Episode 14: Paige Fockler

Paige Fockler is a performer and podcaster who lives with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. She is the host of Greetings From Depression, a podcast in which she interviews individuals who live with mental illness, and aims to create an environment in which discussions about mental health are acceptable, productive, and completely de-stigmatized. In this episode, she talks about her personal struggles, distinguishes between bipolar I and II, and tells us what being an “oversharer” means to her; the fear of not being believed by health professionals, shame, and making it OK.

Key links mentioned in this episode:

Paige Fockler

Greetings From Depression

@greetingsfromdepression

The Hilarious World of Depression

Robin Williams’ Suicide

Anthony Bourdain’s Suicide

TED Talks

MoodNotes

TalkSpace

Stigma

Grey’s Anatomy

MakeItOK.org

Steel Magnolias

Beaches

Join us as Paige shares…

  • when she first noticed she was experiencing manic episodes
  • how her family (and her mom, in particular) is her main support system
  • that the boundaries of her relationship with her empathetic health advocate (her mom) can be blurry; as such, she doesn’t always share everything with her
  • that she wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar II until she was in her 30s; but she was diagnosed with general depression in her late teen years
  • the relief that comes along with diagnosis
  • that she has to be physical to cope with her symptoms in order to avoid her condition manifesting in anxiety
  • the generational role the Internet has played in her diagnosis and treatment, particularly in the way it has enabled her to do research on her condition
  • that her anxiety in healthcare stems from a fear that practitioners will not believe her
  • the stigma associated with conversations about mental health
  • the role gender – and gender roles – plays in her emotional experiences, and the lack of shame she’s always felt about sharing
  • the accommodations she’s made for herself in professional environments
  • the greatest bugbear of mental illness: when people’s reactions are to feel “sorry” for her or to judge
  • why she’s an “oversharer” – because she doesn’t want to be alone
  • that she needs structure to cope with symptoms
  • the importance of empathy
  • that she had to learn the difference between “sharing” and “oversharing”
  • how comedy is a natural outlet for her
  • why she doesn’t have a definitive opinion of suicide
  • how journaling has helped her
  • that her superpower is being empathetic and being able to tell if someone is depressed – almost instantly
  • that it’s important we understand how others cope, and support them – and that we remove stigma and normalize these support behaviors
  • support apps she recommends: MoodNotes, TalkSpace, and Stigma
  • how she manages shopping addiction, and when she realized it was a trigger for manic episodes

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Paige Fockler

Daryl Jim Photography

Lauren: All right guys, thanks for joining us today. I’m here with Paige FocklerShe is a performer and a podcaster based in Los Angeles. Her podcast is called Greetings from Depression, which you can find on the iTunes Store and on Insta @greetingsfromdepression, and she lives with bipolar disorder. Paige, thanks for coming on and joining us.

Paige: Thank you for having me. I am so excited!

Lauren: So am I! So tell us – when and how did you first realize that you had bipolar going on?

Paige: Well, I was diagnosed with just general depression when I was about 18, 19 years old. The timeline’s a little fuzzy; I think it was out of high school.

And not until, I guess, almost two years ago did I realize I was having manic episodes … things that you think are normal, parts of your personality and who you are … there seemed to be a cycle happening.

And it was this first time I could sit down and pinpoint things that were happening in a cycle. And so I ended up having a pretty big breakdown about two years ago, and went home to Texas — just like that. It was like. “Mom, Dad, I need to come home.“

Lauren: So you have a support network, that’s one of the main things.

Paige: Yes, huge. So my mom made an appointment with her psychiatrist because that is something I cannot manage to do, to make doctors’ appointments. She did it for me, she gave all the information, she took me. And I suspected, because I had done the research on it, that’s what was going to be the diagnosis. And sure enough, it was. Which was a nice thing because it was a label. I don’t need that necessarily, but I think that I need a jumping-off point. And that gave me a jumping-off point. So, you know, pretty late in the game, being 34 I think, at the time … 33  … being diagnosed specifically with bipolar. And it’s bipolar II … I think that’s important, there’s a pretty big difference.

Bipolar I is what is depicted in movies, to an extreme … there’s not a lot of movies about bipolar disorder, but that’s the extreme version where the manic episodes are manic and visible to everybody. As well as the depression episodes. Whereas, bipolar II —  it’s not as extreme, I would say.

So my manic episodes… I think I’m probably a lot of fun to be around …or not, to the point of being obnoxious … Oh, she’s just being overly happy about everything.

Everything excites me; it’s a wonderful place to live, but it’s also exhausting.

And so if I were to tell you [about the episode], you would be able to notice later. Like, ‘Oh, Paige is going through that.’  I’ve had friends that have said, ‘Okay, I’ve recognized that in moments.’ And it happens that quickly, sometimes, where it goes from great to not great — or vice versa.

Lauren: So you do go through the highs and the lows?

Paige: Yes, it was nice to have that label because I could pinpoint those moments.

I could immediately feel when things were going to shift sometimes. And there’s not a lot I can do in either instance; I just have to steer into the skid.

Lauren: When you say steer into the skid, what exactly do you mean? Do you have specific coping mechanisms that work for you?

Paige: Sort of. If I get overly excited, sometimes that’s really hard to manage. Especially if I have to concentrate on something. If I’m trying to write, and I have a plan or schedule to write … and I wake up and realize, ‘Hey, I’m in a manic episode; I’m not going to be able to do this.’ I cannot force myself to sit down. I could, but I would go crazy. So I have to go out and do things that I feel aren’t super productive in my life, as far as getting something accomplished. So I have to go spend time with my friends or go out …

I have to be physical, otherwise it manifests to a point of agitation and anxiety — which is then destructive in another way.

Lauren: So being physical actually helps you release some of the tension that’s associated with the highs?

Paige: Yes, being physical and being around other people. Unfortunately, I’m sure for other people, sometimes it’s too much and it’s exhausting. But I also have the support network that will indulge me.

Lauren: … And understand what you’re going through. It seems you’re pretty open about this with friends who get it when you’re going through it. I also can definitely relate to the whole thing of putting a label on it. I think a lot of us in the invisible illness community … for so long we go through trying to figure out what’s going on. And when you finally have someone put a name on it, immediately … I mean, I remember throwing myself a mini-party at work and going, “Yay!!” It makes all the difference.

Paige: It’s like putting glasses on, you know … it doesn’t solve the problem but it definitely aids … I guess glasses kind of solve the problem! But it’s temporary! You take your glasses off and it’s still there; you still can’t see.

Lauren: Actually, that’s a great analogy!

Paige: It’s only that you have glasses on that made me think of it!

Lauren: I am. I’m wearing my blue light blocking glasses, guys, because I have a sleep disorder. So now whenever I look at screens, I have to wear the glasses! So tell us what steps you’ve taken to control your health … because it sounds like, for somebody who’s going through the kinds of highs and lows that you’ve been going through, it sounds like you were very aware of your own psychology. So did you have a background working with psychologists and/or psychiatrists, and how did you sort of figure it out and gain that self-awareness?

Paige: I have no background in that. I took one psychology class when I was in my first year of college. And that’s it. I didn’t have a lot of interest; I was interested at the time of the class, but it wasn’t something that registered with me. I’m incredibly thankful for the Internet [being] at my disposal, and being in a generation — I’m 36 now — that also grew up without that tool, and with that tool, at a kind of integral point where it doesn’t overtake my life.

Lauren: Yeah, you’re able to disconnect from it because you didn’t have it all the time!

Paige: Right, it wasn’t in my psyche. But also, if I go back and look at how I was as a kid … I cried a lot. I cry a lot. But I would ask questions in class and I would cry, I’m sure with the anxiety of everyone’s in the arena and everyone’s listening and making me the spotlight in a way I think my body, my brain was just not interested. So I learned to stop doing that and find answers myself. I wouldn’t ask questions; I would do as much as I possibly could before I had to ask a question.

And I think that part of my personality is why I have researched so much, because, like I said, I don’t want to make doctors’ appointments. That is astronomical for me. I would rather pack up my car and drive across the country and move my life than make a doctor’s appointment. Which is crazy!

Lauren: Well, I don’t know if the word ‘crazy’ is right. I think that kind of anxiety associated with it is very easy to relate to. Because, we never go to the doctor because we’re okay, aside from our annual checkup. So the kind of anxiety that’s associated with something that you’re experiencing, that’s in your mind, I can imagine would be a lot more to deal with than just going to get your annual physical.

Paige: And it’s the fear of people not believing you. Because people don’t believe you … and general practitioners, because you have to go through that first. And then the health system is so screwed up. It was always so much, that I would rather … I was like, ‘Okay, well, let’s see what I can find out … this is how I feel.’ And my mom’s always saying, “How do you ask Google for things?” I literally just put fragments of my brain into Google and it magically appears. So, I’d always empowered myself to find my own answers. And so it aided in this situation. If I was feeling a certain way, I would just look it up. I’m not one of those people who say, ‘Oh well, I think I’m dying of cancer because I feel this.’

Lauren: You don’t go down the proverbial rabbit hole.

Paige: No, because I needed someone to shed a light about something that no one was talking about. I guess I didn’t want to ask questions in that form, because I didn’t think anybody had the answers really, because it wasn’t talked about. This was 18 years ago that I was first diagnosed, so no one was talking about it. I don’t know that I knew that my mom had depression. I’m sure she talked about it. But it wasn’t something that was in the forefront of my mind because I didn’t want to think that I had that because I also didn’t know … it was better than it was 30 years ago as far as stigma goes, but the stigma is still there today.

Lauren: Do you think your experience was also different as a female?

Paige: Maybe.

Lauren: I ask that question a lot, especially because you’ve mentioned the idea of going to the doctor’s and people not believing in you. I think women have more trouble with that one than men do. But I’m always interested to see what people’s experiences are in the diagnosis process.

Paige: I love that you asked that question. Because sometimes … I don’t necessarily feel like a ‘bad female’, but I was raised with a bunch of boys.  I have an older brother and three cousins that are boys, so it was just me for a long time — until eight years, and then there was another girl in the family. I don’t know if that had something to do with the way I felt about being a female, but I wanted to be tough enough to be with the boys. And I had a lot of guy friends, even in middle school, and I wanted to be tough and not be seen as weak. And I think that plays into a lot of it in that I wanted to always be able to hang with the boys.

And the crying was a big problem because I couldn’t control it, and I would get ridiculed for it — until I learned how to just step in front of that. Even at work … I worked for a company in New York for a long time and I had to go and be, like, “All right, I’m really upset about something. I’m going to cry when I talk about it, so let’s just let that go.” Because guys don’t know how to deal with tears if a woman comes in hysterically crying.

Lauren: And also in the professional environment … and they were okay with it?

Paige: We’ll say they were okay with it! (laughs) I don’t remember them being particularly awful; that’s never been my experience. The deer in headlights look! But when it first started happening, I was still pretty young — I was in my early 20s, and before I could find a voice to stick up for myself. I also worked in restaurants and that’s definitely a man’s world, too, and having to deal with a lot of “female” issues; I had to learn how to be tough really fast. I have a hard time associating myself with any kind of “female sympathy”, if that makes sense. Not that I don’t feel sorry for – sympathy or empathy for – other females when they’re going through things … it’s just never one of those things that I think of.

Lauren: But that’s good because you’re not thinking about something from the position of gender. It hasn’t affected your treatment, and your recovery, and everything you’ve been through — aside from, perhaps, some of the anxiety and the stigma that you placed on yourself. Which is really interesting and very telling, I think. You mentioned that you went home to your family when you realized that stuff was going on at first. So can you tell us a bit about the journey to seeking help? Obviously, you went to your family because you needed an advocate. And you did say that you learned to stick up for yourself as well. So what’s the process been like, learning to be your own advocate and also having the support network you have?

Paige: Like I said, my mother has depression. She has been my number one advocate, my number one support. My father, too, but it’s different when someone deals with it and when someone doesn’t — and my father doesn’t, that I know of. He’s fairly private.

So in the home, it was easy to talk about it.  I say ‘easy’ — that’s my memory of it. I’m sure, at the beginning, it was not.

Lauren: Well, you always knew your mom had depression, so that was obviously discussed?

Paige: Right. Once I found that out. And she was always very open to talking about it and talking about feelings.  And in the home it felt very normal.

So I would go out in the world and also talk about it. And I felt okay about that.

Lauren: Good job, mom!

Paige: But …

… I would start to get these looks, and people’s responses of, “Oh you don’t have depression. You’re too happy.” Or, “Oh I’m so sorry.”  And I didn’t want anyone’s sympathy. I wanted their understanding, and for them to be empathetic. I wanted them to go, “Okay,” and let’s move on with it. I didn’t want it to be a debate. I can have a discussion, but I don’t want to have a debate about whether or not you think that I have this illness.

Lauren: And why should there be a stigma that someone should feel sorry for me because of it? Because I can still live my life.

Paige: Exactly. So I learned …

… I think I probably told everybody … “I have depression!” … until I was getting backlash from it. And I realized, ‘Oh no, I can’t tell everyone, because I can’t control their reaction to it.’ And in turn that was hurting me because I was feeling like I was getting judgment.

And so I kind of quieted down for a while. And then, I don’t know what happened. I was open with my friends. I think it was the timeline of life, when people were starting to talk about it openly and in the media, and the stigma was trying to be erased. It was just one of those timings.

This is so silly, but I wish that I was a teenager now to deal with this because it is so open. I didn’t have the language back then that I have now.

Lauren: And there are so many support organizations now.

Paige: It’s hindsight, 20/20. But it also just happened to be a timing issue and, I think, a personality issue … I was open in general and more than happy, being raised with boys and being open about a lot of taboo subjects, to go into the office, with a bunch of men, and be, like, “Hey man, I’m on my period, I got cramps, so leave me alone.”  And all the boys are, like, “You’re so gross!” And I was, like, “First of all, it’s not gross.”

Lauren: (laughs) It’s not! They’re gross for saying that … nope!

Paige: Just not being ashamed to be as open with things that most females specifically are ashamed about. And I think that was helpful. So I think it was just lucky in the time frame of when I was discovering, and that I did have so much anxiety that I had to find answers for myself.

Lauren: And no wonder you started a podcast about this!

Paige: Yeah! I was, like, ‘I just want to talk about this.’ And so many people were, like, “Okay!  We get it! You have depression. We accept it. Move on.”

Lauren: The number of people, though, who are out there on their own, who don’t necessarily have support, who just need to hear stories and know that it’s okay. That’s where it makes a real difference, that openness.

Paige: I have a friend who said, “I don’t understand why you need to talk about it all the time.”  Who also suffers from depression. And I was, like, “I don’t know. I don’t want to be alone?”  It took me a long time to understand why I want to talk about it, too, until you talk and talk and talk. And then you’re, like, ‘Okay, this is why.’  And it’s because I listen … The Hilarious World of Depression is one of my favorite podcasts. And it was so nice, because I got to listen to these other people.

I think it’s also super important when someone is successful, to talk about it. Especially in my field, wanting to be an actor, which is also already a very difficult road to go down, and to think I have to deal with the depression and having to deal with this whole other nonsense. That’s chaos; there’s no structure about it. And that is something that I need. I need some kind of structure.

And so, listening to these other people that went through the same thing, or something similar, it was so nice to listen to somebody else’s story that I could relate to.

And that’s why I talk about it — so I’m not alone. So other people are not alone.

And I think that’s super important.

Lauren: And in terms of your relationship, particularly with your mom who’s been your person, how has that impacted your relationship? Has it changed anything?

Paige: I don’t know. I’m sure it has.

Having depression, I don’t think that necessarily makes you empathetic. But I think that it’s a huge thing being an empathetic person.

It’s also very difficult because my mom shares with me; we’re friends, she’s not just my mom. And so when she’s going through something, I take that in. And sometimes that’s really difficult, and vice versa for her; she’s empathetic, and I can feel it and hear it when I’m sad. So, it leads to me not always divulging how I feel.

Lauren: Which I think is a healthy boundary in certain circumstances.

Paige: I agree. And that is something I just recently realized. Because I over share … the cashier at the grocery store will know way too much about my day. I’m sure they’re like, ‘Good God, this person’s a lot.’

Lauren: Well, don’t ask, “How are you?” if you want a real answer! (laughs)

Paige: (laughs) I’m sure sometimes they don’t ask and I just say it anyway. But it’s something my mom did. But it was something I realized in the past few months: ‘Oh, you don’t have to say how you feel 100% of the time; that’s okay’.

Because it’s not going to make me feel better necessarily to vent. I think that we misconstrue what venting is, because I’m having to re-live what I’m going through. And if it’s something that I don’t feel is impactful or significant in my my day-to-day or my overall brain health, I don’t need to talk about it.

Lauren: Because also sometimes talking about it makes you re-live it. So it’s like the trauma gets repeated that way, so you have to know why you’re saying it when you do.

Paige: Right … is this going to make me feel better? Yesterday, there was something that irritated me; I was rearing to tell somebody. And I was, like, why? And I had to really boil it down and ask myself, ‘Is this important enough to talk about to somebody else? No. Do I need to divulge everything? No, I don’t.’ At 36, it feels so weird to understand that just now. I’m the person that, if you’re my friend, I ask, “What did you do today?” And they say, “Oh well, we had breakfast …. ”  And I’m, like, “Cool! What did you have?” I want to know those things. Because I’m going to tell you all those things.

Over sharing was not the vocabulary I would use; I would say, “No, I’m just sharing.” And then I’d realize, ‘Oh, other people are not sharing?’ And the same thing with telling everyone I knew that I had depression; it’s not necessary. It’s not gonna make me feel better; it’s not going to make them feel better.  Is it the right instance to be doing that, you know? Did someone just come up to me and say, “Hey, how are you today?” “Oh, I’m depressed.”  Is that me being open? Or is that me saying too much?

I hate to use the word ‘burden’ — but burdening someone else?

Lauren: Or blocking the path to your relationship with them?

Paige: Right, exactly. I think for a long time I also used it as a defense mechanism. Just like with comedy … “Here, here’s my stuff. So I’m going to protect myself by telling you everything that’s going on with me, and then you can’t find anything out.” So I was controlling the situation.

Paige Fockler

Daryl Jim Photography

Lauren: But you’ve got to be in good company being in comedy too, though … because we hear the statistics all the time about how many comics are actually suffering from depression, right? And it is a coping mechanism for so many people.

Paige: It’s huge. It’s interesting … when Robin Williams passed away, that was particularly hard. And I just remember the backlash. There’s always a lot of backlash when a celebrity commits suicide; everyone has thoughts and opinions. Like I was saying, my friend that didn’t understand the need to talk about depression … his whole thing was, if Robin Williams had talked about it, he would have been seen [himself] in a different light. And I was like, “Yeah, sure, he probably would have. And he probably could  have helped a lot of people if he had talked about it.” Not to put any kind of blame on Robin Williams; that [was] his journey and his decision. But don’t you think that someone with that kind of, for lack of a better word, ‘power’ to touch so many people … it was so endearing. There’s a reason that he was able to touch so many people, because he had great empathy from his depression, because he knew. That’s obviously me speculating on his life — but that’s what I get from someone like that.

Lauren: Also when he committed suicide, he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. So it was like both things at once, which I imagine would not have been easy — particularly when you’re a physical comedian.

Paige: I don’t know that I have a definitive opinion on suicide. Obviously, it’s a really tough thing. But as I’ve said before, I’ve talked to people who have attempted it and it didn’t work … with Anthony Bourdain and Robin Williams, because they were a certain age, and because I have to deal with this every single day … if I’m 60 years old … yes, sure, that’s young by today’s standards …

Lauren: But you’d be exhausted, wouldn’t you?

Paige: At some point, I’m done. And I’m exhausted. And I tried. I tried for 60 years. And not only did I try, I succeeded and succeeded – and it’s exhausting, and I’m tired. Specifically in their instances, they both had done so much outwardly and for the world and for themselves. And it’s unfortunate that there’s a family left behind. But you know, my counterpoint is: What good am I going to do if I’m depressed every day, and if I am living for someone else solely? I can only imagine … I can’t be there for a child 100% if I can barely get out of bed. And then all of a sudden I’ve impacted my child … great, I stayed alive and I’m 80 and my child remembers, day after day, ‘Oh, well, Mom couldn’t get out of bed.’ Or your significant other/partner couldn’t get out of bed. I guess I’m saying that I understand.

Lauren: Yeah, which is not to say that you’re endorsing suicide, either.

Paige: I think if you’re younger, it’s a little bit different. You don’t have the vocabulary, you don’t have the experience. I know it hurts, especially in adolescence. Depression coupled with adolescence is so much!

Lauren: That’s the most exhausting, probably.

Paige: Yeah …

… if you could just get through, at least till you’re 20, and you’ll see, it does get better. If you accept it.

Lauren: Yeah. And certainly you’re going to learn coping mechanisms along the way, and possibly be medicated, depending on your condition. And all of these things can certainly ease the personal burden. And a lot of people end up hitting 60 and being even better by then.

Paige: Exactly. I mean, everybody’s so different. Because it’s such a spectrum. Everybody is under this umbrella, but the spectrum is wide and varied.

Lauren: So, you’ve talked to us a little bit about being at work with depression, and talking to your co-workers. How do you balance the demands of work and life, when you never know when an episode is going to crop up?

Paige: It’s easier now, especially being in the place that I’m in, that is so open and everybody at work knows about what I deal with – on a surface level – for the most part. You know, if I’m at work, it doesn’t always lend itself to have a deep conversation about my psyche!

Lauren:(laughs) Maybe in the HR department!

Paige: But it’s difficult, especially since I have been in customer service my entire life.

Lauren: Which is a lot!

Paige: It’s a lot to begin with, for any human being. There are times I’ve cried at tables, when I was waiting tables.

Lauren: Because people are demanding and mean!

Paige: They’re demanding and mean, and …

… being a female having men tell me to smile … I was like, ‘Man, you just have no idea. You don’t know what I’m going through and you don’t know how much it took for me to get here today.’

I’d always pride myself on having a great work ethic. So calling out was not a thing that I did; I got my shift covered, or I came into work and got sent home. I don’t know that I’m good at balancing it, because I don’t know when it’s going to happen.

It’s great when it’s manic, because I can physically function. And then there are other days that I have to talk myself through every almost every single moment.

I work in an ice cream shop right now…

Lauren: Well, that’s a happy place!

Paige: Yeah, it’s a happy place and that makes it even worse, to come in there and feel the impending doom. ‘You don’t have to sit there every single second and be excited about what you’re doing. But let’s just, for the sake of your sanity and your brain, for this moment – we’re going to smile.’ I think when people are, like, “When you’re smiling, you’ll feel better” … and that is true. But I think people think it’s gonna fix …

Lauren: It’s not necessarily a fix, yeah …

Paige: It is a fix for that second, and so if I can keep doing it for the four hours I’m there, then we can get through it and we can survive. Now, does that work 100% of the time? Absolutely not. But it does help; it is a way to cope. I’ll give myself pep talks before I go in.

Lauren: And did you learn these from working with doctors?

Paige: No, I’ve only been to a therapist, I think, three sessions from one therapist — which was another one of the things that was really difficult to do. And she just wasn’t the right therapist for me, so I didn’t learn that through her. Just listening to people talk about their lives … I’m big fan of TED Talks. I’ve read a lot of self-help books.

Lauren: So you’ve switched on the logical part of your brain, doing your own research.

Paige: Yes. And when it’s really, really bad, it doesn’t work. And that’s okay, too.

Lauren: And have you ever tried medication?

Paige: Oh, I’ve been off and on medication for the past 15 years. And there’s an obvious divide — when I’m not [on meds] and when I am.

Lauren: And I’m sure you can also rely on your support network to tell you if you’re not cognizant. But it sounds like you’re very self-aware.

Paige: I’m pretty self-aware. Which is nice, because I can curtail it and nip it in the bud, or understand.

Lauren: And I’m imagining some of that also comes from being a performer, right? Because so much is internal work.

Paige: Yeah. It’s so much internal work, and it’s so much physical work. I think that being a dancer and being so in tune to my body at a very young age was super helpful, and that I did internalize a lot of things. That’s how I got them out, through those two avenues— dance first, and then when I was in college is when I decided I really liked acting. Because all of a sudden I could be me … 100% on stage … and other people were, too. That’s very cliché … first year college and your first acting class and all of a sudden you have the vocabulary and you have the outlet for all of this.

Lauren: In other words, let’s support the arts! They’re important!

Paige: Yes! They’re super important! So all of those things combined helped me be very in tune to myself, and writing down/journaling how I feel … there’s this app called MoodNotes that I have started using, which a friend of mine, Edgar, brought up. Basically I set a timer, and every day at six it checks in with how you’re feeling and you can answer it … and then you can go into detail and you can journal about it. You can answer questions and things like that.

Lauren: Who needs to write things down with a pen and paper now!

Paige: Right?! That’s my only thing, I still like to physically write.

Lauren: I’m the same. (laughs) I think maybe that’s our generation! The kids who were born after the ‘80s don’t have that inclination!

Paige: I wish someone would pay me to write things down for them, that would be a real dream of mine!

Lauren: You could go get an assistant job and write lots of things down! (laughs). So, tell me … you mentioned a little bit before about people not believing in you when you go to them with your symptoms. Can you tell us an instance or an experience you may have had where you were confronted, [made] to justify that something was going on and no one else could see it … but you knew it was happening?

Paige: As far as I was feeling? I had a friend, a roommate that I lived with at one point, and I think I probably talked about depression and I watched his eyes glaze over, and be, like, “Okay.” He didn’t outwardly say something; he didn’t need to. And I was always trepidatious about saying anything when I was feeling that way and it was hard to justify the mood that changed in the apartment. Because it did, and I could feel it and I knew everybody else could — because I can feel it when it happens to other people. But to jump ahead … I went to RiteAid to get something and I started having a panic attack. Actually, it was the first one I ever had; I was sweating profusely and shaking, I couldn’t control anything. But not super outwardly. They were things that I could feel. I felt like if you were looking at me, I would look like I was shaking uncontrollably. But I wasn’t, and I came home … and he looked at me … at this point, my face is white, I can’t function, I can’t do anything, I couldn’t hold things, I dropped everything as soon as I walked in the door. And he’s kind of freaking out. He’s, like, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you!” And I don’t think I said I was having an anxiety attack, because I didn’t know what was happening. This is probably not really answering your question …

Lauren: So far it is!

Paige: This is so silly, but the night before we were watching Grey’s Anatomy; it was one of the first few seasons, and I don’t remember who was having an anxiety attack … I think it was Christina Yang … and someone came and hugged her, like bear-hugged her, and [my friend] was, like, “Do you want me to do that?” And I’m, like, nodding my head, “Yes!”

Lauren: As an aside, that’s not silly at all. You’re not the first person who has been on this show who has been influenced by a TV show.

Paige: But it was so interesting that it happened literally the next day! He hugged me, and he was actually leaving for work and stayed with me for a little bit. It was one of those things that was kind of gratifying because it was a physical manifestation of how I felt mentally and someone that I know probably didn’t really believe. Or just like, she’ll grow out of it. He was able to see … this is what it’s like all the time. This is what I feel like inside all of the time; that’s the anxiety part of what I deal with. But it was a nice, almost lovely thing to happen … at the right time.

Lauren: And where he didn’t understand before …

Paige: Hopefully he could understand now. Which was cool.

Paige Fockler

Lauren: That’s really great. That’s nice. Because I feel like often in those situations, people in this invisible world … we come across doctors who don’t believe us, and friends and loved ones who don’t believe us. But to have a situation like that where it’s someone who maybe didn’t quite understand it at first, who then understood it … to have it turn around … like, it warms the cockles!

Paige: Yes, it was really lovely.

Lauren: So, obviously your experience has turned into advocacy on a larger scale because you love to talk about this. Aside from the podcast and just having conversations with people in Greetings from Depression, have you been involved in any other advocacy work?

Paige: No. And I talked to someone recently about this, because I feel guilty about that.

Lauren: I don’t know … you’re dealing with a lot.

Paige: Yes, and this person was, like, “Well, I don’t know that you should feel guilty about it.” There are so many tabs open on my computer right now, that I would like to be a part of and get out there and help. But it stems from the fear of – and the anxiety of – actually doing that. And so the result is that I’m not involved in anything, even though I would like to be.

Lauren: I think your podcast is ample involvement in advocacy, though.

Paige: Thank you.

Lauren: Especially because you’re saying that you’ve found comfort in TED Talks and podcasts that other people have created — and you’re doing the same thing.

Paige: That’s true. You’re right. I’m giving myself no credit, I guess.

Lauren: Yeah, give yourself more credit on that one, Paige! So … we know that you’re an oversharer, and I love that … you’re in the right place to talk about that. So how important is it that we keep these conversations going? And do you think that continuing to talk about invisible conditions may help us with … I don’t want to use the word ‘cure’ because with some of these, there just is no cure … it’s just coping … but acceptance and the removal or degradation of stigma perhaps?

Paige: Huge. I mean, I think it’s incredibly important. I love the way that it is moving. I love that it is so open.

Talking about medication and talking about therapy is so important.

It’s interesting to be in LA because people are a little bit more open and people are a little more understanding. Unfortunately, sometimes I think it’s too much, and I think that it is used inappropriately or abused.

Lauren: For sympathy.

Paige: I think people use it to their advantage — when it’s not something that they suffer from at all. But who am I to say, you know? So it’s a fine balance, and it’s a difficult way we’re trying to maneuver. But I think if people are more open, we can see these patterns, we can see things.  I can almost instantly tell if someone’s depressed or not; it’s like a superpower!

Lauren: Thats a great side-effect!

Paige: Yeah! Being empathetic … and granted, I work in customer service, so it’s a little bit different because customers irritate me all the time. And I’d rather not do it. But for people in my life or people that I work with, or people that I meet, and especially someone that maybe seems negative … my tendency is, maybe they’re dealing with something and this is how it manifests in their life, and this is how they deal with it. Or ignore it, to be quite honest. I think that depression is incredibly common; right now I think it’s, like, 40% of people have it. And I think that’s a pretty low number.

Lauren: Yeah, because that’s just the ones who are acknowledging they have it.

Paige: That are saying it. And even saying it in secret and not talking about it.

Lauren: And probably a good number of those cases are circumstantial.

Paige: Exactly.

Something we talk about on my podcast is that there’s a difference between, I think, clinical depression and situational depression.

And not to say one is worse than the other …

Lauren: But one can go away more easily.

Paige: Right. And there are coping mechanisms that can “cure” it. So I think it’s important to talk about the differences in that. I think we treat depression with kid gloves … like, ‘Oh God, I don’t know how to deal with Paige …’

Lauren: And sometimes you just need the bear hug, right?

Paige: I need the bear hug, or I just need you to accept it and move on.

Because this is something I live with. If I I told, you know, that I had broken my ankle and had crutches … yes, you’re going to be a little more cautious, which is great … but also I’m going to continue to live because I can take care of myself. Sometimes I just need to tell you I’m depressed, and have that be the end of it. So it’s important to talk about it so you can understand how other people cope, how you can help someone cope. And how it can just be normalized. Because it is normal, it’s a normal thing.

Lauren: There’s plenty in this world right now that’s being normalized — and is not normal, right? So why not normalize something that is?

Paige: Right. And so then we can learn how to to live with it.

Lauren: And with each other.

Paige: I live with someone who also has problems, and sometimes that’s really difficult. But it is so nice that he’s open with me to talk about it — because it’s different. He suffers differently than I do, and so there’s no point to not talk about it. People talk about farting and pooping all the time, which I do! (laughs)

Lauren: That’s why you’re on this podcast, too! (laughs)

Paige: So to me, it’s no different.

And I think people think that others are looking for sympathy … and in my case, and I think in a lot of people’s cases, it’s not  … we’re looking for acceptance. And I think that talking about it normalizes it and helps people accept.

Lauren: I think that’s awesome. So we’re coming to the end of our interview here. And, and as everyone knows, at this point, I like to wrap up the interview with a couple of Top Three Lists.

Paige: Great! I love lists.

Lauren: So first what I’d want to start with is, what would your top three tips be for someone who thinks that maybe they do have something going on psychologically … what would you suggest to them?

Paige: Interesting. Top three things. If you can … there are apps … I think TalkSpace. And I’m always going to forget this other one … because I know that one of the hardest things is to reach out to someone.

Lauren: But there are more and more apps like that popping up, which is great.

Paige: There are. Stigma is another one … Stigma is basically run by peers. So it’s kind of like a dating website; they kind of pair you up. You answer a bunch of questions, and then you get to talk to other people that also deal with the same kind of situation. If you think something’s happening, this is a private way for you to talk. If you can get someone to talk to, that you don’t have to feel judged by …

Lauren: Or potentially pay for their services … (laughs)

Paige: Right. This is free. Optimal is get to a doctor if you can. Usually you have to go to a general practitioner first for referral. Or they can prescribe medication if they feel … but that’s sometimes a tricky situation…

Lauren: It can be a slippery slope unless you’re with a mental health doctor.

Paige: The right doctor. And then number three: Find someone in your life that you can talk to. I know it seems like a difficult situation. There’s a website called MakeItOkay.org and it gives you tools to talk about your depression … or for the people that think that someone in their life has depression and can’t say, it gives you resources and tools to talk about it.

Lauren: That’s wonderful. So I’m sure that you’ve mentioned some of your coping mechanisms when you feel an episode coming on, and that may have influenced lifestyle changes. Do you ever sort of cheat on your lifestyle changes, or have some guilty pleasures or indulgences? Top three comfort activities, indulgences/guilty pleasures/cheats that you’d want to share with us?

Paige: Yes. Like I said, I try to be physical if I’m having manic episodes, but unfortunately sometimes drinking gets into that. And it’s an interesting thing because it’s another superpower — you don’t feel the effects, you feel effects differently. And so unfortunately, that happens. But I’m pretty responsible, so I would say drinking. I do feel guilty, but I also don’t feel guilty, because I’m not doing it to get out of a feeling. I feel more guilty if it’s a depressed episode and I’m trying to use that as a tool to get out of it. Whereas, I’ll take it if I’m celebrating, if that makes sense.

Lauren: Yeah, and as long as you’re being responsible, as you say, and aware … ‘Okay, I’m not going to have more than two or three drinks.’

Paige: Sure. (laughs)

Lauren: (laughs) Or five or six!

Paige: And I’ll be out in public with other people to have that feeling. Shopping — that’s a double-edged sword. I’ll do it when I’m in a great mood. It’s also proven to be kind of an addiction, because I was using it to solve the other problem; I was using it to make myself feel better, so I would go shopping — and then I had to learn how to break that habit.

Lauren: But you have broken the habit?

Paige: Yes, and I am able to go to a store and walk down every aisle. Target was always my thing. Target is dangerous!

Lauren: Have you seen all the memes that are, like … you walk into Target for one thing and you spend $300?

Paige: When I first moved out here, I had to re-learn the value of money. I didn’t have any. And I was able to to get myself to a place where I could literally just walk every single aisle … I would use it as a museum experience. I wanted to see everything that was new, and not spend any money. And then I was, like, ‘This is the healthiest. I can just look.’

Lauren: I think it’s great that you’re able to look at and experience these things, like drinking and shopping, that can be addictions for people. And that can be crutches. And that you’ve been able to shift your perspective — because that’s a huge thing to be able to do on your own. But it’s something that I’m sure a lot of listeners would be going, ‘Oh yeah, maybe I do use that as a crutch. Maybe I should change that.’ So it’s a great awareness.

Paige: Yeah, I would say stopping those things for a little bit of time is what makes you realize. I remember I didn’t have any money, so I didn’t go shopping. And one time, I said ‘Okay, I’ve got extra money!’ And I went into a store and went nuts. And then it created a manic episode. And I was like, ‘Oh no, this is a problem.’ So it’s the stopping and starting that helps me realize.

Lauren: But now you can really take pleasure in just going and looking down the aisles to see all the things that are new, and that’s pleasing. Is there anything that you do as well, if you’re having an episode … is there a particular thing that you can do that helps you cope with it? Or, I suppose the bear hug for an anxiety attack …

Paige: The bear hug is definitely a great thing for that. A lot of times I indulge. I’m just now learning, people that were able to use their comedy and go out on stage and funnel that … I never understood that because I was indulged … if I was feeling sad, I was really going to get into that. I would watch Steel Magnolias or Beaches, because they are the the easiest movies for me to cry to. I wanted to cry … and that was how I released everything. I still wish that I could funnel it [in] a more constructive way.

Lauren: Something you could make money off of. (laughs)

Paige: Yeah! Or which would be healthy, because I’m not sure that the crying and indulging is always healthy.

Lauren: But it’s better out than in, right … just like farts! (laughs)

Paige: Yessss! (laughs) There’s very little that will make me feel better in a deep state of depression. Having to force myself to get out and be around people has been …

Lauren: It takes you out of yourself.

Paige: Focusing on somebody else. Movies, I guess.

Lauren: Yeah, movies are great for that.

Paige: Because I can both be in public and be around other people — and also have my own private world … are huge for me.

Lauren: Well, Paige, thank you so much. It’s been such a pleasure having you on the show.

Paige: Thank you.

Lauren: And as a reminder to listeners, they can find your podcast Greetings from Depression on Instagram @greetingsfromdepression, and can also find you on the iTunes Store and wherever you listen to podcasts. So thanks so much for joining and sharing about your experiences.

Paige Fockler Lauren Freedman

We welcome your thoughts and comments!

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