Author:Paul Gilmartin

Brenda Colonna

The standup comedian and Long Island native opens up about her struggle to live with various mental illnesses, especially PTSD caused by childhood and adolescent sexual abuse.  She and Paul discuss having compassion for oneself and how to learn to trust after being abused as a child.  They also discuss social anorexia as a byproduct of depression.

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Guest Blog by Sarah

For years I felt alone. Surrounded by friends and family who adored me, I was still isolated with my thoughts and feelings.Tortured by the battlefield in my mind, everyday was survival. As far back as I can remember I have had the reacouring thought “Eventually I will have to kill myself” That thought scared me to my core because I believed I was at the mercy of my mind. My depression would often be so bad that I sank into a pit of hopelessness and confusion. I was used to living this way. It had been like this since I was a small child. Some of my earliest memories where of fear and confusion. My feelings had always been so intense, positive emotions, although few, included. For some reason I still had hope I would find the answers and so I continued to look, to look for the Truth, to figure out the secret that everyone else seemed to know about. How to live life with out feeling like a Mack truck of emotions was hitting you at every turn.I continued my search out of fear of death.

It wasn’t until my first child that I realized that I could not continue to live the way I was. It wasn’t about me anymore. I knew that I would die for my baby, but the Real question was “Will you LIVE for her?” Yes I would! But its not that simple is it? I didn’t know how. I could not just will myself to be better.

Leap forward 8 years…….

I’m still married to an amazing man, I have two amazing children and rarely am I depressed. In fact for the most part I am pretty content with my life and in that place of contentment I find PEACE. With my 7 yr old’s 8th birthday coming up, I cant help but reflect on who I was 8 yrs ago and who I am today. I am certainly not exactly where I need to be, but I sure am a long way from who I was. With the help of medication my mind began to process correctly so that on my journey to learn how to live , I could recognize wisdom,start to behave differently and eventually start to feel better. It has been the hardest thing I have ever done…but I did it, one day at a time (sometimes one minute at a time) I did it.

One of the many truths I found was that my soul needed validation. I was measuring my insides by everyone’s outsides. I was fooled by the facade most of the world puts on and it crushed me everyday. Just in motherhood alone the feelings of complete failure were enough to send me to the hospital,literally.I needed some REAL MAMA TRUTH. I started to listen to the different mothers around me, taking risks by sharing what was really on my mind. I had a few safe friends that I could share the most awful, shocking thoughts and feelings to. And when they responded “I have thought that!” or ” I feel the same way” this magical healing began inside of me! The rest of the world does not have “The Secret”, they have all just learned to hide their messiness better than me.

I had a choice to make….Would I learn how to hide the chaos or would I learn to LIVE. I chose LIFE!

It is my hope that by sharing open and honestly with all of you that I will heal even more and maybe validate you along the way.

 Sarah’s blog can be found at http://arealmutha.blogspot.com/
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Guest Blog from Brandy Du Toit

 

This morning I awoke to the news of Twin Cities sportswriter Tim Allen’s untimely passing. Sadly, it appears he took his own life.

He was only 29.

This isn’t the first suicide that has rocked the Twin Cities creative community this past year. In January, Honeydogs lead singer Adam Levy lost his son Daniel to a similar fate. Daniel, an up-and-coming artist, was only 21.

It’s these stories that make people such as myself pause for a bit and reflect. And while those of us with voices in the creative community use this voice to encourage our followers or fans to “seek help”—subsequently providing mental illness or suicide hotline resources—it’s rare that any of us step forward and offer up our own experience. To show that life with depression is not only possible, but fulfilling and successful.

So today, I asked myself, how can we stop the stigma of mental illness if none of us are willing to share our stories of success?

And so, to the families of Tim Allen and Daniel Levy, I dedicate this story to you. My story. It’s amazingly difficult to share, but I also know the impact it could have. My thoughts are with you always.

 

# # #

Ten years ago I graduated college as a “that student”. The honor student who would be successful and do big things. I mean, that’s what all of my professors said, so it must have been true, right?

And really, their optimism and expectations weren’t all that far off at the time. At the end of my senior year of college, I already had two years of working at Microsoft under my belt and the potential for marriage on the horizon, so for all practical purposes, the future seemed filled with possibility. I was happy. And proud of my accomplishments.

Upon graduating college my boyfriend-turned-fiancé and I moved to Southern Minnesota where he had found a job. Unfortunately for me, I found myself a bit too experienced for the small daily newspapers and printshops, and subsequetly struggled to find work. Add to it, I was hours away from my family and we were less than a year out from the September 11th terrorist attacks, so just finding a job—albeit a good job—was next to impossible. Living in a new community and state, trying to make new friends, there was a lot of new going on and it was a bit overwhelming at times.

I finally found work as a manager of a major retail store, but this wasn’t what I had been building my career to do. So as I shouldered the hopes of my professors while dodging questions from my parents of when I was going to use my college degree again, I slowly found myself in a depression.

It was very subtle. Quiet and seductive. So seductive in fact, that it took a number of months for me to seek help because I was ashamed. Ironically—and somewhat humorously—I was depressed about being, well, depressed.

I made an appointment to visit my family physician, who prescribed an anti-depressant. It seemed I would be well on the road to recovery, but what I didn’t know was that my problems were just getting started.

Just two weeks after I started the anti-depressant my symptoms quickly grew worse. Mere *blah* moments turned to entire days spent in bed. Seeing this decline, I went back to my physician who told me I had to give the antidepressant more time to take effect. And boy, what effect it took!

Here are just a sampling of some of the symptoms I developed in two weeks thereafter: sensitivity to light and sound, insomnia, memory loss (which was a scary symptom), lack of concentration, whole body aches and pains, loss of peripheral vision, difficulty performing daily tasks such as showering or eating, repetitive thoughts, panic attacks, inability to make decisions, difficulty leaving my home and eventually my bedroom, and obsessive compulsive disorder washing my hands.

As a person who had always been so in control, I became a prisoner of my own body. And since I couldn’t make the thoughts in my head just stop, I couldn’t find relief. I was slowly being driven insane.

I went to my doctor three more times during the second part of those two weeks. I could sense that my symptoms were getting dramatically out of control and I was frightened what they were, perhaps, leading to.

It was at the end this increased two-week-depression-jag when, one night, I had a significant panic attack. I could feel it building all day but when I got home from work, I couldn’t stop crying uncontrollably. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. I was exhausted from lack of sleep—I hadn’t slept in 36 hours—and frustrated by my inability to control my body. All I could think was that I was supposed to be somebody! And here I was, crouched down on my bathroom floor, sobbing. Trying to get healthy, but only getting worse.

I felt like such a failure.

And I was in a tailspin.

I come from a small town. But a small town that every few years is rattled by suicide. And from what I’ve experienced, there is no one “type” of person who finds themselves in that fateful place. The retired bank president, the student who was just like everyone else, the former homecoming king-turned-college-freshmen—I learned from a small age, suicide and depression can affect anyone.

To counter this trend, my high school brought in a family of a student who had passed away the year before to talk with us about the questions they had surrounding his death. How it made them feel. What they had lost.

As they spoke, you could have heard a pin drop. And, regardless of popularity, age, gender, whatever, we could see how this former student’s actions literally just ripped this family to shreds. What they shared with us was such an intimate hurt. We relived that entire experience with them and it was simply incredible.

So as I sat sobbing in my bathroom, the experience of that family came to mind. I knew the hurt their son had caused and I knew I didn’t want to do the same to my family.

Add to it, my fiancé had had enough. He’d seen my symptoms grow beyond what he felt capable caring for so he promptly hauled my ass to the ER where we discovered that my usually-very-low-blood-pressure was alarmingly high. Something was clearly going on.

It was at the ER where I explained to the on-call that I had done all of the right things: I was exercising, eating healthy, taking my anti-depressants, keeping my physician abreast of symptom changes—I mean, I had visited him three times that week to discuss my rapid decline. I didn’t know what more to do, quite honestly. And while I hadn’t actively made any attempts to harm myself, I was fearful of this seemingly uncontrollable road I was on. I felt like a passenger on this crazy train.

The doctor asked me what was to become one of the most difficult questions of my life: Did I want to admit myself and spend the night in a psychiatric ward.

This felt like the ultimate failure, but deep down I knew it was the right thing to do because I just needed a break. I was just done with all of this.

I said yes.

And so, for the next week, I stayed at the Mayo Clinic wherin they promptly took me off the anti-depressant that caused me so much issue. And as quickly as the menacing symptoms appeared, they retreated. I learned the tools I needed to assist in my depression recovery and, in a short week’s time, I was well on my way to becoming healthy again.

Certainly it was a frightening experience to go to a psychiatric hospital, but not because of the health offered, instead it was the stigma surrounding it. Psychiatric hospitals are not scary places, nor are they the insane asylums the movies would have you believe. They are just regular in-patient and out-patient clinics.

My stay at Mayo was amazingly therapeutic and relaxing. I watched hockey, went to therapy sessions, read books, and talked with other patients who were just like me! Normal people who were ready to be healthy.

Add to it, with the invention of HIPAA, nobody has to know you are even there. I can speak from experience when I say the doctors and nurses go to great lengths to protect your privacy and maintain your integrity. You are there to get better, so they would never put you in a position to counter that. I mean, heck, my own family had no idea I admitted myself to the hospital until I told them (which was the day I left). I was there to focus on me and no one else.

You are not a crazy person for seeking help. In fact, you are incredibly healthy for doing so.

While I won’t say everything was all puppy dogs and rainbows when I started my journey of recovery the day I left Mayo—ironically one year exactly after my college graduation—I was on the right track. They set me up with a plan for recovery and I had hope again. And being on the right antidepressant allowed me to regain control over my body and find faith in my abilities once more.

Time passed, I recovered, and went on to travel the country as a photographer, create a few corporate brands, make all sorts of new friends in my new state, and eventually become the art director for a $5 Billion company. And while you guys would never guess this, today I work as an executive on a leadership staff. Clearly though, in a sea of suits, I’m the cool one.

So life with mental illness is completely, totally, 110% possible. You just have to know when to ask for help.

Depression and mental illness does not define you or your abilities, nor does it make you any less of a person, period. If anything, you’re just as healthy as the rest of us and you might have some great traits because of it. For me, I find that I am very understanding and accepting of other’s life challenges as I can empathize. And sure, yes, you’ll experience success as well as failure but, by asking for help, you’ll know how to handle it. Most of the people I encounter in my daily life would have no clue I ever struggled with mental illness unless I told them.

# # #

I share this intensely personal story with you, my dear followers, because, simply put, the mental illness community is lacking in them. Too often we hear stories about talented people whose lives ended far before their time, but we don’t hear enough about those who survive depression each and every single day.

I won’t lie. It hasn’t always been easy and there has been more than one occasion where I’ve had to reach out to those around me for support, but I’m doing it.

I don’t care how much you think your life isn’t worth it, you are always worth at least fighting for. You may not be able to fight for you when you’re low, but fight for your friends, your family, your loved ones, your dog or cat, the community around you. Don’t deny us the possibility of your future talents or contributions.

I end this post with a request for the Twin Cities creative community:

If we really, truly want to end the stigma of mental illness in our community, it is imperative we come forward with stories of success and survival. We can and must demonstrate positive examples that, regardless of depression, it’s possible to still be an amazing and reliable parent, child, employee, significant other, contributor to society, whatever.

People struggling with mental illness are all around us, from all walks of life, doing all sorts of different things, but the main thing to remember is that this story doesn’t always have to end badly. It can end happily if we choose to let it. I survived depression, and you can too.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, don’t just stand there. Do something.

Below are a few links to organizations who are professionals and know what the fuck they’re doing. You won’t be the first person to talk to them, nor will you be the last.

Suicide & Crisis Hotline:

1-800-Suicide

Crisis Chat:

Crisis Chat.org

Minnesota Suicide Hotlines:

http://suicidehotlines.com/minnesota.html

Help yourself.

Brandy is a divorced woman living in the Twin Cities. When she’s not creating corporate brands, blogging about music, or eating sandwiches, she’s laying in bed at night wondering if she’ll ever trick any guy into marrying her ever again. Probably not, so she should just go the fuck to sleep already.
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Listener Derrick Jackson

African-American and gay, Derrick has always struggled with the fact that he doesn’t put his mother on a pedestal.   Quite the opposite, he doesn’t feel safe around her.  He opens up about her mental illness, her sexualizing him at an early age and the effect it has had on him and his sexuality, including sex addiction and attending a support group. Derrick is mail carrier and lives in Southern California.

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Nadereh Fanaeian (Voted #5 Ep of 2012)

A former Marxist revolutionary who fled her native Iran after the capture of her husband in the mid 80’s, she eventually settled in San Francisco and became a nurse at a psychiatric hospital.  The fact that we never even discuss what she has experienced as a nurse in two hours speaks to the amount of drama she has endured.  Survivor’s guilt, betrayal, loss, discrimination and poverty have not stopped her.   A truly incredible story that is still unfolding.

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From Kim aged 17

I started listening to this podcast 16 years old, usually right after I’d gone to the bathroom and cut myself with a razor.

 

Hi Paul I think I emailed you a year ago, completely depressed and did not reply to your very kind email suggestion of therapy. I did go to therapy but I didn’t know much about my depression and myself in general. I went to therapy for 3 sessions and then stopped it because I thought it wasn’t effective. There was nothing wrong with her I just didn’t know what good therapy was. And I wasn’t ready to be completely honest about who I was.

There’s a very evil and twisted side of me and I just couldn’t admit it. I’m hoping I’d write what I was too afraid to say to my last therapist in this email. As a sort of precursor. I start my therapy when I get back home from holiday. And I hope that this time I’ll get better. Because now I know it’s not gonna be pretty, I’m not going to be the victim all the time and I have to admit that I’m not a good person but well I’m trying. And I know it’ll take a long time and a lot of work.

But listening to your podcast, hearing your guests be so honest and lay their demons out. They let the world hear it, they let strangers hear it because they know that they can lesson their self slavery. It brings me so much hope and joy, it empowers me really. It’s a long email. Sorry about that. But well its 2 am, I’m sharing a hotel room with 5 people and I’m currently hiding out in the closet because I can’t sleep whether from anxiety or a symphony of snores.

Here goes. My biggest thing is that my issues are so lame. I’m sorry for that horrible term but its just the only word I can think of right now. I really fear that no one will ever love me. I constantly run around worrying that the people who do love me will stop suddenly. And I don’t know what will prompt this so I spend so much time running around making sure every conversation is funny, every date is exciting. I am tired, I want to just live and just…be loved and love. But I don’t know how. And sometimes I’ll get so anxious about it that I’ll leave, cut them off or something, just not talk to them or see them in ages.

I am a liar. I lie all the time to get attention, comfort, sympathy. Somethings I lie about: I lie about being able to play the drums. I come from a family of musicians and I just can’t click musically. I am so ashamed of this it’s ridiculous. I lie about having another group of friends. This one is so terrible. My friends would ask me to go out with them and I’d get anxious about being too depressed to be much fun so I’d lie and say I’m hanging out with my ‘other’ friends. There’s this really petty satisfaction and sense of control. They are so popular and beautiful I just feel out of place. And well I made some of them feel like they were second best and not that important you know which is so horrible of me because they were kind enough to love me what the hell is my problem.

I can’t have a relationship with my father, or many boys. I have a boyfriend and two childhood friends, that’s about it for my male relationships. Other than the horny boys in the year above who want to fuck.

I don’t know why my father and I have hit this wall. He’s the funniest, most compassionate and kind person ever. I don’t know why I feel so sad and anxious around him. I kept pushing him away. I think he thinks I don’t forgive him for physically abusing me when I was little. But I do, I don’t even think about it anymore, hell I understand why he did it I even agree that it should have been done to me. I just want us to watch the Olympics together and sing together and just have a relationship. But I don’t know how. I just burn with jealousy seeing him with my siblings. They laugh and play and I just want that you know? I’m so ashamed of being envious of this. They were good kids, I shouldn’t be you know jealous, they deserve it.

I am socially just nervous. I think I have social anxiety. I mean in large groups I’m the life of the party totally confident and cracking all these jokes. But when its just one on one. I don’t know what to do at all. It’s like I’m under a magnifying glass and I’m disappointing the person, there’s no one to compensate for me. I used to not even think about what I was saying which well is not smart but now I over think and keep things to myself to the point where its ridiculous. How are people supposed to know me and hear my stories and jokes if I keep concealing them I’m not pretty enough to just sit there and smile. I wouldn’t want to anyway.

Through your podcast I learned that hey I ain’t that fucking special, people deal with this and it get better but only when you can face it and deal with it. I realized how stupid I was just like going to the doctor and telling him about my bruised toe instead of my fucking lung cancer. The only inspirational stories I’ve heard are about people overcoming poverty, you know, having the drive to accomplish great things. Your podcast has this celebration of the strength it takes to ask for help. I don’t hear that a lot. It’s construed as weak and unattractive where I grew up, you got beaten for asking for help. It’s helped me so much to realize its okay, its more than okay its the smartest thing you can do.

I started listening to this podcast 16 years old, usually right after I’d gone to the bathroom and cut myself with a razor or picked up a hammer and just started smashing my skin. Thinking that I’m am completely fucked, I am wrong, I’m a little shit and there’s nothing I can do except to wait until I graduate and leave and kill myself somewhere other than home so my little sister won’t see my body. Well Now I’m not much better but I am seventeen.

I plan to listen to this podcast on my way to therapy once every week (hour long drive to there so I need it!). I’ve been diagnosed with depression and taking Prozac. I haven’t cut in 2 months, been honest with my friends about my depression and flaws and that is the greatest thing ever. You taught me how to do that on your podcast and just being around people knowing that we all got baggage ,let’s just try to help each other carry the loads. It makes me cry, literally cry tears of joy at the compassion and love people will give you if you just let them oh my gosh this is so long.

I hope therapy can solve these problems I’m having. Sorry about this sudden spam. I just really needed you to know that how you changed my life. Told me those simple things I guess other people knew but I didn’t. I think in some ways the depression that hit me was a good thing. I mean it stripped me bare and made me look at my core. At my flaws which I may have never thought to address if not for this gnawing pain that forced me to.

I really really hope you get a million blessings, and that your life is full of joy and love and peace. What you are doing is so brave you say stuff and show your cards in a way I haven’t seen people do much in my life. And it healed me. Thank you Paul.

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Dave Anthony

The comedian, writer and podcaster talks about being neglected as a child, his self-sabotaging and the out of control anger that almost destroyed his life.  Dave has appeared on The Office, Entourage and in the film Recount.  He has written for The Talking Dead and he co-hosts the podcast Walking the Room.

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Listener Anne

Hi Paul, I just finished listening to the episode of your podcast with Jessica Zucker. This message is somewhat self-indulgent, but I’ll justify it by thinking that it will be nice for you to hear this. It was cathartic to hear, in essensce, that if you feel sexualized by a parent then it is abuse. I have always felt as though I make these things up because I want to be a victim. My father would always ask me if I liked boys yet and would always say I knew more about sex than I would tell him. My father would also let me sleep in his bed when I was 10-13, and I feel like that’s my fault because I wanted to. Even when I was older we would still kiss to say goodbye. He was abusive when I was little, and would be emotionally abusive. I’m 17, and have not talked to him for three years. He used to manipulate me by telling me that his apartment could be forclosed and he had trouble paying for food which he knew made me pity him, because I was more his mother than he was my father, in order to get me to tell my mother to invite him over for dinner. He messed up my body image by constantly telling me that I should exercise and repeatedly talking negatively about the way my mom ate. I still feel like he violates me because even though I cut him from my life he sends me mail. He called me last year telling me that my grandfather was dying (my grandfather who never gave me any positive attention as a child, and when I tried to get his attention he would ignore me. Petty, I know.) and telling me he knew I would ‘do the right thing’. Even after he’s gone, my mother is emotionally abusive. I always feel like she thinks I’m a disappointment. My sister ruins every positive day for me (induction into Art Honors Society, my sacrements though I’m no longer religious) by refocusing the attention on herself. My sister also tries to take on the role of my mother but what I really need is a sister, not more discipline. No one but my sister truly accepts my bisexuality, and that hurts. I seek abusive relationships and lost my virginity at 14 to a boy three years older than me, who treated me awfully, because he felt bad that he was the only virgin of his three brothers. I never wanted to start anything sexual, but I felt like it was childish to say no. I’m so anxious that I developed Trichotillomania and used to pull out my own hair for four years, and my father told me I looked like him when he was a boy. I’d always wanted to be like him, and that was detrimental. I haven’t pulled for a year now, so all the anxiety I covered up with pulling has cropped up. I have a serial fear of being raped, and even more I fear enjoying it. I think I’ve layed too much of my crap on you at this point. I’m sorry, but something makes me feel like you will really understand. Thank you for reading this. Your podcast has really helped me feel less alone. I know I’m really young and this makes me feel like I’m enhancing the gravity of these situations. Thank you for your podcast, thank you for sharing your experiences, and thank you for being yourself.
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Listener Lily

Lily and Paul discuss how sexual dysfunction can sometimes not present itself until years into a committed relationship and the necessity in dealing with uncomfortable or painful feelings to achieve intimacy.  Lily also talks about her bulimia, her intense body hatred and the sexual assault that made her initially overly promiscuous and later completely shut down.   They also talk about weight obsessions, perfectionism, and the difficulty in accepting and discussing flaws.  Lily is a school psychologist for kindergarten thru 5th grade in Los Angeles.   She is 30 years old, and married with one child.

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