Episode 1: 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.
Paul: Well, It’s the inaugural episode, the maiden voyage, does that sound a little too…
Paul: Am I building it up to much? No, I want this to be a very nautical show.
Janet: We should mention that we rented a yacht because we thought that would make it a better podcast.
Paul: We are coming to you from the high seas. My name is Paul Gilmartin, and this is the first episode of The Mental Illness Happy Hour. And I’m so pleased that my first guest could find time in her schedule to be my guest. She’s my co-host on Dinner and a Movie, you’ve seen her in a gazillion things on television, What’s the name of the character on Entourage that you play?
Janet: Oh, her name was Amy Miller.
Paul: And she was a producer?
Janet: Yeah, she was like a network executive.
Paul: Yes. And most recently, Janet just booked, she is the voice of The Last of the Airbenders? Is that correct?
Janet: Yeah, old man, you’re close.
Janet: It’s The Last Airbender: The Legend of Korra.
Paul: And you booked the voice of Korra, and didn’t even tell me that you had booked the lead! You’re just like “Oh, I got this part in an animation thing.”
Janet: With animation, I don’t know that it really matters; I mean it’s such an ensemble show.
Paul: This is so much to get to with you. Already, within minutes minimizing your achievements, it’s fantastic.
Janet: It’s not good. Whatever you’re thinking it can’t be good—
Paul: …because I’m associated with it.
Janet: …and I don’t deserve it.
Paul: The show that I hope to offer to the nice people out there listening is a show about people who live with depression. Don’t necessarily have to suffer from it, actually this could also be for people who are interested in it but I, I—
Janet: And not just depression, right? I mean, it could be anxiety, it could be—
Paul: Absolutely, any form of mental stress or illness.
Janet: You’ll have psychopaths, sociopaths, confirmed killers.
Paul: Absolutely, I’m going to the prisons, get raped, and do some really good shows.
Paul: My hope is that, Janet, as you know, we’ve talked about this, one of the reasons you’re my guest is that we’ve both been very honest with each other over the years about our struggles with depression and there were times that I was so depressed that I felt so, like “nobody understands the way I feel.”
Paul: And then when you and I started talking about it, I realized we feel the same way. And the more I opened up to people about what it feels like to have that gray blanket of depression, when it comes in like a fog and robs you of energy and joy… So many people feel that same way, but there’s not a way for them to connect. And I hope that this podcast and the website will be a community that people can connect to each other and say “Hey, I’m taking this pill, and it has this side effect” or, you know, “Hey, I discovered the great thing to do when I’m exercising that helps give me energy” or a thought to think or a book to read, or whatever.
Paul: But you are one of those people who’s been so important in my life, because you’re so open with your feelings and talking about your pain and childhood stuff, and if I can sound just little bit clinical—
Janet: Oh please!
Paul: I would love to go through different decades of your life—
Janet: Mmm, interesting!
Paul: and if you could, on a scale from one to ten, one being suicidal—
Janet: Oh my gosh, wow.
Paul: ten being content and at peace.
Paul: If you could give me a numerical value of roughly what you’re happiness state was.
Janet: You know that I’ve not lived that many decades, so it might be short to get through them.
Paul: You’re in your early sixties, right!?
Janet: [Laughs] Yeah! Maybe we might break it down even more, just because, when I think about—
Paul: Actually it’s not decades, the way I have it broken down.
Janet: Yeah that doesn’t really make sense.
Paul: I have before grade school, then grade school and middle school, then high school, then 18 to 22 or college, 20s, 30s. Does that work for you?
Janet: Yeah that makes sense. It does, and I want to tell the nice people that I have not been prepared for this at all.
Paul: That’s good!
Janet: No, I mean, Just in case anyone’s wondering, I don’t have anything prepared, and Paul didn’t warn me how he was going to conduct this, so if I make a fool of myself, we’ll all bear witness to that.
Paul: You know what, I didn’t want to do a podcast for the longest time because I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. You would think twenty years into show business I would realize, “too late, you’ve made a fool of yourself.” But, I think that’s also one of the hallmarks of depression is perfectionism. And just that feeling of being overwhelmed. I’m not going to be able to do this perfectly.
Janet: Wouldn’t we rather let people think we could have done better if we just didn’t try very hard?
Janet: “Oh, they’ll always think I’m more talented than I was if I don’t apply myself. If I try my hardest, they’ll find out I’m not that great.”
Paul: Right, right. I would rather fire myself than be fired.
Janet: Sure, exactly.
Paul: So, from infancy to grade school, where would you rate your happiness, generally?
Janet: Well uhh—my dad loves Dinner and a Movie, and loves you, and loves me, and is an amazing person, and my mom is amazing and this is no reflection on my parents.
Paul: Yeah, this is no reflection on them.
Janet: But that stuff, you know, especially when you’re a kid, that stuff does come into play, and you know, and obviously they already know when they split up. But, my parents split when I was four or five-ish. I don’t have really any memories of my parents together, I just have a couple and they’re very, very faint and they sort of don’t make sense. And they’re not really about my parents.
Paul: Are you sure you’re not thinking of the movie The Fugitive?
Janet: I am! I was about to say that I lost my arm in an accident and that I didn’t kill my wife.
Paul: I’m sorry.
Janet: That’s why this is the happy hour, you’re allowed to interrupt me and tease me.
Paul: That’s right. And that’s my other fear too, is that I will become too glib, and somebody will really be trying to pour their heart forth, and I’m going to shit on them.
Paul: So, bear with me as I find out what the tone of this show is going to be.
Janet: That’s fair, that’s fair.
Paul: So your parents divorced when you were four or five?
Janet: They separated when I was, yeah, when I was really little, I think when I was in 2nd grade, so I would have been five and six years old because I skipped kindergarten.
Paul: because you were a smartypants?
Janet: I was a smartypants. I sort of got my kindergarten education in preschool, because I went this academic preschool.
Paul: You mailed away for your preschool diploma, didn’t you? You did it by mail?
Janet: I did, I did. Yeah, I was an amazing typist also and I wore little A-line skirts and wore curlers in my hair. Pennsylvania 65,000. But yeah, so I don’t really remember that much about them being together. I was a wreck when they split, for sure. And I was just a holy terror and I can’t believe what I put them through.
Paul: So you acted out?
Janet: Yeah, I was miserable. Yeah so I don’t know if you can say you’re suicidal when you’re four and I wouldn’t characterize myself as that but I was unhappy a lot. I ran away all the time, like I would pack a knapsack and run away and be gone for hours and eventually get hungry and have to come back home. I said horrible things to, especially my mom, because she had primary custody of me initially and I used to just scream and yell at her and say horrible stuff. I still feel terrible about that because you’re going through a separation as a parent, I’m sure the last thing you need is your child saying “I HATE YOU!” So, miserable, really. I mean, a fairly miserable youth. That’s not to say that I didn’t love watching Sesame Street with my Dad, and had great trips with him and stuff.
Paul: Right, well lets, if we can, just go through the decades and just assign it a cold clinical number.
Janet: Alright. This is hard! I like to overanalyze stuff.
Paul: Okay, and we’re not worrying about hurting anyone’s feelings, okay? This is not a reflection on other people. Because you can be raised by the happiest family in the world, and be a miserable person. I’ve met people like that. So alright, up until grade school, up until four or five... or you just don’t remember?
Janet: That’s really early on.
Paul: Okay, so let’s say from first grade to sixth grade.
Janet: That’s when I was most miserable.
Paul: Okay, so give me a number.
Janet: Umm, like a four.
Paul: Okay, and then middle school to high school?
Janet: Middle school to high school I was pretty happy. I’m going to say like, an eight.
Paul: Okay. High school?
Janet: High school, umm, high school was like, I don’t know. High school is like, one day you’re a two and the next day you’re a nine. That’s when I started experiencing my first real signs of mental illness.
Paul: So maybe that’s what this should be, is the range of numbers.
Janet: Yeah! I mean I’ve never been diagnosed as bi-polar and I don’t think of myself as bi-polar but I definitely think that when you’re a very highly sensitive person, as many people have said before me, you have these extreme, amazing euphoric highs, and you think the world is an amazing perfect beautiful place. And then, the lows are as low as the highs are.
Paul: They’re so crushingly low and then you think there’s got to be a way for something external, some person, place or thing that can get me out of this. So then, you become obsessive about the things that bring you pleasure. I think a lot of times that’s where addiction springs from, is people are just self-medicating because they’re depressed.
Janet: One thing feels good, so if you do that one thing as much as you can, then somehow you’ll feel okay.
Paul: Okay, so we’ve established a swing in high school.
Janet: Major swing in high school.
Paul: Feelings from two to nine. Okay, eighteen to twenty-two or the college years, what would the swing be?
Janet: The swing would be like, from a two to a six.
Paul: Okay, so then you started feeling worse. Then, in the rest of your twenties?
Janet: Early, well sort of early to mid twenties, kind of living down in the threes. Then upwards from my mid twenties, much better, six, sevens, eights.
Paul: Okay, and now that you’re solidly into your fifties…
Paul: Your thirties, just barely into your thirties, how are they so far?
Janet: I think I’m the best I’ve ever been. One of the things I like to say about that is advice that my mom gave me, which I actually said on someone else’s podcast fairly recently. I can’t remember what the context was, it might have been Jimmy Dore’s, that’s not very recent actually, I did that like a year ago. But, my mom is an incredibly smart, incredibly amazing woman and you know she’s sort of lived with her own challenges. When I was in my very early twenties I would call her, I still called her when I was having a complete breakdown. I never wanted to call my dad because I didn’t want to disappoint my dad by being upset.
Paul: Why do you think that is? Do you think he had more on his plate and you were worried about burdening him?
Janet: No. It wasn’t that. And my dad was always so available to me. Both of my parents were so incredibly available to me, and so supportive and so understanding and so kind through all of this.
Paul: But why do you think you protected your dad from it?
Janet: Because I don’t like disappointing my dad because I felt like he never saw my flaws the way my mom did. When I was younger, I hated that my mom knew when I was up to something, or knew when I was up to no good, or didn’t trust me.
Paul: So she had already been disappointed.
Janet: She had already been disappointed! And, I knew she was much more prone to her own moods and stuff like that. Even though I’m much more like my dad in my personality in a lot of ways, my dad just always seemed so happy and he always seemed so proud of me.
Paul: So you felt like he lived more in an idealized world that you didn’t want to upset.
Janet: Yeah, I only wanted to give him the good news.
Paul: Do you still feel that way with your dad?
Janet: A little bit less so, but I think they’re still a difference between what I am comfortable, like immediately where my head goes in terms of reaching out to them.
Paul: Let’s talk about when your depression manifests itself, how does it do so?
Janet: My depression manifests itself in panic and anxiety.
Paul: Give me some examples.
Janet: Well, when I first, when it got really, really bad is when I was eighteen, I had just turned eighteen, and was just finishing my freshman year of college. I had been smoking a lot of pot, and I actually had a weird near death experience where I almost went off the side of a cliff on a snowy mountain in Flagstaff.
Paul: Mmhmm, always good when you’re high and paranoid.
Janet: Yep! And the best thing to do after that’s happened is to go home and take a huge hit off a bong, and that’s what I did. I had this horrible experience, where it felt like I was floating outside my body, and I couldn’t make words make sense, and I couldn’t move my mouth, or my lips, or my tongue.
Janet: I didn’t understand what was happening to me, and I just tried to sleep it off. And a couple of days later, I, because you’re a stupid kid, I was like, “I’m sure that was a one-off!” and I tried to smoke pot again, because I had smoke so much of it before that.
Paul: Right, and you were how old?
Janet: Eighteen, just turned eighteen. And, then it happened again. And then I think I gave it like a week, and I tried to smoke pot again, and that was the last time. Three strikes. That same thing happened, so then I stopped. And then, two nights later after the last time I tried to smoke pot, I was just lying in my bed in my dorm room, and it happened to me without anything. I was sober, completely sober. It just came on like I was high. So, that lasted like forty-eight hours. This is not a panic attack in the conventional sense of the word.
Paul: This sounds like a nervous breakdown.
Janet: Oh yeah! It was a total, total meltdown. I didn’t know what it was, because I knew it wasn’t a panic attack, because my understanding of a panic attack was your heart’s racing, you feel like you can’t breathe, you feel like you’re going to pass out, you want to go to the hospital. None of that was true, for me it felt more like, it just felt like I was high, like I was really, really high, in a bad way, and it didn’t stop. I would go to sleep, and wake up feeling the same way.
Paul: So obviously this was much more than just related to smoking pot, this was something deeper, but possibly triggered by the pot smoking.
Paul: And had you ever taken any medication up until this point?
Paul: So, did you go see somebody?
Janet: I did. You know, I finished out the semester, it was really hard to finish out the semester, I was totally over committed. I’m sure that’s a huge reason that was happening to me, that that happened. I was taking photography classes, so I was in the dark room all the time. I didn’t have time to do that and do these two… I was doing two different plays.
Paul: You were just trying to be everything to everybody.
Janet: I was, I was.
Paul: And by the way, everybody just called, and they said that you are everything.
Janet: Oh! I did it!
Paul: So it actually worked.
Janet: Oh! It was totally worth it. So yeah, I finished that semester out, barely, and went back home and got the only job, got my first job, I’d never had a job before. And I got a job at a movie theater, and I could barely hold that down, because I kept having these attacks. So I started seeing a psychiatrist—
Paul: What would you do if you were in the middle of a workday, would you say, “Excuse me” and then go to the bathroom?
Janet: Well the good thing about the movie theater was, there were two, pretty much two jobs that I had. I was either selling concessions, which was so fast paced that it distracted me and I didn’t have time to freak out. Or, I was cleaning up after people in a dark movie theater, so if I had a freak out, I could just like stand up against a wall in the darkness, and there was something that felt really safe about that. Where I would have my worst experiences, and I’ve learned this is true for a lot of people with anxiety disorders, would be at night in fluorescent lighting.
Paul: Wow, that’s so specific.
Janet: Yeah, for example. If it were dark at night, and I would walk from being outside in the cool desert air to walking into like a Target, and there was fluorescent light buzzing everywhere, that would trigger a panic attack instantly.
Janet: And at the time I didn’t really know what to call it, I would just say, “I’m freaking out!”
Paul: Yeah, you just thought it was Target’s lack of selection. My god.
Janet: That’s never been true; Target has always been well stocked.
Paul: This is the wrong type of sale for my particular neuroses.
Janet: But anyway, I feel, like I don’t want to drag on with this too long and I’ll try to be extremely entertaining and charming throughout the whole thing.
Paul: Too late!
Janet: I’ll put it into song. [sings] I went to see a psychiatrist! She was not a good fit for me, she characterized them as panic attacks, which was sort of helpful, because it was nice to have anyone tell me that I wasn’t going crazy. But, she was very clinical and she just didn’t seem very interesting in doing anything except prescribing something, and I really baulked at that. So I refused to take whatever it was. I think she wanted me to take like an anti-anxiety I think, not an anti-depressant. And I just, it was a real turn off, so I only saw her a couple of times, and then I stopped going. Then, when I went back up for my sophomore year of college, I had two amazing roommates, thank God that I had them, because I don’t know how I would have gotten through. They were my two best friends, my friend Torin and my friend Jen. And Torin is a guy and— I don’t know why I said that, I guess it’s an unusual name. Anyway, he was studying social work and he was volunteering, and working, and studying with this organization and he really loved his boss and she was also a counselor. She was a private counselor, you know she couldn’t prescribe. But he would see what I would go through day by day in my sophomore year, and usually the way it manifested when we started school up again was I would just wake up in the middle of the night ala classic panic attack. I would literally wake up running from my bed. I would wake up mid run.
Janet: Heart racing, freaking out about four o’clock in the morning. Then in order to go back to sleep, I sort of found what my rhythm needed to be, which was, I would listen to… this is embarrassing… I’d listen to James Taylor’s greatest hits.
Paul: I thought you were going to say Janis Ian, and I was going to say, “bad choice.”
Janet: I made a good choice, it was a good music selection. I would listen to James Taylor’s greatest hits, probably not surprisingly, I spent my childhood being sung Sweet Baby Jane by my dad to sleep when I was a kid. You really reach out for those things that make you feel safe. I would make Sleepytime Tea… thank you, Celestial Seasonings… and listen to James Taylor until I fell back asleep again for a couple hours and then I’d have to go to school.
Paul: You know, that has been for me, one of the most important things in finding, I don’t know the way to describe… finding contentment, is doing little nice things for yourself, you know. It’s taken me 40 years, 50 years, almost on this planet to realize that there’s a good selfish and a bad selfish. For so much of my life, I wasn’t selfish when I should have been, and selfish when I shouldn’t have been.
Janet: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
Paul: You know my wife would say, “that person isn’t even your friend, why are you bending over backwards for them?” It was probably because I wanted everybody to like me, and so I had no boundaries. Then when you shouldn’t be an asshole, then I would be an asshole, because I wasn’t getting enough for myself. And for those of you that have never had a panic attack, I’ve only had one, and it was shortly after the Northridge earthquake, and I got high. My wife was on the road doing stand up, I had a couple of drinks and I got high. I was convinced that the next second, another quake was absolutely going to hit. Even though intellectually I could understand another quake is not going to probably hit. The chances of that, it is such a sense of doom, doom becomes such a reality—
Janet: Yeah, it does.
Paul: that your body just begins to react to it. Is that kind of what you were experiencing?
Janet: Yeah, I mean, they’re horrible. I would not wish them on anyone. I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy. I don’t have any enemies because I can’t stand being disliked. But I really wouldn’t wish them on anyone. That would be such a specific form of torture. Just getting imprisoned would cause me to have nonstop panic attacks. And the whole idea of “there’s nothing to fear but fear itself” it does feed itself, it’s a hungry, hungry beast. It succeeds that in itself it’s such a terrifying experience that you become afraid of the experience which then feeds the beast. So learning how to not give it that power. That kind of goes back to what I was going to say, which I don’t even think I got to, is what my mom told me when I would reach out to her is, she said, “I know this isn’t a quick answer, it’s not the answer you want right now, because you just want to be told you’re going to be fine in a month and you’ll never have a problem with this again” she said, “one of the great things about getting older, is that you just get to know yourself better. You get used to those feelings, and they lose their power.” Sometimes without even trying you just find yourself rationalizing experiences that are negative in a way that makes them discharged. Like, I don’t even know if that’s the right word. But basically, I mean in a nut shell, like now if I feel one coming on, by and large, unless I’m really, unless I’ve been compromised in some way, like if I were on drugs or if I were—
Paul: But you don’t really, you’re not much of a drinker or a drug doer.
Janet: No, I’m not. I don’t like that. It doesn’t really soothe me.
Paul: When was the last time you had a panic attack?
Janet: Not that long ago, I had a panic attack at the doctor’s office because part of the procedure was uncomfortable. So, that’s kind of what I mean by compromised. Once I was in the position where I was captive and I was in pain, my body immediately was like “Oh! Freak out, for sure!”
Paul: So it’s safe to say that if you were kidnapped, that would probably trigger a panic attack.
Janet: I’m sure it would.
Paul: Wouldn’t it be ironic if that was the one place where you felt safe? You had to be kidnapped from location to location.
Janet: Kidnapped is a strong word. I think even if I got into a taxi, and the driver seemed like he was going the wrong way, I might have a panic attack. That’s close enough to kidnapping. You know, I used to love flying when I was a kid, and even when I was a teenager when I started having problems, flying was never an issue for me. And then, you know, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, I couldn’t fly for a while, I just couldn’t get on a plane. Then when I could get on a plane, I would have panic attacks, and I was taking valium trying to not have panic attacks on planes. That just kind of made me feel, still panicky, but sort of on the euphoric side of panic, it didn’t really calm me that much, it just made me care less.
Paul: Now in between all these panic attacks, was there depression? Was there listlessness? Not wanting to get out of bed, not caring?
Janet: Yeah, I guess we’re kind of jumping all over the place. When I finally saw that counselor that Torin had recommended, her name was Diane. I should I have gone to this sooner because my diagnosis was so specific. She was the first person I had ever spoken to in the two years that I’d really been suffering from this really specific set of symptoms who said, before I could even finish, like the first day I met her, she said “Tell me what you’re going through, what it’s like.” I started describing it and she said, “No disrespect, do you mind if I ask you some questions? I’m going to stop you.” After I had maybe said “I don’t know, it’s like…” because I told her about being high and how it started. She goes over and takes out that big old dictionary of mental illness definitions, and she flips open to a page and she doesn’t say anything about what entry she’s reading, she just starts asking me. She says, “Does this sound familiar? Patient has an alarming surreal sense of watching him or herself from the outside. Does it almost feel like you have a really bad fever?” and I said, “Yes! Yes about the tv thing. I never would have known to put it that way, but yes!” She said, “Does it get worse after you eat? Do you think sometimes it’s because you’re hungry and lightheaded, and you eat and it gets worse?” I said, “Yes.” Tears are streaming down my face; I’m like “This is so specific.”
Paul: Oh my God!
Janet: And I thought I was crazy, because this other woman was like, “Oh you’re having panic attacks.” She just blanket defined it. Diane said, “I had this when I was your age. It’s very rare, but I recognize what you’re talking about because I had it.” She said, “It’s called Depersonalization Displacement Syndrome.”
Paul: Good Lord!
Janet: It’s a part of anxiety and panic, but she said, “The parent disorder is depression.” So, often what ends up happening is, in the sort of family tree of the psychotropic drugs and all that kind of stuff… People get prescribed anti-anxiety drugs, which were especially at the time, there were far fewer and they were way more addictive and anti-depressant was like there was Prozac and that was about it, it seemed like. She said what happens a lot of the time is young people have this kind of experience or this kind of problem, not necessarily as specific as mine, but even just panic and anxiety and they’re prescribed that drug, and she said, “What I found is a better way down into it, is through treating the depression.”
Paul: Treating the depression medically or through therapy?
Janet: Treating the depression both. She definitely wouldn’t say just take a medication.
Paul: I have to say, I’m a big believer in that. I believe that depression can manifest itself situationally, and therapy is needed for that. But, I also believe that the more insidious one is the physical manifestation of depression, which I have yet to find anything other than medication to work for. Because when it hits, and it’s really bad, you know, we’ve talked about this. You don’t go to the bathroom sometimes. For me, the last time it hit badly, I went off my meds and I wasn’t pooping for eight weeks. I was having to get colonics. You know it’s like, when people look at somebody who has depression, and thinks that they’re just feeling self pity, they don’t understand that physical depression is like somebody that has diabetes. They lack insulin, they lack the chemicals in their brain, and telling them to get over it is like—
Janet: Yeah, and saying, “I know you’re strong enough to get up and go talk to somebody about this, and once you start talking to someone you’ll feel better.” It’s not that simple.
Paul: That’s the catch 22. The catch 22 is you have such a negative view, and you care so little about anything except the few things that bring you pleasure, you know, playing a video game, or overeating or something unhealthy, that you don’t help yourself because you’re so cynical. You think, “It’s not going to work.” You get caught in this spiral. You and I have both had friends who have taken their lives because of this.
Paul: So if you’re out there, and you’re interested at all, you think you might have depression, you think somebody you know maybe has depression… maybe take one of those surveys? Go to the website, we’re going to try and put some information on the website so you can take surveys, and we’ll put some links on there for people to begin to ask themselves more questions about what it is that counts as depression. Because I think, I don’t even know, and I’m certainly not an expert on it. But know what it’s like to be on a plane and people are flying nervously in turbulence, and I’m thinking, “Please God, go down. Please. Make the decision for me.” I can’t tell you how many times. I’ve almost never been afraid to fly, because for so many years, I just… there was such a war going on in my head. Such negative feelings about myself and such physical depression, that if I wasn’t loaded, or I wasn’t collecting or doing something obsessively to take my mind off myself, I would be thinking about myself, and that’s always a bad dark alley to go down.
Paul: But let’s get back to the meds. So you haven’t taken—
Janet: So at that point, she said, “Let me…” Again, this is when… I guess I was eighteen or nineteen. Maybe I turned nineteen by this point. She said, “I’d like to work with you and with the psychiatrist that I’m partnered with,” because Diane was just a counselor, “to put you one something and then you would see me regularly.” And it’s just so amazing the difference between when you find a doctor, that’s so important too.
Paul: Oh my god, when you find a psychiatrist—
Janet: When you find one that you like! Because she said, “Let’s do Prozac” in the same way that this other woman that I had seen had said, “Let’s do Prozac” but it was a one-eighty for me. Suddenly I was like, “Yes, I trust you.”
Paul: But you trusted this person.
Janet: Yeah, and that made a huge difference. And so I did go on Prozac and… boy it really got rid of the panic right away. I mean, within like a week, I stopped having panic attacks, and it was kind of amazing. So, in a way it really saved me. I will say that… I was very happy, I was not very anxious, not a whole lot bothered me. I was very listless and very restless, and I did drop out of school. You know, so there is an upside and a downside. I don’t regret it, and I went back to school.
Paul: It took some of your drive away.
Janet: At the time I couldn’t see, you know, sometimes you can’t see inside it, especially when you’re a young kid.
Paul: Because how do you know what reality is? All you know is what you’re feeling.
Janet: All I knew was, I felt 1,000% better and part of that started to feel like because I couldn’t hold my attention any more and I already had some ADD stuff happening as well, I just had no interest in school. I sort of had that feeling of like, “I might already be too smart for school” which totally wasn’t true at all. But, I was just too impatient and restless, so I dropped out. And I got jobs that allowed me to sort of fiddle and be artistic while I was doing them. Then when I went off Prozac, I was only on it for about a year and a half. But being on Prozac gave me the courage to move to San Francisco, which I had always wanted to do with my sweetie at the time. So, when I was finally ready to come off it, I was like, “Oh my God, I need to focus. I’ve been really unfocused for the last year and a half.”
Paul: By the way, that’s one of the hallmarks of depression is difficulty making decisions. I didn’t realize that until I started getting treatment for it. And I was like, “Oh my God, so it’s not just me.” Because you think it’s you. And you think people are saying, “You need to get help” and you’re thinking, “No! I’ve been in my head thinking of a gazllion different solutions none of which have ever worked. Why do I need to go explain these to somebody, who’s then going to go, ‘there’s nothing you can do.’”
Paul: Well that’s not the truth. The truth is that there is help. And, I would also like to say at this point that this show is not anti-meds or pro-meds. Like I said, I’m not an expert on this. I just want people to begin talking about this. I would love on the message boards, if people would starting posting about the medicines that they take. Because, I’ve had some medicines that were awful, and the side effects were terrible. I hate the fact that I have to take meds. I’ve been having to take them for eleven years now. I’ve tried to go off them a couple of times, and it’s not pretty when I go off them. I don’t trust corporations, and I don’t like having to put my life in the hands of a corporation. I hate that.
Janet: Yeah, I understand that too. The thing I was going to say about that also is it feeds back into the control feeling and that I want to feel, I was just talking about this with a girlfriend of mine, she was saying the same thing. That it’s scary to be beholden to not just a corporation, it’s sort of liberal in us to feel like there is something seriously screwed up about that, but also just you know, “Oh God, what if I just couldn’t have them any more?”
Paul: Right! I was just thinking about that today! What if there’s an earthquake!?
Janet: I want to have less and less, like if I’m on survivor. Like, whatever, you just want to need as little as possible. Like, “Oh God, I wish I didn’t need to wear contact lenses. Oh God, I wish I didn’t need to take vitamins. Oh God, I wish I didn’t need to take meds.” Whatever. It’s that feeling of… but that can also feed into the obsessive controlling part of you that’s like, “Oh no, I’m not letting anything go inside me because I need to be in charge of everything.” At some point you have to say, “I can’t do this on my own, and it’s okay.”
Paul: You know I was just talking with someone the other day about that. You know, the most important phrase, the most life affirming phrase I think I’ve ever said in my life is, “I don’t know.” Almost any time something good has come from something, it’s been because I stopped pretending that I can do it on my own, and that I ask for help. You know there’s such an energy, and I know this is not news to a lot of people, but there’s such an energy in reaching out to other people with vulnerability. Saying, “I don’t know, I’m scared, I’m frightened.” For so much of my life I couldn’t do that because I was raised in a household where nobody did that. So I didn’t have a template to see that it’s okay to ask for help. And once I started doing it, my life got so much better. I’m such a happy person now because I don’t have this illusion that I need to always know what is going on. But depression twists it, so you just don’t know what to do. Let me ask you some other questions here.
Janet: 34B. What! That took a weird turn, gross! He totally injected that…
Paul: Describe the person that you wish you could be.
Janet: Oh boy. I guess I just wish I could be less afraid… more focused…
Paul: More focused?!
Paul: Oh my God, because I look at you… Janet puts on this festival with two other friends of hers called San Francisco Sketch Fest every year that is such an undertaking. When we’re taping Dinner and a Movie, I’ll look over, and mind you, when we tape Dinner and a Movie, even though it’s a light show, it’s a busy fucking day. It’s a twelve-hour day of making the show up as we go along.
Paul: In between the takes, squeezed in between the moments of watching the movie and writing the show, she is over on her laptop, answering a hundred e-mails taking care of this festival that she does every year. In addition to opening a gallery here, doing installations, doing artwork, singing, doing shows… And you want to be more focused?
Janet: Well, because I feel like I love all of those things so much, that I can’t ever get down deep into any of them.
Paul: Do you feel that you’re successful?
Janet: I feel that I’m successful. I just had this experience. You caught me on the night after the night that I had this amazing beautiful moment as I was falling asleep. Which I will share with the listener, because heavens knows that I’ve had plenty of nights where I haven’t been able to fall asleep because I’ve been so miserable for real or not real reasons my whole life. I just had this kind of moment where all of a sudden, I was sort of lamenting something that hadn’t worked out. Not a huge thing, but the things that get under your skin on a day by day basis. And all of a sudden out of nowhere, without me really asking for it, or necessarily deciding to have a change in my point of view, it really did feel like something just washed over me. I can’t explain from where, I’m not a hugely spiritual person. I guess I am, but I’m not… I don’t necessarily believe someone’s watching me at all times and feeding me ideas or deciding what I think.
Paul: But you’re a seeking person, and I think that’s ultimately what spirituality is all about is seeking something outside of us instead of looking inside.
Janet: Then a hundred percent I’m super spiritual.
Paul: Let’s not, I wouldn’t say super spiritual.
Janet: I’m going to sing a spiritual, to let you know how spiritual I am. I basically— ahh gosh, I love apologizing and I love qualifying everything I say—
Paul: Well you’re on the right show!
Janet: I just all of a sudden out of nowhere, this sentence just popped into my head, and it was literally like this: Oh my God, I’m one of the lucky ones!
Janet: I was like [gasp], “Oh my gosh! Things always work out okay for me.” I mean that doesn’t mean that every dream comes true and every fantasy, or anything like that, but all of a sudden I thought, you know what, the things I’ve wanted have been maybe more humble than they could have been, or continue to be less ambitious than they could be. Whatever my value system is or wherever my ambitions take me the kind of way I go about getting stuff, maybe isn’t really, really driven. I don’t think of myself as like the, “I’m going to get to the top! I decided I wanted to be in show business and I didn’t rest until that happened.” Like I sort of feel like I stumbled into all this kind of stuff.
Paul: But don’t you think that’s the best way to get into it? Because most of the people I know who are driven and single minded have such a lack of balance in their lives, they may have success, but they’re never able to be still and be present.
Janet: And there’s too much unpleasantness that’s just waiting to be discovered and turned over by you if you’re obsessive about show business. There’s no way to be obsessive about it without letting it just hurt you again.
Paul: Right, because everything is looked at as an angle. “This could be the ticket” and those are the most draining people to be around.
Janet: That’s really destructive I think. So in terms of like, and I’m always trying to find that balance between ambition and being peaceful and in the moment, and all that kind of stuff too.
Paul: Wouldn’t it be great if there was a Chinese symbol for that balance?
Janet: And I could get a tattoo on my lower back? How dare you, how dare you! So anyway… I’ve just been really… for as much as I have had my issues with all the kind of mental stuff I’ve gone through, and all that. I just thought, it was just that moment of clarity where you’re like, “I’m so lucky!”
Paul: That is such a gift.
Janet: I have love, and I give love, and I could be doing something entirely other than what I’m doing now for a living and still be the same person I am. And to have that knowledge, and feel like at any moment you’re not defined by your stuff, or your job, or… hopefully you’re defined partially by your friends and your family because you’re making good choices. To feel like… I just felt really peaceful and I felt so grateful. And then, when that happens, you know, as you get older, I think you realize, “God it feels so much better to feel like that than it does to feel…” not to say you can talk your self out of it. If you’re clinically depressed, that doesn’t mean—
Paul: you can talk yourself out of it.
Janet: The secret, the secret. Just the secretity about it. If you’re depressed it’s because you’re drawing bad secretive energy to you. No.
Paul: I think it’s got to be sort of a two-pronged attack on dealing with your depression. Actually, I believe it’s a three-pronged attack. I believe you have to treat it physically, you have to treat it mentally, you know, by going to therapy. And then, I think you have to treat it spiritually. Ultimately, I think if you don’t have a spiritual life, you’re all about self, and it’s a dead end.
Janet: That’s funny because I... I’m promoting a book that hasn’t been published yet, but Chris Hardwick, my partner, is a very highly sensitive person as well. He and I… I’ve never been with somebody more like me than he is. That has its ups and its downs, but I’m so blessed to have him as my love, and he’s writing a book. What you just said is very similar to sort of his perspective on the nerd brain, which is this sort of really sensitive, really smart person who is trying to navigate through really confusing environments, and that you can’t just be in your head all the time. You have to treat your body right, and you have to meditate… And I’m so excited to read the book because I feel like it’s going to speak to a lot of that in a very funny charming way. So he’ll have to do the show as well.
Paul: Chris is a very, very funny comedian, really talented guy and his podcast The Nerdist is very very successful. You know what, fuck him!
Janet: Yeah, I don’t know why… he doesn’t need the promotion, screw that guy!
Paul: Yeah! You know what I realized right now, I’m sick of his bullshit.
Janet: I’m sick of him striking out and making a great life for himself.
Paul: Yeah, what about me? Does he have a title for the book yet?
Janet: The Nerdist Way.
Paul: The Nerdist Way, that’s awesome.
Janet: God, if I’m wrong about that, I deserve to be broken up with.
Paul: That’s alright. You have boundary issues; I know that about you. I recognize them in myself as well, most people pleasers do… Oh, you want to go pee?
Janet: Can I urinate?
Paul: I love that you made little legs moving, like I thought you were going to pee right here. “Gotta let Paul know I’m going go somewhere to pee.” Yes, well we’re going to take a break, and Janet’s gonna take a big fizzy pee.
Paul: Alright Janet is back, and she’s a little bit—you’re looking a little livelier. A little lighter.
Janet: Thank you. That was weighing me down.
Paul: I just noticed the time, and we’re getting to the end, so I just have one or two more things that I wanted to ask you. I heard somebody say one time that our coping mechanisms as children became our character defects as adults. What, if any, do you think you have, that started as coping mechanisms. That you still find yourself doing in kind of—
Janet: Gosh I can’t believe I’ve been in therapy this many years and no ones ever put it to me that way. I feel like I should go, “Oh listen! I’ve looked into that in depth.” But that’s a really specific way of putting it. I mean my initial impulse to answer is so basic, and probably so true to any kid. I mean, I had the coping mechanism of over eating sugar to feel better—
Janet: and that’s still what I want to do. I was just joking about this with somebody else who has a terrible sweet tooth. That we’re closer to our inner child because we still go for the actual, versus someone who smokes, or does heroin, or does blow, or drinks. You still just really want candy! We just stayed close to home, and we still just want the sugar. You found the “grown up stuff”, but we still just want to eat, you know, 15 Snickers bars and then feel immediately depressed after the sugar high goes down. But, in terms of other coping mechanisms and character defects, I mean for sure being afraid of confrontation—
Paul: People pleasing.
Janet: and people pleasing. You know, just apologizing.
Paul: Oh my god, when you order a drink, sometimes I want to slap you. Because you are so effusive to the person who brings it. You act as if they’re volunteers bringing the drink.
Janet: You know what, I’m going to say something to you about that, which is, that is not about the people pleasing, I really like people. So I think, you have to—
Paul: Am I reading too much into it?
Janet: You’re reading too much into it. I sincerely, and you have to think, I worked in retail for so long—
Paul: I was a waiter, so I know—
Janet: Yeah, but you were just kind of a jerk. I really like people. I’m not nice to people to horrible people.
Paul: I’m not saying… you’re not. It’s just the level of sweetness, for somebody dropping water by the table, always strikes me as—
Janet: I just feel like if, especially—and I see this in my mom. My mom’s the same way. It’s the little connections with people. I just feel like, what does it cost me? It’s not a decision I make in my head.
Janet: I don’t go, “Oh here comes a person with water, I’m going to be very fake and nice to them.” That’s just me.
Paul: I don’t think you’re being—
Janet: I don’t know, I just feel like, “Hey you’re a person, I’m a person, thank you.” I don’t know, I don’t know. So I’m actually have to take offense to that. Fuck you.
Paul: Good for you! Good for you for setting a boundary with an asshole podcast host who is just fumbling his way through his first show. I was talking with somebody the other day about addiction. You know, you’re talking about the sugar thing, how you eat it and it makes you feel good for a second, and then it makes you feel terrible. And as you’re walking to that bag of candy, you’re thinking to yourself, “yes, I know exactly what’s going to happen.” But you do it anyway and we think, the lie is that, you know this is a naughty treat that’s ultimately is really good for me.
Janet: Well, like what you were saying about being selfish in the right times and wrong times. Like long term versus short term. The thing is, depending on what your relationship is to something, you know, if you’re in a good, healthy place and you decide that you’re going to binge on a bag of candy, then you won’t feel bad afterwards. But, you made the agreement with yourself, what I’m really doing is abusing myself. Because ultimately, the good feeling will be followed by the bad feeling. And the bad feeling is probably what I’m chasing more than anything.
Paul: Yes, because it’s familiar.
Paul: And I think sometimes what we fear, the reason why we do things that are familiar to us that are self-destructive, is because at least we know what we’re going to get.
Janet: Oh yeah.
Paul: Because the fear of the unknown, especially for the depressed person—
Janet: Especially for the anxious person too.
Paul: is the most frightening, so let’s get it over with. Let’s do that thing. And even deeper than that, I think, is the lie that gives us the anxiety. That lie is we’re not doing enough, we don’t have enough, and we’re not enough. And somebody recommended that every morning I say that to myself, and I started doing it a couple months ago, and it seems really cheesy, but it has really been life affirming to say that. I have to say that I’m beginning to now feel that way. I begin to notice situations where I’ll begin to feel a sense of panic where “I’m not enough here.” I’m in a room of comedians more successful than I am, and all of a sudden I’ll find myself trying to make myself seem like I got more going on, and I’ll stop myself and go, “No, you’re enough. You don’t need to do that.”
Janet: I love that. When you told me that manta, which is, you basically say, I mean, there are a couple of other pieces to it, but the part that really did affect me was this idea of saying, “I have enough, I do enough, I am enough, and I love myself.” And you and I are two of the most cynical, and we can be the biggest jackass jerks—
Paul: And you started crying.
Janet: and yet we’re both just super gummy on the inside. Because when I think about that, and the day you told me that I started—I don’t do it as a mantra every morning, but the same thing, when I feel myself kind of spiraling, when I feel myself spiraling and you say that, it really snaps you back to attention quickly.
Paul: It does, it does. I should say, I don’t say it, I have my maid tell me. On that note, I want to thank you so much for letting me come here and interview you. You know how much I love you, I don’t need to go into that.
Janet: Oh my gosh, I am so incredibly honored that I got to be the first guest. It’s only going to go better from here.
Paul: Oh my God, what a perfect self-sabotaging note to end this on. This has been a lot of fun. If you’re out there and you’re listening, and you think you might be suffering from depression. I don’t necessarily have any answers, but what I do know is there is a lot of people just like you. Go to mentalpod.com, that’s the website for this.
Janet: And on your website, if somebody has a specific question for me, I’ll you know, I’m sure Paul will pass it along.
Paul: Or you can go to janetvarney.com and ask her a question. But just know that there are answers out there, and there are other people that feel just like you do, and you are not alone. So, thank you for listening, and see you next time.
Janet: Thanks for listening. Thanks Paul!