Leveraging Technology for Recovery

Kathleen Totemoff: Connecting People and Innovation | Reduce The Stigma

Kathleen Totemoff has long dark hair and straight bangs. She is wearing a white button down shirt and dark coat.
Connection is essential so people don't fall through the cracks of treatment and recovery

This episode of Reduce The Stigma features Kathleen Totomoff of iExist, a tech-focused organization that aims to address substance use disorders and recovery through innovative technological solutions. Kathleen discusses how iExist bridges the gap between those struggling with addiction and the tech tools available to support their recovery journey.

The conversation highlights the importance of meeting individuals wherever they are in their recovery process, whether actively using, in early recovery, or maintaining sobriety. Kathleen emphasizes the need for tailored support and resources throughout this journey.

Collaboration is another key theme. Kathleen stresses the importance of working together and utilizing a diverse range of solutions to effectively tackle the opioid epidemic. She shares her experiences working with various technologies and organizations to create a seamless support system, including for those in correctional facilities and those reintegrating back into society.

Throughout the discussion, Kathleen prioritizes individual needs and removing barriers to access, such as cost and stigma. Her core message is one of encouragement: be kind to yourself, don’t lose hope, and actively seek out the resources and support available to you.

Click here for the episode’s full transcript.

Straight Up Care is one of the technology innovations reshaping recovery. Visit Straight Up Care online or download the app (available for iOS and Android) to connect with a peer specialist today. 


About Our Guest:
Kathleen Totemoff is the Founder/President of iExist, LLC, a company dedicated to saving lives and strengthening communities through innovative approaches and strategic partnerships in changing the trajectory of the opioid epidemic. She has served as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Alaska College of Business and Public Policy for more than a decade and spent more than four years as a Medication-Assisted Treatment Project Director/Grant Manager for a rural Alaska clinic.

Kathleen is also a Certified Health Coach whose work background includes behavioral intervention, residential treatment, rural economic development, and grant writing. She has been actively involved on a variety of boards and coalitions, including the Governor of Alaska’s Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, the Kenai Peninsula Homelessness Coalition, Nine Star Education and Employment Services, and is a former President of the Kenai Peninsula Reentry Coalition.

She earned her Psychology degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage and completed extensive undergraduate coursework in sociology, human and social services, and criminal justice. She lives with her family on a small homestead with her dog, goats, chickens, geese, rabbits, honeybees, and the occasional moose that wanders into the yard.

As a parent of two special needs children, she has spent the past twelve years studying biomedical interventions for autism and related conditions and recognizes the importance of nutrition and a healthy environment in supporting overall wellness and increasing the efficacy of treatment. Her approach to treating her children’s autism has led her to explore all possibilities when seeking answers for recovery. Kathleen is a strong proponent of incorporating lab testing, nutrition, and technology into the treatment approach for substance use disorders in pursuit of improved identification of underlying causes/factors and enhanced overall well-being.

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Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (00:00)

Technology is everywhere, and we all know that, at this point, it’s an essential component of our lives. And there’s always innovations and something new in the tech space. But awareness of the latest innovations in technology in the substance use space is lacking. Today’s guest, Kathleen Totomoff, the founder and president of iExist, is tackling this problem head on and facilitating awareness of and connection to life -saving technology. Kathleen is a tech -driven recovery advocate who’s helping people and organizations connect to the technology they need while strengthening communities and changing the trajectory of the opioid epidemic. Stay tuned and get ready to be inspired as we reduce the stigma.


Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (01:54)

Hello and welcome to Recovery Conversations. Today’s conversation is with Kathleen Totomoff, the founder and president of iExist, a wonderful company dedicated to saving lives and strengthening communities through innovative approaches and strategic partnerships in changing the trajectory of the opioid epidemic. Kathleen is a tech -driven recovery advocate and has served as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Alaska College of Business and Public Policy for more than a decade and spent more than four years as a medication assisted treatment project director and grant manager for a rural Alaska clinic. Kathleen, thank you so much for joining me today.


Kathleen Totemoff (02:35)

Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.


Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (02:38)

It’s wonderful to have you. What you’re working on is exactly what we’re hoping to spread awareness of, which is innovation and great projects and great work taking place. So can you start off by just telling us in your own words about iExist?


Kathleen Totemoff (02:57)

Absolutely. So when I was working at the clinic, we live in Alaska, more rural part of the state, and particularly during COVID, just finding all of those gaps with accessing care and challenges people were having with, you know, who can watch my kids while I go to treatment? Can I afford to go? Capacity being diminished because of the COVID restrictions. So looking for ways around the challenges that people were experiencing. So then I really thought, I wonder if I could just focus on doing that. I wonder if I could start a business where we could just look for who’s having the challenges, who has the solutions, and how can we bridge that gap and bring those two halves together. So that was really how this whole thing was was born and just looking at and trying to create sort of a roadmap to recovery. Wherever people are, we always hear meet people where they are, which is great, but are we anticipating that next step? Are we adequately preparing them to continue along that path that they’ve started? So whether someone is in active use, early stage treatment, early stage recovery, we’re in the maintenance phase. What kinds of technologies, what kinds of supports can we connect people with just to keep them going and headed in the right direction.


Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (04:14)

That’s so solution oriented and not something that I think is really out there other than I exist. There’s a lot of focus on innovation right now. And I know even NIH has different programs about innovation in the substance use field. But there’s a disconnect in many ways between the researchers or the business owners and the people doing the work and the people who are pursuing or in recovery, you know, and needing that. And so you’re building this bridge to really find ways to almost accelerate the implementation as I understand it. Is that kind of along the right lines?


Kathleen Totemoff (04:59)

It is because we have our approach like .A .T. is great that’s considered the gold standard but even still we’re losing over 100 ,000 people a year to overdose and more of the families I’m talking to they are less referencing overdose and more so fentanyl poisoning. The drug supply is

more lethal than it’s ever been. So the strategies that people had had to try and make drug use safer or had to mitigate some of those risks, it just takes a tiny spit and it’s getting more potent. You have Narcan, but if what is in your drug supply is not an opioid, Narcan is not going to reverse the part that’s not the opioid. So how do we make this work? So we have our structure, we have our framework, we have what we know can be effective for a lot of people, but we’re missing something. Obviously, there’s if we weren’t missing something, we wouldn’t be losing over a hundred thousand people a year. So we have to accept that, take the ego out of it and look for who has the answers that we need because everybody’s in a different position. Everyone has different needs. They’re all in a different point on that road to recovery. What is out there and how do we connect them? Because we have this great research. So we kind of have an idea of what might work. We have companies who have these solutions, but then we have the people who need them and they don’t know about them or they can’t access them because it’s not covered by insurance. So then one of the other things we do is we work with the nonprofits, we work with tribal entities, we work with people who are eligible for grant funding, work with them to identify, help them apply or just apply for it all on our own and then get the application of them to submit so they can build these things. And so right now I have a pilot project through the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and I am forever grateful for their belief in what we’re doing and their support. So we were able to launch a small scale proof of concept project across the state where we can provide different technologies at no cost to people who need them. And that helps meet the need that that person has immediately. And then it helps get the word out that just these particular technologies and online platforms and this approach is effective. And the hope is that more people will say, Hey, that’s a really good idea. How do we get that? How can we, what else is out there? Who can you connect me to? So I love talking. Obviously I like having meetings with people and say, okay, you got this, they need that, can we set up a zoom call or something and I love it.


Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (07:25)

You’re an innovation networker. It’s really cool. You know, I mean, like that is what you’re doing. You are, I’m energized by that. And there’s also so much to unpack with what you just said. And the first thing is you said, let’s leave our egos to the side. And I think that at least as I understood what you were saying, we can get stuck in what we think has always worked.


Kathleen Totemoff (07:29)

Thank you.


Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (07:54)

and be resistant to something new. and there are many reasons for that. One, because people don’t like change. another could be because it costs money to implement something new, but there are these technologies out there. And so what are you seeing as far as receptivity to new technologies or, or what barriers are still there that we need to be addressing?


Kathleen Totemoff (08:20)

Right. So one of the main barriers is the cost. How do we pay for these things? Since the out of pocket, the ability for people to pay out of pocket for people who need them is typically not there. It’s not covered by insurance. You have to find those grants. And sometimes with the grant funding, it has to be based on FDA approved evidence based practices. And there are a lot of wonderful things that are FDA cleared. So it’s cleared those hurdles. It’s safe there. You can demonstrate its effectiveness. But sometimes the guidance lines are so strict. It might not allow for the adoption of something. So we miss out on a lot of good opportunities and a lot of people are very receptive once they know that it’s out there. Who can I talk to? How can I do this? Which is fantastic, but there has been a lot of pushback unfortunately and sometimes again it’s that that ego piece. I’m not a doctor. I hear that a lot. You didn’t go to medical school. I did. What do you know? I know stuff, you know, and I know people who know more than I do. And that’s the thing. I don’t have all the answers, but I know what’s there and I can provide the information I have. And then I can connect you with the person who can take a really deep dive and really explain the technology in infinite detail. So you can decide whether this is the right thing. Also, it’s not my place to tell you, here’s what you need to do. Here’s what your treatment, your recovery needs to look like. I just want to lay out the options. I kind of envision having a,


Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (09:19)



Kathleen Totemoff (09:46)

Menu of sorts. Here’s all the different things that can be helpful for these types of people in these types of situations with this type of substance misuse. You pick what you want and tell me how I can help you get there. So you have this, the ego that I talk about is sometimes that that’s not how we do things. Change is hard. We’re in our groove. We’ve got our rhythm. Don’t upset the apple cart kind of thing. And then you have other folks who take offense to, I have this advanced degree. I have a medical degree. Who do you think you are and why should I listen to you? And there are so many great people who have really good ideas and they work with other people who have the skill sets that they don’t have or they have strengths that they don’t have and you build your people, you build your coalition and you get it done. It’s not about I did this all by myself, I didn’t need anybody’s help, me me me.


Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (10:20)



Kathleen Totemoff (10:38)

Who cares? You know, find your people who are going to get it done, bring them on board and figure it out because we are losing too many people. I don’t have the energy or the time to deal with people who are like, I’d rather the problem persist and not get credit for 100 % of addressing it. So it’s like, you’re not the person I want to talk to. Who else do you have that I can sit down and visit with? Because that’s what we need to do. We need to reach out. We need to get out of our little echo chambers. Just talking to the people who agree with us, who do what we do, who are just… I don’t want that. I want to talk… Who has a different idea? Who has a different approach? We might disagree. That’s fine. We’ve lost our ability to disagree and still be okay with each other as people. And that is one of the most disturbing things that I see happening nowadays. But if you talk to people who have different experiences, different perspectives, and you bring it all to… That’s how you get to the good answers. That’s where you find where you need to be is by…talking to everyone and see I might adopt some of your beliefs, you might adopt some of mine, you might not change my mind on anything, but at least be willing to be open and engaged and have those discussions.


Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (11:38)

Grate. That really aligns with one of my personal beliefs or personal philosophies, which is that anyone who feels like they know it all in their field or what have you, that there’s nothing left for them to learn or to try differently, to me, that’s a big sign of burnout and disengagement. And so I’m like you, those are not the people I want to work with because that means that probably actually doing harm. If you have that mindset that the way I’ve done it is going to work forever, because we know that’s not true. We know there isn’t one treatment method that works for everyone. We know that there isn’t one long -term recovery pathway that works for everyone. What we know is that it is piecemeal. Take this from this method. Take this from these types of approaches. And that’s what I’m hearing you’re doing with your connections as well is saying,

hey, I’m not gonna say that this one technology or this one treatment program is gonna be the answer for everyone, regardless of their backgrounds and experiences in X, Y, Z. You’re saying there are so many different technologies out there. What can be the puzzle pieces that we piece together to improve the, to make those options available so that the person, you know, has a sense of authority and also has access to the things that could be the changemaker for them.


Kathleen Totemoff (13:17)

Absolutely and like you’re talking about the burnout we have to support our staff. We saw such huge reduction in providers particularly with with COVID the the capacity went down the need went up and we’re still trying to play catch up with these things and especially when you have people working in this field who have lived experience and there are a lot of them people who work primarily in a peer support role. I used to supervise peer support and I had a talk with you know one of the ladies who worked who’s also a friend of mine and she said, it’s hard. You know, some press people look at Pierce, you’re just a paid friend. it’s a do nothing job. And she’s like, that is not, that is not what I do. It is not a do nothing job. I am not a patron. I am there in their worst moment. They are calling and texting me at all hours because they know that I’m the person they can go to. And some of the experiences that they’ve had are my experiences. So I’m having to relive that in some cases be re -traumatized by the experience I’ve had and listening and supporting. And you have that different role. You’re not a clandestine. You can share about your story, you can support them in a different way because you’ve walked that walk and you’ve come out on the other side. So just you simply being there is proof that it’s possible to come out on the other side and that’s powerful and I love that there’s more support for the peer support role and there’s more acceptance of it. But we have to take care of our team. We can’t expect a lot from them if they’re burned out, they’re stressed, their mental health is at risk, they’re using substances or returning to use or if they’re at risk of doing so. So finding those ways to support your team and then meeting people who are in different stages, not just in different stages of their active use or recovery, but where are you in the world right now? We have people who are in corrections. There’s not a lot of correction happening. They’re housed for a period of time and then they’re really the least. The majority of people who are in that situation are in there because of mental health and or substance misuse. If we’re not treating it, we just have a really expensive housing program for a while, then we send them back out. And then where do they go? They’ve probably burned all their bridges. The people who will take them back are the people who are not going to support their recovery, the people that they were using with their back on the street. So then we’re going to maybe steal some things just to meet our survival needs. We set people up to fail whether we realize it or not. So having the ability to connect people in corrections with some of these technologies, have the guardrails on how those parameters so they’re not just surfing the web with their discretion, but where it’s limited for academic purposes so they can find apartments so they can work with their reentry coordinator before


Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (15:42)



Kathleen Totemoff (15:58)

Beforehand, get the treatment, get the support, get the treatment lined up for when they leave. So it’s a smooth transition. Who’s going to pick them up when they get released? Where do they go? What do they need? We need to be thinking in those terms. And then for the people who are not housed, how do we get you from where you are to where you are safe, where you have a job, where you have stable housing. It’s a big jump, but we gotta start somewhere. So if you are actively using opioids, and there’s devices that can help with opioid withdrawal management, they’re feeling pretty darn good at the end of the first hour of wearing one of these devices. We can take them to a provider, we can start that process, find that first need that someone has, find a way to make it happen, and go from there.


Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (16:45)

I love that you brought up corrections. That is a population that I am passionate about and technology, in my opinion, can be such a significant tool and resource. Like you said, set people up for that transition. I know in my teaching myself about your company that you have the four pillars, technology, treatment, transitions and recovery. And for those who are listening and don’t know, those transition periods, particularly when someone is leaving incarceration and returning to the community or leaving an inpatient program and returning to the community, those are when they’re at most risk of a fatal overdose. And so what can go with someone? Technology can go with someone from one level to another, from a correctional setting back to the community, probably not going to have a treatment provider in both, right, because of our lovely payment systems, but the technology can go with the person. So we, instead of, like you said, setting someone up for failure and just opening the doors and saying, good luck, instead giving them a tool that is literally in their pocket or on their wrist and giving them something to help increase the chances of success. I think that’s such an important moment there that we can really, truly save lives.


Kathleen Totemoff (18:08)

It is. And those, and those transition steps are really, really critical because even if someone has the best treatment possible, and I’ve talked to parents who spared no expense, they sent their kids to the best places that they could find, you know, big price tag, sending them to other states because we’re going to do whatever it takes to save my son or to save my daughter. And that’s what they did. And in many cases, the treatment was phenomenal. They didn’t have any complaints about the treatment itself, but then you complete the program and you just leave. There wasn’t an aftercare program, there wasn’t a follow -up protocol, there was nothing for them to connect, it’s just you’re done. Okay, I’m done with treatment, but it’s not a magic one. I’m not cured of everything. It’s not that those triggering events are not going to happen, that I’m not going to experience some kind of trauma or devastating loss. It is going to make me want to return to what I was doing before. Who can I reach out to? How do I make this work? And you know, from my website, one of my partners is Anobia Behavioral Health, and they have a

unlimited access to all these different online support groups So if you live in an area where there’s not support groups or you live in a really small community and because there’s that stigma there I don’t want people seeing me go to the counselor or going to the AA meeting it might impact my job because of the work that I do or Embarrass my kids at school. We’re still trying to overcome some of those challenges But that allows you to access some support while you’re maybe on a waitlist for treatment if it’s not accessible to you and just anytime we have groups on the weekends too. I mean it’s just about making it accessible. So for people who are coming out of treatment or they’re coming out of corrections, that’s something you can access immediately. And if we could get that into the correctional system, that’s even better. And then you have these wearable devices like Spark Biomedical, they have this barrier with that. You put this all around your ear, it stimulates the different nerves and it brings down your symptoms of opioid withdrawal. That’s such a huge barrier for people. They know they don’t want to keep using. They know the next time they use could have a fatal dose of something in it, but they’re physically dependent and they make the decision, okay, I’m done. But they start feeling so sick and it’s been described to me as the worst flu you’ve ever had times a thousand. It’s miserable and the only way to kind of bring it down is to start using it. Well, you don’t have to. We can set you up with this device and it starts working in about 20 minutes. By the end of the first hour, you’re usually about 80, 85 % of the way there. You know, your appetite’s coming back, the tremors are down, you’ve got clarity. You’re in a position where you can make a good decision and you can continue wearing it for as long as you need. You can dial up or down the level of stimulation. If you have a return to use, you can just put it back on and start over. So there’s things that we can connect you with. There’s virtual care platforms. You know, Interact Lifeline has a lot of really good tools. For providers, there’s things to simplify things. There’s Plan Street for case management, nonprofit, you can keep track of clients and grants. Let your team focus on the things they need to focus on so that they can take care of their people. If you’re spending all your time on paperwork and tracking data and where are we at with our budget, there’s people who need your help. So let’s try and streamline it, make it simple, do what we need to do, but really focus our efforts where it counts, which is on the person who teamed us for help in the first place.


Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (21:39)

Yes, and as a former counselor, that was one of the biggest frustrations was the, and I’m, I, I did not want to say documentation is pointless or anything like that. I understand and appreciate its role. However, it became so burdensome that it would even impact my, my ability to be present in the moment.


Kathleen Totemoff (21:54)

Thanks for the show.


Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (22:05)

Right? Because if you’re a counselor who’s behind on notes, it’s hard to be focused and, you know, being present. But that’s a whole other soapbox I could go down. I want to hone in on these benefits that you’ve already started to highlight of integrating technology. I heard that there’s benefits to staff. There’s benefits to the quality of care, to rural accessibility.


Kathleen Totemoff (22:16)



Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (22:34)

 Also dealing with stigma. Can you talk a little bit more about what you see as kind of the leading benefits of integrating or having a technology integrative approach?


Kathleen Totemoff (22:47)

Techno to me is the most perfect solution. I mean nothing’s perfect, but because there are so many different options that address so many different challenges for both the patient supporting the patient’s family, supporting the provider, supporting the administrators. When everyone’s needs are getting met, you can just simply do better. You can do a better job and that’s the whole point of it. So when there’s all these different things, maybe my issue is with alcohol, maybe it’s with opioids, maybe I have depression. There’s so many different options.

Different things for all of those different concerns. So it’s almost limitless and because we are just so technologically driven nowadays that the pace of innovation it’s really hard to keep up with which is exciting because when you think you know all the things that are out there you realize you’re just kind of scratching the surface there’s so much and there’s more things coming up all the time and it’s really encouraging because if you haven’t found the thing or more likely the combination of things that are really going to help you you don’t need to lose hope because there’s a lot of other things. You just haven’t found the right combination yet. So that’s really the goal is to just find the solutions, let people know. And I tell people, this is just what I know about. There’s a whole lot more. So if you need something and what I’ve shared with you doesn’t address your need or concern, let me know what you need and I’ll get on it. I’ve spent a lot of quality time on the internet doing research over years. I’ve gotten pretty good at finding things andit’s easier to find and there’s a lot of newer innovations coming up. There’s Fen Block, Neil Jackson out in Virginia invented this, and it’s incredible. So he went through some medical issues and became dependent on the fentanyl patch. And he thought, you know, there’s gotta be an easier way to get off of this stuff. So he developed this material that is a barrier between your skin and the fentanyl patch. So the person can kind of self taper, cut away at that material. So they’re getting less and less of the fentanyl over time, that’s going through the FDA process. That’s very exciting. Interact Lifeline is working on an application called Lifeline Connect. And people can learn more about that by going to their website. And it’s still under development. But what it’s going to do is it’s an application that will sync up with a smartwatch, like a Fitbit or something like that. And it tracks your vitals. And so it will know if you’re experiencing, or if the wearer is experiencing likely an overdose. And it will send an alert to that person’s personal emergency contact list, hey, so -and -so might be experiencing overdose, they can indicate, yep, I can get to them in time, or no, I can’t. And it will actually track that person’s location and can send an EMS directly to where that person is. The things that people are cut and the tragic part is a lot of these things are born out of people’s own experiences. You know, they’ve lost their child. They’ve gone through this and they’re thinking what could have helped, what could have saved my son or my daughter. And they just put their whole heart and soul into this and they’re finding those answers so other parents don’t have to go through that. And they’re very willing to share their stories. They’re willing to share what they know. They’re willing to help in any way they can in connecting you with other people. It’s a really great community that I wasn’t aware of until I started doing this work and I’ve just been very fortunate and very blessed to just meet the people that I have these last five or six years. Some of my favorite people I’ve just met in the last few years who are just completely selfless and focused on just what can I do to help the next person and willing to work together and that it’s great to see that.


Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (26:31)

Yeah. Now, when you were talking about that, it made me think you’ve already mentioned stigma as technology can be a solution in a way to some stigmas if you don’t want to be seen going to meetings or appointments. But then also there’s still stigma rampantly. And I’m curious, from my perspective, behavioral health and particularly substance use addiction work Is so behind in innovation. And there’s a number of reasons for that, a lot of it having to do with funding. But another one is stigma. People weren’t interested in finding innovative solutions until it impacted them. And so we have, technology has been integrated into physical health for so long. It’s well received and things like that, but we’re still hitting that wall. Can you tell me what role stigma plays in innovation.


Kathleen Totemoff (27:34)

Yeah, having it’s just new to a lot of people. And you’re right, we’ve been using technology for physical health for a long time. And during the pandemic, that really did open the doors for people being more receptive because they had to. We need to expand telehealth because people can’t come into the clinic. Things are shut down. We don’t have the staff. We don’t have the capacity. But just finding those different ways to make things more accessible. But you have a lot of challenges with people who they’re just not they’re just not aware of it and getting people on board can be a challenge but finding the ways where you can say okay this is my situation maybe someone is a single mom and they can’t go to their appointment there’s no one to watch my kids or I have a job and I only have an hour during my lunch break how do I get there?

There’s different solutions that we have available. And now with the substance misuse, unfortunately, we have reached a point where almost nobody is untouched by this anymore.

There’s different pockets of people. There’s people who have cancer. Both of my kids have autism. There’s people who have diabetes. There’s all these different things. And the less common it is, the harder it is to find support because not a lot of people can identify with your situation and the things that you’ve gone through. But when you’re losing that many people per year, and it’s been going on for a long time, you’d be hard pressed to find anybody. Nowadays who doesn’t at least know of someone who has died from an overdose or fentanyl poisoning or hasn’t gone to treatment or hasn’t hasn’t gone through that for the long I didn’t know anybody who as far as I knew didn’t even know anybody who used drugs and now almost every time you talk to somebody and this topic comes up. Yeah, my son, my brother, my sister, my whoever it is and it touches everybody. So now I would hope we’re at a point where people can just say this is a priority and the way we politicize everything. There’s a time and a place for that, but when you have something that affects the whole country, and it doesn’t matter, it’s not a race issue, it’s not a socioeconomic status issue, it’s not a gender issue, it’s a human issue and it affects everybody. So we really have to do all we can to figure out how do we really begin to address this in a meaningful way because when the overdose and the fentanyl poisonings and the deaths are going up every single year, we are missing some. We’re probably missing a lot of something and we need to just be willing to talk and open our eyes and say how can we bridge this gap because we can’t keep allowing people to fall through the cracks. There’s a lot of great things that we offer. But again, if we don’t anticipate those transitional steps, we don’t connect them to the next thing they’re going to need. Everything they’ve done up to that point could be perfect. The best treatment, the best providers, the best of everything. But if they’re just kind of left on their own and something happens and they don’t know where to go and there’s nothing for them to hang on to, they’re going to fall right through that crack and we can lose them. So we’ve got to figure out how to build that safety net around so we can continue to support them all the way through maintaining that long -term recovery.


Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (31:10)

It’s amazing how you are looking at the entire journey that an individual experiences. And it’s from the moment, you know, maybe they’re pre -contemplative if you go by the stages of change, all the way through to sustaining recovery. You’re looking at how to support that person, how to connect them to the thing that they need. And hopefully people are hearing that. There are all of these different innovations, I’m confusing that word, but that’s what it is. These are new technologies, new ideas that are there. And to highlight something you said earlier, just because a technology is recommended or it worked for someone else doesn’t mean you’re a failure if it doesn’t work for you. It’s like when someone asks me what to look for in a counselor or something like that, you’re allowed to say, you know what, not a good fit. Let’s try the next person or let’s try the next technology or solution, find what works and support people in having that freedom to find what works instead of prescribing one certain solution, technology, approach, what have you. And it sounds like there really are so many out there that people are not, I know I’m certainly not aware, I learned about the new one from you today. And so we need to keep getting this awareness out there and not let stigma be the reason why people aren’t accessing life -saving technology.


Kathleen Totemoff (32:45)

Absolutely, and we talked so much about the importance of diversity and inclusion and all of these things But it’s interesting to me when then when the focus is on a group someone who has a group identity for lack of a better term There’s there’s somehow this idea that every member of that group is gonna need the same thing is gonna think the same thing and I believe the same thing and I’ve seen people be completely ostracized because they dared disagree with members of their group it’s like We’re all different, we’re all individual. And what I tell people too is like both of my kids are autistic. It looks different in both of them. It’s the same diagnosis, it’s the same label, but it presents itself differently. There’s different levels of ability, there’s different tolerance levels to different stimuli and other things. So just because you have the same diagnosis as someone doesn’t mean that it presents the same way, that you feel it the same, that you need the same things. And it’s okay to remember that people are individuals just because you have a diagnosis or some kind of label, you’re not obligated to follow a specific course because for people like you, that’s what we do. This is what we offer. I don’t care what you offer. I care about what I need. And if you’re not going to help me, I’m going to go find somebody who will. And I think we need to really empower people to make those decisions. We’ve been so conditioned to just listen to the experts, listen to your doctor. And some of us have horror stories because we did listen to the experts or to our providers. And there are many wonderful providers out there. I’m not trying to demonize you or anybody but if you’re not getting the answers you need you’re not getting the support you’re not getting the results that you need and deserve to have pick up and go find somebody who’s going to get you where you need to go. You’re not obligated to stay with the first person you had an appointment with. If they’re not supporting you, they’re not willing to tell you what’s out there. And if you ask them, if I’ve talked to people, it’s like, yeah, I talked to my provider about this thing and they said that that wouldn’t help me. Well, how do they know? Have they heard of it before? Well, no. If they’ve never heard of it before, how could they just disregard it out of hand? Here’s their website. Here’s the person I know. Talk to them.


Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (34:51)



Kathleen Totemoff (34:54)

to you decide and if your provider if you’re interested and you think it’s a good fit and your provider does it I would encourage you talk to someone else maybe you need a new provider and not to say they’re not a good doctor but if this is a course you want to pursue and they’re not supportive you can go somewhere else and it’s okay to do that and I think we need to get back to a place where it’s like when you see a provider they’re working for you. You know they’re providing a service to you, you’re paying them or your insurance is paying them, they’re there to serve you and meet your needs and if they’re not doing it pick up and go somewhere else.


Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (35:30)

Yeah, that’s great. That is such a strong message. Autonomy is essential and it’s been squashed for so long. So hopefully people heard exactly what you said. And let’s just keep helping people do that. As we start to wrap up here and before I ask you my final question, There’s so much information that you have. How do people connect with you? If they want to learn more, if they want to follow what you’re up to, the organizations and companies you’re working with, where can they go?


Kathleen Totemoff (36:09)

Absolutely, they can go to my website, iexist .com, or they can just send me an email at Kathleen, K -A -T -H -L -E -E -N, at iexistglobal .com. I’m also on LinkedIn. I’m the only person on there with this name, so I’m really easy to find. And I’m happy to connect them with whoever they want to talk to, provide any information that they need. I don’t charge people when they come for information. Just anybody you need to be connected to, any information you need.

It’s yours. So that was very important to me from the beginning that I don’t get paid for people just coming to get information that if you need it, I will give you everything I’ve got.


Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (36:51)

Thank you on behalf of everyone because that’s amazing. And I just want to tell everyone, go to iExistGlobal .com. There’s so much information and resources and I’m guessing it’s just gonna continue growing with all of the information there. It’s really a great resource. And so with that, I’d like to move on to my final question for you. If people take away one thing from this really incredible discussion, What would you like it to be?


Kathleen Totemoff (37:23)

I would say first and foremost to be kind. We see a lot of people just treating other people for whatever reason. There is no reason for it. Be kind to people. You don’t know what they’re going through now, what they’ve gone through, what led them to where they are. It’s very easy to pass judgment on someone. Why can’t you get your life together? Why can’t you get a job? Why can’t you stay clean? Whatever it is, you have no idea. You have no idea. And they’re not obligated to tell you either. But be kind to people and don’t give up hope because there are too many people I’ve talked to who have just been through the ring or they have been through things that will make you cry and here they are and they’re the most amazing people and they are just dedicating their lives to helping others and that’s their whole focus and they said you know I what I went through was hard but if I hadn’t gone through those things I wouldn’t have that understanding of what this person’s going through I wouldn’t have the same drive I wouldn’t have the same the same knowledge I needed to go through that to be able to do this so it was worth it I got a second chance I want other people to have a second chance. So whatever you’re going through, it’s not over yet. You know, if you’re still here, you’ve got today and reach out to whoever you need to. Don’t lose hope. There’s people who can help you. If you’re interested in technologies, let me know what you need. I respond to emails as quickly as I can. I will get back to you. I will put you in touch with whoever I think is a good fit. And if it’s not a good fit, let me know and we’ll find something else.


Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (38:59)

Wonderful. Well, Kathleen, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, for sharing your wealth of knowledge in this space. I think everyone learned something new and reinforced that there are resources and solutions and different things out there. If you haven’t found it yet, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. You just haven’t found it yet. And you certainly reinforced that for all of us today. So thank you again for joining.


Kathleen Totemoff (39:29)

Thank you so much for having me.


Whitney Menarcheck (she/her) (39:33)

And everybody, if you enjoyed this conversation like I did, please be sure to share it with all those in your network so that we can continue fighting stigma and raising up the voices of those who are doing really incredible work to serve individuals who are experiencing mental health, substance use, any of those challenges in life. Thank you all for listening.

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