Podcast Review: The Mental Illness Happy Hour

We are not alone. That’s such a simple and obviously true sentiment, but it’s hard to incorporate it into our day-to-day experience. We tend to think we are uniquely suffering and nobody would be capable of understanding or would want to understand. But whatever our experience is (even the positive ones!), and where it falls on the pain spectrum and how it’s informed our lives, someone, somewhere out there has been through something similar. And it’s nice to know that. It’s nice to know we aren’t suffering on an island.

Even the mere act of verbalizing those experiences (again, even the positive ones!) is revelatory; it’s like, once the words are uttered, they become a shared thread between disparate people, and it makes the feelings attached to the experience more tangible. Because somebody else out there has felt it, too. It’s potent.

What I’m talking winding up about is the The Mental Illness Happy Hour by Paul Gilmartin. Gilmartin, a comedian, hosts the hour-long podcast where he talks with fellow artists, friends, listeners, and the occasional therapist or doctor about a variety of experiences.

The conversations really run the gambit between depression, addiction, mental challenges of other stripes, trauma brought on by incest (Gilmartin had his own experience with this, and some of the most powerful episodes of the podcast are when he dives into that), rape, physical abuse, emotion abuse, suffering because of racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, etc. etc., and everything in between.

Gilmartin describes the podcast, and the website itself, which has a forum and surveys listeners read out that then can be read on the show, as a “waiting room that doesn’t suck” because he’s certainly not trying to offer real medical diagnosis or anything like that.

It’s a waiting room for similarly suffering souls, who can hopefully connect and talk with each other. The New York Times called the podcast a “perversely safe place,” and that’s a perfect way to describe it.

After all, if you’re going to have dark, and yes perverse, conversations, the place needs to be safe to allow for authenticity and honesty.

Personally, my two favorite aspects of the show, which I’ve been listening to for years now, is the listener surveys, and when he does talk to the actual doctors. The doctor insights are fascinating. But of course, what’s really fascinating is just hearing all the tidbits of someone else’s life, whether it’s the trauma they’ve been through, the different sexual fantasies they may have, a funny observation about life or whatever else it may be.

And that’s another wonderful thing about the podcast is just the infinite possibilities of human experience and joy. Humans are such fascinating, complex creatures and boy, we sure partake in some interesting experiences, both negative and positive. But the podcast is a no-judgment zone. That’s what makes it so accessible is that literally anyone with any sort of experience can talk about their experience.

When I’m feeling particularly down and want to be reminded that it’s not only me, I pop up the open the podcast like a can of good vibes. Because despite it being dark at times, it’s also hilarious. I think that’s the kicker: to be able to dive headlong into the abyss on human suffering, there has to be a certain level of self-aware darkness manifest as dark humor.

Dark humor is something I enjoy quite a bit and Gilmartin certainly trades in it as well. It’s an effective duality of the show to get extremely dark and serious, but also goofy and funny. Some of the best bits are when Gilmartin turns self-deprecating, or in jest, rips a listener.

If you’re looking for that outlet or even to contribute your own thoughts to the podcast through its many surveys, I’d highly recommend this podcast. As an avid podcast listener to a variety of podcasts, I have yet to find a mental illness podcast that compares to Gilmartin’s. For example of yet another reason why I prefer Gilmartin’s to other ones I’ve sampled, I prefer longer podcasts where the conversations can go further and deeper. A 20-minute conversation, which by definition can only scratch the surface, isn’t enough for me. Gilmartin typically goes 40 or so minutes with his guest, sometimes longer, and then does 20 minutes of reading listener surveys. That’s a good balance.

But if you know of any other worthwhile ones, let me know. But I personally need that smoothie blend of darkness and humor. I need it to probe and get into the darkest of crevices, but also to bask in the absurdity of it all, if that makes sense. Gilmartin’s The Mental Illness Happy Hour most certainly does, and it hits me in the right spot.

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