Sara Benincasa (Voted #9 ep of 2013)


Sara Benincasa (Voted #9 ep of 2013)

The writer (Agorafabulous!,, and performer (Comedy Central, MTV) talks about a popular friend’s suicide in high school that informed much of her later life, having a nervous breakdown during college, her families history of depression and anxiety and her Agoraphobia.   They also share tips to avoid isolating and talk in depth about everybody’s favorite topic; catheters!



Episode notes:

To read her writing or to find out more about her check out Sara's website

follow her on Twitter @sarajbenincasa

Buy her book Agorafabulous!.

Episode Transcript:

Paul: Welcome to episode 107 with my guest Sara Benincasa. I’m Paul Gilmartin. This is The Mental Illness Happy Hour, 90 minutes of honesty about all the battles in our heads. From medically diagnosed conditions and past traumas to everyday compulsive, negative thinking. This show’s not meant to be a substitute for professional mental counseling. It’s not a doctor’s office. It’s more like a waiting room that doesn’t suck. I might even say kind of a fun waiting room. Sometimes a little dark, but ultimately—oh God, shut up. What is that a record? I went 30 seconds without disgusting myself? Woo! The website for this show is and there’s all kinds of stuff there you can do to get involved in this community we’re trying to build. There’s a forum there with tons of different threads on all—every kind of subject you can imagine. If there’s a thread you’d like me to start, email me and let me know. But go join the forum first and check it out. And there are about ten different surveys that you can take on the website as well. And you can also see how other people responded in taking those surveys. And that’s a good way to kill a couple hours at night, just going through those surveys and seeing what other people—what other people think and feel and don’t share, because when people take the surveys anonymously they really open up. And it’s been really illuminating for me doing this show and getting to know what’s inside you guys.

And—was there something—oh, there’s two things I wanted to mention. Two episodes ago, the episode with Ali Handal was very polarizing. Some people really liked it and some people really, really disliked it. And I just want to say that the—I would ask you to keep an open mind when I put episodes up that aren’t what you think a Mental Illness Happy Hour episode or guest should be. I found—in a nutshell, the episode with Ali was, she found a guy that she had been living with—or not living with, had been going out with, she found some pornography that was kind of sketchy that he had, and some other stuff that really kind of—where she felt betrayed, but the way she handled it wasn’t very good. But I thought the way that she reacted was how most 19-year-old girls would have reacted and so I thought intellectually it was a really interesting episode because there was so much grey area. There were so many things where people could easily weigh in on one side or the other and I think people expect an episode of this show to be something where there’s this kind of, maybe, catharsis or this kind of, I don’t know, kind of emotional payoff and I think it’s nice to mix it up and have something in there that’s kind of more intellectually stimulating and not maybe necessarily as emotionally stimulating. So that was kind of my thought in putting that together. But the people that didn’t like that episode really didn’t like it and so that’s where I’m coming from. But I totally stand by it. I totally stand by it and I appreciate Ali coming on the show and saying what she had to say.

The other thing I wanted to mention—there are no ad spots in this week’s episode and I’ve been getting some emails from people that are like, “What the fuck’s with the ad spot in the middle of the episode?” Well that is, that brings in more revenue than an ad spot in the beginning of the show. And the advertisers have their choice of putting it in the beginning of the show or in the middle of the show. And they pay more for it to be in the middle of the show. So that’s why it’s been going in the middle of the show. I don’t do that because I want to piss you guys off. I do that because I want to pay my mortgage. Hmm, what do you think of that?

Speaking of Ali, this is—we’re gonna kick it off with some surveys. This is from a woman who calls herself Ali G. And this is from the Struggle in a Sentence survey. She’s female, she’s between 16 and 19. About her depression, she says, “If I don’t get out of bed, I won’t ruin anything today.” Oh my God, that is so succinct. I so relate to that. About her anxiety she says, “Something terrible is happening but I’m the only one who recognizes the danger.” And about her constant hand-washing, she says, “It’s an alternating freezing and scalding water.” Thank you for that, Ali.

This is also from the Struggle in a Sentence survey filled out by a woman who calls herself Yoga’s Me. She is in her 20’s. About her depression she says, “Like in viewing the world through dried contact lenses, unable to react quickly or make sound judgments.” About her alcoholism and drug addiction, she writes, “A desperate need to escape the monotony and dullness of depression.” Wow do I relate to that. About her PTSD, she writes, “It’s like being caught in a real world game of Mine Sweeper, provoked by random moments and experiences.” And about her experience of sexual bias, she says, “It’s like wearing a string bikini to a formal orchestra.” I just love people fill out the survey and they in a sentence can convey what it feels like to deal with a struggle that they deal with. So thank you for that.

This is from the Shame and Secrets survey also filled out by Yoga’s Me. As I said, she’s in her 20’s; she was raised in a stable and safe environment, was the victim of sexual abuse but never reported it. “Deepest, darkest thoughts?” “Every time I feel on the brink of happiness, I get the impulse to self-destruct. I think about dying and fantasize about watching my funeral.” “Deepest, darkest secrets?” “I’ve had over ten threesomes. I seek them out to recreate power over a sexual assault experience when I was manipulated into having a threesome with the same man who raped me and took my virginity. I have sought out submissive male sex partners in the beam scene—“ I assume beam scene means bondage and masochism, yeah? Is that what it means? B-E-A-M scene she writes. I assume that’s what it is. “Specifically so I could consensually have really rough sex with them and act out that hatred.” “What are the sexual fantasies most powerful to you?” She writes, “I have acted on most of my powerful fantasies including strap-on sex with a male, making two men worship and serve my body at once and perform with each other for my entertainment. I fantasize about everyone I know, male and female, to want me sexually and to have the power and choice to sleep with whoever I want.” “Would you ever consider telling a partner or close friend?” She writes, “Yes, a friend or sex partner but not somebody I would want to be romantically intimate with.” “Do these secrets and thoughts generate any particular feelings towards yourself?” She writes, “Yes, pure and utter confusion. It would be delusional to think that playing dominatrix helps me process my past but I get such a rush that it’s hard to walk away. Overall my lifestyle and fantasies seem a sham as I pretend to be powerful and confident to mask my fear of vulnerability.” That is so, so profound and moving that she can see what it is that she’s doing and experiencing yet it’s almost like watching something that you can’t control or you can’t resist. And thank you for filling that out and I really encourage you to check out a support group for sexual assault survivors because that vulnerability you’re looking for is there in support groups. You know there’s a saying in a lot of support groups, “Let us love you until you can love yourself.” And that’s been the case for me in some of my support groups. And there’s something really powerful about loving other people that I find to be really healing. It’s like—you love enough strangers and hear their stories, eventually you’re gonna go, “Why the fuck can’t I love myself a little bit more?” Easier said than done.

This is from the body shame survey filled out by a guy who calls himself Sheep Dip. And we got a couple surveys from him today. And about his body he writes, “My dick is too fucking small. I lost my right nut to cancer. My uvula was removed to try and cure my sleep apnea. It didn’t help and now I just choke on shit all the time. I have scars from cancer and cysts. I’m going bald on my head, but I have bushels of hair growing everywhere else, including my ass, back, nose and ears. If I were unable to shave, I’d look like a fucking wookie.” I love this guy. I love this guy. And his Shame and Secrets survey: he was the victim of sexual abuse and reported it. He’s in his 40’s. He was raised in a pretty dysfunctional environment. “Sexual fantasies most powerful to you?” “Having two women suck my dick at the same time. Having one woman play with my nipples while another sucks my dick. Sucking another guy’s dick with the help of a woman.” “Would you ever consider telling a partner or close friend your fantasies?” “No fucking way. I might hit the Bunny Ranch though.” “Do these secrets and thoughts generate any particular feelings towards yourself?” He writes, “Self-hate, frustration, embarrassment, restriction, unfulfilled.” And then “Deepest, darkest secrets?” “When I was 19, I went to third base with a 12-year-old girl. She initiated but I should have stopped her.” And “Deepest, darkest thoughts?” “When I was married to my ex-wife, I wished she would die so I wouldn’t have to deal with divorcing her. If I could have sex with an underage hot girl, and not get in trouble for it or hurt her, I’d do it. I sometimes think that under the right circumstances I could kill someone. I’m starting to have gay thoughts.” And my favorite, “I kind of like Nickleback.”


Paul: I’m here with Sara Benincasa and we’re at her place in Los Angeles. And I’m so glad that we finally made this happen. We’ve been emailing back and forth. I believe that you were suggested to me as a guest by a listener and they said she’s a blogger and an author and a comedian and she’s really funny. And she’s a great writer. And so I read one of your blogs and it was about apologizing.

Sara: Yes, it was for Jezebel and it’s called I’m So Not Sorry About My Vagina and Other Apologies We Should Retract.

Paul: Yes.

Sara: Classy title from a classy lady.

Paul: And it was about the addiction to apologizing and living from this place of I’ve don’t have needs.

Sara: Right. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. And mine was specifically about women. I think there are men who do it too, absolutely. Mine was about being—you know, apologizing for being too big, sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally, personality-wise. You know, I’m sorry for there being too much of me in the world. And apologizing for bumping into a table, apologizing to the table. Or somebody bumps into you, apologizing to them. Or if somebody else cuts you off in traffic, being like, “Oh I’m sorry.” That kind of thing that we do often. And my specific example was one time I was having sex with someone and it was really uncomfortable and instead of saying, “Hey, let’s stop doing this,” or, “Hey, let’s, you know, change positions,” or, “Hey, could you go easier?” I said, “Oh sorry—“ was it during sex or was it to the gynecologist? I’m trying to remember. Because there are actually two times in which I’ve said the following phrase, “I’m sorry my vagina is so sensitive.” Once to a guy, once to a gynecologist. And I can’t remember which one I cited in the article. But, yeah. So that just—to me that is the most ridiculous thing of all – apologizing for the most sensitive organ in your body being sensitive. It’s just—that’s when apologizing has gone wild and gone crazy and needs to stop.

Paul: Where would be a good place to start? Well, first of all, people might know you as a correspondent for Comedy Central’s Indecision 2012.

Sara: Was it actually—was I in Indecision 2012? Wait, I was with—I was in Comedy Central’s Indecision Forever, not for 2012.

Paul: Oh, ok.

Sara: So I was with them for a couple of years. Like, I guess I was with them through 2010, 2009, 2010, 2011 I think is when I was with them? And in 2008 I was a correspondent for MTV News and their Choose or Lose street team, I was their New York rep. I blogged for Jezebel and XO Jane. I wrote a book called Agorafabulous!: Dispatches from My Bedroom. And I do occasional TV appearances on things like The History Channel has a show called I Love the 1880’s. I’ll be on Fuse sometimes or VH1 saying sassy things about people who are far more successful and rich than I am.

Paul: Are you a history buff?

Sara: I am not a history buff but I have to say that working on this project made me learn more about history. Like did you know for example that the world’s first bulletproof vest was invented by a priest in Chicago? And it consisted of a layer of metal that was sandwiched between pieces of silk.

Paul: Really?

Sara: Yeah, and it was designed for—he promoted it all over the world and actually I believe that Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Serbia, I think, was wearing it when he was murdered, which set off the—

Paul: World War I.

Sara: Right. But he was wearing it on his person, on his body, and not on his face, and I think he was shot in the head. So that didn’t really work out. That’s—at least that’s my understanding from The History Channel. I may have mangled it but I think that’s what happened. So, yeah, I got to learn weird stuff like that.

Paul: Yeah.

Sara: I learned that the Pony Express was a crazy failure. It only lasted about a year and a half and it was a terrible failure. It was overpriced and wasn’t reliable.

Paul: They forgot to book ponies.

Sara: Yeah, they forgot to book ponies, which was a problem. They just had oxen.

Paul: Huge.

Sara: And it was awkward.

Paul: Huge oversight.

Sara: Huge, awkward oversight. I would like to say also that right now I am dealing with something that is—I took my Prozac without enough water so I have that sort of—do you take medication?

Paul: I do.

Sara: So you know when you get that—you get it stuck in the throat?

Paul: Do you want to go get some water?

Sara: Oh no, I’m actually enjoying it. It’s kind of entertaining me. I’m like, “Where’s this gonna go? I don’t know.” You know, I don’t know, it’s gonna stay there, I don’t know what’s gonna happen.

Paul: Does Paul know the Heimlich maneuver?

Sara: Yeah, like maybe I’ll die of happiness from this Prozac.

Paul: That would be—if you had to give somebody a Heimlich maneuver for a Prozac pill that might be the tiniest projectile ever forced out of somebody.

Sara: Yes, absolutely.

Paul: Almost kind of cute.

Sara: It would be sort of adorable like, “There’s my selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor just flying across the room.” I take Prozac and Abilify. And so the Abilify I took earlier and I just like took—conveniently forgot about the Prozac, which is ridiculous, I take it every single day of my life.

Paul: Abilify sounds like something that somebody would do in a court proceeding.

Sara: Yes.

Paul: Doesn’t it?

Sara: Yes, yeah. Like to abilify this note. Yeah, but instead it is an atypical antipsychotic, fun. Which I take if—as a—I think of it as a wheatgrass shot to my smoothie. It’s like a little booster to—it’s prescribed at higher doses for bipolar and for schizophrenia. But at lower doses it is used to be a fun piano accompaniment to Prozac. Not Prozac specifically, I think SSRI’s. I’m not sure about other antidepressants. But it’s used sometimes in combination.

Paul: So what—have you ever been diagnosed with a “thing?”

Sara: Sure. Yeah, depression, agoraphobia, and panic attacks.

Paul: Does agoraphobia fall underneath the umbrella of panic attacks or is it a separate thing?

Sara: It falls underneath the umbrella of anxiety disorders. It’s an anxiety disorder in the same way that like post-traumatic stress disorder is, I believe, considered part of the general anxiety disorder family. I think, I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure. It’s just a more elaborate like sort of, I don’t know, it’s sort of like if a panic attack is like a bare bones stage production of Hamlet, agoraphobia has a lot of bells and whistles and like chandeliers descending from the ceiling and lights going off. It’s just a little flashier, you know cuz you’re—it’s a little weirder because you’re afraid of something specific, which is generally speaking it’s travel or being in public.

Paul: It’s the Versace of mood disorders.

Sara: Exactly, yeah. Yes, it is the Versace of mood disorders. It’s just—it’s very specific, it’s expensive. My Abilify is very expensive.

Paul: Some people wear it well. Other people look ridiculous with agoraphobia.

Sara: Exactly. I like to think I am wearing it well and that I have made it work for me by conning people into paying me money to hear me talk about it. I travel to colleges and talk about mental health awareness a lot, so that’s fun. I’m very good at that.

Paul: That must be very gratifying.

Sara: It’s great, it’s really great. And there are always kids who stay afterwards and want to talk privately, and, you know, sometimes they’re kids who are wearing their weirdness on the outside and so they’ve got, you know, like I have tattoos and they’ve got tattoos and piercings and they, you know, dye their hair weird colors and have odd fingernails. And then sometimes it’s just these very Student Council, you know, upright citizens looking kids. And then sometimes, occasionally I’ll get like a football player or a hockey star or… And so it’s a real nice—it’s a real interesting mix. Definitely a lot of the LGBTQ kids will stay and talk. Or, of the kids that stay, a lot of times they’re LGBTQ affiliated. But sometimes it’s just like Johnny American football player. And that actually—I actually like that the most because those are the kids who I think are less likely to talk about it. Like if you’re in an LGBTQ awareness group, you’re already talking about feelings and you’re already talking about differences and hardship. If you’re a, you know, stereotypical good looking jock dude, probably your bros aren’t talking to you much about your depression or your anxiety or your mother’s depression or anxiety.

Paul: And the other thing that I think that is important about that too, about people like that coming forward is it helps dispel the myth that if you’re good looking and you’re successful, that you can’t be unhappy.

Sara: Right.

Paul: Or popular. Like popularity is an antidote to depression or loneliness.

Sara: Exactly. That you can suffer from—I knew a kid in high school who was like captain of the football team. He was at a different school from me but he was the captain of the football team and he was most likely to succeed and best looking and had a full football scholarship and he killed himself when we were seniors. And I remember at 18 that really struck me because I had bought into the lie that we’re fed which is that if you have a high social status you won’t be sad. If you’re surrounded by people at all times, you’ll never be lonely. And that clearly was not true for him and I remember it really affected me so deeply. I still think about him all the time. Because he—it made the papers and we were in the New York metro area so it made the New York papers, it made the Philly papers, because everyone was so baffled that this good-looking, really good-looking, really successful kid had killed himself. And done it in a really spectacular way. He set himself on fire.

Paul: What?

Sara: Yeah. In his parents’—in his grandmother’s bathroom. He like went—he got—filled a Gatorade bottle up with gasoline while everyone was asleep, then he drank some of it and then poured the rest on himself and he lit himself on fire. And this was like a kid who I knew from this academic summer camp that was run by the state of New Jersey that was for people with good grades and who did Student Council and, you know, a lot of Type A popular, you know, Tracy Glick from Election types. Or was it Flick? Tracy Flick. Was that her name?

Paul: Reese Witherspoon.

Sara: Reese Witherspoon, yeah, type people.

Paul: Great movie.

Sara: Yeah, it’s awesome. And it was a lot of those types who were all thrown together.

Paul: You know, I’ve heard it said that the manner in which people kill themselves says a lot.

Sara: Yeah.

Paul: Like, for instance I had a female friend who shot herself with a large caliber handgun and the psychiatrist or whatever was saying that that—it’s unusual for women to use guns on themselves and that shows an extra kind of degree of self-hatred. I can’t imagine what somebody drinking gasoline and lighting themselves on fire, what that says about amount of self-hatred they were in.

Sara: Oh yeah, the level of pain and the belief perhaps that one needed to be purified in some way by fire, that one deserved the punishment of that incredible pain, is something that has baffled me to this day, that I’ve always wanted to get to the bottom of and I’ve never quite known how. I’ve always wanted to just find out like what is the reason. But, you know, he took those reasons with him probably. I don’t know if he left a note behind or note and so, I mean, it’s fascinating. It’s sad of course but I’ve sort of sat with the story for so many years that it’s more like a mystery to me now. Like why did he do that? And why did he do it in that way? What did he feel was so wrong with him that he needed to be punished? Or did he look at it as maybe he looked at it as some kind of sacrifice he was making, or who knows what someone is thinking? My aunt is a psychoanalyst and she said to me once that a lot of times suicide is not an act of depression, it is an act of anxiety. It is an act of terror and fear of incredible discomfort, like I cannot live with this feeling anymore, I have to escape it. So I wonder, you know, where he was, where he was mentally at that time.

Paul: So you would say it’s more of a—not I’m hopeless, it’s more of I’m cornered and it’s closing in on me.

Sara: I think it’s sort of like—she said that sometimes the act is not just “I’m so sad,” you know, when people say “I’m just so sad, I’m gonna end it.” It’s like, “Holy shit, I feel terrible. I feel sad, I feel different things,” but there’s like a panic to it and this is never gonna get better. So for some people it’s like—oh, I was listening to National Public Radio, as I do, as a good liberal, and they were talking to someone who’s an expert in suicide and it was saying that there sometimes is a very, especially in adolescence, there’s a very short period of time between when someone has an idea to commit suicide and when they make the attempt. Sometimes it’s just a few minutes in adolescence. And one way that in Great Britain they lowered the suicide rate was really simple, which was that they changed the packaging of a particular drug that was very popular and used in overdoses a lot and instead of putting the pills all in a bottle, they had them put in blister packs. So that it was harder to take them all at once. So what they wanted to experiment with was seeing if having to take so many extra steps of just pushing out these pills, if that extra time would make people rethink it. And apparently deaths by that form of suicide went down quite dramatically.

Paul: Wow.

Sara: With that particular drug. Because it was more difficult to do it.

Paul: Yeah. Amazing.

Sara: Yeah.

Paul: Well where would be a good place to start with your story? You want to talk about your childhood, your family life?

Sara: I guess a good place to start would be that I started having panic attacks probably when I was about ten years old. And I …

Paul: Couldn’t handle the double digits, could ya?

Sara: Yeah, I was like, “This is fucked up. I can’t take fifth grade. This is crazy.” I guess it started when I was about ten years old and got worse and worse over the years. When I was 16 I went on medication but it really wasn’t helpful. It was just sort of a pill that I swallowed and I wasn’t an educated health care consumer, as most 16-year-olds are not, and so I didn’t realize there were other options for me. And I didn’t realize that if I wanted to, I could explore those other options. And I didn’t realize that certain drugs don’t work great for certain people. And so I just kept taking this pill, because in my head I was like, “This is the cure. If I take this and it doesn’t work, that means I’m beyond help.” And I was always afraid of having to be put in a hospital. I was always very afraid of that. Like they’ll have to take me away, they’ll have to put me in a hospital, I’ll have to be restrained, I was always very afraid of that.

Paul: So that was the last house on the block in your mind. If this pill doesn’t work.

Sara: Yes this is the only thing that can possibly help.

Paul: Oh that’s so sad.

Sara: Yeah. I just didn’t realize that there were other options there. So I just taking it and taking it. It kept not working and not working except that I was, you know, getting headaches and some side effects from it, sexual side effects that, you know, at that age I wasn’t having, you know, sex, but I was heavy petting. And so …

Paul: We have to find a better phrase for that. That phrase—and I use it too sometimes, that phrase. I can just see a guy that came up with that smoking a pipe, wearing a cardigan.

Sara: Yeah, like heavy petting. I mean it is more elegant than saying finger blasting probably, but finger blasting is more evocative in many ways. So I have was having trouble with finger blasting at an age when, you know, you should really be enjoying that and I was having …

Paul: What was the problem was …?

Sara: Achieving orgasm was difficult.

Paul: Oh I see, so it kind of dulled your sexuality.

Sara: It did. And so at the age where it’s like ripe and going nuts, and …

Paul: Were you blaming yourself? Did you know it was a side effect of the pill?

Sara: I’m pretty sure it was a side effect of the pill. Because things had been hunky-dory for a while and then I went on the pill and it really changed—the pills that I was on really changed that. For a few years. And actually up until I was 20 years old, or, no I was 21, when I had a real nervous breakdown, and in college and had to drop out of school and switch to Prozac. And within weeks the difference was apparent. I mean I wasn’t having sex at that time, but within weeks the difference was apparent in terms of how I felt physically, how I felt emotionally.

Paul: Positively.

Sara: Really a wonderful change.

Paul: What was the previous drug?

Sara: It’s Paxil. I took Paxil and, which now, has a black box warning for use in adolescents. However the thing about black box warnings is that they sound really scary but it’s just that every time an adverse event, or AE, takes place, like it has to be reported to the FDA by the drug company. So you get a certain number of them and it’s time—for among a certain population, it’s time for a warning. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to affect everybody in a negative way or that it pushed me towards suicidal thoughts or something like that. So I mean I grew up with a dad who works in pharmaceuticals, then I worked briefly for Pharmaceutical Executive Magazine, very exciting. And so I know a little bit about this stuff, I’m not hugely educated. But I know that just because something has a black box warning or just cause one person or two people or three people or event ten people say, “Oh, I had a bad side effect from this drug,” that doesn’t mean that the next 100 people are going to.

Paul: Yeah, that’s an important distinction. I’m glad you made that.

Sara: Yeah. Because I don’t want to demonize that drug. It didn’t work for me but it’s worked great for some other people.

Paul: Oh yeah, I’ve been on drugs that I was miserable on – dry mouth and, you know, anxious and sweaty palms, and just didn’t work for me. And then another drug will work and a friend of mine will have had a terrible reaction to a drug that works for me.

Sara: I mean I have female friends who have had horrible reactions to oral contraceptives where they became suicidal. I’ve never had that problem with them, like, I just haven’t. I’m lucky in that way that they don’t affect me in that way. Or they haven’t thus far. So different people react differently to the same drugs, even people who seem to have the same symptoms. It’s a really inexact science, pharmaceuticals.

Paul: Yeah. It really is.

Sara: They’re still figuring that shit out.

Paul: And I think that’s one the things that makes it such a difficult process for people because when you’re depressed you have difficulty making decisions.

Sara: Yes.

Paul: And when things are gray, you avoid gray things and it’s easier to just sleep.

Sara: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I’ve been having a tough time the last few days with getting deadlines done. I’m a freelance writer, and so with executing like stuff on deadline it’s been tough because I’ve just been feeling kind of down and not—I think it’s been triggered by like specific issues, it’s not that kind of darkness that descends out of nowhere where you’re just like, “Oh, I feel like shit.” Or that descend seemingly out of nowhere, I should say. It’s the specific things that have been bothering me. But, yeah, it’s been hard to like hit those targets. I find that what helps me actually, and this is odd, I think, but a very effective anti-depressant booster for me is iced coffee.

Paul: Really?

Sara: Yeah. I find if I—I use coffee medicinally. Like I don’t drink it every day. I—if I’m having sluggish—in that depressed way, and I’m having trouble focusing, and I just want to sleep, I’ll usually let myself sleep for a little while, I have the luxury because I make my own schedule as a freelancer, but iced coffee oftentimes it’s the coldness and the caffeine just get me to a place where suddenly I can focus. And I also will go out among people. I’ll go out in a coffee shop or some Starbuck’s or whatever, or a local independent, organic, biodynamic, home-grown, coffee shop like we have here in Highland—beautiful Highland Park in the east side of Los Angeles. I’ll do that. That’s another thing that’s an important anti-depressant, is being around people. You don’t have to talk to them. Like for me, I don’t have to talk to these motherfuckers, like I don’t need to be friends with them, I just need to hear that there’s people around.

Paul: I totally get that. I force myself to go to a coffee place and write sometimes, or just to check my email, just to get out of the house to break up my routine.

Sara: Mm-hmm.

Paul: To feel the energy of humanity swirling around me while I ignore it.

Sara: That’s a great way to put it. To feel the energy of humanity swirling around me while I ignore it. Yeah, it’s—sometimes it—sometimes things like the background noise of people or music if I’m in my car will occupy some of the louder, you know, more annoying like demons.

Paul: You know, the other thing that I think is nice about forcing yourself to go do that without, you know saying I’m gonna meet somebody here but I’m just gonna go there, is that you might have a chance encounter with a stranger, and you don’t have time to sit and obsess about it and get anxious and predict how it’s gonna go badly. All of the sudden you’re chatting with somebody for five minutes and then it’s done. And you’re like, “Oh, that was nice.” And then you feel like—at least I do—I feel like a little boost from it. Whereas if that person had called and said, “Hey, let’s meet for coffee,” I would have ruminated about it and oh, you know, I should be doing this. And then you’re just kind of open to that when you go there just to be among the flow. The option is there to integrate if you want to, and if you don’t feel like it, you don’t have to.

Sara: Yeah, and it’s a good feeling when you see someone you know and you like and it’s a surprise when you’ve been in this place where you’ve been isolated and you’ve made yourself go out of the house. It’s like a nice surprise when you see someone you know and they recognize you. There’s something about being recognized, being acknowledged as existing that sort of affirms your value in a sense. It affirms your presence as a human being and that’s so valuable because when you’re depressed you can feel like you’re disappearing. And you just aren’t there and you don’t matter.

Paul: That feeling of invisibility. And it’s almost sometimes like when people will address you and say your name, you’re almost kind of shocked that people can see you.

So you started having panic attacks when you were ten, then you finally found a med that worked when you were in your 20’s you said?

Sara: 21, yeah. I had a nervous breakdown and descended pretty deep into agoraphobia.

Paul: Was this during college?

Sara: During college.

Paul: Because you wrote another blog about that which I haven’t had a chance to read yet, but tell me the title of it again? College isn’t awesome for everyone?

Sara: When College Isn’t Awesome I think it might be called. When I do—when I go to colleges I do a talk that I sort of call When College Isn’t Awesome and it’s just about the fact that most of college fucking sucks. Sometimes the points in your life that you are told are the greatest and most amazing, I’m sure, you know, getting married, going on a honeymoon, would probably be examples, like you can have panic attacks on a honeymoon. You can have panic attacks in college, you can have panic attacks at your dream job, you can have panic attacks on the set of the movie that you’re starring in, like you can go through difficult times, even when all the circumstances point to happiness.

Paul: Isn’t that crazy?

Sara: Yeah. Yeah, and you can find yourself, you know, sobbing and that’s ok, you’re not a freak, you’re not a weirdo, you’re a human being who’s going through something tough.

Paul: Let’s get back to your life and your situation and your anxiety and your—I’m more curious to know about the agoraphobia. We haven’t talked about that a lot on this podcast. Paint a picture for me.

Sara: Ok. So agoraphobia for me at the worst point was me staying in—restricting myself largely to one section of my studio apartment in Boston. So just being in—I was trying to stay in my bed to the point where I would urinate in bowls and in jars and like hide them under my bed, even though no one was coming to look for them. And so that—I mean, if I had to like take a shit, I would go to the bathroom. I never got to a place—I never got—I was like, I was like, “That’s just crazy. I’d never get to that place.” But I wasn’t bathing, I wasn’t going out to buy food, I wasn’t interacting with people.

Paul: Were you just starving?

Sara: I was hungry, yeah, but then eventually you get used to it and so then you’re not—and there’s a certain pleasure in it when you are trying to disappear physically. I’ve heard it described that way once, that it’s—I heard—it was a description of anorexia, was that, you know, anorexics aren’t trying to get thin, they’re trying to disappear.

Paul: Oh wow.

Sara: Which I thought was so great, the way that that person put it. And sometimes that’s true. And with me it was a relief to get smaller and smaller. I was like, “Oh, this is awesome. Soon I will disappear.”

Paul: When you have a fear—like I can understand the fear of leaving your apartment. Walk me through the fear of leaving your bed to go pee. Is it a fear or is it that it just—what does it feel like that is between you and just getting up to pee?

Sara: I think you just get addicted to the soothing drug that is sleep. And the bed becomes, when you’re an agoraphobe; you paint yourself almost literally into a corner. You start splattering paint on all the places where you have panic attacks. So you start with say, specifically Star Market on Newbury Street, which I don’t even know if it exists. But then that expands from not just Star Market but, you know, you’re at Whole Foods, and there was a place called Bread and Circus in Boston back then. You have a panic attack at the organic grocery store, not just at the standard grocery store. So now you’re not gonna—you decide, you know what, it’s not the grocery store I go to, it’s all grocery stores. So you sort of paint over them and you can’t be there. Then you go to a record shop.

Paul: And is this a thing that you are just feeling, or is it a thing that you’re thinking intellectually, or is it both?

Sara: I think it was unconscious. Largely unconscious for me. You’re sort of animal child brain is thinking like, “Something bad happened there. Don’t go there. Something bad happened there. Don’t go to places that look like there. Something bad happened there. Don’t go to anyplace located near there.” So it’s not—it becomes, you know, from one store to the entire block, to the whole street, to a whole town, to, you know, whatever. You start to eliminate places that are—that you decide are unsafe.

Paul: So it’s like you’re listening to your gut but in the worst way possible cause your gut is kind of …

Sara: Your gut has gone wild.

Paul: Your gut has gone wild. Because oftentimes I say, “Listen to your body, you know, what your body is telling you,” but obviously that can backfire when it comes to something like this.

Sara: When it’s like a tyrant, when you—I think you need to be in balance and when you have sort of given up on listening to common sense, and are instead just listening to base primal, animal fears without bringing to bear some logic, then, yeah, I think it can be bad. I think ideally it’s in balance. Now I mean the “listen to your body” stuff is great advice, like listening to your gut and trying to feel where in your body you’re feeling a particular emotion, like that’s all awesome. In this case it was just—but that’s because it’s a conscious choice. In this case it was just being very unconscious. And making choices depending on what my like lizard brain was doing.

Paul: When you would—let’s say you had a fear of grocery stores and you would for some reason have to go into a grocery store. Describe what you feel in your body and in your mind.

Sara: I guess a panic attack, I describe as the exact inverse of an orgasm.

Paul: (laughs)

Sara: It’s like the worst thing that you ever felt in your life that you don’t—every moment you wish would stop. And so it’s like that—it feels like—it also feels like the moment before you puke, when you’re really drunk or just sick, the moment before you puke, before you get that relief of throwing up, that really sick moment, that’s what it feels like to me.

Paul: Oh my God!

Sara: And it feels like that way emotionally. And physically you just feel such terror and fear and actual nausea and just blech. It feels like that.

Paul: Who wouldn’t want to avoid that? I mean, my God.

Sara: If you have enough of them, if you’re not being treated properly, or being treated at all, and you have enough of those experiences—I also say, you know, if every time you left your house somebody punched you in the stomach, eventually you’d stop leaving your house. And that was how it became; it was like everything was just a sock to the gut constantly. So I just—I had my little area that I could maintain.

Paul: Were you starting to get those experiences in different parts of your apartment and that’s why you stuck to the bed, or the bed just felt so good compared to the rest of the apartment?

Sara: I was starting to get really heavy anxiety in other parts of the apartment. It became very safe to just stay in the bed. So really painting myself into a literal corner, it was a corner of my room. And I stopped going to class, which does wonders for your GPA, and I stopped socializing, which does wonders for your social life, and so eventually I really had, like I would say, a full on nervous breakdown and needed to get help and thankfully I had a couple of best friends, Catherine and Alexandra, who are still my best friends today, who—both of whom, you know, either came over or talked to me on the phone or something and got out of me that something bad was going on and called my parents to tell them they needed to come get me. And so my mom came up and got me one night and brought me home to New Jersey. And I started therapy there and then made an aborted and ill-fated attempt to go back to college early the next semester. And that didn’t work out, I kept having panic attacks. And so then I was home and home and going to therapy and was home for, I guess, eight months living in my parents’ house and eventually working up to leaving the house again, to driving again, to holding down a job, to applying to colleges, and then eventually moved to—I have a tattoo on my arm of North Carolina and there’s a heart over Ashville, North Carolina, which is where I went to college at a place called Warren Wilson College, that’s where I ended up after dropping out of Emerson College. So—and I love it very much, which is why I have it permanently tattooed on my arm. So that was a very wonderful, very healing experience, being at this, like being at the next school that I went to.

Paul: And what do you credit being able to enjoy your second college experience?

Sara: Drugs and therapy, for sure. Drugs and therapy before I got there and drugs and therapy while I was there. Absolutely.

Paul: And still drugs and therapy?

Sara: Still, yeah.

Paul: I know you said drugs, but still therapy?

Sara: Mm-hmm, yeah, I have a therapist. I have a psychiatrist. I don’t have health insurance, so it’s expensive. I mean, my Abilify is, how much is it? It is $425 a month.

Paul: Wow.

Sara: Yeah, Prozac is like maybe $50 because it’s generic. Abilify hasn’t gone generic yet. I think it goes generic in like 2014 or something like that. And they can always apply for patent extensions and things; to kind of milk their suffering population for as much as they’re worth, make it harder for people to get it. But I don’t make—I don’t meet the income qualifications for Bristol Myers Squibb’s, the manufacturer’s, like low cost or no cost program, yet I don’t have enough money to easily cover it, yet I was denied health insurance by two different companies, I think Aetna Blue and Kaiser Permanente, I think, here in California, because of my pre-existing condition of depression and anxiety. So I can’t afford the pills because I don’t have health insurance but I can’t get health insurance because I need the pills. So it’s kind of fucked. So I’m waiting for my—to join the pre-existing condition high risk pool under Obamacare which I’m so excited about, which is, for me, will be April 1st of this year, which is 2013.

Paul: Sweet.

Sara: So I’m very excited about that, to get my Obamacare. But—and thank God for it. And you know, I can afford it, I have to ask my parents for help sometimes, you know they’ve paid for a few months, I’ve paid for it a few months. But it’s very helpful. So I keep taking it.

Paul: So what other seminal moments from your life would be—should we touch on?

Sara: I guess—hmmm …

Paul: What was home life like as a kid?

Sara: It was tense sometimes. I had a dad who dealt with anxiety and a mom who dealt with depression. I got the double whammy, as mom will say, I got both. My brother apparently got neither. And he his, however, a psych nurse today. He said to me like, “You know, growing up in our house was like being a psych nurse.” Or something to that effect once he said to me, or it was like studying psych. And so I got the combination of my parents’ issues I think. They sort of expressed themselves fully in me. And so it was tense, you know, when you grow up with parents who are suffering in their own right, in different ways, you become parentified a little bit as a child, and you start to, you know, behave in ways that aren’t childlike but that you’re not quite ready to take on.

Paul: Because you’re concerned about them and you feel like there’s kind of a delicacy with their situation that you don’t want your needs to be too expressed?

Sara: I think there’s that. I think there’s also a sense of walking on eggshells because you don’t want to disturb the peace when there is peace. I think when you’ve got two different people in your house who are both dealing with mental health issues or emotional issues or what have you. There’s a chance that somebody could go off at any moment, that somebody could, you know, flare up at any moment, and so you learned to be hyper-vigilant, to really scan the situation, always looking for sign that something could be coming. I didn’t grow up in a physically abusive household or a sexually abusive household or anything like that. It was just, you know, you—as a kid it’s scary when mom or dad freaks out about something that seemingly isn’t that big of a deal to you. So you learn to stay tense and ready, always at the ready, and to react in whatever way soothes that parent. I mean I’m sure they’d say I wasn’t always the most soothing child but that’s part of it too. I mean, you get to adolescence and part of it is well I’m not gonna act in a soothing way when you freak out, I’m gonna react in a fucked up way, I’m going to fan the flames. And so, yeah, I wouldn’t say it was like a super dramatic upbringing or anything like that, I mean, married parents, nice house in the suburbs, very safe area, sports and dance and other things I was bad at. Good grades and all that. But there were definitely some issues for sure that I think contributed to who and how I am today for better and for worse.

Paul: I would imagine the bulk of kids have some variation on that, you know, if it’s not a parent that is dealing with mental illness, you know, maybe there’s some—one parent’s overly anxious or there’s, you know, a lack of communication. I haven’t really met many people that came from an environment that wasn’t—that didn’t have some type of emotional challenge to it.

Sara: Yeah, I think it’s part of being human. They were reacting in their own ways to the ways in which they were raised and the things that they encountered and, you know, you come together with somebody else, you create a family and then you apply the lessons you’ve learned to—or, rather, you apply the techniques that you’ve learned to child-rearing, I think. And sometimes—I was talking to my therapist about this—sometimes we look for and do what is familiar rather than what is right or what is healthy because familiarity is comforting, even if it’s fucked up. I mean, you look at women who return to abusive men over and over again, for example. There is a comfort in the familiarity, because at least—even if you don’t know what’s coming next, at least you’re used to the not knowing. You know, for some folks it would be weird to be with someone in a relationship who was stable, had their shit together, and when they were angry said, “I’m angry,” rather than “Fuck you!”

Paul: Yeah, it’s like a play you’ve rehearsed, it’s easier to jump into the play, the sick play you’ve rehearsed than to try to learn your lines in a play that you’ve never heard before.

Sara: Absolutely.

Paul: That’s gotta be even more terrifying than a spouse that is, you know, unpredictable.

Sara: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Paul: Or angry or whatever. Yeah, our comfort zone in so many ways can be our biggest enemy. The familiarity.

Sara: Yeah, our fear of the unknown is so primal as human beings, our terror of the unknown.

Paul: It really is.

Sara: It’s so huge that we will do anything to avoid it.

Paul: Do you think that that’s a remnant of what we needed genetically to survive?

Sara: Oh sure, I think, you know, you stick with the pack and you stick to places—known areas and to stick to that which is familiar. I think it makes sense for—safety-wise. Before we were living in houses with security systems and locks on the door and possibly, you know, guns locked up somewhere and weapons and all these different things, if you were just, you know, your only protection is your tribe or your pack, I would think that, you know, yeah, sticking to the familiar is of the utmost importance.

Paul: So any other seminal moments, things you kind of want to touch on from your life?

Sara: I would say that when that guy died, his name was Sam. When he died—

Paul: The high school friend?

Sara: The high school friend, yeah. When he died, that was a really seminal moment for me because it shook up what—everything that I had known or thought about, learned about, been taught, about what success meant. Because he was the embodiment of success in so many ways. He was, you know—he was almost unreal because he was so good at school, friendly, handsome, charming, great at sports, great at everything. It was like sickening. He was almost kind of annoying because he was so good at everything. And then when he died it really shook me up in a way that is pretty profound that I don’t think I’ve ever quite—I’ve never gotten past or gotten over. If I could write a book about him, and spend time exploring his world, and the people who knew him, I certainly would. I don’t think that that’s necessarily—I would not assume that that would be something that his family would necessarily be open to in any way, shape or form. But if for some reason I were permitted to do that, I would spend a lot of time like investigating that mystery and seeing if I could come up with any answers. Probably wouldn’t be able to.

Paul: You know, I’m sure every other person probably thought this same thought that I did. You know, was he was gay. And probably had a parent that, you know, was homophobic or whatever. Did that—was that a thought that crossed your mind when it happened, was …?

Sara: No, no, I thought more—I wondered if he had been sexually assaulted. I wondered if he had sexually assaulted anybody. I wondered if—I wondered about guilt. There seemed to be some kind of punishment that he was administering to himself, pretty wildly. And so I wondered what does he feel guilty about? Is it something he did? Something that was done to him? So it certainly could have been, you know, it could have been that he was secretly gay, but I don’t—something in me—

Paul: It just seems too—the way he killed himself seems too much guilt for it to be—

Sara: It was something—I mean, you know, he was very Catholic, but it seemed to me that there was something else going on there, something very big and I don’t know what it was. But, you know, I’ll never know.

Paul: I had a neighbor growing up who drove his car into a brick wall purposefully. And he was another Sam. Super, super nice guy. Was at medical school.

Sara: Oh wow.

Paul: Was—but there was so much drama in this family. Like super mean dog, that somebody was kind of torturing.

Sara: Ugh.

Paul: And his younger brother was the one that molested me.

Sara: Oh wow.

Paul: And so I always kind of wonder what was—what were the secrets he was taking with him.

Sara: Yeah, his younger brother probably learned that behavior from somewhere, maybe not from him, but maybe from dad, maybe from mom, like who knows?

Paul: Yeah. But that stuff will ruminate in your mind for—I still think about him to this—

Sara: Yeah, you just wonder, like somebody who seems to have it all, and yet you obviously have some more insight into his background that was—his background was pretty fucked up.

Paul: And this is the piece—I don’t know that I’ve ever talked about this before, but this is the piece that really haunts me about him, was we heard years later that, you know, for years it was an accident. You know, and then you began to hear that we was driving 60 miles an hour straight into a viaduct.

Sara: Wow.

Paul: And then some years later after that, a report came out that somebody who had rushed to the scene—his car was on fire, he was in the car, they went to try to open the door, and he locked it.

Sara: Wow! Yeah, that’s somebody who’s very determined to achieve his end.

Paul: Yeah.

Sara: I’ve read frequently that while women attempt suicide more often than men, men complete suicide more often than women. Often in these more dramatic ways that—like with women, it seems like it tends to be, you know, self harm through cutting—I suppose suicide is the ultimate self harm, but cutting your wrists or taking pills seem to be very popular. Whereas with men it seems to be hanging yourself, shooting yourself, driving your car into something.

Paul: We’re go-getters.

Sara: Yeah.

Paul: We’re doers!

Sara: You know how to get shit done.

Paul: You’re talkers.

Sara: Yeah. We’re just blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Paul: We make sure the rubber hits the road. Even if it’s around our neck.

Sara: Hi-oh!

Paul: Do you know—the difference between suicide and self harm, I think like on paper they would seem to be related, but from the things that I’ve read of women that self-harm, and men, is it’s a way of letting their feelings out because it’s almost like their feelings are backing up and they can’t take the intensity of their feelings any more.

Sara: Yeah, it’s a release.

Paul: It’s a release. And I guess—I suppose suicide would be considered a release too, so …

Sara: But a lot of people who self harm have not intent of killing themselves.

Paul: Right.

Sara: It’s just—it’s something they do as maintenance. It’s almost like—sometimes they’ll say, psychologists will say, you know, put a rubber band around your wrist and every time you start to have that bad thought, snap it. I don’t know if that works, but to me that sounds kind of like fucked up advice, but I think it’s sort of like snapping that rubber band, just, you know, in a more kind of elaborate way.

Paul: Yeah. Any other seminal moments?

Sara: Hmmm, well, I guess, you know ….

Paul: Or issues, or anything you wanna ….

Sara: I guess I went into another depression in 2011 as I was finishing my book, Agorafabulous!, which is about agoraphobia and depression, anxiety. But it’s funny! Buy it at a retailer near you! It’s on the Amazons, etc. I went into a depression again and I had been dating this guy who was deployed to Afghanistan, he was a soldier, so there was that, and I just—and my book was due and I just like lost it when he left, and really went into this deep, deep depression. And that’s when I started taking Abilify along with the Prozac, because suddenly the Prozac wasn’t cutting it anymore at the high dose that I take. And so I guess what that drove home to me is something that I’ve known for a long time but it really drove home to me the fact that this is a lifelong struggle, this depression thing, and that this isn’t something that’s gonna magically disappear one day. It’s great to think, “Oh maybe I’ll, you know, one day I won’t need medication,” but I honestly think I’ll be taking something for the rest of my life. And I’m ok with that now. That sort of—that time, you know, a year and a half ago, when I got so extraordinarily, you know, depressed again, really taught me a lesson. Oh, I should add actually that I forgot that I had stopped taking medication at all a few months before, so it was like four months before.

Paul: Naturally.

Sara: Naturally.

Paul: Naturally.

Sara: So like you think, you know, you find out your gentleman caller is getting deployed to Afghanistan and you should be like, “Yeah, I’m not gonna take my drugs anymore.” But I had been doing great for ten years, so I was like, “I’ve been doing great for ten years, I don’t need these drugs anymore.” And then, you know, at first you’re fine and then four months later you fall down a hole. So then climbing back out of the hole involved Prozac and adding on Abilify to that. So I guess my number one takeaway would be: don’t go off without doctor’s supervision.

Paul: Yeah.

Sara: America, and the rest of the world. Really, even if it’s gross and it’s causing you bad side effects, give your doctor a phone call first.

Paul: And consider what the side effects are of not being on medication.

Sara: Yes, absolutely. Abilify can cause weight gain. I joined Weight Watchers. It helps. And you know, that—there are things that you can do to offset the different side effects—some of the different side effects.

Paul: I started taking Mirtazapine because I needed just an extra—the other ones I was doing weren’t completely cutting it anymore, and it started working great, but I put on 15 pounds because one of the side effects is weight gain, and I was thrilled when it stopped working because I was like, “Yes, now I can get off it and find something else.” But …

Sara: Hooray!

Paul: Yeah. It’s—that—the weight gain, man, that …

Sara: Oh, it’s a pain in the ass, the weight gain. And I feel bad for people who are bipolar or schizophrenic and are taking drugs at higher doses. From what I understand, particularly people with bipolar will just gain weight, but it’s like I heard Carrie Fisher talking about it and she was just like, “Yeah, I gained the weight so I could raise my kid and like not fucking die. So that’s why I don’t look like I did in the gold bikini anymore. Sorry.” She did her great—I saw her live doing Wishful Drinking, which was wonderful. And that show made a great impression on me. Go see Wishful Drinking everyone. Go rent it. It is delightful.

Paul: Anything else you want to touch on?

Sara: No, I think I’m good. I think I’m good. This has been really nice, thank you.

Paul: Yeah, do you want to try to improvise some fears and loves?

Sara: Sure. Yeah, let’s do that. Let’s do some improv. I start an improv class next week. I’ve been told it will help my standup. That may be bullshit but we’ll see what happens.

Paul: I’ll start. I’m afraid that I talk about myself too much on the podcast and it turns people off.

Sara: I’m afraid that I talk about myself too much with my friends and that they think I’m selfish.

Paul: I am afraid that I am sinking into a depression so slowly I can’t really see it and that no med is gonna help me get out of it.

Sara: I am afraid that I will continue to gain weight and will not be able to shrink my FUPA, which is a fat upper pussy area. It’s a tummy situation. I could just say tummy but FUPA sounds better. But that is a legitimate fear.

Paul: Is that also known as your “gunt?”

Sara: I think so, yes. It’s more pronounced in women who’ve had babies usually, so mine isn’t quite as low down as that, but yeah, it’s definitely a belly situation that I’m addressing.

Paul: I laughed so hard the first time I heard the word “gunt.”

Sara: Gunt is brilliant.

Paul: I was like, oh my God.

Sara: Gunt is a great word.

Paul: I am afraid of—I’m afraid of the sound that I’m going to make when I pee in bathroom as soon as we stop recording. I’ve had to pee for the last 20 minutes and I’m afraid it’s gonna sound like Niagara Falls in there.

Sara: That’s totally fine. Let me just reassure you that, you know, you heard me pee, that’s fine.

Paul: I didn’t.

Sara: Oh you didn’t?

Paul: I know you went in to pee but I didn’t hear anything.

Sara: Then I probably won’t hear you pee either. So I am afraid—what am I afraid of? There’s so many fucking things I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of getting into a car accident on the freeway in Los Angeles. And I envision it all the time. I picture that happening often.

Paul: Do you picture you hitting someone else or them hitting you or you don’t really picture the details of it?

Sara: I don’t—I picture both. I don’t really picture the details. Usually—I guess I’m more afraid of hitting—I am afraid of hitting a person who is walking, because then I would definitely be at fault. Whereas if it’s two cars, you know, maybe it’s their fault, maybe it’s my fault, I’ve got a chance. Yeah, so I’m afraid of that. I’m afraid of getting into a car accident. Really anywhere.

Paul: I’m afraid that I think I stick up for my needs but I’m really doing a half-assed job of it and don’t know it.

Sara: Mm-hmm. I am afraid of catheters. I’m afraid of giving birth for many reasons, one of which is that apparently when you are in the hospital and pregnant, you get a catheter, which just sounds like the worst thing I’ve ever heard of in my life. That’s something I think about like pretty frequently.

Paul: I had a guest who had to—she was hospitalized and they had to put a catheter in her, and I don’t even understand where a catheter goes.

Sara: I’ve had it once before. It goes inside—well, it goes inside the urethra.

Paul: Right. But I can’t even picture—like with a guy, I can understand, “Oh, there’s the pee hole, that’s where it goes in.” But I can’t even …

Sara: Oh it just goes in our lady pee hole. I’ve had one once before which is why I fear it so much because it was so fucking painful.

Paul: I mean clearly ladies have to have a pee hole. Because the pee has to come out of somewhere. But …

Sara: We have like a bunch of holes. It’s very complicated.

Paul: I want you to put that on your headstone.

Sara: I will put that on my headstone. We have like a bunch of holes, Sara Benincasa.

Paul: I was five minutes away from having to get a catheter put in when I had a hernia operation about twenty years ago, and—because there was a lot of swelling. And so the pee wasn’t coming out. And they’re like, “All right, you got five more minutes to pee.” And I had never felt such pressure to pee in my life and there was just like a little drip came out, and I was like…

Sara: Yes I did it!

Paul: Oh my God. Cause just the thought of a tube going up there.

Sara: It’s bad. I’ve had what’s called a cystoscopy, I think is what it’s called, where they pump—they put a little—this is gonna give everybody panic attacks—there’s a little camera, a little tiny bitty camera on the end of a catheter, and they feed it up into your business so they can take a peek around. And it’s deflated, right, so the catheter’s deflated, they feed it in there, and then they inflate it and they pump dye in from the outside to see…

Paul: Oh my God.

Sara: And so you’ve got all these cameras in your junk and on you, and they pump dye in from the outside, I’m sure it’s called something else, to see how full your bladder can get and if any of the dye shoots back up to your kidneys, because they wanted to see if I had urinary reflux. So anyway, there was no …

Paul: Are you sure you’re not thinking of the St. Patrick’s Day parade?

Sara: Oh yes, the luck of the Irish. It’s delightful. So it—I don’t want it—apparently people some people get catheters and don’t give a fuck and it’s fine. Maybe like you get some numbing agent or you just don’t care. So I don’t want to freak everybody out about catheters, because I’ve talked to plenty of people who were like, “Yeah, it’s no big deal. Whatever.” But for me, my experience with it was traumatic. That was probably a seminal moment in my life, when I was 15. That was a traumatic experience that has forever haunted me. Hence, my fear of catheters. Maybe they’re awesome. I just want a bedpan.

Paul: I would imagine by now that—

Sara: I hope they’re awesome now.

Paul: They’ve minimized the pain with all the things that they can do to make things more comfortable for people.

Sara: Put some numbing shit up in there, like just numb me. That’s fine, I’ll take a pill, give me shot, whatever. Just do it. If there’s any doctors out there, email me. if you want to break it down about catheters for me.

Paul: (laughs)

Sara: Anybody who’s got good catheter information, I wanna hear it.

Paul: Maybe we should start a catheter podcast.

Sara: Yeah, it’ll just be called The Podcath.

Paul: (laughs)

Sara: Yesss… I did it!

Paul: You did it!

Sara: I’m a comedian!

Paul: I knew there was a joke there but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Sara: It’s The Podcath! Yeah!

Paul: Let’s go to loves.

Sara: Let’s do that. I love when I am driving down the highway or a street here in Los Angeles and I look up and I see a beautiful, green hill studded with neat Mediterranean looking houses and trees. And the clouds look cool and it’s just beautiful. I love that. That’s a great moment.

Paul: I love the unapologetic vulnerability and optimism in the voice of the singer of the Plain White Tees on the song Rhythm of Love. Have you ever heard that song?

Sara: Hmmm…

Paul: It is the most beautiful, sweet song. If I ever do this show live, it’s the song that I want to play at the end of it. It is just—it’s everything that I want to feel like—when I’m feeling good, that is the—that song is the purest expression of what it feels like to feel love and peace.

Sara: That’s awesome. I hope they are listening, the Plain White Tees. Or that someone—if you’re friends with them, you should pass on this moment because that would be—to an artist, what a compliment.

Paul: Yeah. It’s such a great song. It’s such a great song. Your turn.

Sara: My turn. Let’s see. Hmmm. I love taking naps with cats.

Paul: I love taking naps with my dogs but that’s not gonna be mine because that’s too much like yours. I love that I was able to fix my band saw without having to pay someone to come do it, even though it was a huge fucking pain in the ass and I had tremendous anxiety about not being able to do it, I love that I was able to fix it.

Sara: I love the house that we’re in. I love this little bungalow that I found on It is a very peaceful, loving, good place in which I feel good and safe, even though at night I still fear getting assaulted and attacked. Generally speaking, I feel very good and safe in this place, so I love this place.

Paul: I love meeting funny people who know when to put their funny aside and be real and vulnerable and talk about stuff that might be embarrassing. Like you.

Sara: Aw, thank you. I love doing that. I love putting aside the funny and talking about serious stuff once in a while, which—probably more than once in a while, actually. But that’s really gratifying because I think that when our clowns get serious, it makes more of an impression on us than when our, you know, serious folks get serious. It’s not as much—you know, if some jokester gets serious, it feels more like the truth than if some kind of dour person tells you something.

Paul: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that makes sense. I love a potato pancake that is just the perfect amount of crispy and crunchy and that’s got the perfect amount of salt and ketchup on it.

Sara: I love naps. I love naps. They can be used for ill or for good. But I do love a good nap.

Paul: I love the feeling after I get up from a nap and I have a cup of green tea and the cloud that was over me before I took the nap has not only lifted, but now I got a little bit of a caffeine buzz and I’m kind of excited about life.

Sara: That’s awesome. Yeah, I think that’s probably the thing that I love about iced coffee and creativity, is that when you push past the resistance to creating and get into the flow, I love that. When you’re excited about it, and sometimes iced coffee helps.

Paul: Sweet. Well, I say we go out on that one.

Sara: Iced coffee and good times, here in rainy Los Angeles today.

Paul: I also love a kind of a cloudy, rainy day in southern California.

Sara: Oh, it’s the best. It’s the best.

Paul: Well Sara, thank you so much for being a guest and being so open and honest and as I mentioned before, people can go to your website, It’s B-E-N-I-N-C-A-S-A.

Sara: Very good, impressed.

Paul: And go buy her book, Agorafabulous!: Dispatches from my Bedroom.

Sara: Yeah, and follow me on Twitter, it’s @sarajbenincasa. The J is for Juliana in case anyone was wondering. Thank you so much for having me on.

Paul: Well I really, really appreciated her being a guest. And I got so much out of talking to her. Many thanks to Sara Benincasa.

Before I take it out with a—some surveys, I want to remind you guys I’m gonna be in Portland April 18th through the 21st and we’re going to be doing a live Mental Illness Happy Hour show. I don’t know the date or time yet, but I will let you know as things get going. And here’s an idea that I have. I don’t know what venue we could do it in yet. But in addition to the live show, I’m thinking I would love to bring a pile of surveys—I’ve got a pile of surveys printed out to my left that is about a half a foot tall—I would love to bring a pile of surveys up there, plug a couple of mics in, and just have listeners drop by and sift through the pile and pick out surveys that they relate to or that trigger something in them that they want to talk about, and just have them kind of chat on the mic for a minutes, have people kind of come in and go out and do that for a couple of hours. Let me know if that sounds fun to you guys. I’ve already got about 15 people that I’ve been corresponding with that live up Portland that I want to connect with in one way or another, either as a guest, or go grab a cup of coffee or something. Hopefully we’re gonna do some type of listener hangout when I’m up there. And I’m really looking forward to it.

What else did I want to share? Oh, there are a couple of different ways to support the show if you feel so inclined. You can support it financially by going to the website,, making either a one time PayPal donation or my favorite, the recurring monthly donation. You can sign up for as little as $5 a month, you only have to sign up once and then it just kind of takes care of itself until you decide to cancel. You can support up financially by shopping at Amazon through our search portal on our homepage. And then if you buy something, Amazon gives us a couple nickels, doesn’t cost you anything. You can also buy a t-shirt at our—through our website, a Mental Illness Happy Hour t-shirt, and I think there was some other financial thing that I’m not…well, you can support us non-financially by going to iTunes, giving us a good rating. That boosts our ranking, brings more people to the show. And by spreading the word through social media. That really helps. Because the more we grow the shows, the more people get to listen, and the closer I come to my dream of being able to support myself doing the show.

I’m gonna kick it off with a survey from the Shame and Secrets survey. This is filled out by a woman who calls herself Skippy Doolittle. She’s gay, she’s in her 30’s, was raised in an environment that was a little dysfunctional. “Ever been the victim of sexual abuse?” She writes, “Some stuff happened but I don’t know if it counts as sexual abuse. I don’t remember much. Apparently when I was small, maybe six or so, my cousin convinced my brother and me to play around in the back room downstairs. We took off our clothes and I think we tried to practice giving blowjobs and putting their penises in my ass crack. I thought it was all very exciting and I didn’t realize that it was wrong. The next night I was sitting on my cousin’s guest bed while he sat quietly and I remember my dad came in, grabbed me, and sent me to my room. We never talked about it and I completely forgot about it until my mom blurted out while we were driving somewhere when I was 13 or 14. She reminded me in one sentence and it was very shocking, like getting doused with ice water. But I don’t know if it counts. We were all very young. My brother may have been eight. I don’t know how old my cousin was. I don’t know if it was wrong, but I still feel deeply ashamed of it.” “Deepest, darkest thoughts?” “I fantasize about being an injured hero all the time. Because it would mean that I am good and strong, and that I am hurt so people will have to take care me and worry about whether I’m going to be ok. I use this to fall asleep every night.” That’s sad and beautiful at the same time. And I totally relate to that. I totally relate to that feeling of wanting to be comforted and cared for and be thought of as good. That’s very, very moving to me. “Sexual fantasies most powerful to you?” “I think my most potent fantasies are ones where I am a male and I’m taking advantage of a weaker person, forcing them to do what I want and somehow simultaneously I envision what I am doing to the weaker party from the weaker party’s eyes, forcing them to enjoy it. Ha. Until this very moment, I never associated that fantasy with my earliest sexual memory.” That’s one of the most powerful things about reading these surveys, are when you see a light bulb or dots get connected in somebody’s heart or their head when they’re filling these out. And that’s why I’m constantly beating the drum for people to go to therapy and go to support groups, because, you know, if this person is having that little tiny epiphany filling a survey out for a podcast, imagine what consistently going to a support group or therapy can help you connect. “Would you ever consider telling a partner or close friend your fantasies?” She writes, “I have told my partner. She had been sexually violated when she was very young, but she has, impressively, the opposite fantasy. Fantasizing about being taken advantage of. We actually have played out the scenarios with each other. It took a while to learn how to communicate effectively on our boundaries, testing each other, knowing before something went too far, but ultimately it was very rewarding. We both found something we needed and we shared it in a safe space with a safe person. That was good.” That sounds beautiful. “Do these secrets and thoughts generate any particular feelings?” She writes, “I think the childhood experience in the back room contributes to the fact that I feel completely disgusted by myself and my body. I feel like I’m always too stupid, too oblivious, too trusting, and then I also feel like I’m a disgusting sack of rancid meat and maggots.” I don’t think that’s descriptive enough and I don’t think you’re hard enough on yourself. What is the personality of the maggots like? I want to know that. I want to know that they’re scheming maggots. Man, when we beat up on ourselves we fucking go to town. She continues, “And the idea that I would want someone to love me and take care of me makes me feel like I’m an idiotic fool. I don’t deserve it. I’m horrible and disgusting. Repeating words. But it’s how I feel.” Oh, I just want to send you a big hug. Just send you the biggest hug. I’m glad I don’t have to pay for these hugs that I send out, because I’d be wearing a barrel.

This is from a very—this is one of the more obscure surveys. I think we’ve only had like 25 people fill this one out. But this one’s kind of very—this survey’s kind of near and dear to my heart just because of stuff that I’ve gone through. And I’ve always had a thirst for wanting to know; does anybody else feel this way? This is the survey called Young Male Abused by Older Female. And if any of you, either females who took advantage of younger males, and I don’t mean, you know, I was 30 and he was 19, please, please go fill this out, male or female. Or if it’s just something you fantasize about too please, please go fill it out because I don’t hear enough about this and yet I know that it’s not only out there, but prevalent. I think a lot of guys have trouble talking about it because they think, “Well, if I got a boner it, you know, it wasn’t abuse.” All right. That was a long fucking setup. I actually grew—I have a grey beard now coming in from the setup to that.

This, as I said, is from the Young Male Abused by Older Female survey filled out by a guy who calls himself John. There’s a last name here but I don’t want to read his last name in case he didn’t really want to include that. Was raised in a pretty dysfunctional environment. Has never been sexually abused. And he is a male who fantasizes about sexual situations with a much older female. This one actually kind of isn’t really—this is kind of an aberration in terms of what—how people usually fill this survey out since nothing actually—there was no violation here. Oh just read the fucking survey, Paul. Sweet mother of God. I’m like Ed Norton setting this thing up. Dusting it off with my kerchief. His fantasy involves, him, a male of 24 years old, being sexually involved with a woman in her 50’s. He writes, “I was caught masturbating by a woman in her mid-fifties when I was 14. The only person I ever told was a friend. I’ve always felt ashamed of the situation and I have had masturbatory fantasies about it ever since. He feels regret and shame about the event. “Do you feel any damage was done?” He writes, “I think the damage done was natural and out of embarrassment for my sexual behavior. Although sometimes I blamed it on my being overly sexually compulsive.” Dude, you were fourteen. Yeah, if you can get any time together with your hand off your dick when you’re fourteen, that’s a small victory. And then he writes, “I do fantasize about sexual relations with women of her age almost daily. It makes me feel incredibly aroused, excited and invigorated and ashamed.” Yeah, I find that one interesting and I relate to that. I definitely relate to that. So you’re not alone, buddy.

This is from the Shame and Secrets survey filled out by a woman who calls herself Tracy. She is straight, in her 20’s, was raised in a stable and safe environment, never been sexually abused, “Deepest, darkest thoughts?” “I get overly jealous of people’s accomplishments and life successes and am happy when bad things happen to people I don’t like. But who doesn’t do that? I denounce plastic surgery but secretly wish I could get some. When I’m driving, I sometimes fantasize about just not stopping and disappearing and starting over. Or I’ll fantasize about crashing into a tree just to see what would happen.” “Deepest, darkest secrets?” “I was raped when I was twelve. I never told a soul. I’ve never said it out loud. I’ve never even written it down until now. I was too worried about how people would treat me and how much it would upset my family.” Oh Tracy, that breaks my heart. That breaks my heart that you have sat with this pain since you were twelve years old. Please go talk to somebody about that. Doesn’t have to be your family, but somebody, a mental health professional, a support group. That is too much for—maybe I’m exaggerating, but I don’t think so. I really don’t. You know, I’m not a doctor, but I did roast chicken while we showed a John Hughes movie and I think that qualifies me to make mental health recommendations. “Sexual fantasies most powerful to you?” “I’ve often fantasized about lesbian sex, three ways, or sex in a public place, or as a performance for other people.” I’m always interested in people that want to have sex in front of other people, which is a fantasy of mine as well, it’s always either in front of specific people that they know, or—like people that they know well, or it’s strangers. Just once I’d like to see somebody who wants to have sex in front of a group of acquaintances. It’d be refreshing. “Would you ever consider telling a partner or close friend your fantasies?” She writes, “Yes, but it would take a long time to trust someone enough to tell them.” “Do these secrets and thoughts generate any particular feelings towards yourself?” She writes, “Not really. I mostly just wish I were more comfortable talking about it.” Well, I’m gonna say what everybody else is thinking, which is, start talking about it. Start talking about it with somebody who is appropriate and safe. I can’t even fucking imagine what a mess I would be if I didn’t talk about all the shit I’ve gone through and experienced and it’s probably a tip of the iceberg of what some other people have experienced.

We’re almost—we’re in the home stretch. This is an email I wanna read from Sheep Dip. And he writes, “Dude, I found your podcast at just the right time. It was exactly what I needed. Thank you. I listen to at least one episode each day. For the past five years I’ve been a total dick to my wife. I thought she was the problem. Turns out she was but so was I. Once I finally accepted that I couldn’t do it anymore without help. The dark grey clouds started to lift. I’m as close to an atheist as you can get, but I think this must be how it feels for born-again Christians when they “give their burden to God” and let Him carry them for a while. The simple act of telling my wife that if she didn’t give me a fucking break I was going to literally step in front of a bus changed everything. She heard me for once and started to give me the break I needed. That got me to schedule appointments with a psychiatrist and a psychologist and the next thing I know, boom, I stumble across your podcast and learn that, just as you say, I am not fucking alone. Not nuts, I’m just human. And my problems are problems only because I denied them as problems. Like many of your listeners, I shy away from the spiritual stuff you often talk about. I don’t believe in the bearded man in the sky or the Bible, but one morning I sat on the edge of my bed with my hands out to my sides, palms up, and my eyes closed. I thought about the universe, the stars, nebulas, galaxies, the Higgs-Boson, dark matter, etc. I allowed myself to reach out and connect to it. I didn’t expect an answer, but I allowed myself to accept that I am a part of all of that and I was before I was born and will be after I die in one form or another. It helped. A few days later I was getting ready to leave for work, I walked past my bedroom and heard on of my daughter’s toys talking in the room. Don’t freak out – it’ s a battery-operated toy that’s supposed to talk. I don’t know what triggered it, but I looked in the room and noticed that my ear buds were still on the nightstand. If not for the toy, I wouldn’t have been able to listen to your podcast that day. I grabbed them and walked out of the room. The toy spoke again. It said, I shit you not, ‘Thanks a lot. See you later.’ I laughed and said to it, and the universe, ‘Thank you too.’ Anyway, thanks for what you’re doing. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re making a positive difference in other people’s lives and you are appreciated.” Thank you Sheep Dip.

And I want to end on his Happy Moments memory. And he writes, “My mother would sit in the sunlight near the sliding glass door and lay my head in her lap. She would clean my ears and my face and then run my fingers through my hair, always tugging gently but firmly when she reached the ends. It was the safest I’ve ever felt in my entire life. I never felt more relaxed.” I have to tell you; of all the happy moments I’ve ever read on this show, that one really moves me. I shared that with my therapist on Monday, that memory, and then I just started crying. If you’re a parent, that is what your kids want. Yeah they want nice tennis shoes and stuff like that, but they want moments like that. I didn’t think I was gonna get so choked up reading that but, ah. I never got that moment as a kid, and that just seems like the fucking greatest thing in the world. So thank you for sharing your pain and I don’t even know what I want to say, but that opened up something in me when I read that. It’s like that’s what I want, and I think at night when I feel that hole in my chest and I start looking at porn or distracting myself with something else, I think that there’s some type of comfort that I want that is really deep down that. And I asked my wife for that after I came home from the therapist. And it’s so funny because, as I’ve shared, my wife is nurturing in many ways, but with physical affection it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to her and that’s probably why I picked her, but it’s literally like going, “Ok, now would you stroke my head. Ok, now would you tell me nice things? Would you tell me why you love me?” And then I just started to cry. And I guess that’s what vulnerability is. That’s what we really crave. And I did, I felt such a sense of peace after that. So it’s nice to know that there are people that can give that to us when we feel that emptiness come up. And I know we also gotta be able to give it to ourselves, that nobody else can fulfill it—fill us up, but thank you for sharing that moment because I guess what I’m trying to say is it made me realize that that is what my soul was craving, was that moment. And I was able to go to my wife and have her mechanically try to recreate it. I’m kidding. Thank you guys for listening. I hope that last ten minutes made sense, because I don’t want to go back and re-edit that. It feels a little rambly but I know rambly has probably never turned you guys off. You’d rather have it be honest and rambly than cold and calculated. So if you’re out there and you’re struggling, I hope you heard something in the last hour and half, two hours that helps you realize that you’re not alone and that there is hope. You just gotta be willing to ask for help and connect to another human being. And you’re not alone. Thanks for listening.