Listener E-Mail of the Day

I Didn’t Want to Take Psych Meds But I Tried Them: An email from Kimberly

About an hour in to your episode with Jennifer Tracy, you started talking about medication and some people’s aversion to it. You both shared your views on using meds and I figured I could share my experience as someone who struggled with taking them.

My mom was an alcoholic from the time I was 8 until I was 18, when she died from liver failure. This affected me profoundly in many ways but one notable way is my aversion to alcohol, drugs, and medicines. I never thought anything of it until recently, but I remember cheeking Tylenol that my parents gave me when I complained about headaches or cramps, I refused to take NyQuil and Benadryl because they made me sleepy and it terrified me.

I’m 23 now, and I’ve become more relaxed about those kinds of things, but when I finally faced the reality that I needed help for my depression and anxiety that had gone unchecked since I was at least 13, I panicked. When I got prescribed Prozac, I spent an hour pacing my room with the pill in my hand, crying and arguing with the walls, trying to convince myself to take it. In my head, me taking this pill was no different from my mom drink vodka. Here’s an awfulsome moment for you: having an anxiety attack over taking anxiety meds.

Eventually I took the pill. It wasn’t right for me, so I got switched to Effexor. I forced myself to take it regularly, and I remember the first time I noticed a difference: I started to feel myself go into a downward thought spiral (“Why is this happening to me, why am I  such a shitty person”, etc) when suddenly I just said, “No. Stop that. Stop.” And the sadness, the clenched jaw, the tightening of the throat that signaled sobs that normally would have come out and continued until I felt numb – all of it disappeared. Just vanished. This whole event occurred as I walked across a parking lot to my car and by the time I opened my car door and sat down, all I was feeling was shock. I said aloud, “Is this what it’s supposed to be like? Is this how people deal with their feelings?” And then, “I’m getting ice cream to celebrate.”

Sometimes I still get scared when I miss a couple pills and realize how dependent I am on this chemical, but I’m glad I finally convinced myself to try. It changed my life.

Kimberly can be followed on Twitter @Whimsium


How Sexual Abuse Affected My Mind: An Email from Katie M.

So my story is kind of complicated (as if others aren’t).  When I was about 6 years old, I was continually molested by my brothers friend over the course of a month or so while my brother would be at band practice in our basement.

I had grown up with the effects of the trauma and had some very dark days, ultimately leading to being in an ok place with it around last year.

I started training to become a 24 hour hotline volunteer for a sexual assault survivor advocacy non profit in my town, and had to quit the training after a heavy day of discussing how to handle calls about child sexual abuse. It hadn’t occurred to me how young I really was when it happened to me, and I also hadn’t explored the idea of what could have happened if I had convinced my mom to report it.

Then, a few months later, I was hanging out with my brother (who is ten years older than me, and probably my best friend – we have an awesome healthy relationship) when he confessed that it was actually him that was my molester, and that when my mom was suspicious of me being hurt and asked him about it, he had blamed it on his friend. Being a young, impressionable child, I had completely taken on this version of the story as the truth.

That conversation was the hardest one I have ever had. My brother has struggled for years with alcohol and drug abuse, tearing our family apart, all because he was living with this horrendous guilt of what he had done to me and how he had negatively affected my life. I immediately forgave him because being a witness of his struggle over the years, I wholeheartedly believe that he had it much much worse living with that guilt than I had with just living with the trauma.

It feels odd to tell an incest story that has a happy ending, but it’s the truth. My brother is now 10 months sober and doing fantastic, and I’m at a relatively good place with the truth. We still have an awesome relationship, maybe even better than before. I feel safe with him, I feel like I can tell him anything, and I don’t hold it against him at all.

How it has affected my sexuality?

My sexuality has definitely been affected. I was incredibly promiscuous when I was a teacher that, without a doubt, was stemming from the abuse.

However, now, I haven’t been intimate in about 2 years, excluding one drunken hookup. My low libido was coming from my birth control, which I got off of after realizing the negative effects it had on me, but even after being off the medicine for 9 months, I feel the same way.

Porn disgusts me, and the few times I do get turned on it’s from a romantic intimacy scene in an obscure indie movie (that sounds so lame to write out.) Not wanting to have sex really doesn’t bother me. I know people that are asexual, and I wouldn’t have a problem potentially identifying as so, but as a 20 year old woman it’s tough to find a romantic partner that’s down with celibacy.

I can’t recall any uncomfortable fantasies. It could be safe to say that I’m sometimes attracted to men who look similar to my brother, but I feel like I’d be really digging to try to link the two.

My healing has been extremely circuitous. When I was a teenage I did a pretty rough job on my healing process by romanticizing my mental illness/abuse. There would be times where if I wanted to date someone who only saw me as someone who was down to fuck I would pull the “I guess this makes sense, being molested really screwed me up…” which I hate now. I hate that I put myself in that kind of light, and also sort of made my and everyone else’s experiences with sexual abuse a joke just to seem like the “mysterious damaged girl that liked sex.”

In the last episode where you interview Sarah Goodson and she talks about how she would get thrilled from sleeping with someone and being detached, and then having the other person want her, I completely relate to that, but it was a vicious cycle because, in reality, I cared a lot, but wanted to keep this image up of being an emotionally detached cool chick. It was really exhausting and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

I think really over the past couple years, I have grown a lot and have done a lot of deep diving into what I’ve been feeling with my trauma, and so that has made it circuitous. Depression and anxiety doesn’t help that either. Something that I want to be able to do is be at a place in my recovery where I can share my experiences with others (preferably teenage girls because I think their emotions and feeling get written of as being a ditsy dramatic girl or having PMS – which is such bullshit) and help them understand the kind of guidance they can really benefit from, and how valid their experiences and emotions are. I know I have quite a ways to go, but as today goes, I am content with my life.

 Katie M.


I’m Not Strong Enough: Thoughts From An Overwhelmed Mother


Sleep is a challenge lately. Life is…hard lately. Not bad, quite good in some ways, but hard and exhausting.

A long while back you said something that’s stuck with me…how the word “enough” can be so damaging. “Not good enough, not cool enough, not pretty enough, not strong enough…” ways of telling ourselves we should be more than we are and that leave us unable to take joy in ourselves as we are.

It’s that last one that gets to me..”not strong enough.”  Sometimes it’s an endless chant in my head. I’m not strong enough to do this. I’m not strong enough to get out of bed, to get the kids ready for school, to deal with my mother’s oddities or my ex’s lack of planning. I’m not strong enough to manage all that with a full day of work in between. Constantly those words in some variation and I’m so tired that it seems believable.

And the thing is…I obviously am strong enough because most of those things get done every single day. Week after week, no matter what new stress or pressure comes along, I make everything work. So I am strong enough…. But I think sometimes I wish I wasn’t.

Every now and then I’ll hear a story where someone has a breakdown, gets locked down for a while. The hospitals sound miserable, but even though I understand that it would be a terrible experience, I find myself just a little bit envious.

Sometimes I wish I could just lay in bed and ignore everything. I never do. I’m not even sure I could. Not for long at least, but it’s become a sort of daydream. Of somehow reaching a point where I just don’t care enough to make the effort. But I do.

Michelle J.


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!!!​


Weird Phobias email

The following is an email correspondence between myself and “Marie”, a listener who messaged me via Facebook.   She gave me her permission to post this.

Please have a show about weird phobias. I have a fear of answering the telephone  along with a lot of other anxiety and depression.
I will keep that in mind. Can you tell me more about your phone phobia? Is it related to some trauma or uncomfortable moments from the past around the phone?
I think my phone phobia started in the 4th grade. I was a very shy child and had a teacher who made each child get up in front of the class and pretend to talk on the phone to practice phone etiquette. My relationship with my dad was like yours with your mother. I always had an uncomfortable feeling with him from a young age though his behavior never really crossed the line. He did things like always kissing me on the mouth or rubbing my legs saying how pretty they were. I remember once he called me and my sister into the bathroom ( I was in the 4th grade then also) and said look what I can do. He had a wash cloth over his penis and raised the wash cloth up over his erection. Moving ahead he and my mother divorced in my teens and my siblings and myself had to take care of my mother emotionally. He would call frequently and I would be afraid to answer the phone because I knew my mother would give me the 3rd degree about what he was saying to me. When he would come to visit us kids I would take a book and my dog, and hide in the woods because there was always a confrontation between he and my mom. Moving to college, he started calling my dorm room almost daily. I always made my roommates answer and give an excuse for me. To this day when the phone rings I have a panic attack, heart racing, sweating. I have Cymbalta and Xanax prescribed by my family doctor. Sometimes I have to take double Xanax to make a phone call. I know in my head that this fear is irrational, but I can’t stop myself. I have given you a real cliff note version here of my issues. My mother also did a number I me growing up. I went to a counselor twice in college and came out so sad and crying so much I couldn’t bear to go back. I know I need to give it another try. Thanks for all you do to bring light to mental illness. Oh. I also have agoraphobia and can see myself becoming a recluse.
I’m so so sorry you had to experience those things. They are clearly over the line and sexually abusive. Your phone phobia makes perfect sense to me. I really encourage you to get back into therapy. What happened to you is every bit as serious as a child who experienced fondling or penetration by their father. You were degraded, objectified and subliminally told that you don’t matter. You are an incest survivor whether you want to call it that or not. OF COURSE the world is terrifying to you. The person who was supposed to protect you was the very person who abused you.



Email of the Day: Listener Ryan on coping with his trauma



I am 40 yrs old. My last memory of feeling normal was at about age 5. That day a neighbor asked me if i wanted to come see his train set, and i naturally obliged. Not until age 26 did i start to remember. Although the actual sexual events by this pedophile remain murky in my mind, the terror or trauma  that seemed to displace my real self is very memorable. Escaping from the situation and then being confronted again and being told by my abuser that he would kill my mom if i told anyone. I still feel the disassociation, murky grey,mind haziness from that day. I believe this was the genesis of at one point disabling depression that would hit me about 5 years later.  From about age 10 onwards i was abused at school, and emotionally “tortured” by a couple of relatives—the perfect storm—at too young an age—the recipe for mental disaster. I was no angel either all the time, but i tried to be good to everyone and please them.  For many years starting in my late teens i read books etc, and worked out daily to relieve this anxiety stress i always felt. Shortly after high school, having no friends, and anxiety, bi polar depression – i though i would end it by taking up smoking and drinking as a life habit as i felt no where, with no hope and no chance for hope, except in substances. Being too prideful to ask for help, i unknowingly, by trying to solve it on my own, became paranoid, defensive, angrier and happy to be my own worst enemy. Putting cigarettes out on my hands felt good. Cutting my face so people at work would ask me what happened made me feel good. Telling myself ugly things about myself felt good. I told myself for years that i am alive because of alcohol-the only thing releasing me from my pain. I eventually worked to what i thought was a more balanced person. Yet, no one would have anything to do with me and if they did, i quickly destroyed it. My depression felt being locked in a steel box, chained to the floor with a pin hole of light i would see maybe once a month or so. I would use positive visualization etc to no avail. The only thing was alcohol. It was my best friend. I have destroyed to date all potential / relationships outside of family-even my extended family does not like me. I didn’t like me.

All this buried stuff i guess came to ahead last year as i suffered the most terrifying experience that made 30 yrs of depression look like a vacation in comparison. I cracked and now heard a voice telling me to do horrific things. Images of demons and faces in my minds eye appearing from no where. Anxiety in full bloom i took to Internet where my fears of being possessed threw me over the edge. No sleep for days, total disassociation. Feeling the same again as that abused little kid.

I have been on klonopin for some time and still drinking. Seroquel also helps to. Progress. I am doing better now after some research and having been in therapy. The biggest help has been to realize that the initial trauma as a boy, launched my brain into rewiring itself. I am not my thoughts, my brain, and certainly not the false self-aka the ego. I didn’t even know i had an ego and how much of a prick it is-wanting to protect but too dumb to help. Since age 5, i have been living as my false self- under total control of ego, one i never knew existed. Since making this realization i would have to say i feel much less depressed and anxious. I now KNOW i have been re-enforcing my brains neurological pathways for some time, and i know it will take time, work, and perhaps more medication, to return to my real state. The only thing real in the universe, is love, i think. How that manifests into we know materially etc – only the source of it knows- and its love. With ocd thoughts, i know they originate from an anxiety ridden brain, from associations of the past. Time to forgive and be grateful and realistic and know that if it doesn’t come from love-its not real, it doesn’t exist.  I know people have been through much more horrific things than i have and have made it thru. Thank you for being an inspiration.


Email of the Day: Pretending it Wasn’t Rape by Anne Marie

Hi there, I was listening to episode 118 (Kulap Vilaysack Returns) and heard the survey from the woman who said she wasn’t sure if she had been sexually abused and that she went back to the man who she’d told no to after to make it her choice. I had to pause for a second to question whether I’d written that because it’s so similar to what happened to me. I was raped on a cruise while so drunk I couldn’t walk. I told the man no repeatedly and he said if I didn’t want to, I could leave. I was literally unable to leave and he ignored me saying no and did some really horrible things. I left scratches but he joked the next day that I was “aggressive.” I was mostly blacked out during the rape but I remember bits and pieces of it. He thought it was hilarious to tell me all the things “we” did and couldn’t understand why I was upset. It took me about 11 months to call it rape and I had sex with him later on the cruise trying to turn the rape into a vacation fling. One of the biggest turning points for me was reading a book called, “I Never Called It Rape.” It is an AMAZING book full of stories and survey data. I sat down in the middle of a book store and started crying when I read a statistic that said that many women have sex with their rapists afterward the same way the surveyed woman and I did. I thought I was crazy and no one could ever understand what I’d done and that it discounted what I’d been through. Knowing that my experience was “normal” and reading about acquaintance rape really helped me get through a terrible time.

All my best, Anne Marie


Email of the Day: Cutting Ties with her Mom by “Ren”

Hey, Paul. I’m catching up on some old podcasts and am listening to the one with Lynn Chen and wanted to make a comment regarding being afraid to confront your mom because she’s a narcissist who invalidates what you say. FWIW, here’s my experience with doing just that, although that was not my intention at first. If you want to use this on your podcast under listener email or what have you, please feel free. I just ask you call me “Ren” if you do

For years I had always hoped my mom would apologize or at the very least acknowledge the way she treated both me and my dad, but it never happened. The closest she got was admitting she had been jealous of me (she would get the same hair cut I had, buy similar outfits to mine, get piercings to mimic mine, copy my hair color, etc). The final straw was when we were visiting her for Thanksgiving 4 years ago and she made fun of my daughter for using the word “sibling” and said “People don’t talk like that. No wonder you don’t have any friends.” She also gave her a hard time for asking before taking something, and saying “please” and “thank you.” Well, it hurt my daughter’s feelings and made her cry, and I went off on mom and told her that she made fun of me and browbeat me when I was a kid, and by god, she was not about to do that to my kid. It went downhill from there, and I laid everything out that I had been carrying around for 40 years – all the shame, embarrassment, self-esteem issues, her false accusations, the beatings, everything. I was so angry I was shaking and crying, and she went to the other end of the house because the things she was saying back made me so angry I would have hit her had she not gone away, and she picked up on that and made herself scarce. I have never, ever hit my mother, but at that moment if she had not shut up, I am so scared I would have.

My mom was the queen of creating drama where none existed. If nothing drama-worthy was going on, she would make shit up or embellish something to make it sound much worse than it really was. It went way beyond simple exaggeration and was meant to shock and hurt. Finding Chickweed tracked in the house turned into “she found pot” on me. If a male cousin was found to have porn in his house, that made him a child molester. Crazy stuff like that.

I had a miscarriage before my daughter was born and she told everyone in the family I had an abortion. Two of my aunts came to me and asked me about it and said mother had told them this, but they didn’t think it sounded like me. I was stunned. A cousin got into a domestic dispute and she told everyone my cousin had a nervous breakdown and had tried to kill her husband and was arrested. It was more like someone filed a complaint for noise and no one went anywhere. She accused my dad of being on drugs because he had the nerve to come home from work and clean house so she could have time to study when she was in nursing school. He moved the seat back in the car to vacuum underneath so she accused him of cheating on her because the seat wasn’t in the right place. She was (and still is) doing the same thing to others now. Dad is dead so he is away from it now. The last I heard from her was 3 years ago on my birthday when she sent a message to me on Face Book basically threatening me if I didn’t keep quiet (she is afraid her coworkers would find out how nasty and racist she is) and telling me I am either evil or mentally warped. I figure if she is saying or doing anything that would embarrass her, then she is the one who needs to think about her behavior and change it.

The point of this story is: She and I have been estranged for 4 years because of that Thanksgiving blow-up, but I was finally able to say what I needed to say, there were other relatives present who knew what I was saying was true because some of the things that happened were in front of them so many years ago, and they acknowledged my recollections. My mom always had a way of saying “You’re dreaming” or “That never happened and you know it.” I was finally able to acknowledge she would never apologize and was finally able to let go of that hope and move on. My self esteem issues are finally resolved, I feel more competent as an adult, I no longer give a rat’s ass what she thinks about me, and I don’t have the stress or drama that she loves to create among those around her. Two of her sisters who were there and took my side have also walked away from her, because they are not in good health and decided the stress and drama just weren’t worth it anymore. One who is in hospice has told her nurses that mother isn’t allowed anywhere near her. My mother is PISSED about it, too.

Sorry this is so long! Do what you need to do to get healthy and move on. There are worse things that can happen that having your mom cut ties with you. My daughter and I are much more relaxed nowadays, and I have finally stopped obsessing with the thought of my mom reaching out and saying she’s sorry. It is incredibly freeing, and while scary at the time, it was THE most important thing for me to heal. This would make for an interesting memoir some day.

P.S. I am an only child, my daughter is her only grandchild, and I found out about a year ago that we have been cut out of her will. I guess that isn’t entirely true: She is leaving each of us one dollar. I am trying to decide if I should email her and tell her to keep the dollar, or just let it go and let her think she is getting the last FUCK YOU when she finally dies. I would be very tempted to let her know that I know if she ends up dying slowly just to keep her from having the satisfaction. My therapist thinks that may just pull me back into drama. I don’t know…At least that saves me the trouble of being the executor. That’s a pain in the ass


Listener Adam, Describes the Effect of Having Family Members with Severe Mental Illness

Dear Paul,

First off, let me tell you that it only took me about five minutes to become a huge fan of the show. Mental illness in America is quite literally the crazy aunt in the attic that we don’t talk about, and I’m glad that you have decided to start bringing it up.

I have never had mental illness myself, but I still think of myself as a victim of it. My mother is a bipolar who hears voices, and my older brother is a bipolar who suffers from paranoid delusions.

It goes without saying that my mother’s voices never said things like “Wow! You’re doing a great job! You’re awesome!” Her voices said things like “All of your children are sick and dying,” or “We have pictures of you molesting children.”

That’s the thing about the mental illnesses in my family. They are not quiet, discrete mental illnesses. They are loud and aggressive. Everybody’s parents embarrass them when they are teenagers, but my mom embarrassed me for legitimate reasons and not overdramatized teenaged ones.  She would do things like stand up and start screaming at school board meetings, or accuse my teachers of selling me drugs at parent teacher conferences. The “up” part of my mom’s bipolar disorder wasn’t fueled by happiness and optimism. It was angry, and paranoid, and fueled by the conviction that someone was actively hurting her or her family. The “down” cycle was pretty standard, I guess. She would burst into wracking sobs at random moments, or wake me up crying because she was convinced that everyone was “going away forever.”

My brother’s delusions were similarly poisonous. He believed that a man in Richmond, Virginia was pulling strings to ruin his life. The part that scared the shit out of me about that was that this man in Richmond was a real person, and, well, this is Virginia. It’s not like you can buy guns at the CVS, but they don’t put a hell of a lot of inconveniences between people and the Second Amendment. When he was “up” he would go out and max out his credit card, and when he was down he would sit in a room for months and literally cover himself in garbage. He would not clean up after himself, and would get enraged if anyone tried. The rest of the time was spent searching the internet for clues about this man who was ruining his life, and thanks to his illness, he was finding them everywhere. In articles online, in the newspaper, in the tone of voice of the bill collectors who would call day and night.

I managed to not get mental illness. My brother and I have different fathers, and I’m assuming that my Dad’s DNA kept that particular pack of wolves at bay. But I can’t be sure that if I ever have children that they will be safe. I don’t want to bestow that cursed fucking existence onto anyone, and also, if I am honest with myself, I am pretty goddamned sick and tired of crazy people. I think if I had a son or daughter who became my brother or my mom, and if I had to go through all of it again, I think I’d probably fucking kill myself.

Living like this has left me bitter and suspicious and cynical, because I not only saw the worst of my own flesh and blood, but I also saw the worst of our society in how we deal with the mentally ill. I was a teenager with a mom who was clearly buggy ding dong fucking crazy, and I got no help from anyone. Everybody knew my mom was crazy. Teachers, neighbors, friend’s parents, fucking EVERYONE, and nobody did shit. I got a lot of sympathy, but no help, and neither did mom. You can’t just commit somebody. They have to be a danger to themselves or others, and my mom never was. And as far as my mom was concerned, she was the only sane one on the planet. It was everybody else that was crazy.

When I turned around 15 I ran out of fear of her. And I also ran out of sympathy for her illness. Too much had happened, and I had realized that no help was coming from anybody. I just started telling her to go fuck herself. In the middle of her rages, in the middle of her crying jags, whatever, my answer was always “Go fuck yourself. Kill yourself. I don’t give a shit about you, you crazy psychotic bitch. Die already.”

I know that sounds terrible, particularly since you are a victim of mental illness yourself, but this wasn’t just a depressed person that I was dealing with. My life was chaotic, and it was humiliating, and here’s also what it was: entirely my mother’s fucking fault.

My mom stopped taking her lithium when she knew damn well that she had a mental illness. In fact, one of my first memories was my dad taking me to visit my mom at “the hospital,” and I remember the hospital not being like what I had seen on TV. In fact, it reminded me of my kindergarten class. Lots of construction paper and crayon drawings on the walls. I remember that there was an old woman who I got introduced to, and she said hello in a funny voice, and then she started drooling, and then she was led off, and that’s all I remember of visiting my mom in the hospital when I was about 4. I guess when I turned 12 or so she started doing the mental gymnastics that every mentally ill person does eventually. “I don’t need these pills. I’ll be fine.”

When I was 13, she demanded a divorce from my father. My dad didn’t have a full understanding of what was going on. In the first place, my dad was a lot older than my mom, and his thinking was different. As far as her mental illness went, he had that old school mentality of “I thought we fixed that!” I think he thought that she just turned out mean. I know that’s what I thought at first too.  He moved to a house across town and left me alone with her, and shortly after that the crying jags and screaming paranoia began in earnest. All those early hospital visits began to be remembered and started to make sense. My dad eventually figured it out and moved back in after about ten months. Ten really long and terrifying months.

One night after a psychosis induced fist fight between me, my dad, and her, she disappeared. Woke up the next morning and she was gone, and she stayed that way for about 18 months. My dad knew where she was, as he was paying the credit card bills, but he didn’t tell me, and I didn’t ask, because I was just glad she was gone. I’d get the occasional phone call from a panicked hotel clerk somewhere, who was calling me, because there was this sobbing woman in the lobby of the hotel who was convinced that her children were all dying, and could I do something please? I’d say “She’s crazy. Call the police.” And I would hang up.

She ended up getting arrested in Pennsylvania, and finally committed. I’m not sure what caused her to get arrested. I have never asked. I don’t want to know.

She’s ok now. Relatively. She hears voices, but is able to keep the volume low. I know it seems strange to say that I have “forgiven” her for being sick, but again, she was the one who stopped taking her pills. I love her, but that love is conditional. If she stops taking her pills to the point where she becomes crazy again (which is ALWAYS a possibility) I will instantly go back to hating her. And make no mistake about it, man, I fucking HATED her.

This has affected me in a lot of ways. I have bailed on more than a few relationships with women who were probably fine, but something would happen, maybe a yelling match that got a little too strident, maybe a bit of behavior that struck me as odd, and I would leave them. The idea of being with someone who might turn crazy is terrifying to me. I’m pretty much resigned to living my life alone by now.

My brother is just now crawling out of the hole that he has dumped himself into. It’s been more difficult for him. My mom had the benefit of being the wife of a military officer, and that health insurance is taken everywhere without question, but my brother had only the soulless, sociopathic clusterfuck that is private health insurance.

This latest episode was the third time that my brother decided that the pills were optional, despite proven evidence to the contrary, and I am still fucking furious with him for that.

I’m also furious at our system. My brother’s shitheel of a psychiatrist saw him for about three weeks, and then insisted that he check himself into the mental hospital, which is fine, except he insisted that he check himself into the really expensive private mental hospital where he practiced, and he did so without bothering to do a cursory glance to see if my brothers health insurance covered such things, and of course it didn’t. 6 days in the mental hospital where nothing was accomplished except $13,000 worth of debt for my brother, who had of course by then lost his job due to his erratic behavior. Said shitheel psychiatrist then stopped seeing my brother because of his inability to pay.

In his paranoid mania, my brother managed to burn every bridge available to him. He was living in a room in my mom’s house (and the stress of having him there was making her condition even more tenuous,) not bathing, pawning everything that wasn’t nailed down so he could buy cigarettes and chewing tobacco and Taco Bell, and searching the internet and newspapers for more and more evidence of this nefarious bastard down in Richmond.

As an aside, the ridiculousness of this delusion could not be understated. Everything about it was ludicrous. My brother was convinced that this man, who is some sort of tycoon, was ruining his life because he would not marry this man’s daughter. My brother, who weighed 300 pounds, could not clean up after himself, and was about 27,000 in debt. That’s who the millionaire must have for his son in law.

Even this guy’s name was ridiculous. Old rich Southern men are given perfectly ludicrous nicknames. Like, if you look at the names of the Crimson Tide booster club you’ll see a lot of guys named “Shuggie” and “Wiggie” and “Coopie.” I will spare you this guy’s actual name, but imagine someone telling you in all seriousness that the person ruining his life is named “Cuddlebear McSnugglepie” and you can imagine the level of frustration that my brother’s delusions caused my family.

We actually had to manipulate the system to get him help. We called the police and told them that my brother was talking about killing himself, and then and only then did they come and get him. They had a hearing, in which he swore up and down that he had never, and we swore up and down that he did, and miraculously, they put him in the county psych ward. Ironically enough, once the pills kicked in, and he stopped focusing on Snugglebear McCuddlePie, and he surveyed the fucking wreckage that was his life, he actually was put on suicide watch.

He lives in a homeless shelter now, and works in a Walgreens. He can’t stay at my moms. That will end up killing her, I know it. My brother says he is on his pills, and he might be. I mean, he’s holding down a job. But he’s been losing weight lately, and that makes me nervous. That could be a sign he isn’t on his pills. There are several, and I know them all pretty well by now.

·         Weight Loss

·         Putting tape over peepholes on doors or on any available webcam on any computer

·         Assigning significance to the trivial. “Hey man, did you leave this cup near the sink?”

·         Sudden religiosity. Intense bible study. Wearing a cross.


From here it’s only a few weeks before he’s back to hunting for more evidence of the Cuddlebear conspiracy to the exclusion of everything else. And it would not surprise me if he did get off his pills. Even after seeing what not taking his medication has done to him, I bet somewhere in his brain is a little wind up cymbal monkey, just clanging those cymbals together again and again and again, and those cymbals sound like “You’ll be fine! You don’t need them! It’ll be ok this time!”


I recently caught my mom succumbing to that same cymbal monkey recently. She’s going through chemotherapy, and convinced herself that the lithium would make things worse. Do you get that? After knowing goddamn well what happened to her, and after seeing what happened to her son, and even though she still has auditory hallucinations, she still managed to get to the point where she thought that MAYBE IT WOULD BE OK THIS TIME.


I’m sure there are things that I don’t get. I’m not them. I’m not mentally ill. But after someone has taken their shoes and used them to beat the living shit out of you, the last thing you want to do is put them on and walk a mile in them. My sympathy reservoir is pretty much empty at this point. I’m know I’m not really a victim, but I’m just worn out. In fact, I’m a fucking absolutist in how I think we should treat the mentally ill. I say we bring back the guys in the white coats with the butterfly nets. I say we start enforcing treatment. To me, a vagrant on a street corner crying into a trashcan is no different than a guy lying on the street with a broken leg, yet for some reason we do nothing for one and call the ambulance for the other. Maybe because there isn’t a quality profit margin in treating crazy, I guess.


My mom made me paranoid about women, and my brother made me furious about paranoia. Every time I see some right wing Cleetus on some political show going on about one conspiracy or another, I don’t laugh it off. I get really angry. I think “Fuck you. What makes YOU so goddamned special? And who’s life are YOU destroying with this delusion, you selfish, non-pill taking son of a bitch?”


I don’t know if I’ll ever get over this. I’m almost 40. I’m shell shocked, and I don’t know how to relate to people. I’m lonely but am afraid everyone is going to become crazy, so I keep my distance. Pretty much every relationship that I have developed over the past fifteen years or so has been superficial. Guys I drink with at bars. Women I have flings with that go nowhere.


My friends are all married with kids. I can’t do that, so I’m the weird guy. I get invited over for Sunday football less and less. I understand why. I get it.


Anyway, I just wanted to bring to your attention the plight of those who aren’t mentally ill, but get fucked completely by it anyway. Not that you have neglected the subject or anything, or been dismissive of it, but there is a whole peripheral group of people who suffer due to mental illness, and suffer pretty hard.


Thank you for your podcast. It makes me feel better. And thank you for tolerating the ramblethon that was this e-mail, if indeed you have gotten this far.