Episode 150: Ryan Sickler
The Baltimore native, standup comedian (Comedy Central, Late Late Show w/Craig Ferguson) and podcaster (The Crabfeast) shares about the hatred he endured from his mother and the love from his father and other relatives that saved him. This weeks sponsors are Naturebox and DailyBurn. To get 50% off your first box, go to Naturebox.com and use offer code “happyhour”. To get your first 30 days free go to DailyBurn.com/happyhour.
Paul: Welcome to episode 151 with my guest, Ryan Sickler. This show is sponsored by NatureBox, a monthly subscription service that delivers smarter snacks straight to you. They’re the real deal: no high-fructose corn syrup, no hydrogenated oils, no artificial flavors or colors. Go to naturebox.com to get 50% off your first box with promo code happyhour. It’s time to get nutritionist-approved snacks that you can feel good about. At naturebox.com.
I’m Paul Gilmartin, this is The Mental Illness Happy Hour, two hours of honesty about all of the battles in our heads from medically diagnosed conditions, past traumas and sexual dysfunction to everyday compulsive, negative thinking. This show’s not meant to be a substitute for professional mental counseling. I’m not a, I’m not a therapist; this isn’t a doctor’s office. It’s more like a waiting room that doesn’t suck. The website for this show is mentalpod.com. Go there, check it out, take surveys, see how other people filled them out, join the forum, support the show, read blogs, or, as you know, just go fuck yourself.
Um, let’s get right into it. I want to read, um, a couple of surveys. This is, uh, these first few are from the Struggle in a Sentence survey. Um, this was filled out by Mary, in her twenties. About her anxiety, she says, “That feeling that there are too many people in the room and you cannot get out fast enough.” About her co-dependency, “Constantly searching for someone to fill a void, only to realize you may not be capable of connecting with another person on the level you wish you could, and yet still searching, still reaching out to people to keep yourself afloat in your life.” About her anger, “A constant battle between good and evil brewing inside your mind. Always trying to keep the rage beast from breaking the surface, in order to remain a mirage of the happy person people think you are.”
Same survey filled out by a guy who calls himself DorfonCoke. He’s in his twenties. About his anxiety, he says, “There’s a small knife running up and down the center of my chest.”
Same survey filled out by a guy who calls himself AdamC. He’s in his thirties. About his depression, “As I cycle in and out of depression, I’m almost angry at my friends for being concerned. Why do you want to call the hospital when I was suicidal yesterday?” About his love addiction, “I value relationships only when they’re over.” About his anger issues, “I don’t want to forgive people who’ve wronged me. I want them to suffer. Sad but true.”
Um, this is the same survey filled out a woman who calls herself C. She’s, uh, between 16 and 19. About her depression, “Turning the key over and over and over, like maybe this time the battery won’t be dead and the car will start.” About her anxiety, social anxiety, “I’m in constant disbelief that someone as inherently embarrassing as myself could ever be allowed to exist in public.” And about her anorexia, “My grandmother doesn’t eat, my mother doesn’t eat, I don’t eat. If my little sisters don’t eat, I am to blame.” Ah, that one is deep.
And then I wanna read, um, this letter that I got from a listener who calls herself BostonMom. She writes, “Your interview with listener Amelia really touched me. When she said, ‘Having a baby was like marrying someone you never met,’ I nearly fell off the treadmill laughing and everyone at the gym was staring at me. As someone who suffered from post-partum anxiety, and still has ambivalent feelings about motherhood, I believe this statement says it all. It took me months to develop a loving bond with my babies, and until they were well past the toddler stage, I was constantly overwhelmed by them and their needs. I often felt like running away. And I felt like a terrible mother. I would go to the playground and be surrounded by happy earth mothers who gushed with love and happiness and hand-prepared organic baby food. I wanted to shoot them all in the head. Now at 8 and 11, my daughters are the delight of my life. But let’s face it – babies suck, literally and figuratively.”
Paul: I’m here with, uh, with Ryan Sickler. It’s pronounced “Sickler” or “Sick Fuck”?
Ryan: (laughs, claps) It is actually “Sick Fuck”, yes. Uh, Sickler, Ryan Sickler, yes.
Paul: Um, thank for, for contacting me. I think, who knows? This might go terribly. But I have the feeling it’s gonna, it’s gonna go great.
Ryan: Well I appreciate you allowing me in, yes.
Paul: Uh, I watched, uh, a short that you have on your website last night which is based on a true story called—about two guys who argued over James Brown’s actual height. And, did they shoot each other?
Ryan: They did. They did not die; we faded out just as, as—I think Tom’s character did die in it. But, yeah, the, uh, the true story is both guys got together to watch Alabama/Auburn, which you would think would be the fight.
Paul: The reason, yes.
Ryan: And somehow it escalated into an altercation about James Brown’s actual height, that then broke out in gunfire, return gunfire, and an arrest, yeah. That’s a true story.
Paul: It’s so awesome.
Ryan: But that’s—the thing about that was, uh, you’ll need—for crazy stories like you usually just get the headline and what happened. You don’t get the behind the story of the story. And we just decided that we were gonna create our version of how the shit went down.
Paul: It’s hilarious. It’s hilarious.
Ryan: Thank you, I appreciate that.
Paul: Yeah. Uh, and people can check out your website, uh, Ryan S-i-c-k-l-e-r, ryansickler.com. Um, I didn’t look through much after that, I just kinda wanted to get a feel of your, of your sense of humor, which, and I’m sorry that I don’t, um, I’m not familiar with your comedy. I’m so isolated from the comedy scene these, these days, um—
Ryan: No need to apologize. I’m isolated from my comedy, yeah. We’re in good hands here.
Paul: Good, we’ve got that in common. Uh, you were raised where?
Ryan: Uh, I was originally born in Baltimore, raised in Maryland. We moved out of the city probably, eh, about four years old, out to the county, uh, where my parents had their third kid. I’m, I’m a twin, so they weren’t expecting double out of the gate. And I think it was uh—quickly got crowded in that little row home. And then, boom, out to the suburbs for a little more room.
Paul: Baltimore is an interesting city, man. It is uh—
Ryan: Have you been? (indistinct)
Paul: I haven’t, but, uh, you know, any time I see something’s that set there, that feels realistic, I, I feel like, um, I don’t know, Baltimore is, uh—it’s got a lot of flavor, but it seems also like a really kind of, almost like bordering on Atlantic City in terms of the desperation and the sadness.
Ryan: And corruption. Yes. It’s, uh, it’s a beautiful town. Um, but it is, it’s a hard town. It’s a hard town. I mean, it just is. The, the Homicides: Life on the Street—I don’t know how familiar you are with, uh, David Simon and Ed Burns, but they, they spent—
Paul: My favorite show ever.
Ryan: The Wire. Ok.
Paul: They, they—I think it’s the best drama ever.
Ryan: I, and, and I’m biased, but I will agree with you. Uh, and Homicide: Life on the Street, wasn’t, it wasn’t—it was critically acclaimed, it wasn’t, you know—it was popular, but it wasn’t NYPD Blue popular.
Paul: Or Law and Order.
Ryan: Or Law and Order, exactly. Um, and then they had another, a-a short mini-series called The Coroner that Charles Dutton hosted—
Paul: Loved it.
Ryan: And it was based off of the book they wrote, which is, you know, a novel thick, uh, and they spent a year living in these burnt out row homes with drug addicts and getting to know their stories, and, uh, how they lived. And then it just spawned everything. I, I’m such a fan I’ve even watched, uh, Generation Kill and Treme. I love the work they do.
Paul: Yeah. It’s so detailed. That’s what I love. And, and they give the viewer so much credit for being able to put things together, to use their brain, to engage. I, you know, I wear the rewind button watching The Wire out because the language is so authentic. They don’t change it to make it more understandable or palatable for us suburbanites. Um, and I, and I love that because it’s—you feel like you’re transported to a, to a different place and, I mean, that’s the best television is where you’re like—you forget your life.
Ryan: It, it is. And, and not only that, the other thing I like about is that when you hear these words, you’re like, “What are they talking about?” That’s probably the same way they felt when they first started investigating these people. And they had to learn the same way the viewer’s learning, and then once you get up and running, you’re off and running. And you’re like, “OK. I know who Avon Barksdale is, and I know he’s running this crew over here.” And, and after a while, you’re like, “Oh, wow, I put all that together.” And, you know, once you see them lay it out on a chart on, in a shot, you’re like, “Oh, I’m with ya. I got all that right now.”
Paul: And, and the underlying empathy that they have for people, even who commit terrible crime, they’re—that to me is the ultimate sign of success when you’re creating something, is that all characters have dark and, and light in them.
Ryan: Did you have a favorite? Character?
Paul: Um, you know, I was a, a big fan of, uh, Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale and, uh, even some of the guys that were slinging—that, that were lower level guys. Um, you know, Omar was a great character.
Ryan: Yes, yes that’s my favorite.
Paul: Yeah, it was, it was all good. And some of the cops were great too.
Ryan: Yeah. And, and I love the, um, the—how they show you the level of hierarchy, corruption, everything that occurs. From the little hoppers and the little, you know, all the way up to the Avon Barksdale who—I mean Stringer Bell—who’s in college and putting up the front at the funeral home so they can have this going. And then the, you know, same dirty and, uh, corrupt thing going on—
Paul: And it all makes logical sense. Which, yeah, I love when they put the, the effort into story. Well, speaking of stories, let’s, let’s get into your story. What, what was it like, um—so, three kids total?
Ryan: Three kids total. Three boys.
Paul: And, what was it like living in a row house in, in Baltimore? Do you have many memories of it before you moved out into the, uh, county, or country or whatever…?
Ryan: I have very few memories of the early one. Uh, we’ll get to it later, but I eventually moved in with my grandmother who lived in a row home and I have very, uh, explicit memories of the, those days. But, uh—
Paul: So, row home out to the county, back to a row home, in Baltimore.
Ryan: Just outside the city in a row home, yeah, Baltimore Country, right across the line there. Um, but we moved out to the suburbs, two boys at first. I have a fraternal twin brother, he’s four minutes older. Uh, my mom and dad moved out to the county, they had—
Paul: Did he accomplish anything in those four minutes?
Ryan: (laughs) I always say, “I’m older, I just came out second. I was conceived first, delivered second.” Um, but he didn’t accomplish anything. I get—you know, he became their first, that’s what he became. That’s probably—you know what, that’s a very interesting question. I have never thought about that 240-second head start he had and it may be the answer to everything. And nothing, all at once.
Paul: W-were either of you—did either of you feel like there was a favorite?
Ryan: Um, not until my younger brother got there. Then there was a clear favorite, um, from my mother. My father was always even, but, um, there, and—but he had his moments with each of us. You know what I mean? Like, he really picked his spots and picked them well, I have to say. Uh, but my mother was always—um, my younger brother’s name’s Todd, always Todd first, Derek was my twin brother, who, she was like, “You can come, you can leave”, and then me, was just, “don’t want any part of this kid.” And, and has admitted to disliking me since I was four.
Ryan: So, I, you know—and I didn’t find that out until later, that she had actually disliked me that early on. I mean, I knew it, I wasn’t a dumb kid. Kids are, kids are way more intelligent, uh, may not possess the vocabulary to explain it, but your feelings are there. And you know. And I knew from jump that my mother just wasn’t a good person, and my father was. And I couldn’t have been more thankful to have, not only him, but his mother and her sisters; my great-aunts were a huge, um, um, supportive network that made us realize and believe that, you know—and, and it was the same lesson taught with race. Just because there’s this one bad person doesn’t mean that all of these are bad. So, my father would always say, “Look, don’t, you know, don’t dislike women. Respect women.” And put us into an environment of strong, independent women, uh, family women who, uh, would tell you, you know, “Hey, that over there is wrong. Just so you know, there’s—this is the way it should be.” And it was, uh—
Paul: That probably saved your soul in so many ways.
Ryan: Oh, it saved everything. It was a beyond healthy balance, and, and save, yeah.
Paul: I started to, uh, with my, uh, joke, uh, interrupt you. You were starting to say about your brother when he, when he came out first? Would you—do you remember what your thought was?
Paul: I interject—I, I can’t resist.
Ryan: That’s OK, I can’t either! Don’t even worry about it. (laughs)
Paul: Uh, so do you have any idea what it was that, that turned your mom against you at such an early age?
Ryan: I don’t. I really don’t, and, and you know, I’ve gone to therapy in and for year—you know, as a kid, as a teenager, uh, later in life, um… I just actually—for the last year, I have not gone. And I’d been going for about three years straight. And I just wanted take a break. Uh, Jay Larson’s a really good friend of mine. He’s another comedian who I host, um, my podcast with.
Paul: Crab, Crabfeast?
Ryan: Yes, The Crabfeast, which plays into all this as well. Um, but he also goes. And we talk about it. And told, you know, I , I just wanted to take a break. And also, take what I’ve been taught and start applying it on my own without having to come in and, you know, I know that’s something that I will want and I’ll always do, but I don’t always need it every day. Or every week, I should say.
Paul: Was there something specific about therapy that was kind of wearing on you that you wanted the break from?
Ryan: (sighs) Yes, honestly, yes. Uh, I felt like I had worked a lot of stuff out. I had figured things out enough that I wanted to get back out into the real world, so to speak, and start working on them and applying them. But the other was, I just started to feel as if, um, I was just coming in complaining about things. Um, I found myself getting in a rut, just, “Well this and this, and work” and blah, and I was like, “This isn’t what, you know, therapy is about.” I’ve, I’ve reached—I started finding myself looking for things that were—
Paul: Were negative.
Ryan: Yeah, negative. And were, were nothing. Well, I don’t need to worry—what the hell do I need to bother that guy about this for? You, this isn’t something I needed a professional to tell me, I know what the hell to do for this. It was just also a—um, I wanted it to be more than just a sounding board at that point, you know.
Paul: Uh, so give me some snapshots from, from childhood that were seminal, painful, um, you know, awesome. Uh, either, either one. Things that left an impression on you.
Ryan: Um, I’ll start with, um my mother, cause that’s where the root of my everything is. Um, so my mom—you know, I , I remember, you know, all—she was, she was an abusive person. She was physically abuse, mentally abusive, emotionally abuse, uh, every—thank God, not sexually abusive. Every abusive but. Um, and…
Ryan: Bless you!
Paul: Excuse me!
Ryan: And when we—my parents first started having, uh, marital problems when we were in third grade. And when I say “we”, obviously my twin brother and I—my other brother was just about four years younger than us. And, every—you know, we knew she had cheated on him, and, and, um, she was leaving. And we took it hard—we’re like, what, what are you talking about, you’re leaving? And I remember I, I took it the hardest when she left at first, because it was just this crazy—like, what are you talking about? And, uh—
Paul: That has to be inconceivable to, uh, uh, a three or four year old.
Ryan: Especially when you’re being told—you, you, you, you don’t know what’s going on, but you know enough, and you’re told, “We’ll tell you when you’re older. We’ll tell you when you’re older.” Which is a running theme for the, uh, elders in our family. And, um….
Paul: Did you blame yourself?
Ryan: No. Never blamed myself. And my father was very—made it very clear, “This is—has zero to do with you guys.” Th-the divorce, or separation. Um, the abuse clearly was something that she was going through. Which is what I’ve learned later. You know, like, “Oh, I never bothered to consider what, how you felt and what you were going through, and always looked at you as this asshole, basically.” Um, so, they decided they were gonna work on it. Didn’t happen, they divorced, and we were forced to move with our mother—this was the summer of fifth and sixth grade. And all we wanted to be was with our father. My youngest brother was truly torn, my twin brother and I were both like, “We’re all about dad.” You know, and I remember he dropped us off one weekend, and he just started crying. And it was the first—it was maybe the second I saw my father cry. And, I, it just, it just felt like seeing Superman cry. Like, this guy’s dropping his kids off to a woman that doesn’t care about them, or him, but this is what the court says they have to do right now.
Paul: That had to be heartbreaking for him.
Ryan: And, it, it had to be. It had to be. And we would talk—and this was, you know, obviously, before cellphones and all that stuff, so, uh, email. So we would talk on the phone nightly. I mean, it was always. Always checking in, always asking, and always being a dad too, like, “Are you doing well in school?” Wasn’t just like, “What are you guys doing today, I miss you.” It was also, put that aside and let me be a parent as well. Um…
Paul: Did your mom have any kind of addiction or substance abuse issues?
Ryan: No, no addiction, no substance abuse, no—I don’t know enough about her past. I know that she did not have a good relationship with her mother, who I was also close with, but not as close as my father’s mother. Um, and her mom even lived with us at the time my mother did all this. I—
Paul: Did she strike you as abusive?
Ryan: Not at all. But she did have a daughter—my mother had a sister, who died of—I don’t know if it was during or just after birth, there was something happened and she, she passed. And …
Paul: Did she accomplish anything?
Ryan: H-her? (laughs)
Paul: (laughs) The one that died just after birth? There’s a window!
Ryan: She died after giving birth, after giving birth.
Paul: Oh, she did. Oh, OK.
Ryan: I guess she accomplished having a child. Uh, and then, um, it clearly affected my grandmother. I mean, it seemed to be, that was obviously more of her favorite child, and if she could have picked one to go, it wouldn’t have been the one that left.
Paul: I see.
Ryan: And, um, but my grandfather, her husband, had passed before we were born, so I don’t know if there was double baggage, you what I mean, I don’t know that because we’re not close enough to have those conversations. Um….
Paul: In between her hitting you.
Ryan: In between the beatings of lunchboxes and what not, yeah. So…
Paul: Did she hit you with a lunchbox?
Ryan: Oh, my mother would grab whatever was near her. Lunchbox, phone books, those wallpaper—remember that old, uh, blade you would cut a wallpaper with, she would hit you with the—anything, anything. And, and, my mother just—she was a bully. I mean, she just was a bully. She just wanted to beat someone. And if even my brothers did it, I-I would get the beating. Closed fist punches, the whole nine. She was, she was—I don’t know what she was taking out on me, but, but she had her way until I got a little bit older and I could defend myself. Uh …
Paul: You know, the one of the, one of the things that fascinates me about abuse is how the person—you know, be it sexual, mental, emotional, physical, is what—how the person justifies it to themselves. What they say. What—would she say anything when she would be beating you?
Ryan: Just—no, nothing in particular, just that, you know, I wasn’t going to do whatever I was doing, that she didn’t like. It was never (exhales)—I mean, no, I would just get beat. I mean, if shoes weren’t placed in the corner properly, it wasn’t, “get your shoes over there,” it was, “I’m gonna come over here and beat you and tell you about the damn shoes, get ‘em in the corner.” Clearly, whatever you’re beating me about and saying is not what the fuck the problem—am I allowed to cuss?
Paul: Yeah, oh yeah!
Ryan: It’s not what the problem is, but, I’m gonna beat you get this message into you.
Paul: Were you just constantly on edge?
Ryan: Constantly on edge, um, but also, you know, I-I—my grandmother couldn’t get over it. My grandmother was, my dad’s mom, and my mom’s mom, they were both moms, you know what I mean? They were—they didn’t get it, you know. And they were old school, where they’d say, “Well, she’s your mother.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but she’s not acting like my mom.” I mean, this is a woman to tells me, on a daily basis, “I hate you. I wish you were dead.”
Paul: I HATE you?!
Ryan: Oh, “I wish you were dead. You’re a loser. You’ll never be anything. You’re a piece of shit. Get the fuck out of here. I want you dead.”
Paul: Starting at three or four, or ..?
Ryan: Not that, but that would—that came starting in middle school. I’d say sixth grade. When they split, and we went with her, that’s when it got—that’s when it got—that’s when it really started to get aggressive. Um, and it carried through to seventh grade. And, I remember, I mean, it’s not funny but it is—um, so she—I can’t remember what it was. We were driving home from school and she said something—she said she wasn’t going to make us dinner. And I was like, “You, you’re serious? You’re not gonna make us dinner?” And we got out the car, she punched me in my face. And it was winter. And I remember because there was snow on the ground. And I couldn’t believe I just took a closed fist shot to the face. Now I’d taken them from my brother a bunch. So at that point, I could handle myself enough. But I was blown away. Now I didn’t cry or anything, I just grabbed her keys out of her hand and I snapped the key ring and then I threw them and scattered them all in in the snow in the yard. And I thought, “You know what? That’ll give us at least a solid half hour to calm down, play some video games, she’ll be out there.” And she came in, and she was beating the shit out of me, and I just—I went to shove her off of me, and there was an ottoman right behind her that I didn’t plan, and I mean she went DOWN. Inside, I was like, “Yes!” And at the same time, I was like, “F-U-C-K!” And she got up, and I was expecting the—a bull rush, and she just looked at me. And I think that was the moment when she realized, “My son’s getting bigger and stronger, maybe I shouldn’t mess with him so much.” And she called my father, who was at work. He worked at, uh, at National Airport, which is now Ronald Reagan, he was the crew chief of—for Pan Am Airlines, and, um, he said, “Put him on the phone.” And I got on the phone, expecting him to yell at me, and he’s like, “Is she near you?” And I said, “No.” And he started laughing. And he said, “Listen to me, man. Don’t fucking hit your mom.” I was like, “Dad, I didn’t hit her, I was just shoving her away from me.” He’s like, “I know, I get it. But she’s fucking scared of you now.” And I was like, “Good. Finally. Good.” And that’s when I started to, to fight back, you know. I would come home from school—if we left like a little plastic mug of Kool-Aid that we drank in the sink, it would—nothing would be said to you, it would just be thrown at your face. So you’re sitting watching TV, and this cup is flying, trying to hit you in your face. And the one time it did shoot by my face, I-I mean I was like—and I grabbed it and I—I intentionally threw it back, not near her, but on the cabinet. So it was plastic and it shattered. And she looked at me, and I was like, “Playing baseball. I pitch this year, mom.” Cause she never came to any games. I was like, “Stop throwing shit. Stop throwing shit.”
Ryan: And it just became—but I, but I, I survived all of it because of humor. Like, my brother and I would lay in bed at night, and we’d be like, “Do you believe that shit today? Like, that almost hit me in my face!” And we would laugh about it. Talk about it.
Paul: That must’ve saved you guys emotionally.
Ryan: Comedy was everything, everything. And it was, it was—but that all goes back again to my father. My mother, you know, my mother didn’t come to games—sporting events. W-we were all involved in sports. I don’t know how my father did it. I don’t know how he went to work. I mean, where we lived to DC is almost an hour one way. This dude drove back and forth, double shifts. I don’t know how he made every school event, every sporting event. You know, my mother barely worked, when we were in elementary school, and, um, even in middle school and high school, she could’ve come to whatever she wanted to and never did. S-so actually, then my parents decide they were gonna try to get back together. My father was all about his kids. And he was like, “Let’s just make this work for them.” And so in seventh—th-they spend the year apart, um, got back together in seventh grade, and it quickly did not—six, eight, months I think that might have been over with. But I think my dad knew and had to plan and he was like, “I’m buying you out of your share of the house. The boys and I are gonna live here. You go wherever you wanna go.” And…
Paul: To her.
Ryan: To her. So she went and stayed wherever she stayed, here and there. And, then, uh, it was ninth grade, and my father—they had to go to, um, court for custody. And my father said to me, “Do you wanna go?” And I was like, “I-I don’t wanna go. Mom’s told me for years she doesn’t want me. I don’t need to go sit in court and listen to that. I’m gonna go to the beach with my friends.” And my two brothers went, with my grandmother and one of her sisters, my Aunt Marguerite, and they sat in court, and, you know, the judge was a female, and she said to my father, you know, “What do you want?” And my father said, “I-I want my kids. I love my kids. But if you’re not going to allow me to have them, I’d rather not split them up. I think they need each other, especially if you’re going to, you know, award her custody.” And then the judge asked my mother, and my mother said, you know, “I want Todd. Derek can come if he wants. I do not want Ryan.” And, and this woman’s not just a judge, this-this is a mom. Maybe a grandmom, I might be assuming, and she said, “In all the years I’ve done this, I’ve never heard a mother say, ‘I don’t want one of my kids, or one can come if they don’t wanna come’—like, I don’t process that. That’s against nature.” And she awarded my father custody, and made my mother pay him child support. And this is ’89. I don’t hear that now. This woman was bothered by it. And my father came home and he was laugh—I was like, “There’s no way.” He’s like, “She—well, I’m getting child support.” And I was like, “well good for you.”
Paul: Did she pay it?
Ryan: She paid the first one. So, this, this is a woman who, phew, I mean, we could talk forever. I ….
Paul: I think we got a, I think we got a pretty good idea of …
Ryan: There’s one thing I regret. That was a moment, um, about maybe eight years ago, I called her and I forgave her. And, I don’t know what was going on, there was—you know, like I try to pay attention to the universe and signs, and you know, little things. And I just kept seeing all this stuff about forgiveness and this, and this, and this, and this. And I called her and I just said, “You know, look. I-I just want you to know, I’m not speaking for dad, or-or my brothers, or on behalf of the family, this is me and you. And I just want you to know I forgive you. I don’t think you should have to walk this earth thinking that one of your children hates you.” And I said, “In actuality, to me, in order to love someone, you have to have a strong, positive relationship. And in order to hate someone, you have to have a strong, negative relationship. And we have no relationship. So I don’t hate you. I can’t hate you.” And she’s like, “Thank you so much” and blah, blah, blah. Next day, I go to a Dodger game and I catch a f—a foul ball, and I’m like, “Oh, shit’s gonna change.” And I give it to this little girl sitting next to me with her parents, and, um. And it changed nothing. It changed nothing. Nothing happened. And, when I went to therapy, one of the things I learned is that you can’t give forgiveness to someone who isn’t asking for it. That—what I’m really doing is making it OK for me. That was more for me than it was for her, because it made no fucking difference. I mean, nothing. Nothing.
Paul: In other words, your relationship with her, nothing, nothing changed.
Ryan: Nothing changed. Nothing changed. And, um, yeah, that was …
Paul: Did the Dodgers do any better?
Ryan: (laughs) Nah, they sucked too man. I thought I’d bring them some good luck, but they sucked that year.
Paul: So ….
Ryan: If I could tell you a very quick back story, a blueprint story, I’ll call it. Um, when I was about nine, we had, um, something called Super TV back then in Maryland. It was early cable, and after a certain, maybe 6PM, you got an HBO, and a couple of other channels. It was a box no bigger than this here, you press a little button on it. And I’d snuck downstairs, and I was laying the hallway, and my father was in the living room, I’m behind him watching over his shoulder, and I saw this movie, um, with Richard Pryor called Bustin’ Loose, if you remember that. And I saw kids on the screen, so I thought, “Oh well, there’s kids. I’m probably allowed to watch this.” And then I saw Richard Pryor. And I laughed my ass off and I got caught. And my father’s, “Get in here!” And I was like, “Oh shit.” He’s like, “Sit down!” And he said, “Finish watching this with me.” And that was it. That was where it was born for me. He would call me out of bed late at night and show me old Saturday Night Live sketches and everything. So, he planted that seed of humor, and release, and funny, and comedy, and Danger—he introduced me to Dangerfield, and Carlin, and Cosby, and on and on. So, fast-forward to finally getting to live with him, and finally my mother’s out of the picture, we’re all together. He’s working hard and he has—he says to me, he’s having heart trouble, and he has a doctor’s appointment. And he said to me, I was 16, tenth grade, and he said, um—he came to me at night, and he’s like, “I want you to drive me to the doctor appointment tomorrow.” And I was like—and I hated to miss school. I-I was, I was a B student, I wasn’t a straight A student, but I just fucking hated makeup work. And, I was like, “Alright.” You know, I never questioned, “Why not Derek? Why not, you know, anyone else?” Um, so they went to school. And I took my father. We picked up his mother, my grandmother, on the way, and we went to the doctor. And while we’re there, the doctor says to him, “You’re having a heart attack right now. I’ve already called Johns Hopkins. Get over there. They’re gonna admit you. They’ll be waiting out front.” And that was when I learned that—I was always under the impression that a heart attack was clutch your chest and drop. I didn’t realize until then that the shortness of breath, the sweating, the numbness, all those were—you’re having a heart attack. Um, so I drive over and, um (chuckles), we’re about a block from the hospital and we’re at a stoplight and I have my blinker on. My dad’s like—now he’s grown up—he grew up in the city. And he’s like, “It’s not this left.” And I’m like, “Dad, it’s this left.” He’s like, “Ryan, it is not this left. I’m having a heart attack, it is the next left.” “I’m pretty sure it’s this left, Dad.” And, it is amazing to me that he was—he let me make the mistake. He’s like, “OK. It’s this left.” And I make the left, and immediately I-I know it’s the wrong—I’m like, “Aww.” And now we have to go back around the block, and he is pounding the fucking dashboard like—and I thought about that not long ago, and I was like, “What a great dad”—like, my dad let me be wrong to learn a fucking lesson. He’s having a heart attack. He knew. We get him in, they rush him up. He’s plugged up in tubes, you know. It’s, it’s—it was overwhelming to see this, this happen. And then, we would visit him in the hospital. He was there, for I wanna say it was about a week, they kept him, maybe four or five days. And then when they released him my Aunt Marguerite, my grandmother’s sister, lived in downtown Baltimore, so we decided we were gonna do Thanksgiving at her place so we didn’t have to drive all the way back. And, so all of us, the whole family, gets together there and we have this great Thanksgiving. We go home Sunday night. Um, and for some reason, I think it was because it was a holiday, we had off on Monday from school. So Tuesday we were going back. And that night, my mother calls, and she’s not gonna have the child support check. And my father gets worked up and he gets pissed off. Then he gets a call that we were to blame, my brother and I, for this high school party that we were not to blame for. And, he was just like, “Why am I getting this call?” You know, just worked—he was like, “I need to relax.” And it was midnight, and I was go—my brothers were already in bed, and I’m walking down the hallway to go to bed, and for some reason, I stopped and I turned around and I looked at him, just laying on the loveseat watching TV. And I went to bed. And in the morning, my younger brother had got up to go to the bathroom, and as he was coming out of the bathroom, he looked into my father’s room and said he saw him sort of like laying on the bed and didn’t think he was breathing. So he came right in and woke us up. He’s like, “I don’t think Dad breathing.” And, we, of course, we shot. And, sure enough, he was dead. He’d been—he had died overnight at some point. Um, it was crazy because, uh, he’s laying on his back, shirtless, and he’s sort of—if you can picture getting into your side of the bed and you’re sitting on the bed and then you just laid back. So your legs are sort of off the bed still, a little. And you could see blood in his body had settled. So if you were to draw a horizontal line through from the middle of the body down, and right away we run in, and, and, you know, I—we’re—one of my brothers went and got the neighbor. He came over, he’s like, “I can’t tell if that’s his heart or my heart.” You know, we’re all freaking out. And, I thought I heard gurgling. I tried to clear his throat. You know, I kept a level head, and then I just realized this, this—nah, he’s dead. And, um, I closed his eyes for the last time. We covered him up. Um, and he must have had a massive heart attack. Just a little bit of blood on his foot. I think maybe he spit some up. He probably wanted to lay down because he wasn’t feeling well. No idea if he ever yelled out in the middle of the night. None of us heard anything. Um, and then, you know, we called 9-1-1. And they come over. And they tell us that we can’t take your dad’s body because he’s been dead for a while, we have to call the coroner. So now we’re in the house with our father’s body in his bedroom and here comes his brother. He had one brother, here comes our uncle over. And then there’s a woman, and husband too, that played a major role—I consider her my mom, her name’s Sandy Patterson. Uh, sweetest lady. She was a friend of ours’ mom. She was that mom in the neighborhood that was, you know, a mom. Like that was—like the Norma Arnold of our time. And, um, they came over. And, and, um, someone had called my mother, and I guess she returned the call. And I was sitting next to the phone and I picked up and I just said, “Dad’s dead.” She freaked out. Someone from her work brought her. Priest came in. We were raised Catholic. Gave last rites. These were all things I didn’t know. And then they asked us to step out on our deck, while they carried our father’s body out in a body bag. And I just have—I, I can’t help myself. I had to look in. I peeked in through the curtains, I saw it. I watched it. And as we’re standing out there, my mother’s friend, the lady that drove her up, touched me on the shoulder and she said, “You know you really need to give your mother a chance.” And that was the wrong fucking moment to pick that to say to me. And I turned around, and before I could say anything, my uncle grabbed her—both of them were like, “You need to fucking just go.” So, they take him away. And I remember before they did, I remember we covered him up and my brother Derek just collapsed on him, and, just, I mean, let out this wail and just was like, “What’s gonna happen to us? What’s gonna happen to us?” And inside me I knew, you know, I felt the wrong one had gone, you know, the only one that cared is now dead. And I knew we were gonna be OK. I knew—just had this feeling in me, like, “We’ll, we’ll, we will be OK.”
Paul: You were 16?
Ryan: 16, yeah. Um, and then after that, that’s when we had that moment of living with my grandmother from, you know, basically December—it’s crazy. I don’t know who the fuck thought of this, but he died on November 27th, um, he was laid out on the 28th and the 29th, and he was buried on November 30th, which is my younger brother’s 13th birthday. I don’t know why they wouldn’t just wait until the 1st. So we had a wake, slash—we had a wake with a cake. That’s what I should have fucking said.
Paul: A wake with a cake.
Ryan: We had a wake with a fucking birthday cake. And we were like, “Who in the hell? Who’s in charge of this fucking bus here? Like, what are you doing? Why are we doing this? Can’t we—can we do this tomorrow?” But they thought it was a good idea. So, that was what went down. Um….
Paul: We have a word for that on the podcast – awfulsome.
Ryan: (laughs) That’s, that’s great. That is exactly what it was. A whole lot of awfulsome. And, then, um, from like December through February, my grandmother stayed with us in the house where my father died. And she didn’t drive. And my mother has known my grandmother before we were even born. She knows she doesn’t drive. And we’re stuck in this house. And, we, thankfully, had just started driving. So we could get her to the grocery store, bank, whatever errands she needed. And when my mother came over, it was just after Thanksgiving, and she, um, she said, um, you know, “If you got—what do you want for Christmas?” Or, whatever. And I said, “I don’t want anything from you. But this is what I want.” I know she had not paid my father, and I said, “I want you to give that child support money for that month to Grandmom so that we can go get groceries, and gas, and things that we need.”And my mother, in front of my grandmother, looked at me and she said, “Do you really think you’ll ever see that money?” And that was the first time I ever said, “Fuck!” in front of my grandmother. And I looked at my mother and I said, “Fuck you!” And I walked out of the house. And my grandmother never, ever said a word to me about that. Never—
Paul: Was the grandmother your dad’s mom?
Ryan: Yeah. And she was just blown away by that. Just like, “wow”. And then, um, we were able to stay with my grandmother until February, and then the state made us—it was either move with grandmother, you know, forty minutes away, and be around no—none of our network of friends, who were all we had at this point, because we don’t even have this ‘mother’. And they, since she was next of kin, and we were all minors, my father got, uh, a Social Security that went all to her, and we had to move into this little one bedroom apartment. The three of us shared a bedroom, uh, my twin brother and younger brother had bunk beds, and I had a twin bed next to them in one little room. And she got the Social Security check, and my brother—my twin brother and I would get $20 a week. And my younger brother would get 10. And, meanwhile, you know, this things for a few thousand—a couple thousand dollars a month. And, um, she took out a P.O. box, because we would get home from school before she would get home from work, and since our names were on that check, if we were to sign it, we’d get the money. And she wanted to make sure we did not get that money. And she took a P.O. box out just for that. So that she could get that and have control of that. I mean, you want to talk about bitter, not only bitter that our dad just died, but now we’re living with the parent that we don’t wanna live with, that we don’t even like, yeah, we were fucking riled up. And now we’re 16, not 8. So, we certainly have something to say. We certainly are not scared to let you know. And, um…..
Paul: How would that, how would that, that anger express itself outside of being in your mom’s presence?
Paul: I was just gonna say—I, I can’t imagine how close you must—like if somebody would disrespect you on the soccer field, you much you wanted to throw down.
Ryan: Maryland is a very aggressive area. I cannot tell you how many fistfights I’ve been in. I’ve been in a lot of fistfights. And—I’ve never started one, I’m proud to say that. I’ve never bullied, I’ve never started. Haven’t won ‘em all, but I haven’t started any of ‘em. And, um, we played soccer. We were thrown out of every indoor arena in Maryland, that is no joke. We played outdoor winter soccer in February when it was like six degrees. I mean, you would cut your knee and it would just freeze, it wouldn’t even bleed. It would just stop. And, um, yeah, we would—we wrestled in high school. So, we—
Paul: What a perfect sport for that aggression.
Ryan: And, I mean, we took it out on people. We really took it out on people. Again, not the (indistinct)—I didn’t start until I was in high school, so I wasn’t great, but I was good. And it was—I would, I would have to say looking back on it, that’s a good question. I would say we appropriate outlets. We didn’t go out and vandalize. We didn’t go out and beat people, random people up and, you know, do any—never been arrested, knock on wood, I’ve been handcuffed, but talked my way out of that one. Um, but a lot of aggression, a lot of aggression, yeah. And we lived in this little apartment. And my mother had a boyfriend at the time, and she would just leave. And we—she would come home on Sundays only, do her laundry, grab a few things, maybe there an hour and a half, two hours and bounce again. And we were like, “You are leaving two sixteen-year-olds home with a thirteen-year-old. Our father just died. Like, we’re responsible for getting not only ourselves, this kid to school every day. We’re sixteen. What the fuck do we know? We don’t know anything.” You know? And, we raised ourselves. We raised each other. I shouldn’t say ourselves—we raised each other. We got my brother to school every day, we signed his permission slips, we made sure—you know, I got on his ass when he told me he didn’t want to go to college, now he’s a scientist for the government. So, I mean we really, um, helped each other. And we had friends that I’m still in touch with today, very close, that would come over every night. And their parents were OK with it. They knew we weren’t—if we were getting into anything, it was normal shit and we—they weren’t going to have get a phone call in the middle of the night that anyone was arrested, dead, shot. And, um, I ask them now, they all have kids now, and I’m like, “If the same situation presented itself, would you let your kids--?” And they’re like, “Hell no! I would not do that.” And I’m like, “You guys had good parents. You had good parents.” And it was so helpful to us, because it was, it was what we needed. We needed to be surrounded by our friends. We had no one else. And, um, anyone else was, you know, a drive away, a-a-a good thirty-minute drive away, not just someone down the street. And so it, it ended up being a crazy, ugly/good support system. And, uh—under ugly circumstances, I should say. On our senior night—we, we were really good at soccer, we were on the high school team, both of us, and it was, um, they called it Senior Night. And the parents walk you out to mid-field. And we had no parents to walk us out but guess who shows up for the first time ever to any game? And both of us, my brother and I were both like, “Bullshit, Mom. Nope.” And she got in her car, yelled and drove away. And they, they gave us each a cheerleader—two cheerleaders to walk on our arms. I’m like, “I will take this.” (laughs)
Paul: That’s awesome. I can’t imagine how emotionally overwhelmed your mom must have felt about whatever demons she had in her, to be so incredibly abusive.
Ryan: I-I-I wish I had the answers to it. I’ve stopped trying to figure out what it was for her and what it all was for me. And, then, um, when we turned 18, my brother and I turned 18 in March of ’91 and we were graduating in June. And I got on the phone with the Social Security and I said, “Look. We’re eighteen now. This is what’s been going on.” I was on hold for an hour. And they came back, and they were like, “Wow.” And I was like, “Let’s get this—let’s make this happen.” And I had them cut the check to me and my brother individually only. My younger brother was still a minor, so that went to my mother. When my mother found that out, she fucking snapped. And she had told us anyway, once we graduated we were out in the streets. She didn’t care. And June ’91—some time in June of ’91, and on July 3, 1991, we threw the biggest fucking party that neighborhood has EVER seen. And on July 4th, we were out in the street. And, the funny thing is, I had, I had—during that phone call, when I called my mother and forgave her, she said, “You know, I think everyone deserves a second chance.” And I said, “I agree. When you got married to Dad and divorced, and back together, that was chance number two. Dad dies, and we’re forced to move into your place, chance number three.” We’ll get to the chance number four and five, if we have enough time. And I was like, “No one deserves that many chances. Second, maybe even third, sure. But why do you deserve any more than that? You had unbelievable opportunity t-t-to be with your children and t-t-to be a mom. And you just passed on it every single time.” Always, always more about her friends. My father would always invite her to the Oriole games when we were kids, and she would never come. And as soon as he died, we all went down with a bunch of high school friends, and guess who we saw sitting in the upper deck? We were like, “You gotta be fucking kidding me right now.”
Paul: So what was your, um, emotional life like as a kid? You, you let the aggression out in sports. You, you had your friends, but, I mean, on a certain level, th-this had to injure, injure you. I mean what were some of the unhealthy coping mechanisms or self-talk that…?
Ryan: Um, well, I didn’t—I-I’ve never been into drugs, and I’m thank—or alcohol, I drink a little, and I smoke weed. Um, and I’ve never dabbled in anything beyond that. And I didn’t even start smoking weed until I was almost out of college. Um, I would have to certainly say, um, girls were certainly an outlet. Um, plus, you know, they felt bad for you. And a lot of sympathy from them sweet little girls, and, uh, you’re in high school, and you’re just like, “Yep, I’ll take all of it.” So, I—
Paul: Was it—was that just a means to an end, or did the, did the sympathy feel good?
Ryan: The sympathy felt good, but also I knew it wasn’t gonna be anything that was gonna last, you know. And, um, honestly it was—it really was just sports. It was sports—I shouldn’t say “just”. It was sports, and it was, um, bonding with the family members that were close to my father, and then it was dating. I mean, my brother was into—like, Derek was into cars. And I was just into sports and girls. And, um, I just enjoyed the company. And also, the truth is, um, and it’s one of the things I love about standup too, i-i-it also saved me. I-it’s therapy. You have a captive audience that listens to what you say and, um, I guess I enjoyed meeting new people and being able to tell my story again and again. And one of the other things I learned about therapy is: it is repetition. And it helps. And, um, that’s certainly helped. It’s certainly helped to be able to—not only that, too, but girl-girlfriends’ moms LOVED me. They all loved me. They all thought I was a sweet, good kid, so it was nice to sit down with, again, moms and women who were older, my mom’s age, who were NOTHING like her. And I just, I soaked it in, and I soaked it up, and I loved it. I loved it. And that was, that was really, um—I’m fortunately I didn’t go—cuz I’ve always been proud, not only of myself but my brothers too, that we could’ve been a statistic. So—we could’ve been the kids that society would have said, “Well, it’s because of this.” And we just didn’t wanna fucking be those kids.
[COMMERCIAL BREAK MUSIC]
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Paul: Wh-wh-what was your view? Did you, did you believe in God, or anything up to that point, and, if so, after your dad died, did that change?
Ryan: Uh, great question. I was raised Catholic. I did believe in God. I believed—i-it—I guess when my father died, that’s when I started questioning it. Uh, but I still believed, but I was just like, “Hmmm. Let me start thinking about this a little more than just what’s being fed to me.” You know, I guess I would say that’s the best way, is, uh, the messages being told me, I’m just believing. At this point, I haven’t really questioned much about it yet. Um, and then when my father died, I did start questioning it. And then when my mother threw us in the street, his mom, my grandmother, took us in, which takes us back to the row home. And we lived with her, we went—my brother and I went to community college for, I think we were with her for about a year and a half.
Paul: Your suitcases must have been frayed.
Ryan: Dude. Let me tell you, we wore the wheels off of those little motherfuckers. And back they weren’t Pullmans. It was that vinyl strap that would just fall (indistinct), yeah (laughs). Um, so, she ended up dying of a heart attack right, like right in front of us. I mean, she…
Paul: Your grandmother.
Ryan: My grandmother. My dad’s dad. So now—
Paul: You mean your dad’s mom.
Ryan: I’m sorry, yes, thank you. That would have been a really fucked up story. Here’s another opportunity for my mother to step in. And nothing. And my grandmother, um, we lived with her, we went to community college. Always, you know, I felt like we were always doing the right thing. Not only by us, but by our father. You know, we—what kinda sucks now is, um, all of us are doing well, and, instead of it being, “my dad did a good job”, on paper, it looks like we had a good mother. And, when in fact, it was excel—in light of, instead of. Um, so, i-it sucks for my father. Um…
Paul: What makes you that? That, that the credit goes to your mom, in other people’s opinions?
Ryan: Because all the people who’ve been brought in, the wives, husbands, of the people we grew up with, they don’t know my mother like that.
Paul: Oh, and they think that because your dad left the picture when you were sixteen, clearly you had a strong influence in your mother. I see.
Ryan: And that I, and, you know that, well, Todd is close with her, but Derek and I are not that—I mean, I’m not close at all. Derek has kids now, so, she’ll come like once a year to the birthday parties where I have—I do have to see her. And, um, you know, my brother’s always—I was like, “Dude, you don’t have to worry about me at all. I will never make any scene. I will never make my niece and nephew look at me in a negative way. I’ll never make it about me, ever. I’ll just go play horseshoes on the other side of the property. I’m not gonna bother anybody.” And, um, my—oh, I forgot where I was. Sorry to ramble.
Paul: Talking about who gets credit for …
Ryan: Yeah, the credit, thank you. Yeah, so, you know, her coworkers, her friends now, they just think that my brother and I are just shitty kids, and sons because—
Paul: She filled their heads with—
Ryan: They don’t know anything but what she’s told them. At all. You know, and the stories she tells—even my brothers challenged her on some things. She’s like, “I—that didn’t happen. I don’t remember that.”
Paul: She sounds like she has a lot of the—and forgive me if I-I’m sounding like an armchair shrink, but from what I’ve heard people describe of borderline personality, where their emotions are so overwhelming to them, that they can’t not lash out, if they don’t have coping mechanisms or, or medication. And they truly, almost like black out. When they go to that place of, where the rage comes over. And they don’t remember saying things or hurl—or, you know, hurling things at, at people. And it just r-r-reminds me of I-I-I’ve heard of that.
Ryan: You know, and it may very well be that. That’s exactly what she’ll do when he tells her—That, that didn’t—then she’ll start crying and breaking down, and, you know, and then everyone starts feeling bad, and, um. But my grandmother, you know, my grandmother knew her when she was in love with my father. When he was in Viet Nam and my mother was over their place nightly, crying and crying, you know. So it was such a shock to her that, not only were they getting a divorce, but that she was treating her grandchildren this way. And, um…
Paul: It sounds like something changed in your mom, like, like there was a chemical switch got flipped.
Ryan: What is it, what is it, post partum? Is that what it is?
Ryan: I’ve always wondered if—but, I-I-I mean, I can’t answer it. I wish I could. Then she had the baby, and then, boom, Todd’s the favorite. So, something switched back. You know what I mean? I also wonder too that—they weren’t expecting two at the same time. And I can only imagine being in my mid- to late twenties and here come two kids at the same time. That’s got to be, that’s got to be hell for some parents, especially that aren’t expecting that back in, you know, the early 70’s. Um, so, my grandmother, we’re living with her. And, you know, she used to deny heart disease in the family. As if you said someone was a drug addict or—it was like, “Don’t you say that.” It was like, “We-we’re not saying anything bad.” Like, Dad died of a heart attack. That is officially the start of heart disease in our family. And, by the way, everyone who has died in our family—heart attack. No cancer, no car accidents, a heart attack. So we have history. But you can’t tell an old Italian lady that you have fucking heart disease in the family. And, we—
Paul: Cuz, cuz that might mean reasonable portions.
Ryan: (laughs, claps) Yup, I’m breadin’ my veal, damn it! And, um, we were sittin’ in the living room downstairs, and she used to, she used to lay on her bed. She used to lay on her stomach across her bed for like then minutes. And she’d call it, “I’m taking five.” And she would always keep the door a little open so you could see in. And I remember passing her bedroom and that day the door was shut. It’s always—if you’ve ever had any moments like this in your life—if you really do go back and look, you’re like, “That was different this time.” And I went downstairs. I’m sitting in the recliner, my brother’s on the couch over here to my left, and we hear the door fly open. And my grandmother says, “Someone come help me.” And then just face—I mean, face first. Right on her nose. Broke her nose, knocked her teeth out. Um, and at the time I was a lifeguard. So I did know CPR and first aid, but I was next to the phone, and when I heard, “Someone help!”, I was already dialing 9-1-1. My brother went up the stairs, you know. And he’s freaking out. She’s on her back, she’s gasping for breath. I’m on with 9-1-1. I told the lady, I’m like, “Listen. I know CPR. I’m gonna—“ Cuz they don’t want you to get off the phone. So my brother and I switch places. And I start giving my grandmother mouth-to-mouth, and, you know. And then I’m, um—then she would gasp, she would go (inhales sharply), like that, maybe every 8 seconds. It was—I was trying to count and do all my things at the same time. And, you know, part of me—I wanted to save her, because I wanted to save her, but the other part was, I always wanted to hang it over her head, you know what I mean? Like, you know, if she ever said some shit about—“I should have let you slip away, Grandma. I should have let you slip away.” (chuckles). And she was staring through me. I mean, literally through me. And the police—the fire department got there, the paramedics. And, uh, they take her downstairs and they, they just throw all y—they just throw your shit out of the way to clear room. And I’d always been creeped out by the “Clear!”—I don’t know what
Paul: The paddles.
Ryan: The paddles. Always on TV, just the lifeless float of the body. And here they rip her shirt open in front of us, and they’re doing this. And I’m like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this shit’s happening.” And then she started to get a lot of color back in her face, and she looked like, like she was gonna make it. And my—one of my cousins drove up. We’d called and he and my brother rode with her in the ambulance. I stayed back to put the house together and then you have to give a report and then I was gonna drive. When they all left, I went to the top of the stairs where she had fallen, and I started picking her teeth out of the carpet. And I looked up at the wall where she had this picture of Jesus. I always call it that senior picture, you know, the real nice one where it looks like he had a blow-dry and some, some blush on his cheeks? And, um, I was like, “That-that’s what you were—that’s what she was looking through me at when she went out.”
Paul: Wow. Oh, wow.
Ryan: That’s what it was. She was a religious lady. She had the rosary hanging on her, her bedpost. And one of her sisters was a nun, Sister Carmina, who we were close with. Um, so we certainly had that religion coming in. And I called my brother, and I—he, he called actually, when he got to the hospital. And I said, “Do you think she’s gonna make it?” And he said, “I do.” And then he called back and he was like, “Grandma didn’t make it.” And we just, I mean, we were crushed. “Are you fucking kidding me? Now the only other person who gave a shit is dead? Are you fucking kidding me?” And we—my brother and I—
Paul: How—and, and this was eight months after your, your dad passed?
Ryan: No. She—um, this was—he was ’89, we graduated in ’91, this was, like, ’92? So maybe like two, three years. Two-and-a-half years, I think it was. It was like April of ’92.
Paul: So you were 18.
Ryan: No, we were in college. We were 19. Nineteen, twenty, m-m-may have just turned 20, because we turned 20 in March and she passed just around Easter or something. And, um..
Paul: And what did, um, what did your—sorry to cut you off, but I’m wondering—then, where, where was your faith? Did that change your faith again?
Ryan: I-i-it did shift it again, yes. I still had faith.
Paul: But it didn’t erase it.
Ryan: It didn’t erase it. Because part of me was really scared to let that go. I was scared to let that go. Especially now, because what if I am fucking wrong? You know, what if I do need this? And probably, I know we’re going to church for this damn funeral, maybe not let it go just yet. So I decided I’d always wanted to come to California. But I didn’t want to be here without a-a-a-a-a backup plan. And I didn’t want to just come out. So I did well in community college, and I got, uh, accepted to Cal State, Northridge out here. And, when I came out (chuckles), the day I was leaving, the Northridge quake hits. And I’m at Miss Sandy’s house, Sandy, who I told you was like my mother, I’m sleeping at her home and she shakes me awake in the morning. It’s so early, I think I’m dreaming. It’s like, “You don’t have a school to go to.” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” And she turns the TV on, and I’m like, “You have to be fucking kidding me right now! The school I picked just got—is the epicenter of the earthquake?” And I mean, it’s destroyed.
Paul: One of the biggest earthquakes in California history.
Ryan: Yes, in California history.
Paul: My wife and I had been here a week, by the way.
Ryan: Oh my God.
Ryan: I mean, I couldn’t get over it. I just said, “You know what? I’m not gonna be deterred. I am fucking going.” And I got up, and I drove across country with a friend of mine. And I got here.
Paul: So you got to experience the aftershocks.
Ryan: And some of the—there will still some quakes going on.
Paul: Those were babies compared to, you know.
Ryan: They were nothing. I mean, I drove through—I remember seeing storefronts down on their face. I remember all the families in the park in Reseda with the National Guard on the perimeter protecting these homeless that—you know, homeless because of the earthquake. The pipes busting up through the street of just gas, or fire or—
Paul: I saw an apartment building—half of a dog sticking out from under an apartment building.
Ryan: Oh my God.
Paul: Just like the front end of the dog.
Ryan: Oh, that’s awful. Um, and it happened on MLK day, which, a-and early, which saved a lot of people that day.
Paul: A LOT of people. 4:31 January 17th.
Ryan: Was it 4:31?
Ryan: Yeah, so that’s—you know, we’re getting up at 7AM, so it had already been major crazy on the news. And, um, I get here and again I’m homeless now because I don’t have a dorm to go to. And, um, I remember—you know, one thing led to another. We don’t need to get into all those stories. I met a person, got a place. Then ended up—they started school in February. It was late. Th-they skipped spring break and all and we just went straight through. I mean, I-I had classes on the sidewalk under a tree, and over here on, on the lawn and stuff. And I’m laying in my bed one morning, and the fucking aftershock hits. And I’m in a little twin bed, and it moved me—I mean, halfway across the room. And I was—and I was like, ”What the fuck?” And I had—and I-I started thinking about my grandmother, and I’m like, “It’s April now, it’s gotta be coming up on the time my grandmother died.” And my phone rings. And I pick it up. And it’s Sister Carmina. Who—that is the first phone call she—first and only phone call she ever made to me in my life. And I said, “Sister, how did you get my number?” And we start talking, and she goes, “You know, I called you to tell you that today’s the anniversary of your grandma’s death.” And I was like, “Alright. A nun just called me.” And I’m sitting here thinking—and I’m—I’m actually awake, scared from this aftershock, and I’m thinking about this and the phone rings.
Paul: Did that bring you comfort?
Ryan: It did bring me a lot of comfort. I thought that was awesome. Because it was, it was almost like my grandmother calling. You know, it was the next best thing. And then when I went home that summer, Sister passed. And I was—
Paul: Naturally, why wouldn’t she?
Ryan: (laughs) Heart attack.
Paul: She reached out to you with love. She’s gotta pay.
Ryan: (laughs) And I was just like, “What?”
Paul: Hit over the head with a pipe? Struck down by a bus? Couldn’t—she couldn’t have gone gently into the night.
Ryan: No, no she did not. She went kicking and screaming, man. But what was really difficult, too—you know, was—well, my grandmother died in April. Then my—and this was before I left for California. Then my, um—Miss Sandy’s—her daughter, who was like a sister to me, her sixteen-year-old daughter was killed in June, couple months later. And she had just sat on my lap, crying for me, in April, like, “I can’t believe this just—I can’t believe your grandma”—she knew, I mean, they were close. “I can’t believe she’s gone, your dad’s gone.” And then this sweet little girl’s gone. And then in October my other grandmother died. And then I was like, “What the fuck? What a shitty fucking year.” What—I mean—you know, you think about that for yourself, and, actually, it was a shitty year for them, really, when you think about it, they’re gone.
Paul: Do funeral homes have frequent flyer programs?
Ryan: (laughs) They have a golden seat for me. It’s like, it’s right here, man.
Paul: You get to go up to the—you get to go up to the casket first.
Ryan: (laughs) Well, you say that. I remember when we, um—my father was laid out. You know, my grandmother, when the opened the doors, I mean, she attacked the coffin. We—they had to grab her cuz it was ready to come down. And, we just couldn’t help laughing at that. I mean, I—
Paul: That was her son, right?
Ryan: That was her son. And it’s—we’re, you know, my brothers and I are in the back going, like, “Grandma’s gonna rip Dad right out of that fucking coffin right now!” Because they always let the family in like an hour ahead of everyone else.
Paul: Does anything feel better than a laugh when you’re in those-those-those moments? Those are so beautiful.
Ryan: Yeah, it was—let me tell you. Thank you for saying that. Because those moments are full of moments—are full of people who don’t know what to say. And then standard thing, “If there’s anything you need.” And we had it so—you know, like, they did a 7-9 this night and a 7—we had heard it so many fucking times, my brothers and I, we were like, “We’re gonna start saying shit.” And people would come up to us and be like, “Listen, if there’s anything—“ We’re like, “We could actually use a place to stay and about $50,000.” And their fucking faces. And they didn’t laugh—we’re holding it in, and they would leave, and we would go outside and laugh so—
Paul: Well, you wouldn’t tell them, you were (indistinct)
Ryan: No, hell no, uh uh. “W-w-w-well, w-w-we’ll see, w-w-we’ll see what we can do.” You know, “You can definitely come over and stay.” We would go outside and laugh so hard. And I think my father would have certainly appreciated it. I remember sitting in the back of that coroner, and making grown men laugh. And it was a great fucking feeling because it wasn’t just a relief for me, but for them as well. And that tension, and shit, and you don’t know what to say. It just comes out in laughter. And it ended up being, um, something nice, you know. It was, it was—I mean, my father was sent off right. We had—it was an excused absence from school, we had police escorts. He was popular. And it was nice to see the turnout. I mean, it was pretty, it was pretty cool.
Paul: When my mother-in-law passed away, who I deeply, deeply loved. She was more of a mother to me than, than my mom was—um, we came back to the house and thought, let’s, let’s watch movies of her. Let’s remember her fondly. Because she passed away from cancer and was unrecognizable in the end. And it was really nice and cathartic to remember th-th-the woman th-th-that we loved, and that spirit. And we cracked jokes about her, because she was a terrible cook. She would mangle words, you know. She would use the wrong word and the wrong context. And we just had—i-i-it was, it was really nice. It was really nice.
Ryan: And then you have that moment where there’s a slo-mo blink and you’re like (sobs dramatically). It rips you to shreds. (laughs)
Paul: Oh yeah, yeah. So, let’s talk about internally, like, what—all these things that happened to you, what, what lead you to go, to go to therapy? Obviously, something in your life was becoming unmanageable, right?
Ryan: Yeah, when, when I first—you know, like, you know, my parents, when they split, they put us in, like, a family therapy. And then when my father died, um, my mother was seeing a therapist, and she just thought that I should go. Just me. And I said, “You know what? I am gonna go.” It’s the first time as, you know, an adult, so to speak, that I can go. My own thoughts and things. And I started talking to this guy and, slowly but surely, I brought both my brothers in, and, then, you know, they cosigned all of my stories and things. And they he—
Paul: Was he incredulous at the amount of abuse?
Ryan: Couldn’t believe it. And he—his coworker was a lady who was seeing my mom. So, he would talk to her about it. He’s like, “Look, these are three kids with the same story. They’re not lying.” And the woman was like, “Well, she sort of tells me those things as well.” So they thought it would be good if they put the four of us in a room together with them, which they quickly—I mean, it was, it was—I mean, they asked us to be quiet. It good ugly fast in there. And when I left, the therapist said to me, he’s like, “Listen to me. You’re normal. You’re OK. Like, your mom’s fucked up. And you’re processing it. Considering, you’re doing a really good job. Stay on course, keep doing what you’re doing.” And then I didn’t go to therapy for years. And I was seeing someone, and we split. And the split, it threw me into a tailspin for a minute. And it’s the first time it had happened to me. Um, I was in my thirties. And—
Paul: Seeing someone—seeing a girl, not a therapist.
Ryan: Yeah, seeing a girl, in a relationship, living together, and it just didn’t work out. And what I didn’t realize is, at the end of that relationship, it just brought up the end of a lot of relationships. Father, grandmother, not intimate relationships.
Paul: Plus, I imagine being rejected by a female, who—
Ryan: Well, I wasn’t rejected. Well, I was rejected in the sense that—
Paul: I’m just assuming you got dumped.
Ryan: I appreciate that, Paul. I appreciate that.
Paul: The universe—why would the universe change up?
Ryan: It was, it was a miserable relationship. It was a negative, miserable relationship that I knew I wanted out of. It was, uh—
Paul: Was she abusive?
Ryan: Nope, she just was, you know, doom and gloom. Everything sucked. It was dark. It was—
Paul: Was she that way when you were attracted to her, or was it minimized, or did she change?
Ryan: That’s what I learned. That’s what I learned. That’s what came out. But she was not like that when I met her and we started dating, no.
Paul: So she put up a good front.
Ryan: Put up a good front. Moved in, and then everything was—I mean, tears every day when I’d come home, like, “Where the hell is this—you know, where is all this coming from?” And I quickly r-realized that ‘you have a lot of past that you need to work on’. And it made me just also check myself. And here’s another, you know, failed relationship I’m in. And I just didn’t want to be the person that always pointed the finger and blamed someone else all the time. I know I have my shit. Clearly, I have my shit. And I wanted to go better understand it, better handle it, um, and learn how to lessen the amount of times that shit presents itself. Um, what did my therapist used to call it all the time? I can’t remember now, but it’s basically—you know, it’s imprinted, the way you learn to argue, and the way you learn to handle things, all from the people that you fucking learned how to do that shit from. Um, and I went—I-I-I mean, I really was in a-a-a-a place of, ‘I don’t know what the fuck I’m thinking, doing. I don’t know.’ And, I never turned, again, to a bottle or anything like that. I really wanted to—I enjoy, uh, getting deep and thinking around things and about things, and I wanted someone else to maybe, hopefully, shed a light. You know, sometimes things are so fucking easy, and they’re right in front of your face. But you’re always looking for something else and you don’t even see it. And he would say some things to me, I’m like, “Of course, how the hell have I not seen that thirty-some years?” And, um …
Paul: Where was the anger at, at this point? You know, it-it-it was high in high school, you were letting out through sports. But, then you get to be in your twenties, and you don’t necessarily have that daily physical way t-t-to let it out, um, so, w-w-was it c-c-coming out in inappropriate ways?
Ryan: Not inappropriate, nope. I was—I’ve never been an abusive person myself, physically abusive, never anything like that.
Paul: Was it turned inwards? W-w-were you turning it inward?
Ryan: Absolutely inward. And then I would also turn it to, uh, standup. And I remember some friends of mine telling me, “Hey, man. Smile a little more. You know, don’t yell at them so much.” And I was like, “You’re fucking right. You’re right.” And to smile after something said like that.
Paul: Makes all the difference in the world.
Ryan: Makes all the difference in the world.
Paul: That’s what my dad used to say to me. He would say, “Smile more. You’ve got such a good smile. Smile more.”
Ryan: Yep. Smile more.
Paul: That’s his loving way of saying, “You’re a scary, angry, motherfucker.”
Ryan: And that, and that—really, again, that’s such a simple little thing to say to someone. I was like, “Yep.” And you know, that, that turned a light on. And, um—but for therapy, I just—a-a-and the other thing too, I just was, I was always a little embarrassed, because I would say to him, I’m like, “I’m approaching forty. And I always want to be straight with everybody. Just be straight with me. Do you think I’m a bitch for coming in here and bitch—you know, telling you this whole childhood crap?”
Ryan: I really had that in me. And he was like, “Of course not!” I’m like, “You don’t think it’s weird that I’m almost forty and I’m sitting here boo-hooing about mommy shit?” And he’s like, “No!” Meanwhile, he’s like, “I need the client!” But (laughs), I really did—I did—that, that was a concern.
Paul: What do you mean, ‘I really need the client?’
Ryan: He’s like, “No, I want you to be here because I need the fucking client.”
Paul: That’s what you were thinking, yeah. Cuz that would have been awful if he’d said that to you.
Ryan: No, he did not say that to me. He was—he’s great. He was really great. He was very beneficial, and, um …
Paul: So, so what are the—some of the things—and I-I want to address the listener out there right now who is saying, “I experienced so much less abuse than he did, and I am feeling so broken and stuck.” Don’t compare yourself to Ryan’s story. We all feel what we feel. And remember that, that, you know, Ryan had so many—so much love from people other than his mom.
Paul: Because I think people that are raised when there isn’t—there doesn’t have to be abuse, it can just be an absence of support from anybody. And, you’re getting shit paid for, you know, th-th-the—you’re not thrown out on the street, you’re—you never go hungry, but there’s this feeling of, ‘I want to die,’ or whatever. I get a lot of emails from people or read surveys where they’re like, “I have nothing traumatic to point to, but I just feel so cut off from everybody. I feel so alone.” And I just wanna say t-to those people, your feelings are absolutely valid. And just keep working on processing that stuff. But I just wanted to address those people out there and to say do not minimize what you’re feeling.
Ryan: And also, you know, one of the things I learned in therapy too, my therapist will tell me, “You don’t, you don’t have to have two good parents. If you have one, you got a really good shot.” And I had a great one. And, I mean this man literally died for his kids. And, um, for me, he made such an impact, and the people, you know, my grandmother and her sisters, and the people who really did show me love made such an impact that I carry it with me. And I’m proud of it. I have a chip on my shoulder, and I won’t let them down. I’m not gonna let someone who died for me down. I’m not gonna be, you know—
Paul: Then why do you let Jesus down?
Ryan: (laughs) Well, we’ll get back to Jesus’s ass. Don’t worry.
Paul: How badly would you have taken it if your dad had died when you made the wrong left hand turn?
Ryan: (laughs) Aw, dude. I’d probably be in a padded room somewhere with all my teeth pulled out.
Paul: Every time you made a left hand turn the rest of your life, you’d have been, “Oh, Dad, I’m sorry.”
Ryan: Second left. Second left, you son of a bitch. Um, again to the listener out there, by the way, there are people who’ve gone through FAR more than I have and are, you know, just as adjusted and everything. So, they’re out there. And you can, you can help yourself. You can help yourself. You really can. Don’t, don’t do anything drastic. I-I you know—
Paul: And love. Finding love. Finding people that will love you. That’s why I always preach support groups. Because there’s a love that is so special from people who have no reason to tell you nice things. They, they don’t—you know, one of my friends in the support group says, says to people that are new, um, you know, “You’re not important enough for us to bullshit you. We have no reason to lie to you.”
Ryan: (laughs) Right.
Paul: “We welcome you. We’re glad you’re here.” Um, and that is the most important thing. Instead of isolating and trying to figure it out yourself intellectually, get around some people that will love you that have similar issues and that love can, can save you. It saved, it saved my life.
Ryan: Yeah. It’s absolutely true. And it brings me back to Jesus. Um, it took me years of being scared to let go of, of true, religion, I would call it. Because I, I still believe, but I don’t believe—I no longer believe in a nameless, faceless, sexless, non-, you know, human speaking entity in the sky. I don’t, I don’t buy that. But to me, that is love. When I hear the word “God”, I substitute “love”. And, my younger brother’s a scientist, so he’s on—he and I are on the same page when it comes to that. Um, my—everyone else in my family raised, like I say, Catholic, we had a nun in the family, and my cousin, who I’m very close to, uh, he goes by Tim these days, but he was Timmy growing up, so he’s gonna be Timmy to me forever. His wife, we get along great, and she loves to ask me stuff like that and, you know, about God and what I believe. And I, I just believe that I, I—you know, if you want to call God “love”, great. But love saved me. It absolutely did. And it continues to save me. On a daily basis.
Paul: And it’s accessible. Every single day.
Ryan: Everywhere. That’s something I know. It, it’s tangible. You can feel it, touch it.
Paul: Yeah. The religious God I could never—I could never access other than intellectually. And I think t-to be saved, we need something we can access emo-emotionally. And God bless people who can access the religious God emotionally. God bless ‘em. No pun intended.
Ryan: No pun intended. Love bless you.
Paul: Yeah. Whatever works for you.
Ryan: Whatever works for you. As long as you’re not harming anyone, including yourself, then whatever works for you, yes. I-I mean, you know, um, it—I mean, if anything taught me that I don’t need religion, it was the Catholic Church. Th-their message is, “God is everywhere.” Well, if God’s everywhere, why do I need to be under their fucking roof right now listening to you for an hour? I can go sit in a park and pray if I want. I can do whatever I want. You know, meditation. All those things to me are a form of quote, unquote “prayer”. Um, and I think they’re healthy. You know, I really think that stuff’s healthy. I, I talk to myself all the time.
Paul: What do you say?
Ryan: Um, well, I, I challenge myself. Um, I found myself one time, um, I was driving back from Ontario, California, I did a spot at the Improv, I was coming home like two in the morning, and I found myself having a conversation out loud, which I’ve done maybe twice, um, with my father in the seat next to me, asking him what I would ask him now. About, what the fuck he was thinking, you know, how it affected him, um, all those things that I’d wanna ask. You know?
Paul: All those things he was thinking about what? Your, your life right now?
Ryan: No, actually, getting back together with—
Paul: Your mom?
Ryan: Yes. What were you thinking when you found out your wife was cheating on you? When your wife said she didn’t want your kids? When you were like, “Fuck, I’m a single dad with three working double shifts an hour away, how am I…” What were you going—it’s no wonder that shit killed him. It’s no wonder that killed him. You can’t take all that at one time. But also back then and—I, I don’t know if you know comedian Todd Glass—
Paul: Oh yeah.
Ryan: He had a heart attack in a, a few years ago. And he and I—he was just on our podcast and we talked about—because his dad had one. And we talked about how, back then, a simple little pill, if it had existed, they’d be alive. And, um, yeah, I would love to know, like—I’ve always been jealous of my friends when they say, “I’m going to the game with my dad.” Or, “I’m gonna go shoot pool with my dad.” Whatever, and I’m like, “I wish I could have…” I mean, I know if—put it this way. If I—I know what twenty—what I would do in a twenty-four hour time period if my father were to come back for one day.
Paul: What would you do?
Ryan: Uh, well, we used to go crabbin’ in Maryland all the time. We used to take a boat out. We used to trotline ‘em, not the little traps. We’d get out on the water. And it was one of the things I wrote that I absolutely fucking love. Because it was a connection that—I mean, I still think about this day. I-I, if you don’t mind, I-I’ll tell ya a-a-a great story, um, but—the twenty-four hours. I’d get up in the morning, we’d go crabbing. You’re outta there by, shit, 10AM with enough, you go home, you steam ‘em up, you eat. And then, you know, we’d hang out, put a game on, play catch. And just catch up and talk. That’s all I would do. Wouldn’t do anything crazy. Let him see his grandkids, you know. Um, you know, we used to—
Paul: You got, you got kids?
Ryan: I have a stepson. I’m well, I’m engaged, but I, I, you know, I consider him my son. Uh, I love him to death. He’s ten, and then I have, uh, my twin brother has a seven-year-old, my niece, and a five-year-old boy, my nephew, and then my younger brother just had a baby who turned a year in January.
Paul: What’s the uh, the crabbing story?
Ryan: The crabbing story is, we used to go on this boat all the time, and then when we—my mother was kicking us out, my father was friends with a state trooper, a Maryland state trooper named, um, Mr. Bud. And he was a big fisherman. My dad—he helped my dad with the boat, told him a lot of stuff. Just a little fishing boat. And he knew the way my mother was. And he came over one night and we gave us, I don’t know what he gave us, maybe 900 bucks for the boat. He gave me and brothers each 300 bucks and was like, “I’m giving it to you because I know if I give it to your mother, you’re not gonna see it.” And he said, “Now listen to me. This boat will be on my property for as long as—if you ever want it back, let me know.” Fast-forward, I don’t know, maybe fifteen years, um, my brother, Derek, is going fishing, now he doesn’t even live there anymore. He happens to go fishing where we used to live. He’s walking a trail and there’s some litter on the ground. And he just goes to pick it up and it ends up being a little card from a map that—it’s a guy who makes, you know, hot spots for fishing in the area. You can buy the map. And he sees the name Bud Kellerman on it. And he’s like, “No fucking way. I wonder if that’s Mr. Bud?” So he contacts him. And he’s like, “Mr. Bud, this is Derek Sickler.” And he’s like, “Holy hell, how are you doing?” Blah, blah, blah. He’s like, “Well, I was fishing, found the thing on the ground.” He’s like, “Yeah, I’m retired from the force now. I just make these maps. Keep myself busy.” And he said, “I have a question for you? Do you still have my father’s boat?” And he said, “Sitting right out in my shed.” And he’s like, “I’d really like it back.” “What did I tell ya,” and he’s like, “come on up and get it.” And he went back. That man kept that boat up, stored it, never charged us a penny, and my brother paid what he paid us, and bought the boat back. And it’s sitting outside my brother’s house right now. We’re gonna get it all jazzed up and take his kids crabbin’. I can’t fucking wait.
Paul: That’s beautiful.
Ryan: It’s one of the—see, to me that is, that’s worth staying around for. Shit like that. You know, that’s love. That love will save you every fucking time. It’s one of my favor—I can’t believe the odds of that. And, it ends up—you don’t just get a boat back. You got our childhood and those, those moments and those times back. And now we’re gonna be able to go in that boat with his kids and take them out to do the same thing. And I can’t wait to do it.
Paul: That’s awesome. That’s awesome.
Ryan: You know, I can’t—I-I-I love to challenge myself with questions, and I can’t really decide if my father dropping dead instantly was better, or if he died, a slow, long death—obviously, it’s better for him, but I would have been able to say some—anything. ANYthing. You know, um, I-I’ll tell you this, I—unbeknownst to my brothers and I, when we was in the—Hopkins, in for, uh, for his heart attack, he must have filled out some paperwork that, that said, ‘Hey, we have heart disease in the family. Any testing, future things that you do, please include my kids in this.’ Had no idea he had done that. And maybe six, seven years ago, I get a phone call from Johns Hopkins. This is back when I had an answering machine. And it was a message from some lady there, who, this was before they even kept shit in computers, who had kept this document, found me, and I-I’d moved around a bunch. It wasn’t easy. And left me a message that said, “When your father was here, he filled out paperwork.” And it’s just simply—they wanted to know if I took baby aspirin, which I do, and have been doing. And when I come back to Maryland to visit, would I like to come and give blood and be part of their test? And I can’t tell you the emotional breakdown I had. It was happy and sad. I called Miss Sandy and was like, “That’s as good as a fucking phone call from the grave right there.”
Paul: I was just gonna say the same thing.
Ryan: It is. I mean you’re telling me in 19—this is—
Paul: It’s like you got another helping of love after you thought they were all doled out.
Ryan: Yes. Two decades later, practically, I get this call of something I didn’t even know about. Because my father was—my father was not my grandmother and everyone else, “We don’t have heart disease!” He was like, “We fucking have it. I’m dying of it. So, I want you to look out for my children.” And I just, I was like, that phone call, that message of the piece of paper that he signed saying, “Look out for my kids.” That little tiny thing, that’s more than my mother has ever done for me in her entire life. And I beyond overwhelmed. I called my brothers and they’re not as—they don’t get as deep as I do. Like, my twin brother was like, “Yeah, that’s cool.” Like, “You fucking dick. Like that’s a call from the grave, you son of a bitch.” And it really—that’s really how I processed it and took it. And it felt every bit of that too. I was just like, “Whoa. Here it still comes.” You know, hell, there might be something else twenty years from now, but that was, that was pretty awesome.
Paul: I-I want to end on that. Cuz that’s such a beautiful, beautiful moment. That, I don’t think we can top that.
Ryan: Thank, well, thank you for having me. I was looking forward to this, and I thoroughly enjoyed this, Paul. So, I really appreciate it.
Paul: I really did too. I’m so glad you contacted me and, uh, you’re inspiring, you really are.
Ryan: And thank you. You as well, my friend.
Paul: Thanks, buddy.
Many, many thanks to, uh, to Ryan. Um, that’s amazing how powerful love is. Um, it’s incredible. Incredible how much hatred love can, can overcome.
The power of love. I think Huey Lewis said it all, didn’t he? Uh, before I jump into some surveys, and we’ve got a pretty big stack. So, uh, get yourself and easy chair. I wanna remind you there’s a couple of different ways to support the show, if you feel so inclined. You can go to the website, mentalpod.com. You can make a one-time PayPal donation. Or my favorite, a recurring monthly donation for as little as $5 a month. Um, we’ve been having people cancel their monthly subscriptions, or donations lately. And, um, I think it’s because we’ve got advertisers now, but, uh, if I could assure you that, um, th-that advertisers are, um, that there’s no guarantee that that’s going to continue or that it’s um—I don’t know. I guess what I wanna say is I could still really use your, your with the, with the donations. So, um, right now I’m making a sad face. I’m making a-a frownie. And I’ve got both of my pockets turned inside out. Um, but in all seriousness, um, could definitely still use, um, donations.
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Let’s get to the surveys. This is from What has helped you? Filled out from our friend who calls himself DorfonCoke, and, uh, about his anxiety, self-hatred and self-harm, he hits himself, what helps him, “I’m not sure how healthy this is, but I like to load up movies in my mind like they’re drugs. Movies are emotions in a can. They can change the mood and vibe of an entire day. I have come to rely on my movies as a way to play with my emotions so that I can forget that we’re all hurtling towards the same inevitability.”
This is from the Shame and secrets survey, filled out by a woman who calls herself BlueRose, and, uh, she is straight, in her twenties. Um, she was raised in a stable and safe environment. Um, was a victim of sexual abuse and reported one, and didn’t report the other. Um, I just wanted to read a couple of excerpts from her thing. Um, sexual fantasies most powerful to you, “I’m a deeply intellectual person and can never turn my brain off. I can’t even feel very sexually excited about a person who I don’t feel an emotional attraction to, and who I can’t intellectualize being in a relationship with. For this reason, I think very often about having casual sex with someone I feel safe with, usually a fictional female roommate who I can have sex with regularly without any sense of ownership or exclusivity and without anything other than the fact that we care about each other and want to be emotionally supportive to one another. Realizing that loneliness and living without sex is often really emotionally difficult. I’m pretty sure I’m thinking about it this way because I am sexually attracted to women but only romantically attracted to men. With men, I have always fantasized about being fucked against the bookshelf in the dark corner of a library.” Um, I’d look forward to seeing you being discovered and somebody going, “Shhhhh.”
What, if anything, would you like to say to someone you haven’t been able to? “I’d like to tell my ex-boyfriend that his concept of being a ‘gentleman’ is bullshit. That he loved his misogynistic concept of me and never actually loved the person I am. I’d like to tell me ex-best friend who abused me that I still believe she could be a person of substance if she got some help. And that I wish I could have helped her get better. I’d like to tell a boy who I went to school with that it would have been a pleasure to fall in love with him if I’d had more courage and time to do so.”
What, if anything, do you wish for? “To stop being afraid.”
Have you shared these feelings with others? “Bits and pieces. I’ve never shared with anyone my sexual fantasies because I’m really worried that my desire to have a purely physical relationship with a woman and a romantic relationship with a man will come off as homophobic or like I’m using a woman. I’m a feminist, and I’m very aware of objectification and want nothing to do with it. So I’m anxious about society’s role in my sexual desires.” I would say, fuck society’s roles and go with your heart. And what turns you on, if you ain’t hurtin’ anybody.
How do you feel after writing these things down? “Like I’m more fucked up than I thought. Nervous about sharing.
What would you like to share with someone who shares your thoughts or experiences? “Humanity is complicated. You are more than one thing. For every cowardly act or feeling within you, there is also a lion. Nothing that has happened has taken away your ability to be kind, intelligent, profound or funny. Please believe that or at least try.” That is one of the most beautiful things I’ve had somebody write in that, uh, to that, that question.
Um, this is from, um, Awfulsome moments, my new favorite survey. Uh, from, uh, a listener who calls herself SufferingInHeaven, and, uh, I believe she’s filled out other surveys for us as well. Um, she writes, “ It was Christmastime and I was about five years old. My mother had finished putting up our Christmas lights earlier that day and wanted to take a picture of the house. She stepped out onto the sidewalk and me and my drunk dad stood in the doorway. As my mom snapped the picture, my dad pulled his pants down and laughed. I was at face level with my dad’s junk. I think my mom must threw the film away. I wish she’d kept it so that I could have made a Christmas card out of it to show people why I am fucked up.” That one is the very definition of awfulsome.
This is from the Shame and Secrets survey. I just wanna read this excerpt from it. It’s filled out by Allie. And, um, deepest, darkest thoughts, she writes, “Sometimes I want recognition for the little victories. I know, ‘What do you want me to give you – a fucking medal?’ is something people say to each other, but, yes, yes I do want a medal. When I manage to avoid a single major freak out, even when I can feel it coming; when I remember to try a coping technique to calm myself down; when I’m able to calm myself down instead of relying on someone else. I want someone to tell me they’re proud of me, even if just for that. That I managed to get that far and they have faith that I’ll be able to make it even farther. My issues aren’t even that bad compared to a lot of people’s. Just some seasonal affective disorder, and some anxiety, but mostly just regular old bad patterns. So I feel really guilty about wanting this when other people work so much harder to achieve even less. I feel like I don’t deserve that sort of praise given the relatively minor nature of my problems. I frequently feel like I’m just an attention seeker, and nothing’s actually wrong, and I’m just being a big baby. So I really want that kind of validation.”
Well, well, let me that I-I believe that you do need, uh, a hug and validation, and we are sending it your way, myself and all the people on the forum who understand how you feel, and, you’re not a big baby. You’re feeling your feelings, and they matter. And there is love in the world. And we’re sending you some.
This is from the Shame and Secrets survey filled out by, um, a woman who calls herself BanjoKazooey. Love that name. She is gay, um, in her twenties, raised in a pretty dysfunctional environment. Ever been the victim of sexual abuse? “Some stuff happened, but I don’t know if it counts. Taken advantage of while drunk. I feel responsible, unsure of the extent to which I consented, so, more than anything, I just feel confused and ashamed.” I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – nobody is responsible for what happens to them when they are drunk, or passed out. Getting drunk does not give somebody else the right to take advantage of you.
Um, have you ever been physically or emotionally abused? Uh, she’s been both. Uh, “My dad is a horrible dad. He physically abused me in small ways frequently and in large ways rarely. I think the worst was when he would drag me somewhere if I didn’t want to go. Also, he would threaten to do way worse than he ever did. He had a really sick sense of humor. At the time, I was made to feel that I was never good enough, that I was weak and a loser. I was the scapegoat child, and always considered a liar and a brat. When my parents divorced, he was supposed to pay alimony and child support, but he didn’t, even though he could afford it, which I wasn’t aware of until I was in college. It was such a kick in the ass when I did find out that his greed let me go hungry and left me without winter clothes. Still, to this day, I’m in touch with him and he just fucking sucks.” Boy, that is so similar to, to Ryan’s mom. Wow.
Uh, if you have been abused, are there any positive experiences with the abuser, and does that complicate your feelings about them? “YES! Until I was in first grade, when the first instance of physical abuse occurred, I thought my dad was the best, coolest dad anyone could have. He was cooler than other dads on the outside. My friends loved him and thought he was a ‘big kid,’ and thought he was hilarious. They weren’t wrong. I wasn’t wrong. He was a very charming man. I was confused about this from ages eleven until I was fifteen and finally realized that persistent physical abuse can be more mild than whippings and punches.”
Deepest, darkest thoughts. “From a very young age, I was interested in the movies, TV, books, that portrayed violent physical abuse or confinement. I say interested because I don’t know what other word to use. I was too young to be sexual, though it became sexual later. I think I connected to those characters who were victims at the time I thought it was they were experiencing something so awful I could not imagine, but now I realize it was because I was experiencing similar things. When I realized what BDSM was, I dabbled in BDSM porn, but was traumatized/turned on by a lot of what I stumbled upon.”
Deepest, darkest secrets. “I don’t like sex. I just don’t. A friend told me I never really had sex because I’ve never had sex with someone I love. I know that happens to people, I just don’t think it should happen to me for some reason. The only time I’ve ever had an orgasm was by myself, with a vibrator and some kind of violent images. Though the best for me are not usually sexual violent images, believe it or not, I get really turned on by action movies.”
Um, do-do-do-do, sexual fantasies most powerful to you? “I don’t really have any specific fantasies. I just have a big imagination. I want to know what it’s like to be violently raped, to make love, and to have a casual, emotionless one night stand.”
What, if anything, would you like to say to someone you haven’t been able to? “Dad, I know exactly how much money you owe Mom, and you need to know what it’s like to live on what little we’ve lived on. Also, you’re an asshole. Also, there’s a nineteen-year-old at work who reminds me a lot of me at that age. If I could do it in a way that does not set him off, I would want him to get a dictionary and look up the words, ‘bitter’, ‘entitled’, and ‘resentful’, and tell him that if he can let go, it’s possible for him to be happy.”
What, if anything, do you wish for? “A place to live with a yard so I can get a dog. A stable job that pays a living wage, eternal love, happiness, and success for my friends and family.”
Have you shared these things with others? “I haven’t shared the history of my connection to violent media, but I’ve told a therapist about the abuse as well as friends.”
How do you feel after writing these things down? “Like you’re going to recognize bits and pieces of my story from other surveys I’ve filled out. Ha ha. Seriously, though, it always feels good to get this stuff out. Which is why I wanted to fill out this survey when I’d heard you’d changed it a bit.”
Anything you’d like to share with someone who shares your thoughts or experiences? “My therapist told me to trust my instincts. That’s easier than it looks when it comes to your instinct towards positivity things. It’s really hard for me to let myself be angry, hurt, stressed, scared, when that’s the first thing that comes up, and that perpetuates it. If I’m angry, I get angry at myself for being angry. Self-parenting is huge. Treat yourself like the neglected, weathered, traumatized, battered person you are. Be careful, be aware. And most importantly, be in the moment and live simply.” Thank you for that.
From the What has helped you? survey, filled out by Chaos, she writes, uh, she deals with depression and borderline personality disorder, and what helps her is, “Singing, my dog licking my face, writing, playing tag or hide-and-seek with my neighbor’s kids, walking around the city while listening to podcasts.”
Same survey filled out by Tim. And, uh, his issues are PTSD, depression, anxiety, isolation and addiction, and what helps him, “I have started playing music again. Years I started playing guitar. After my issues developed, I lapsed in my playing. In the last year, though, since I started therapy, I found myself playing around again. Playing to my mood. I have also picked up a few other instruments and working on learning to play banjo, fife and harmonica. I always have my harmonica in my pocket now and it made work a lot more bearable and a great alternative to smoking. It has not helped my isolation issues much though.” Well, since he’s in the room right across from you, why don’t you reach out to Ken Burns? I couldn’t resist. How do you not resist a guy who is learning banjo, fife and harmonica and not make a Civil War joke? I dare you. I dare you. Um, that’s awesome, Tim. I know the soothing comfort of um, having the passion to play music, and, and, playing it. So in all seriousness, um, that’s really cool.
I wanted to read this survey because it is the most concise Shame and secrets survey EVER filled out. Uh, it’s filled out by a woman who calls herself Me – even her name is short. She’s straight, in her thirties, raised in a pretty dysfunctional environment, was the victim of sexual abuse and never reported it; she’s been physically abused, emotionally abused, doesn’t qualify—doesn’t write anything about any of those. Um, deepest, darkest thoughts? “Kinky sex.”
Deepest, darkest secrets? “Kinky sex.”
Um, uh, sexual fantasies? “Group sex, being forced or raped?”
How does that feel? “Like a dirty secret.”
Uh, what would you like to say to someone you haven’t been able to? “You’re sick.”
What do you wish for? “Shameless and free.”
Have you shared these things with others? “Yes, it went fine.”
How do you feel after writing these things down? “Ok.”
Is there anything you’d like to share with someone who shares your thoughts or experiences? “Hello, fellow perv.”
Aw, I love when the surveys make me laugh. Um, this is from the Shame and secrets survey filled out by, um, a transgendered, uh, she—he is, uh, female to male, so I guess you would a male, yes. Calls himself C Martin Jones, um, let’s see, how old? Um, in his twenties, bisexual, uh, romantically attracted to male- and female-bodied people, but not sexually. Uh, raised in an environment that was a little dysfunctional. Parents are very distant. Mom has a lot of untreated anxiety. Um, sexual abuse? “Some stuff happened, but I don’t know if it counts. I have submitted to sex many times when I’ve had no interest because I was afraid my partner would lose interest in me. While frequently I have obligated myself, there have been several times where my partners made me feel guilty, including one time where I lay completely still and cried.” Aw, that breaks my heart.
Uh, he has been emotionally abused, never physically abused. Um, “In one relationship I was basically isolated from my friends and spent most of my time with my boyfriend. He got jealous of my sister and tried to turn me against her. I was living with her at the time. He would rage at me when he felt criticized or I would encourage him to smoke less pot or drink less. Another boyfriend told me to only contact him when I had happy things to tell him after I confided that I was very depressed and lonely. I’d just moved from Italy to Maryland one month before my birthday and had no friends yet.”
Any positive experiences with your abusers? “One of them was very sweet a lot of the time. It made me feel loved and special until he didn’t. I’m not entirely sure if I wasn’t also an abuser in that relationship. We were ultimately a really bad match and never figured out how to communicate properly.”
Deepest, darkest thoughts, “I still believe strongly that I will die of suicide. I’m terrified of dying and its consequences, but I’m equally terrified of waiting for death to find me. I’m afraid that when my depression hits hard, I won’t be able to be talked down, and will try to overdose. I want to be less connected to my family because the sense of obligation I feel to them is sometimes overpowering and crushing.” I hope you are talking to a therapist about that, because that is a great place to start talking about that feeling of obligation, and dread, and being overpowered, and dealing with those, those primary relationships.
Uh, deepest, darkest secrets, “The night after I realized I was trans, I started drinking and taking Xanax two at a time. I’m not sure how many I took, probably ten to twelve. I’d been feeling intense anxiety, but I think after four, I just thought, ‘Fuck it.’ I wanted to take all of my Xanax since it had been prescribed me, and that night was the closest I got. I only stopped because I was too out of it to take more. I also self-harmed by branding myself pretty intensely that night. It’s the closest I’ve felt like I might kill myself. I haven’t told anyone the extent of that night and it still scares me to think what I might be capable of.”
Um, sexual fantasies most powerful to you? “Sucking dick or oral sex in general. I feel really confident in my oral sex skills so I feel like I would end up feeling good about myself. I don’t want any sex to be reciprocated. I don’t even want to be naked around other people. With porn, I really like seeing guys come inside women, I think because I wish that I had the ability to come like that. I feel fine sharing this but I don’t know how much I would tell people in my life, especially since the guy whose dick I’m particularly interested in sucking has let me know he thinks of me platonically. Also, he likes sucking dick more than getting sucked. Bummer.”
What, if anything, would you like to say to someone you haven’t been able to? “I’d like to tell people in my life that I love them and how much they add to my life. I’m not that comfortable expressing most feelings, but I’m getting closer. I want them to know because I do love them and my life is so much fuller with them in it.” Oh, I really hope you do tell them. They would love to hear it. Um, “I want to tell my parents that seeing them two times a year is more than enough and I don’t want to spend a week with them at Christmas. Our relationship is still pretty shallow. My depression and anxiety usually spikes the longer I’m around them.” Um, I, I say don’t go around them out of, out of, out of obligation, just try it—just say, “For this year, I’m only gonna contact them when I feel like it.” Give yourself that vacation, you deserve it.
What, if anything, do you wish for? “I wish that I didn’t spend so much time worrying about and trying to predict the future. I wish that I could drink normally. The holidays make it so much harder to not think about booze. I wish I knew that I was really going to be OK because I think I will.”
Have you shared these things with others? “I think I’ll be able to let my friends know how important they are to me in the near future. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to let my parents know that I’d rather not spend time with them.” You know what? They don’t have to know that you don’t want to spend time with them. Just don’t spend time with them. Um, “The guilt of maybe hurting them is too intense. They’re nice enough people, though not especially adept at being parents.”
Um, how do you feel after writing these things down? “A little unhinged. I worry when I’m feeling really sentimental that I’m going towards hypomania.”
Is there anything you’d like to share with someone who shares your thoughts or experiences? “There are people out there who want to love you and want to be around you. Putting work into therapy is the only way to see results. Don’t settle for a therapist you don’t like.” Thank you so much for that.
This is from, um, the Awfulsome moments survey filled out by a guy who calls himself MichaelHung. Uh, he writes, “A few weeks ago my stress and anxiety levels were blowing through the roof because I felt overwhelmed with deadlines and upcoming audition dates. I realize now that auditioning for my dream music school stirred up core fears that I have of not being good enough which tends to lead into feelings of worthlessness and depression. I was on the verge of a mental breakdown. I called the suicide hotline and the good people there were able to help calm me down a bit. Feeling that I was stable, I took my dogs outside use the restroom. As I did so my dog began eating a shit and would not stop as I commanded him to stop. My dog’s shit eating triggered me into a full-blown panic attack and metal breakdown. I remember thinking to myself in the midst of hyperventilating and sobbing uncontrollably what an odd trigger to a massive panic attack. I laughed while I cried and freaked out. It was a truly strange moment that I will cherish for the rest of my life.” (dog barks) Apparently my dog didn’t care for that.
And why not follow it up with another poop one. This is filled out by a person who calls themselves, I believe it’s a guy, calls himself FU IBS. This is from Awfulsome moments, “I suffer from debilitating irritable bowel syndrome. Over the last five years I’ve been to myriad doctors, tried myriad meds and had more scopes down my throat and up my ass and I care to count. It is not uncommon for me to be constipated for two weeks. Despite this, this medical world is provided me with absolutely no advice or medicine that had helped assuage my pain. Acting as my own doctor I realize one thing that helps facilitate a bowel movement is running and running fast. However, once I have to go I have to carpe diem the moment. That shit can’t be put on hold, pun intended. So one night and went for a run and , bam! Finally I was able to be able to relieve myself of the excruciating pain of being backed up for 14 days.” Holy shit, 14 fucking days! “But where to go? I knew I couldn’t make it back to my aunt’s so I found what seemed to be the most covert area upscale section of the city in which I was running. There was a colonial white house where the backyard had tall ferns all around it, thus providing some degree of privacy from the neighbors and the street. So I quickly dropped trou and explosive cathartic diarrhea commenced. Sweet relief however no more than three seconds into the bowel movement the security light went on. Well crouched and still shitting the family of the house came to the back sliding door. To say this picture perfect family was revolted is an understatement. The presumed father opened the sliding glass store and yelled, ‘What in the hell do you think you are doing? Are you an animal?’ I finished my business much to the family’s horror, pulled up my shorts and said matter-of-factly, ‘I’m killing two birds with one shit by fertilizing your lawn, good sir.’ I then barked once and sprinted back to the safety of my aunt’s home, never to be discovered.” That is fan-fucking-tastic. Awfulsome. Beautifully awfulsome.
I just want to read an excerpt from the Shame and secrets survey and send this, this woman a hug. She calls herself Shark Lady. And her deepest darkest secret, “The thing that is currently burning me is that I go through phases of being violent with my mentally ill disabled child, never to the point of physical injury but I do grab him roughly, push him around, get in his face and just act very frightening and angry with him. It’s usually when I’m just out of energy and self-control when he’s being especially difficult and I feel anxiety about our future. Here is the thing I want to say: I have no idea how to get help. I feel like I can’t tell a counselor about this because they will be required to report to CPS. I know I am not the ideal parent for him, but I do think that most of the time I’m able to support him. Sometimes I just boil over. I go through long periods where I am peaceful and then dip into difficult times where I just can’t handle it. It’s a nightmare that leaves me feeling completely awful and I worry deeply about the consequences for my son. I have no idea where to turn.” I’m sure there have got to be support groups for, um, uh, parents who have mentally ill children. I suggest going to the website nami.org and I know there are support groups for that type of thing. And you don’t have to get too specific. You can just say that you lose your temper. Um, you know, you might be able to share with, um, somebody in a one-on-one situation where you feel safe th-the details of it. But, um, I would imagine there’s gonna be a lot of people in that support group that have lost their tempers too and, um, just don’t, don’t tell yourself that you’re a piece of shit or you’re a bad person. Um, funnel that energy into, into giving yourself the help that you and your, your son deserve. Sending you a big hug.
This is from the Being hospitalized survey and this was filled out by of woman who calls herself Delaware Hen. Oh, we remember dancing to the Delaware hen during Prohibition. Big bathtub full of gin. Stick your elbows out and do the Delaware Hen. Oh man, ladies would do it til their bonnets fell off. Uh, she is straight, in her forties. Uh, why were you hospitalized? Uh, “I’d been in therapy a number of years, off and on for ten, and was working at a stressful job – attorney for low income folks with a boss who was a toxic asshole. I had noticed my mood tanking. Feeling hopeless, apathetic, starting to feel like I wanted to escape, and I discussed it with my therapist. I was not medicated at the time. I started to start having feelings and desires to swerve my little car underneath the tractor-trailer on the highway, and I was frightened by how much I did NOT feel or care how much this would hurt my loved ones. Even when I knew it was not a solution, I kept going there in my mind. Every day became a struggle, like trying to move around wearing one of those lead vests they put on you in x-rays. I went back and told her, ‘I think I need to see a shrink,’ as this was more than talk therapy could handle. She informed me that there was a six-week wait for an appointment with the doctor. This was a public clinic, which was all I could afford. I said, ‘I’m not going to make it six weeks,’ whereupon she told me I could check myself into the ER. After a few days, I was driving to work and the urge came over me to swerve into a truck, and a truck was approaching. I pulled off the road and went straight to the ER and began the long process of getting more serious help.”
Describe your experience. “The check-in through the ER was very long. It took four hours. Like any visit to the hospital. I had to repeat over and over why I was there, my name, birth date, etc. I didn’t feel much, only a sense of relief that I might actually get help to stop having these feelings. I was wearing a suit for court and a heart monitor - my general practitioner was checking me out for panic attacks – and I hadn’t showered in days, and my face was red and tearful. I gave them my fiancé’s phone number only, not my family’s. He came to see me through the check in process after a few hours, and heeded my wishes to only contact one friend at work and not to tell my family. I checked into the ER about 10AM and was brought up to the ward at about 7PM. I was starving and devoured the leftover snacks. There was some discussion about keeping the heart monitor on, as I might strangle myself with it, but I was feeling less agitated, or what that the Ambien, so they let me wear it. He showed me to my room and I took a shower and slept. The next day involved meeting the others on the floor and seeing an array of various seriously ill people who are non-communicative, to a woman brought in after drunkenly assaulting her boyfriend, who seemed to think it was all a big joke, to older ladies suffering a little dementia. Once on the ward, everyone’s goal seemed to be to get out as soon as possible. What we ordered from the cafeteria and how much we ate was recorded. Blood pressure was taken several times a day. I met with the shrink and did not like him. He was very full of himself and remarked that his sister was mentally ill and she ascribed it to a harder upbringing than his. A cultural thing, apparently. But, did I know why he didn’t suffer any mental illness? Why, it was because he didn’t have her upbringing! And was sitting there thinking, ‘Yeah, good for you, Dr. No Illness. Your life is charmed.’ Because it didn’t have shit to do with me. But away from work and in a place I knew I’d get help, I was able to see past this asshole. I knew I could find a better shrink outside of this place and I did. Apart from meals, med checks, blood pressure testing, there was the occasional group therapy, visits from my fiancé and a bunch of VHS tapes of movies we could watch. Oddly, the movies were mostly serious movies but not all of them. Sister Act 2, but not 1. Karate Kid 1 and 3. Jaws 2. I had my fiancé bring me jigsaw puzzles and books. The puzzles were a huge hit. Even one of the unresponsive patients sat with us and put pieces in, never said a word. I left the puzzles there when I was released. After I got out, I finally told my family. My family was one of those, ‘There’s nothing wrong with OUR family’ type of families. It occurred to me that the systemic denial of our family’s issues was a huge part of the problem and that I could help it to continue by remaining silent or I could buck the system. So I bucked, hard. I told them where I was, why, and brought it up at every opportunity. I flatly refused to let them forget it. I told so many stories and anecdotes that began, ‘Back when I was in the mental ward’ just to force them to hear it. I combatted their repeated attempts to fall back on the denial reflex by repeating over and over the very thing they wanted to deny. I felt like a dick. But deep down, I knew it had to be done and it paid off. I could talk about my mental illness and my medications around my family and other people like it was any old regular medical condition. What’s more, most of my family members opened up to me about things they had been through or the mental illness in my family tree, some of it quite serious. Or their own thoughts – they might need to talk to someone. My being a stubborn dick and coming out about my hospitalization and my illness actually brought my family to a point where we can talk about our feelings more. Sure, there’s still narcissism, conflict avoidance, and passive aggression, but we are in a much better place now and I’m glad I got the help I needed and came out about it in the end.” That is so awesome. That is so awesome. Good for you.
Um, this is from the Awfulsome Moments survey filled out by guy who calls himself Special Agent Dale Cooper. Um, he writes, “My good friend’s husband had been hit and killed by a car. The morning after it happened I flew to be with my friend. When I arrived at the airport, two plain-clothes police officers were awaiting my arrival. Because I had purchased a one-way ticket and was barely functional at the time of purchase, I was reported as a suspicious traveler. After crying at the police officers and explaining my situation, they kindly escorted me through the remainder of the airport. I spent the next few days helping my friend deal with making my life move forward as well as setting up a memorial and handling phone calls. Since the state they lived in didn’t recognize gay marriages and his husband’s family was not supportive of the relationship, there was a lot of anxiety about his husband’s last wishes being carried out, which included being cremated. Thankfully, they had filled out the appropriate legal paperwork and his husband was cremated. As my friend and I drove home in his Toyota pickup, his dead husband’s ashes in a box in the middle seat between us, hours of tense sadness melted away. I turned and asked if he thought his husband would mind my using him as an armrest. We laughed, the first time for both of us in several days. We spent the rest of the evening asking his husband if it would be OK that we used him for various tasks like: holding a stack of paper down, using him as a bookend, or a nice place to rest our beer.” That is awesome, thank you for that.
This next one is from the, uh, Vacation arguments survey filled out by Dan, who, uh, writes, let’s see, “I got really sick at Disney World at age nine and my parents took me to the clinic at Disney. They asked the nurse on duty if they could leave me there while they went through the park with my little sister. The nurse said no. They had a long fight with her, but the eventually sneaked a wheelchair out the door with me and wheeled me around the park while I was puking in bags and pretending I was mentally disabled to get to the front of the rides. When my dad would see people’s ‘aww’ face, he’d gently stroke the side of my head and kiss on my head and tell them, ‘He’s our special little guy,’ and their hearts would melt. My family to this day still says it was the best time at Disney even though I barely remember any of it.” That is fucking awesome. That could be an awfulsome moment too.
Uh, and finally I wanna read, uh, from the Happy moments survey by a call who calls himself Every. He’s, uh, 18, either 18 or 19, and he writes, “After having a very violent mental breakdown in which I screamed for hours, sobbed, hit my head against anything and everything that was in my way, cut myself twice, and broke my mom’s blender when it fell off a cupboard I struck with my head many times, I decided to go online to talk to one of my Internet friends. And despite how confused, out of my mind and fucked up I was, she decided to call me. We had a voice call while I was sobbing and desperately trying to explain all that happened that night. And after that, she turned on her camera. She tried making me laugh, but since it didn’t seem to work, she stroked her webcam. And that made it seem as if she was actually there with me, taking care of me, and making sure I was OK. Seeing her face and what she was doing soothed me and calmed me down. And I swear to God, I will never forget that moment. It was one of our most intimate and loving moments we ever had.”
What a beautiful moment to end on. Thank you for sharing that. And thank you guys for listening. And if out there and you’re feeling stuck, I just want to remind you that you are not alone. Not even close to alone. And that there is hope. You just gotta reach out for help, no matter how difficult it feels. And thank you so much for listening.
[CLOSING THEME MUSIC]