Episode 88: Fred Stoller
Standup comedian, writer and actor Fred Stoller opens up about his childhood with a sensitive withdrawn father and a fear-filled overbearing mother who he describes as a “Rainman Savant of bad news stories”. He and Paul talk about the corrosive effect a joy-snuffing parent can have on a child’s ability to experience joy. People know Fred from appearances on Everybody Loves Raymond, Dumb and Dumber, orSeinfeld. Paul reads some polarizing emails about the Ted Lyde episode as well as a happy moment survey response from a German listener who recalls the moment her depression ran out of fuel.
Paul: Welcome Episode 88 with my guest Fred Stoller. I’m Paul Gilmartin. This is the Mental Illness Happy Hour, an hour or two of honesty about all the battles in our heads, from medically diagnosed conditions 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. It’s more like a waiting room that hopefully doesn’t suck.
The website for this show is mentalpod.com. That’s also the name you can follow me at on Twitter. And all kinds of stuff at the website. You can sign up for a newsletter. You can read blogs by myself--myself, is that the right grammar ?-- I don’t know. I should have paid attention in school--blogs by me, I think that’s the right word. And guests as well. You can sign up for the newsletter there too. My dog chippin’ in.
What did I want to mention ? Oh, I am back in the wood shop, now that I’ve come out of my two-year depression. I’ve made a couple of cutting boards, and I want to offer one cutting board to a monthly donor. So, the way it’s going to work is this: I’ve picked a number between one and 500. Anybody that is a monthly donor, email me a number between one and 500. Put it in the subject line too if you would, so that I don’t have to actually open the email to read it. And, pick one number if you’re a five-dollar a month donor, 10 dollar a month donor pick two numbers, etc etc. So, if you were a $25 a month donor, you’d pick five numbers. And so, shoot me an email, and I’ll announce what the number is on next week’s podcast and who the winner is, so whoever is closest to that number that I picked, you get a free cutting board made by a depressed guy who no longer works in television.
I actually had a very nice Thanksgiving today. I went over to my friend Lisa Arch’s house and she cooked an amazing meal. But I always do this. I finished my plate before the last person has even sat down to start. It’s quite embarrassing. I just had way too many carbohydrates. So then like an hour later, I was just sitting on the couch, staring at the wall, and you know that, I don’t know if you guys are like that, but your blood sugar spikes and then comes down I get in a really blue mood and I knew that it was probably time to go home and nap when I thought to myself ‘Fuck’, and the TV was on by the way and we were watching old cartoons and stuff like that and Christmas stuff, and I thought to myself ‘fuck, I will never have a career like Burl Ives’. That was when I knew I needed to go take a little nappy-nappy. So I did and I feel better.
I would like to kick things off with a couple of emails. We did an episode with Ted Lyde, who has a son who is disabled. It triggered a lot of responses from you guys, both positive and negative. So I just wanted to read a couple of those. This first one is from Abby, and she writes “Dear Paul, thank you for having a show featuring the parent of a child with special needs. As such a parent, I can tell you that the ups and downs are so dramatic, that to say how you felt is an act of bravery. Please tell Ted Lyde that my OB/GYN told us that research shows that the longer a baby stays inside the womb, the less challenges the baby is likely to have. When we first discovered that our daughter wasn’t developing typically, my husband and I blamed ourselves and each other too. The truth is that Ted and his wife didn’t give their son his challenges and my husband and I didn’t give our daughter hers. It’s almost scary to think that you didn’t cause the problem because then you have to deal with the reality of knowing that you might not be able to fix it either. I think it’s common for women to feel personally responsible for their child being permanently disabled because society has long told women that their most important job is to make happy babies. That means that the mother of a child with special needs is doomed to be a failure for the rest of her life-- a depressing proposition at best. If I could give any advice to parents of a child with challenges of any kind, I would highly recommend finding a support group. Like Ted, our friends and family disappeared as it became clear that our child has special needs. We had hoped that they would step up, but they didn’t. They can’t possibly imagine the amount of work everything is. As a result, we’ve had to make new friends and family.” Thank you for that, Abby.
This next letter is from a person who calls them self G. Haze, and they write “The Ted Lyde episode was offensive and he was very unlikable. He came off as a self-centered, selfish, and emotionally abusive and disrespectful to his wife. The way he talked about her made him seem like a cold-hearted, disrespectful spouse, and I hope that she leaves him and uses this podcast as evidence of his emotional cruelty.”
And then this last one says “Paul, first of all, I loved the interview with Ted Lyde. I’m not on Facebook, so pass along my thanks and praise to him. I loved his honesty. When I had my oldest daughter, I was home on maternity leave and bored out of my mind after two weeks. I remember looking at my baby daughter sleeping and feeling so bad because I wasn’t feeling completely fulfilled and overjoyed at being a mom. I was thinking about how I would love to be back at my office working on a long and challenging research report. My sister called and asked if I was bored yet. And she said yea, we all feel like that. No one talks about it. It’s like a big secret. But being at home with a baby can be really boring. I always wanted kids and love them to death, but a lot of parenting is just being there and maintenance, and trudgery and patience. It can be a fucking drag sometimes. Number two, just clicked through your Amazon link and did some serious Christmas shopping on Amazon, my little way of saying thank you.” Well, thank you, Julia, I appreciate it, and I’ll use that as an excuse to give a shout out for that way of supporting the show. We have an Amazon search box on our home page, right side, about half-way down. If you’re going to buy something at Amazon, do it through that link and we get a couple nickels and it doesn’t cost you anything. Really appreciate it if you do that.
And finally, I just wanted to read two quotes from a listener named Terry, who wrote to me and said “Forgiveness is not always as it seems. Sometimes it’s just letting the past exist. I turned to the concept on non-judgment while I was pretty desperate. Totally felt trapped in abuse. That saved my ass in the biggest way I could not have imagined. It was weird that I even thought to think of it, picking at the roots, that’s where I found hope and shame in the same place.”
Paul: I’m here with Fred Stoller, and we’re at his apartment in Los Angeles. And Fred and I met originally, you were a guest on Dinner and a Movie, probably what about 12 years ago or something like that ?
Fred: That sounds about right, 1998.
Paul: Ok, I was aware of you before then. I saw you when you were a stand-up comedian and you came through Chicago and you were performing at The Improv.
Fred: With Ellen Degeneres, I opened for her.
Fred: Yes, that was the only time I worked in Chicago.
Paul: And I remember being so jealous, seeing your stand-up, thinking ‘this guy has a character, he has a point of view, he knows how to write jokes.” I remember the joke that you would do... I don’t know if it comes across, but Fred is very mild-mannered, and on stage he would say.. What was the thing you would do about the VHS ?
Fred: Oh, the thrill-seeker jokes-- ‘I drank milk that was expired yesterday’. I can’t remember. ‘I’m a madman. I rented a movie and I’m not going to rewind it.’ Young people don’t know what we’re talking about.
Paul: Right, yea.
Fred: ‘what do you mean rewinding a video ?’
Paul: It just killed me.
Fred: So you were a Chicago comic ?
Paul: I was, yea.
Fred: Do you remember that guy who owned it was Jamie Gert’s father.
Paul: Sweet man, Walter Gertz, very sweet man, yea. It was a really fun club to work. But my point being that I’m excited to have you on. I’m a fan of your comedy, and I loved the Kindle short that you wrote.
Fred: The Kindle single ?
Paul: Yea, the Kindle single. You wrote about your year writing for Seinfeld. If you guys haven’t read it, go to the Kindle store and it’s--
Paul: $1.99, and it’s a great peek/nod not only into what it’s like being on the Seinfeld writing staff, but a peek into somebody that suffers from anxiety.
Fred: Yes, it was the worst of both worlds, like when I’m with people I have anxiety, and then isolation. That show was different from other writing staffs because usually you’re around a table of aggressive writers. And this, you’re on you’re own, and no one wants to help you, because they’re trying to get their own stories on. So I was just trying to maneuver. I was thrown on to the biggest show on TV and Larry and Jerry, you can’t find them, and you can’t write until they approve your stories. And there was just one guy... I’m a vulnerable guy, so people prey on vulnerable people,,,and there was this one guy who said ‘I’ll be your mentor bro, I’ll show you the ways’, but he was trying to make himself feel better by making me miserable, because he was miserable. So he was this two-faced guy, you just have all this dynamic for a neurotic guy like me, to just go like ‘what’s going on?’, it was dizzying.
Paul: It’s so funny, when people imagine getting your show business break, they never imagine all the details that come along with it. They just automatically assume ‘well, if it’s attached to success, and you’re making money, and it’s good visibility, everything about it must be great.
Fred: Well, yea, it’s funny. I only did one episode of Seinfeld, but you get recognized, so I’ll walk aimlessly through the grove--
Paul: As an actor you mean ?
Fred: Yes. And people think ‘oh, he must live in the Hollywood Hills’. They don’t know my big interaction is sometimes the TMZ guys ‘hey Fred, what’s up ?’. That’s the only interaction I’ve had all day. So, they think this guy, they recognize me. I’ll have like a depression, asleep from a nap, walk aimlessly, and someone will recognize me, and if they only knew that I’m going back to nap again, or hopefully check the...I’m not complaining. People get mad. I’m just saying the illusion is what you’re saying.
Paul: Yea. So, where would be a good place to start with your story ? Your childhood ? What was your childhood like ?
Fred: Again, I’m not trying to do bits. We’ll talk later about um... I was talking to you briefly while you were setting up that I had a major depression a few years ago, and you try to get medicine, and I would talk about ‘well, tell me about your upbringing’ and it was sounding like I was doing bits from my act. And these weren’t in my act but...Well, it’s weird. You don’t know if you’re depressed, you know what I’m saying ? You have nothing to compare it to.
Fred: So, I remember just having this fantasy that I’d wake up... I grew up in Brooklyn, this skinny guy with my mother, don’t get me started, and just fear of everything.
Paul: That’s ok, you can get started here.
Fred: Ok, I don’t know where to start. That’s the hard part.
Paul: You could give us some snippets from your life. Some seminal moments that stand out in your brain.
Fred: Ok, well what I was trying to set up was that... I’ll be vague first, and then get more specific. I used to have this fantasy that I’d wake up and be this good looking guy in the suburbs with nurturing parents-- ‘Oh my god, that was a bad dream’-- You know, and I wasn’t this skinny, like I said. So I used to....Another thing, speaking of nightmares. My mother recently said that when she went to school it was a nightmare and that when I went to school she relived the nightmare of school and growing up through me. So my mother subliminally instilled in me that growing up is a nightmare. I know you’re supposed to have kids to ‘relive the joy’, but she dreaded having kids because she was reliving the night mare of growing up.
Paul: So she was socially anxious.
Fred: And still is, and still is just...
Fred: Worst-case scenario, the mantra I heard growing up, and again, I keep apologizing because you said ‘don’t do bits’, but...
Paul: It’s ok, if humor comes out organically, awesome.
Fred: And this isn’t something that I ever did in my act, but... All my life growing up, I always heard my mother going ‘it’s almost over’. When I was a kid, what do I have, 20 years left ? And for the last thirty years, what do I have, ten years left ? ‘It’s almost over’ has been instilled in me.
Paul: About her life ?
Fred: Yes, ‘it’s almost over’. And then, um... So I have that thing in me like, you saw my great cat, who’s 17, and some of this comes out through me, where I sometimes get mad at him and like ‘do you have to be so...’....you’re allowed to curse on this ?...
Fred: fucking phenomenal cat, because the day will come. So, you know, it’s almost in me, I think it’s a protection. I had a dream last night, speaking of my mother and my cat. I always have this recurring dream, nightmare. I’m back home, feeling not free, I don’t want to be living with my mother. And I quit college to do stand-up, and she said ‘you give me colitis’ and ‘you’re going to get killed in the war’. There wasn’t even a war, but ‘they take people who weren’t in college so they can get killed. You know, what are you talking about being a comedian ?’ I’m back home and I want to quit college. So then, I was living at home and I was crying...
Paul: in your dream.
Fred: Yea, for my cat who died, even though in the dream I know he didn’t die. So I think my mother I realized... It’s almost a way to get ready for death and bad things by saying ‘it’s almost happening’, like she always says about my father, who passed away a few years ago ‘who’s going to go first, me or your father ? It’s almost over’. So I think by your whole life saying ‘it’s almost over’, I realize it’s almost like softening the worst thing that could happen.
Paul: I think that’s the illusion that it’s going to soften the worst thing, but in reality it brings a certain death to your life already, because then there’s no joy. So it’s like you’re already--
Fred: Well, it’s my mother, everything, but I’m saying, like I had that with Mitchell, instead of enjoying.. But I do enjoy the cat, love the shit out of... I mean it’s pathological where I don’t even want to go away, but I think that’s the protection where you’re so afraid of loss and death that you’re not living that, because you’re so preparing for it by...
Paul: Thinking that somehow that’s going to make it better, but it never does. It doesn’t
Paul: Because then after it dies, then you’re going to relive all of it and say ‘why didn’t I do this ?, why didn’t I do that ?’ And it’s really all, in my opinion, a symptom of the same disease of letting your ego run your life through fear.
Fred: Oh yea, and I grew up with fear-based, my mother’s fear-based. If I’d want to go to Coney Island, ‘you’ll come home in a box’. She would say that- ‘you’ll come home in a box’.
Paul: Oh my god Fred, that is so fucked up !
Paul: That is so fucked up !
Fred: I always wanted to say ‘if you get murdered because Coney Island’s a rough neighborhood, do they bring the coffin home ?’, but she’d always say ‘there was a rape there’. And make a bad joke, I would say to her ‘I won’t get raped’, which is not funny, you know. But she would cut out news articles and you know, it was like my mother was a Rainman Savant of bad news stories. She would spit one out for any...and again, like ‘people who quit college will get killed, that’s who they draft’.
Paul: What was her upbringing like ? Did she ever talk about it ?
Fred: Very briefly, but I would find out snippets. For example, my mother freaked out about missing school; like I could not miss school- ‘School goes on whether you’re there or not; you’ll be a street cleaner’, you know. She would make me so panicked, like she would have math tutors, and she would be by the door. I always wanted to open the door and have her fall through, like ‘is Freddy getting it ?’
Paul: Back up, I didn’t understand that.
Fred: She had like a math tutor, because I was failing math. It was so urgent that I guess I couldn’t understand things. Wow, I’m having anxiety reliving these things.
Fred: The panic...
Paul: What does it feel like in your body right now ?
Fred: Just up here, in the chest a little bit.
Paul: What does it feel like ?
Fred: We talked about this before. I have trouble taking a full breath sometimes when I have anxiety.
Paul: Have you listened to the Jamie Denbo episode ?
Fred: I have not yet, I forgot who you said.
Paul: She has the same thing.
Fred: I have it where things will be going well, like the Kindle single, there will be another one; then this guy wanted to do a short with me, and where he had me dress up a bear and the joke is a dog pisses on me. ‘It’s funny’, and it didn’t feel right, and I try so hard to take a breath and stuff, and it changes chemicals. What the hell was I saying about my mother ? About Coney Island ?
Paul: What was her upbringing like ?
Fred: Okay, I’d have a math tutor, let’s say. And she’d even do insane things like give money...my sister was six years older...to her friends, ‘can you help Freddy with math, he’s not too bright ?’. She was so panicked...
Paul: That you weren’t going to succeed.
Fred: I was going to fail school, and it turned out ...This is what I found out. So there’s be a math tutor, and I’d see her by the door ‘is he getting this ? I hope he’s getting this.’, you know. The joke is I used to want to open the door and have her fall through because she was always leaning in. But the thing I found out, my sister told me she got left back in first grade so she’d yell at me and I’d go ‘you got left back in first grade’,you know, so somehow I knew that. What happened was...
Paul: That’s how you would get back at her, that’s how you would get her to back off.
Fred: Yes. You know ’you got left back in first grade’. I felt guilty saying that, but... What happened was, when she was a child, she was very sick one year as a girl. I guess she got left back. So I could never miss school. And I guess, I could have fever, anything, and she’d say ‘school goes on, you’ll be a street cleaner, you’ll get killed in the war, they take people that don’t go to school’. So, I used to do a joke in my act. I used to have the perfect attendance certificate, but still I failed all my subjects. And then I’d go to sleep-away camp for eight weeks, and I remember, like I held it in, and I was allowed to be sick, and I’d be in the infirmary and I’d be enjoying it. Like I didn’t have to do volleyball. It’s not that I didn’t want to do volleyball, but I remember the nurses would be nurturing, and I’d enjoy being in the infirmary because I was allowed to be sick when I went to camp.
Paul: Wow, that makes me so sad hearing that.
Fred: So, basically... Don’t worry. She was afraid, I guess, that... She had a nightmare that she doesn’t talk much about getting left back because you’re sick, and some other nightmares too, about school and growing up that were, like I said, instilled in me. So, basically it was hellatious- ‘Freddy, wake up for school ! You’ll miss it- School goes on whether you’re there or not !” ..and the screaming. And I didn’t do well in school because I think it was so all or nothing. Yea, I did very poorly in school, and she’d freak out, you know. So basically, yea. And this stuff she confessed to me, why she resents me.
Paul: Where was your father in all this ?
Fred: My father, he, you know now we’re getting more sophisticated words like Aspergers and stuff. I wonder if he was that. He was like, um, never talked. I don’t mean mute, but he would just sit and withdraw and pretend he was reading the newspaper and stuff. Me and my sister always favored him because he came off so helpless, like he never did anything. But we thought he was the greatest because he didn’t say or do anything. And a very sensitive, selfless guy, artist. He was like..I have two cats, and people favor Buddy, because Mitchell’s demonstrative- ‘hey like me !’. And my father was like a scared cat, but very gentle, but he never said anything. Some say he was traumatized in anzio, do you know what that is ? In World War II. He was shellshocked. All his life he’s been so sensitive and gentle, and I remember just favoring him.
Paul: You know I’m struck by... I feel the same way about my dad. And I was talking to my therapist, and she said ‘you know you probably...’. I said ‘sometimes I feel like I cut my dad too much slack because where was he to intervene with this craziness from my mom ?’. And she said ‘ you probably felt a companionship with your father because you were all kind of victims of your mom’s controlling craziness’.
Fred: I don’t know if not subconsciously made himself a martyr, but he came off as this battered, kind of... He was great because he wasn’t you know--
Paul: He wasn’t your mom.
Fred: She would say ‘Morris say something, say something Morris, I’m the bad one’. And I’m going ‘yea, you are’. She’d always go ‘why don’t you say something Morris ? He’s going out. Say something !’. And sometimes he’d go “Freddy, don’t go out’, and it didn’t work, but she’d badger him to say something. And yea, so I thought he was... I’ll tell you a story that... When I think I was five or six, he was...somehow my mother found out he was having an affair with a woman where he worked. And my mother would say in front of me and my sister ‘Take Lillian’. Like he’d go out to, let’s say get groceries, and she’d say ‘go get groceries with Lillian there’, ‘why don’t you go with Lillian to get ice cream ?’. And I didn’t know who Lillian was, but me and my sister had the same fantasy that we wanted my father to take me and my sister to Lillian’s, and she be the maternal, nurturing mother, which is to say that we never had. And I used to want my father to get divorced. You know people say ‘don’t break up the family’. I used to so care about him that I’d want him to get away. Now that I’m sounding this out, maybe a kid knows eventually he’ll grow up and can get out. And maybe I’m thinking ‘wow, that’d be great if my father got away from her, and got like a woman, who’s supposed to take care of you and not be fear-based. So, my sister said ‘I had that same thing too, I wanted Lillian and I didn’t know who she was. I was hoping she’d be the sweet nurturing mother we wanted’.
Fred: And then, this is funny. I got a cracker jacks ring, you know, one of those prizes. And right in front of my mother, I give it to my dad and I go ‘give this to Lillian’.
Fred: Yea. I wanted her. I still want her. I still...
Paul: I imagine you’d have that thing, if you were at another kid’s house, you would think ‘oh my god, I want to live with them’.
Fred: Well, that happened... The funny thing was I didn’t see how absurd it was because most of my friends on the block, their parents were loudmouth, racist...
Paul: Oh, maybe not !
Fred: Yea, judging... They hated our family because we weren’t observing Jews. We didn’t go to temple, and then um...
Paul: Well, you go to temple, you come home in a box. And they do have a box at temple
Fred: They do, they do. Then I had a... It’s funny, because on one side of the family is, like I said, racist, loudmouth, one uncle beat his son. And then, the Stoller family, my father, he had three brothers, gentle, sensitive mensches, artists. The kids, and one cousin Kenny, he... Maybe that’s where I got the fantasy ‘wake up in the suburbs, not Brooklyn’. And then I went there, and your eyes open up, wait a minute, these are parents that talk to you, and I got depressed because I didn’t want to go home, yea. But this is how messed up I am with this. I started doing stand-up. I started when I was 20. At 23, I briefly dated a waitress at the Comedy Cellar. I even told her this. I was 23, and I met her mother, and I didn’t know, you could have a mother who was actually cool and you’d want to hang out with her, and she’s like a person. That concept at 23 was so foreign to me, my mouth was open. And I’m glad I got to tell Erica that. And her mother just died, and she goes ‘yea, yea, my mother was special’. That was so foreign for me, that a person could have a mother that you’d actually...
Paul: ..want to be around.
Fred: Right. As opposed to, you know the expression, if they weren’t your relatives, would you be around these people ?
Fred: Yea, so basically, my mother had fears about loss. When I was a kid, no maybe 13ish, I don’t remember. That’s another thing about my childhood- a lot of it is a blur, meaning some things I can remember when they happened, because I went to camp at a certain age, but a lot of stuff I can’t tell you if it was at nine or 13. But I said how come Cindy, my older sister, has a middle name ? My birth certificate is just Fred, not Alfred or Frederick, or... It’s like having ‘Mitch’ or ‘Nick’, you know.
Fred: And she told me that when um... See, she was very dependent on her mother. Her mother infantilized her, like with my older sister ‘you don’t know how to feed it, you don’t know how to do anything’.
Paul: So her mom was kind of hovering over her as she was mothering ?
Fred: Yea, my mother.... I mean, to this day.... Can your mother drive.... She can’t do an email, she can’t double-lock a door. I’m not saying this to be funny. She can’t put a DVD in; she’d pretty helpless. You know, what you do is amazing, setting up the mikes. I mean I’m proud I figured out how to press that thing, um...
Paul: Jambox ?
Fred: Jambox. So she was growing up, and for some reason her mother infantilized her ‘you can’t do anything’, and her mother was her mother. My mother was always looking for a mother figure to her. Like there was a sweet woman Eva, and Yola, like asking decisions. And I ended up doing that when I started stand-up, like I’d go to people like Steve Scrovan. I’d always look for people like big father, big brother figures, asking decisions. So, she... Her mother died of breast cancer, and what happened was, she felt guilty for having sexual relations, as she put it, I think, a few months after her mother died.... Or when she was dying. And I was born, and I reminded her of that terrible thing that she shouldn’t have done, so she didn’t want me. So she resented... And she said ‘and then I didn’t know how to do things for the baby, ‘cause my mother did everything with Cindy’. So, that’s why I don’t have a middle name, because I reminded her that she had sexual relations, how dare her do that, a few months after her mother died. So I... You know sometimes ‘oh, you remind me I was raped’, you know, whatever.
Paul: The complete lack of boundaries--
Fred: To tell a kid that. I was crying.
Paul: Well, that’s the least of it, in my mind, that every situation is being somehow controlled by somebody else, and so you live out your life based on the fear instilled in you by the person before you--
Paul: --and nobody is taught that you can stand up for yourself, that you draw a boundary, and that’s the thing that sucks about kids, somebody should teach them in school. Yes, your parents are your authority figures and you should listen to them, but there are also boundaries like ‘your body is yours’, ‘your personality is separate from theirs’--
Fred: That’s a good point.
Paul: You know, all these other things that would probably never get ok’d at the PTA meeting--
Fred: Like I said, you don’t know how inappropriate, you don’t know how depressed you are, you have nothing to compare it to, and I don’t know how psychotic and inappropriate my parents were.
Fred: Because that’s all... Actually my first shrink was pretty demented--
Paul: Really ?!?!?
Fred: But you don’t have anything to compare it to. He was like a father figure. He set me up on a blind date, he--
Paul: What ?!!?
Fred: --with another of his patients--
Paul: Are you kidding me ?!?!?
Fred: Yea, he was trying to write some scripts. He went out to eat with me. He came to a comedy club, because he had a few other comedian people, and he’d go ‘I’m observing how you’re talking to waitresses’...
Paul: Wow ! That seems so unprofessional.
Fred: Yes. But like I said, until go ‘what?!?!?’, you don’t know. You know what I’m saying ? You don’t know whatever ...
Paul: You just know you feel dread--
Paul: and anxiety, and a heaviness in your chest.
Paul: or you want a nap.
Fred: Well, you know something... Am I going all over the place ?
Paul: No, it’s all good.
Fred: I work with this comedian, wow, 27 years ago, a nice guy Mike Egan. And I remembered... I feel like I came up with the ‘inner child’ thing, you know. Not get ripped off, you know, but even before it was a big thing. I remember what would help me a lot was, he had a son, still does. The kid was maybe 13, and he was saying ‘Dad, are you going to be on that cable show ?’. And this was 1983 or 1984 and cable meant public access; it didn’t mean the Daniel Tosh hip thing. And it was just some thing where he was judging something. Oh, and I’m excited. It hit me, wow, a kid... If you have a kid, they go “Dad, I’m proud, excited..’ Of anything. They don’t go ‘yea, yea, but the Kindle single got beat by this thing’. They don’t think like we do. They don’t go ‘yea, yea, my show only went seven years...’ Or ‘’but Rodney doesn’t want me’. They get excited.
Paul: There’s joy.
Fred: Yea, and you can’t seem down for a kid; like my mother would walk around going ‘Freddy, we had to pay so many taxes this year. It’s almost over, ohh, this...’. The thing I learned from just this kid getting so excited about the littlest thing his dad was going to do was... So I started having a make-believe kid. I know this sounds crazy, but it helped me, because I really pretended he was my son. Not like so crazy that at supermarkets I’d say ‘come on now Lenny, pick out three things’, but you don’t come home like a loser, moping, if you have a son, like ‘A&E didn’t want me’ or anything. You can’t do that. So I learned just watching this guy once in a while. You come home and say ‘I’m doing a thing’ and he’s proud of me. My mother, it’s all about her. She has no concept of ‘be strong for kids’. Like she came to visit, with my sister, when my father died, and we were at some place by Malibu, or wherever. She goes ‘switch seats with me- I want to see the sundown !’. Nothing about the kid, and my father had quadruple bypass and she goes ‘whoa, he’s going to die’. This was 20 years ago, and we were going to visit him in intensive care. And I go ‘you hold it in’, and ‘you gotta be strong’. Then she sees him with the... She goes ‘ he’s gonna die’. And she faints, and they’re all tending to her, and he’s there and could hardly talk ‘I’m proud of you’. So basically--
Paul: It became all about her.
Fred: Yea ! She’s like a child. She’s like a five-year old. So basically, ...
Paul: But about the ‘inner child thing’,...
Fred: I had this make-believe thing where... And then ‘inner child became a good thing’. You don’t go ‘you piece of shit’, you know, like if I had a kid, I’d come home from an audition and I wouldn’t go ‘yea, I’m and idiot, I blew it, whatever’. I’d go ‘yea, this is great. Or I wouldn’t go ‘I only had one line on this thing’. I’d go ‘yea, here I am on whatever, Amen as a silly biker, and he’d get all excited ‘That’s my dad ! He has that one line !’.--
Paul: So you would say as--
Fred: I wouldn’t say it out loud where neighbors heard--
Paul: But you would imagine that you were the little kid to you as the father ?
Fred: I imagined I had a kid and he’d be all excited, ‘yea, my dad’s gonna be on this thing’--
Paul: That’s beautiful, Fred.
Fred: You know what I’m saying, because as a kid I wouldn’t go ‘my dad only has one line on The Lenny Clark Show’. He’d go ‘hey, yea !’. So that helped me, him being excited for me, you know.
Paul: That’s beautiful.
Fred: Thank you. Yea, and that kid must be 47 now. <Laughing> That was a long time ago. But you know what I’m saying. That inner child stuff makes sense because--
Paul: It works.
Fred: With the inner child, that’s that. With me, it was... Again, it’s not like I was at the table scooping peas for him and everything, you know, not that out of my mind. It was more like a thing, because I remember Rodney ‘I got rejected’. You can’t have your head down with the kid there.
Paul: You need somebody to advocate for you.
Fred: And you gotta be strong for your kids, and obviously I don’t have kids, but the make-believe kid happened because... My mother was never that. My mother was always ‘I’m gonna die’. And her thing ‘who was gonna go first ?’ Was all selfishness because it was all about she can’t do anything. Now she pays a neighbor $20 to change a lightbulb. I’m serious. There’s one person she gives $20 a favor to.
Paul: You know, as we talk about your mom and how she would snuff out your joy, I wonder if in their sickness, the parent that does that, because there are fathers that do that. It’s not limited to mothers. I know lots of people who have nurturing mothers but the fathers are the joy snuffers--
Fred: Oh, I guess mothers should be nurturing. That’s their nature, you would hope.
Paul: Yes, but I think sometimes the sickness of the parent that does that is in their mind. They’re telling themselves ‘I’m protecting that child from hurt’--
Fred: from disappointment--
Paul: but in reality, what they’re experiencing is a jealousy of joy in that person--
Fred: Really ?
Paul: and an inability to connect to them on that level of joy. So they bring that child down to their level, but they can’t admit to that--
Fred: But she would say ‘I don’t want you disappointed’, you know, ‘What if you fail ?”. More like ‘I’m protecting you from disappointment’.
Paul: And I think it’s because they think they’re in the center; that you’re up too high. They don’t realize they’re down low and you are in the center. And so they want to bring you down to what they think is center.
Fred: It sounds like they never got to be more than children, ‘cause that’s children.
Paul: Yea, I think so.
Fred: They think everything is...
Paul: about them. And that the world must be as they experience it, and that’s why I always harp on ‘go to support groups, ‘go to a therapist’, ‘get some input’, ‘get some things to compare your story to. It would be good to know, not only what normal might be, but how to react to your situation, and the drama that is kind of foisted upon you as a kid.
Paul: But that you for sharing that stuff, Fred.
Fred: Oh no, again, I hope it’s not too depressing.
Paul: It’s not. And if it is, this is the show that it’s ok, and if people turn it off because it’s too depressing--
Fred: they’re on the wrong show, they should put on the Doctor Who show or something.
Paul: I needed to hear this stuff when I was a teenager, because nobody was talking about this. And from teenager to 20 or 30 years-old, I didn’t know that what I was experiencing wasn’t normal.
Fred: I didn’t know it until... I think a lot of comedians, and I shouldn’t speak for Richard Jeney, but I think we’re all very very depressed, but we got swept up in this comedy boom where we’re productive and working constantly and, not that I push my depression aside. I had it baaad in my 20s. New York, I don’t want to go back to New York- I associate it with loneliness and depression. But you’re so busy getting all these sets in the 80s and running around being a working comic that it’s almost like a suppressed adolescence I feel. And then maybe, again, I shouldn’t speak to Jeney, but maybe I had the same thing where--
Paul: Richard Jeney was a stand-up comedian who killed himself what, two/three years ago ?
Fred: Maybe four or five. And it’s like, maybe an athlete, you could have sort of a depression on the courts and traveling the country, and maybe that slows down. I think Richard did it before he was turning 50. But yea, I think when you’re talking about teens, 20s , 30s... but then when the comedy boom slowed down I stopped doing stand-up. Things slow and then all of a sudden I think a lot that was pushed aside from running around being busy...
Paul: I’m glad you brought that up because I want to touch on the importance of stillness and being comfortable with stillness. I think one of the reasons why we do things addictively is because we’re afraid of being still, we’re afraid that all of a sudden we’re going to be faced with who we are, where we are in our life.
Fred: Even in my head, I’ll walk and I will do things like spell things out as I’m walking like ‘Oakwood Avenue’, because it’s a way to keep my mind, or play these silly games--
Fred: stillness in your own head.
Paul: I had a kind of a---
Fred: Paul, I’m sorry to interrupt. That’s impossible with these people. Like I’ll meet a friend for lunch and, let’s say if I’m three minutes late, people can’t sit and wait. They have to be with the thing, on the phone.
Paul: I think that people that talk a lot, that’s a drug to them and when I realized that, I was able to have a little more compassion for my mom--
Fred: I was thinking the same thing about a comedian we both know who’s a blowhard, but there are a lot of them.
Paul: I think that’s their way of getting high, because it helps them avoid that stillness that’s so frightening--
Fred: My mother can’t finish a sentence, like I guess there’s such panic that I’ll be talking and she’ll go ‘why do the cars go by so fast ?’ And ‘oh, the knapsack, should it lean over there ?’. Her mind is racing--
Fred: where she can’t even finish one thought--
Paul: because I can imagine that was the environment she was raised in. I don’t think anybody is like that naturally.
Fred: Oh no, there’s something. I tried asking her stuff; something must have happened.
Paul: Yea. Are you able to have compassion for your mom ?
Fred: I do, but it’s funny because me and my sister have the same thing. We visit in Florida and the sad thing is... It’s bad, when I’m bad I’m like the worst of my mother and father. I’m shut off like my father and panicked like my mother. So my sister is so removed, she could never say the word mom or dad. She’d say Pearl or Morris. And I used to actually have a joke- ‘there’s not a lot of warmth and affection between me and my mother. I asked her about it. I said Mrs. Stoller...’ But my sister literally is like that. She can’t say the word mom or dad; she can’t even say it with me. She can’t go ‘yea, I’m going to mom’s’. She’ll say ‘I’m going to Pearl’s’. So there’s a remove me and my sister have for preservation where... It got to a point where I don’t fight, I don’t get frustrated like ‘why’d you say that ?’. It’s sort of like ‘uh-huh’ where I’m there but not there. And my shrink once said withdrawing is very exhausting, and that’s probably not narcolepsy where they could be that way so emotionally shut down. Like I’ll talk to my mother and I’ll need to nap, you know what I mean ?
Fred: Because it’s not even the fighting, it’s the shutting down.
Paul: Yes, yes.
Fred: Almost like I can’t take it. The sad reality is when I visit her, she could say stuff that’s not on paper annoying, but it’s just the sound of her voice and I’m flinching and I’m going please shut up. So basically I’m compassionate because I know stuff must have happened to her, but I came to the best terms with my mother when I realized, I tried all these strategies. The only thing that’s best is to be there or not be there, and then to go home. It’s not like those movies - home for the holidays, you fight with your parents, you throw turkey, and then you hug, you know what I mean ?
Paul: You’re not going to change her.
Fred: No. And you can’t change whatever trauma. Me and my sister have the same thing when we visit in Florida. We’re not mean or anything, but we’re impatient in our heads. She may not even sense it, but it’s sort of like...
Paul: You get through it.
Fred: Yea, and then at night, like at ten o’clock she has the TV on in her room and I’m in the TV room, and it’s such a great feeling like all right, the night is over. But then we always feel with guilt like, ‘was I being impatient ? I’m going to try so much harder tomorrow. You feel guilty, but then the next morning it’s all ‘arghghh’ again.
Paul: Do you ever give yourself credit for the fact that you go and put up with that ?
Fred: I try to, yes. I have so many friends who are going through stuff I’ve gone through where their parents are trying to confront them, they’re trying their hardest. And I go if it’s not there... You know, when you talked about compassion and her story, I was going to say something must have happened because I got over a lot of my resentment. First I got over resentment, and then I came to accept that this is never going to be a good thing, you know. It’s like going to a restaurant with screaming babies and people spitting, you know. All the therapy in the world, it doesn’t work. There’s a wall between me and my sister and then you go ‘well, I’ll be the one’. So with the last few visits to my mother we’re going to hug.... We never hug or anything. I’ll hug her goodbye and she pushes me away.
Paul: Really ?
Fred: Something must have happened, molestation or... Something with her mother, but it’s almost like she stiffens up- ‘What are you doing ?’
Paul: Oh my god.
Fred: So it’s almost like I have to be the one who makes the first step - I’ll hug her.
Paul: But she won’t let you hug her ?
Fred: She kind of does but she, and my brother and my sister’s husband said the same thing, she stiffens up and moves away and flinches and covers her face so...
Paul: Oh man. You know, I was asking if you have compassion for her--
Fred: I have compassion that she’s a scared three-year old that... Well this is the thing - I learned you can have compassion, like I have some friends and some friends I won’t even name in the comedy business that you probably know, where I know their stories and I have compassion, but I still don’t want to be around them.
Fred: They bring me down. And one woman, the trauma she told me and this and that, but she’s still in pain. You know what I mean ?
Fred: You can have compassion but it doesn’t mean it’s good to be with them.
Paul: What I was going to say was, I think it’s great to have compassion for other people, as long as it’s not at the expense of compassion for yourself.
Fred: Well, you know what’s another thing ? It’s funny how the cliche you pick... The first girlfriend I had, she was sort of like my mother where she displaced her shit on me, like ‘you’re always depressed, you don’t have passion in life’. It was her issue. She was really messed up. The funny thing is, when I did Dinner and a Movie, that’s how I know it was 1998, I was rekindled with her. We went out in like 1980. We bumped into each other. It was good because I got validated; she’s really insane. She wouldn’t even care I’m saying this. She loves attention and stuff. She was like my mother in the fact that if something bad happened to me she was like ‘I don’t want to hear it’... I forgot what I was saying about compassion. Oh yea, looking for relationships similar to my mother, where she was displacing all her stuff on me.
Paul: Kind of controlling ?
Fred: Controlling, and putting me down. It was...yea.
Paul: Are there any other kind of seminal moments in your life that stick out in your brain ?
Fred: Good or bad ?
Paul: Good or bad or transformative or painful, embarrassing.
Fred: Well, when I had the sever depression. Um, I’m trying to think, there’s so many. A lot of them are gradual, like ... Because of the way I was brought up, my mother needed a mother-father figure, and so did I. I’d always ask people for advice and I became a pain in the ass. I never trusted my feelings, like if someone does this to me, is this inappropriate ? I never felt I had the right to feel something. Like, ‘is this guy an asshole ?’ or ‘was this a bad date ?’. Like I never had a right to my own feelings.
Fred: I’d need them validated, you know. And basically, that’s healthy to a point. But it got to a point where I needed everything...like in an audition ‘is this bad, I said this ?’. I’d get reassurance for things that were done already, so it took me many years to trust my feelings. Like a woman I was dating, on paper it seemed ok- Fred, if it doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t feel right. The seminal moment when I started writing more, because I would try things out on people - ‘oh, that’s been done; that’s not what they’re looking for’. So when I had the guts to write a screenplay and not care if it sucked, I couldn’t do it. I would just try out every beat - ‘is this a good opening ?’, ‘is this good ?’. Again, I’m going to quote, you know a comic Glenn Hirsch ?
Paul: The name sounds familiar ?
Fred: He was an act at The Improv in New York, and I said this to someone else recently on a podcast. He did a joke I love that was his assignment in school was to write what he did on summer vacation, and the teacher marked him wrong. And I always loved that because you can’t be wrong if you’re writing your story or expressing your feelings, and I was always instilled it wasn’t. So the seminal thing was that I wrote this movie and again, who knows if anything will be done, but the fact that I didn’t try out every beat ‘is this a good thing ?’, where I’m writing now and expressing myself, and I felt so proud that something took me...fifty years to do. We all want to be creative, but I was asking for permission to create or express myself or write.
Paul: That’s awesome. Boy, you know Fred, I’m just struck by the fact that the odds of you becoming exactly like your mother or your father are so overwhelming and the fact that you fought that and you’ve dome these things--
Fred: And again, I appreciate that, and I am a work in progress, and I am much better than I was much better than my mother- fear-based....again, asking for reassurance, for example, ...I was a virgin until I was 21, you know as a comedian. And I was so afraid of taking a woman up to my place or her place and making a move- how do you do it ? What if I do it wrong ? I always wanted reassurance before the fact that I wasn’t going to get rejected. So it would take me an hour to muster up the energy to say ‘are we going to have sex ?’, because I didn’t want the rejection before we got there. So I am and was like my mother where fear was there for wanting reassurances for things that you can’t have reassurance for. You know what I mean, like ‘they’ll buy this show idea I have because they also like this other thing, right?’. And people going ‘right’, but that doesn’t change reality an iota. ‘Oh yea, Fred, this adds up to this’. That was seminal, and a seminal moment was when I flew into a depression I never saw the likes of, and saw why people kill themselves, and got out of it with medicine. The funny thing is I used to envy alcoholics because they have something where... I used to love those stories ‘I quit drinking and got my life together, I got married, I got that show’. I always wished I had something so black and white to quit and do and get it together. I’m fucked up and I’m not even an alcoholic. But I realize I have all the same traits, I mean this is how messed up I am, you know about can’t keeping still. When I lived in my first apartment, I would turn the radio from station to station to drown out my thoughts. I’d turn it and turn it, and then I would eventually with a scissor, cut the cord because I didn’t want to... And then again, and you might understand this, it doesn’t have to be as dramatic as drinking 80 Yaegermeisters and smashing cars and getting arrested, but if it’s anything where you’re spending all your energy drowning out your thoughts, like I would go to video arcades and play whatever ‘Arkanoid’, for hours. And hate it, but be so frustrated, but I kept putting another quarter in, and I knew it wasn’t because I wanted to get all the bricks, but you know what I’m saying ?
Paul: Yea, because you wanted to not be in your skin.
Fred: Yes, so I would be in arcades for hours. <game sounds>‘Commando Effect’, ‘Intruder Alert’--
Paul: Bezerk! Oh, my god, I spent so many quarters on that in college.--
Fred: So I don’t have the glamour of being this good drunk guy... I don’t have the romanticism of it.
Paul: You know, I’m struck by you not wanting to hear that voice in your head. I think once we get into therapy or support groups, and we begin to trace that voice back, we realize that that is not our voice. That is a voice that was implanted in us by a sick person, usually a parent that never stopped talking---
Fred: You know what’s funny, I learned to talk to myself, you know, with the imaginary son. And my mother would say ‘if your head wasn’t attached, you’d lose that’. I’d say ‘I can’t find my remote and my wallet’. The first thought is ‘oh, you fucking loser’ and I want to punch myself, so I’d just play these games I learned myself like ‘I love myself, I can’t find my glasses’. Try with your first reaction just to say ‘I love myself’if you can’t find something, rather than just ‘I can’t find my glasses’--
Paul: Fred, that’s fucking amazing ! That you got there, that you had the instincts to--
Fred: I’m not perfect, though sometimes I’ll--
Paul: Let me compliment you.
Fred: ..want to punch myself--
Paul: That’s fucking amazing that you had the insight and could quiet that voice enough to say ‘hey, I might need to say I love myself here’. That is fucking beautiful.
Fred: I don’t know if I have the insight, but I’m saying it’s an exercise I do, where it may not come up automatically--
Paul: But you came up with it on your own.
Paul: That takes insight.
Fred: Oh, thank you--
Paul: How uncomfortable is that compliment right now ?
Fred: It is uncomfortable.
Paul: Is it just a fucking octopus on your face ?
Fred: Yea, yea, because the negative person inside me still says ‘I’m not perfect’. I still beat myself up.
Paul: I’m not telling you you’re perfect.
Fred: Ok, but I still beat myself up. But I’m better. Let me tell you something about the voices in my head. First of all, the best friends are the ones who don’t give you unsolicited advice. I have friends that are so messed up, they say ‘you should go to my shrink’, and I think ‘you’ve been going to him for years and, if that’s an endorsement...’. Or they say ‘you should do bikram yoga’, one keeps proselytizing that. Sd o, the ones that are together are the ones where you say ‘you’re kind of calm, why are you like that ?’. So one friend of mine is very calm, and I once said to him ‘you know, it’s easier said than done, don’t hate myself’, but I realize I do. How do you do that ?’. I like the idea of ‘love yourself’. And he told me about affirmations, how it’s like a scale. For example, growing up I spent 21 years in Sheepshead Bay and the scale of ‘you’re a loser’ or whatever, and you have to tip the scale and say ‘I love myself’ out loud or ‘I accept myself’ and tip the scale. I started doing affirmations in 1994 or 1995 after my Seinfeld appearance. I’m not saying that caused it, but I remember saying ‘I hate myself’. But anyway, the interesting thing is that I noticed it started working... I had so many noises in my head ‘you’re a loser’, ‘you’re a piece of shit’, that I couldn’t discern them . Once I started working on myself, doing affirmations, I started hearing that voice ‘you piece of shit’, and it was helpful because I could answer ‘no, that’s not a good thought to have’. So what I’m saying is that it was progress to hear some of them and know that’s wrong. Does that make sense ?
Paul: Yes. To know that that’s not necessarily the truth--
Fred: The truth yea, but first you have to be able to hear them. It was difficult at first because it was like a TV show with the volume on constantly.
Paul: Without putting words into your mouth, you said because you didn’t know what they were saying, was it a feeling--
Fred: It’s almost like, you know those things ‘da da da da’ where you press a button and there’s a note, but let’s say they were all bad things, ‘Fred’s a ...loser’, Fred’s a ... loser’. But it was like there were hundreds or thousands, where I couldn’t even discern...
Paul: I see.
Fred: And then when I started affirmations, they’d pop up, but it was good, because I was able to snipe them down, ‘that’s wrong !’. You know what I mean ?
Paul: I see.
Fred: So it was almost like...I could get them.
Paul: So it was like the noise of a crowded room, but finally you were able to discern them.
Fred: Yea, and I could say ‘that’s not a good thing’ when I’d hear them.
Paul: Now I understand.
Paul: Do you feel like doing a fear-off ?
Fred: Sure, can I get one more water ?
Paul: Absolutely. Do you want to start, or would you like me to ?
Fred: Why don’t you start.
Paul: Ok, I’m going to be finishing a fear list that was submitted by a listener named Kay. She says ‘I’m afraid that all of my planning and perfectionism is for nothing and I could be living a happier and less stressful life while getting the exact same results I’m getting now.’
Fred: Have an aneurysm or stroke while alone, and lie there for days, with no one knowing. Stroke would be worse because I’d be alive but couldn’t do anything, just be trapped.
Paul: I worry that when my beloved grandmother dies, I will go into a depression deeper than I can work out of. I have to repress this at all costs. Even a passing though about her death turns me into a blubbering out of control mess.
Fred: That’s similar to me and the cat; people have that, yea...Okay, fall for a younger woman, where it’s ok for her now, but when I’m older, she’ll dump me-’ah, he’s 68, I still want to have fun’.
Paul: Kay says ‘I’m afraid I’ll be in a situation where I am so mentally out of control, depressed, anxious, etc. That I will have to rely on other people to take care of me. They will judge me for being unable to keep it together, or even worse, they will see how well I’ve kept my life together for so long that they don’t believe there’s anything really wrong with me.
Fred: This might be similar- Being in a nursing home and wishing I could kill myself, but I can’t.
Paul: I’ve had that one. Kay writes ‘I’m afraid to inconvenience other people and my mother is a bona fide card-carrying narcissist who is unable to relate to other people except as to how they can benefit her. The true talent of a narcissistic individual is the ability to make you feel that you are the one who is selfish. I am terrified of causing someone to say ‘yes, let’s put everything else in the world on hold for what you need. I will never ask a waitress for more water. I will never ask my partner... Oh, I guess that’s a continuation of this fear. It’s hard to tell sometimes where their fears end--
Fred: Well, you know what’s funny- when my sister visited, we’re like that ‘don’t make a fuss’... My favorite Jewish joke is: There’s two Jewish guys and they’re about to be executed and one says to the other ‘maybe we should ask for a blindfold’ and the other says ‘Murray, don’t make trouble !’.
Fred: But I still have that. I did this part on a TV show where this guy was trying to get me $200 more and I say ‘no, they’ll get mad’. Maybe these are repetitious, but my fear is something happens to me and no one knows about it and there’s noone to take care of my cats. You know, drive into a ditch, or get buried...
Paul: These are fears from a listener named M: I’m afraid I will die, be injured, or kill myself and my body will not be found for days or weeks, because I am so secluded in my work or social life or lack thereof.
Fred: Same as my aneurysm one. Well, it’s ok if they don’t find my body, but someone’s got to feed my cats.
Paul: Your turn.
Fred: Some fluke wipes away all the money I have saved and worked so hard for.
Paul: I’m afraid I will be found out as a fraud and not intelligent or innovative enough to be engaging in a masters degree.
Fred: The situation arises where I have to be with my mother for the rest of one of our lives.
Paul: Oh man, I have that one. That is a deep, deep fear. M writes ‘I’m afraid my academic endeavours will land me with no job prospects and I will be unable to find any work, being overqualified but at the same time lacking any real world skills.
Fred: Being a lonely senior citizen, walking the street in a heat wave, trying to decide where to eat.
Fred: You said make them specific.
Paul: Fred, that is so fantastic. That is so--
Fred: That’s me right now, but without the senior citizen part yet.
Paul: Oh my god, that one might go in the hall of fame.
Fred: You know something, one thing Deepak Chopra said which I think is great is ‘Most of the things we’re afraid of have already happened to us’, meaning we’re afraid, but we’ve done it.
Paul: That makes sense. M says ‘I’m afraid people will see the array of self-inflicted scars on my arms, which I have covered up since I was 14 years-old, and judge me as a selfish asshole making sad attempts to cry for help.
Fred: That’s sad.
Paul: Yea, that is sad. And I bet there are a lot of women and men, I get lots of emails from men who are cutters as well, who can relate to that.
Fred: Everyone in showbiz in a place of authority forgetting who I am.
Paul: I’m afraid to ask for help in the fear that I may become as fucked up and dependent on medication as my mother has become.
Fred: Having to do something like chemo or drive around to doctors constantly all by myself.
Paul: I’m afraid no matter how involved I try to be in my parents’ lives, my mother will end up killing herself and my father will end up alone because he doesn’t know how to reach out to people. I’m sure you can’t relate to that <laughs>. Even though your father’s gone.
Fred: If there were voices inside my head, that would be maddening, you know, where schizophrenia stuff...
Paul: Your turn.
Fred: That was it.
Paul: Do you feel like jumping into a love-off ?
Fred: Happy stuff ? Yes.
Paul: I’m going to be reading the loves of Kate, who I believe awhile back submitted a fear list as well that was really good and detailed. I’ll start off with hers. Kate says ‘I love to be the first person to use a new jar of peanut butter’. Oh, that’s a great one.
Fred: Seeing my cats in the laundry basket after I do the laundry.
Paul: I love when my cat wants to cuddle, and I have time to stop and hold him.
Fred: On the news seeing someone overcoming some adversary and prevailing.
Paul: I love not being in a co-dependent relationship anymore and seeing pictures of that person on Facebook doing well without me. I couldn’t fix my friend and I wouldn’t go back, but I’m glad to see that maybe she’s doing ok without me.
Fred: The smell of a new book, and one that I’m excited to read.
Paul: I love my husband’s smell.
Fred: Hmmm...we’re in sync. When I finish a creative project that I feel good about.
Paul: By the way, there is so much syncronicity when we do the fear and the love list, it’s crazy how often they are in sync. M writes ‘I love to get my husband to genuinely belly-laugh. It’s hard to do’.
Fred: Not eating a meal alone, with people who let me relax and veg out.
Paul: I love when I genuinely have free time and I’m not procrastinating.
Fred: When a woman I’m attracted to gives me clear signals that she likes me and I don’t have to try so hard.
Paul: I love passionate discussions with friends, where you find out you’re passionate about the same thing and didn’t know it.
Fred: Yea, like film noir is fun, things like that. Having my favorite coffee and seeing cute dogs at the grove.
Paul: I love how autumn leaves look in everyone’s yards before anyone’s had a chance to rake them up.
Fred: We don’t have that here in LA.
Paul: Used condoms, before people have a chance to rake up used condoms.
Fred: Hearing a story that a pet found a good home.
Paul: I love not needing to set an alarm for the next morning. I can’t imagine that.
Fred: Getting out of an audition I so didn’t want to go on.
Paul: Oh, that is a relief unlike any other.
Fred: I feel like I won the lottery with some of those auditions.
Paul: Me too. I love criticizing movie trailers with my sisters and making them stifle their laughs in the theater. That’s a great one.
Fred: A great nap in the afternoon when it’s raining outside.
Paul: Oh, I love that one. I love finding a new TV show to watch and finding out there are already five seasons to watch--
Fred: Oh yea, like with Breaking Bad.
Paul: I did that with Walking Dead. I found that after the second season, and I just loved staying --
Paul: --up for three nights.
Fed: and it’s great or it’s funny because then when you get into Breaking Bad, wait ‘I’ve gotta wait every week ?’. You forget that... Having a creative solution in the shower.
Paul: I love overly hot showers that make my skin steam even in a humid bathroom.
Paul: I’m telling you Fred, it’s crazy.
Fred: And, I only had 11, but creativity, like expressing something in my own voice.
Paul: Then I’ll end with one of hers. I love switching to my boots and sweaters in the Fall. I love winter clothes.
Fred: Yea, that’s a good one. Living in LA where the heat waves go ‘til November, just putting on a light jacket.
Paul: That’s nice.
Paul: You get the sense of a passage of time.
Fred: You have this planned out where I have all this anxiety and weird, and then you feel so good at the end. You know how to do this.
Paul: Oh, that’s very nice. Well, you did it. Thank you so much--
Fred: I’m glad we got to do this.
Paul: Yea, I’m really glad we got to do this.
Fred: You’re helping people because you know, when I listened to the others, just hearing stuff about... Yea, like you’re saying, you just need to know you’re not alone.
Paul: I’m not perfect Fred !!!
Fred: Well, yea.
Paul: My brain just went to where you did. He’s built me up too much; somebody’s gonna take me down.
Fred: No, no, I’m just saying, if we feel good now, we’ll drop it at that.
Paul: Yes, let’s leave it at that.
Paul: Fred Stoller, everybody.
Fred: Thank you, Paul.
Paul: Many thanks to Fred for a great episode. Before I take it out with a couple of surveys, I want to thank the people who have helped make this show possible. I want to thank you, the listeners, especialy people who donate to the show, the one-time donors, and my favorite, the monthly donors. Thank you guys so much. It really... It’s a spark of hope. Not that it’s hopeless if you’re not donating to the show, but I can see that light at the end of the tunnel, like wow, I might be able to actually support myself doing this for a living. I’m not there yet, but it seems plausible. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. It seems like a plausible thing now, and it’s really cool, because then I’m not running around, going to audition for somethign that I fuckin’ hate and feels wrong to me. It’s really nice to feel ‘wow, this thing that feels really good for my soul might actually be a viable way to make a living. So, I want to thank you for that. I want to thank the people that collect audio clips for me, headed up by Matt, and Debbie, Megan, Tim, Zack, Gary, thank you guys. I want to thank the transcribers, especially Jennifer, who headed up the transcribing team for a while and transcribed a whole bunch of episodes. Thank you so much, as well as Angela, Kristen, Sean, Hannah, Wani, Sherry, Mer, Angela, Nate, Wendy, Amy, Alexis, and Lindsay. Thank you guys so much. And I want to thank the guys who help keep the spammers out of the forum- John, Michael, Manny, and Dan. And especially Manny, who is so involved in responding to people’s posts on the forum and making them feel welcome. I really appreciate the effort that you put into the forum. It makes my job a lot easier. As I mentioned, you can support the show by doing a Paypal donation one time or recurring. There’s a link on our home page. You can also buy, as I mentioned before, stuff at Amazon through our search box. You can buy t-shirts, and we now have Mental Illness Happy Hour mugs- coffee mugs, travel mugs, beer steins. The link to that is on the home page, right side, kind of towards the top, under Site Updates. You can also support the show non-financially by going to Itunes, giving us a good rating and writing something nice about the show, if you feel positive towards the show. And you can also help non-financially by spreading the word through social media. That really helps. I think that is about it and remember, if you’re a monthly donor, send those number in to me, if you want one of my hand-made cutting boards. I’m going to read a survey. This is from the Struggle in a Sentence survey. Oh, and I also want to thank the people who fill the surveys out since the show’s inception. It really adds a lot of dimension to the show and it helps me understand you guys. I have learned so much about mental illness and sex abuse and, just the battles that people have in their heads. I’ve learned so much from the surveys. So thank you for being so open and honest.
This was filled out by a woman who calls herself ‘green eyes’. She’s straight, in her 20s. I don’t know if I’ve read part of this before on air, so I apologize if I’m doing it again but, to the question if you struggle with any of these things, in a few words describe what it feels like: Depression, she writes dystimia, I don’t know, it wasn’t diagnosed, but that’s my best guess. Spending my days off of work sitting on the couch, watching things on Netflix, talking myself out of doing things I should, like going to the bank, doing the dishes, or even something enjoyable like going to get coffee, waking up too early and then going back to bed a few hours later. <Oh my god, do I relate to that.> And then being unable to anything for more than half the day, but sleep and be partially awake and groggy and chastise myself for doing nothing all day, even on my days off from work. If I just do nothing and relax and don’t leave my apartment, I feel ashamed and lazy and like I wasted too much time. <I know that wasn’t a few words, but that was so fucking on the head of what I feel when depression is bad>.
About bulimia, she writes ‘eating too much, mindlessly feeling gross and huge and out of control, and feeling frantic and the momentary rush I feel when walking to the bathroom to throw up. The raw throat and heart arrhythmia, and shame I feel after totally negates any of the high that comes from it.’ About anorexia, she writes ‘not eating feels clean and successful, virtuous. Feeling hunger pains and yelling at them in your head that you’re stronger than they are; seeing the numbers on the scale drop and anxiously awaiting each new day to weigh yourself and see if you’ve lost anymore. It’s so nice to have something to focus on so completely that isn’t everything else, the tougher stuff’.
This survey was filled out by a woman named Allie; it’s also the Struggle in a Sentence survey. Please go take those surveys; there’s about six different ones you can take on the website Allie’s straight and in her 20s. About depression she writes ‘bipolar, like being addicted to my dreams, because it’s the only drug that I don’t have to pay for’. On anorexia ‘Everyone thinks you’re the worst and says so behind your back. Bulimia ‘that’ll do, pig’. Sex addiction ‘ Raping myself by saying yes, when I should say no’. OCD ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing three times, or else there will be another 9-11’. Other compulsive behaviors- binge eating, she writes ‘this cookie dough tastes just like self-esteem’. And then she writes ‘sorry if I come off as glib in these. Laughing about my problems is the only way I can live without breaking down crying all the time’. She also writes in response to any comments to make the show better ‘you should have Maria Bamford on the show. I’d love to hear about her struggles with bipolar disorder.’ There’s probably been no other guest that has been requested as much as Maria, and I’m happy to say I recorded her a couple of days ago, so she will be in the rotation of upcoming episodes.
And the last thing I want to read is from The Happy Moments Survey and this was filled out by Ann in Berlin. Those of you who are regular listeners recognize that name. She wrote a beautiful email on the spirituality of her atheism and science, and I have posted it on the website, so if you go to the website search box (not the Amazon one) and type in ‘Anne in Berlin’, you can read what she wrote about being an atheist. And Anne filled out this survey Happy Moments and to the question ’Share one or two of your happy moments. They don’t have to be huge. The more you can describe what you were thinking or feeling the better. She writes ‘Hi Paul. Since you’re reading all this dark and heavy stuff all day long, I’m really glad you added this survey. I have been thinking about writing you about my way out of depression, but I’m not really sure if I can express what I was feeling in that moment for the first time when I realized that all my therapy and self-work had finally paid off. I’m sure that’s all the different psychiatric programs that I went through over the last couple of years had already helped me in a lot of ways, but it was in that very moment where I really felt it. I was sitting in my room, the same room where I had suffered through the deepest of depressions, self-hatred and anxiety. The same room where I had locked myself up for weeks in a row with the pizza boy and Gordon Freeman as the only social contact’. <I’m not sure who Gordon Freeman is.>
‘The same room where I gorged myself with junk food until I couldn’t move. I would deny myself sleep to a point where I almost lost my mind. The same room where I looked out of the window at the beautiful green yard and could see nothing but black reality that was trying to swallow me whole, and laughing at me when I tried to feel anything but this. So I was sitting in this room on my cheap Ikea couch, doing nothing, just sitting there and enjoying the soft light of an afternoon sun, maybe really enjoying it for the first time in my life, whereas before I almost hated it because it showed off all of the spots that I hadn’t cleaned before, all the dark and abandoned corners of my apartment bearing witness to my inability of keeping anything in order. I enjoyed it. I was ok with it shining on my little imperfections because I was ok. I was ok for the first time in my life. And even though I felt like that many times after that day, I even felt great feelings of joy, carelessness and pleasure, I still remember that moment as the greatest thing ever. Just being ok after a whole life in depression was the most peculiar thing I had ever experienced. I had imagined this moment many times before, the moment when my depression would finally stop altogether. I pictured myself as a successful, beautiful woman with a great job, great apartment, great circle of friends, maybe even one of those boyfriends and everything else in order, and a feeling of having arrived. But in reality nothing had changed. I was still living in a small single apartment by myself, still unemployed, still kind of a loner, still overweight, no fancy clothes, not even a proper haircut, yet something was different. It was silent. No relentless chatter in the back of my head, no ache in my stomach, not a muscle in my body feeling like it doesn’t belong there. No need to be somewhere else, no need to be someone else. My depression had run out of fuel. This was two or three years ago. I still work on my destructive thoughts and my personality disorder and sometimes depression tries to creep back into my life, but when it does I say “hi, long time no see”, and try to find the back door through which it came. The moment I experienced still gives me the confidence to accept my darkest thoughts and feelings. I can distance myself from the alternate reality that depression paints, and watch it slowly fade as I look at it. I’m not saying that I will never be depressed again, but my outlook on it is so much different. Depression has served me and it still serves me today. It’s a signpost. Sometimes when it says turn around, I have to move ahead. And other times when it says move ahead, I have to stop pushing myself. Battling depression made me what I am today, and since that day I don’t want to be anyone else.’
To the question, Do you think you will experience this much happiness again ?, she writes ‘The funny thing is that this moment made me feel like I don’t need to be super happy, super successful or super anything to live a life worth living. And this realization serves as a constant source of ok-ness, which makes it possible to feel genuinely happy at all. I don’t think I will ever feel the same sense of [oh, this is what it feels like to be a real person] kind of happiness again because you can’t discover the same continent twice, right ? But I’m pretty sure I will still enjoy myself exploring, and there is a lot to explore and conquer.’
That was beautiful, and I experienced the same thing. I remember where I was the moment meds started to work for me for the first time. And I remember watching a wrestling show or something on MTV, and I remember I laughed, because I would never laugh at anything. And I remember feeling this warm kind of feeling of, it wasn’t euphoria, it was just like I was able to be entertained and that was the first moment, like Anne, where I realized ‘this must be what it’s like to be normal’. So, if you’re out there and you’re feeling stuck, I hope today’s episode has shown you that we can always move forward if we choose to put the effort, which I know is hard sometimes when you’re depressed. That’s the cruel irony of depression and mental illness. But anyway, thank you all for helping grow this really cool community that just fuckin’ moves my soul and makes me feel alive and helps me get up on those mornings when it’s not so easy to get up. So, just remember, you’re not alone, and thanks for listening.