Author:Paul Gilmartin

Melissa Villasenor

The 27 year-old comic/impressionist (America’s Got Talent) opens up people-pleasing, cutting, isolating, creating, bombing, tattoos, the comfort of solitary hobbies and the struggle to practice self-care.

Follow Melissa on Twitter @MelissaVComedy

Visit her website www.melissavillasenor.com

Check out Melissa’s Youtube Channel MelissaV87

This episode is sponsored by Squarespace.  For a free trail (no credit card required) and 10% off go to www.squarespace.com and use offer code MENTAL.

For tickets to Paul’s Sept 19th live show with guest Jackie Kashian or a video pass for all the podcasts that weekend at LAPodfest go to www.lapodfest.com and use the offer code “MENTAL” for $5 off.

For tickets to Paul’s show in Brooklyn Sept 27th with guest Lane Moore go to www.thebellhouseny.com

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What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Die: Guest Blog by Glenn Rockowitz

I don’t cry anymore. And I hate that I don’t. I have always attributed this weird fucking paralysis to the emotional lockdown I developed years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer and given only a few months to live. A survival mechanism I designed to keep my eyes fixated only on reaching the living Me at the other side of the brushfire. And it has served me well. Or so I have told myself.

This morning I cried in a way I haven’t since I was kid. The guttural kind of sobbing that only comes from a body purging a pain too large to fit the human-shaped frame that holds it in place. I know a lot of people experience this kind of sadness breach as a catharsis, a necessary release long overdue. But for me it wasn’t. At all.

It was the overflow of the cumulative ache that comes from trying to live every day waiting for the other shoe to drop. The shoe that is the slow-burning ember everyone who’s ever survived a body in betrayal can’t fully scrape off their windshield. The one that never stops reminding you that you’re always just a slight breeze away from igniting your world.

I talk about this phenomenon a lot. I even wrote a book about it. And like an idiot, I keep believing that I can find the right words to convey this darkness and loneliness to the uninitiated. Even though I know that it can’t be done, I am making peace with the fact that, like childbirth for a man, some things are unknowable when a person has not or cannot experience it firsthand. And I’m okay with that reality on most days because I have learned to carry myself through the brushfire and reset to the only other place I live inside my tiny skull-shaped world: gratitude.

The simple gratitude of even having the luxury to feel pain at all. And because nothing is static, I know that if I am feeling this pain, then I am equally as able to feel love.

I’m writing this now because I am floating in that viscous nowhere space of the dying. And I want to take a rare window and a unique opportunity to connect with a world of humanity who live in this space every day. It is very real in this moment no matter which way the wind blows. I recently received blood tests that indicated I am likely on the precipice of another fight for my life. An unsurvivable cancer. The same a tireless enemy I have dedicated the last 15 years understanding, demystifying and destroying. One that I spend part of every day helping others navigate and battle back into submission. I talk endlessly about this state of mind because it informs the very way I approach every day of my life. And I’ve usually had the luxury of being on the other side of it. But here I am. Smack dab in the middle of the blaze, pushing myself through those flames toward the living Me.

So I have chosen to be uncharacteristically public about this latest battle for one reason:

If you are here with me—statistically tens of thousands of you—I want you to know you are not alone. Whether you are the only soul in an empty house or one of dozens in a crowded hospital room of friends and family members, you likely feel a sense of isolation very few people can understand. As much as they wish they could. It’s the untouchable opaque part of you that you desperately wish felt even the slightest bit translucent. A tangible mark you wish people could see and immediately understand.

While I don’t think anything I could write would accomplish that mammoth feat for you or for myself, I want to at least try to punch out even the slightest pinhole of light for the people we love and who are trying so desperately to understand and love us back.

So this is the beginning. Starting with this, I hope to share with you the handful of things I have learned in my relatively short time on this planet. The things I remind my son way more frequently than he would prefer. He would prefer zero, by the way. All with the hope that those of you fighting right now won’t feel alone and those of you who love those of us who are, will be able to know this feeling without having to actually know it.

So I’m half-jokingly calling this What To Expect When You’re Expecting…To Die. And strangely this isn’t about cancer at all. It’s about the torture of being at perpetual war with an unquiet mind. And I think anyone who lives with a brain that makes it feel like simply being alive and going through the motions of a routine day is like running through motor oil will know exactly what I’ll be describing. I just hope that even if I don’t make it to the other side of that brushfire this time, you can take these fucked up scars and build a new land on the other side that is safe for everyone who will inevitably have to forge their way through that same dark place.

We will do it together.

Because frankly it is that very fucking connectedness that makes every day above ground a good day.

I didn’t expect to meet Paul even though our lives put us in the same rooms on the same nights so many times decades ago in Chicago.

I guess it wasn’t time.

But now that he and I have connected and that I have connected — through him and his beautiful pretzeled soul—to so many of you, I want to reach out and lock arms.

We will do it together.

We will do it together.

 

You can follow Glenn on Twitter @JustARide

 

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Elyn Saks on Schizophrenia & Mental Health Law

The USC professor of law, psychiatry and psychology (in addition to a PhD in Psychoanalysis) talks about her history of schizophrenia, her multiple hospitalizations and how she has learned to manage it.  They also talk about mental health and the law.

For tickets to Paul’s Sept 19th live show with guest Jackie Kashian or a video pass for all the podcasts that weekend at LAPodfest go to www.lapodfest.com and use the offer code “MENTAL” for $5 off.

For tickets to Paul’s show in Brooklyn Sept 27th with guest Lane Moore go to www.thebellhouseny.com

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Glenn Rockowitz

The comedian, writer (Rodeo in Joliet and Saturday Night Live) and voice actor opens up about his ongoing battles with cancer, how being told 20 years ago that he had “three months to live” changed his life and how difficult he finds it to ask for help.

Purchase Glenn’s book Rodeo in Joliet.   Follow him on Twitter @Justaride

This episode is sponsored by Iodine’s new app, Start. For a free download go to www.iodine.com/mentalpod.”

For tickets to Paul’s Sept 19th live show with guest Jackie Kashian or a video pass for all the podcasts that weekend at LAPodfest go to www.lapodfest.com and use the offer code “MENTAL” for $5 off.

For tickets to Paul’s show in Brooklyn Sept 27th with guest Lane Moore go to www.thebellhouseny.com

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Navigating Higher Education with a Disability: Guest Blog by Dr. Shirag Shemmassian

How I Navigated Higher Education with a Disability and How You Can Help Your Child Do the Same

Dr. Shirag Shemmassian

Attending Armenian schools in Los Angeles throughout my childhood was rough. Sure, I was distractible in class and sometimes spoke out of turn, but that’s not why peers and teachers kept their eyes on me. That attention came from my facial and vocal tics, which led to a Tourette Syndrome (TS) diagnosis around age 9 that I carry to this day.

TS is interesting because tics are so obvious; you can manage them for so long before people literally see your disability. And once you tic, people often ask why you’re “making that face” or “humming so much.” I’ve rarely minded those questions because I see them as opportunities to teach others about my disability, and I especially love seeing the shock on their faces when they learn that not all people with TS curse constantly. The difficult part of growing up with TS was the associated stigma, especially within the Armenian community. Of course, peers made fun of me, but what surprised me was that my school’s faculty didn’t believe that I had a disability despite several doctors’ notes, let alone provide accommodations. My high school math teacher once yelled at me in front of the whole class to “stop faking [my] illness!”

Graduating high school was a relief, but I was still concerned about how college peers would treat me and how I would be received by faculty and staff. Well, I’m glad to report that I successfully managed undergrad (UCLA as a freshman and sophomore before transferring and graduating from Cornell University) and grad school (Ph.D. in clinical psychology from UCLA) with a disability with the help of incredibly supportive faculty, staff, and peers. Now I want to offer some pointers you can share with your child so they can do the same.

Before College

There are two important tasks to complete before entering college. The first is obtaining recent documentation of any disabilities. I strongly encourage having an assessment report with recommended accommodations to present to school staff. The second is contacting the college’s disability services office (these go by different names across schools) to request a meeting for as early as possible (e.g., the summer before classes start). During this meeting, your child will meet with a specialist, such as a psychologist or social worker, to discuss how their disability impacts their ability to succeed in school in and out of the classroom and why they are seeking certain accommodations (e.g., extra time for tests, note-taking support, etc.). These specialists are often sensitive individuals who want to help, so I encourage students to discuss everything openly. In addition, they’re the ones who ultimately grant accommodations.

During Classes

At the beginning of each quarter or semester, the disability services office usually prepares letters or other forms of notification for students to provide to their professors. These letters do not disclose specific disabilities but simply state that a student is registered with their office, and they indicate accommodations the student is obligated to receive (immediately contact the disability services office if a professor presents any difficulties). Students should hand over their letters to professors privately (i.e., not during office hours when the presence of other students can make this meeting very awkward) during the first two weeks of classes, before any exams, to ensure a smooth process. Most professors have experience with students receiving accommodations, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. In addition, students should send copies of syllabi to the disability services office so the office personnel can schedule their exams.

Social Life

Navigating higher education with a disability transcends receiving accommodations and includes a student’s social life. I found that while many peers continued to ask about my disability, few people ever ridiculed me. Rather, they were genuinely curious upon meeting me but quickly stopped noticing. I certainly hope other individuals with disabilities could have similarly positive experiences. Given that I had never received accommodations until college, the initially uncomfortable experience was talking to my friends about why I wouldn’t be joining them in class for an upcoming test, or, if I had not discussed this prior to an exam, why I hadn’t joined. How students should approach disclosing disabilities or accommodations to friends depends on their comfort and trust level, so it’s difficult to provide general advice. Yet, most friends will be understanding and supportive. Ultimately, in the late Dr. Seuss’s wise words: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Dr. Shirag Shemmassian is a college consultant for high-achieving students and their parents. He received his B.S. from Cornell University and his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from UCLA.

Dr. Shemmassian has experience helping students with disabilities navigate college admissions and succeed in college. You can get the following two FREE guides by following this link:

College Disability Services Email Scripts: Copy-and-paste scripts to contact disability services offices and professors to request accommodations

Niche Scholarship Finder: The system Dr. Shemmassian used to graduate from college and graduate school debt-free

Get both guides for FREE by clicking here.

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Rewiring the Brain After Trauma: A Guest Blog by Rachel Grant

It’s Nothing But a Neuron! Exploring How to Re-train the Brain and Heal from Sexual Abuse

Have you ever walked by a pie shop and, upon smelling a fresh backed pumpkin pie, been transported back in time to a fond memory of Thanksgiving? Or maybe caught a glimpse of a stranger with certain features and found yourself thinking about that girl or guy from way back when? How about a significant other who one day playfully wrestles with you, and all of a sudden you find yourself lashing out at him without really understanding why? What exactly is occurring neurologically and what are the implications for the recovery from abuse?

According to Daniel Siegel in The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are (1999, Guilford Press), “understanding how trauma affects the developing brain can yield insights into the subsequent impairments of memory processing and the ability to cope with stress.” Before exploring the impairments and coping he refers to, let’s take a quick look at how memories are created and recalled in the first place.

There is a saying – neurons that fire together, wire together. When we have an experience, neuronal pathways are created in the brain by neurons firing and connecting to create a neural net. When we smell the pumpkin pie, what is actually happening is that a particular neuronal pathway is ignited. This neural net has now been modified in that it holds the initial memory of Thanksgiving with family and now the time walking by the store and experiencing the same smell. Thus, the neuronal pathway is expanded and reinforced by the reactivation. It’s like turning a one lane into a two lane road.

Now, consider the implication if, instead of the warm smell of pumpkin pie, the experience is abuse. As Siegel points out, with “chronic occurrence, these states can become more readily activated (retrieved) in the future, such that they become characteristic traits of the individual. In this way, our lives can become shaped by reactivations of implicit memory, which lack a sense that something is being recalled. We simply enter these engrained states and experience them as the reality of our present experience.”

This is what Siegel means by “impairments of memory processing.” You respond to your significant other in the moment with fear and anger thinking that what he is doing is the problem, when, instead, a neuronal pathway has been triggered and the implicit memory of your abuser restraining you is activated. This is what you are responding to in reality. The same thing occurs in response to stressors. If our experience starts to make us feel trapped or scared, we may respond in the same way we did when needing to survive the abuse rather than in a way that actually addresses the present day stressor.

So then, are we always to be held hostage by these firing neurons? Absolutely not! “Each day is literally the opportunity to create a new episode of learning, in which recent experience will become integrated with the past and woven into the anticipated future” (Siegel). Neurons can be re-wired!

Perhaps the first step is to simply absorb the fact that many of our present day responses, thoughts, emotions are nothing but a neuronal pathway lighting up! Recognition of this creates space for us to consider the possibility that what we think or feel is going on may not be what is, in fact, really happening.

Secondly, as Siegel states, when one is able to inhibit the engrained state and respond to a situation, trigger, or stressor in a new way, that neuronal pathway will be adapted. The more frequently this occurs, the more modified the neuronal pathway becomes, and the behavior, thought, or emotion that is produced is also modified.

Finally, from my experience coaching people who have been abused, the ability to actually respond in a new way comes as a result of, first, developing the ability to separate what is actually happening from the interpretations or emotions that follow. There are other steps, to be sure, to complete the work of re-wiring, but this initial step is critical.

I’ve come to affectionately think of these interpretations as “stories” – our little efforts at trying to explain, understand why something has happened. Unfortunately, most of the time – like 99% of the time – the story we come up with is really just an old neuronal pathway begging to be fed. We usually quickly oblige and find ourselves mired in negative self-talk and self-thought.

So, as you consider what “stories” you have, just take a moment to really get the connection between the thought, past experiences, and present day “lighting” up of the neuronal connections. You can begin challenging these connections and, as a result, create new possibilities for the way you view yourself, others, and experiences!

 

—-

Rachel Grant is the owner and founder of Rachel Grant Coaching and is a Sexual Abuse Recovery Coach. She is also the author of Beyond Surviving: The Final Stage in Recovery from Sexual Abuse.  She works with survivors of childhood sexual abuse who are beyond sick and tired of feeling broken, unfixable, and burdened by the past. She helps them let go of the pain of abuse and finally feel normal.

Her program, Beyond Surviving, has been specifically designed to change the way we think about and heal from abuse. Based on her educational training, study of neuroscience, and lessons learned from her own journey, she has successfully used this program since 2007 to help her clients break free from the past and move on with their lives.

Rachel holds an M.A. in Counseling Psychology. She provides a compassionate and challenging approach for her clients while using coaching as opposed to therapeutic models. She is also a member of San Francisco Coaches.

www.rachelgrantcoaching.com

 

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Cutting Contact With Her Mom: An email from Barbara in NC

Hi Paul-

I have tried to start this letter to you so many times (and here I go again!), but listening to what you said about missing your mom on a recent show finally got me to do it. I don’t think anyone that has never experienced the point of getting to where you have to cut ties with a parent for your own survival could ever understand.

Since I don’t want this to turn into a long, drawn out story, I will hit the highlights:

  • Mother was raised Irish Catholic, so guilt and shame and not talking about feelings were ingrained from birth
  • She married alcoholic, misogynistic asshole and had kids because that’s what you did. I would get into the fucked up person my father was, but that is another letter in itself
  • From as young as I can remember, my mother was a bit “off”. Found out of many traumatic events in her life later on that she never dealt with. I never got along with my siblings; my mother’s personality disorder played a huge part in that.
  • House fire in 1985 almost killed her and something broke in her brain that never came back.
  • Bipolar? Personality disorder? Who knows. She spent her life going to Dr’s and never really talking about anything. Oh my God she had soooo much shit happen to her that therapy and a good, caring therapist would have helped. Breaks my heart to think about it.
  • Took meds on and off. From the time I was 20 until 40, I spent my life completely preoccupied with just wanting her to be OK. Psych wards and being committed dozens of times never broke the cycle. Eventually she got tired of me being tired of her and one day told me “we need to go our separate ways.” It was about the third time in our lives that we did not talk for an extended amount of time, but it was to be the last. I had turned 40 a few month before, and my daughter was 11.

The beginning of that end happened when I began to set boundaries when I realized that she was trying to pit my own child against me. I am a single parent, and from the time I decided to keep her, knew that I would be a great parent, because the one thing I would do for my child was never make her feel like she wasn’t wanted. When I said my parents had kids because “that’s what you did back then”, that’s what it felt like. We had everything we needed, but nothing close to the loving relationship I share with my own child. You have touched on it many times on your show- the emotionally distant parent, and the child that was always wanting. My parents also used money as a way to control. By my own fault, I was dependent on her the first years of raising my daughter. What would start with open arms and generosity eventually turned to control and fight picking and being thrown out of the house. At least I wised up to that and stopped living under the same roof, but the more I took my independence out of this terribly co-dependent relationship, the more it angered her.

 

After my mother “broke up with me”, I made the decision that the only way I would ever deal with her again was if we went to therapy together. I was not going to get sucked into another episode of her “come close, I love you—now that you are back and comfortable, get away, I hate you”. I could not take another bout of that. When she did contact me, I told her about my request for therapy, and she told me “I don’t need to see a therapist” in the most hateful voice. That’s it, I was done. I can’t help you if you refuse to help yourself. I finally got it.

 

A few years later, I found out through a series of unfortunate events that she was moving out of state to live near cousins that would take care of her. She was, at this point, having serious health issues and had been in several car accidents. A hospital in another state where she was traveling did not know who to call when she was brought in (incoherent after causing an accident on an interstate) and called a mutual friend of ours, who called me. When I called the hospital, I was told that she did not want to speak to me or want my help. I spoke to a cousin who told me that yes, she was moving to where they lived. I thanked her for taking care of her, and she told me that it would be great if my mom and I could just sit down and talk it out, that everything could be better “because of love”. People have no fucking idea what they’re talking about when they have not lived through this hell. They are completely delusional. To most people, my mother seemed perfectly sane; it was like she kept her awful behavior in check until she could take it out on her family.

 

She started calling me again a few years after she’d moved. When I answered my phone, the first thing she asked was if I wanted her to take us on another trip to Europe. Not “I’m sorry”, or “Hey, I know it was fucked up of me to move thousands of miles away from you & my only grandchild and did not even say goodbye”, but just “Hi- I am calling to chat as if nothing ever happened”. I can’t even remember exactly what was said, but it must have been me again saying again that therapy was the only way we would have a relationship, and that she had to own her behavior. Pretty sure I just hung up. I really could not deal with bringing all that pain and chaos back into my life. She called on and off for what seemed like forever until I finally asked a friend to call her and ask her to stop. After a while, my cousin contacted me that my mother wanted to know if she could have my address. Said she “missed her kids”. I said sure, of course, thinking she was going to write to me, a card, something. Turns out she was probably updating her will to cut me out of it.

 

In December of 2013, I got a message to call family there. My mother was dead, having died the night before, probably of a heart attack. Another relative had been staying in the house with her and told me that she seemed to be going downhill those last few days. She also told me that she told her “You need to get the guest room ready, because my daughter and granddaughter are coming to visit soon”. Yay, way to go. Thanks for haunting me for the rest of my life with that news.

 

I could not go to her funeral. Not only was it too far to travel (and I am one of the working poor and have no disposable income what-so-ever), but I also just did not want to fucking go. It would not bring me any comfort; quite the opposite. She was dead, and we would never be able to make it better again. All my life I just wanted us to have a healthy relationship, and that was never going to happen. And I had no choice but to cut ties with her, and she did NOTHING to make it better. Nothing to own the pain she caused, how she could be estranged from her own children (I was not the only one), and not repair and resolve this. I will forever be lost in how she could live like that.

 

So where am I today? After being estranged for 7 years and her gone for almost 3, I am still trying to deal with it. There is so much emotional fallout. I have so many of my own issues in dealing with relationships and trust and pain. I have accepted the fact that it is just how it had to be, that I did all I could, and it just wasn’t meant to be. It will hurt me forever to know that she died and we were estranged for so long, but it is on her, not me. I just wanted her to be OK. She was never going to be OK.

 

Does that make it less painful? Not really. I think I really wanted to write to you to let you know—it hurts, it is going to hurt when your mother dies, and it will be a hurt that becomes a part of you, and there is nothing you can do to prevent it or lessen it. You have to keep those boundaries set, just like I did, because they left us no choice. Most of all I feel sad. Sad for a mother that had a life full of that much pain and was so disconnected from herself and reality. People that had loving, healthy relationships with their parents will never understand. But I do. I viscerally feel it whenever you talk about the grief you feel about your mother and the situation of your relationship with her. Big hug, buddy. Be glad for the people around you that love you. Appreciate them. And make peace with what you had to do. That is my daily goal, making peace with it all.

 

Thank you for your podcast. You have no idea how much you have helped me deal. No idea.

 

Love and best wishes—

Barbara in NC

 

P.S.–Just realized the I had the date wrong: She passed on 12/12/12. Truley awfulsome date to have burned into my brain. Thanks Universe!!!​

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