I Was Born Afraid – Jenny Jaffe

I Was Born Afraid – Jenny Jaffe

The comedic writer/performer and mental health advocate who started Project UROK www.projecturok.org shares about the tremendous support she received from her family when depression anxiety and OCD had her close to suicide by age 10, and even more despondent from 15-17. Her story is a great example of parental support, the power of coping skills, and proof that even people from safe supportive homes with no trauma in their lives can suffer from mental illness because the issue is often one of chemical imbalance.

Follow Jenny on Twitter @JennyJaffe and @JennyJaffe on Instagram

Check out her Facebook page www.facebook.com/jennyjaffe

Visit her website www.theJennyJaffe.com

And of course check out www.ProjectUROK.org

This ep is sponsored by BetterHelp online therapy.  To try it and get a week for free go to www.BetterHelp.com/mental

To support the podcast consider becoming a one-time or recurring monthly donor or donating frequent flyer miles. It can be done at www.mentalpod.com/donate

Monthly donors using Patreon can begin for as little as $1/month and qualify for occasional free stuff from Paul, like mini-episodes and more. To sign up go to www.Patreon.com/mentalpod

Another way to support the show is to give it a nice review and rating at iTunes or spread the word through social media.

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Episode notes:

Follow Jenny on Twitter @JennyJaffe and @JennyJaffe on Instagram

Check out her Facebook page www.facebook.com/jennyjaffe

Visit her website www.theJennyJaffe.com

And of course check out www.ProjectUROK.org

This ep is sponsored by BetterHelp online therapy.  To try it and get a week for free go to www.BetterHelp.com/mental

To support the podcast consider becoming a one-time or recurring monthly donor or donating frequent flyer miles. It can be done at www.mentalpod.com/donate

Monthly donors using Patreon can begin for as little as $1/month and qualify for occasional free stuff from Paul, like mini-episodes and more. To sign up go to www.Patreon.com/mentalpod

Another way to support the show is to give it a nice review and rating at iTunes or spread the word through social media.

Episode Transcript:

Transcription services donated by Accurate Secretarial LLC. You can find them at www.AccurateSecretarial.com.

 

Welcome to Episode 326 with my guest Jenny Jaffe. Today's episode is sponsored by First Day Back. It's a new podcast from Stitcher, and the concept is pretty simple. How does a person return from an event that changes them? Well, the new season tells this incredible story about a woman who accidentally shot and killed her husband but has no memory of it. How do you come back from the worst thing you've ever done when you don't even remember doing it? First Day Back, subscribe now in Stitcher or wherever you listen to podcasts.

I'm Paul Gilmartin. This is the Mental Illness Happy Hour, a place of honesty about all the battles in our heads, from medically diagnosed conditions, past traumas and sexual dysfunction to everyday compulsive negative thinking. This show is not meant to be a substitute for professional mental counseling. I am not a therapist. It's not a doctor's office. It's more like a waiting room that doesn't suck. I was trying to think of something else to throw in there, it's like a circus, it's like a, [raspberries], that's what I came up with [chuckles].

Pretty much the same amount of sadness and avoidance as last week. I've been working with my therapist on sitting in the feelings of my marriage, I don't even know what the verb is to use for it, but my marriage breaking up, and I don't want to feel the sadness, and it's, the times that it's worst is when I go let the dogs out.

And I love seeing them, but it also reminds me of how little I see them, that I really only basically see them for about maybe 20 minutes five times a week, and I think it's related to the fact that I've been pounding sugar right before I go to bed.

And for some reason, Marshmallow Fluff, Jet-Puff is the brand they have at the grocery store, and I remember Marshmallow Fluff when I was a kid, but I don't know if they don't make that anymore.

But I just, I tell myself, it'll be 10 minutes before I'm ready to go to bed, and I'll tell myself, oh, we can get through this, we don't need to eat sugar, you don't need to eat half a chocolate bar and eight tablespoons of marshmallow. And then it's like something grabs me by the scruff of my neck and walks me into the kitchen, and it's like I’m a robot, just doing it.

And when I open that marshmallow, the jar of it, and it is just perfectly flat and shiny, you know, because the night before, I've taken big spoonfuls out of it and so it's got those gouges in it, but overnight it settles, and it's like, maybe it's the hockey player in me, but it's like a perfect sheet of glass and it's, it's almost sexual to me because it's so aesthetically pleasing.

And I, so I've been talking with my therapist about it and she gave me a tool to try to use this week, which is connect, acknowledge and release. Connect to the feeling, acknowledge that you're having it, and then release it.

And so the image that she gave me to try is a plane full of cargo touching down, letting the cargo off, and then taking off again without the cargo. And the one, I don't know, that popped into my head immediately of what, for me, sitting through an uncomfortable feeling is like is, it's like a cop that has pulled me over and is indefinitely at my window, and I can't control how long it's going to be there. I just have to sit there and endure it, and it's not going to kill me, even though it's making my heart, it feels like it's going to kill me, and so maybe I'll start using this tool now, because I, you know, I've used other combinations of coping tools in the past when I don't want to feel a feeling.

I've used ignore, bury, resent. That has gotten me through many a picnic and wedding. Isolate, masturbate and nap, perfect tool if you're out of clean clothes. You don't even have to leave the room. Oversleep, overthink, overeat. That is a good one, because when you're feeling like you're not enough, well, you're doing more than on all of those things. You're sleeping more than the average person can. You're thinking more than the average person can. And you're eating more than the average person can. You might look at it as a failure. I see it as a tremendously successful [chuckles], oh, I’m done. I'm done with this bit. I am done with this bit, but we'll see how it goes.

As I told you before, I’m working with a sponsor from BetterHelp.com and I enjoy working with her. Go to BetterHelp.com/mental and fill out a questionnaire. You get matched with a BetterHelp.com counselor and you get to experience a week of free counseling to see if online counseling is a good fit for you, and you've got to be over 18, and I'm very happy with my experience there, and my therapist. She's awesome. And again, that address is BetterHelp.com/mental.

I have a quick, two little things to read to you, before we get to the interview with Jenny Jaffe, who is, by the way, if you listened to last week's episode, she is the girlfriend of last week's guest, Mike Levine. Mike Levine, I had my hand in front of my face when I said his name.

This is an Awfulsome Moment filled out by a woman who calls herself A Tad Disheartened, and she writes, a survey of mine was read aloud on an episode, and I had a feeling what I wrote would have been crazy enough to be chosen. However, my excitement of hearing an encouraging word or two after talking about something so embarrassing and shameful that I had never admitted before quickly ended.

I understand that what I talked about wasn't normal, but after all of that, I ended up just being mocked and that was it. This made me feel terrible for the rest of the week and even more ashamed about it and almost made me want to stop listening to the podcast.

I got over the initial sting and have moved on, but I think if a survey is chosen to be read on an episode that something nice or encouraging should be said or at least a simple thanks for sharing. I know it wasn't meant to be hurtful on purpose, and I have a sick and twisted sense of humor myself, so the humor on this podcast doesn't offend me, but you have a certain power that it couldn't hurt to be a little more careful when dealing with people's heartfelt confessions.

And I am genuinely sorry that I hurt your feelings, and I appreciate you letting me know. I also got another e-mail from somebody who, I don't know if the right word is that their feelings were hurt, that they felt marginalized because, on a couple of episodes back, I joked about, you know, the category on the surveys is what kind of an environment were you raised in, and you can choose from a bunch of different ones and one of the choices is stable and safe, and 99% of the time when I read stable and safe, I go on to read the rest of that person's survey and it's anything but stable and safe. But we do, we do get people who listen and who are guests on this podcast who were raised in a stable and safe environment. Jenny Jaffe, our upcoming guest, is a perfect example of that.

And so, I want to apologize to anybody that felt, what I had said was, I kind of glibly joked that if you were raised in a stable and safe environment, you wouldn't be a listener, and I want to be as inclusive as possible on this podcast.

You know, I think sometimes my fear of putting out an episode that isn't compelling in some way, I start tap dancing, trying to be funny or to be more than I am, because I guess in that moment I feel like I'm not enough, and that I'm going to be, in a sense, abandoned, that the podcast is, people are going to stop listening to it, and since it's my, it's how I make a living, that I'll be sad, alone, homeless, broke [chuckles]. My teeth will fall out and the only thing available to eat will be corn on the cob and I won't be able to eat it, and I'll just be sitting in a halfway house watching people enjoy corn. Welcome to my brain [chuckles].

So, apologies to anybody who felt marginalized. And I want to say, when somebody writes something that expresses a critique, I like to think that I'm pretty good about deciding whether or not to take it in, whether or not to read it, and I feel like the points, because sometimes somebody will e-mail something in and I will think, sorry, man, that's on you, this is your own issue that you are filtering through and I don't feel that I did anything wrong, but I think they both make a valid point.

And honestly, if I hadn't done the work on myself in support groups and therapy, I would have been destroyed by that criticism. I would have engaged in the black-and-white thinking and thought I’m a fraud, I'm a terrible person, who am I to host a podcast on this kind of a subject when I am hurting people's feelings, and I know that that's not the case. I'm a human being, who can't stop eating marshmallow.

This is an Awfulsome Moment filled out by Lavender, and she writes, my emotionally neglectful father texted me for the first time in over a month asking how I was. I was thrilled for a full two seconds, until he sent me a second text, sorry, meant to text your brother.

 

[Show intro]

 

PAUL: I'm here with Jenny Jaffe, who is a writer, performer, mental health advocate. What am I missing?

 

JENNY: Oh, gosh, I don't know, redhead.

 

PAUL: Redhead.

 

JENNY: Oh, it's late. I don't know. Yeah, that's about the size and shape of it.

 

PAUL: You're how old?

 

JENNY: I'm 26.

 

PAUL: Twenty-six. You went to school at NYU, where you studied acting.

 

JENNY: No. It was TV writing.

 

PAUL: Oh, TV writing.

 

JENNY: Yeah.

 

PAUL: And you moved from Manhattan out here recently.

 

JENNY: Yeah, very recently.

 

PAUL: What are the broad strokes of struggles, past and present?

 

JENNY: The official diagnoses are generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, OCD and depression. The broad strokes are that I [sighs], I first became suicidal when I was about 10 years old, so I was younger than a lot of people think really happens, but that was like sort of my first serious bout of depression, but what it really stemmed from was the level of anxiety I deal with made it feel not worth it to keep living.

 

PAUL: Hm, that's so heartbreaking.

 

JENNY: Yeah. And the fact that it happened at that age, too, and like the other broad stroke that I think is really important to hit here is that I had just about the most supportive family environment you could possibly have. I really lucked out. I would not be here except that my mom is a social worker and my dad works in health care, too, so everybody was very like aware of all this.

And then, I ended up getting on meds around that time, and the next kind of serious bout of depression, again stemming from the level of OCD and the level of anxiety and the volume of panic attacks I was having, was like 15 to 17 years old.

And those two years are really a blur for me, which is one of the sort of interesting things to think about when it comes to this, is a lot of what I know about those years are pieced together by things that I either wrote in diaries or that my parents have reminded me of or, you know, that various people have sort of filled in for me, and it's not that it's all been great since then [chuckles], but it's been, I think it can never be as hard as it is sort of the first time you experience different things, because then it's like you've been through it before.

 

PAUL: Mm-hmm.

 

JENNY: It becomes the devil you know at a certain point.

 

PAUL: Did you feel like the second time, when it hit you between 15 and 17, that it was a deeper trough than it was at 10?

 

JENNY: I don't know because I think at 10 I didn't have it named. Like at 10, it was this sort of like amorphous thing, and they were difficult in different ways. At 10 the difficult thing was not knowing that being suicidal was a thing and not knowing what I was feeling entailed and not knowing that I could ask for help or how to.

And the ways I wanted to sort of reach out, I had the language for it by the time I was a teenager. You know, I had--

 

PAUL: Thanks to your parents?

 

JENNY: Thanks to my parents. Thanks to years and years of therapy. But I, it was a lot harder the second time around. The second time around was like, it was really the panic disorder and the OCD that were the hardest thing to deal with at that point.

And my life just sort of became this blur of like going to doctors and like sort of keeping myself alive as best I could.

 

PAUL: If you could paint a picture with just snapshots from your childhood, give us a sense of the history of how you viewed yourself, how you viewed the world, moments that were transformative or just stick in your brain for some weird reason, or are emblematic of your family dynamic.

 

JENNY: Yeah.

 

PAUL: Because one of the things I do want to know from you is where your parents went right, because so often on this podcast, parents fail their kids and I know there are good parents out there and I want to highlight what is right instead of it always being about what went wrong.

 

JENNY: I think I'm somebody who's a really good, and I feel like I have to, part of the reason it's really important to me to include all this in my story is that I think we have a problem talking about mental illness as a physical illness, and for me, the elements around me, everything in my life, was about as close to perfect as you can get. You know, no family is perfect. No childhood is perfect. But no big trauma, parents together, a lot of love, you know.

 

PAUL: Were emotions encouraged to be discussed--

 

JENNY: Oh, yeah.

 

PAUL: --and you knew that there was no right or wrong emotion, just how you expressed it was--

 

JENNY: Yeah, exactly. Emotionally intelligent sort of house, very inclusive and warm and welcoming and are to this day, but I was born with a chemical imbalance. You know, I am mentally ill. I was born mentally ill, and that was nobody's fault.

 

PAUL: Does it run in your family?

 

JENNY: To a certain extent. I think there is some mental illness that maybe went unacknowledged in some previous generations, and I think there's a little bit of, you know, anxiety maybe in my parents, but I think I really kind of drew the unlucky genetic straw as far as the sort of level of chemical imbalance goes.

And like I have been in therapy for 20 years, so like everything there is about my family, I have--

 

PAUL: So you started at six.

 

JENNY: Oh, yeah. I mean, that might be later that I started, but yeah, my parents got me to therapy very, very young.

 

PAUL: So, the anxiety and OCD was expressing itself already.

 

JENNY: Uh-huh, yeah.

 

PAUL: How early did it express itself and how did it--

 

JENNY: The second I could express anything, it was fear.

 

PAUL: You came out of your mom and you put the back of your hand to your forehead, said I can't do this.

 

JENNY: Mm-hmm, that was basically it. No, I think it was just, I never slept through the night. I still don't sleep through the night. But [chuckles] I could never sleep. I always had night terrors from a really young age and was just very fearful of everything, and I think what got me into therapy initially was just like I couldn't go over to other kids' houses, I was afraid of everything.

 

PAUL: Wow.

 

JENNY: I was afraid of everything. I was afraid of dogs and loud noises and big stuffed animals and balloons and, God, you name it, I probably was afraid of it.

 

PAUL: What a hell, what a hell for a little kid.

 

JENNY: But, and I think that, and I think that this was very confusing to a lot of the, luckily my mom intuited that this wasn't me just being spoiled. It wasn't me being like, I won't go there. It was a genuine fear and like I, that there wasn't anything I could do about it, and I was trying and I didn't want to be in my brain. I didn't want to live like that. I never felt like I could interact with other kids, yeah.

 

PAUL: And even at that young age, I'm going to assume that you intellectually understood that you didn't need to be afraid of the stuffed animal or the loud noise or that, but you just knew my body reacts when I’m around that.

 

JENNY: I had a, yeah, I had a panic reaction to a lot of things that it's not neces-, and I didn't have any trauma. You know, it was like, I'm a really textbook chemical imbalance case, because I don't have any sort of childhood trauma that, you know, I'm just so lucky in all these ways.

And, you know, I'm sure we'll get to Project UROK at some point, but like I've spent so much time collecting these stories and it's really made me appreciate the family--

 

PAUL: Give me as many things that stress you out--

 

JENNY: [Scoffs]

 

PAUL: --made you fearful in childhood.

 

JENNY: Elevators, mall Santas, different things on TV, songs--

 

PAUL: Hold on for one second. As you name each one, give us what your brain tells you would go wrong if you were exposed to that thing. Or was it not that specific?

 

JENNY: Some of them, it wasn't that specific, but with something like elevators, I'm still very afraid of elevators. That's one of, there's, you know, I've been afraid of everything at some point and just about everything I've come through.

Elevators are one of the enduring ones, the idea of being trapped in an elevator is the scariest thing in the world to me. Like I really, I'm very claustrophobic. So, for me, it was always like just the small space, the being trapped. I'm afraid of flying for the same reason. I do it a lot now, but as a kid, that was a very scary experience for me. I wouldn't go to the bathroom alone.

 

PAUL: How about being wedged in a coffin that's too small and then buried under 500 tons of dirt?

 

JENNY: Is there a person who isn't afraid of that?

 

PAUL: I'm just [chuckles] fucking with you--

 

JENNY: Like is there, oh, man. That's literally the most terrifying thing of all time.

 

PAUL: And it's like, for me, the idea of being trapped in a space that's so small that I can't sit up, I can feel my heart starting to beat fast just thinking about it.

 

JENNY: For me, it doesn't, I can sit up in it, I wouldn't want to be trapped in this room.

 

PAUL: Yeah.

 

JENNY: Yeah.

 

PAUL: I find comfort in small places as long as I can physically move about.

 

JENNY: It's the lack of windows that would get me. It's the lack of like being able to see the outside. Yeah, the list of things I wasn't afraid of would probably be shorter, and I really don't know what that list would be. I was afraid of my mom at one point. I thought she might be a vampire.

She gave me no reason to make me think she was a vampire, except that she's allergic to garlic and my kid brain decided that meant she was a vampire [chuckles] because I was reading that, the Bunnicula books, do you remember that?

 

PAUL: Uh-huh.

 

JENNY: And I just got really freaked out, I was like, she's a vampire. I was like six years old.

 

PAUL: So, was it hard for your parents--

 

JENNY: [Chuckles]

 

PAUL: --to do the medicate-or-not-medicate decision?

 

JENNY: Yeah. And my mom and I have talked about this a lot because I think, when I was growing up especially, there was a lot of like sort of Oprah specials about overmedicated kids or whatever, the mid '90s--

 

PAUL: Yeah. Yeah, that's why I wanted to know.

 

JENNY: I don't think it was an easy decision, and I think it was a decision that came, I wasn't medicated until after the suicidal stuff started.

 

PAUL: Okay, give me the progression, then, of it getting to that point, that breaking point at 10.

 

JENNY: I don't quite remember like the exact progression. I just know, so I, you know, I spent my childhood just like afraid of everything and sort of--

 

PAUL: Were you just in your room or what were you . . .

 

JENNY: It was, yeah, a lot of in my room. I--

 

PAUL: Did you have friends? Was school doable at all?

 

JENNY: I did have friends. I didn't have a ton of friends. Social stuff was pretty hard for me, and, you know, and sort of separate like maybe more normal ways, but a lot of it was I didn't feel able to participate in so much of normal childhood development.

And I think that, yeah, I spent, I remember spending a lot of time in the library. I liked the school library. That's where I kind of felt safe. And I was always good at school. I always knew teachers liked me. That was always a good thing for me.

But yeah, I mean, very easily scared. I didn't like it when anything even remotely scary happened in a class or in a book we were reading or whatever.

 

PAUL: What were other places you enjoyed other than the library and learning?

 

JENNY: I mean, home. It was hard, you know, I can't, I like, my family went to Tahoe a lot growing up, and--

 

PAUL: And you were raised in San Francisco.

 

JENNY: Mm-hmm, yeah. We went to Tahoe a lot on the weekends, and it's funny because there are a lot of things in retrospect, talking to my parents, I realize were done because they made me happy and like, and one of the things was like I felt, I liked being in Tahoe. It was, it's sort of peaceful there. It's quiet.

 

PAUL: It's beautiful.

 

JENNY: Beautiful. And we used to go up a lot, and my parents were like, that's where we had happy memories because I didn't really, you didn't have a lot of happy times as a kid. And I was like, I didn't. That was where I was happy.

And I, I remember, I don't remember at what point it kind of switched from the anxiety to the depression stuff. I don't remember having the, I don't remember having connected it in my brain to like, I am so anxious that I don't want to live anymore. In retrospect, I can kind of see what that was and, you know, feeling like a burden and feeling like, well, nobody's going to want to be friends with me, like I'm really difficult to be around and I can't, I feel like I can't do anything about it.

And it is frustrating because it is like, why are your parents like coddling you? Why don't they make you do any of this stuff? It's like, if you had seen me, [chuckles] if you'd met me, I just, this was not normal childhood stuff. I don't remember thinking, I want to die. I just remember think-, because I remember thinking, my parents would be really sad if anything happened to me, so I would hope an accident would happen and then they wouldn't think that I did it.

And what I remember thinking is like, if I could just get hit by a car or, you know, something like that, then they wouldn't have to be mad at me. But like I don't want to keep doing this, and I don't want to keep doing this to them.

 

PAUL: That is so heartbreaking, to think about that little 10-year-old girl. If you could go back in a time machine and spend time with her, what would you . . .

 

JENNY: Well, I started Project UROK to do that. I very much, like that's very much what it was, was me trying to reach back in time, because it's not just worth living. It's things are just better than you think they will be, and like, it gets harder for a while. That's [chuckles], if I went back to my 10-year-old self, I'd be like, ulg, it's going to be an uphill battle, but the other side of it's worth it.

 

PAUL: And the Web site is ProjectUROK, U, the letter U, R-O-K.

 

JENNY: Dot org.

 

PAUL: Dot org.

 

JENNY: But the kind of breaking point as far as the depression stuff goes was my parents were going away for the weekend and that was the weekend I was going to kill myself. I had a plan that involved safety scissors.

And I, my grandma was going to watch my sister and I, and she came over and she and I ended up kind of talking, and I don't know what I said to her, but it must have worried her enough that she said something to my parents, and my parents took me with them. My parents wouldn't leave me alone, which was like, [chuckles] like, yeah. I, without my parents, like I really don't know, I don't know what would have, I can't imagine what would have happened if I had been in any other family.

And I went with them. We had a lot of conversations that weekend [chuckles]. I'm very grateful they let me ruin their romantic weekend. And when I got back, they took me to a child psychologist and they put me on Prozac.

And I remember within like 24 hours, like for people who are anti-medication, for children, I mean, I understand where they're coming from because I do think there can be a tendency to medicate without follow-up treatment, without sort of like trying different kinds of things, but for me, like it was so obviously chemical, and within 24 hours, my mom always says, like it was like a different kid, not like a different kid, but like a, it was like a kid [chuckles].

It was like, I remember just it feeling like when I got glasses for the first time. I've worn glasses since I was really young, and being like, oh, you can see details in the trees, it was just like that. It was like, oh, like it is lighter now, it is easier.

And for a while, I didn't really deal with that kind of stuff. I dealt with the sort of normal like pre-teen stuff and I dealt with the middle school bullying and whatever.

 

PAUL: Do you remember any specific moments of feeling like now you were in the stream of life, now you were experiencing what other people are able to experience?

 

JENNY: I almost don't remember any of that until much later. I think I, even when you cut out the depression, the anxiety level was still, it was interesting when I had to re-frame myself as an adult, as someone who's able to participate in things that adults participate in, and like I don't need special accommodation for anything, you know.

I stopped, I used to think of myself as like, oh, well, maybe everybody's going to go do this, but like clearly I can't like just also be involved in that, because I was used to not being able to sort of participate in a normal way. So--

 

PAUL: And that's not the case anymore.

 

JENNY: Yeah. I mean, now it's, like it's very interesting being 26 and having gone through the level of intensive therapy that I've gone through [chuckles] and I think I am at an advantage now, because it's very hard to throw me for a loop. Like, I've been through so much, nothing is going to kill me. Like, if I didn't kill myself, nothing's going to kill me.

 

PAUL: You learned to put your head down and ride things out. That's one of the gifts of depression.

 

JENNY: Yeah. And like, there have been tough times. Like, there have been, in recent years, there have been things that have come up that have been really tough, but I have the language to work on it. I know how and where to seek help when I need it.

 

PAUL: Can you give us specific examples, if you're comfortable talking about it, because tools and, you know, learning how to get through things is always a great thing to talk about.

 

JENNY: Well, I mean, the best gift I was sort of given, I think, was the gift that therapy was not something to be ashamed of and something to be sought out and something to take advantage of. And therapy gives you the tools to talk about your feelings in a productive way, like that's really what therapy is more than anything. It's not a solution. It's just a sort of--

 

PAUL: Kind of a steam valve.

 

JENNY: Yeah, exactly. So, I'm really good at reaching out when I need to reach out. That's, you know, something, and then the other thing is, my meds are a really important life source for me [chuckles].

I've started doing something where every day I tweet when I take them because I think it's holding me accountable to taking them, and also I think it's something like people who take them just don't want to. I went cold turkey off them a couple times as a teenager because I was like, you know how teenagers get, and I was sort of like--

 

PAUL: Teenagers? I did it when I was 48 and almost died.

 

JENNY: Yeah, no, but I think it's like, well, when you're on it, and I think, especially because I was on it from the time I was like 10, I was like, well, what am I like without these? I don't know what I'm like without these. Turns out what I'm like without those is catatonic.

So, it's just not worth it for me not to do that. I had, yeah, sorry, where was I [chuckles]? Where were we going?

 

PAUL: I was asking for specific examples of your experience helping you navigate a crisis or a situation or, you know, maybe some backsliding that you've experienced.

 

JENNY: Yeah. Well, I had a sort of like new anxiety symptom that I hadn't experienced before crop up a couple years ago, which was disassociation, and I had never experienced that before. And it's basically the experience of feeling like you're floating outside your own body or like derealization of the world around you, like you don't feel like things are real, and it really--

 

PAUL: Depersonalization.

 

JENNY: Depersonalization, yeah. And it was just a new thing I did when I was anxious, and I don't know sort of where it came from necessarily. But it really shook me and was really not fun and would last for like a couple days at a time.

And I would get through it because I know I can get through these kind of things. I would intellectually tell myself, like, nothing is forever, like whatever this is you'll get through it.

 

PAUL: I did that on a bad acid trip one time in high school [chuckles].

 

JENNY: Well, [chuckles] I'm not saying there weren't at one point drugs involved, nothing hard.

 

[Chuckling]

 

JENNY: I just hope my parents aren't listening at this point.

 

PAUL: Yeah.

 

JENNY: But yeah, there was--

 

PAUL: So, you just kind of--

 

JENNY: --there was some edible weed involved, a couple months prior, that like had a really bad effect on me, I think, for a while.

 

PAUL: So you think it might have kind of triggered that in your or something?

 

JENNY: Yeah. I think it kind of triggered just some really bad anxiety stuff, and I think, I mean, any kind of brain-chemistry-altering anything is a pretty bad idea for me, I think. I've never tried any of the drugs that sort of feed on serotonin, but I can't think of a worse idea for me.

 

PAUL: Because then it would leave you depleted after the high wore off.

 

JENNY: Yeah. And like I don't have enough serotonin to begin with, so [chuckles] like that's not just, that's just not in like massive supply for me. But so like when I was experiencing this and this wasn't a symptom I'd experienced before, I didn't panic. I got in contact with my therapist. Like I--

 

PAUL: You obviously have a psychiatrist as well or an MD--

 

JENNY: I do, I do. I talked to my psychiatrist, too. I've got, you know, a lot, just a lot of resources. I was able to like articulate to my boyfriend at the time and like, you know, some of my friends what was going on and saying like, hey, if you notice this thing, like this is what's going on with me, and that was all really helpful.

 

PAUL: Would you just get really quiet around them, is that, how would it look to an outsider?

 

JENNY: I don't know. I'm, unfortunately, very good at making it look like I’m not having a panic attack at any given time. It's just, you know, one of those skills you develop. But . . .

 

PAUL: You'd make a terrific hostage.

 

JENNY: Thank you so much. I really would, honestly. Like, that's the thing, is like I think I'd be very good in an emergency situation.

 

PAUL: Yeah.

 

JENNY: Just because I'm like, this is the mode I'm at all the time. I've felt this way like since the election, everybody's sort of got this existential dread and I'm just like, yeah, I like with that every day. Like, my anxiety level isn't higher. It's just like valid now. I’m like, cool.

 

PAUL: Welcome, guys. Welcome to where I am all the time.

 

JENNY: Yes. I wrote [chuckles], I wrote a piece like on Medium or something, just because like, I think, look, this is my time to shine, like this is your beginners guide to existential dread, you have to get out of bed in the morning, you have to force yourself to eat something, you have to stay right here as best you can.

 

PAUL: Not obsess about the future.

 

JENNY: Try not to obsess about the future. I'm better at talking about that than actually not doing that, but--

 

PAUL: Try not to engage in black-and-white thinking.

 

JENNY: Yep, yep [chuckles]. But yeah, so I have all those sort of resources and, you know, and more than anything, like the, you know, the biggest resource is like I know how strong I am, and that's really an interesting thing and I've talked to a lot of groups of kids who are going through some pretty significant mental illness struggles, and the thing I always say to them is like, you are coming out of this with this unshakeable core. And that's something a lot of people will never have, and that's a gift that you're being given.

You know, there's the, I hate talking about it as being a gift in any way because I think that sometimes keeps people engaged with their mental illness in a way that they don't need to be. Like, you are not going to be funnier if you're not taking your meds. You're not going to be [chuckles] more creative or more interesting.

And, you know, and I'm a writer and there's always the temptation to be like, oh, well, if, you know, there's like the madness and the genius and the, it's just the comedy can be a coping mechanism, but it's correlated. It's not causal. You became, maybe became funny to help fight those demons off. You aren't funny because you have those demons.

And in fact, there's that movie Frank, which I'm obsessed with, I think it's really great, but the sort of lesson at the end of that is like that everybody's sort of obsessed with this like mad genius and like, who is this guy?

And at the end, spoiler alert, the main character goes to talk to Frank's parents and they're sort of like, actually, like he was a musical genius before everything that happened to him happened to him. Like, he would have been much more successful if he hadn't been dealing with all this other stuff. And it's really one of the only pop culture things I can think of that posits that, and I think that's really cool.

 

PAUL: You know, I like to think of mental illness, trauma, you know, all the addictions, I like to think of those things as forced gym memberships for our soul.

 

JENNY: Oh, wow, I like that. Yeah, it kind of is that, and I think it creates a lot of compassion. It creates a lot of, you know, not that there are things that you couldn't have otherwise, but it just changes the way you are in the world as a person, I think.

 

PAUL: I think especially if we reach out for help and we connect to other people who are similarly struggling, that that, to me, has been, because, you know, I looked back when I was depressed and self-medicating with alcohol, it was, I don't think that was a gift to me or anybody else around me, but once I got help and started to learn how to cope, that's when the gifts began to kind of show up.

 

JENNY: Yeah, yeah. No, absolutely.

 

PAUL: So, let's go back to your childhood and let's, was there a thought that you wanted to finish?

 

JENNY: No. I'm sure we'll circle back around to it. I think I was just going to say that I think learning to be really radically honest with my feelings and being open has been the best thing I've ever done for everything, for my relationships, my friendships and my career and my ability to help other people, because I, and we'll get to it, I'm sure, but like this isn't stuff I talked about until like three years ago.

 

PAUL: I would love to talk about it now because I don't want us to forget it because I think it's such an important topic to talk about, how to express your truth in a way that respects other people.

 

JENNY: Yeah. Well, like what I've really come to is, you can never be wrong when you're just telling your own story. If you're just saying the facts of your own story and you--

 

PAUL: How you feel.

 

JENNY: --and how you feel, you're never incorrect.

 

PAUL: It's when you start to assign causes to things that it can become complicated.

 

JENNY: Right. But I think I went into adulthood very emotionally stunted in, I was very emotionally mature in a lot of ways, having come through what I'd come through, but very socially stunted because I just hadn't had a lot of normal teenage development experiences, so I was very young.

And I really thought, people will like me more if I'm not difficult. And my version of not being difficult was to be the friendliest and the most like outgoing and the, you know, most--

 

PAUL: To be the perfect friend.

 

JENNY: Right. You know--

 

PAUL: To not have needs.

 

JENNY: I think I was, I don't think, exactly. But I think that can also come off very annoying and that can come off very like, well, I'm not going to tell you things because nothing's wrong with you, like you have this perfect little house and this perfect, you know, just, someone described me as chirpy recently. I think that's a solid way to put some of how I am [chuckles] and definitely how I was sort of outwardly in my late teens and early 20s.

 

PAUL: And was that an authentic part of you, you were just misrepresenting how large of a part of you it was?

 

JENNY: Yeah. I think, I mean, absolutely I think it was authentic. I think there was a, there is a joy to being alive for me that I think comes out of the fact that I feel a little bit like I'm living on borrowed time, like because I feel like I wanted to die for so long, that I don't want to die is a miracle and like I'm so happy to be here and happy to be doing what I'm doing and like--

 

PAUL: Gratitude is so easy when--

 

JENNY: Yeah--

 

[Chuckling]

 

PAUL: --when you've experienced wanting to turn your keys in.

 

JENNY: Right, right. And I think it's, I've got this sort of philosophy just that like it is very cool to exist. I feel like it's very cool to exist on this planet and things are bad but it's better than there being nothing, and that's the alternative, right?

So, and things are very good and I have to remind myself that all the time, and I am, like and right now things are really good for me. I've, when I look at the bullet points of my life, I’m like, I'm living the life I wildly hoped I'd have, and that's crazy to me [chuckles]. That's amazing, that I've really gotten to do that and that I'm getting to do more things I never even dreamed about, so.

 

PAUL: If we were to assign a number of your anxiety, your depression, your panic attacks when they were at your worst--

 

JENNY: Like 11 [chuckles].

 

PAUL: Okay. And that would have been as a teenager, between 10 and 17, at some point, or . . .

 

JENNY: Oh, I mean, like most of the time. Like it was just, [sighs] I was just bogged down in it. I was governed by it, you know.

 

PAUL: What would that number be on a given day now, in the last couple years or . . .

 

JENNY: Like a four, maybe. Like, at its worst, like a seven. Like, and that's really good for me. Like--

 

PAUL: And that's not something that lasts months.

 

JENNY: No. And like sometimes it's a couple days and I've had weeks where it's been like, I am feeling depressed, but a lot of times it's been like, I know this is situational, this is because I'm out of a job right now or this is because, you know, whatever, I went through a breakup or something that's a little more, I don't want to say normal, but something that people who don't go through major depressive episodes deal with, too.

And even when it's like, I don't know where this is coming from, it's like, I'm going to ride it out, it's not forever. I have that ability to do that now.

 

PAUL: What are the tools that you reach for first when you start to feel like I don't want to get out of bed or I’m terrified to face the day?

 

JENNY: One interesting thing I have noticed is like I, a lot of my life is adjusted already, it just comes pre-adjusted to like, I know that getting out of bed is scary for me, I know that I wake up multiple times a night with night terrors, I know that I'm afraid of more things than most people, but it's not so bad to live with now because I've been doing it for so long and successfully and I've gotten to accomplish a lot despite it.

And I make little bargains with myself throughout the day. That's a thing I've noticed I do [chuckles]. These are like small tools, I guess. But like I'll save certain podcasts or whatever like or something I want to listen to or watch until I know I have to get up, and like I bargain with myself, like if you get out of bed, you just listen to this thing while you're doing whatever.

I'm never, I have my headphones in all the time. That's a thing I didn't notice was a part of my coping mechanism, but I do consume a lot of media and comedy especially, and I think that's where my love of comedy comes from. And my initial comedy education very much was me trying to drown out voices in my head.

So, it's a lot of like little bargains throughout the day, like, you just have to eat something, it doesn't matter what it is, you just have to eat it. And once I eat something, it's like, you have to take your meds now, you just have to take it. And it is, it's a little [chuckles], it sounds exhausting, and it is a little exhausting, but it's . . .

 

PAUL: You know, after you do it enough, it just, you don't even think about it anymore, though.

 

JENNY: It's built in to the rhythms of who I am, and so, you know, that's what I reach for first, like, okay, have you done the checklist, have you done the stuff.

 

PAUL: What's the checklist?

 

JENNY: You know, just like the, have you eaten something, have you gotten out of bed, have you gotten out of the house in a couple days, have you taken a shower, have you, you know, put on clean clothes, all that kind of stuff--

 

PAUL: Opened your mail.

 

JENNY: Open your, oh, God, there's nothing scarier. I, like, but now that I have a day job that I go to, that does really help with that sort of, like you're going to work, you have to go to work, and a day job that I love at that, so.

 

PAUL: Is that a writing job?

 

JENNY: It is, yeah.

 

PAUL: Oh, good. What are you writing for?

 

JENNY: I write for Disney. I write for kids' TV.

 

PAUL: Oh, that's so awesome.

 

JENNY: And, well, one of the ways that that's especially awesome for me is I'm like I get to go and make something that's going to make a kid's world seem happier and safer, and it's aimed at the age I was when I was very suicidal and that's, yeah, that's huge for me.

 

PAUL: Wow.

 

JENNY: When I was really depressed, I've talked about this a lot, but I used to do this thing I called Dread Pirate Roberts'ing myself, where I'd promise I could kill myself after a certain thing, and so like, as a teenager it was like, after the next episode of The Daily Show you can kill yourself, like just, you have to wait.

But so it's one of these things where it's like, so now it's like, I’m going to write stuff and I don't know who's doing the same thing about something I participated in and definitely doing comedy is a really big part of that, and that's why it feels very special to me to be able to do that, and definitely work in kids' TV and definitely a kids' show about a health care robot [chuckles] and about, you know--

 

PAUL: What's it called?

 

JENNY: Big Hero 6.

 

PAUL: Okay.

 

JENNY: It's coming out this year, later this year.

So, you know, like having an adult life I have to sort of contend with, but, you know, it's hard, like I get a lot of anxiety around the unopened e-mails and un-listened-to voicemails and that kind of thing. But I think a lot of people do. And one of the biggest tools that's at my disposal now is Twitter.

And when I'm having bad days, the ability to be like, guys, today sucks, to 13,000 people on the Internet is great because it's not only me being able to see out loud what that looks like. It's also being able to get back, gosh, me, too, I’m so, like a lot of times people don't want advice about it getting better. They just want to hear somebody else is going through it. A lot of times I--

 

PAUL: It's why I started this podcast.

 

JENNY: Exactly. I'm sure you get the same thing, too, where it's like because you're open about it you get people reaching out to you and--

 

PAUL: It's beautiful, yeah.

 

JENNY: And like I, you know, so I do have a lot of tools sort of at my disposal, breathing exercises and stuff.

 

PAUL: Talk about those.

 

JENNY: My friend Mara like swears by this one from the Panic Attacks Workbook, and you have to exhale first and that's what makes a difference, you're exhaling, and then inhaling and exhaling in counts of eight. She recorded it for Project UROK as a breathing exercise and people really liked that.

 

PAUL: And she's talking about a former guest, Mara Wilson.

 

JENNY: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Duh.

 

PAUL: Yeah.

 

JENNY: And those breathing GIFs online are really great. My boyfriend makes me little custom breathing GIFs, which I always think is like the sweetest thing [chuckles].

 

PAUL: Like what's a custom breathing GIF?

 

JENNY: Oh, just like he'll just do a GIF of like either him or like something that's sort of like breathing in rhythm--

 

PAUL: Like an audio thing?

 

JENNY: No, it's just like visual--

 

PAUL: Oh, okay.

 

JENNY: --but you just, it's just to breathe with that, because sometimes I forget that I haven't breathed in a while.

 

PAUL: Yeah.

 

JENNY: I'm really into my fidget cube right now. I have a little fidget toy. I don't have it, I put it down because I think it would, I didn't want it to be loud, but I got it online and it's just like little things to play with on each side, and that's really helpful because I'm always, I jiggle my legs and I like grab stuff and like I make little sculptures out of like whatever is around, and I compulsively fold paper cranes. My desk at work is just covered in--

 

PAUL: Oh, really?

 

JENNY: --paper cranes. So, yeah, it's, but it's cool to have created for myself sort of a community of people who unders-, the more you're open about things, the more people are open to you and the more you realize nobody is cool and everyone's scared, and that's sort of my philosophy [chuckles]. Nobody's cool, everyone's scared, and we're just all in this like bizarre like life together.

 

PAUL: Trying to do the best we can.

 

JENNY: And I really do think on some level all humans are doing the best they can to cope with the unimaginable horror of like the gaping maw of existence.

 

[Chuckling]

 

JENNY: But like we get cool colors and we get flowers and dogs and stuff, so it's, you know, it's . . .

 

PAUL: The thing that I also am struck by in talking to you that seems to run through all of this is you seem to have gotten to a place where you don't shame yourself, and I think that's so, I could be wrong, but that, to me, is like one of the biggest hurdles, that once you remove that, things become easier.

 

JENNY: Yeah. I've learned to give myself a lot of leeway and I like myself in a way that I haven't liked myself historically.

 

PAUL: What got you to that place?

 

JENNY: Honestly, deciding not to be a hypocrite once I started Project UROK was really huge. Like, if I'm going to have a site where basically people are putting themselves out there and being the most authentic version of themselves they can be and telling their story, and I look at them and I'm, there's nothing but pride and awe that I see, you know, when I look at them, then I've got to be able to do the same thing. And [sighs] . . .

 

PAUL: Did it feel phony at first?

 

JENNY: Yeah. And I think it's changed a lot, the way I've been able to talk about things over time and the amount I've learned about all kinds of things, you know, privilege and, you know, just the amount of being able to kind of recover of memories of stuff that I went through sort of just like through talking about it, it's all been really interesting.

And the amount of comfort I have about talking about it, I don't have to gear myself up for it anymore. I don't have to dress it up in any way. I just say what it is. And--

 

PAUL: Can you give me an example? And try to remember what your next thought was going to--

 

JENNY: Pfft, I don't remember. I, you know, just, I don't police the language I use around it in the same way, just in terms of carefully framing things and--

 

PAUL: For fear that somebody is going to disagree with it or take exception or be hurt or--

 

JENNY: No, more for fear of judgment. Or like wanting my story to seem neater and wanting it to be more linear, wanting there to be a clear recovery and all that, you know, as a person who tells stories, wanting an end.

 

PAUL: Which is one of the hardest things when you're depressed, is articulating what you're feeling, because to even sometimes form a sentence when you're catatonically depressed is exhausting, and making decisions is exhausting when you're depressed. So, the idea of, and if you're a perfectionist, the idea of, I have to perfectly explain this thing I can't even really understand that's going on inside me--

 

JENNY: Yeah.

 

PAUL: --it's why opening up, I think, is so hard for the depressed person who has never sought help before, but they don't know that it isn't done in one perfect fell swoop. It's just tiny little bites one day at a time, and, you know--

 

JENNY: And it's, I think one thing that was very frustrating for me when I was kind of in my early 20s and like I had, it was just, I had one panic attack and it really set me off, and I was just pissed at myself. And I was like, we've been through this over and over. We've gone through every treatment and we've had the best and like it's still, why is this still happening?

And at some point you're like, this is a chronic illness. Like, I live with a chronic illness, and it gets better and worse and it will get worse again and it will get better again, and I have to not be frustrated with myself, but I think I have the tendency, in part because I think of myself as having been a difficult kid and having been a difficult teenager, you know, not in the typical ways but just in the ways that it was probably, it was very difficult to be someone taking care of me at that time, that there was a wunderkind element of me, that like I have to be better, I have to do more, because I have to prove that it's worth it that I'm here.

 

PAUL: Wow.

 

JENNY: And I think it was very hard for me to [chuckles], like I've always felt like I have to be impressive, I have to, you know, be the best at all these things. And I also, you know, was, the only place I was really getting positive feedback was like for academic stuff and for stuff I was talented in.

So, I think it was hard to not talk about, it's hard to not be the perfect recovery story, it's hard not to be the poster kid for that. And once I started talking about it, I was like, no, like today sucked, like I was working at my job where I tell kids it gets better, but today was terrible, you know. Like the ability to do that has definitely changed a lot for me, and that's been a sort of important thing to come to in the way I talk about it.

 

PAUL: Give me some moments of you as a child or an adolescent or even an adult where your interaction with your parents highlights how parents did something right.

 

JENNY: I mean, there's a lot. My parents, I mean, like there was just a time where like I just, I like don't even remember. My life was just a blur of like going to different doctors and like they really stepped it up and found the right people to take me to and were able to do that, and that's all tied up in the amount of privilege I have and how fucked it is that not everybody has access to that, because we have a very messed-up view of mental health and a very messed-up mental health care system in our country.

My mom used to come to therapy with me [chuckles] like twice a week. When I like couldn't get out of bed, she would like basically carry me in there and sit with me there and like--

 

PAUL: Wow.

 

JENNY: --really like drag me through it, and like [chuckles] she was exhausted and she had moments where I know that it was a lot for her and frustrating for her, and she didn't know what to do. And the amount of back and forth about hospitalizing me or what do I do? Do I get pulled out of school? Do I, like how do I do this?

But I knew my parents were advocating for me, and that was really important. And definitely like my mom being there in therapy with me and advocating for me in the school and being like, Jenny needs to be able to leave class to do this thing, this thing is important.

Like, my mom would pick me up every day at lunch for like a year, because I couldn't be on campus. I would call my mom between every single class, like [chuckles] she was my lifeline. And yeah, [inaudible] Jaffe is a rock star. That's, like there are a lot of people who would agree with that for a lot of different reasons.

 

PAUL: And I imagine it was so, such a different experience for you because, while she may have occasionally been frustrated, the overall vibe wasn't one of frustration, so you could sense that she was advocating for you as opposed to I am just a pain in the ass.

 

JENNY: Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of that came from me and like, that sense, the sense that like I am, but I knew how much work was going into it, you know. And like I knew how much my family's life sort of slowed down because of the amount of special care that I needed.

And then there's all these things that like I only learned about in the last couple years, where it's like I didn't even think about that, like of course that's a thing that was being done because of me.

 

PAUL: For instance?

 

JENNY: When I like came back from college at one point, like for a break or something, my mom went out to the store and my sister was going to go with her, and then she like kind of realized, my sister like turned back to me and was like, oh, no, wait, I should stay here, right? And my mom was like, and I was like, no, you can go. I'm like 19, like go do whatever.

And my sister looked really concerned [chuckles], and then I sort of brought it up to her later. I was like, what was up with that? And she was just like, well, I thought we weren't supposed to leave you alone.

And it occurred to me, I hadn't been alone my entire teenage years because I was on suicide watch, and nobody told me this, but there was always somebody around. And a lot of the time the burden fell to my little sister, and like I don't think it was a, you know, whatever, but like, she took that on and like it was a collaborative effort, and like I really wasn't alone and that was really smart and really good of them and very correct.

 

PAUL: Do you feel like that brought your family closer together, or did it put a strain on it or both?

 

JENNY: I think it, I don't know. I think it, I mean, my family is very close. I feel bad for the strain it maybe put on Brooke, my sister. That's, but I think we've both separately dealt with that in therapy [chuckles].

 

PAUL: Have you ever expressed to her how you feel about that--

 

JENNY: Yeah.

 

PAUL: What did you say? How did she react?

 

JENNY: We've just talked about it, and I've been there for her in certain ways since then. She's a little bit more private than me so I don't necessarily want to talk too much about her, but, you know, the way we've been able to talk about things in years since has been interesting.

You know, there's [sighs], like just, the amount of like small things. Like, I'm a really big musical theater fan, like that's one of my sort of like happy things, and I realized like the reason my mom always let me listen to musicals in the car wasn't because, like a lot of the, like I hate like listening to musical theater with somebody who hates musical theater, and my mom loves musical theater but not like I do [chuckles], not like, and then listening to musical theater is something that she was, we were doing because it made me happy and because it was a happy thing for me, you know. Just there were all these little things that I didn't think about, like, wow, that was a little way that I was being taken care of I didn't even see. And I see a lot of that in retrospect.

And having--

 

PAUL: What feelings come up when you . . .

 

JENNY: You know, I'm just really grateful to my family. And then there's also a lot of sadness, thinking about that sort of young version of myself and, I'm far enough removed from it now that it's like I don't, it's not like an active thought for me to think about what that time was like, but like I'm very sad to think about that version of myself. I was very, very unhappy.

Those were, like I was just in some very dark places in my mind for a lot of my life. And that's a lot for anybody, and it's definitely a lot for a kid and for so much of that time, like especially when I think about myself at like 10 years old, I'm like, there's a little bit of bitterness there, I think--

 

PAUL: At the universe?

 

JENNY: [Sighs] Not at the universe. I think I've gotten past it, but for a while I was just really angry with myself and really angry with my brain and really angry that like I just couldn't be normal. And I now know like, I don't think there is a normal. Everybody's got something, you know.

But I think there was a lot of like, depression is anger turned inwards, some people say, and there was a lot of anger turned inwards. You know, just like, that I didn't get to experience a lot of things people experience as kids and teenagers because I was, you know, so [chuckles], so depressed and so anxious, and that I then like had to learn how to re-contextualize myself as a person who is like capable and, yeah.

 

PAUL: Any other moments that you want to share about, where your parents advocated for you and you look back in hindsight?

 

JENNY: I mean, I'm sure there's so many that I'm like not even thinking about, yeah.

 

PAUL: I know I'm putting you on the spot.

 

JENNY: I mean, I just know like there was, the town I grew up in is being investigated by the CDC for the amount of suicides that happened, actually.

 

PAUL: What town?

 

JENNY: I grew up in Silicon Valley, and it's a lot of kids of very high-performing parents and a lot of kids with a lot of pressure on them and a lot of, and then that's compounded with the unwillingness of a lot of the people in the town I grew up in to talk about anything other than like what's perfect, and everybody kind of wants to have this façade of like our lives are perfect.

 

PAUL: And this ongoing myth in our culture that financial privilege equals emotional privilege.

 

JENNY: Yeah, the idea that, exactly, and the idea that like, well, if you're rich, you're happy, I think, and people want to perpetuate that myth in a weird way.

 

PAUL: There was this woman who wanted to work with Mother Teresa and she camped outside her, obviously this was years ago, she camped outside Mother Teresa's hotel room when Mother Teresa was visiting the United States, and she finally was able to come up to her and she said, I want to come work with you in Calcutta.

And Mother Teresa said, well, what do you do here in the United States? And she said, oh, you know, I work for a theater company, it's, you know, some stupid little job. And she said, no, stay here and work on that because in America there's a spiritual famine.

 

JENNY: Yeah. No, I think that's very true. I think the values that people have and had at the school I went to and had sort of in my town growing up were not, you know, it's looks and who has what and who has what brand thing and who, you know, has the bigger private jet or whatever, and the conversation isn't like, how do we deal with people in our lives.

I've never met so many depressed kids, and like the kids at my high school self-medicated with designer drugs and there were a lot of suicides after school ended, because they had a lot of parents who didn't really pay attention and not a lot of focus on anybody's inner life.

 

PAUL: One of the things that is so hard to watch is the parent that doesn't understand addiction and thinks that the more expensive a rehab is the better their kid has of getting sober, and it just breaks my heart because some of those high-end ones are the sickest, most enabling places you could put any human being.

 

JENNY: There's definitely a lot of enabling, too, just because it's like, people have access to whatever they want, basically, if your instincts aren't healthy then you're going to go after it, and there was a lot of addiction. There was a lot of addiction.

You know, I don't want to make it sound like I'm complaining about having grown up with wealth in America, because that's--

 

PAUL: You are not at all. You are not at all.

 

JENNY: Okay, yeah. But it is interesting--

 

PAUL: You're making the delineation between emotional wealth and financial wealth.

 

JENNY: Right. And there's an interesting sort of bell curve, and on one side is sort of the top one percent, on one side is people living below the poverty line, and those are the two places where there's the most suicide and I think it's because, on the one side, the ability to get help isn't there, and the help isn't given on the other side. There's this emotional shutdown I think that happens because it's like, well, I'm here so I should be happy now.

 

PAUL: I don't think we've even remotely touched on the ripples of workaholism in our culture. You know, we put people on the fronts of magazines because they're billionaires, but we never ask the question, how much quality time are you spending with your kid? Can you name five of your friends' kids?

 

JENNY: Yeah, no. It's true. And like, I think, and, you know, one of the problems is, like so the way that it's been addressed in my hometown is a lot of people talking about the amount of stress that kids are under, and I think that is a really worthwhile conversation.

I just think it's a different conversation than the mental health conversation, because for me, I'm like, I really didn't feel that pressure to go to an Ivy League school. I didn't feel the pressure to, you know, get all A's or whatever, but I felt very suicidal because I'm mentally ill.

But it's like so, [sighs] the attitude of growing up in that sort of environment is, it's still just like nobody was talking about things. And it wasn't until like years later that I heard from people who I went to school with, like, oh, I was going through the same thing at the same time, I'm like, I never would have known [chuckles], I never would have known.

 

PAUL: I remember in high school I had a crush on a girl and one weekend, and she had no idea, and I remember she killed herself one weekend, and I just remember looking at her empty desk in class and thinking, I couldn't understand how somebody who was attractive could kill themselves, and obviously I understand that now, but, to my little teenage brain, it just seemed like, well, if you're popular enough that solves all your problems.

 

JENNY: Right. Yeah. I think, it's just interesting because I, you know, I don't know what the perception of me was in high school necessarily, and like I think about this a lot, like for a while I was like, well, it was the high school I went to, like I was so miserable like at this high school, and now I'm like, would I have been happier anywhere?

You know, I was going through this thing and I was going to go through that whether I was at a private school or a public school or an art school or anything. There might have been places that were a little bit more encouraging of, you know, my interests, a little bit more interested in helping me talk about things, but I think it was just something I had to go through, and it's not a function of any of the external things. It was just what I was going through.

 

PAUL: Anything else you'd like to talk about or touch on?

 

JENNY: I don't know. Where are we? What have we touched on?

 

PAUL: We're at an hour. You know, we're good unless there's anything else that you want to talk about, because I can't think of anything, but that doesn't mean there isn't more stuff to talk about.

 

JENNY: I mean, I am sure there's so much more. I don't know what the, I like don't even know where to start with it. The teen years are like kind of a blur or I'd give more details.

 

PAUL: Well, I totally understand that.

 

JENNY: But the OCD was just the bigger thing there, and like I talk a lot about the depression, but the OCD was the thing that was like . . .

 

PAUL: Talk about the OCD.

 

JENNY: The OCD was, it's just people think of OCD as being about sort of being very organized and about wanting things in a certain order and sort of the hand washing, and I had all that. I had all that, too.

But what they don't really talk about is the intrusive thoughts and the amount that your brain is hitching on one particular thought and often like a particularly upsetting thought or a thought you might not otherwise want to have, you know, violent thoughts and--

 

PAUL: Give me some, if you're comfortable sharing, because I've shared mine on here. Other guests have shared, you know, I think about, what if I threw that baby off that balcony, if I pushed that person in front of that bus, what would that person's head look like if I chopped it off with the sharpest sword that I could find?

 

JENNY: Yeah.

 

PAUL: What if I took a shit right here in the coffee shop--

 

JENNY: All of those things, like what if I just had the sudden desire, like I still get the thing when I'm driving of like, what if I just hit that person and I didn't realize it, I didn't realize I just, like, and then I'll like, even though like they're clearly behind me, like what if I didn't realize I just like ran somebody over.

But yeah, definitely, like I’m going to drop this baby, or like throw this baby against the wall or like, I’m going to yell a bad word right now, or I'm going to, what if I just suddenly had the desire to drink toilet water? What if I just started drinking it? It's like, I'm not going to do that.

Like, and then there's, I mean, there's things that it's like, I don't think I've ever said certain things out loud just because it's like, it doesn't need to be said out loud and I'm fine, but--

 

PAUL: Come on.

 

JENNY: No.

 

[Chuckling]

 

JENNY: This is something I haven't really thought about, actually, until just now, but I started sort of questioning my sexuality a lot when I was a teenager and I couldn't tell how much it was OCD intrusion and how much it was genuine fantasy [chuckles], and that was sort of an upsetting thing, was like detaching like normal teenage things from my mental illness things, and that was really hard to do in general. Like, how much was I moody and I hate stuff because I'm a teenager, and how much is like I'm moody and I hate stuff because I'm suicidally depressed?

Like, and that was stuff that became like more apparent later, but the OCD like intrusive thoughts and like that kind of thing, but it went the other way, too. It was like, what if this is genuinely who I am? What if I'm a violent person [chuckles]?

 

PAUL: It's heartbreaking to see people judge themselves based on their intrusive thoughts. It so has nothing to do with, the thoughts that pop into our head, I think, have so little to do with who we are morally. It's, I think, how we express our feelings that is so much more important.

 

JENNY: Yeah.

 

PAUL: Were you ever able to find some type of peace around your sexuality?

 

JENNY: Yeah, very much so. That's something, but it like took, it was, I was a very late bloomer for a lot of reasons, and that was definitely one of them. But it was, that was something where it was like, it was so hard to just like continue living.

The idea of like, oh, like dating and relationships and sex, like that didn't even occur to me to be something that is in the realm of possibility. Like, I can't share a drink with a family member. How am I supposed to kiss somebody [chuckles]? Like, that's disgusting. I caught up. I did fine.

 

[Chuckling]

 

JENNY: Yeah, but it was like a lot of teen stuff like that that I just never experienced, like going on a date, you know, and it's just like, you take some time to catch up. And then I went like zero to 60 and like just knocked stuff off the list in college, but--

 

PAUL: How do you mean?

 

JENNY: I think I got to a point where I was like, oh, like had my first kiss, lost my virginity, let's just try everything else, and then I think I just like--

 

PAUL: Oh, okay.

 

JENNY: --you know what I mean, like--

 

PAUL: So you thought, in your mind, it's going to take me a year to be able to kiss somebody without freaking out about germs, and it--

 

JENNY: Well, it did, but it took until I was like 20, but then I hit like 20, I was like, oh, I, the world's my oyster, I'm 21 and live in New York City, let's go mess up [chuckles].

 

PAUL: And so now you feel like you're in a place where the OCD isn't dampening your romantic life.

 

JENNY: No. It's not, and I'm, you know, really lucky to have a partner who's very emotionally literate and very literate about mental health and a big mental health advocate himself and, you know, stuff like that, so that's all like--

 

PAUL: That's nice.

 

JENNY: That's really nice.

 

PAUL: It's so good to have--

 

JENNY: I feel very lucky.

 

PAUL: --somebody in your corner.

 

JENNY: Really good. And it's great, too, because it's stuff like, you know, we kind of watch out for each other. We both have our things, and like he's just very intuitive about stuff, like, oh, like when you wake up screaming in the middle of the night, you don't necessarily need anything, just like a reminder that you're in this room, and then you fall back asleep.

And that's really nice, because I think, beyond just like the ability to kiss someone, I was really worried that I would be a burden to anybody who wanted to spend too much time with me, which I think is part of the reason like I’m going to make myself as easy to get along with as possible. And it turns out people like me, and that's crazy.

 

[Chuckling]

 

JENNY: I don't have to, I, that's crazy to me, and they like me without me having to make an effort to the point of being obnoxious [chuckles].

 

PAUL: A revelation for me was that, when I get vulnerable, it's not a burden to people. It allows them to also be vulnerable with me and let a part, a heaviness within them be released, and to help me improves their self-esteem because they get to experience meaning and purpose.

 

JENNY: Well, you just, you never know who might be needing to hear from somebody else what they're feeling so that they can express that, too.

And it's been interesting, like the friends I've made and the people who I didn't think I had anything in common with, who I've gotten to be friends with like doing mental health advocacy work, because suddenly it's like, I had no idea this person who I thought like everything was perfect, like the thing is I've just learned, like everybody's got a thing. Nobody is perfect.

Like, nobody is getting through this thing unscathed. And it doesn't matter what it is. You can just form much deeper friendships when you're not trying to create a façade every step of the way.

 

PAUL: Yeah.

 

JENNY: So, yeah. It's cool. I like being at the place I'm at now. I feel good about that. I'm wondering if I took my Prozac today and like realizing like maybe I didn't, but I should. I will.

 

PAUL: I finally broke down, I got one of those pill, you know, morning-afternoon-and-night pill dispensers. I love it.

 

JENNY: I'm on the least meds I've ever been on right now. So, I actually, like it's great, I don't need that for the first time, but if you can imagine the amount of meds I was on, because I was on a ton of stuff just, and then like I had the stomach issues that resulted from the anxiety and all that, like I had the little pill-minder things that like old people have when I was like 16, but for a little OCD kid, that's kind of the best. Like, I was very stoked to like line up my pills in there. Like that's, to me, like the nice part. The benefits to my OCD are like I'm very organized.

 

PAUL: You know where your shit is.

 

JENNY: I know where all my shit is. I'm like really addicted to my planner, like very, I hesitate to say addiction on this show or anywhere, but--

 

PAUL: Ah, it's okay.

 

JENNY: --my planner is like my favorite thing [chuckles] that there is. I just want to like, I get to like add little stickers. I have special like colors. And those are the places where it's like, oh, this is nice, because this is fun for me and like--

 

PAUL: Yeah, this isn't degrading your life. This is giving you a little piece of joy and comfort.

 

JENNY: But, you know, sometimes it comes up and I'll realize, like, oh, like the, like I am thinking about this thing in a way that is not healthy and is tipping into an OCD thing and I'm going to try and pull that back because I know that's a thing I do.

I have to keep check, I have to kind of check in on myself a whole bunch because sometimes it's like there are fears that are productive and help you get things done, and there are fears that are obsessive fears, and that's not helpful.

 

PAUL: That's one of the, sorry to cut you off, but that's one of the things that I get from meditation. It introduces me to what I've been thinking about lately, because in an attempt to clear my mind, the thoughts that keep popping up are usually the things that obviously I'm worried about or in fear about or, you know, whatever.

 

JENNY: For me it's like the difference between checking the news is okay. It's okay for me to see what's going on in the world. It is very different for me to Google World War III plus North Korea, nuclear bomb, and see what comes up because I'm trying to scare myself and obsessing about a thing and going after that information.

 

PAUL: Wow.

 

JENNY: And like I have to remember that I have a tendency to do that.

 

[Chuckling]

 

PAUL: Anything else?

 

JENNY: That's, that's most of the size and shape of everything--

 

PAUL: We covered, man, we--

 

JENNY: We bounced around.

 

PAUL: We covered some great ground, and it's really refreshing to hear such advocacy in a family, supporting somebody through such darkness.

 

JENNY: And, man, oh, man, have they stepped up to the plate after. Like, my parents have taken on so much mental health advocacy work in so many other ways just since then because of what they went through with me and because of their own interests and because of UROK and because of all kinds of things, and they continue to do very cool stuff and really positive forces in the world, and I hope that one day I get to do that kind of stuff, too.

 

PAUL: Your Twitter is . . .

 

JENNY: At Jenny Jaffe.

 

PAUL: J-e-n-n-y J-a-f-f-e. TheJennyJaffe.com?

 

JENNY: Yeah. It's because I couldn't figure out how to edit JennyJaffe.com, so I have both. It's not very up-to-date. Go to my Twitter if you want to see what's going on with me [chuckles].

 

PAUL: Okay. And ProjectUROK, letter U, letter R, letter O, letter K dot org.

 

JENNY: Yeah. We were acquired by the Child Mind Institute last year, which is an amazing organization in New York, and so I'm not involved in the day to day anymore, but it's being run day to day by Sarah Hartshorne, who is a queen, and she, the site has been more or less on hiatus since the acquisition, while it was sort of just like a bunch of things were being, a bunch of content was being banked and a bunch of reorganizing was being done and structuring and figuring out sort of the future of Project UROK, but I've seen a lot of stuff that's coming out in the next couple weeks and I am so excited [chuckles]. Yeah, really cool things, so.

 

PAUL: Awesome. Thank you, Jenny.

 

JENNY: Thank you so much.

 

PAUL: Many, many thanks to Jenny, and this episode will soon be transcribed and available on our Web site. Many thanks to Accurate Secretarial for donating their time and helping out the show.

Before I take out with some surveys, I want to remind you guys that there are a couple of different ways to support the podcast if you feel so inclined. You can support us financially by making either a one-time donation through PayPal or becoming a monthly recurring donor through either PayPal or Patreon, and I recommend Patreon because then I can give you things back as thanks, little videos or maybe extra mini episodes, stuff like that.

So, I'll put the links to all of that, you'll see it on the show notes for this episode, but I really need your support, and there is a way that you can also support us, two other ways you can support us financially. You can donate frequent flyer miles, and they way you do that is, actually all of the things I'm mentioning, if you just go to our Web site, Mentalpod.com, and go to the Donate, or I think it's, yeah, Donate, and then you can either donate frequent flyer miles or you can do the one-time or recurring PayPal or Patreon donations.

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And you can also help us non-financially. Here's a great way. Go to iTunes and write a review. Hopefully you like the show and it's a positive review, but that boosts our ranking and brings more people to the show, which brings up the chance, makes it more likely that advertisers will advertise with us, and I couldn't do this show without you guys and I couldn't do the show without advertising, so both of those are really important. And I know there was another way, but, let's be honest, you're tiring of my groveling right about now, so let's get to some surveys.

This is an Awfulsome Moment filled out by Help Cat. Your guys' names are the fucking best. I did something I don't normally do today and participated in a Facebook meme where using words that come out of your phone's predicted texting function, so like you build sentences out of words you use often enough that your phone suggests them to you. And every sentence I came up with ended with the phrase, I'm so sad [chuckles]. That is awfulsome. Thank you for that.

This is a Shame and Secrets Survey filled out by a guy who calls himself Joe from Sweden, and let's see. He's straight, 37 years old, raised in a slightly dysfunctional environment. He writes, my parents divorced when I was about 10 and growing up wasn't easy with what I in my early 30s discovered was a slight case of Asperger's.

Ever been the victim of sexual abuse? Yes, and I never reported it. He writes, I feel like you would think that I was sexually abused by my ex since she seemed to use sex as a lure to keep me coming back to her and I might not disagree with that.

Have you ever been physically or emotionally abused? He writes, emotionally abused. My ex-girlfriend had severe daddy issues, she was four years younger, and mommy issues alike. Her mother is a narcissist and was never there emotionally, and her father started seeing her when she was 12 and after that wanted to be a parent but never knew how.

I thought it would be an exciting daddy dom/little girl relationship, but I was plunged into very deep waters. The relationship was mutually violent, but she refused to agree to end it.

After hearing your conversation with Luisa Omielan, I better understand why. She would promise to discuss things but would postpone it endlessly, eventually for months. She wouldn't let me leave to go home for two or three days at a time and would even take my shoes with her into the bathroom so that I couldn't leave while she was in there. Perhaps the strangest thing of all was how her supposedly level-headed, quote, best friend demanded that I stay in the relationship to mend what I had broken.

This can easily make a person doubt whether they're in the right to want to leave. After two years, I finally ended it in early 2016, and she came to my door for weeks, often in the middle of the night. The last four times she came around, she was escorted away by police.

I still freeze whenever there's a noise in or outside my apartment, and I think I have PTSD. My paternal feelings were awakened by this woman and played like a fiddle, as was my sexual attraction to her. I am now in a romantic relationship with an old friend and the difference is like night and day in every way.

She says she can't even imagine me angry because we have never quarreled in the 18 years that we've known each other.

You know, when I first read you described this, I judged you because I read, you know, you write, you wrote, she wouldn't let me leave. And, you know, I wanted to butt in and say, or I should say comment at that point, and say, nobody was stopping you physically from leaving. You know, you were just giving in to her guilting you or her manipulation.

And then I realized, fuck, I am victim-blaming because just because you're physically larger, and I’m assuming you're physically larger than your girlfriend. Who knows, maybe you weren't. But it's usually the case the male in the relationship is more physically imposing.

But after hearing stories of people who have been afraid or unable to leave abusive relationships, it's the mental overpowering, the emotional overpowering that the other person does that is, quote, unquote, pinning them down.

So, it's just amazing how, as much as I like to think that I'm this person who doesn't have any prejudices or biases and sees the world clearly [chuckles], I caught myself almost getting a little angry at you, and that's, I can't imagine the things that people aren't trying to become more educated about domestic violence would say in response to this.

You know, for instance, there was a piece in the news this week about a woman who was arrested for rape. She entered a taxicab with two guys and one of the guys held a knife to the driver and she performed oral sex on him. And I could just hear in my head the bad bits that stand-up comedians will be doing about this, and how fucked up it is that people don't know the truth, that men get traumatized by unwanted sexual experiences.

And, you know, blowjobs have become such a punch line for, oh, you know, wife doesn't want to give me a blowjob. It, I don't know, it just kind of reminded me how we're still in the dark ages in terms of how we view trauma, to and by both sexes.

Continuing. Any positive experiences with the abuser? The sex was the best I've had and I still fantasize about it. She was generous with money and I still use and appreciate several things that she gave me. And the paternal feelings die hard. I still feel like she's my little girl, even though I never want anything more to do with her and have moved on romantically.

Darkest thoughts. Sometimes I wonder if my willingness to stay home and enjoy nobody's company but my own is exaggerated and paradoxically robbing me of vital contact with other people.

Darkest secrets. The highly sexual age play with my ex has made me interested in young girls in a way I think I shouldn't be, but I feel in no danger of realizing my feelings, and it's most likely a passing thing that will resolve once I get through the initial trauma regarding the relationship.

By the way, going back to your previous thing about staying home and enjoying nobody's company but your own, that is a common, a really common ripple from people who have experienced unwanted sexual experiences, either involving touch or otherwise.

Most powerful sexual fantasies. They are about my ex and the things I wanted to give her but couldn't. These fantasies culminate in a sexual act, when they don't fully comprise a sexual act. Sex with her was emotional on a level that I've never experienced with anyone else. It seemed very important and emotionally satisfying to her to have a certain type of sex, and I fantasize about giving it to her to make her happy. I do this practically every day. It's like an emotional safety valve for me. Sharing this makes me feel happy because I keep formulating it better and better.

I'm confused because it almost sounds like halfway through this you're talking about the partner that you're with now, because you say, I do this practically every day. Oh, I suppose what you mean is the coming up with the fantasy about how you could please your ex, and it's making you happy that you're getting it better and better, I see.

What, if anything, would you like to say to someone you haven't been able to? I'd like it to be easier for my family to say that we love each other. Well, what if you tried and were the first one to do that, and going in without any expectation of any of them responding how you'd like them to respond. Just a thought.

What, if anything, do you wish for? Right now I mostly want resolution of this emotional baggage from my previous relationship. I also wonder if it's what's making it unusually hard for me to sleep at this time in my life. Again, I'm not a therapist, but I once cooked a casserole for a Tom Hanks movie that was made in the late '80s, so I think I can speak on complex relationships.

I have a feeling that the difficulty sleeping goes even deeper than this ex of yours. I have a feeling it's about feelings you pushed down as a kid and your ex is a representation of them, and that's why it's so emotionally potent, being around her, why the sex is so intense, because maybe she represents something in your life that you would like to go back and redo because it was painful.

And if you disagree with my opinions on this, please just go ahead and contact Tom Hanks directly. I would have you contact the bulldog Hooch, but that dog's probably dead, because that movie was made a long time ago. So, contact Turner, that's what I'm telling you, not Turner, the company I worked for, Turner of Turner & Hooch. Wow, this has spun out of control.

This is, and thank you for sharing that stuff. I appreciate it. This is an Awfulsome Moment filled out by Covertly Fucked Overtly Sick Fucker, and he writes, smiling as I listen to Wonderful World by Sam Cooke. I remember that this was the soundtrack to a Levi ad that my mum reenacted with me. I was stripped to the waist in the bath as she took my photo, and I now know this was the start of my sexual abuse.

The lyrics go, I do know that I love you, and I know that, if you loved me, too, what a wonderful world this would be. Shame she didn't and doesn't, and shame it isn't. Wow, that is heavy. That is heavy.

And, you know, there are support groups for people who have experienced that, and if you want to know more, I can put you in touch with someone, so e-mail me about that. And thank you, thank you for sharing that. That is really fucked up. And I'm so sorry you had to experience that.

This is a Shame and Secrets Survey filled out by a woman who calls herself Sad Salad [chuckles]. I always get that when I'm at TGI Friday's. I enjoy the sad salad. I usually get it with the fake crab. There's just something about that that makes it even more sad.

She is straight. She is in her 20s, raised in a pretty dysfunctional environment, never been sexually abused but she has been emotionally abused. My parents divorced when I was four and I was raised by my mom. My mom was emotionally neglectful and verbally abusive, and I'm pretty certain that she is a narcissist.

I remember being six years old and wondering on a regular basis why God would allow me to be born if my mom hated me so much. That's when I became an atheist. My mom would never hug me. I always had to hug her first, only to have her shoo me away in seconds.

A few days before my 17th birthday, my mom told me that having me was an incredible burden and that her life would be so much more enjoyable if she didn't have a child. I don't remember my mom telling me I love you until I left for college.

That is so fucked up. That is, your mom is a very, very sick person, and I’m sorry that that's the mom you were dealt.

Any positive experiences with the abuser? I came home for my birthday last year. I’m in college and have always stayed in my college town for my birthday weekend to celebrate with friends. I was severely anxious and an emotional wreck at this time, and I think my mom could see that something was very wrong.

My mom told me, if there's something wrong you should tell me because we are family and family can help you through difficult times. I sobbed silently for an hour because I was touched and couldn't believe that my mom would say something so kind.

I wished so desperately that she could have said something like that when I was a child and craved her love and attention so deeply. As much as I wish I could say that her saying that made me feel better, it didn't. I think she meant it, but I don't think she is actually capable of offering that kind of support. Moreover, the contrast from her usual tone only made the gaping wound of my childhood feel more raw.

You know, I had a moment at my grandmother's funeral where they were singing a song, they had a little choir hired to sing some gospel songs, and they were amazing voices, and it was a really, really small funeral. And I started crying, and I think everybody probably thought I was crying about my grandmother, but I was really crying that this is my family and, you know, not my brother. I suppose just the lack of being able to talk about emotions, and this was years ago, before, I think this is probably before I even got sober. This is probably 15, 16 years ago.

But when you said that, that just reminded me of how sometimes we just will experience a moment of clarity and seeing something so clearly, and it's usually something that an outsider could glean in five seconds, having never known you [chuckles]. Have you ever seen that? Like, you see a family in a restaurant and you just see five seconds of their interacting with each other and you're like, oh, [chuckles] I know a lot more about them than just this five seconds.

Anyway, continuing. Now I'm in my head about making that about me for that second. I'm going to let it go. Mean DJ Voice is pounding on the studio door. I refuse to let him in.

Darkest thoughts. I want to move to Europe without telling anyone, not my family, not my friends.

Darkest secrets. I like about everything, past boyfriends, fake diagnosed medical conditions, embarrassing moments, cringe-worthy dates, personal anecdotes, plans and trips I don't have and haven't been on. Some lies I've been telling for so long that I'm practically convinced they're real.

I don't remember when I started lying so habitually for absolutely no reason, but it's gotten to the point that I catch myself in the middle of the lie on a daily basis. There is no one on this Earth that I haven't told a serious lie to, not just, sorry-I'm-late-I-was-stuck-in-traffic, but let-me-tell-you-about-my-high-school-cheerleading-competition-in-Arizona lies.

Sexual fantasies most powerful to you. I want to be dominated by an older, powerful man, preferably a professor of mine for a very difficult class. I want to perform sexual favors during his office hours in exchange for an A. Cash and presents would be nice, too. It makes me feel like maybe I need to start doing more online/app dating so I can set up these kinds of arrangements in real life.

What, if anything, would you like to say to someone you haven't been able to? To my parents, I would say fuck you for fucking me up. I would tell them that they should have never had children if they were not prepared to make sacrifices or be less selfish. I would tell them, at least you weren't beaten and you were fed and had a roof over your head, are not adequate parenting benchmarks [chuckles]. Well put, well put.

What, if anything, do you wish for? I wish for personal growth and recovery. I just started going to counseling and I want nothing more than to feel happy and light again. I want to move past all the shit. Right now I feel like I'm drowning in it.

Have you shared these things with others? A few friends and my counselor. I feel like I have to dole out my sadness and dark thoughts in small, controlled doses for fear of overwhelming them. I'm overwhelmed with it myself, so how can I expect anyone else to feel any different?

I think it's, you hit on a great point, that it is important to not burden one person with the huge amount of stuff on a continual basis and to maybe try to spread it around a little bit, but you know, also kind of check in with the people that you're sharing this with, you know. Ask them, is this, you know, too frequent, you know, or just try to be aware of their boundaries and that they also have separate lives and stuff like that.

It's a weird line, asking for help but not imposing on somebody else, because most people do want to help. They do want to have vulnerable moments where they experience a sense of purpose in their life by just listening or helping another person. But if we grew up without boundaries, sometimes it's, we do that black-and-white thinking thing, where it's like, I'm either going to be by myself or I'm going to sit down at coffee and talk only about myself for six hours.

Thank you for sharing all of that, and the fact that you're in counseling right now is a really, really good sign. And just hang in there. Hang in there. A lot of this takes, it takes time, a lot of two steps forward, one step back. I think Jenny said that in the episode.

This is an Awfulsome Moment filled out by an agender person who refers to themselves as, themselves, themself? I don't know, I should have studied, as L, and they write, I was borrowing a car from my parents when they used mine for the weekend. I was driving home and my car engine caught on fire at a busy intersection between an interstate exit and a large state road.

It was horrible because there was a fire in my car and black smoke was visible for several miles, but I was laughing because I realized I didn't have any shoes [chuckles]. I love that. I love somebody that can laugh in the middle of something that would normally make us shake our fist at the sky.

This is a Shame and Secrets Survey filled out by a guy who calls himself I Like Big Butts Though I Usually Lie About It. He is straight, in his 20s, raised in a stable and safe environment. Never been sexually abused. Never been physically or emotionally abused.

He writes, my dad did some shitty emotional things when I was a teen but not enough to say there was a pattern, and both my parents made me feel consistently safe and loved up until those years, so it didn't have any short-term or lasting effects. I now totally understand that he just didn't know how to deal with a sullen, geeky, pensive teen.

Darkest thoughts. Whenever anyone is inconsiderate to me or anyone around me, I wonder if the world would perhaps be better off if I were to kill that person. After all, people never have bad days and acting inconsiderate once obviously means they are considerate across the board to everyone at all times, right? It's easy to make fun of those thoughts, but sometimes, I think he meant to say, obviously means they are inconsiderate across the board to everyone at all times.

It's easy to make fun of those thoughts, but sometimes it's a little scary how reasonable they feel in the moment. Darkest secrets. I spend entire days, up to a week at a time, at work just staring at my computer screen, not even playing games or browsing the Internet, just doing nothing. I just don't care enough to do my job, even though it's at a non-profit organization that I care about and people out there in the real world aren't getting services they need as promptly as they should if I were to do my job.

It sucks how depression causes me to act directly in opposition to my moral compass. I wouldn't even mind feeling guilty or ashamed about it if the guilt and shame were to prompt me into action, but it doesn't. It sucks me further down.

I think a lot of us can relate to that feeling of just being trapped under that gray blanket, and I think that is a great sign that you should look into getting help for this, because you sound like a good guy and that's, that's where we go, man, when we get catatonic, that's where we go.

Sexual fantasies most powerful to you. I'm very attracted to women gaining weight. I fantasize about my girlfriend, who is already around 280 pounds, gaining another 100 to 150 pounds and fucking her while I look at a picture of her taken at her current weight. The thought of comparing the size of her ass from now to the hypothetical future is the part that's attractive to me. It's not even the process of gaining weight that I like. It's the fact that I like large women and it turns me on to think, I thought she was hot back then, but that wasn't even close to as good as she looks now.

Sharing that makes me feel conflicted. On the one hand, it'd be nice to be honest about my fetish more often, especially to my girlfriend, but I care about my girlfriend's well-being far more than I care about my sexual fantasies, and I know my girlfriend would not be healthy at that weight I'd find her most attractive. Most of my concern is that, if I bring it up around her, she'll feel pressured into obliging me and I really don't want her to feel like she has to choose between her health and my sexual satisfaction.

You really do sound like a good guy, you know, that you're aware of that is a good sign that you are empathetic and, you know, to me, that's like a perfect example where it's a healthy fetish because you're not letting it degrade your life. It's something that brings you pleasure. And you seem to understand where the line is where it would move into harming other people. So, high-five to you, man.

Have you shared these things with others? I've told the stuff about work to my therapist. She said something along the lines of, well, it makes sense for someone with depression to behave that way, which felt pretty good.

I once told my girlfriend that I have a fetish for girls, quote, getting bigger, and that's the only time I've spoken about my fetish out loud. It was during one of those great early-relationship-get-to-know-each-other talks that lasted until around 4:00 in the morning. I only mentioned it in passing, and it felt pretty bad to admit. I don't think you should feel guilty about that. It doesn't sound like she judged you.

How do you feel after writing these things down? Like I really want this to be read out loud in an episode. Well, mission accomplished. I desperately want to express myself, my thoughts, my ideas, my feelings, with as many people as I can, but as you can probably guess, a guy who can hardly make himself do anything doesn't tend to get a lot of attention. Thank you for sharing that.

This is an Awfulsome Moment filled out by Mentally Ill Social Worker, and she writes, I was recently hospitalized for severe depression and suicidal ideation. I was at my rock-bottom and felt trapped by the darkness. During my stay, we had many groups, some more lighthearted than others.

One day the therapist introduced a word-guessing game where with each wrong guess a stick figure loses a limb. One other patient asked if it was like hangman. The therapist promptly responded that we do not play hangman on the psych ward.

At the time, this was the funniest thing I had heard in months. Another patient and I laughed to the point of tears and with a joy and freedom that I hadn't felt in months. I'm not sure why this somewhat morbid statement made me laugh, but it did, and it felt so good. It was truly awfulsome. That is fantastic. I love those moments. I love those moments. That's what I like about my support groups, because I get those all the time in my support groups.

And people who are new, sometimes a support group will be like, why are they laughing at that guy crashing his car? And it's hard to put into words to say why, but maybe it's because it's not happening anymore and that person is now getting help and they turned a corner, and maybe it's that we all identify and that it helps release some of the shame, knowing that we're not the worst person on Earth. I don't know.

This is, I've been doing these lately, the question, how would you use a time machine. This is just a single question from the I Shouldn't Feel This Way Survey. And I'm just going to read a series of these by different people.

This person says, I go to the future to see if my kids turned out okay and see how much I've fucked up.

Another person says, I would look at myself growing up in a dysfunctional family with a mentally ill mom and a passive dad who preferred to suppress the fact that she was ill rather than doing anything to help her or shield his children from her behavior. I would experience everything again, but this time I would have my grown-up self with me, making notes and understanding things as they unfolded.

I would have my grown-up self as an ally. I would spare myself from the agony of feeling so alone with my experiences and struggling to make sense of them. I would spare myself from so much confusion. I would tell my younger self that it was okay to be upset about my mother's behavior, that it wasn't me who was crazy and that her well-being was not my responsibility.

That's one of the most beautiful ones I ever read. That was really, and it seems like, in a lot of ways, a lot of our work in getting better, those of us who experienced difficult stuff as children, is to do that to that little kid that's still inside us. And as much as I hate the phrase inner child, I think a lot of us would agree that it sometimes feels like there's emotionally like a little kid in us that is steering the ship sometimes.

So, the question is, how do we do that in our adult life? How do we, instead of shaming ourselves, you know, how do we comfort ourselves, guide ourselves, be that parent that we wish we'd had.

This person writes, I'd use it to see 42nd Street, New York City, when Bird, Dizz and Miles were gigging with Monk and Tadd Dameron. Dameron, Dameron [pronounced differently]. I've heard of the rest of those guys but not the last guy.

Another person writes, I would like to see my funeral, the I Have a Dream speech and, I don't know, maybe some medieval shit [chuckles]? The first two, I totally get. The casualness of the medieval shit, that just fucking made me laugh [chuckles]. Oh, my God. I'm just picturing you walking from the Washington Monument on that day, walking back to the time machine going, all right, man, what next? You know, maybe some medieval shit.

This person writes, I'd probably try to figure out who D. B. Cooper was or the Zodiac Killer, but if I had it long enough, I'd probably go back in time to watch my teen self having sex. So please, don't give me a time machine without proper supervision [chuckles].

This person writes, I'd go back in time to find the person who warped my mom into a controlling, possessive and emotionally abusive parent. If I am unsuccessful with convincing them to leave my young mom alone, then I will visit six-year-old me on the night that my dad lost custody of me and all visitation rights. I will hold little me and tell her it's okay, Mom didn't mean it when she said your dad didn't love you anymore. She has wounds she hasn't healed and doesn't know any better than to lash out on someone weaker than her.

Thank you for that. That's pretty, that's pretty profound. And I imagine there are so many people that relate to that one, so many people who were pawns in a divorce, where one or both of the parents were sick.

This person writes, I'd go back to 1953 and give Vivien Leigh and those who loved her someone to lean on. I know she was an actress, but I don't know much beyond that. I think she was in A Streetcar Named Desire and maybe Gone with the Wind, but I don't know what her struggles were, but I will look into it and I will report back.

This person writes, I'd go back and just watch my uncle be himself, as much as my eyes and heart could absorb, the uncle I loved and watched die when I was little, who everyone tells me I'm just like now. Wow, that is so bittersweet.

This person writes, probably go back and see some of history's most influential and legendary bands performing in basements in their infancy, that or go back to the '20s and '30s and witness the boom of cinema. That's a great one. I love that one.

I've shared on here before that my two favorite musical time machines would be seeing Django Rinehart and Stéphane Grappelli playing at a café in Paris. I know that sounds incredibly pretentious, but I swear to God it's the truth. And the other one would be in Abbey Road when the Beatles were recording Revolver. Actually, starting with Help! and going up through Sgt. Pepper's. Yeah, that's right, I'm going to get greedy with, it's my fucking time machine.

This person writes, am I invisible, question mark, because I'd definitely perv out and spy on hotties in the shower [chuckles].

This person writes, I would use it to go back and annihilate all those who had their way with me when I was a kid. If only murder was legal, I would have offed them a long time ago, and then a bunch of exclamation points. I'm sorry you experienced that.

This person writes, I'd go back as many times as I could to try to learn for myself about world history. That's a great one. I would love to know the real deal on shit that has two versions or multiple versions, so that I could report a version that nobody would pay attention to.

This person writes, I'd watch myself to see if I am as crazy as I think I am. That is a great one. I, I’m kind of afraid [chuckles] to see that one. I'd be kind of afraid to see me at my worst moments.

This person writes, I'd go back to when I was my young self and really spend more time, quote, being. That one I fucking love. That, this sounds like a person who has done like a lot of self-reflection as opposed to self-obsession. And the times that I can just be present and, you know, like today, I was in the backyard with the dogs, letting them out, and I was feeling that sadness that I tell you about.

And I just tried to be present, you know, didn't look at my phone. I just tried to look at the dogs and think about how much I love them. I look at the trees and notice how green the leaves are. And listen to an airplane going by or feel the wind on my face, and it helped. You know, it didn't take it away, but it just, you know, maybe turned it from like a boil to a simmer. I'm regretting that choice of [chuckles], is it a metaphor? I can never figure out what the difference is between a metaphor and an analogy.

All right, this person writes, well, I'd like to know what happened to that four-track home-recording cassette tape that disappeared in 1987, and if the world would believe me, I'd probably look into bigger mysteries that society at large seems to wonder about, who killed JFK and such. I've got to be honest. I think we want to know why that four-track home-recording cassette tape is still on your mind. I want to know what was on that.

This person writes, I really wish I could go back and see the last time I hugged my sister. She committed suicide in 2011. Just one more time I'd like to hear her say how much she loves me and how proud of me she is. Thank you for sharing that.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people take their lives who were really sweet, sensitive people. I’m sorry. I'm sorry. That is like the definition of bittersweet, right there.

This next person writes, I don't think I'd have much use for it, to tell the truth, but if I had to, I'd geek out over Catalonia in 1936, to be honest. I'm going to take a wild guess. Is that in Spain? And was that during the Spanish Civil War? Of course, I could look it up on the Internet, but then I wouldn't hate myself for not knowing.

And then this last one says, I don't want a time machine. I would rather know what it feels like to experience life from inside the brain of someone who doesn't struggle with anxiety and depression, to see if it feels better than the way I feel on a daily basis. And I think 99% of [chuckles] just nodded our heads and said, yeah, that one goes to the top of my list.

This is an Awfulsome Moment. This fucking name [chuckles], this guy calls himself Finger Blast From the Past. And his Awfulsome Moment, he writes, I'm sitting in a job interview and the interviewer says, we're looking for someone with great attention to detail, someone who's a little OCD. Would now be a good time to tell them that I was let go from my previous job for wasting company time compulsively checking things to make sure that I wouldn't murder one of my co-workers? Instead I just replied, that won't be an issue.

That would be great to have a machine where you could read the thoughts of the interviewer and the applicant in job interviews. I suppose you could do a sketch on that.

This is an Awfulsome Moment filled out by Forgotten Gypsy. And she writes, you have mentioned your mom giving you a bath at 12. It triggered a memory of my son when he was 12. It was the year his dad got him his first dirt bike. He had a pretty bad wreck on it. He stumbled in the house and his arms and legs were tore up and bleeding.

I, being a nurse assistant, rushed into what needed to be done. I took him in the bathroom and told him to get in the bath so I could clean him up. In that moment, my son looked me in the eyes with panic. I know he wouldn't tell me now because I am his mother, but I could tell he did not want to get undressed in front of me. He froze. In a few milliseconds, from that look, I read my son's inner conflict.

So, I told him it was okay if he wanted to leave his shorts or underwear on, I just needed to clean his legs and arms. Relief flushed his face and he climbed into the bathtub with his underwear on. I cleaned him up and bandaged him and left so he could get out of his wet underwear.

In a way, I laughed because to me it was silly he left them on, but at the same time, I wanted to cry because I knew I lost my little boy and was getting a man. I had to be more careful to respect his privacy and boundaries.

He is now 19. We have a very close relationship. I am proud of the man he's become. He always praises me that I am the only one that can tell what he's feeling, but I think he tells me, just not with words. He is my biggest accomplishment and I love him. Thank you for sharing that. That obviously meant a lot to me, to hear that.

This might be one of the best names ever. This is a Happy Moment filled out by Cock Waffles, Hold the Waffles [chuckles], and before I read, do you have any comments to make the podcast better? While I understand that reading surveys on the fly mostly goes unnoticed by us, please try not to stumble through them or point out typos. Instead, since you are reading from paper copies, it may be helpful to make notes on them ahead of time so that you can more clearly convey them to listeners instead of making us feel silly for not noticing a few errant keystrokes. Please know that I realize this would never be your intention, but it can be incredibly scary to unburden ourselves of secrets and having mistakes pointed out for thousands to hear makes wanting to air those secrets even more daunting.

I totally under-, I do make notes before I do this, but sometimes things skip through and, when I'm tired, because I do this, I record this part of the podcast at night. Like right now it's almost 11:30 on a Thursday night. It, sometimes my eyes, I don't know what the word is, but they almost like cross. I should probably go see the eye doctor. But I hear what you're saying. I hear what you're saying. Maybe I could try a little harder. And I do not feel shame.

I am proud of myself. I am proud that I can take that in. And I know this sounds like there's a joke about to be made, but there isn't. That is one of the gifts of all of the fucking work I have had to do, honestly, that I had to start to stay alive, but that's the beauty sometimes of having a condition or an addiction or something that we have to work on, is that then it helps us in these other areas of our life or our lives.

And then this is her Happy Moment. My mom has two brothers, one of whom we're not close to at all, long story. My sister's, mom's and my involvement in the lives of that brother's family basically extends solely to Facebook friendships. This brother and his wife had a video camera back in the late '80s, the kind that weighed 700 pounds and had to be carried on your shoulder.

His son, my cousin, has hours of footage of our whole family from that timeframe. He recently uploaded some to Facebook and the first was from September of 1988. I believe that's the year they made Turner & Hooch. I don't know. I have no idea when they made that.

I was five and a half years old. The clip he uploaded was about 30 seconds of our grandfather picking me up and talking to me. He died in October of 2003, and when I watched this video, it was the first time I'd heard his voice and laugh in 13 years. I cannot convey how much I cried and how much this video means to me.

My cousin later uploaded a few more and I was able to hear our grandmother's voice as well for the first time in almost 12 years. I was very close to these grandparents, and part of me died when they did, but now I can hear them speak and laugh whenever I want. Although they're gone forever, I now have a little piece of them, and it's more than I ever expected. Thank you for that.

And then finally, this is a Happy Moment, and this was filled out by Lipstick and Lithium, and she writes, this week was my dad's birthday, so my parents, sister and I went out for a nice dinner together. After dessert, as we were waiting for the check, I suggested we each share a special moment we've had with my dad.

First my mom and sister shared some great moments, and then it was my turn. This moment had come to me earlier in the day and I began to tear up before I even spoke. I'm going to cry and I'm sorry, I said. When I was in my early teens and I first started to feel sad and I started to have episodes and I would cry and cry and be a helpless blob on the floor, you never shamed me. Dad would pick me up off the ground and put me in the car and would just take me for a ride on the back country roads until I felt better or at least more stable.

I feel so lucky to have been raised by you both, Mom included, in a way that made me feel safe and supported, both physically and emotionally. I looked up and my entire family was crying. Everyone joined hands in the middle of the table. We must have looked crazy in this fancy little bring-your-own-beer, just sitting there sobbing, but we didn't care.

I thanked my dad for teaching my sister and I what a real man is, one who is caring, compassionate and supportive. Even at 31, my dad is still the first person I call if I'm going through a crisis and need to be calmed down. I am really lucky to have such amazing parents.

That is just so beautiful and so fitting for our episode this week, and it's nice to be reminded that there are so many parents out there that are doing the right stuff and they can just be there for their kid, even if it's just listening, you know, even if it's just holding their hand and looking them in the eyes and saying, I'm not going anywhere, I'm right here, I know this sucks, but we will get through this, instead of trying to change what they're feeling.

So, thank you for that. Thank you, guys, thank all of you, guys, for your surveys and your support and all of that stuff. It means the world to me.

And if you're out there and you're feeling stuck, just never forget that you are not alone, not by any stretch of the imagination. We are all in this together. And there is hope and there is help. It just involves us getting out of our comfort zone and reaching out. And I’m glad that I did because I wouldn't have met all of you--

 

[Closing music swells]

 

--and I wouldn't get to do this thing that I love and, for that, I'm really, really grateful. And you're not alone. Thanks for listening.

 

[Closing music]

 

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