It, of course, can be some great message, but it can also be one small challenge or one small action that you invite people to take that, that you invite men to take.
Devin [20:45]: Okay. I challenge you to go to your partner and you ask them what you can do better. And ask them what you are not doing. It could be anything. Give them the opportunity to say the thing that they hold back because they don’t want to cause trouble. Because those are the things that cause resentment and can show up as anger in another situation that’s completely not connected. And then your other partner will see that and be like, Oh, why is she doing that? Or why is he doing that? What is wrong with him? But really they’re upset about something completely unrelated that you don’t even know about, but they’re not bringing it up because they don’t want to cause an issue. But unfortunately, problems that go unsolved will cause problems even if you don’t bring it up,
Damianne [21:46]: You mention in one of your blog posts that you think that dark emotions only spread like cancer in your life unless you confront them directly. And so this challenge that you’ve just given aligns with that. Exactly.
Devin [22:01]: Wow, I’m impressed. Yeah. I guess it does. I hit the nail right on the head.
Damianne [22:10]: So often we see what’s wrong with the other person. It’s so easy to see what’s wrong with the other person and have a blind spot. If you’re finding something wrong with them, they’re likely having an issue with you as well. There is reciprocity there too.
Devin [22:28]: Oh yeah, definitely, it’s a two way street.
Damianne [22:31]: What advice do you have for someone who is feeling a bit stuck and you’ve been there? What advice would you share to help get through that period? What do you wish somebody would have told you?
Devin [22:47]: I definitely had people to talk to. I talked to people about my problems, but when you talk to friends about issues, they’re going to take your side no matter what. So if you’re feeling stuck, you need to talk to your loved ones. Whoever is closest to you, whoever you interact with the most, that is who you need to talk to people. Most people think you need to go here, go there, go anywhere. No, you need to talk to the people that you see every day or the ones that you love. You need to talk to them directly, have a conversation with them. What do you think about me, what do you think I should be doing? And those are the people that are going to know what’s best because they see you all the time and they know you,
Damianne [23:42]: And they’re less likely to want to stay on your good side or they’re not going to be smoothing your ego.
Devin [23:49]: Nope, Nope. Nope. They’re gonna give it to you like it is. Like, look, you’re a slob and you eat too much fast food. Okay. All right. I’m sorry. And you need to listen. Listen and don’t keep it as just a one conversation thing. Make it a continual process because just like we’d said earlier, people forget. Genuine conversations with your loved ones is definitely the way to go
Damianne [24:18]: in the black community, there is a certain stigma around mental health as well, isn’t there. My sister and I were recently watching a show and we started talking about the topic of mental health and the guy, it’s a black guy. And he tells his father that he’s taking antidepressants and his father doesn’t really saw anything. What’s your experience of this in your own life?
Devin [24:47]: I was in an accident when I was in high school. It wasn’t really an accident. It was more like a stupid thing that me and my cousins did. Long story short, My t-shirt became lit on fire and I got second and third degree burns on my hands and neck and chest. So my skin was looking pink for a while. And then I didn’t go to school for a year; I did school at home. And then I think my parents took me to a psychologist or something. And then we went one time. Just one time. I think I mentioned to my dad that I felt like killing myself. He might have asked me one more time, are you feeling okay? And I think I was like, Yeah, I’m fine. And then I think during my marriage, those feelings started to creep back up of wanting to kill myself. It’s a scary thing to even think about or talk about. And that’s what depression is.
Damianne [25:48]: Are you getting help now?
Devin [25:50]: Yeah. I’m getting help now picking Prozac and Wellbutrin. Those are both antidepressants. Both of them just try and keep your mood up. It’s not really a mood stabilizer, but just to try to keep you from going all the way down. But back to what you were saying about the stigma in the black community, there was an episode on my podcast I talked to Jor’El, he’s a therapist. He wrote an article on medium about that, about social stigma and also that if a black person is going to seek mental help, then they are three times more likely to stay with that therapist if the therapist is black. So seeing someone across from you that looks like you and can relate to you, it makes a huge difference. So that’s another reason why I wanted to be a psychologist because it’s just a very underrepresented field. And we are the people that need the most help, especially after this COVID thing.
Damianne [26:58]: Well, it’s interesting how the COVID-19 crisis is raising a lot of these issues around disparities and inequities within systems in America and elsewhere.
Devin [27:10]: Yes. It’s terrible. Black people are less likely to have health care or less likely to afford medicine. I mean, it’s a rich and poor thing, really. You can’t afford medicine, like you have to choose between medicine, food, or your rent. You don’t want to live on the street, so…
Damianne [27:32]: There’s no real choice.
Devin [27:34]: Yeah, there’s no real choice. Yeah what can you do? That shouldn’t be an option in this country, like your health and living on the streets. It’s terrible. Then you got more sick people out there in the hospital dying. And that’s just not good for society, for anywhere
Damianne [27:52]: As we end our conversation today, I’ll ask a couple more questions. Is there anybody who inspires you?
Devin [28:00]: Definitely my father. My father, because, and my mother. But I was going to say my father because I mean, obviously I’m a man, also a dad. When my parents split up, I was around eight years old and the story goes in black culture thatyour dad goes away and you never see him again. But that wasn’t my dad. I saw him every day and he was always there and my mom was always there and my mom was a perfect mom and I had the perfect dad. They’re very wise people. Yeah, they inspire me so much. My dad, he’s more than 70. He’s 73, I believe. And he’s still working full time. They’re incredible people.
Damianne [28:53]: I will add the links to the episodes of your podcast that you’ve mentioned in the show notes. There’s a lot of great value there. Do you have any other recommendations of resources, tools that would help listeners either deal with change or helping them deal with the sour topics that come up?
Devin [29:18]: I would definitely changing your diet. If you eat better, put better things into your body, you’ll get better results. And exercise. You probably didn’t expect me to say that. Like we haven’t talked about that at all, but after you started exercising and you eat better, you will feel a billion times better. I swear to God. Yeah. Just do it, please.
Damianne [29:45]: Is there anything else you would like to add before we end this conversation today?
Devin [29:50]: I would say just love yourself. Love yourself. And you are the way you are for a reason. And you need to appreciate every day that you’re here and love who you are.
Damianne [30:06]: Those are great words to end with. Thank you very much, Devin.
Devin [30:09]: Thank you.
- Jade Stanton on Borderline Personality Disorder and depression
- Jor’El interview on Black People and Mental Health