Conor McMillen is a therapist and lifestyle coach with a popular YouTube channel, Handyman Bananas. Just three years ago he was addicted to drugs and alcohol. He believes that eating a fruit diet was the key factor in his rapid recovery.
The interview took place at the recent Fruit Winter festival which Conor now organises each January in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The podcast also covers his experiences with the Internal Family Systems (IFS) psychotherapeutic model, which he now also utilises as a therapist.
Also on the podcast is Brittany Taylor, a lifestyle coach who also has a popular YouTube channel, called Simple Living and Travel.
Three years ago she downsized her life, leaving her job and home to become a digital nomad as a “location independent” IT consultant, in order to follow her dream of a lifestyle of optimal nutrition, physical movement and play.
Due to very poor sound quality in the first part of the interview, a complete transcript of Conor’s interview has been provided, below.
For more details on Conor’s Internal Family Systems therapy and Brittany’s lifestyle coaching, see links to their sites, below (when ordering, use code “The Eternities” for 10% off).
Interview with Conor McMillen a.k.a. Handyman Bananas (transcript)
How did Fruit Winter come about?
Fruit Winter came about from me being in Thailand two years ago and travelling around and finally coming to Thailand and meeting up with friends. And after about a month of travelling alone and having a hard time at it, I met up with friends here in Chiang Mai and it was just like, “Ah, that’s what travelling’s all about!” And I felt so good, and I sunk into it immediately, fell in love with Chiang Mai, and I just wanted to recreate it. And so, last year I came up with the idea of having some meet-ups, coming up with a festival name, and seeing what would happen. And we ended up having about forty people come last year.
But you planned it before you arrived?
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, so I planned it about six months before I arrived last year. And then again, after it was moderately successful with forty people, I felt, like, keep going. And so, this year, I got right into it, planned the events –
And why do a meet-up based on a high fruit vegan diet?
I think because it’s a good focus for people who want to get into a health journey. It doesn’t have to necessarily be that you attend the festival because you’re vegan or because you eat a lot of fruit in your diet. Everyone can get in on eating some bananas, or coming to Thailand and being excited about Thai mangos and durian, and these kinds of things.
So, I think at this point for me my focus is community, the caveat is fruit – it’s a good banner for people to kind of rally under. But I do want to steer it in a direction of being more open rather than vegan-centred.
When’s the next one and what can people expect from Fruit Winter?
The next one is January 8th – 17th, and that’s 2016. They can expect ten meet-ups that are free, that’s one meet every day. We’re going to ride to the quarry, we’re going to ride to the caves, to the hot-springs. We’re going to go to the lake. We’re also just going to get together at a restaurant, at the park. We are going to eat a lot of fruit, but I think the big thing is that we’re all going to get to know each other in an amazing country where people are smiling and relaxed and happy and the sun is shining. So, again, like, for me, it’s really about establishing and maintaining community and relation with people in an authentic and honest way.
You’ve just said there’s something about the country. Do you think there really is that big a difference here?
Yeah, I do. I was thinking about it last night. I got a massage yesterday with my friend and these women were just laughing and smiling the whole time, and, you know, they’re working and massaging us, and just giggling and having a chat. And I was just thinking about how many people I see smiling in Thailand, every single day, every single hour!
I get the feeling they accept where they’re at, whereas back in the west we’re trying to get somewhere else than where we are.
That’s exactly it. It’s a state of presence, and contentment in that present moment, because the present moment generally speaking is pretty satisfactory! [laughs] And I think that they’re in that.
But it’s hard to get to, isn’t it?
It’s hard to get to it. But I think it’s a lot easier to get to it when you’re surrounded by a lot of other people who are in it.
I know this year you had a house where a lot of people could stay during the festival. Are you doing that next year?
Same thing. I’ve talked to the owners of the house already this year, lined it up for next year. We’re all set. Basically, we’re offering thirty tickets, which will be available. We haven’t come up with the prices exactly. That might be an addition for some people who need a little bit of help, a tighter community, to get to Thailand. And, some of the people who came this year wouldn’t have done it without the house. But the rest of the festival is entirely free.
And it seemed like [the house] does definitely engender a community feeling and a lot of connections and bonds in that short space of time.
So, how would you describe your own diet and lifestyle, and how did you get to it?
I eat a fruit-based diet and I have been doing that for about two-and-a-half years, and I came to it because I needed something drastic to shift my life. I pause a little bit because what’s most important to me now is self-understanding, self-knowledge, self-observation – all in the goal of self-worth. And fruit kind of helped me get there.
Did you know that’s where you want to go?
No, I didn’t know that. So, what I say to people now, people who want to change their lives, I really try and gear them towards the self-love aspect. Don’t worry about the diet so much, the other stuff will fall into place. But for some people it does happen in a strange way. I do think it’s kind of strange and funny that I started eating thirty bananas in a day and then eventually found ways to love myself more. [laughs]
What were you thinking when you decided to eat thirty bananas a day?
I was thinking, “I need to do something”. And I was drinking every single day. I had just gone through a really hard separation with my now ex-wife, my wife at the time, a relationship that was twelve years long which had started when I was sixteen years old. That was a big deal, it was very traumatic for me. Along the way in that relationship which had elements that were incredible. Now reflecting on that I see areas where I lost myself, aspects of myself.
In the relationship?
Yeah, in the relationship. And because of that I was unhappy and so I started drinking more and finding ways to supplement my happiness – my natural happiness – and when I kind of realized where I was at, alone, kind of addicted to alcohol, painkillers, cigarettes … pastrami sandwiches, you know, you name it. I was like, “God, something’s got to change!” And a buddy of mine told me about this diet, and I just thought, “Hey, I’ll try that! I’ll try anything. Try it!” So I just switched like that pretty much overnight. I quit drinking, quit smoking, quit doing drugs. Quit pastrami. And went like 100 percent raw fruitarian within seven weeks.
And it felt good?
It did, yeah. It felt great.
Did you not have withdrawal or any weird detox going on?
The funny thing is, I really didn’t get too much. I got a very slight headache. I was sleeping a lot more. But, in general, my detox
So, what would be your advice for someone wanting to go into something like this diet?
I wouldn’t do it the way that I did it. I wouldn’t jump right into it, unless that’s your personality and you’ve had success doing that, or that’s fun for you or whatever. You don’t have to be extreme. I see my transition as kind of unhealthy at this time. You know, I did it for a good reason. It worked in some ways. But I backslid a lot in a lot of different ways. I had to do a lot of catch-up. So, I would say, discover what the reasons are that you want to make these changes, what’s holding you back from making these changes – learning about which parts of you that are involved in that process, bringing compassion and love to yourself – and then gently guiding that process.
So, to consciously make these changes, rather than radically jumping into something?
You’ve now become someone who’s leading the way for other people who want to go into this lifestyle. You’ve got a YouTube channel and a website. What is the YouTube channel about?
Now it’s really about me being as honest about my personal experiences. That, I’ve found, has given me great relief and a relationship with YouTube that I really enjoy. I’ve had a YouTube channel for over two years, in the past it’s been sometimes more like a business venture, sometimes I think of it more as just fun. So it’s been a little all over the place. Ultimately I’ve found that I get the most from people when they just tell me their honest truth. So I feel like I want to give people the most that I can of my honest truth.
So it’s very personal, it’s not just advice?
I would say it’s mainly about my personal journey, and offering, “Maybe you want to try this, too, because this is what works for me.” But I really stay away from, “Do this because you’ll get this” because I don’t know what you’re going to get out of it.
I also steer away from talking about fruit and diet and veganism. I’m not that passionate about it. I’m more passionate about self-love, self- knowledge.
You have a website with books and coaching. Tell me what you offer.
Yeah, I have a really big recipe book for people who do want to get started on a raw, fruit-based, carb-based diet. I also offer coaching as well as therapy. So I have both those options available.
What is the therapy that you offer?
The therapy I offer is called Internal Family Systems (IFS). It’s nothing to do with the external family. It’s all based on the internal family. It’s just what I’m talking about – developing a passion for the different parts within us that exist and a passion for self-love.
And where does that tradition – that methodology – come from?
It’s been around for a couple of decades, developed by a guy named Schwartz. But I think the methodology has existed in a lot of different forms and a huge aspect of IFS is mindfulness, which Daniel Siegal talks about, he pioneered the field of interpersonal neurobiology. Mindfulness is the state of self-observation, and from this state we find a sense of peace, of relaxation, and, indeed, love. And from that place, learning about ourselves is really safe, and guides health in a very natural way.
How can you help people by using this in a coaching – one-to-one – setting?
So, the therapy is set up with certain protocols that work within the IFS schema, and coaching is more about getting connected with the person in more of like a one-to-one level, I guess, without the therapist / client set-up. Using IFS a lot in coaching dialogue.
How have all these things come together in your life now and where are you in your journey?
I would say that I’m still in the infancy of my journey, and I also would say I’ve done a ton of work in the last couple of years. I started the refining of my diet – which I sort of thought was going to be the answer to everything – has turned into this quest of learning about myself, and sort of bringing my experiences of that process to others.
What is it that you’re learning? To somebody that’s maybe buried by their environment and their background and can’t even begin to get what you’re talking about, how do you explain …
Maybe it will help to reflect on where I used to be. I used to be anxious all the time. Anxiety, depression, or kind of like some giddy drunken stupor.
The giddiness is kind of an escape …
… the kind of constant anxiety or depression in my life. There were other things wrapped up in there… So, learning about myself has been learning about why I’ve been in those states and …
there was no balance … there’s reasons for it …
… there’s reasons for it.
In your background.
Exactly. So, I found that through listening to other people’s experiences, and also learning about childhood trauma, learning about neurobiology, learning about how to raise children – so there’s lots of different places you can start. I would say picking up a book or listening to a podcast, looking at a YouTube video on something like Internal Family Systems, has been really helpful. That has been what inspired me the most. And you can do self-work via IFS.
Can you talk a little more about it and give a little more insight?
So, IFS works off the principle that the mind is a multiplicity system. So, rather than think of the mind as one computer, we think about it as a bunch of different computers.
A little digression, today in the UK’s The Independent newspaper, there was an article about a new way of dealing with schizophrenics who hear voices. And what they’re doing is, they’re listening to the voices, they’re talking to them, and seeing them as responses to traumas and abuse and things like that, and it’s working very well.
That’s beautiful to hear. That’s the kind of thing we do in IFS. Schwartz talks about extreme multiplicity and that this has sort of been diagnosed as these dysfunctions of the brain. But really we just see it as the extreme polarization of parts. And parts – “internal family members” – is something that we all have. We all run the quote-unquote “problem” of life through a bunch of different computers. We find that running them through a whole bunch of different computers is a lot faster than running them through one.
That’s right. Exactly. So, what we do in IFS is we try and do something called “unblending” where we can find this place of mindfulness – somewhere inside of us that is separate, that is relaxed, calm and patient, and curious and compassionate – and then learn about these different computers, these different parts of ourselves, from that place. So, this part of me that was feeling anxiety, I can learn about that part – “why are you there? What do you do for me? Oh, wow, you do that me? Wow, I’m so impressed, I love you for that. Thank you!” So, there’s nothing about, “You have to change. I hate you! Get in the basement! Get out of here. Stuff it down.” It’s all about trying to get closer, give it a hug.
And that eases that anxious part.
Why should that be? I mean, why is it anxious in the first place? Has it been mobilized too much? It’s overactive for us? We’ve given it too much energy?
I think that’s all dependent on the person. There’s no two parts or two people that are the same. So, my anxiety developed from childhood trauma. Ultimately, it’s just neglect, really simple stuff, you didn’t get a hug when you needed a hug, and something develops out of that, that’s traumatic.
It’s water on stone, isn’t it?
Yeah. And then it’s there forever, until it gets out. And a lot of the time, what we find is we can be our own caregiver. We can give ourselves that hug that we needed.
And that’s a revelation because we do look outside ourselves, whether it’s to drink or food or drugs – anything for distraction – and the key is absolutely within ourselves. We don’t even need another partner who loves us.
No, not at all. In fact, I would say, if you want to find a partner who really loves you, find it in yourself and then go out and seek that person who also finds it in themselves.
So, now you are in a position where you are making a living by ploughing all this back into your livelihood. Can you talk a bit about the desire to do that, rather than going out and getting a job that pays more, or whatever? What does it mean to you working in these things that have helped you – like doing Fruit Winter – and to help other people?
It’s mind blowing, you know. It’s living my dream. I never thought I’d find my passion. I think passionately about therapy and IFS. Now I feel I’m living passionately. Life has literally changed me. My reality is a completely different reality It’s everything to me, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I did at some point have a hope and desire and a dream to live this life but I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant. I do remember laying in bed and drinking beer, wanting to change so badly, and watching some YouTube videos of some healthy people in Thailand – this is like, three years ago – and thinking to myself, “Fuck, I just want to do that. How do you do that?” And there were parts of me that totally didn’t think I could. But there was a part of me that had hope, there was a part of me that had a dream and a desire, and now all my parts are here with me in Thailand [laughs] living that dream.