Author:Paul Gilmartin

Sad Songs

Everybody has that handful of songs that takes them back to that awful feeling of being twelve and in love with someone who doesn’t feel the same way.   Is there anything more powerful than the emotions those bring up?

I was in seventh grade and in love with Loretta Wiltgen – or what I thought was love.   We had been going together for about six months and she broke up with me.

About three months into our going out, spring break arrived and my dad thought it would be good to still not show an interest in the family but do it in a station wagon in Wyoming.   I didn’t get to see her or talk to her for ten days.    If we had had texting, I would have come home with bloody thumbs.   I remember being so “in love” with her I would scan the highway for the same GMC truck that her family had.   When I would see one, my heart would pound.   At dinner I would take her picture out of my wallet and sigh.

I came home even more “in love” with her than ever.  A couple days later, I’m minding my own business, getting ready to tear into my lunch, extra excited that I had managed to trade Carole Ferraro her Hostess Ding Dong for my banana (what the fuck was she thinking?) I had the still-wrapped Ding Dong in my hand.    Loretta’s best friend Jackie walked up to me.

“Paul, Loretta wants to break up with you.”

I couldn’t speak.    I just stared into space and squeezed the Ding Dong.

I cried for days and the songs that were popular then were forever etched in my memory, paired with those feelings.  Loving You by Minnie Ripperton, When Will I See You Again by Three Degrees, If You Leave Me Now by Chicago, Dream Weaver by Gary Wright, You are So Beautiful by Joe Cocker, I’m Not in Love by 10cc, the list goes on and on.

What’s the point of all this?  Loretta is a whore.   Sorry the wound is still a little fresh.   The point is I can know intellectually that it was just a silly, typical, adolescent event, but why do the emotions feel so REAL when I hear those songs?  And worse, why do I play them over and over while I masturbate through tears?   Okay maybe that second part isn’t true, but there is something in me that likes to relive that pain.   Why?

I think one of the side effects of depression is feeling nothing.   And subconsciously we would rather feel something shitty than nothing.
For a long time I thought that I was SUPPOSED to feel that feeling; I deserved it.   But after doing a lot of work on myself I realized I sought it out because it was better than feeling nothing.  It was sick in its reassurance that I wasn’t enough.   I was getting an answer,

The real problem was that I was stuck in my head obsessing about myself and I wasn’t treating my depression.   Those songs don’t hit me today with the impact they used to because I know that message is false.  I feel the feeling come up, and start to take hold and then I see it for what it is and its power lessens and if I’m having a good day, I chuckle.

But I also couldn’t guarantee if I was in a roller rink having trouble finding someone for couple’s skate and they played Dancing Queen, I wouldn’t cry.


Facebook and Fame

Am I alone in feeling the digital age is cracking the whip and I can’t keep up?   Every couple of months I realize there is some new gadget, site or app everybody but me knows about.
The number of ways we can connect to each other is getting bigger but the quality with which we communicate seems to be dropping.    I always preferred a small party of close friends than a huge party of acquaintances.   Sometimes the digital age seems like a kegger with endless free beer, but a lot of douchebags.

I’m feeling the urge to rebel.    Part of me wants to cancel Facebook and Twitter and close up my websites, but I know that’s not the right solution.   I have a famous friend who no longer uses email.   I think she got tired of trying to reply to everyone who wanted something from her.  I think her solution is a little harsh, but I get it.

The little taste of fame I’ve experienced made me realize that once you get more people paying attention to you, your next dream is that a lot of people will leave you alone.
I had always imagined fame would mean intelligent, attractive people succinctly complimenting me.   In reality it’s a drunk guy with bad breath cornering you with a racist knock-knock joke.   It’s backhanded compliments at the airport.  (I like your little show.  How come they don’t let you be this funny on t.v.?  I bet this show will lead to something big!)

I’m not surprised people love Facebook.   It’s shares a lot in common with with fame.   It’s seductive and addicting.  And if we look to it to make us happier, we’re fucked.

The myth of Facebook and fame is that the more people who are aware of us, the happier and more secure we will become.   In reality more people being aware of you only increases the number of opinions about you; and the intensity of those opinions.   Fame doesn’t guarantee increased self-esteem.  In fact it rarely does, because it increases your exposure to extreme opinions about yourself, and you go back and forth between wondering which one is the truth.    Truly famous people (unlike the marginally known like me) get all the good stuff we already know about, but they are also exposed to large numbers of people plagued by hostility, jealousy, and intense neediness.

I have been smothered by people because they think I’m a big deal and I have smothered people because I think they’re a big deal.   Both situations were pathetic.   Famous people give us the fantasy that if we become their friends, some of their life will rub off on us.   I totally get why famous people would want to hide from public view.   I get invited to weddings sometimes only because I’m on television.   I have never gone because it makes me uncomfortable.  Partly because it makes me feel like a pet someone is showing off, and partly because I’m afraid I might like it.

At our core is how we feel about ourselves and I believe that’s based on whether we feel we’re a giver or a taker.   For 40 years of my life I was a taker and to avoid looking at that, I had to base how I felt by what people thought of me.  It was a mental death sentence.   One day I was the king, the next day a piece of shit.

Living a more giving life gives us the freedom from self-obsession.   Self-obsession is the most alluring and poisonous dead-end.    The irony is that to find ourselves we have to think about others; Cheesy but true.

I don’t know if I could call myself a giver, but I can say I’m more of a giver now.   And I feel a peace that fame or money never brought.   Other people’s opinions can’t change that.
I used to think that I would know I’d made it if my face was on a billboard on Sunset Blvd.  Years ago Dinner and a Movie put my face on a billboard on Sunset Blvd.   Did it make me happy?   It made me lose respect for Sunset Blvd.


Which Animal is Eating Me?

As a recovering addict/alcoholic who lives with depression, I sometimes have trouble recognizing which animal I’m dealing with when I’m feeling something is wrong.

Generally, when I’m not doing the things to keep my depression in check (exercise, meditation, meds) I slip into a funk where I lose interest in things that normally bring me pleasure, and I find it really hard to get motivated to do anything.   Decisions become really hard to make.  I feel like the clock is ticking and there is only one perfect decision and I don’t know what it is.   I become worried about the future, and get down on myself for procrastinating, which makes me worry even more about the future.   I feel that the world is passing me by, yet I feel like I can’t take any steps to remedy it and before I know it I’ve worked myself up into a nap.

When my depression is being kept in check but my addictive personality isn’t, I find myself enjoying things but obsessing about myself and the need for more (money, things, accolades), and ignoring the needs of others.   I become so engrossed in feeling good I lose a sense of balance and moderation in my life.

When both are in check I have a feeling of being in sync with the universe.   I feel a sense of purpose that takes away my fear of the future.   I feel the presence of something in my life that connects me to everything.   I find myself patiently listening to my wife instead of thinking “When is this sentence going to end so I can unpause Tivo and go back to watching the History Channel’s Hitler Marathon?”   I love documentaries about Hitler when I’m procrastinating.   It’s a cheap, selfish way to feel better about myself.   I can say, “See.  Look what happens when you’re a go-getter.”

What better way to make my D into an A than by putting worthiness on a curve?

Here’s a scary thought.   Hitler is probably not the most evil person to ever exist.  I bet there’s even worse people around right now.   We’re just lucky they’re not go-getters like Hitler.   You could make me as evil as Hitler and the world would be perfectly safe.

Evil Friend: Paul, how’s Mein Kampf coming along?
Evil Paul: (exhausted deep breath)  I just.  I just have to sit down and WRITE it.
Evil Friend: Paul.   It was due three weeks ago.
Evil Paul: I know.  And I’m sorry I slept though the rally.
Evil Friend: It was spectacular.  We picked on the Asians.
Evil Paul: I heard.   I wanted to come.  I was up all night with my German Shepherd.  He ate my swastika.
Evil Friend: We’re German.  We just call it a Shepherd.
Evil Paul: I keep doing that.   I don’t deserve to be called Fuhrer.

If that bit offended you.  You’re on the right website.  You take yourself too seriously.

How does your depression or addiction manifest itself?   How do you cope?   Post your thoughts on the message board, I’d love to hear how other people deal with these things.


Being Good To You

I just got off the phone with a friend who was compulsively engaging in an unhealthy behavior, and feeling terrible about himself.   As we talked he kept harping on his failures and shortcomings – beating himself up for his lack of control.

I offered him the perspective that while its good to take a look at the negative effects his behaviors are having in his life, it’s also important that he be nice to himself.   Not by engaging in the unhealthy behavior, but in healthy ways.

Addictive behavior is usually triggered by anxiety, and  being hard on yourself all the time does anything but relieve anxiety.   I know because I fight the urge to beat myself up all day long.  Some days I win, some days I lose.

A couple times a week, try doing something small that you think you really don’t have time for, or that is a little frivolous and do it alone.  Go out for a nice meal by yourself.   Going to a movie in the middle of the day, just for the hell of it.   Get an ice cream cone.   It doesn’t even have to cost money.   I rented an electric bike one day when I was having a stressful week on the road doing stand-up and it was amazing.   The battery even crapped out and I didn’t care.

A great way to be nice to yourself is to go just sit in a park and relax.  Don’t do anything.   Just observe everything and everyone around you.   It’s amazing what we miss in our obsession to “get ahead”.    Lose yourself in the present moment.   You’ll be amazed what details you’ve never noticed.    You might feel a nice, relaxed feeling for a moment or two, or if you’re lucky, longer.   That is who we are.   Not what we own or what we do.

I didn’t realize any of this stuff on my own.   I read it in a book called “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle.   It’s an amazing book that I read every morning.    Why every morning?   I’m tempted to say “Because I’m an idiot”, but that would be just too perfectly ironic to end this piece.   The truth is I need it.   I need to start every day with kindness and calmness not only towards the world, but towards myself.

If somebody had told me ten years ago that I would be posting stuff like this publicly I would have asked to have them put me out of my misery, but I’m not embarrassed today that this is who I am and what I need and it feels pretty fucking good.
We “do” all day long.   Our culture is so geared not only to doing and owning, but to making us feel like we’re not doing and owning enough.   And it’s bullshit.   We forget that the real person inside us isn’t what we do or what we own.    It can’t be found by thinking about the past or the future.   It can only be found by just being in the present moment, wherever we are, being kind to others and especially to ourselves.


Janet Varney

Paul interviews his Dinner and a Movie co-host Janet Varney about her battles with anxiety, depression food and panic attacks. Listen as one people-pleaser interviews another! Enjoy Janet parrying a compliment coming her way! En grade!  Be sure to listen to Janet’s podcast the J.V. Club.