It’s #PodcastDay in the Twitterverse! I decided to force myself out of my self-imposed anxiety-fueled hiatus from blogging to spread the word about one of my favorite podcasts, The Mental Illness Happy Hour with host, Paul Gilmartin.
I found this podcast in a fit of desperation about a year and a half ago. I had just started a new job and simultaneously started therapy after realizing that the new job didn’t immediately rocket me into a state of total joy and zest for life. I was searching the iTunes store for answers. I had downloaded some meditation type apps and needed something new to fill my ears with to avoid my constant anxiety. My usual news podcasts felt overwhelming and my comedy podcasts felt insulting in my state of depression.
On first listen I was a little confused. First, this guy was supposed to be a comedian but there was an equal amount of self-protective snark and heart-wrenching vulnerability in his opening monologues. A handful of guests were people I knew but some interviews were just normal people I didn’t know or care about.
The weird thing was, after a couple listens, I did care. Once I zipped through the Chris Hardwick and Maria Bamford episodes I started getting into some of the names I wasn’t familiar with. Everyone knows comedians are traditionally a neurotic, addicted, and depressed bunch; but what about the rest of us? I heard stories from sex workers, police officers, people raised under strict religions, poor people, rich people, gay people, trans people…some stories were graphic and profoundly sad, some stuck with me for weeks, some made me feel better about my situation, some just made me sad for the state of the world. But that was the point. I was actually feeling something other than anxiety or total apathy. I felt comfort in knowing I was not alone.
The Mental Illness Happy Hour chronicles the emotional lives of people; that’s it. No pretense, no promos, and no preaching. Paul can bring out the knife and help his guests pull the guts from their pasts because he’s already made peace his own icky center. He’s not a guru or a self-help expert and doesn’t pretend to be. I can’t say I always agree with his opinions; sometimes his thoughts on spirituality can turn me off a little (what about even the word spirituality doesn’t rub an atheist the wrong way?) but what I appreciate most about Paul is his message of acceptance. If you can be a little more at peace with your own flaws it’s a lot easier to remember that other people’s opinions and behaviors really don’t have to dig into the core of your soul and annoy you for the rest of the day…or life. If the show has taught me anything it’s that we’re all dealing with something and just doing the best we can.
Maybe it sounds too Oprah-eqsue but this podcast has done a lot to improve the quality of my life. By hearing Paul connect with others it made me realize that I wanted the same. So I started to inch a little further out of my comfort zone. At first when Paul would harp about support groups I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. I never saw myself as a “group person.” But now this week I’ll be going to my third meetup for social anxiety and while the group hasn’t fostered any friendships for me (I’m exploring other avenues for that) it makes me feel confident that I’m being proactive about my issues. Just knowing there are even a handful of other people that can nod in agreement with my stories that I thought were so personal and pathetically unique to me has made a big difference in my self image. I’m worth doing the work to get better, just like they are.
On Sunday I made the trip out to The Bell House in Brooklyn to see Paul tape a live episode with the lovely Lane Moore. I met up with a few listeners I spoke with via the podcast’s forum before the show and my general sense of anxiety around socializing seemed to dissipate a little more quickly than usual. We had gotten the biggest issues out of the way without having to say anything. We all genuinely enjoyed a podcast about mental illness enough to get out of our – bipolar/anxious/depression/PTSD/whatever else – diagnosed isolation to show up, have a drink, and say hello. It just felt right.
To anyone else struggling, apathetic, worried, bored, or all of the above you can listen to The Mental Illness Happy Hour via the show page or subscribe on iTunes. The search function on the site is great for new listeners that want to find episodes specific to what ails ya.
A Few Favorites:
Episode 23 – Listener Katie P.
Episode 73 – Listener Derrick Jackson
Episode 178 – Anna Akana
Episode 230 – Raised in Scientology: Derek Bloch
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