Episode 72: Nadereh Fanaeian (Voted #5 Ep of 2012)
A former Marxist revolutionary who fled her native Iran after the capture of her husband in the mid 80’s, she eventually settled in San Francisco and became a nurse at a psychiatric hospital. The fact that we never even discuss what she has experienced as a nurse in two hours speaks to the amount of drama she has endured. Survivor’s guilt, betrayal, loss, discrimination and poverty have not stopped her. A truly incredible story that is still unfolding.
Paul: Welcome to episode 72 with my guest Nadereh Fanaeian. I’m Paul Gilmartin. This is The Mental Illness Happy Hour, an hour 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. There’s all kinds of stuff you can do there: you can support the show, you can sign up for a newsletter, you can take a survey. There’s actually four surveys you can take and I’d appreciate it if you went there and took all of them. Or one, it’s up to you. But those help me get to know you guys and they’re quite interesting. You can go check them out yourself, uh, see how other people responded. A lot of people find that very interesting and I, uh, I am one of them.
What did I want to read? I know what I wanted to read, speaking of said survey. I wanna read a survey (papers shuffling), hold on. I wish you guys could see my office. It is, it is so borderline hoarder it’s not even funny. I print out these survey responses—whenever somebody takes a survey and they have a response that I find interesting, which is 98% of them, I print them out. And then at the top of it, so I’ll kind of know what it is when I look at it at a glance, it’ll be the kind of the gist of what is interesting about that survey. So you’ll see strewn around my office pieces of paper that are like, “Got fucked in the ass by cousin.” “Mom threw herself in front of train.” I don’t think there are a lot of other offices that look like mine.
This survey was filled out by a guy named Wayne. He is straight. He’s in his 30’s. The environment he was raised in was a little dysfunctional. Uh, “Ever been the victim of sexual abuse?” He writes, “Some stuff happened but I don’t know if it counts as sexual abuse. My brother who was ten years older would play with his girlfriend’s tits in front of me. He would also finger her in the front seat of the car while I sat in the back.” I don’t know where that falls. I think it would depend if they were bucket seats.
“Deepest, darkest thoughts?” He writes, “ Whenever I see a guy wearing sandals for flip-flops, I want to take a chainsaw and remove his feet at the ankles.” I would be one of those people. I’ve been known to wear Birkenstocks with sandals, it’s been years, but I have, I have worn those. He writes, “Disappearing with my life’s savings and starting over somewhere. I’m ashamed of that because I think it would hurt people even though I’m not married and have no kids.” He also writes, “When I see an overweight couple in love it makes me incredibly happy to the point of tears. When I see an overweight person that’s sad, it makes me incredibly sad to the point of tears.”
“Most powerful sexual fantasies?” He writes, “I’m attracted to a good set of legs in high heels. The end. It’s boring, I know. The only thing that would make it better is if the same set of legs and heels got out of a shitty car. Hot chicks in shitty cars don’t get any better for me. I guess the idea is that they’re not consumed with materialism. But to bang a ballroom dancer in a set of black stilettos on the rusted hood of an ’87 Chevette – that’s more than any man could ask for.”
Paul: Before I get to that interview with Nadereh, I just want to, um, give you guys, because I know we have some younger listeners who probably aren’t familiar with the history of Iran, so I’m just going to give you a really quick, brief, broad stroke rundown. Um, in the early 1900’s, Iran, um—it was discovered that Iran had a tremendous amount of, uh, oil and the British signed a really bad deal—bad deal for the Iranians—um, and began extracting their oil. A lot of Iranians were very resentful at it but the people that were in charge of Iran at that point were princes, and a lot of them were opium addicts, and they were very irresponsible. Well, in 1953 they got rid of, uh, the monarchy and they had their first democratically elected representative, a guy by the name of Mossadegh. And he—one of the things he promised was that he was that he was going to return the oil well to the people, that they were gonna stop these foreigners from coming in and taking all this oil out and giving them basically 10%. The British were keeping like 90% or something like that of the, uh, oil revenues and the Iranians were getting like 10%.
Well the British didn’t like this so they orchestrated a coup with the help of the CIA and they ousted Mossadegh and he was democratically elected. So there was tremendous hostility towards the West. Um, once Mossadegh got booted out, eventually the Shah was the guy who was installed, who was basically a puppet of the multi-national corporations. He did some good things in Iran: he modernized it, he kept it from being, um, uh, kind of the Muslim extremist place that it is today. But he was also a brutal—he was a dictator, tortured a lot of people, was not democratic at all, and he was eventually overthrown in 1979 by a lot of people. But the people that came to power were the Muslim extremists who now rule Iran.
They didn’t immediately come to power. There was sort of a period where all types of groups were fighting for power, and the group that Nadereh fell into was a group, uh, of Marxists, and that is basically where her story really kind of, um, beings. The town that Nadereh was born and raised in was very conservative. Very poor. Divided about half Muslim, half Bahá'í, which is a minority religion in Iran and that’s what her family was.
And, there was a treating of women and Bahá'í people as second-class citizens that she was a little bit aware of, but not completely aware of yet. And going to school was a big deal for her. And her mother had gone to Tehran, which is a half hour car drive away but an all day trip for people who were so poor they had no car, so it was a big deal that she had these clothes. We started off with her talking about being excited for her very first day of school.
Nadereh: She went out of her way. She went to Tehran. She got me all the nice things you prepare for the first day of school – my uniform, you know, just made me look really perfect. I just—it was just such a joyous thing to see that I get to go to school because my brother and everyone else have already been going, they were older than me. So I just couldn’t wait to like get to that part of my life. And I go in and I’m looking really nice and like big smile and excited and the person who was the teacher at the time asked, “Who in this class is not Muslim?” And I remember clearly me, and a girl who was Jewish, Jewish and maybe another one was Zorastrian. And three of us raised our hands and she told us, “You all go sit in the last bench in the classroom.” And then she told everyone else that these people are not Muslim and you are not allowed to touch them or share your lunch with them or talk to them.
Paul: Are you kidding me?
Nadereh: That day—again I’m saying this may not have happened in Tehran or everywhere but that was my experience. I remember that day I had my first broken heart as a human being knowing—I mean imagine from that excitement of going to school—I knew it, but nobody warned me that, look, it’s a lot more than they just not liking you. That was the first time I was ever discriminated and I got it to the bone what it is.
Paul: Wow. Wow. That is such a powerful image, that little girl being sent to the back of the class. So, when you were 14 you met the guy that would become your husband?
Nadereh: Well I met—his name is Paris—and I met his sisters and they were the one who were working for the organization that I had interest in. Because again we had so many small like lefties. Some were Maoists, some were Communists.
Paul: And you were protesting the Shah at that point?
Nadereh: No, no, no, no, the Shah was overthrown already.
Paul: Oh we was, ok.
Nadereh: Yeah, Shah was overthrown already. And I didn’t have much part in that because again we were Bahá'í and we were so terrified that these people were dividing me and you know telling me to sit in the back of the class were going to be our government. They are gonna come and take power. So the Bahá'í people feared for their life. We weren’t excited about going—because Shah, even if like, you know, for whatever, you know, problem was out there, he still protected us.
Paul: He was secular.
Nadereh: Yeah, yeah. I mean, he would like—if someone killed Bahá'í people, we would at least go and prosecute them. But if this government were to come to power and Khomeini takes place, he could actually jihad against Bahá'í people and say now you can kill everybody and it’s ok. And they did in a lot of cities.
Paul: Ok. So you joined—
Nadereh: Oh I’m getting excited all of the sudden.
Paul: No, that’s ok.
Nadereh: Yeah. I mean mad more than excited.
Paul: So you joined this group, you meet the sisters of your future husband. Now they’re Muslim.
Nadereh: They are Muslim.
Paul: So why are they against the Iranians—the fundamentalists coming to power, because they know it’s a misrepresentation of Islam?
Nadereh: No, no. There is a lot of people just like here that are born like Christian but they don’t necessarily go to church or practice it. It is predominantly a Muslim county, so a lot of younger people they don’t even believe in like religion or they don’t go to mosque or they don’t practice but they are of a Muslim, you know, family.
Paul: So they’re like Catholics.
Nadereh: You may say so.
Nadereh: Yeah, even among the Muslims, really, if you look at it, there is a very small percentage that not only are in support of the government they have a lot of Muslims that don’t support the government. They are very peaceful people and they’re against injustice but it’s a big range of what—just like here, you know. Just like here. So if younger people like me are looking for trouble, that is going to give them a reason to come and do more harm to Bahá'í family who had nothing to do with what choice I’m making as a young person. So it was a lot of pressure by Bahá'í people. It was tremendous amount of pressure by my family to not do this. Because it’s gonna cause more trouble for Bahá'í who really were scared for their lives and their well-being.
However, I was fully aware for so many other personal reasons, as a child, I started learning that life is not how you see it. There are people who lie. There are people who, uh, pretend. And I also had some issue with my father and he was a little abusive, although that could be defined what a little is, but I had a lot of turmoil inside and when the revolution was going on, I was just ready—I wanted to find out why we are poor, why there are all these things. I also encountered a lot of other things that was not appropriate in the village in the line of like sexual abuse, in the line of like men battering, you know, their wives. I really somehow really was fully aware of the injustice and the façade of how everybody pretend those things don’t exist. And my upbringing really like revolved around keeping things secret. You don’t talk about it. You don’t acknowledge it. You don’t bring it up. And somehow, I don’t know why, I just as personality, I really wanted to figure out why. So when the revolution was happening, it had my 100% attention.
So having this background I just naturally like really got gravitated towards the politics and wanted to pursue it. And the more my parents wanted to stop me, the more I wanted to retaliate against them. So in pursuing that I met someone and I told them, look, I want to be really fully active. I don’t want to just be, you know, just coming and buying your newspaper. I wanna be in, you know. So they were very careful at the time, they introduced me to a few girls who happened to be the sisters of the man that I will marry at some point, but he wasn’t in the picture as much back then because I was working with the sisters. They were around my age and we had our own little responsibilities, but because I was such a newcomer, they would just give me little small things to test me out and see how much I can grow, to learn about my character. This is a very serious thing. You are underground, you are like putting your life on the line, and they need to really understand who you are before they like allow you in, you know, farther and farther.
And the reason I got married is because I just got really exhausted from fighting my parents to stop me from being, you know, involved or being on the street and going, you know, to different organizations and stuff like that. It was really not common, especially for my village, for a girl to take a political stand, let alone to say no to their parents and like hide and jump off the wall and go to Tehran and then come back. You know, it was like really, really traumatizing more for my mother than anyone because on one hand she had to control me, on the other hand she had to answer the rest of the people that why is you daughter so out of control. I brought a lot of shame to her.
Paul: Yeah. So to get out of that you married your husband who obviously was not on board with the Khomeini style of Islam. He was a moderate.
Nadereh: They were actually—the family had a history of opposition with Shah, their uncle back then, you know, was part of that. So compared to me, I was a peasant girl, you know, he was from the city, the family was very modern, the girls had a lot of freedom, it was ok to be in politics, the mom was like, really, you know, supportive of the kids. It was just like the ultimate ideal dream family that I could ever ask for compared to like how we were brought up: the girls shouldn’t do this, the girls shouldn’t do that; we are Bahá'í, we shouldn’t be in politics, don’t ask a lot of questions. So naturally I really, you know, I really got close to them and when I saw all this pressure and when I knew for a fact I wanted to be 100% committed, my only way was—the only way out was to really get married, because then the pressure was off of my family. Ok, this girl is out of hand, but she has a husband. So we aren’t responsible for her anymore.
So in a lot of sense—it was of course that I liked him, but I was more focused on if I marry him, because he’s also active, he’s gonna—we’re both gonna be committed 100%. So my most, like, motivation for marrying was to allow my situation to let me to become even more involved and active in—against the regime.
Paul: Ok. Let’s fast forward. You get pregnant. You’re still underground.
Paul: Your husband is abducted by the regime, or arrested.
Nadereh: Yeah, well, at the time I don’t know, all we know is that all of us—these are like the last days of, you know, us being really active and organized and apparently the thing—it was a leak somewhere and all of the sudden all of the people in the party, we don’t know where they’re at. And we didn’t really know how we’d been infiltrated so it was really hard to know who to trust, what to do, and a year before that it was this massive, like, arrest and execution and trying to create a lot of like terror so whoever is like half-assed active they’re gonna stop. So we were the ones who the harsher it got, we went deeper underground. And I wanna just really make a point of saying that I was very young, I was very new into politics and everything, but because of my circumstances, all of a sudden I got to a level that somebody would reach in terms of my activity, it would take you probably ten or fifteen years to get to the point where I was or how deep I was involved, just because I didn’t have any history in the past, so the government couldn’t come after me or, you know what I mean?
Nadereh: I already was married with a person who was committed—for all of the sudden, before I know it, imagine I am applying for a job and they are saying, “You are the assistant of the CEO” all of the sudden. So I didn’t have that political growth but I had myself up to my neck into politics and into a place where it wasn’t even in my understanding. But again, you know you are—when you are in that time, you just don’t know, you can’t see it, you go back years later and you understand how deep, how fast you got in a place that you couldn’t even understand what it is.
Paul: Give me a typical day, what it was like at the most dangerous, being underground, what would be some of the covert activity that you would do. And how would you have to make sure that you weren’t seen or…
Nadereh: So nobody—like because me and my husband are actually a married couple, that was perfect. We had other members who would act like they were a married couple or whatever so it was really good for us to be actually married. If someone came to our house they would see actual marriage pictures, wedding, it was a legitimate setting. Even if we were together for—and we provided our house for a lot of other things, but in the eye of the neighbor, which we never knew who’s a spy, who’s watching who, it’s absolutely like trust no one type of deal. We would every morning play out like we are an ordinary couple. My husband would pretend that he’s going to work every day certain hours, but then he would arrange whatever he need to do in that time. I would—my persona was that I am a very uneducated village girl who like was saved by this Muslim man who brought me from village, now I’m married and devoted to him. Then I would pretend like, put my little covered things and go out on the street—
Paul: Your covered things meaning your Muslim, uh …
Nadereh: I didn’t do Muslim, but, yeah, back then we still had to put something to cover our hair, but then you had another option, they call it chador, which means you are not religious doing that, but it is something that covers your hair and everything and the fabric has color in it, and you can just throw it over you and you go shopping. That’s what—more like a housewife kind of thing.
Paul: I see.
Nadereh: And I would get that, pretending like oh I’m gonna go out, get, you know, stuff. So on a day-to-day basis we had to pretend that we are normal people. We had to have people who are looking older to come to our house so we don’t rise suspicious, so we don’t make anyone suspicious. But, none of my parents, none of my husband’s side of the family, nobody knew were we lived. Absolutely not. And I remember that my mom would cry—and then we wouldn’t tell nobody that we are active. This was like 120% secret. But we would pretend. We wouldn’t even like when we went out on the street, we would never ever use certain words that would give a hint that we might be intellectual or whatever. And then again when th-th-the timing was getting really tougher and tougher my husband had to go and find a job. Because they would give us—like they would pay for our rent and we would like live off of bread and cheese every day to just be 100% like, you know, doing what we had to. But then they said, “Look, you know, if someone follows you, they know you don’t have a job. Or if they ask you.” So he went and he became a bus driver for the city. To just again pass as normal, you know, couple.
Nadereh: So we had, we had to cover. Again, another example is we would never go and rent a house that if you come in, there is not a way to escape from back. They would like look like all of the location and what are the escape places. If they come in, how long would it take them to get to us. So we would really strategize what—where we would live. In what neighborhood, in what kind of housing, architect that would really, because it was just 24 hours.
Paul: What was it like living with that looming over your head every day that you could be captured and executed every minute of every day, there’s that possibility. What kind of—how does that affect you emotionally and mentally?
Nadereh: I speak for myself because again based on who got involved at what age, with what kind of political maturity or developmental maturity, everyone’s experience is very different. Again, whoever listens to this, please remember, this is my experience. Because if someone who’s been doing this 20 years, they were in a whole different level of understanding what they doing. For me it was very emotional. I didn’t have a lot of like, you know, at age 21, or at age 20, I’d been that deeply involved for two years. So how much books can I read in two years? How much can I evolve in two years to understand what the hell I’m doing? My motive was very emotional. Because I would think like, I would remember my father who as a farmer had been working his ass off all his life. He couldn’t even frickin’ afford to buy a full suit in Tehran to attend to a nice place. So I had a lot of emotional attachment to why I’m doing what I’m doing. Because to me I was a Communist, I wanted revolution, I wanted justice, I wanted fairness and my reference was the people that I loved the most. For someone who came from a different, like, political or educational level, it might have been very different how—
Paul: You wanted economic equality and justice.
Nadereh: Or whatever you—I wanted that. And the fact that Bahá'í people were under so much scrutiny. And to be honest, it was the first time I could go to the people that were in the same organization and brag about how poor I am.
Nadereh: I used to make fun of them and say you guys are bourgies (sp?), you are bourgeois, you know, you are middle class. Saying you are middle class was like the biggest putdown ever. So I was absolutely proud of like—because you know our mentality was that the proletariat and the worker, the one at the lowest are the leaders. So I felt like—
Paul: You had street cred.
Nadereh: Truly, like …
Paul: Is there a, um—when you’re dealing with the fear of being discovered and possibly executed, is there an alleviation of that fear by the passion and the sense of justice that you feel? Does that help lessen that fear or is that fear still there intensely?
Nadereh: For me, it was.
Paul: It was what?
Nadereh: It was. I was very afraid of that. I was really, like it was almost like a little, um, alarm sound that I couldn’t shut off. Like I was aware. But, again—and you know that’s one thing that I really always wished that I could like say the people in that era were doing the same thing, which the majority of them are not alive today, to have the opportunity to be able to share those fears. We were in a—in order to give a fair example, imagine that someone is in the military right now, a young man, they don’t know for what cause, they are trying to get away from poverty, some are trying to break—everybody for a different reason joins the military. And before you know it, they are sent to a war zone in Afghanistan or Iraq, right? So everybody’s gonna relate to it differently. But there’s this very dominated culture that constantly is telling you you’re doing this for the right cause, you’re doing this to help your country. So there is a little sense of—you basically brainwash yourself a lot to stay very high and deal with your fear. But again if every soldier, we don’t know in their heart who really buy into that or who literally is shitting in their pants every day, thinking, “What the fuck am I doing here?”
Paul: But you bought into and believed your cause.
Nadereh: I had my ups and downs. I was very proud, I was very determined. I was very committed to the point that if they said, ok, put this frickin’ bomb around yourself and go to so-and-so location and kill yourself, I probably would have talked myself into doing it, but I would have been very afraid of dying. I know some weren’t. I know for a fact some really that wasn’t an issue for them. Another thing all of us were really, really afraid of was that if we get captured, they’ll do anything in their power to get information out of you. And the information, the fresher it is, the better it is. So the first 24 hours is gonna be beyond your imagination out of your—just again, a soldier gets captured by the enemy. So and we would—well you know at the same time, it would—you know it was a very bittersweet life and it was, um—I miss it. I really miss it because we were very zoned into a dimension of life where you really believed today could be your last day. And because of that, you lived to absolute fullest. I was afraid of death, but I would notice a very small little flower on the side of the street and I would stay there and look at it and feel how precious it is that we have this gorgeous red color coming out of dirt. I would like look at my husband and the love that I would exchange, it was just so deep that even to this day (teary) I have never, never experienced it with any human. Not just my husband but I would have my other comrade come in and I knew I’d take a bullet for them. And I knew between the two of us if it comes down to it, he’s gonna go first to die, I’m gonna go first to die. And we’re gonna fight about who’s gonna save whose life.
And I’m not trying to make this like a Hollywood movie or anything like that.
Paul: I don’t think you are. I don’t think you are. Go ahead.
Nadereh: But we lived in a very extraordinary circumstances that I don’t think all humans get to experience and to me as difficult as it has been to deal with the aftermath, I think it was one of the most rare, special experiences that probably the most of us, the rest of us will only read it in the book, and we still don’t get what it’s like to be that close and that dedicated.
Paul: Is it fair to say that you, though the circumstances were unfortunate, you got to understand the importance of being completely present and feeling a sense of purpose in your life?
Nadereh: Oh, 200%. Not only purpose, but also really knowing that I do have that power to change the world. You know like, from, you know—and you know this is the thing, this is the thing, the curse, because when I got broken away from that life and thrown to this ordinary life where there is no cause, to this very day, to this right now, I cannot replace that. I do look for cause, I do look for—I do everything every day to find something remotely close to that feeling of purpose and wholeness and it’s nothing but a struggle because I can’t find it anymore.
Paul: Oh that breaks my heart.
Nadereh: It is true. It is true.
Paul: Well let’s fill in some of the—because I want to get to your living here in the United States and some of the mental struggles th-that you’ve had but I certainly don’t want to gloss over what happened to your husband, you being pregnant, you going to Sweden.
Nadereh: And my husband is missing.
Paul: Yes. So he was arrested, abducted.
Nadereh: I was six months pregnant. The last day we spent together I remember we had—we went to the gynecologist, they told us, “Oh you have a boy.” And we went in the park—these are the last few days we had gotten instruction from the higher up that, “Get out. However you can, get out.”
Paul: Get out of country?
Nadereh: Get out. Get out of the country, go into hiding, there is no way anyone can survive. People were like missing—there was one day—there is this movie, Pelican Brief like by Julia Roberts. All of the sudden that was our reality—like just get out. People are missing. Anywhere we go, like we couldn’t trust nobody. We knew it was a matter of seconds we would get arrested. So they gave us a little money or whatever. So my husband said, and this is like something, again, you just keep going back forever, he had to meet someone at 6:00 and he didn’t have to. It was courtesy thing, but because he knew that guy and he like felt so much for him, because he was a father of a three-year-old and we had hidden them in our house for three months, and they were the highest, highest rank in the party, he said, “Look, I know I don’t have to but I have to go see Ahmad. I have to tell him what’s going on. If he needs money I’m gonna share what we have so he can get the hell out.”
Paul: He needs to know. He doesn’t know yet that word is out.
Nadereh: We don’t know that. But he took that chance.
Paul: He wanted to make sure.
Nadereh: He didn’t have to. By our rule, you’re not going to anywhere if they tell you to just get out. But he was hoping that if he doesn’t know, he does that to save his life. And I argued with him that day back and forth for a very long time, for a good thirty minutes, that I’m pregnant, I’m a woman, it’s least likely people are gonna catch me on the street and arrest me because—you, you’re a man, so let me go, let me tell Ahmad and then next morning we outta here. We’re gonna find a way to leave the country.
So we went back and forth, and can you imagine, I threw the feminist thing and I said, “You are sexist,” because I really didn’t want him to go. And I’m like, “You are sexist because you think I’m a woman, I shouldn’t go.” And he’s like, “Just shut the fuck up. You have a child in your stomach. I’m not gonna let you go, I don’t care what card you’re gonna pull.” So he goes and he never comes back. And years later, and this is a work of like many years for me to go back and try to put things together and find out what happened that what I guess it happened and I tried to reconfirm with people that have survived here, there, is that he does go to the meeting but some third person knew that they two are going to meet that night at 6:00 so the militia is already waiting for both of them to show up. And when they show up they arrest both of them at the same time.
Paul: And, and …
Nadereh: Wherever they were going to meet. I didn’t know where.
Paul: And they were probably both executed.
Nadereh: Not on the spot. My husband was—there was a saying that under the US Embassy, underneath of it, they had made a huge dungeon when they take the first comer, that first 24 hours that I’m talk about, they don’t even take the chance to take them to prison or something.
Paul: They want to keep them isolated.
Nadereh: No, no, the torture and stuff. They have the highest, best equipment, the fresh (indistinct) there, the first 24 hours is when you’re going to get the most information, to get more members arrested, to find out where you live, to get your documents, and again we already had that understanding, me and my husband, so he said, “Don’t tell me where you go, but don’t go to the house tonight just in case. And if you don’t here from me, just know that—just go and do what you have to do.” So we already did all the precautions. And of course he didn’t want to know where I’m at just in case of they torture him, he wouldn’t say where I’m at.
But again we broke another rule because I told him I don’t care. And these are all big no-nos because it’s such a huge burden for him to know where I was at. But I told him I’m gonna stay in that place but not at our house but if they really torture you or whatever—we always talked about if something goes wrong, what is our plan. I said, “Just give up the address of our house. But I’m gonna be there just in case you are gonna join me a day later,” or whatever, whatever.
So that wasn’t the case. He never showed up and I knew that he was gonna meet me at 6:20. At 6:21 I knew he’s gone. But I didn’t know if he’s missing. I didn’t sleep till morning. I just keep hoping that he had to escape and he’s elsewhere and he can’t contact me but he’s alive, and he’s well. And that wish didn’t actually last long because in the morning I found out that last night they had gone to our house. So I knew for a fact that he was arrested because he had given the address to the house. And I knew for a fact he’s being tortured. And there’s nothing, nothing in this world like knowing that not only are you not gonna see your loved one anymore, but at this very moment they are, they are beyond imagination, tortured and probably a lot of them died under torture. And I’m carrying a six-month child in my stomach for him. (crying) It’s—there’s nothing like it. I knew that night I’m not gonna see him ever again.
But again we were prepared for this. It’s no surprise. We have prior to this lost other people. We have had a lot of , you know, we had a girl who was hiding in our house that we heard on the spot had cyanide and chewed and died, like this wasn’t just me and him, and isolated incident. It’s happening everywhere, all over. Like I don’t know, go back to the German and fascist time and see Jew—the Jews are trying to hide. One get killed, one get arrested, one is missing, just like multiply my story in a country that has 40 million people and just see the scale of what’s going on.
Paul: And I would imagine the chaos of it and the uncertainty just multiplies the anxiety and the mental toll that it takes because, you know, to deal with pain is hard enough to begin with but to deal with pain where you don’t really know the exact truth and you just keep playing it over and over again in your mind, that has got to be its own type of torture.
Nadereh: It was—you know it’s interesting because the mentality that we had was always to find out in what ways the enemy’s trying to destroy us. So I knew if I’m gonna give in to the thought of, oh I’m losing—if I was going to personalize the depth of this tragedy, it would be against my belief because it wasn’t personal, this was a political movement and I was—I don’t have a word for it here—I don’t know, I was a soldier child or whatever, you know what I mean? It’s like I had a bigger purpose, bigger belief. I was devastated by the first thing in my mind was like, ok, just like pragmatic, ok, so how am I gonna survive the next day? Who do I think that I need to—who are the other people who might be at risk if Paris is arrested. Who should I notify that look, he’s gone so whatever information he has about it, just lose, just go somewhere else.
So we were all again in that mentality where what’s next to survive? We did survive three years of that, by the way.
Paul: After he—
Nadereh: No, no, no, no. But generally, like that mentality, that life—it wasn’t my husband, it wasn’t my turn, but we did help others when that happened to them. It was happening, you know, it wasn’t like, oh, I’m shocked that wow this happened to me.
Paul: I see.
Nadereh: We were prepared, it was expected. It was part of the deal and that’s why you were in there. And you just have a different resource in you that the harder it gets, the stronger you feel.
Paul: I hear soldiers talk about that sometimes when they come back from war. And as horrifying as it is they miss that focus, that sense of purpose, that camaraderie.
Paul: Just that heightened experience of being human.
Nadereh: Being human and there’s a voice tells you, which is probably the voice that saves you, is that whoever that imaginative enemy is that you talk to them, and be like, “You cannot break me you son-of-a-bitch. Take my husband but I’m gonna find a way to stay alive and escape.”
Paul: So you did escape six months pregnant?
Nadereh: I was in hiding for forty days. That forty days was the most difficult time because my resources was from nothing to zero or zero is nothing to—I couldn’t go to any of my family, I couldn’t go to any of Paris’ family, I couldn’t go to places that the government might suspect that I am in. So now there is an army of people that are after me because they know Paris is a political activist and they know he is married to me. So they are after me. And again, Pelican Brief, like three times by three minutes, by five minutes, and by eight minutes I escaped before they’d fight.
Nadereh: I would like, I would call the you know the sister of the friend of the son and say, “Look, I need some money.” And we would speak in code. But they were—none of these people I’m talking to were political or have political involvement.
Paul: I see.
Nadereh: So I’m going to the safest of the safest that I can imagine and I can’t tell them what’s going on because then they would be scared or they would not want to help me. So this is pure, like, fucking—all you got is yourself, and nothing else. And they are after you everywhere. They have your picture, they know what places you might show up, so I had to come up with ways to like make it one hour at a time. But I did, I recall that when I was on the street, everybody who moved, I thought that they were just gonna jump on me.
Paul: Oh my God
Nadereh: Yeah, everybody who just took a fast turn, I would just like …
Paul: Oh my God.
Nadereh: You know, I just—they wouldn’t just come like, “You are under arrest,” because they were afraid we might have cyanide and we might kill ourself on the spot, so they would do it in a way that you least expect and they would like right away throw you on the floor, wipe your mouth, or sometimes they would do whatever to catch you alive. So that 40 days I am just like—it is almost like somebody has a gun pointed at your head and saying that they gonna shoot and they keep you that way for 40 days. Or the say, ok, if you move, I might shoot you.
Paul: That sounds worse than Last Comic Standing. (both laugh) I don’t want to exaggerate.
Nadereh: I was hoping you’d break it with some funny something, something, Paul.
Paul: So you—
Nadereh: I told you I get excited. You have to keep me in check.
Paul: You are on point, you are on point. Nadereh before we started rolling was like, “I tend to, you know, get very talkative and passionate and please feel free to steer me if I start getting o-off track”.
Nadereh: You can do no wrong cuz I love you so much.
Paul: Oh, thank you, thank you. You know I feel a bond to you just from the couple of emails we’ve shared and hearing your story and just the nice stuff that you’ve—
Nadereh: I hope I have a chance to tell the audience why before we finish, because I want that little story too of how accidentally I found you.
Paul: Oh, ok. Well maybe we’ll do that at the end.
Paul: So you managed to make it across the border into Turkey with help from your husband’s sisters.
Nadereh: Yes, and my mother.
Paul: And your mother. You make it into Turkey, under the guise that you’re going on a maternity shopping spree in Istanbul, you then go to Sweden, pregnant with your child.
Nadereh: The United Nations already knew of the severity of the situation and they knew there is one of them who is six months pregnant so when I show up, apparent the guy, I’ll never forget his name, Bhukri (sp?), he is just like how many years ago, I still remember his face, he was half Algerian, half French, and he told the guy who was facilitating that she doesn’t even need to come to like to stay in line. He showed up at my house in the place that we were renting at the time 8:20 at night, and as if like he’s my father, I mean, he hugged me so hard and was so happy that that pregnant lady did escape that—and I just don’t know. This is the first time that I ever left Iran like two days ago I’m trying to create revolution in Iran, two days later there’s this guy who doesn’t speak Iranian and is tall and big and holding me and crying. You know it was just very—
Paul: What did it feel like when you were hugging him?
Nadereh: He was hugging me.
Paul: When he was hugging you, what did that feel like, was it …?
Nadereh: It was just like why is he crying? What’s going on? Like who is he? I didn’t even know there’s things like UN, there are people who migrate, there are people who—I didn’t even know what the word refugee is. I was Communist day and night, we are trying to change the regime and do a revolution. I wasn’t—I never thought farther than that. That was my life and I thought I’m gonna succeed the revolution and I was trying to see in what poor villages how many schools I’m gonna build and how many girls I’m gonna educate, you know, that was my future. Or how am I gonna die? Am I gonna be tortured? Am I gonna be able to not like give anybody’s name? Am I gonna be able to stand very solid if they kill me? That was like my day-to-day thinking.
Paul: So then let’s fast forward to you give birth to your boy. Did that take place in Sweden?
Nadereh: No, in Istanbul. Turkey – Istanbul.
Paul: So you give birth to him and what happens to him?
Nadereh: Uh, so I give birth to him. The—Sweden was a country that said she can go as soon as she wants to. And then I said, “Look, you know, my mother-in-law is gonna come here to help me to give birth and I want the family to see the baby, so can I stay two months or until I give birth.” And they said, “Look, you know we do know that the Turkish government do exchange the high up political people to the government in Iran and the governments always do these things. When it comes down to the heart of the people who nobody likes. Turkey didn’t like Communists, didn’t like Kurds, Iran didn’t like so many Communists and those things. The biggest enemies also totally networking underground without anyone publicly knows that. So the UN said, “We don’t recommend it. We don’t have any way of protecting your life and if you were taken and sent back to Iran, there’s nothing we can do.”
And again we said we really need to take the chance and stay and it wasn’t 100% but compared to the danger I was in, that was like Hawaii for me. I was like (both laugh), I’m like I’m just gonna rest, and, you know, breathe and know that I-I’m gonna be alive. You know, I was just so keen on that idea of like I’m gonna live. I’m not gonna die. I’m gonna life. So then—so I decided to stay till the birth of my son and while we were preparing to take my son with me to Sweden as a political refugee, we got a telegram, because we didn’t have a phone or anything in our apartment, that it was a letter from Evin Prison, which is very notorious in Tehran or everybody knows Evin is loaded with political prisoners and very well known internationally. Uh, there is a telegram from your husband that he is alive and he’s in Evin prison and in two weeks he has a visiting right and the immediate family, which are the wife, the child, the mom and the dad, can go visit him.
Paul: That sounds like the biggest trap in the world.
Nadereh: Well, not necessarily. Even if it was, I was already gone and they already knew it because we called the phones that were tapped and we told everybody that we are in Turkey so they would stop looking for us and they would stop torturing the family. So they knew for a fact that we are gone. So we didn’t think that’s a trap. We knew—and it was like enough time passed that it didn’t make sense—that if he was arrested, this is around the time where they would like, you know, say Ok he’s in prison.
Paul: We got the information out of him we needed.
Nadereh: Exactly, exactly. And then what we didn’t know was that sometimes—there’s no rule or law—but sometimes they would, um, give one visitation before execution. So now I am faced—well, of course it was a celebration, knowing he’s alive, it was like—
Paul: How did you know he was alive and it wasn’t fake?
Nadereh: Uh, because most of the time the government wouldn’t lie because they wouldn’t gain anything.
Paul: I see.
Nadereh: You know like if someone was in prison and they were gonna give visitation, already the family, me and his sister, we were all out, they have no gain, they have no time, they have bigger, uh, what they say, egg to fry.
Nadereh: You know, they did what they could and we are an old case now, they are going after the fresher ones. So they don’t have that much time to just torture us, you know yeah. So um, all of the sudden I’m ready to go to Sweden with my son and I’m faced with this thought that my husband is alive, I don’t know if they’re gonna kill him or not, but he never got to see his child. And knowing what he had to survive or what he has gone through, and just so many things that goes through your mind, I don’t know, but all I could think about is what if there was a way that he could see his child? And if that was even his last visit but I knew for the rest of my life that he did see his child. So now all I’m focusing on is what can I do to make that happen, all the risk. That’s a crazy thought that someone would have in their mind, and I know whoever listens to this is thinking, “Are you fucking out of your mind, like, you just saved yourself, you saved your child?”
Paul: And you’re gonna go back to Iran?
Nadereh: All you’re thinking about is how my husband gonna see his own son? And to me that was the number one desire that I had, more than anything else. So I’m gonna make this very short. We go to the UN, we go to the Turkish Embassy, we go to the Swedish Embassy, I do my footwork in terms of research and how possible is it that we send the child back, only for three weeks, with my mother-in-law because she wasn’t a political activist and if she comes back to Turkey, would you all grant her immediate visa? So I was trying to build a case to see how safe it is. Of course everybody said, “You’re crazy. Don’t do it.” But again compared to the danger that I have survived, then this was again, was like, oh, don’t send your child to, I don’t know, like, uh—it was really a vanilla risk.
Paul: Yeah don’t send the to In ‘n’ Out Burger after midnight.
Nadereh: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Exactly. I’m like—it just wasn’t comparable. So make the story short, I talked to my mother-in-law and the rest of the family and of course we all are like, there is this moment of awkwardness, silence, this idea, is it crazy, is it possible? And then when we do the footwork and we talk and everything, we’re saying that we’re gonna do it.
So my mother-in-law is a very smart, bright woman, oh she is just brilliant. Then she is like, “I got a great idea. You’re Bahá'í right? So I’m gonna go to the Islamic Embassy and say to them”—and back then it wasn’t computerized where everywhere you go they can have all your files. You can go in every little sector and make up your story and they couldn’t be able to compare notes together. It was chaos, it was not organized like the United States. And then she said, “I’m gonna go say, ‘This woman is Bahá'í. I want to take the child and bring it back home and raise him Muslim,’ so I can get the entry visa for the child to go. And then I find a way there to bring him back to Turkey and then I come and give the child back to you.”
Nadereh: Her promise was that—three weeks. You go, you do the first visit, you let Paris see his son, kiss him, and whatever happens after that it doesn’t matter because then you’re gonna bring the child to me. I’m not gonna go into any more detail, but I learned—I don’t know if when my mother-in-law was taking my son, in her heart instantly she knew that she’s gonna take him away from me, or I don’t know if that started developing as she started bonding with my child, or I don’t know if that developed when she saw what a joy this child is to her captured son, who’s been tortured and is at risk to die any minute, I don’t know what factor caused that. And I don’t wanna—of course I wanna say that like you know, of anyone in this world, she’s the one who has hurt me the most, more than the government, more than anyone I know on this planet. But again, I don’t wanna—I want everyone to know that there is so many factors involved when it comes to this kind of extraordinary circumstances that you just don’t know who is coping how.
Paul: So she took him?
Nadereh: She took my son and there is so much detail involved that why in a span of three weeks it was supposed to be a month, after a month it was two months, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and three years later they killed my husband, they executed him in prison and she vanished. And I have already not seen my child, and she keeps saying she’s gonna bring him, she’s gonna bring him. But the minute my husband died, she was like “No, you’re never gonna see your son again.” (crying) And my mom and so many other people, I didn’t talk to them, but the first they said when my mother-in-law showed up with my child, which we all called him, by the way, “miracle baby” because we both were alive. I was in a hospital and I gave birth to my child and for the visitation somebody, I found out later, that that day, about 50 people signed as uncle and aunt to come and say “hi” to me and my child because they have heard our story. They didn’t even know us. And they all signed as uncle. That day I got called from—I got called the entire day from people who I never knew but apparently they were our comrades and they were hearing, at times like this, when you know everybody is dying, knowing that somebody made it out alive and there’s a child that is born, it’s just like, it’s just like the greatest thing that can just lift your spirit, you need things like that. And at the same time it was like a big “f u” to the government that I’m alive, that my child is born and he’s called miracle baby.
Paul: What was your code name?
Nadereh: Um, Mahnoz.
Paul: Does that mean anything?
Nadereh: That’s another name in Iranian. I had in different places different—another thing that is very difficult for me to go back and try to put the little pieces of the puzzle together is that a lot of us didn’t really know our real name, our real age or our real house, so it’s really heard, like if I don’t see someone’s picture, I don’t know who they are. So a lot of people I don’t know if they’re still alive, if they’re dead, because I’ve never gone back to Iran. They don’t know who my real name is, I don’t know what their real name is. But I have been here and there trying to put the little lost pieces back together throughout the years.
Paul: Would you be in danger if you went back to Iran?
Nadereh: Well, in the beginning, absolutely. But I mean when they just arrest a person who is a US citizen who is a journalist as a spy, I’m assuming that probably, yes. Yeah. I’ve never been back since I left Iran, which is about like almost 25 years.
My son was raised under the impression that the grandparents are the actual parents.
Paul: The mother-in-law that took him told him, “I’m your mother.”
Nadereh: “I’m your mother.” So …
Paul: He thinks you’re a crazy lady …
Nadereh: Well I internationally contacted a lot of organizations when I was in United States. I left Sweden after they, uh, said, “Your husband is killed,” and the mother-in-law had said, “you’re not gonna see your son.” So I knew that part of my life was over and I was just like—being suicidal is like really undermining what state of mind I was in, you know? And, um, and it’s not psychosis because psychosis you hear—I don’t know what it is, that kind of despair, that you lost your husband and you’re not gonna see your son. You’re like, all that little hope you have is all done and over with. Again, I have to like just breathe the story. There’s so much detail involved in what happened to me there.
But I came to United States and, um, I, um, decided to go back to school. I was studying nursing and psychology and I came across this most, most wonderful people who became truly, truly the core of my support to this day. They’re like my, I don’t know what to call them, they’re my backbone, they are my angels. So back then I was, um—they were helping. I was very out about my story and I was very—it was almost like having a missing child. So I was constantly trying to find out ways to get him back, so they helped me. They contacted a lot of, you know, organizations. I talked to a lot of people something similar has happened to them and apparently in the beginning, I thought well, they’re in Iran. And even if I know where he’s at, I have no way of going and getting him. I’m Bahá'í, I’m political activist and by Islam law, the father of the family have the right to the child, not the mother. So case closed.
Nadereh: But—so in the beginning it was like, ok, just because they don’t want me to reunite with him, they’re probably going to stay in, um, in Iran. And I didn’t know, but apparently the mother—and I don’t know the details, they’re all my assumptions, but at some point, I don’t know how many years later, goes to Norway where he has a son who lives.
Paul: Who has a son who lives?
Nadereh: Paris’ brother – my mother-in-law’s son. So she goes there. She, um, she has a different name, a different date of birth for my son, and registers as a mother/son to Norway to get residenceship so I never was informed. Like I go to Swedish embassy—I have a lot of friends in Sweden to see if I can find a way to like find where they at.
Paul: I see. And your mother-in-law took him to Norway just because she wanted to be near her other son?
Nadereh: Probably, I don’t know. Yeah, I’m guessing because they killed ..
Paul: Her other son.
Nadereh: The son. She was there to stay – all her other kids were in Sweden or Norway so naturally I’m assuming that she needed to leave that part of her life behind and come and stay with her kids. But I don’t know, I’m in the United States and I’m under the impression that they’re in Iran. So anyhow ….
Paul: So you find out he’s in Norway.
Nadereh: 14 years later. So my son is 14 years and I have a friend, and I have, again, I have a team of the most beautiful souls in Sweden who’ve been continuously non-stop trying to find ways to reunite me with my son. I have family in Iran who try to find ways to see where they about, but they kind of, like, went hidden underground. So they really knew actively that they gonna cut all possible contact to have me to find out. They sheltered him and I don’t know all the details of it. So at age 14 I—my friend—I never forget it—my friend calls and she’s like, “What are doing?” I’m like, “Oh, I’m home.” I already was a nurse. I finished with school.
Paul: You were in San Francisco?
Nadereh: In San Francisco, I bought myself a house. I was very proud, you know, and she’s like, “Well, you need to sit down.” And I’m like, “Ok.” And you know when—you always think of worst, you always think of, you know, best, and I’m already—I’m having all kind of problem but I’m also really in a good place because I accomplished, you know, finishing school, I’m really motivated, I’m going forward, and I always decided no matter, I’ll stay centered and focused just in case if my son ever, if I never found him, and he ever later in life came and said, “Ok, I want to know who that person was,” because I still don’t know that he doesn’t even know he has a mother. I don’t know what information, you know.
Nadereh: I just wanted him to look at my life and my story and say, “Oh, ok, I’m proud of her. She was a good woman.”
Nadereh: So that really was the biggest source of motivation for me to keep it together and move forward in life. Because he already lost his father. I didn’t want him to come—I couldn’t imagine that he would like come and look for me and say, “Oh, she ended up in a mental hospital,” or, “she committed suicide.” I just couldn’t live with him going back to his life very disappointed of who his mother was. So that really, really was the main source of my strength. To go above and beyond any hardship that I ever endured. I would wake myself up, I would go to school, I would work in gas station, and I was getting paid $4.20, no $4.35 an hour, to support myself. I didn’t want to get a penny from my family because I was proud, I was gonna make my husband proud, I was gonna my son proud, I was just fucking like—I still kept that soldier mentality, but this time to say a big “f u” to the government was to stay alive and live. And enjoy life despite all the struggle.
So that was—I still stayed in that mentality but it manifested itself to a daily life I was very, very unfamiliar with.
Paul: Yeah. Can you just briefly tell of the encounter you had when you did go to Norway and you did see your son?
Nadereh: Well, I, well, I was sure—so my friend says sit down, I have news for you, and as she’s trying to—she knows, she knows my personality, so she’s like, “Ok, I don’t want you to start screaming, just listen to me, I’m not sure if this is true but I think I have a lead to where your son might be.” I said, “AAAHHH!” (screaming) I do everything that she said not to do. (both laugh) And at the time I had a partner, which is a female, Anita, and she also, we were in a relationship, I know that opens all kinds of other questions and stuff, but, um, she, God, for like five years, all I did talk to her. She was like the most unpaid therapy ever, ever existed in this planet. She’s one of the most beautiful souls on this earth who allowed me to fall apart and who watched me to put myself back on.
So I’m in the United States, I have this team of fierce, fierce women who all considered themselves radical, feminist, lesbian, this, that, they were pioneers of like movements, socially, politically, and I surrounded myself with these people of course they want to support someone who has a story like me. I’m not a textbook, I’m a revolution survivor. You know, they would give their heart for me, you know. So these people are still like—oh, I wish you could meet all of them – they’re bad ass women who to this day, like I call and they drop everything or vice versa. You know, these people are so close to my heart.
Paul: Well I would imagine you’re a hero to them. You’re the ultimate feminist success story in that you stood up for what was right no matter what the odds were, no matter what the danger was. Anybody who has a cause ….
Nadereh: This is gonna change the topic of the story completely, because when you say hero, it’s gonna take me right back to the mental illness and how I suffered and the problems that I had in order to fathom the scale of the tragedy when I’m in a country where nobody even give a fuck (in my head), that what happened to Iran, nobody would fucking give a damn if 20,000 people got killed in one night and not even one single media news bothered to broadcast that or talk about it. I am now dealing with the fact that I am living in planet I don’t know what, because life goes on as normal and—again, to just make reference so people can understand, it is like the Vietnam War veterans come back and people are in discos dancing, drinking, and all you’re thinking is who died, who survived?
Paul: Two different worlds.
Nadereh: You are just so disconnected with the outside world that you live in. Because you just are stuck in your head, with your struggle, how you gonna deal with the tragedy, and on top of that how the fuck are you gonna pay your next bill? And how are you gonna build a future? How are you gonna go forward? How are you gonna—and beyond all of that, the survival guilt, the survival guilt, because every time I was trying to laugh from the bottom of my heart, I felt so guilty because my husband wasn’t there to laugh with me. And my friends weren’t there to laugh with me. When I went and I saw a beautiful mountain and I want to enjoy it, it was just—I don’t know, I didn’t know the term survival guilt until I went to psychology school and I found a name for it, you know. So this this era I am in the United States what I am doing is trying to—I lost that identify of course, I left it behind. That was Iran. I was who I was there. There is no revolution here, there is no freedom fighters here. Here is about if your teeth look straight and white enough or not, if, I don’t know—whatever, whatever it is. I have to make a transition to who that person was to something that I have no clue—is not—even in Iran I wasn’t part of the mainstream. You know what I mean? I didn’t have your normal dream, Iranian dream or American dream.
Paul: You’ve always been an outsider.
Nadereh: I’ve been an outsider but it’s like I didn’t have that notion of this is my future. It was always about my people’s future. This is about revolution. This wasn’t about me making it, going to college, buying a home for myself and settling down. I was always about how to help the world, like we need to …
Paul: And you never stopped to think about what your emotional needs were and what—the pain that you had and the scars that you had that you would need to deal with.
Nadereh: And in Iran the difference is that everybody that you had to associate with is life bonded. Like you feed off of each other’s strength, you have something to pump yourself up. Here there’s nobody that can even understand what I’m talking about, let alone to go to Africa and change, you know—couldn’t find …
Paul: People with a sense of purpose.
Nadereh: Sense of purpose and then—that by itself became the biggest challenge for me – to find myself, to replace that spirit that I was, something—you know the first time that I heard there were these non-profit organizations and you go there and you can like talk against, you know, the thing that, what is the President do, and I’m like, “Will they kill you if they do that?” “No, no, they pay you!” (both laugh) And I’m like, “It is not a legit cause then if you don’t lose your life.” I mean, why would I wanna go get paid for—so my reference to truth and a legit movement was that it had to be that circumstances. You can, like, you can be a podcast person doing the right cause and make a living off it.
Paul: It’s a sellout.
Nadereh: Right. Absolutely.
Paul: How can—the stakes aren’t big enough.
Nadereh: They assassinate you so you know you’re doing something right.
Paul: What do you know? Why, what did you hear? I know I’m climbing up the iTunes chart.
Nadereh: I even made a little joke with you in that email and I said, “Your new stalker” and I’m like, “Oh shit, like Paul really feels like I’m stalker. Maybe that’s why I didn’t hear back from …. “ (both laugh) That’s so funny.
Paul: So tell the story when you go to see your son at the—at his school.
Nadereh: Yeah, so, um, I already have a big team of people who are helping me. My number one fear is as soon as they find out I know where my son is, they go in hiding again, so I—and what I’m saying ….
Paul: You mean they’re gonna disband?
Nadereh: No, no, the mother-in-law will.
Paul: Oh, I see.
Nadereh: So I am trying to take it very, very prepared. I have a lawyer, I have a lawyer in Norway, I have sent a huge letter to, at the time I think it was Senator Barbara …
Nadereh: Boxer. I—and all my good friends are all lawyers now so they’re all—like my house looked like a little frickin’ non-profit organization. People are coming in, they bring in food, they are sitting down, they are mapping out what to do, who to call, like they’re bringing information and again, this is really, in so many ways, about injustice, so everybody who was involved in any sort of cause, this was as good as it gets for them to come and make a difference. So it wasn’t like they were doing me a favor, or I wouldn’t look like, “Oh thank you guys.” I thought this was a very collective story, I never felt like I’m doing it for them, they’re doing it for me. This is about justice. This is about, you know, going and stand for something that is wrong or whatnot. So whenever I say “I” I mean “we” because I had—and then the people like my family, who weren’t into this kind of thing, because they do have a, you know, normal life, they had a prayer committee—this is a true story—where my mom was in charge—a lot of people called my mom and said, “We want to light a candle, we wanna pray, how are we gonna do it?” So my mom find this time zone difference and find who from what country wants to pray, and apparently the day that I was supposed to go and see my son, there is a non-stop chain prayers that is happening through family and friends from one country to another as they are waking up.
Paul: Oh really, wow.
Nadereh: Can you imagine?
Paul: Yeah, wow.
Nadereh: And the people who don’t believe in prayer, because I have a lot of friends and coworker who, whether Buddhist or this or that, they are lighting a candle. But in the families that are Catholic, Mexican, or like in church, throwing like food, and, Paul, when I say extreme, like, I was lift—if love is something palpable, I felt that I was surrounded by it, like I was lifted with something that’s called love, through people’s support and compassion. And I made it to Norway, I had the police is involved, the lawyer’s there, everybody knows, the plan is that I see my son, but the only way that I could ensure the fact that he sees me before anything goes wrong, was that he’s in school, I have to do it there.
I show up at his school. I have already made the album where my picture, his family’s picture, my pregnancy, my wedding, his father, they all are there. And I want to hand them to him so he can believe me, but I have no idea – I don’t know how he look like, I don’t know what his reaction is, I don’t know what he knows about his life, but I had one phone that the police was waiting, because I actually charged the family—they couldn’t do kidnapping because it was consent, my consent that they did go back to Iran, but from a legal term it was child abduction.
Paul: I see.
Nadereh: Which is a diff—so I pressed charge against the for child abduction and falsifying information to enter a country and all these other things.
So I go and I didn’t need to know how he look like. Somebody walked and it was Paris at age 14.
Nadereh: Like 98%. The class was finishing, somebody walked, and I knew that’s my son and I said, “Excuse me.” I said it in Farsi, “Can I just have a word with you?” And he thought I was the teacher or something, he’s like, “What?” And I’m like, I just said it like this, I said, “I’m your mother.” He’s like, “What?” He said, “No, I have a mother.” I said, “Look.” And I started showing the pictures. And all I saw his eyes got really big because apparently my mother-in-law and me are in the hospital and he’s—I’m holding him in my hand and then all I remember, he just turned, I don’t know what color, but I didn’t care at that time, I didn’t care. I saw my son and he knew he had a mother. Like my—I was like already somewhere else. I was hearing symphony, you like, “La, la, la, la, la!” Seriously, I was just like—I don’t know, I can’t again describe that, I just did something that I was hoping to do for the last 14 years of my life. It’s almost like they say your child is missing, and you saw them and you know they’re alive and they’re here and that’s what they look like.
So all I saw – him saying “no” and he started running. He started running against, like, running, and I saw him through—of course I wasn’t going to chase him, I just stood there very solid. And all I did, I called the police and said, “I saw him, all clear.” Because their plan was to go to house where the mother-in-law lived and take him to the police station for questioning.
Nadereh: So we thought through all of that and every single minute I thought of worst thing and everything that can go wrong. And it didn’t. And then later on come to find out that this was one of the most traumatizing moments of my child’s life because for one he never knew that he had a mother, he never knew that he was abducted, he never knew that—imagine someone shows up—
Paul: That’s gotta be incredibly—your whole world is turned upside down. And yet he needs to know the truth.
Nadereh: It’s his right, it’s his right. It’s my right. My child was taken away from me.
Nadereh: It’s my right to go—they actively took my son away from me.
Paul: And that selfish, selfish woman that put him through all of this.
Nadereh: And in order to justify what they did, it wasn’t enough, but they character assassinated me as far as they could go – to Sweden, to Iran, to everywhere that they had mutual relatives and family, that she has turned into a whore, she’s the one who don’t give a shit, she has left her child, now we have to—like completely just turned the table around and I was so defenseless. I was so, like I can’t explain, but I was just so down to ground zero that I didn’t know how to fix this. They were a big family and they were all trying to justify it. So as far as they could, they went around lying that the reason they have my child is that I put him on the street and I didn’t want him.
Paul: Oh my God. So they got to keep him.
Nadereh: And I had people who didn’t know who I am but I was in Sweden, telling me, “Oh that poor family – you know their son so-and-so?” I’m like, “Yeah, I’ve heard of him.” They’re like, “Oh, they have this nightmare daughter-in-law who goes to discos and sleeps around and doesn’t even call to ask how the child is, and that poor grandma has to raise after a loss.” Like they go on and on telling me about me and they don’t know it’s me.
Paul: Oh my God.
Nadereh: So I started isolating myself more and more and more and more to the point that I hardly knew anybody.
Paul: Now you’re back in the United States.
Nadereh: No this is the time when I was in Sweden.
Paul: Oh Ok.
Nadereh: Because I told you I had the era when I went really, really, crazy like—I didn’t even have enough energy to kill myself but I would have liked to. I just lay down on the bed and I think ten days later—I don’t know, I just laid down. I wasn’t drinking or eating or anything. I just closed my eyes and I guess I haven’t paid my rent for so many—this was Sweden back then.
Paul: So you had moved back to Sweden at that point?
Nadereh: No, no, no, this is when—before I leave Sweden. This is when they weren’t giving me my son back.
Paul: Oh I see, not when he was 14.
Nadereh: This is when they weren’t giving him back to me. They were telling everybody a lie and my husband was in prison, I had no way to tell him what’s going on. So I got really, really mentally ill. And it got to the point that—like you again, I’m just cutting so much detail how to like make this, you know, make sense. I remember apparently I had not paid my rent for so long, and I haven’t eaten or whatever so apparently I have eviction notice that gets through the door and I’m not opening anything, I’m just laying down. And I guess they had sent that at this day and day they gonna come to the—and break the door. And they break the door and they are like, “Oh, uh, there is a dead person in the bed.” And I hear them. Because apparently I was so little and I was like you know, and then they are like, they take the blanket off of me and I make some movement and someone screams that, you know, call the ambulance, someone is alive.
Nadereh: And, uh, they—the guy who was like breaking the lock to get in, I remember just lifting me and took me downstairs and took me to hospital.
Paul: And that was the beginning of th-the mental struggles.
Nadereh: That’s when I knew my husband was dead, my child wasn’t gonna ever be given back to me, and I just completely gave up. But again it wasn’t like, you know—that’s all I did. And I don’t know how long.
Paul: So let’s fast forward then to—you go to Norway, your character gets assassinated.
Nadereh: Throughout. From there on. All those years.
Paul: Throughout but that’s what kept you from being able to reclaim your son in Norway.
Nadereh: Correct, correct. But when—well already the DNA established that I was the biological mother and in the interview my mother-in-law on the spot told them that, yes, but then she started her other lies about why she had to take—just master, master in that, like, you know—in how she did this. She told her children never never—go along with this lie, she convinced people who mutually know us to go along. If they didn’t they would cut them off. Like for years and years like really fought this. And I fought it just as much but I didn’t succeed. They were stronger than me. They had this.
So my mother-in-law confessed to the police, so now it’s her story against my story. And we are whole bunch of refugees. Norway is not familiar with our culture, you know, because they have honor killing in Iran, we have, even to this day it is a very loaded political issue. Like, you know, some say there are cultural differences, some say no, you know, any abuse is abuse. So this is again on the same line of the issues where you’re not gonna get 100% support of the authority unless you really, really pull some muscle and threaten them that this is no fucking cultural issue, my son is abducted. If a Norwegian woman, you know, had the same problem, what do you do? And you know the same thing, in the United States th-the senator never wrote me back. But then I know there is a movie made called Not Without My Daughter.
Paul: But that starred Sally Field.
Nadereh: (laughs) You know what I mean?
Nadereh: It’s like in every, in every aspect of every struggle that I do or people do when they are in the lower chain of oppression, you absolutely feel it in every fabric of your bone and body, that how less or more you can be important based on where you from, what you have, who you are. And who backs you up.
Paul: Well you don’t know my struggle as a white guy. (both laugh)
Nadereh: Exactly, I know. I, you know it’s funny.
Paul: I’m kidding.
Nadereh: No, when you say that I had an era where I decided—that’s when I was really trying to invite my new identity and finding out who I am and what—and seriously, reinvent something because you know, like, I have to become something that is not what I was in Iran, so I had an era when I was going to San Francisco State University and I decided that the white man was the ultimate enemy. Because I needed an enemy to like stay in that era. I was like stuck.
Paul: Well I have say your odds are good if you’re gonna pick anybody to, you know—historically the odds are good in the last 500 hundred years, you really can’t go wrong.
Nadereh: Well I was young, I was so dramatic, I was like if somebody had a business suit and was a white guy and they looked at me, “What are you looking at?!” Because they were enemy, you know. (laughs) I was hard, I’m like—the guy is like, “What is your problem, lady?”
Paul: Could be the sweetest guy in the world.
Nadereh: I know! And then if it was a woman of color or an immigrant or whatever, just for no reason I just love them. Because they were the people, you know.
Paul: That’s a very young person thing to go through.
Paul: Th-th-that phase, I think that’s pretty common.
Nadereh: Well, I don’t know. I still to this day do know of people who are not young, they are 50 years old and they still have that mentality. You know, and I have respect with all—I have evolved tremendously to feel comfortable in my own skin and to be able to, uh, really draw strength from our differences and build bridge and, um, try to reach out to each other because the more I understand, bottom line is that we all as humans struggle and we all need help and everybody got something they can teach to someone else. If it was 20 years ago I would never listen to a podcast, but two months ago it did help me dramatically because I did trust a white man. (both laugh) And it did pay off.
Paul: What was is it that you wanted to say and I said let’s talk about that later?
Nadereh: Uh, ok, no but I have to finish the son really quickly.
Paul: Ok there’s more.
Nadereh: No, no, no, so at age 14 when he found out I realized that this was like really a lot for him so the struggle goes back and forth a little and I decide to withdraw from my fighting for his custody because he’s already 14 and he’s just so broken and the family are putting a lot of pressure on him and making him even crazier. So I kind of told him to come when you’re ready. I never thought he was gonna take ten years to get ready, but again that was for a me a second time that I lost him. Because I saw him and I couldn’t reunite and I had to wait year after year after year not knowing if he ever will come back to me. But at least I’d established to hear from him, of him, from school and everything. So it was a little better for me.
Paul: And at least he knows the truth now and he knows should he decide to contact you he knows where to contact you. But you haven’t seen him since he was 14.
Nadereh: Since he was 14 till two years ago.
Paul: Oh, this I didn’t know!
Nadereh: Oh yeah, two years he sent me an email, he said, “I know it’s been a long time, but I’m ready to come and meet you.” And he did, and for the past two years, we’ve been talking, we’ve been trying very hard to reconnect and deal with all that has happened. And I have heard his side of the story and how much struggle he had gone through. And we are still in the middle of it. But again it was another miracle for him to come back to my life.
Paul: Oh my God.
Nadereh: And in two weeks, actually, I’m going to see him for his vacation.
Nadereh: Uh huh!
Paul: Oh my God!
Nadereh: He’s the most beautiful guy you can ever meet.
Paul: So what is he 24 now?
Nadereh: He’s 26, he’s finishing his—I’m gonna brag like any other mom—he’s finishing his master’s in architect design, he live in Oslo, um, he is a pro skater, has four sponsors, speaks five different languages.
Nadereh: Skateboarder, yeah.
Nadereh: Uh huh, he is part of the Amnesty International for Human Rights and he skates for awareness, political awareness and I surf, so it’s really weird when we skate together. He loves to travel, I love to travel, he hates to admit it, but we are so alike.
Nadereh: We are so alike, like—he like taped all kinds of CD music for me. I love all the kinds of music that he loves.
Paul: How did that feel to have him make a CD for you?
Nadereh: (sighs) I listened to the CDs—anything, anything that he offers me, there is a part of him for me. Like if he—when he left—he came to visit me for the first time—he left, I had a bed, I made a room just for him, It was his room, I put like posters, blah, blah, I prepared for him to come and stay with me. So when he left I wouldn’t touch his bed and I would just go every now and then and smell the sheets because I know how he smelled. And even that was a lot for me. Like I could smell what my son smells like.
Paul: A lot of parents I talk to love the smell of their children. And I guess that makes, that makes sense.
Nadereh: It’s very intimate. It’s almost like you’re hugging them because when you hug someone you smell them. It’s so intimate.
Paul: When my dad died, um, I remember going through his stuff and I put one of t-shirts out and I smelled it. And I could smell my dad. And I remember thinking this feels kind of weird but it’s ok, it’s ok because this is the last physical way that I can experience my dad.
Nadereh: Right, right. And I think sense of smell also is one of the things that you forget first before you forget their face or their voice, it’s kind of harder to remember, to recall.
Paul: Yeah, yeah.
Nadereh: But I don’t know, it’s like—there’s no—we are still in very like—we’re just working on things and uh definitely is a difficult road, but I wouldn’t use the word difficult because he’s back in my life so everything is for better. Like we have—there’s a lot to sort out.
Paul: Is there a tendency on your part to overwhelm him because there’s so much feeling that you have? Are you aware of …?
Nadereh: Yes, absolutely. So what’s happening is that I’m basically put like mousetrap on my fingers and my feet to just contain myself and don’t overwhelm him. I am—I work extremely hard to step over my own needs and my own struggle and really give up the idea that he’s my son more than he’s an individual who has gone through a very unfair life. He’s very bonded to the family who took him away from me – he considers them as family. So I am in no place, and I have no right to make this about me and the family.
Paul: That is so beautiful and such a hard thing, I would imagine, to get through, I mean that really speaks of your humanity, that you really are walking the walk of placing his needs first because I would imagine 90% of parents would place the truth first and go from that place because they could say, “This is truly what happened.” And not place his needs first. Because really his needs are more important than what the actual truth is.
Nadereh: In the beginning, Paul, it would take everything out of me. It would take absolutely everything out of me to remind myself in a constant basis where my center is and who he is and what I need to do to, like consider his situation. But as time goes by it’s easier and it feels really right. And now I’m at the place where I really—you know, because really you are at that place where you feel really victimized, is really hard like you’re so overwhelmed by the tragedy that all you wanna do—and it was a fantasy to me, like you know—there is no book to go and get, you know, Dummies for Mothers Who After 20—like I have again no resources or reference or.
Paul: You haven’t seen those—there’s Abducted Children for Dummies. (both laugh)
Nadereh: So basically when you talk about gray in your show, or in reference to your own struggle, ok, if there is a grayest thing in the gray, that’s where my life has been since I remember. I am as gray as it gets in all aspects of my life.
Paul: Well I have to say you really sound like you’re navigating it beautifully with a lot of dignity and yes I’m sure you’ve made mistakes, I’m sure you’ve done things that you want to take back, but who wouldn’t, given the emotional intensity of the things.
Nadereh: Just read what I said here, I left a note for myself, what does it say?
Paul: Don’t brag.
Nadereh: Ok, so when you tell me in your show that whenever you get outpouring, compassion and support from people then you’re afraid that you’re seeking attention, I am in so many ways so fucked up that when you tried to give me compliment, or anyone else, my immediate instinct is that, “Oh my God, if they know me then they probably wouldn’t say that about me.” Because I am very fucked up, I struggle a lot, and when you just hear like a good story in reality, I have up and down, I have so much—I have fallen apart so many times, I have seen my low point and six months later I have seen a point lower than that low point, so I don’t want to glamorize strength and like you know, I don’t want to make it look like that because your show is not about that. And the reason why I love your show is because I actually get to hear something that is really hard to share. It is really easy to come here and say oh yeah I do this, and then you say that’s called humanity, good for you, it doesn’t, you just don’t go—it’s not like a store where you can go and go and pick up courage and pick humanity and go and say, “How much?” You have to walk, you have to struggle, you have to talk to people, you have to go through shame, you have to hate yourself, you—it is a second to second struggle to come through these things, to get to a place where you can sit and say—and to this day even. Now I’m like, “Oh, fuck, am I misrepresenting myself? Because how come Paul thinking that I am walking the walk?” You know what I mean? It’s just like this—I don’t want to undermine the struggle that comes to get to places where—again, I send you email where you were talking about, you know, you and your mother, and I know exactly th-that fabricational gray and the walk and the time and the effort and the footwork that we all have to commit to get out of it.
And I want you to know, in every single story that I’m sharing with you, you heard or you haven’t heard, I have gone through all of that and to this day I’m still going through it and there’s no guarantee that if tomorrow you hear me and I sound like I’m the biggest loser, I’m the biggest fuckup, there’s nothing to be proud and I haven’t done anything right, just because maybe my son doesn’t want to talk to me again. It would destroy me, like this, whatever that you see as a strength or however you see it, is nothing that I can hold onto. I have to wake up every day like an alcoholic and decide and commit that I have to walk and move forwards towards well-being. That’s the only truth—this is the only truth I know. If I want to stay healthy and true to myself, there’s a lot of work that I have to do on a day-to-day basis and I’m no good of, because there’s so many day I wake up and I say “Fuck that shit.” I turn my phone off, I fucking go see the most disgusting thing that nobody wants to admit, and I go do impulsive things because I just can’t take it, I need to dissociate myself with this—all that I have to battle with. And then the only thing that helps me to like go on sometimes is that I do have new friend, I call him Confession Booth, and I go and I tell him. And because—that’s another thing I know is that if I feel like I want to keep a secret, that secret at some point is gonna come and destroy me.
Nadereh: if I am not able to share it, I am really concerned. But even if there is one person I can tell it to, all of the sudden whatever it is that I am so ashamed of loses its power and then it give me a little jump start to go and talk to the therapist and read about it and find out how the fuck I am gonna cure myself from that destructive behavior or thought.
Paul: And it gives that person that you tell it to, that safe person, a chance to love you more deeply.
Nadereh: Probably. But I, because I have been talking about all this success, let me line up the things that I’m not good at. I’m 48 years old, for the past ten years, not even once I had—after I was in a relationship with a female for ten years—since then not even once I felt intimate. Even though I have had sex with so many people in so many different places and in so many different ways. I am frightened to make myself vulnerable because somehow deeply my core belief, I think, for one I might not be loveable, for two if I get close to someone, something bad might happen to them. And again these are not on the surface, I’m guessing these are the reasons why. Because I don’t ever walk and if someone comes, you know, to me and they’re all looking good and fine to me, saying that, “No, I don’t want this person.” But I think I never put myself in a position where there is a possibility. And I suffer from it.
Paul: But don’t you think you’re working towards the place where you will get there one day?
Nadereh: I don’t know, there’s always gonna be a couple of things that you can’t overcome. I’m not gonna be Buddha in ten years.
Paul: I’m not saying you need to be Buddha.
Nadereh: But when you’re like tackling all the issues you have—was like the other day I was talking to my friend, yeah, yeah, I know I’m fucked up on that one, I don’t have the money, I don’t have the time to address that one. It’s not my priority right now. There are other things, other bigger things that I need to deal with right now. So I don’t know when or how or in what speed I can get to wholeness, because every day I wake up, I have to sort this—all that I’m telling you is never definite in me. I never wake up in definite terms thinking that I have overcome everything.
Paul: Oh I know and when I compliment you I’m not assuming that you’re this rock solid person that never backslides. That’s—we all backslide, we all take two steps forward and one step back and what I want to say to you is just because you take one step back doesn’t mean you’re not a good person or you’re not headed someplace good, it just means you’re human. And the greatest love that I’ve discovered is being able to love myself, even being conscious of my mistakes and my flaws.
Nadereh: I know you are definitely heavy in that game. Because I listen to you very carefully, uh, in terms of being vulnerable and being able to ask for help and being able to—being human. I definitely struggle with that a lot because again for me to overcome a lot of my struggle, it’s a necessity to be strong. But relying on that strength really takes over other things that I don’t need to be strong about. You know what I mean? And it’s just so automatic. It’s almost like—I really feel like most of the time I’m in a freaking war zone, battle zone. You can’t bring like a freaking cup of coffee and say, “Hey, let’s have a little dining out.” You know what I mean?
Nadereh: it’s like it just doesn’t work for me that way. I can’t not be strong, I’ve got a lot on my plate.
Paul: The world required you to be intense to survive and sometimes it’s hard to have that intensity turned off.
Nadereh: Absolutely and I am aware of it and I know if I—one thing that really came to my rescue to be honest with you is that I write a little bit, I love poetry, I really tried to create some outlet for myself. And surfing. I started surfing ten years ago. It’s absolutely the—it just like ensured my sanity because I know it’s there, I no nobody’s gonna take it, I know I can’t break it. It just did that magic for me, you know, and it’s a big part of my life and I keep praying for more things like that to come to my life so I can have more resources to freaking give up this idea that this is a battle zone and I have to be strong at all costs.
Paul: What was it that you started to say a while back – you started to say something about two months ago.
Nadereh: Yeah, so here I am, uh, about past two years, I am struggling a lot. I don’t know if I should add another story to this or how is our timing?
Paul: We’re kind of long on time, I think we’re …
Nadereh: So then I just say this – I was very, very depressed and I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know if I should take medication or not, I was in internet, I didn’t want to go to work, I’m really—I got to therapies, not all—I don’t want to like sit and be the educator to therapists. I want someone who can help me. I don’t want to help them to find out how—like the cultural references, there’s just so much headache. So I don’t always get 100% out when I go sit with a therapist who doesn’t know more. It becomes more like a story telling for them.
Paul: I see because there’s so much foreign about your story, you have to let them know certain things.
Nadereh: And then like the last therapist I had, it looked like I’m giving them like a story or something so she was excited to hear the rest of the story. I’m like, “Hello lady, I pay you, I’m not here to entertain you. You are here to sort things out for me.” So I get really frustrated and again these are those little things that I have to battle as a not white male, you know. (both laugh) Cuz there is not much reference help out there. So two months ago, again in one of those big funk of everything is hopeless, nothing can—you know, it’s really a symptom of depression. But when it starts happening, I’m not aware of it.
Paul: You think it’s reality.
Nadereh: And things are going wrong and it’s gonna permanent and so I fell for that and it just got worse and worse and worse and I’m like, oh, fuck, I need to start going to—even if I am in the field, even if I have gone through it a zillion times, it just snuck up and it’s really hard to (snaps fingers) sink in right away, what’s going on. So I’m going to this therapist which I’m really like, ok, I’ll try it, you know, with all of my doubt. I go see the psychiatrist, he tells me, “Oh, you have generalized anxiety with depression or you have depression with generalized anxiety, you have to take Prozac.” And, again, I’m not against medication but it think I can do it all, I can beat everything, I have that mentality. So I tell him yes but I wasn’t gonna do it. And again to make the story short, I talked to the therapist, he said, “Really, just give it a try. Come and see me two times a week.” And I said, “You know, if I just go insane or I go crazy or whatever.” He said he promised to call and not take me to the places where I work because I work in mental health. So I made a couple of—
Paul: You work in psychiatric hospitals.
Nadereh: Correct. Yes, yes, and I’m a psych nurse. So, um, I was just, you know, going through the internet and I was losing my mind, I was so tired and I kept typing “mental illness”, “happiness”, “depression” and kept just playing to see what comes out that might surprise me. And then your site came up. And I’m like, “What? Mentally illness, happy hours, what is that?” And I guess it showed me a podcast and then I was like, “Podcast?” I knew what podcast is but I never listened to anything. I’m not really into the pop culture, I’m not into celebrity, I don’t care about any of these things. I’m in my own world, like, you know, I’m in my Planet Nadereh. So I was like, ok, I just clicked on one because the instructions says to click one. I clicked one and I guess before I know it, it’s like, I know exactly, it was episode 52, that’s when I found it and I clicked it. So be before I know it, it’s showing that it’s downloading and there’s a line of downloading, one after another, and I’m like, “Oh shit, there is a virus in my computer. I don’t know how to stop this!” I was so afraid, and you know, and I’m so fragile that everything is a disaster.
Nadereh: So after doing that I was just like, fuck it. I left it alone and I pressed the first episode.
Paul: Do you remember who the guest was?
Nadereh: The first one is – if you show me I know who it is. It was a lady, looked really pretty and she was a little shy.
Paul: All my ladies are pretty.
Nadereh: Yeah, so anyhow, so she—you started talking to her and I’m like, “Hmm, interesting.” And I clicked for the next one, and I really started liking it and I clicked to the third one, all in a row, in the spot. I was like, “Oh my God, I like to listen to this.”
And now I have started Prozac already for like 3-4 days. And I didn’t know that in some cases Prozac does make you feel worse as you are waiting for it to kick in and it is a long-term acting so it’s gonna take like three to four weeks before you start seeing any results. And I’m still not aware, I’m not like—you know the knowledge but you don’t know what it is till it happens to you.
Nadereh: So as I’m getting worse, I’m convinced that I am crazy, I’m trying to think what psych hospital I’m going to admit myself, I’m trying to break it to my family. In my head I see my mom crying, I (indistinct) and I’m thinking of my son. Like you know the worries get bigger and bigger.
Paul: Oh yeah the darkness loves to extrapolate.
Nadereh: I am like gonna be homeless because I can’t go to work, and you know, like just the end of it. I saw the end of myself in the street where they say, “Oh that person used to be like really good person now ….”
Paul: She was an Iranian revolutionary. Give her a nickel.
Nadereh: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. She has lice in her hair and nobody recognize—I was just like—just in that. So all I could do for the next two weeks or whatever time was to lay in my bed, click the next episode, click the next episode. And as I was listening to that, and as Prozac was making me worse and as I was going to see Sean twice a week, I was really, really able to hang in there. Every single memory or thought or whatever your listener did share, every time that you said, “You are not alone.” I’m not a schizophrenic but I really thought you were talking to me specifically. Like, I couldn’t ask for a better program in a better more appropriate time to come to my life to say, “hang in there.” That’s all—because I couldn’t share with my family—they would get too worried about me. I was too proud to tell—there are times you can’t tell people that you wanna give up. And every day, every day, every day, I just—I went through all the episodes until I got to the point where I had to wait for the next week. And I already talked to you in my head. There are times I love you. There are times I hate you. There are times I doubt you, just the same kind of relationship I have with myself, with my struggle, and, uh, bottom line I’m hanging in there. And by the time I finished with all your episodes the Prozac was kicking in and I was feeling better and a month and a half, two months later, I’m sitting here, which is just so crazy, and talking to you. This is one of the absolute highlights of my life because I immediately got something and I have the chance to give it back. Because I know there are a lot of people out there. If you have doubt, that you may not make it the next day, talk to me, I’ll give you all the detail of what it’s like to make it another 1000 times and go on. It’s a proof and a program like this and, you know, definitely, any kind of resources like this are absolutely important for everybody to have around. So personal gratitude for what you did and all the guests who shared their stories that helped me to be here. I am very happy. (laughs)
Paul: Thank you, thank you Nadereh. And to anybody out there who has doubt, there is nothing like a white guy.
Many, many thanks to Nadereh and I got an update from her, because we taped that a few months ago, and her trip went well. She went to Oslo to visit her son. It went very well. They are actually both going to therapy now and they went to a week of therapy together and she said that he is very quiet but he is processing a lot of stuff and they’re moving forward. And I love that because that doesn’t paint any kind of movie picture that overnight all of the sudden everything is great, it shows that there’s work involved and a lot of times it’s kind of awkward and icky, as we like to say, but they’re moving forward. What a beautiful, beautiful person. And by the way, she listened to this interview and hated it. Hated her voice, hated everything about it. And that just shows how fucked up our brains are that something so powerful, such a powerful story, such compassion, such honesty that she could not hear that in herself.
Before I take it out with an email that I from a listener, I wanna thank the people that helped make this podcast possible: all the audio people that are getting clips – Debbie, Megan, Tim, Zack, Matt and Gary; all the transcribers – Jennifer, Angela and Angela, Christian, Sean, Hannah, Juanie, Sherri, Mur, Nate, Wendy, Amy, Alexis and Lindsay. God that’s a lot of people; the guys that patrol the forum for spammers – John, Michael, Matty and Dan, thank you guys; Stig Grieve who does the website, thank you so much for all your work; thank my wife Karla for always giving me good input; thank you guys for your awesome emails and suggestions.
There’s a couple of different ways you can support the show. You can do it financially by going to the website, mentalpod.com, making a PayPal donation, either a single, or my favorite, sign up to be a monthly donor for as little as $5 a month or as much as $25 a month. You can also buy stuff at Amazon through our search link and we get a couple of nickels, doesn’t cost you anything. And two great ways to support the show non-financially: go to iTunes and give us a good rating; or spread the word – do it with Reddit, Tumblr, all the social media you can. The more you spread the word the more people get to hear the podcast. And that makes me happy.
I’m going to read an email I got from a girl named Kimberly, she’s 17 years old. And she writes, “Hi Paul, I think I emailed you a year ago completely depressed and did not reply to your very kind email suggestion of therapy. I did go to therapy but I didn’t know much about my depression and myself in general. I went to therapy for three sessions and then stopped it because I thought it wasn’t effective. There was nothing wrong with her, I just didn’t know what good therapy was and I wasn’t ready to be completely honest about who I was. There’s a very evil and twisted side of me and I just couldn’t admit it. I’m hoping I would write what I was too afraid to say to my last therapist in this email.
“As a sort of precursor, I start my therapy when I get back from holiday and I hope that this time I’ll get better. Because now I know it’s not gonna be pretty. I’m not going to be the victim all the time and I have to admit that I’m not a good person, but well, I’m trying. And I know it will take a long time and a lot of work. But listening to your podcast, hearing your guests be so honest and lay their demons out, they let the world hear it, they let strangers hear it because they know they can lessen their self-slavery. It brings me so much hope and joy. It empowers me, really.
“It’s a long email, sorry about that. But well, it’s 2AM, I’m sharing a hotel room with five people and I’m currently hiding out in the closet because I can’t sleep, whether from anxiety or from a symphony of snores. Here goes: my biggest thing is that my issues are so lame. I’m sorry for that horrible term but it’s just the only word I can think of right now. I really fear that no one will ever love me. I constantly run around worrying that the people will stop suddenly. And I don’t know what will prompt this, so I spend so much time running around making sure every conversation is funny, every date is exciting, I am tired. I just want to live and just be loved and love. But I don’t know how. And sometimes I get so anxious about it that I’ll leave, cut them off or something, just not talk to them or see them in ages.
“I am a liar. I lie all the time to get attention, comfort, sympathy. Some of the things I lie about: I lie about being able to play the drums. I come from a family of musicians and I just can’t click musically. I am so ashamed of this it’s ridiculous. I lie about having another group of friends. This one is so terrible. My friends would ask me to go out with them and I’d get anxious about being too depressed to be much fun. So I’d like and say I’m hanging out with my other friends. There’s this really petty satisfaction and sense of control. They are so popular and beautiful I just feel so out of place. And well I made some of them feel like they were second best and not that important, you know, which is so horrible of me because they were kind enough to love me. What the hell is my problem?
“I can’t have a relationship with my father or many boys. I have a boyfriend and two childhood friends. That’s about it for my male relationships, other than the horny boys in the year above who want to fuck. I don’t know why my father and I have hit this wall. He’s the funniest, most compassionate and kind person ever. I don’t know why I feel so sad and anxious around him. I kept pushing him away. I think he thinks I don’t forgive him for physically abusing me when I was little, but I do. I don’t even think about it anymore, hell, I understand why he did it. I even agree that it should have been done to me.” That one I hard to read. “I just want us to watch the Olympics together and sing together and just have a relationship. But I don’t know how. I just burn with jealousy seeing him with my siblings. They laugh and play and I just want that, you know. I’m so ashamed at being envious of this. They were good kids. I shouldn’t be, you know, jealous, they deserve it.
“I’m socially just nervous. I think I have social anxiety. I mean in large groups, I’m the life of the party totally confident and cracking all these jokes, but when it’s just one-on-one I don’t know what to do at all. It’s like I’m under a magnifying glass and I’m disappointing the person. There’s no one to compensate for me. I used to not even think about what I was saying which well, is not smart, but now I think it over and keep things to myself to the point where it’s ridiculous. How are people supposed to know me and hear my stories and jokes if I keep concealing them? I’m not pretty enough to just sit there and smile. I wouldn’t want to anyway.
“Through your podcast, I learned that, hey, I ain’t that fucking special. People deal with this and it’ll get better but only when you can face it and deal with it. I realized how stupid I was, just like going to the doctor and telling them about my bruised toe instead of my fucking lung cancer. The only inspirational stories I’ve heard are about the people overcoming poverty, you know, people having the drive to accomplish great things. Your podcast has the celebration of the strength it takes to ask for help. I don’t hear that a lot. It’s construed as weak or unattractive where I grew up. You got beaten for asking for help. It’s helped me so much to realize it’s ok. It’s more than ok. It’s the smartest thing you can do. I started listening to this podcast at 16 years old, usually right after I’d gone to the bathroom and cut myself with a razor or picked up a hammer and just started smashing my skin, thinking that I’m completely fucked. I am wrong. I’m a little shit and there’s nothing I can do except to wait until I graduate and leave and kill myself somewhere other than home so my little sister won’t see my body. Well now I’m not much better but I am seventeen. I plan to listen to this podcast on my way to therapy once every week. I’ve been diagnosed with depression and taking Prozac. I haven’t cut in two months, been honest with my friends about my depression and flaws, and that is the greatest thing ever. You taught me how to do that on your podcast. And just being around people knowing that we all got baggage. Let’s just try to help each other carry the loads. It makes me cry. Literally cry tears of joy at the compassion and love people will give you if you just let them. Oh my gosh, this is so long.” It’s not too long. I hope therapy can solve these problems I’m having. Sorry about this sudden spam.” I love—you could be related to me. The number of ways that you apologize about things. Maybe that’s why I’m so touched by this, by this email.
Um, she writes, “I just really needed you to know how you changed my life, told me those simple things I guess other people knew but I didn’t. I think in some ways the depression that hit me was a good thing. I mean it stripped me bare and made me look at my core, at my flaws, which I may have never thought to address if not for this gnawing pain that forced me to. I really hope you get a million blessings and that your life is full of joy and love and peace. What you are doing is so brave, you say stuff and show your cards in a way I haven’t seen people do much in my life. And it healed me. Thank you, Paul.”
Kim, that’s the kind of shit that gets me up in the morning. When I’m depressed and don’t think I can face the day, when I read an email like the one that you just wrote, or I meet somebody like Nadereh, or read a survey like Wayne’s, at the beginning of the show, it just lets me know that I’m not alone in this. I’m not crazy. I’m a lot more normal than I think I am and that there’s hope.
And I hope that if you’re out there and you’re listening, number one you still have your job after spending seven hours listening to this episode, but I hope you realize that you’re not alone and that there is hope. And thanks for listening.