Episode 149: Cathy Ladman
The writer (Roseanne) and standup (Tonight Show, Late Late Show w/Craig Ferguson) opens up about the controlling environment she was raised in, her professional anxieties especially about her age (58) and her decades long battle with anorexia. Our sponsors this week are Daily Burn and SquareSpace. Go to DailyBurn.com/happyhour and get the first 30 days free. Go to SquareSpace.com and use offer code “mental” for a free trial and 10% off.
Welcome to episode 149 with my guest Cathy Ladman. This episode was brought to you by SquareSpace, the all-in-one platform that makes it fast and easy to create your own professional website or online portfolio. For a free trial and 10% off, go to squarespace.com and use the offer code "mental". I'm Paul Gilmartin, this is the Mental Illness Happy Hour, two hours of honesty about all the battles in our heads, from medically-diagnosed conditions, past traumas, and sexual dysfunction, to everyday compulsive negative thinking. This show is not meant to be a substitute for professional mental counseling. It's not a doctor's office, I'm not a therapist, it's more like a waiting room that doesn't suck. The website for this show is mentalpod.com, that's also the Twitter name you can follow me at. Please go check out the website, you can join the forum, read blogs, take surveys, see how other people filled out surveys, support the show financially, or send me an email. Let's get into it.
I want to mention that I've been nominated for a Stitcher award, and I think voting is open until the 13th, and the site that you can go put your vote in, and apparently you can vote every day, is stitcher.promotw.com. I tried putting the www there and it won't find it if you include that, so you just have to put in stitcher.promotw.com. You learn something new every day. God, I hope I'm not becoming one of those old people that's..."How do you turn the Internet on??"
This is an email I want to read from a listener who calls herself Middle-aged Mother of Two. She writes "Hi Paul, I know you mentioned rainn.org on your podcast. It dawned on me a few weeks ago that I should visit the website to find a support group. I'm almost two years into my healing journey. It started with me addressing the general anxiety disorder and panic disorder that I was suffering from. Once I got that under control, I realized that that might be correlated with the childhood sexual abuse that I survived. I was in desperate need of someone to talk to that specialized in healing trauma of that nature. I worked with other types of therapists and found the experience very frustrating. They couldn't find anything wrong with me. I'm a functional adult with a seemingly healthy lifestyle but I still suffer from the consequences of abuse even if it's not obvious to the rest of the world. So about a month ago I visited rainn.org. That website referred me to a local practice with a 24-hour crisis hotline. I called the hotline and the person who answered put me in touch with a therapist. They have a long wait list because their services are free. They're funded by state and federal grants. I found a therapist who I really connect with, I had my first session with her today. She's knowledgeable, sharp, gentle, and nurturing. I feel like she understands me and has the ability to help me. I'm really excited about this next phase of healing. I feel more in touch with reality. I feel like I'm peeling away the layers of armor I've built around myself and I'm tending to the wounds that I was protecting all these years. I want to share this with you so that people know that there's help available out there. If they live in Chicagoland there are two centers that are free of charge. My therapist works with children as well, since many people who suffer from mental illness were sexually abused. I encourage them to address the abuse as part of their healing strategy." Thank you so much for that email.
|This is from the Struggle in a Sentence survey, filled out by a guy who calls himself Every. He's between 16 and 19. About his depression he writes "It feels like a constant straight line in my mood's line chart that prevents it from reaching new heights." I really related to that one. About his anxiety, "Every time my chest burns and it gets hard to breathe, I just feel like a thousand dark creatures are approaching me, and I can't fight back because I can't see them." Abotu his love addiction he writes "I feel worthless for whoring myself out for that little brief moment in which THAT person will acknowledge me as their possible future partner, even though I know it will never happen." And about his anger Issues "I feel like a ruthless, horrible monster that can do anything to anyone, even someone who I love dearly. And the thought of injuring someone I love makes me want to die."
This is from the same survey, filled out by our friend Chivacityblues141 who I believe we read an earlier survey from him. And he's in his 20s. About his love addiction "If she only knew how much I loved her, my life could have purpose." About his sex addiction "Fear that the last time I got laid is the last time I get laid." About his OCD "Everyone else does 'this' wrong." And under the very rarely filled out one of sexual bias, he writes "Men control the world but women control men."
This is same survey filled out by a woman who calls herself Dismantle Repair. She's between 16-19. About her depression "To trudge through winter, again and again, while the rest of the world moves on to spring." About her anxiety and panic attacks "To know what it feels like to die - to drown, suffocate - over and over." And about cutting "A pressure building up below my skin and the need to cut it free." She has a way with words.
This is the same survey filled out by a woman who calls herself Half Pint. She's in her 30s. About her co-dependency "I don't know how I am until I know how you are." Boy, that is great. About her PTSD "Short periods of fading out, numbing, freezing that feel like little alien abduction experiences." And about her ADHD "Most of my thoughts are like cross-sections of a full orchestral score, flipping from one composition to the next, while others seem able to hum a single tune from start to finish."
And finally from Charlene, who is in her 30s, about her depression she writes "Like a giant umbrella that opens at the wrong time." And about her anger issues "Wanting to kick everyone's ass but wanting love at the same time."
Paul: I'm here with Cathy Ladman, who I've probably only interacted with for maybe ten minutes total--
Cathy: Is that true?
Paul: Yeah, backstage at some comedy gigs, maybe?
Cathy: Wow. Would you have been at Kevin Meany's house for a party?
Paul: Never, no.
Cathy: Well did you know Dave Anderson?
Cathy: Jeez, I'm...
Paul: No, we met at some local gig and we were backstage and I'd never met you before but I'd always admired your comedy--
Cathy: Same here.
Paul: --so I went up to you or you went up to me, I can't remember, but I was so happy to meet you and I couldn't wait to quote my favorite joke that you do, which just alone made me think you would be a good guest. And the joke is "If you ever want to torture my dad, tie him up, and then in front of him, incorrectly refold a road map."
Cathy: Yes. And I remember my father always loved I think being celebrated in my act, and as opposed to my mom, who has always hidden from the truth in my act. But I did that joke, I think it may have even been my first Tonight Show, and then I was flying to do a cruise someplace and I was changing planes at JFK and my parents said "Well, we'll come see you", and it was before security, so they came right to the gate. And my dad handed me a business envelope that was open and inside of it was a New York City subway map that was folded incorrectly.
Paul: That's fantastic.
Cathy: I know, it was very sweet, he was happy. He was really happy.
Paul: You've been on The Tonight Show nine times, and you got to do it in the heyday, right? You got to do it when Johnny Carson was the host.
Cathy: Yes, I did it with Steve Allen. Yeah, I did it I think four times with Johnny.
Paul: I can tell you as a comedian that was behind your class--
Paul: Yes, behind your group, because you were a peer of Seinfeld and those other guys, or just a little behind?
Cathy: Actually I was behind him. I started in '81, he started in the late '70s, so I was a class behind him.
Paul: But there was a reverence that we had for your...especially after Carson went off the air, because you got to do The Tonight Show before cable was really huge and it could change your career overnight.
Cathy: Yeah, it didn't, but you're right.
Paul: But your money certainly went up, being on The Tonight Show.
Cathy: Yeah, it did, and then it went down. Roseanne, that happened to--
Paul: Mine went away!
Cathy: Actually mine did go away, let's stop fucking around here. Roseanne, I saw her do her first Tonight Show, 'cause I knew her from The Comedy Store--
Paul: I remember it.
Cathy: --and Karen Haber and I, we were all of the women from The Comedy Store, or as they referred to us "The girls of The Comedy Store", and so Karen and I went to see Roseanne and cheer her on and bring her flowers for her first Tonight Show. She came out and she was so nervous, she just killed, and she was so nervous that right at the end of her set she spun on her heel and went right through the curtain again, just disappeared, and Johnny, I think, would have called her over.
Paul: Absolutely, because it was one of the most memorable Tonight Show appearances I'd ever seen. I remember the next day asking people 'Did you see that? That woman is gonna be a star.'
Cathy: Yeah, and Engelbert Humperdinck, I believe was another guest--
Paul: Oh my God, do we sound old!
Cathy: I know! Was a guest on the panel, and from that she started opening for him and very soon after that she got her show, like immediately.
Paul: Oh, there was no doubt that she was gonna have a show created because her voice was singular. And you could tell this is somebody who is representing a really repressed, un-spoken for segment of the population, mainly housewives.
Cathy: I know. The timing, it was such a sweet spot, it was such a right-on moment, and she brought it. She really brought it. Everything about the show was great, the cast, the writing. I wrote on the show later on.
Paul: Oh you did?
Cathy: Yes, for just one year, and it was insane.
Paul: I bet.
Cathy: It was insane. She was insane.
Paul: Yeah, she seems like a really high-maintenance person, but lovely.
Cathy: But when I met her, initially when we both moved to LA and we both did the same TV special together, part of which was at The Comedy Store, she was great. She was lovely. And then I remember seeing her a year later at The Comedy Store, I hadn't seen her in a long time, and I remember hugging her and not being able to get my arms around her. She had gained 75-100 pounds and she was in the midst of this maelstrom, I think, and I think it made her crazy. I mean I'm sure she had the goods, the rich soil of craziness there, but it really was a lot for her to deal with. So yeah, I worked there in '95 and dealt with, as did many of the writers, a lot of insanity.
Paul: Well, let's segue away from show business and talk about--
Paul: --about your life. And you were raised where?
Cathy: I was raised in New York, in Little Neck, Queens. I was born in 1955 on October 15th--
Paul: Thank you for saying your age, by the way. I love when people share their age and it's an age when some people don't want to share their age, especially women, especially women in the business.
Cathy: I know, I know. I know that whole thing about "Don't ask a woman her age." To me that's archaic. But it's very hard, and I do share it on purpose, and a lot of people, especially in the business, will tell me that I'm foolish to do so. And as a matter of fact I'm going to let my grey grow out also, which I'm told is foolish, but I'm sick of it. I'm sick of hiding. There's just too much hiding that I do. And I actually don't do a lot of hiding compared to the average person, I don't think.
Paul: Did you used to?
Cathy: I don't think so, but it's the little insidious things that are painful. Like lately I have found myself, when people ask me, colleagues will say "How are you? How's it going?" And I don't want to say 'Great', I don't want to say 'Fine', I just want to tell them what's going on. And a lot of times after I say it I think 'Oh God, that was a big mistake', and I need to build up a callus to that because--
Paul: In what way?
Cathy: Because I don't want to give into the fear of not being able to speak my truth. I know I'm going to start crying here immediately and I can't believe you don't have tissues. How could you not have tissues here? All good therapists have tissues.
Paul: I'm not a therapist.
Cathy: I know, but you're giving people the forum to do this like a therapist, not that you are a therapist, but I'm saying you're allowing people to speak like this and it's going to evoke tears. I mean I'm sure that a lot of people cry here, right? Please?
Paul: They do, but I usually call them a baby and then I show them the door. Because there's no place for weakness on this show.
Cathy: You're right. I'm changing my whole approach. Yeah, because it's scary being honest. And I think there was a...no, it's not exactly...whose quote was this, it could have been Emerson's quote, I can't remember it exactly, something about trying to be yourself in a world that wants you to be anything but, or something like that. Because nobody wants to hear how you really are. To me when somebody says "How are you?" and you say 'Fine', they don't care. "How are you?" 'I have cancer.' "Oh, that's great! I've really gotta go, I'm just late, it was great to see you, you look great." I don't think anybody really, really cares. And I guess it's a good way to filter out the people that you want to be with, but I don't want to be somebody who I'm not, and I don't want to perpetuate this kind of constant role to play. And maybe that means I'm not good at the business part of things, or maybe that means I have to carve my own niche and create my own business model, in a way. But I don't want to be that person.
Paul: I think that there are people that want to know how you're doing, and there's people that don't want to know how you're doing--
Cathy: Yes, okay, I'll buy that.
Paul: --and my personal mission for myself in the last 12 years since I got sober has been letting more people into my life that want to know how I'm doing and not eliminating the other people, but keeping it as an acquaintance. As a 'This isn't going to go beyond that, no need to open up for this person.' I'm gonna say 'Fine' when they ask how I'm doing. And I think for a lot of people when they say "How are you doing?" it's just a more socially acceptable way of saying hi. I find myself doing it. If I'm having a day where I'm over-stressed and...There's times I don't want to know how that person is doing, 'cause maybe I've just been on the phone for four hours with somebody--I don't know the last time I was on the phone...I've never been on the phone for four hours.
Cathy: For four hours--what are you, some kind of drug dealer?
Paul: For four minutes. Forty minutes, maybe, with somebody who requires a lot of love and care and attention, and maybe I'm a little drained. So I understand and I think I'm the same way in wanting to be honest and feeling a little bit like a fraud when I'm having a day where I don't wanna be here.
Paul: And I say I'm fine.
Cathy: Right. It's sort of new for me, I guess, because I would say the past five years of my life have been incredibly traumatic for several reasons, and so I finally felt that I had found who I was in the '80s and have progressed and moved and enjoyed my life and my work and my friends, and a lot of things in my life. That kind of fell apart for me, and I don't even know who I am anymore, and it's embarrassing. I don't wanna feel embarrassed about it. Why do I have to feel embarrassed about my life?
Paul: What in particular are you embarrassed about?
Cathy: Oh God. That I had to sell my house. That I'm not making money. That I don't feel confident on stage. That I barely go on stage. That I barely work. That I don't like hanging out in clubs anymore, that I like being home with my daughter when she comes home from school.
Paul: What's the matter with that part?
Cathy: Because in the evening I feel like I should be going out and performing somewhere. I used to perform six nights a week and initially I had to force myself to take the seventh night off. Like I'm God.
Paul: Wow. You really push yourself.
Cathy: I do really push myself, and now that I'm not pushing myself in the same way I'm beating myself up for not pushing myself. I have a very deep dissatisfaction with where I am in my life. I'm not at a place of acceptance, which is where I need to be to move forward. I'm still wrestling with the Devil in a way, or whatever the fuck I'm wrestling with. Look, I'm anorexic, I've always pushed myself to an insane...and I'm doing a show about that now, I'm rehearsing it. A solo show about my anorexia, which is probably the most important project that I'm doing now because I can have a chance to be of service and hopefully be entertaining to some degree, I hope.
Paul: I don't see how it couldn't be.
Cathy: Well, I hope so. I really do hope so.
Paul: I mean, there's no way I'm gonna come see it, but for other people...I would love to see it.
Cathy: I'm a master at pushing myself, I am a master at it. Just to give you a little idea of...I got down to under 85 pounds as an adult. Currently I probably weigh around 105-110, and I'm thin now, although I think I'm fat, as any good anorexic should!
Paul: When we were walking here you said "I'm so cold" and I said 'You have no fat on your body, of course you're cold.'
Cathy: I've got plenty of fat. Plenty of horrible fat.
Paul: How tall are you?
Cathy: About 5'4 1/2", just shy of 5'5".
Paul: And so are you happy with your body right now?
Cathy: I've never been happy with my body. I mean I've had occasion where I've liked my body sometime in the '80s and the '90s I've enjoyed my body and I can look at myself in pictures and I can say "Gee I looked nice in a bathing suit then", but I hate looking at myself in a bathing suit now. I rarely put one on. Now I have a kid to make fun of my body, which is so convenient. "You have a jiggly butt!" And I have this skin on my forearms which is sort of crepe-y and dry, it almost looks like my aunt who lives in Florida, although I'm using some good cream now that's helping a little bit, but. Still, I'm gonna be 58 next week. So, she points that out, and I made the mistake of pointing it out to her and now she plays with it when she's tired of playing a video game she goes over to my arm and starts playing with that.
Paul: And how old is she?
Cathy: God, she's so funny.
Paul: So you were 48 when you had her?
Cathy: Well, we adopted her.
Paul: Oh, okay.
Cathy: Yeah. I tried to get pregnant at about 45 or so and it didn't work out, but that was really fine because this really appealed to me. We adopted her from China.
Paul: I've been told that anorexia is about control. What was your childhood like and do you feel like that's where the sense of lack of control came from?
Cathy: Yeah. It definitely starts with one's childhood and a lot of times it's attributed had to the mother in particular, although my father was very strict, like scary. He was scary. So I was afraid when I was a kid, I was always afraid.
Paul: What were you afraid was gonna happen?
Cathy: He hit, he yelled, I was just afraid of his rage.
Paul: How often would his rage come out?
Cathy: Often. And it wasn't always directed towards us but we could see it in life.
Paul: And you never know when it's gonna come towards you.
Cathy: Oh my God, yes, when the phone bill came every month, it was in a gold envelope, like a gold manila-colored envelope, and when we'd see that in the mailbox we were like 'Oh God, everybody go hide!' because even no matter what it said, he would...it was his Achilles heel. The utilities were his Achilles heel. And there was nothing we could do to make that bill low enough. And there were no boundaries. There were no physical boundaries and no emotional boundaries growing up.
Paul: Can you give me some examples of there not being emotional boundaries?
Cathy: I had no privacy to explore, and even as a teenager, I wanted to dress the way I wanted to dress, like any teenager. And bell-bottoms were really important, and long bell-bottoms especially important, and you bought bell-bottoms and you didn't hem them and you wore them until they tore at the bottom. And that was the perfect length. And my father, who owned a bowling alley and dealt a lot with teenagers who used to hang out and he didn't like that, [he] grew to hate teenagers, and didn't want me to look a certain way. Arrogant was his big word. He didn't want me to look arrogant. So occasionally he would be home when I was leaving for school and I would try to get out of the house before he stopped me, but occasionally he would...I forget the word, but you know--
Paul: Cut you off at the pass?
Cathy: Sort of, yeah. Intercept. That's the word. We had a split-level house and he would have me stand on the top of the five or six steps that went up to the next level to check the length of my pants. And I would try to hike them up a little bit and kind of squeeze my legs together so I could cheat a little, and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. And if they touched the floor he was like "Go change your pants", but not like that. He would yell it and scream it and threaten, and then if I were to wear make-up, which I never wore a lot of and this probably even caused me to wear less make-up, although look at me now, I barely wear make-up ever. He would make me come outside to the backyard to see me in the daylight and look at my eye make-up, and if it was too much he'd say "Go wash it off". So I was stripped of my identity in a way, and he wouldn't let me hang out with my friends, key word being "hang out", because that's what we would do, we would "hang out" at the candy store or something. He didn't want me to hang out there. But he never sat down and said "This is why I don't want you to hang out there. Because there's really nothing substantial that goes on there. A lot of kids start smoking and getting into things that aren't good for them. And I know you like your friends, and I want you to be with your friends, but not there. It's just not a good place." And that would have been so great to hear. But no. It was none of that. It was all intolerance and anger.
Paul: And what was your mom like?
Cathy: My mom gives no boundaries for feelings, in a way. Part of my show about my anorexia is my family therapy tapes that we had in 1978 when we were all in therapy together. And I remember at one point my therapist is talking to me about something, like "I don't want you to feel this way" or something, and my mother said "She doesn't feel that."
Cathy: I know! And she has no idea that that's even inappropriate. You don't say what another person feels. And I also can remember my mom saying that I should wear a hat if it was cold out. I'd say 'I don't want to wear a hat', and the next sentence is "There, that looks nice." The hat is now on my head and she's completely ignored what I said. And also for years we've always had this conversation, it's been an argument at times, today I really try to not be a child when I'm in this conversation with her, but it's always around the High Holidays, the Jewish New Year. And she'll say "Are you going to temple?" And this year I said 'Me??' And she said "Yes. Are you going to temple?" And I said 'Mom, I haven't been to temple in...I can't even remember the last time I went to temple.' "Really?? I thought you went a couple of years ago." 'No, it's probably been about 30 years.' And so back and forth. I said 'Why don't you just enjoy yourself and let me deal with what I do?' "Well, I'm concerned about the lineage." She thinks she's so powerful, and she's such a controller, she thinks she is now going to perpetuate Judaism on her own! So that's just a little example of what she's like, but it goes on and on and on.
Paul: People that are addicted to control, and I'm one of them, it's a fight. It is every bit as real as alcoholism and drug addiction, but it's so annoying to the people around you because at least a drinker can go drink on their own, but the control person, you're their drink.
Cathy: Right. It requires another human being, yeah.
Paul: So I feel you. I feel that feeling of you're not your own person and there's no protection. You can be gutted at any moment, you can be invaded at any moment...
Cathy: Oh God, my mom has said things to me, and I'm close to 58 years old, Paul, and it still eviscerates me.
Paul: Like what are some things?
Cathy: I'm trying to think of the one she said most recently. Well, okay. So I've been a comedian for 32 years, I've been very successful, I'm respected by many of my peers--
Paul: You won the American Comedy Award in 1992, which is voted by your peers, right, and by--
Cathy: Well, actually I think the year I got it it was voted by the audience, so--
Paul: And wasn't it also club owners, too?
Paul: I think it was club owners as well.
Paul: But we all knew who won the award that year, and it was a big deal.
Cathy: It was, and I'm proud of it, and to be on the anniversary show of The Tonight Show was a huge honor, and still inside I don't feel deserving of it but it was still...I hate to resort to the litany of the proof of my worth, but I have all these things and I'm going through a really long transition in my life and in my work, and it's been scary and frustrating and I'm not making money and I don't like that, and I was on the phone with my mom and she goes "Are you making any money?" and I said 'Not right now, but Tom is.' "But what about you? I hope you haven't stopped trying." I said 'Mom, why would you even say that? Of course not.' And then she said "I hope you don't turn up your nose to other kinds of work." And that is it. When she says something like that...Last year I took a job, a friend got me a job at this show where she was working, doing something that I'd never done before, and I thought 'I'll check it out, see if I like it.' And I hated it. The money was horrible and I hated the work, I hated the environment, I hated the product, the actual type of show that it was, and I realized 'I don't want to do this anymore.' And when I was doing it my mother was saying "I had a dream the other day that you became an executive, and..." And I said 'Mom, that's not what I do. It's not what I do.' And she still doesn't see who I am and what I do. And why, at this point in my life, do I care about it? It so pisses me off that I care about it.
Paul: What she thinks?
Paul: It's insane, to keep--
Cathy: And my dad's dead and he still psychically visits me.
Paul: I have been told that it is the strongest impulse in a human being, to want acceptance from your parents.
Cathy: And I don't know if murder would eliminate that! I know that there are people who've killed their parents and I don't know if that helps, even. Can you imagine killing your parents and still wanting their approval? It's like 'Oh great. Now I went and did this.'
Paul: Your mom would be laying there and look up at you and say "You couldn't have picked a smaller knife?"
Cathy: Right. I used to have fantasies when I was a kid, I can still see the drawer of shitty cooking knives that my parents had, and going into the drawer and then stabbing my parents. I had fantasies of it! And that knife would never have done the job. It would have awakened them and it would have annoyed them, it was such a horrible knife! It was like "What's going on? Stop! We're sleeping!"
Paul: Thank you for sharing that, 'cause there's a lot of people that take the surveys on the website that share they either look forward to their parents' death or feel nothing towards them being terminally sick, and they hate themselves for it. And I feel like while that parent does deserve compassion because there's usually some type of sickness going on, the child should never feel guilty for feeling what they feel about the parent because so often it's the seeds that that parent has sown.
Cathy: Right. But look, I've been in therapy for so long, at least 35 years if not longer, and I don't think I've even worked this through and I would like to be able to work this through before I'm gone. One of the benefits of it is that I'm so hyper-aware of my relationship with my daughter and what I offer her. And I know that I don't do everything really perfectly, but I do know the things that I don't want to do, and I do listen to her. I really do listen to her.
Paul: You let her explore on her own and make her own mistakes?
Cathy: I do, yes, not as much as I would like to, but not if the mistakes will be really, really messy and require huge amounts of clean-up.
Paul: I've heard that good parenting is a combination of letting your child explore and giving them consequences and establishing boundaries and guiding them. And what a difficult line to draw when nobody has sat you down or there's nobody to go to and to say 'What do I do on this one?' because it happens in an instant and you've gotta make that decision that could--I don't know about fuck them up for the rest of their lives, but--certainly make a strong impression on them.
Cathy: Yes. I know, because there are things that I remember so vividly from when I was so little. Yeah, it really is--
Paul: What are some things that you remember?
Cathy: Well, this one's in my show, but it's amazing. I went to sleep-away camp, as we called it back East. You're from the mid-west, right? Chicago?
Cathy: Yeah. Do you know Karen Bark?
Paul: I do. Love Karen.
Cathy: Yeah, Karen's a great friend of mine. So funny, what a family. So one year at sleep-away camp, and I don't know what moved me to do this, I auditioned for the play and I got the lead. I was in Once Upon a Mattress, I was Princess Winifred. And one day during rest period or something when everybody was in their bunks, the drama counselor and I were taking a walk and she asked me if I ever thought of being an actor when I grew up. I said 'No'. And she said "Well you're very talented and I think you'd be really, really good at it." And I was like 'Wow.' Nobody had ever, ever seen anything like that in me.
Paul: What'd that feel like?
Cathy: It felt amazing because I loved doing this and I loved getting the laughs. And I knew how much I loved getting laughs, I used to do impressions of teachers and stuff like that and I got laughs from that, but never on this scale. Anyway, so--
Paul: And you felt seen.
Cathy: Oh God, I definitely felt seen. I definitely felt seen. So--
Paul: Listen to me telling you how you felt.
Cathy: That's right, mom! No, but you're extrapolating and that's different. But several months later I was at home with my mom, I guess I was about 13 because I think it was 1968, and we were watching the Academy Awards together, and it was the year that Barbra Streisand and Funny Girl were up for awards. And we were sitting down in the den and my mom was sitting down folding laundry and I was laying with my head on her lap. And they showed a clip of Streisand singing the song "Don't Rain on My Parade", and I don't know if you know the movie well, but--
Paul: What an ironic song for what I feel is about to happen.
Cathy: I know, it is ironic.
Paul: Or fitting, whichever.
Cathy: Oh man, I don't' know if I've ever even thought of that, or maybe I did and I forgot, but that's a great point. May I use that in my show?
Cathy: Okay. The number is amazing, it's an amazing show-stopping number, it ends with this big helicopter shot in New York harbor and it pulls back and she's holding on to the railing singing that last note, and after the song was over I turned my head and I looked up at my mom and I said--I guess I never had discussed the show at camp or anything--so I looked up at my mom and I said 'I can do that', and my mom said "Oh no, she's very special."
Paul: Oh my God.
Cathy: I know. I mean, what the fuck kind of thing is that for a parent to say to a child at 13? What you say is "Maybe you can." Or "What makes you feel that way? That's a great thing that you feel like that!" And I think I had brought it up to my mom and I think she said "I just didn't want you to be disappointed." And that's everything that my mom says and does is based in fear, and I understand that because I am a very fear-based person and I'm married to guy who's not at all, or it comes out in different ways. So it's an interesting reflection, and I get called on it a lot in a good way. But, that was a devastating thing and I still hear that in one way or another in my head--"Oh no, she's very special." Yes, she is very special, but why can't I be special too? Why?
Paul: You tell your kid "You are special. She's special and you're special, and it's okay for you to pursue that dream, and even if that dream doesn't work out you'll be special in something else."
Cathy: Right. But it's interesting, the boyfriend I had right before Tom, I saw him 10 years ago or so, maybe, and he said something about my anger. I said 'Do you see me as an angry person?' He said "Oh God, you could knock down a building." Wow. That was interesting to hear.
Paul: What did that make you think or feel?
Cathy: Well, it just made me reflect a little bit. I know that I have my anger, everybody has anger, and I think that it's a matter of how you express it, really. And I think I tend to express my anger mostly towards myself, mostly.
Paul: That to me sounds like anorexia--
Cathy: Depression, major depression.
Paul: Yeah, depression. Is there an arc to your anorexia or your depression? How did it first begin and what did--?
Cathy: It's interesting, I always recall it starting the same incident, and I don't know why. It doesn't really completely make sense to me, but I had this best friend in college--it's so funny, I've been going through pictures for a project and I came across a lot of college photos and pictures of most of us looking very stoned and having a pipe in our mouths--
Paul: that must have been euphoria, to get away from that control and be on your own.
Cathy: Oh God, it was so great. I saw a lot of pictures of my then-best friend in college, who really opened my eyes to so many wonderful things aesthetically that I never really had learned about, art and dance, and really loved it, but she was very spoiled and very kind of bitchy, I guess, and I was connected to her. We were inseparable. And what happened was, I guess this was in our junior year, maybe, or senior year, we were living in an apartment and it ended up that her sister moved in with some younger people, and we didn't like living there, all these younger kids hanging out there and we couldn't get into the bathroom, so I was just really unhappy about it and I went home for the weekend and called her and we talked on the phone. And she said "You do whatever you need to do but I've decided I'm going to stay. But whatever you need to do is great." I said 'Okay.' So I decided I'm gonna look for an apartment. So I looked and I found one and I told her and she turned on me, I couldn't believe it, I was set up. And I still don't know how to accept when somebody doesn't like me, it's really hard for me, which is unfortunate. But I also don't think it's an uncommon syndrome for a comedian.
Paul: And what a good profession to pick.
Cathy: I know. So I remembered where she had a class and I waited for her to come out of a class so I could speak to her and I said 'I really want to work things out' and she goes "Well I don't," and she just spun on her heel and walked away. And it was like everything started to unravel for me, I just felt like emotionally sucker-punched and I just couldn't deal with it.
Paul: Did you blame yourself or did you think this is her issue, I just want to repair this, or both?
Cathy: I don't recall. I honestly don't recall, but I can only imagine that in some way I blamed myself because or else I wouldn't have felt so weak. So I transferred for a semester to Queens College and lived with my parents just to get away from Albany and then went back for my final semester. But that was the beginning of when I feel a lot of things went south for me because I sought therapy while I was there and I started to lose weight.56:07
Paul: But not in a healthy way.
Cathy: I don't think so, but I remember this friend and I, before we had split, we got these diet pills together and I don't remember how much we took. They were non-amphetamines but they were still diet pills and appetite suppressants, and I guess I had enough left and I started losing weight and then I just started to cut back on my food more and more and more. Obviously I had to cut back a lot, because my top weight in college, that I knew of, was 127, and then to get down to 84.5, that was a third of my body.
Paul: You got down to 84 in college?
Cathy: No, it was a little after college. Eighty-four and a half. I guess it was a year or two after college.
Paul: What did you think or feel when you would deny yourself food?
Cathy: So powerful. I remember going shopping with my mom and it was in the middle of the afternoon and she said "I'm really hungry," and I said 'Oh, just use your willpower. You'll feel good,' like trying to cheerlead her into not eating. And of course I would get headaches but I felt so powerful not eating.
Paul: When would the power feel the most powerful? When you would feel pangs of hunger and you would ignore them? Or looking at yourself in the mirror? Seeing how much weight you lost that day?
Cathy: Yeah. Weight loss, definitely. Seeing my hipbones, seeing my ribs. I had this thing that always would do when I was in the shower, I would squat down and if my flesh didn't roll in my midsection then I would feel that I was doing really well, that I was on a good path. I hated feeling hunger, but to get to that point I would have to feel hunger and not feed it. But maybe as it went along gradually, probably my stomach shrunk from not being fed. 'Cause that's a lot of person to lose.
Paul: When you were down to 84 pounds, what would people say to you?
Cathy: I knew you were gonna say that. A lot of times I would hear "You look like a concentration camp victim." And I would say 'Oh, really? Gee.' and meanwhile thinking 'That's really good, that's what I was hoping for.' Not particularly, but that--
Paul: Not necessarily that version of skinny.
Cathy: Right, but 'This is good, they think I'm really skinny. This is good.'
Paul: "And I'll be able to get some extra work when Schindler's List gets made 20 years from now."
Cathy: That's right. I didn't even think of that, but any time anyone conveyed concern about how I looked I would feign my own concern but I would feel proud and euphoric and triumphant.
Paul: And did that clashing between your idea and their idea ever set off any kind of alarm bells in you, or make you think "This is something I should maybe look at." Or was just the euphoria of the accomplishment so powerful that you didn't want to look at that?
Cathy: It's interesting because in the family therapy tape that's in my show, at the beginning I'm just telling my therapist what I know about anorexia, and I basically told her that I felt I couldn't really do anything else well, so I decided to do something that I could do really well, which was to be skinny. And I keep thinking about that comment that my mom made, her telling me "Oh no, she's very special." That that was my way of being special. And I did get a lot of attention. And nobody said that I looked good at that weight, but when I started to gain a little bit of weight and was still quite thin, I would start to get positive feedback because very sadly it's a very obsessed culture, with skinny.
Paul: It is, and I think it's one of the unfortunate diseases that gets compliments. Nobody says to somebody shooting up heroin "You know, that's the right syringe on you. That amount of dope looks really good on you."
Cathy: Oh yeah, you get a lot of positive reinforcement for being too skinny because it makes other people money a lot also. And people envy it, I mean nobody envies a fat person, nobody. But there are so many interesting things about skinny. It also scares people, because I've tried many times to talk about being anorexic on stage, and my God does that stop a room cold. Oh my God, it takes all the air out of the room. You can talk about being fat on stage, but it's too frightening to people. And I really think part of it is because of that concentration camp victim kind of skinniness, you know? I think that's part of it, anyway.
Paul: When did you start going to support groups?
Cathy: For that?
Paul: For that, and for other issues, 'cause you go to two different support groups.
Cathy: Right. I started in 1986, so I guess it's a little over 27 years ago.
Paul: You went to one for the eating disorder?
Paul: Was there an event or a bottom that made you think "I need to go here." What was the impetus to go?
Cathy: Well, this is great, actually. And this is pretty embarrassing stuff--
Paul: We love that on this show.
Cathy: I know. And this is stuff that I don't share outside of my support group, but I will because I think this could help people. I had a great therapist when I moved her, wonderful, and I only had her for about six months because she died.
Paul: Oh my God.
Cathy: I know. But it was as if she was this angel who came in and out of my life. And she recommended that I check out one of these groups in November of '85 and my mother had recommended this years ago, and anything that my mother recommended is--
Cathy: It is, exactly. So I went and it was kind of creepy for me, it was in a church basement, which I was not comfortable in that environment at that point in my life, now it's fine, just fine, but I think I grew up in a pretty insular environment. Anyway, it was in a church basement and they said a certain prayer that I thought was kind of creepy and held hands, and it didn't feel good. And next session she asked me what I thought of it and I told her and she goes "Okay." And she left it alone, something that my mom would never do. And then a couple of months later she brought up that there was a support group that was like this one but was more specific to my particular eating disorder, and she gave me the number of a woman and she said "Give her a call, talk to her about it," and I said 'Okay.' I would do anything this woman suggested because I just loved her. And so I called this woman and we talked and she told me about this particular group and she said "You can't believe some of the stories that you hear there." And she said "Like for instance, this one woman was sharing that she would sometimes swallow food and then she would bring it up again and chew it again and swallow it again, and do this a few times when it was still food, not bile." And I was like 'Oh wow, gee.' And we hung up and I thought 'My God, somebody does what I've been doing.' And I'd never heard of anyone ever doing that before, it was such a dark secret. And the reason I did it was because it saved me bites of food, I would make a bite of food last for ten bites of food. This is how fucking nuts I was.
Paul: Kind of genius. It's kind of a sick genius.
Cathy: Well, yeah, I figured out how to do it. Nobody taught me, I figured out how to do it. So I figured I'm gonna have to go check out this place. And I went the next time the group met, and immediately I felt like I was in the right place. Immediately. And it was important for me initially to meet with people who had issues that were very much the same as my symptoms on the surface. And as time went by that didn't matter anymore, I just--
Paul: It was about the feelings inside. Yeah. It's so important, early in your first 20 visits to a support group, to hear somebody's story that makes you feel less alone.
Paul: I don't know if I would have kept going if I hadn't heard my story, because my story is not typical. The drama was all inside; on the outside my life seemed totally fine, so once I heard a similar emotional inside, and a kind of non-dramatic outside, I was like 'Okay, I'm in.' I urge people that are going to support groups for the first time to give it a good shot and it's totally normal to want to sit in the back and want to run and to be looking at your watch and thinking 'Why am I around these fucking losers?' I think that's totally normal, and I don't think anybody rolls into a support group and thinks 'Yay! I've found the solution!' It comes later, but usually it feels like traffic school, almost.
Cathy: Well, for me, like I said, when I went to that particular group, which was my second time, I knew I was home because the stories were so, so similar to my stories.
Paul: What a gift, to be able to get that so early.
Cathy: Right. Actually, now, this many years later, I find myself looking at my watch and wanting to run.
Paul: What do you think that's about?
Cathy: Because I feel so lost. It's not that I feel that I don't belong there so much, um, I just feel...
Paul: You feel like you lost your way?
Cathy: Oh God, definitely, yeah. I feel like I've lost my way.
Paul: What do you think has led to that? Have you stopped connecting to the people there, or stopped doing the work?
Cathy: I've stopped believing in something higher out there, and because I feel like why are these bad things happening? Why? After things were going so great. I'm sure I'm not the first person on the planet to feel that way, but...
Paul: I recall a guy in my support group who had been unemployed for eight years and was bouncing from apartment to apartment because he couldn't pay rent, sleeping on people's couches, and he not only had kind of stopped believing in something but was vehemently angry at people that did because it's like if there is a God, or a higher power, what kind of a fucking asshole is this power? Or what kind of a piece of shit am I that I'm being made to suffer?
Cathy: Yeah, I've got some of that.
Paul: And then one day he got his dream job and is now gainfully employed and is able to look back and see that there were things in that struggle that strengthened him that he now can draw upon. And I know it sounds very Pollyanna-ish of me to say that but I know countless people, myself included...I wouldn't be doing this gig if it didn't look like Dinner and a Movie was falling apart. I knew that I needed a second phase of something to do with my time, and if I had still been making what I was making in 2007 before my money was cut, and the show was still going on, I don't know if I would be doing this. And I'm grateful because I feel so much more meaning in my life and I just want to encourage you to look for the beauty in the pain and the forced gym membership for the soul that you're going through. It sounds to me like doing your show will be a great way to express what's inside you and to put that out there for other people, because I think if we don't put it out there for other people it's a little bit of a waste because they don't get the chance to feel less alone, they don't get the chance to maybe have an epiphany of their own. Our pain can be beautiful epiphanies for other people.
Cathy: Right. I think I'm scared to do this, because I'm scared it's not gonna be funny enough, I'm scared people are gonna be bored. It's just a different venue for me.
Paul: I think if you ask yourself 'Am I truly expressing what's inside of me?' you will be good, and just keep coming back to that. I second-guess myself, as the listener knows, constantly. I'll say something and agonize over it, beat myself up, but ultimately at the end of the day it's who I am, this imperfect person that panics that they're disappearing, that they're gonna be invisible, that their life is forgettable, that they're not special. And it comes out in ways that are awkward and kind of pathetic sometimes but I'm learning to own it and say 'It helps other people to see me make mistakes.'
Cathy: yeah. You wanna be flawed, or else you're not interesting. Any character in any film or novel is flawed.
Paul: The good ones.
Cathy: Who did your surveys? Did you?
Paul: I came up with the questions.
Cathy: They're great! I barely had time to look at them, they're so vast.
Paul: The one about therapy was come up with by my friend Katie, who is a newly licensed therapist, but the other ones were questions that I came up with.
Cathy: Oh man, the information there...Everybody I saw was anonymous, does anybody give names?
Paul: Some people will give their names but I encourage people to not so that they can--
Cathy: --really be honest.
Paul: Yeah, be honest, but my hat is off to the people that do use their actual names because there should be no shame around this, but easier said than done.
Cathy: I'm not using my actual name on this show, by the way. Oh no, am I??
Paul: Cathy Ladman, thank you so much for coming and sharing your inner life with us.
Cathy: Oh my God, this is a great podcast. I can understand why you like hugging your listeners. I mean, anybody drawn to this is very huggable.
Paul: Definitely. And I look forward to standing up and giving you a hug in about five seconds.
Cathy: Okay. Alright, 1-2-3-4-5.
Paul: Many thanks to Cathy. It was really nice to get to know her better and I just emailed her and she is doing a staged reading of her play. The play is called "Does This Show Make Me Look Fat?" and she's gonna be doing it in Woodstock, New York, on the night of January 17 at 8:00 pm. So if you want more details on that, if you're gonna be in the area and you wanna check it out, go to her website cathyladman.com.
Before we take it out with some surveys I wanna remind you guys there's a couple of different ways to support the show if you feel so inclined. The website as I mentioned is mentalpod.com, you can go there and make a one-time PayPal donation, or, as you know, my favorite--a recurring monthly donation for as little as five bucks a month. Once you set it up you don't have to do anything unless you decide to cancel it or your credit card expires, super simple to do, and God bless those of you that donate to this show. It means the world to me. You can also support the show by when you shop at Amazon, enter through the search portal on our home page, right side about halfway down, make sure your ad blocker is not on. I think it won't show up on some browsers if your ad blocker is on. And you can support us by buying a Mental Illness Happy Hour coffee mug, you can buy t-shirts, we now have ladies' shirts, you can buy coffee, and I think I've shared before that you can go to the website and fuck yourself. I can't remember if we put that link up to that yet. You can support us non-financially by giving us a nice rating on iTunes, writing something nice about us, or spreading the word through social media.
Let's kick it off, this is a survey from Shame and Secrets, filled out by a woman that calls herself Gothand, she is straight, in her 20s, raised in a stable and safe environment, never been sexually abused, never been physically abused, but she has been emotionally abused, although she puts "Not sure. My best friend of three years constantly made me feel guilty. She guilted me for hanging out with other people. She guilted me for weighing more than her. When I starved myself she guilted me for weighing less than her. She guilted me for everything and when I finally called her out on it she promised she would change, for a month, and then she began again. Now I am no longer friends with her, however, she switched from guilting me to guilting my friend (who also has an eating disorder)." I feel like I've read this survey before, but if I did, apologies, enjoy my slide into Alzheimer's. If you've been abused, are there positive experiences with the abuser? She writes "Yes, we were best friends for years." Deepest, darkest thoughts: "I'm hurting everyone around me and I don't know how to stop. I want to be dead but I want to be in love. I want to have sex with my English teacher." Deepest, darkest secrets: "I stole drugs from my dad and alcohol from my mom. I'd gone to more bars than I can count on both hands before I was 18. I've kissed complete strangers. I forced myself to throw up on the way home from elementary school at least once a week." Sexual fantasies most powerful to you: "Having sex with teachers and older men (I have a stable relationship with my dad too! not sexual at all *gag*) I also have fantasies about men like serial killers who could easily kill me fucking me and sometimes cutting my stomach and throat with knives while we fuck. It makes me feel dirty and slutty and like there is something wrong with me (the blood and murder part)." What, if anything, would you like to say to somebody you haven't been able to? "I'm in love with you but I am not good enough for you." Wow, that is deep. That is fucking deep. What, if anything, do you wish for? "Being able to eat normally and not care about my weight." Have you shared these things with others? "No. I'm too scared and I don't think I want to get better." Now I know why I printed this survey out. I mean, I knew when I started reading it, but this one just...She's so open, she's so...How do you feel after writing these things down? "I'm scared. I want to cry." I just want to hug you. Is there anything you'd like to share with someone who shares your thoughts or experiences? "I'm so sorry." That one breaks my heart and makes me want to hug her. Please reach out to someone. Don't go through that by yourself. Join the forum, that would be a good place. I know there's a lot of people that would welcome you with open arms.
This is from a new survey which I am in fucking love with, and I think I gave a little call to action last week asking you guys to come fill out the Awfulsome Moments survey and I wasn't getting a lot of people, and then a listener emailed me and went "Paul, there's no link up on the website." Yeah, that might be hindering it. So, yeah, an awfulsome moment is something that made you want to laugh and cry at the same time. This one was filled out by Odin, who's in their 30s, and writes "My wife tried to cheat on me while she was pregnant. When she confessed, we had sort of make-up sex, and I was crying and calling her a fucking bitch the whole time we were fucking." Goddammit do I love that new survey. Every time I see that somebody's filled it out I get so excited.
This is from the Shame and Secrets survey, filled out by a woman who calls herself Sunnydaze. She is straight, in her 40s, raised in a slightly dysfunctional environment, never been sexually abused. Ever been physically or emotionally abused? "Not sure. My husband neglected me. He checked out of our marriage after our daughter was born, and began distancing himself from me. I noticed that he told her that her loved her all the time, but rarely said it to me. When my mother died, he gave me no emotional support, in fact I suspect he started cheating on me shortly after. Two months after her death, he announced he was no longer happy in our marriage. I moved out two months later. I asked him many times if we could try to work on our issues. He never had any interest. I can't understand why he married me and got me pregnant if he had no intention of putting any effort into our relationship." She didn't answer if there were any positive experiences with him. Deepest, darkest thoughts: "Killing myself. I could never do this to my daughter, but I think about it at least weekly." With effort I think we could get that up to daily. I want you to read my book called--insert humorous name. Deepest, darkest secrets: "After I separated from my husband, I texted him all the time to let him know how miserable he made me and how much I thought about dying. I did this because I knew how susceptible to guilt he is and that he would lose sleep and get stomach ulcers. Four and a half years later, I still occasionally manipulate him with guilt when we have a disagreement. I never feel guilty about it." Thank you for sharing that. That's what I love about these surveys, is that people just fucking let loose the stuff that we really are ashamed of. Sexual fantasies most powerful to you? "Being pulled over by a hot cop, and him initiating rough sex against my car." I hope it's your car parked safely to the side of the road and that there are flares and lookie-loos, and a fifth thing that just caps this bit. What, if anything, do you wish for? "To find a loving partner who is willing to communicate and put the effort in over the long haul. I also wish to find success as a serial entrepreneur." Does a serial killer count as a serial entrepreneur? I guess you'd have to make money from it. You'd have to sell your trophies which, as we know, serial killers do not do 'cause they're not sellouts. Have you shared these things with others? "Yes." How do you feel after writing these things down? "Okay." Thank you for sharing that, Sunnydaze.
This is from my favorite survey, Awfulsome Moments, filled out by D who is 17. "I'd recently come out as gay to my dad, and he was extremely disappointed. He'd raised concern that I was thinking about my sexuality too much a.k.a. at all (I mean, I was 14, what else is there to do?). Visiting our cousins for Christmas, we were cramped into a room in their house - I slept on the floor, he was on the bed. At 11 PM, I could hear orgasmic moaning coming from his phone. Porn. Seriously. The hypocrisy of it all was mortifying then, hilarious now. He was so angry I dared to ponder my sexuality, and here he was shoving his in my face." That is the definition of awfulsome.
This is from the Shame and Secrets survey, filled out by Betty who gay, she's in her 30s, raised in a slightly dysfunctional environment. Ever been the victim of sexual abuse? "Some stuff happened but I don't know if it counts. I can't remember things properly... but past therapists suspect it's the case. At the same time, I can be so self destructive- becoming blackout drunk alone with older unknown men, playing up to them, like pushing something closer to the edge of a cliff until it slips off the edge." She's been emotionally abused but doesn't qualify it. Deepest, darkest thoughts: "Being raped, in a variety of different ways. It's how I climax." Deepest, darkest secrets: "Sometimes I worry that I might be a compulsive liar." Sexual fantasies most powerful to you: "Daddy role play, and rape. As a lesbian in a wonderful happy relationship with a woman, it makes me feel like a messed up freak." I wanna give you a hug and say don't try to make sense of that stuff, just embrace that it's there. What, if anything, would you like to say to someone you haven't been able to? "I'm so, so sad and I feel like I've already ruined my capacity to be happy. I want to die all the time and that makes me feel so alone. I can't tell anyone because I'm ashamed. Everyone expected me to grow up and grow out of it by now- but I think it's just who I am." I would disagree. I don't think wanting to die is how any of us are supposed to be. I think it's a sign that we need either healing or medical help. That's my two cents. What, if anything, do you wish for? "Just to feel normal. If I'm sad I want it to be because something sad happened. I want to be able to drink without constantly worrying that I'm sliding into alcoholism." You know, your drinking might be a thing to look at. That might be a really good place to start, maybe check out a support group or talk to a therapist about it. Have you shared these things with others? "A long time ago. I'm so lucky because my friends were incredible, helped me get help and supported me. But I can't be a broken record- I needed them to feel like I was 'fine' again after a while." It sounds to me like you gave up on the help that you reached out for or that they weren't experienced enough in these issues that there could be sustaining support. That's why I think support groups are so great because they're people who are living the same thing we are. How do you feel after writing these things down? "Better. I'm dying to be heard. I know that it is so narcissistic but I want to be able to say to another person that my inner pain is so intense it feels like it'll split my body apart." You would do so well in a support group, you would help other people, too. Your ability to express what's going on inside you would help other people in addition to yourself. And now I'm stepping off my soapbox.
This is from Awfulsome Moments, filled out by Abby, who's between 18-19. I hate that I picked that age range, what the fuck was I thinking with that?? Her awfulsome moment: "Sitting in the back of the car with my 33-year-old fuck buddy's 9-year-old son and not knowing whether I feel more like a partner or feel like his daughter. When I'm sitting next to that nine year old I feel like his mom and his sister at the same time. I finally feel part of a loving family for the first time." That is awfulsome.
This is from the Shouldn't Feel This Way survey, filled out by a guy who calls himself Odin. He is straight, in his 30s, raised in a slightly dysfunctional environment. What would you like people to say about you at your funeral? "He was a devoted father." How does writing that make you feel? "Sad for my children. I should feel relieved that my wife took a misdemeanor plea deal in her criminal case. But I don't, I feel physically ill that she is either a coward and pleaded to something she didn't do, or a liar because she swears to me that she didn't do it. I would much rather be married to a felon than either of those choices." How does it make you feel to write your feelings out? "Extremely depressed, ungrateful and like a horrible uncaring husband." Do you think you're abnormal for feeling what you do? "Yes, I think most people don't value honor as highly as I do." Would knowing other people feel the same way make you feel better about yourself? "I suppose." Thank you for sharing that, Odin, and that would be difficult to talk to your wife about but that's a big-ass thing to sweep under the rug and to not express, so I would talk to somebody about it and then hopefully work your way towards expressing how you feel towards her, hopefully in a way that's diplomatic.
This is from the same survey, filled out by a woman who calls herself Gus. She's straight, she's between 13-19. What would you like people to say about you at your funeral? "She was smart and worked hard and well, this is wishing hard but, loving." I don't' know if that makes sense to me. How does writing that make you feel? "Sad, because it's a long shot." How would you use a time machine? "I would go back to my childhood and try to figure out what went wrong." It wouldn't have to be a very powerful time machine. "I'm supposed to feel confident about God, but I don't. I feel confused and ashamed that I feel confused. I'm supposed to feel safe when I go to sleep, but I don't. I feel terrified. I'm supposed to feel like a member of my family, but I don't. I feel like an outsider. I feel like they are just being nice to me because they feel bad for me or feel like they have to. I feel like I can never please them or be who they want me to be." Oh, my heart goes out to you. That's gotta be a really tough, isolated place to be. How does it make you feel to write your feelings out? "Refreshed." Do you think you're abnormal for feeling what you do? "Yes, but a lot of people are abnormal." You don't sound abnormal to me, you sound like somebody in a difficult situation who is having normal feelings. Would knowing other people feel the same way make you feel better? "A little, but I want answers and solutions, not just friends." You know what I'm gonna say about that--support group. Maybe something like Ala-teen if there's addiction in your family? I don't know. Go to nami.org, maybe see what kind of free support groups they have. Join the forum and put feelers out there. There's some great people on the forum that have great advice.
From Awfulsome Moments survey, filled out by a person that calls himself Kitsune. "I was having a long text conversation with the guy I had been sleeping with but we were not officially a couple. He was telling me he trusted me more than anyone in his life and wanted to finally tell me something he'd been wanting to say for days etc. I was convinced this was it, he was admitting he loved me after six months and we could be together. I was giddy and excited, but what he sent next was 'I have pus coming out of the tip of my penis and it's really scary, is that always bad?' I wanted to smash my face into my desk and scream but instead I laughed, shook my head and sent 'Yes, go to the doctor'." Awfulsome. Fucking awfulsome.
This is from a rarely taken survey, Young Male Abused by Older Female, filled out by a guy who calls himself NE Mike. He was raised in a stable and safe environment, he's straight, in his 40s. He writes "I don't remember for sure how old I was but I think it started when I was 15 and she was in her late 30s. I was a geek and at that time we didn't have the Internet but we did have a community that was based around bulletin board systems and modems. We referred to ourselves as "modemers" and we had a small group that would get together socially from time to time. I had only had one sexual experience where I touched and sucked on my girlfriends breasts and we were naked together but nothing happened and she dumped me not too long after that. I was relating this failed sexual foray to a woman that I met on the BBSes and she was very kind and told me it was too bad that I got started that way. Some time after that I was at a party at her house and I was going to leave and she offered to walk me out. We hugged outside and she gave me a deep kiss that made me dizzy. I remember wondering if it had really happened and then later thinking that it must have been because she was drinking that she did it. I asked her via E-Mail if it was the booze and she said no, that she wanted to do it and was glad that I liked it. This was the beginning of a multi-year relationship that included us having sex at her house several times and continued through her getting engaged and marrying another guy and me having various girlfriends in high school. I don't remember everything but I do recall sitting on her couch while she masturbated me with a paper towel handy and smoked a cigarette and one time when we were having sex when I came to her house after school and her husband came home in the middle of it and we had to scramble and I had to make up an excuse about being so sweaty because it was hot in school and we had no air conditioning. I also remember going to her house for a party when I was a senior in high school and bringing my girlfriend and her putting her hands down my pants when we were alone in her bedroom and telling me that she didn't know about this "girlfriend thing" and that she was jealous (this was after she was already married.) Eventually she became pregnant and she told me that she didn't know if it was mine or her husband's because we had both had sex with her around the same time the baby was conceived. It wasn't long after this that I lost touch with her and several years later I heard that she had COPD due to her smoking and I'm pretty sure she is dead now." That would make great lyrics for a song, by the way. I want to email those to Don MacLean, or an older reference than him. "It took me a very long time but eventually I came to the realization that what happened to me was not right and that it may even be classified as molestation." Uh, beyond 'might even be.' Is. That is a sexual crime that happened. "I did have orgasms and I was 'getting laid' and all that but I was emotionally immature for my age and I don't know that I could have really given consent at that time. It was definitely not normal and I wish it had not happened to me. It gave me a twisted point of view on sex, that it was dirty and needed to be hidden and that it was OK to have sex outside of a relationship. I cheated on every girlfriend that I had until I met the woman who would eventually become my wife and then my ex-wife. When I finally got the guts up to tell my wife that I had been molested she recoiled and told me that I had better go 'talk to someone' about that and I believe that that moment may have been the beginning of the end of our marriage. I have since told one girlfriend about it (she was shocked by it and somewhat stunned I think, her response was more or less that it wasn't molestation because I was a teenager and it was with a woman)--", you have no idea how angry that makes me, oh my God does that make me angry, "--and I have told a couple of female friends and my therapist. I am only now at the age of 42 realizing the ways that this relationship over two decades ago has impacted me. I feel that it was molestation but I also feel guilty calling it that, as if I am taking away or minimizing the experiences of people who were 'really molested.'" No, you are not. "Somehow the fact that I was a teenage boy and she was an older woman teaching me about sex is supposed to make it cool or make me lucky but it doesn't feel like either of those things." Trust your feelings around those things. Your feelings are not lying to you. "It makes me feel sad to wonder where I would be now if I had had a more normal sexual upbringing. I am not angry with her and I have no desire to villainize her to other people but I wish that things had been different. I have so much shame about what happened and guilt about how I have disrespected the women in my life by cheating on them. I do not want to be the kind of person who cheats but I have done it so many times and it feels terrible, the guilt is almost overwhelming at times. I contracted genital herpes and I'm not sure who gave it to me but I'm pretty sure it was from one of the women I cheated with and it feels like it may be something I earned with my bad behavior." Oh buddy, I want to give you a big hug. "I feel that I don't really know how much damage was done to me. I think that she did not have bad intentions but both she and I should have 'known better' and not done it. I never told her no but I should have, I wish I would have. It was neither innocent nor natural." My heart goes out to you, buddy.
This is the definition of awfulsome, filled out by Danielle, in her 30s, and she had emailed me previously to this and has a sense of humor. I suppose it's clear she has a sense of humor because she filled this out but part of me didn't want to read this because I'm like 'Oh God, what is awesome about this?!' and I think the only thing that's awesome about it is how awful and...alright. Just fucking read it, Paul. "One of the men who sexually abused me when I was a child has hooks for hands. I shit you not. At the time, he had plastic arms from the elbows down and metal hooks for hands from the wrists down. The hooks opened so he could grab a hold of things. Unfortunately, one of the things he grabbed hold of was my elementary-school-aged ass while he French-kissed me. I Google him every year or two to see if he is finally dead. No such luck...Every one of those bastards who sexually abused me is still alive, but at least I can laugh about this one since, really, how many people can say they have been sexually abused by a man with hooks for hands? (Please don't answer that. I like to believe that I am the only one who has been abused by my abusers even though I know it's not true. Fucking scumbags, every one of them!)." I know that one was kind of a little hard to hear, but I think that's our wheelhouse, the shit that's hard to hear.
This is from a lighter survey, Being Hospitalized! This was filled out by Tabitha, she's asexual and I didn't get her age on this. For some reason I only have this one page, but I'm gonna read it anyway. "I've been hospitalized via 5150 five times for suicide attempts. Each time I overdosed, intending to die, using my prescription meds and some over the counter meds. And each time I woke up 16-30 hours later. The first time I answered my phone after being out for 30 hours and it was my psychiatrist. I could hardly talk, I was so drugged. He made me promise to take a cab to the emergency room. I somehow managed to get there. Answering the phone, only to find my psychiatrist on the other end, while coming out of the drugged nothingness of the overdose got me hospitalized three more times. And one time I admitted that I'd overdosed over the weekend to my DBT therapist and she 5150'd me. I have also overdosed many times without anyone but my best friend's knowledge. I think I've OD'd at least 10 times." Describe your experience as a patient or visitor in the hospital: "My first (and second) experience as a patient was at the County Psych Hospital. It was bare-bones in the emergency area where I spent most of my first night. Cots with blankets filled the large main room. I chose one and tried to sleep. I remember that I just didn't care where I was. I felt numb. Sometime in the middle of the night I was transferred to the psych ward upstairs. It was grim up there. During the day most people looked depressed and just sat as far apart from each other as possible in the big main room. I was in that group. One guy tried to touch all the girls' boobs. My roommate stole my deodorant. Twice. And I got it free from the 'don't bother us' desk. One girl did laps around the room over and over, all day long. There was nothing to do. I was there for three days and there was one group that whole time. The staff was rude and I kept waiting and waiting to meet with the psychiatrist so I could get out of there. When I finally got to talk to him he said, laughing, that if I really wanted to die why didn't I drink a bunch of alcohol or bleach along with the pills? I thought that was bizarre." Yeah, I think that's fucking horrible. "But I did try one of his ideas in a subsequent attempt. In contrast, I have had health insurance during my last three psych hospital stays. Therefore I was sent to a private hospital. It was such a different experience. The staff was very friendly and there were therapeutic groups including art and music all day. The counselors who ran the groups were so positive and interested in us. The hospital was also smaller and therefore led to a sense of camaraderie amongst some of the patients. In general I would say, though, that in each of my hospitalizations I was definitely scared on some level, because several times during my different stays I would have a nightmare that I was hospitalized only to wake up in that very place. I also didn't feel like myself, or anyone. I just went through the motions. Convinced my psychiatrist each time that I was ready to leave within three days. Made a pretty obvious plan with my social worker (I will attend my psychiatrist appt on Friday). But I never once lost my desire to die. And I went home and tried again. So no, it was not very helpful. Although as I think about it, what my psychiatrist and therapist have said when encouraging me to go to the hospital is, 'you'll be safe there'. And that's not nothing." Thank you for that, Tabitha.
And I'm gonna read one more survey. I was going to go to the last one but I wanna read one more because this guy's story touches me. He calls himself Mr. Sad and he is gay, in his 30s, raised in a pretty dysfunctional environment. Ever been the victim of sexual abuse? "Some stuff happened but I don't know if it counts. When I was growing up my father would constantly say sexually suggestive things in front of me and my sisters. When I turned about 12 years old he started taking an interest in my sexuality. He would constantly suggest that I was masturbating in front of other family and friends whenever I was in my room or using the bathroom. He would ask to see if my pants were wet with semen from jacking off. He made / let me watch movies with lots of sexual content. He took me to movies where he knew there'd be female nudity. When a scene with a naked woman would occur on screen, I'd see him watching me out of the corner of my eye to see how I was reacting." Oh man, this is hard to listen to. "He made comments about my sisters' bodies (e.g. criticism of their breasts, butts, legs, etc.) in front of me and my sisters. He always wanted to hear what kind of sexual fantasies I had about women. As I progressed through puberty I came to the realization that I was attracted to men and not women. I still don't know if this is just because my father ruined heterosexuality for me. I have intense feelings of internalized shame and self-loathing to this day, in my 30s, and I have never been in a loving relationship, though I want to be. Sexuality makes me very uncomfortable and I hate being gay. I feel like I'll be alone for the rest of my life. I know what he did was a form of sexual abuse but I hate calling it that because I know people have had to deal with things like molestation and rape." Boy, this sounds so similar to the guy with the older woman. "Some people I've told about it have told me that I should be happy I had a 'cool dad' and to stop being such a melodramatic pussy." Oh, fuck those people in the strongest sense of the word. Those people sound beyond toxic. Toxic and fucking ignorant. Have you ever been physically or emotionally abused? Yes, he's been both. Clearly emotional abuse from your dad. "He divorced my mother when I was 2 or 3 years old and remarried. He had a child with new wife who became my stepmother. However, she was extremely jealous. I was forbidden to use my real mother's name in her presence." Holy fuck. "In order to prove that he loved her, she wanted my father to beat me because I was 'bad', so he did so. She'd also become upset if he bought something for me for a present, even if he also bought my half-sibling presents. If he ever bought me so much as a piece of candy or took me to a movie he'd warn me 'don't tell Mommy'. On Christmas and my birthday he'd give me things such as books he'd finished reading or bargain bin stuff while my half-sibling would get mountains of wrapped toys and video games. When I was 11 years old he bought me the official Donald Trump board game for Christmas." This paragraph could qualify as awfulsome. "He couldn't have expressed his disdain for me clearer if he had taken a shit on my chest." Did you have any positive experiences with your abuser? "I wouldn't even have contact with my father if I wasn't trapped in a situation where I needed to depend on family to get by." I don't know if that really qualifies as positive, though. Oh, I guess he's saying 'No'. Deepest, darkest thoughts: "Mostly suicidal thoughts. I have grown accustomed to thinking of death as release and relief. The only reason I don't kill myself is because it would hurt people I care about." I really encourage you and the guy I read earlier to seek out some type of healing from sexual trauma. There's some really great support groups and rehabs. Deepest darkest secrets: "When I was seven I asked a question about AIDS. My father beat the shit out of me bad. Then he freaked out because I was covered with bruises and he didn't want to go to jail. He went to his parents for help and though they were upset, they convinced me to tell teachers and classmates that I had fallen out of a tree or down a flight of stairs. They made me cover up the severe bruising with clothing even though we live in a very hot area." Oh, just, my heart goes out to you. Sexual fantasies most powerful to you? "Being raped by older men. Merry Christmas." I fucking love this. Goddammit do I love this guy. What, if anything, would you like to say to someone you haven't been able to? "I would like to be able to communicate in such a way to make it unambiguously clear how my father and other family members have hurt me and my siblings. But there's no language strong enough to penetrate their levels of denial." I feel you, buddy. I think everybody listening to me reading this survey is fucking outraged at the abuse you endured, and how it's just piled on and piled out. What, if anything, do you wish for? "I wish I could have a normal life with a family and children. I want to love and be loved so badly. But I think I will probably be alone until I die. I am a broken and ruined human being." Well, you know what I say about that. You know how strongly I disagree with that idea. Have you shared these things with others? "Shared them with my therapists when I had health insurance." I want to stress again, Google low-fee therapy and the name of your area or call 211 from a land line and you can usually find some affordable, if not free, therapy. How do you feel after writing these things down? "Like I've scratched an itchy sore, satisfying but painful at the same time. Really painful." Well, we appreciate you writing it down despite experiencing that. Is there anything you'd like to share with someone who shares your thoughts or experiences? "I'd share my life with them if I wasn't so broken and ugly." Oh my God, please go to the forum and open up and let some people love you, 'cause there are a lot of people who've experienced similar stuff on the forum. Your survey just touched me so fucking deeply. We love you, Mr. Sad. We love you.
Finally, I want to read a Happy Moment, and this is from Feign. I should qualify on the Awfulsome and Happy Moments whether it's male or female, I keep forgetting to put that on there. Anyway, Feign writes--I think Feign is female--"I'm not sure how old I was, probably 10 or 9. We went to an island in Indonesia and stayed right by the beach. My older brother and I found a mass of gigantic rocks and saw a gazebo built atop one of these monstrous rocks. We decided to try and reach it. I was scared of heights but I wanted to please him so I did. We started climbing and halfway up he could see that I was scared so he climbed really close to me and touched his arm to whatever part of me he could reach whenever I stopped and got scared. He pointed out the easiest routes, the most accessible foot holds and the least sharp crags. I felt like a badass adventurer, Lara Croft tomb raider person about to uncover some forgotten ruin. I felt like a sister who was loved. I felt safe and protected." Gives me warm fuzzies.
Well, thank you guys for listening and thank you to all the people who filled these surveys out and share all of that stuff. Thank you to Cathy and to our sponsors and the people who transcribe and the monthly donors. I hope this is gonna be a good year for all of us, and anybody out there who's feeling stuck, I hope you know that you're not alone and there is hope if you're willing to get out of your comfort zone and ask for help. Thanks for listening.