with Paul Gilmartin, podcaster and comedian
Following a sixteen-year stint at TBS’s Dinner and a Movie TV show, stand-up comedian Paul Gilmartin dedicated his time to hosting his podcast, The Mental Illness Happy Hour. After his personal struggles with recurring depression, Paul decided to start his podcast as a means to more openly discuss the issues surrounding mental illness in a unique, personal, and sometimes darkly comedic way. Paul shares how he has sought to combat some of the shame associated with mental illnesses, alongside his own personal story of transitioning from TV to podcasting and facing life’s “awfulsome” moments.
Paul is the host of The Metal Illness Happy Hour podcast
For sixteen years until 2011, Paul co-hosted TBS’s Dinner and a Movie
In 1999, Paul found out he had clinical depression. A few years later, he realized he had alcoholism; he’s been sober since 2003.
Paul started his podcast, which focuses on the discussion of addition, depression, and other mental illnesses, in 2011
Storytelling and Stigma:
Eric: What I think we connect with as individuals, no matter what our training is, are stories.
When Paul first began to attend alcoholism support group meetings, it was the stories told that were his favorite part.
The stories provided him with useful information he needed to live his life, but not in a way that felt like work.
If Paul could replicate the experience and utility of those stories through his podcast, he thought, he could provide an easier starting point for having the tough discussions associated with mental illnesses.
People don’t often talk about the problems. That secrecy can grow the sense of shame and the social stigma against these illnesses and disorders.
Eric: Some research has shown that when discussing mental illness, stigma about the topic will initially increase before later decreasing.
The Mental Illness Happy Hour:
Following a time when Paul had stopped taking his medication and had become suicidal, he realized that, without him noticing, his depression had returned.
Paul reasoned that if, after therapy, psychiatry, medication, and support groups, he was still able to be caught off guard by his depression, others without the same level of support and aid could be in even more trouble.
Seeking to better inform others through changing the way mental illness was being discussed, Paul decided upon the podcast medium because of the lack of time and content constraints, both of which would have come into play if he were speaking on regular broadcast radio.
Paul: We need to talk about mental illness the way my friends and I talk about it in support groups, which is with dark inappropriate jokes, sometimes going from laughter to tears in the span of three minutes.
To heal, a person has to first feel moved. The podcast is more effective in moving people emotionally because of how it isn’t beholden as much to authority; he admits that he doesn’t have it all figured out.
Surveys are occasionally provided to Paul’s online community in order to gauge their thoughts and feelings regarding mental illness. The responses people share have been both comforting and saddening.
Paul: “It’s been like going to graduate school for being human.”
Paul recommends episode 144 with guest Andrew Donnelly, who talks about having ADHD and how difficult it made for him to be a present parent, handle schoolwork, deal with panic attacks, etc.
Shame, Secrets, and Surveys:
One of the surveys Paul sends out to his community is entitled “Shame and Secrets”.
The survey asks questions like: In what kind of environment were you raised? What are the darkest things you’ve ever done, or have had done to you? Have you ever shared this with anybody? What do you wish for? Have you ever been the victim of sexual abuse?
That so many people responded to the sexual abuse question with an uncertain answer was one of the most eye-opening moments Paul experienced.
“Our brain has a way of minimizing trauma so that the world doesn’t seem as scary to us.”
Paul also noticed how many people would “play Monday morning quarterback” with the thoughts over their trauma – over-thinking and re-thinking the traumatic situation.
“There seems to be a battle in people’s heads to not let it go, to want to somehow go back and fix it.”
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR):
EMDR is a type of psychotherapy oriented around eye movement and processing traumatic memories.
Paul had been discomforted about the way his mother used to look at, act around, and touch him (“emotional incest”). Following EMDR treatment, the rage he had previously felt was noticeably diminished.
Alternative forms of EMDR, such as one involving holding paddles that vibrate in specific patterns, have even helped Paul relieve tension in his back to a point where he then slept for more time than he’d ever before.
Although individuals have had varying experiences, positive and negative depending on different variables, with EMDR, it has worked well for Paul.
Labels and Perfection:
Eric says he has an “allergy” to paperwork; he will sometimes feel tremendous physical and mental anxiety when having to deal with paperwork. He wonders if his feelings of shame over past experiences messing up administrative tasks have built into an actual trauma regarding paperwork.
It was useful for Paul to abandon some of his internal labels for his experiences and their effects on his life. By allowing himself to think of his experiences under different and more expressive names, he was able to begin progressing toward processing his thoughts and feelings.
While it can be important to have a label for a problem in order for some to feel as if there’s a reason for their feelings and behaviors, ultimately the it’s what one does with that knowledge that matters.
Both Eric and Paul used to worry about making mistakes and not being perfect on their podcasts.
When listeners gave them feedback that many of them preferred to see a more human presentation with more flaws, it was freeing.
Paul: “One of the most insidious things we can have in being human is thinking that we have to be perfect to be loved.”
Eric used to spend upwards of ten hours attempting to perfect minute details in his podcast recordings.
Brené Brown, in her Power of Vulnerability presentation, mentions how we, as a culture, tend to view our sense of productivity as a measure of self-worth.
Paul mentions how being a part of support groups has given him a feeling of self-worth and fulfillment separate from his professional career.
Transitioning from TV to Podcast and More:
In 2011, during the final six to nine months of his job as a host of the TBS TV show Dinner and a Movie, Paul began his podcast.
Initially, he started the podcast with the goal of filling the void he saw for discussions about mental illness.
The largest change for Paul was in the lack of a regular paycheck.
“Paul I don’t do it for the money, I do it because I enjoy it and it brings a lot of meaning to my life.”
Though Paul generally enjoys improvisation and creativity, the stress and burden of having to perform improvisational comedy in front of the camera had begun to wear him down.
With his podcast, Paul is very creatively satisfied.
Having also performed stand-up comedy, now Paul ends up saying all of what he would want to say via the podcast instead.
“At a certain point, you grow. And I just kind of grew in a different direction where what I wanted [and] the way I wanted to express myself, the comedy club was no longer a venue for that.”
Purpose and Life:
Paul was invited to talk at Johns Hopkins University, which he calls “fulfilling on so many levels.”
Paul: “It just made me feel like what I’d been through as a kid was not a waste.”
Eric mentions how the experience of witnessing his father endure a brain injury and its effects on his life had helped shape who Eric is today though self-awareness and acceptance.
“There is beauty in everything.”
Paul mentions a time at which he had been sober for about two years when he broke his ankle. His ankle had painful pins in it, he caught a stomach flu, had a 104 deg. Fever, and then received a phone call to inform him that his dad had died.
In that moment, Paul’s mind went to a place of realization that he would get through the challenging times, that his life wasn’t over, and that these events were simply a part of life. Afterward, he felt peace and serenity, then making the decision to look for the beauty in all things.
As Paul’s listeners and guests would share information with him on his podcast, they would tell of situations that were particularly horrible at the time. Looking back at those situations, sometimes they would seem sickly funny in their awfulness.
These situations would be both awesome and awful at the same time, so they coined the term “awfulsome” to describe them.
Paul even has surveyed people to ask for accounts of awfulsome moments.
Example: One listener told a story of a man in the psyche ward who would belligerently complain about receiving pudding from the staff, only to quiet down when they brought him butterscotch-flavored pudding, thinking that yelling and threatening the staff was the only way to get it.
Random Question Round:
If you could invent or improve upon an existing invention, what would it be?
What would you name your invention?
Do you prefer to have marshmallows or no marshmallows in your “sugar cereals”.
What is the best cookie of all time?
If you were to start another podcast, what would it be called?
In 1985 did you play Nintendo games?
What was your favorite game?
Do you remember the path to easily skip to the final level?
Contact Paul Gilmartin:
Products, Services, and Other Links:
The Mental Illness Happy Hour episode 85: Coping & Trauma with Brenda Feehery
The Mental Illness Happy Hour episode 155: Andrew Donnelly
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(CHADD does not endorse this podcast)