Big Comfort - Transcript
This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled, “Big Comfort.” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.
Listen to the episode here.
Gaby: I was like nine, and I was like writing my own obituary in my head, being like, “If I died, my crush would be like, ‘I always loved her.’”
Nora: We were dark kids. We were dark kids.
Gaby: Psycho, psycho.
Nora: Psycho children.
I’m Nora McInerny, and this is “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” This is a podcast where we talk about hard things, where we stretch our empathy muscles, we strengthen them, we are working out. It’s a podcast where we talk about the gray areas in a world where it’s just very easy to believe that things are either one thing or the other.
And that is what Gaby Dunn does, too. Gaby is a writer. She’s a comedian. She’s a podcaster, a YouTuber, a NYT bestselling author. She’s an actor. I’ve been watching her YouTube channel and listening to her two podcasts (“Bad With Money” and “Just Between Us”) for years.
She has truly the greatest podcast theme song of all time. Right? It’s gonna be in your head forever. Gaby’s great.
So that’s Gaby. Or at least the things that she’s done.
Gaby: Have you considered what I haven't done? Because I do, every day, in my head. Have you considered the things that were almost going to happen and then didn't? And that I cannot stop thinking about on a loop till I die? Like... it's tough, because if you had caught me on another day, maybe I would have been like, riding high, being like, “I'm the best!” And it sucks because it kind of feels like it's never in the middle. It's always like, “I'm the best. And no one can tell me anything!” Or, “I'm the worst. I'm garbage, and everyone hates me.” And it's tough like... being a public figure in some ways, because if you're just a regular person and someone doesn't like you, you're like, “Oh my God, my coworker doesn't like me.”
That’s the kind of day I caught Gaby on: a day when her brain was telling her, “You are trash, absolute trash. Ignore the facts of your life. Just completely disregard the objective success you’ve achieved personally and professionally and instead may I offer you this menu of your shortcomings? Highly relatable.
So I’ve wanted to talk with Gaby for a long time, not just because she works in this same middle space, but because she lives it too. Gaby describes herself this way. Gaby is a bi-con. She’s bi-sexual. She’s also bi-polar. And our conversation today is going to explore those identities and so much more. It’s a big conversation, and we’re going to talk about some big things, including suicide, so just heads up, buddies. That comes up around… when does that come up, Marcel? (Marcel: Around 36 minutes and after that.) So if you want to, just make a note of it.
Before we go into where Gaby is NOW, we’re going to start with her childhood — her family, which is this amazing cast of characters except they’re real. Her dad had an older son from a previous marriage, but in the house she grew up in, it was Gaby, Gaby’s little sister, Gaby’s mom, and Gaby’s dad.
Gaby: He was a salesman. So like, hurricane shutters and alarm systems, various construction project-type things. Addict, alcoholic, gambler. General wild card. Very charming. Dressed like a cowboy a lot of the time — big belt buckles and hats. Was very dominating in terms of like the household and friends and kind of stuff like that and he wore cowboy boots. He came home. I would like, put on his cowboy boots and walk around. He would sit on the couch and then I would pull the cowboy boots off for him and then put them on myself, which is kind of funny. I've talked about that, and also like, you know, like getting your dad a beer or whatever and opening it and whatever. And like, my friends are like, what are you, Sally Draper? What? You’re just mixing a cocktail for your dad at age nine? Whatever.
That’s Gaby’s dad, a cowboy salesman. And then there’s Gaby’s mom, who is in a lot of ways the opposite of Gaby’s dad.
Gaby: My mom's a divorce and child custody attorney. She had her own practice. She’s very workaholic, very busy. When I was a kid, I would go to her office with her, go to the courthouse with her and stuff, if we didn't have a babysitter. And she told me that I told people that she works on roller skates, because I didn't really know what high heels were, and she was moving so fast that I was like, “She's on skates!” And she had these like, very intense, like power suits. I remember one outfit, I used to call it the bumblebee, because it was like a black and white striped dress with a yellow blazer with huge shoulder pads. And like she's just in court in that. She had very short red hair, which I... now my hair's dyed red, too. And her mother had red hair. And then I had an older brother who was my dad's kid from his first marriage. He was 15 when I was born. And he was in school, was out of school, was doing this, was doing that, you know. And then my younger sister is four years younger than me, and her name's Cheyenne. And she was more of a difficult kid. But it wasn't her fault. Like she had ADD, ADHD. My dad was like really nice to me and like really liked me because I was very people pleaser, like, and Cheyenne was not. Cheyenne has never people pleased a day in her life. Cheyenne is like “absolutely the fuck not.” She's spoiling for a fight. Like if some dude or anyone, like if we're on an airplane and someone like puts their chair too far back, like it's on. I love her so much. I'm very scared of her. And so she was like that as a kid too. My dad and her had a bad relationship because my dad was like very much, you know, wanted to, like, have fun and stuff. And Cheyenne was like, no. And I thought my dad was cool. I thought my mom was a buzzkill. And I thought my dad was the best. And he was just drunk, like he would like take me to bars or like we, he wanted to go golfing with his friends. But he wanted to drink, so he would bring me so I could drive the golf cart. And then, I would go to school and be like, my dad takes me here. My dad, like, you know, and like my dad drives fast and he's fun. He wants to go on roller coasters and all that stuff. And my mom was like, very stressed out. And I was like, “Mom sucks.” But like, now that I'm older, I'm very close to my mom and I'm like, “I am so sorry.” Can you imagine, like, your husband is like putting all of your money up his nose in cocaine and your daughter is like, “Dad rules! And you suck. This poor woman!”
So that’s Gaby’s family. They’re fun. They’re dysfunctional. They’re just… they’re whacky. And then there’s Gaby, who compared to Cheyenne is shy. Gaby wanted to just kinda fade into the background. Not ruffle any feathers. Not need anything from anyone.
Gaby: I was very overachiever. I got really good grades. I was like really like, invested in school, Had a lot of very intense, like, loves for female teachers, like every female English teacher I had was like the best person ever. And I had a teacher in second grade named Mrs. Brookhisen. And I loved her. And, you know, she had us write like like a story short story. And I wrote a story, and she submitted it to the Broward County Fair, and it won a little blue ribbon. And so we got to go to the fair and like, see, my story hung up, and I was like... “This is… I gotta chase this forever.”
Nora: “I actually, I do want the attention.”
Gaby: Yeah! Because it was like, for like writing, and like, I think about it, I'm like my whole family went to the fair, like they were so proud of me. I was like, here's... I like, have a picture of myself posing next to it and like. And also you want to look in my mind. The story was called A Very Bad Day. And it was about all the things that had gone wrong in my day. And then you drew a picture next to it to go with the story. And the picture is me sobbing. The picture is me as a child, big tears, crying. What?
Big tears, big crying… big feelings in her little kid body. And this is a theme that echoes in her childhood: her big, internal emotional landscape trying to make itself known. Trying to get Gaby herself known and seen.
Gaby: So I have this letter that I wrote to my mom, and I framed it and it's like, “Dear Mommy, Cheyenne is driving me crazy.’ And like, I signed it, love Gaby. There's a part at the bottom that's scribbled out, and I like, held it up to see what it said. And it said, “P.S. I need big comfort.” [laughs] But I didn't feel like she would give it to me so I crossed it out. P.S. I need big comfort. And then it's a picture. I drew a cartoon of Cheyenne cutting my head off, decapitating me. [laughs] I have it framed.
Cheyenne did not, in fact, decapitate Gaby, as I’m sure you’ve surmised from this interview. But there’s that word again — big. What Gaby needs is big comfort, but she scratches it out. She keeps that need to herself.
Gaby: When I was eight, I was in the hospital. I got bit by a mosquito at a beach and I had some sort of virus. It's very unclear. And so I was in the hospital for like a month, and I asked my mom for the records from the hospital. And she was like, oh, sure. And she sent them to me. And one part was like, “8-year-old female seems very thin and pale, but like, well-nourished. She's wearing red nail polish and red lipstick. So she seems like well taken care of.” Also, any ideas why an 8-year-old's wearing red lipstick to the hospital? OK. Doesn't matter. So then the doctor wrote on the form, “This child shows signs of a sad mood. I have diagnosed depression in this child. I recommend that she see a therapist blah blah blah.”
That didn't happen. Did not see a therapist. And it was so validating to see that like a doctor when I was 8 was like, this child is depressed. And then I was like, did I was like, did I see a therapist? No, of course not. And like, I asked my mom about it. And she was like, “Where did it say that?” So I think it was hard but also just a lot of denial. Right? Like you read that about your kid and like, I think now, 2020, someone would be like, oh my God, get my kid to therapy. And I asked my mom, I said to my mom, “You read that, like what? Why didn't you do anything?” And she said, “Well, of course you were depressed. You were sick. Like you had a flu.”
Nora: Yeah. I feel like parenting more than one kid is basically like tending to the biggest blaze. And then assuming that the others are a controlled burn and then all the sudden it's not and you're like, oh, my God, how long has this been happening? Like what are you talking about?
Gaby: The thing is, the fire for Cheyenne and my oldest brother and my dad, like, never went out. So, like, every so often, “Are you OK?” Yeah, I'm okay. “Great. Just checking in. You're good.” Yeah, I'm good. “You're not, like, addicted to drugs or anything?” No. Okay. Great.
Nora: Okay! Woo! Yeah.
Gaby: It's the thing of being the not problem child that kind of is detrimental in some ways.
Being the kid, the adult, the PERSON, who is NOT a problem is it’s own problem. It’s a form of self-gaslighting, convincing yourself that your thoughts and feelings aren’t to be trusted. That you’re fine! I mean, look around you! Some people have real problems! So Gaby keeps being the non-problem child, and she also starts to realize something ELSE about herself that’s just as hard to speak about as her need for big comfort.
We’ll be right back.
We’re back, and Gaby is having a revelation, thanks to musical theater.
Gaby: I heard the word bisexual for the first time in “La Vie Boheme” in RENT. And the character of Maureen, I really latched on to.
Nora: What did it feel like to hear that word and to see Maureen?
Gaby: She’s like, not portrayed as a particularly nice or whatever character. But I was like, that's me. I was like, I want a girlfriend and an ex-boyfriend. I want like this to be, you know, the situation. And I'm like a self-centered, so like, I want them to do a dance about me. And I also really related to Marc, because he's such like, an outsider, and the character is, quote unquote, straight. But Anthony Rapp is queer. So I really latched onto him as an out queer person. And I just I loved RENT. I just was like, oh, my God. There’s a cross dressing character. There’s you know, everyone is sort of like, OK, with the queer people, like, you know, “Take Me Or Leave Me” was incredible. I mean, like a lot of queer kids, I was like, “I gotta get to New York. I gotta get to New York. That's where the gays are. I gotta get there.”
I had a friend in eighth grade who I think came out to or kind of knew... I did like a thing where I was like “I have a crush on someone,” and it was this girl who could not have been more normative and like, married her high school boyfriend, and like is a doctor, and you know, whatever. But I also had a whole thing, so… oh, my God. So there was this girl in a grade above me, and I was like, obsessed with her. And I would write like, poetry on my Live Journal about — she was an artist. And so I, like, wrote poetry on my live journal about like the flecks of paint on her hands and like what? And like one time in class she, like, took my hand and drew a heart on my palm and then gave it back to me. And like, didn't say anything about it. And I was like GASP!
Nora: Oh, yeah.
Gaby: Wrote a whole poem about that. And so...
Nora: She knew it. She knew you were gonna do that.
Gaby: OK! So then there was one day in school where we had been talking all of lunch, and something happened, I dunno, it was like something was different that day or whatever. And we went to the bathroom together, because girls do that. And she was eating Skittles and she was sitting on the counter. And I came out of the stall and I was like, “Oh, can I have some?” And she was like, “No, I just finished. They're like, they're in my mouth.” And I was like, “Well, what the fuck? That's so rude. You didn't offer me any.” And she was like, “Ahhh, come and get them. And we started making out.” I know. Thank you, Skittles. This is an ad for Skittles.
Nora: This episode is brought to you by Skittles. Wait, what grade is this?
Gaby: I was in 10th or 11th grade. She was a year older than me. So she was like 11th grade or senior or something.
Nora: Is this at your private school?
Gaby: Oh, yeah.
Nora: Wearing your little uniforms. Yeah.
Gaby: I have been like, look, I don't want to say that porn is real, but we're like literally in uniforms in the bathroom. Like in my head at the time, I was like —
Nora: This is a t.A.T.u. music video.
Gaby: This is fucking ridiculous. Yes, I thought that. But I was bisexual, I had boyfriends I liked, you know, I think I even like had a maybe a guy at the time that I was talking to or whatever. And she had this boyfriend, and they had broken up I guess. I went back to class, and I was like, sweating, full breakdown, full meltdown. I had like, a vision that everyone in class turned and looked at me. I was like, “Everyone knows.” I was like, like my vision was swimming. I was like, dizzy. Nobody gave a shit. I was like, “Everyone can tell.”
So her first experience with a girl is both deeply thrilling and deeply nerve wracking.
Nora: Was that like, fear or was it excitement? Was it awakening?
Gaby: Fear. Complete fear. My parents would not have given a shit, but I was like, oh my God. What am I going to do? And I was already kind of like an outsider, so I was like, oh my God. Like, this is bad. This is bad. And so then the next day, her best friend came up to my locker and was like, “Hey, you better not hurt her feelings.” And I was like, oh my God, one person knows. One person knows, one person knows. Sweating. I was like, this is bad. This is bad. This is bad. So then she came up to me later and was like, hey... Daniel is thinking about maybe like, wanting to get back together with me. And she was like, clearly asking. And I was like, oh. And she was like, “Yes so like, what do you, you know, what do you think?” And I was like [sigh]. And then I was like, “I think you guys should get back together.”
Gaby: And she was like, okay. And then that was it.
Gaby: I know, I know, and I was so sad. But I was like, what am I going to do? Fucking walk around school with a girlfriend? Are you out of your mind? I'm going to be the gay girl at my school? And I had friends that didn't go to my school, that were in my neighborhood, and they were all like, very Jewish princess-type girls. And like, we were like a little clique. And I was already weird. Like, to them, like it was like I was like allowed to hang out for being funny, I’m not sure. And it was already precarious. And there was like a queen bee of that and all this kind of stuff. I mean, those girls used lesbian as a pejorative. I mean, everyone who played softball was like, OK, like, you know, like it was like... ironically the one girl that they all made fun of for being a lesbian is not a lesbian. She just played softball. And then I was queer. But I remember writing in my journal being like, “She's such a fucking lesbian.” Girl, what?
Gaby: I know.
Nora: Oh, my God. It was… that was also like that was such a thing, which just makes me want to just die. But it was also so frightening, too, because it was like, well, like... what if I am? Like what if I am? Like is that what's happening? Is that... could this be the thing that's happening? I don't know. It was a frightening time. It's just a frightening time to be a kid.
Gaby: Yeah. And I… I always say this, but like it was pre-“Glee.” There was nothing. There was nothing.
Gaby: There was like the one kid on “My So Called Life.” There was fucking nothing. You want to talk about...
Nora: And guess what, Ricky had problems. OK, Ricky, had serious problems.
Gaby: Ellen had been like fully canceled, like for being queer, like there was nothing. My parents didn't have gay friends. Like nothing.
Nora: Ricky Martin was pretending to be straight.
Gaby: Ricky Martin. I had a poster of him in my locker. You want to talk about...
Nora: You and Ricky Martin are both like, right?!
Gaby: I swear to God, I had Ricky Martin and Lance Bass in my locker. Girl, what?
Nora: They're both like, “Yes, girls, put this picture up in your locker.”
So, like Ricky Martin and Lance Bass, Gaby got through the late ‘90s and early ‘00s by pretending to be straight. She makes it all the way through high school with only a few people knowing about her making out with that other girl in the bathroom. And then...
Gaby: I went to college, and I was like, this is my chance. And I was on a boat cruise — like, freshman boat cruise. And I was talking to this girl who was a lesbian who I... I walked into a dorm and she was in there and she was wearing like, a red prom dress just to, like, be funny, I guess. And we were like, hanging out in the dorm. And she was just like, yeah, I'm a lesbian. And I was like, like, GASP! And then she had this guy that she was friends with from home. So the two of them were always hanging out. And I was like, talking about relationships and stuff on the boat cruise, but I was being like, very vague. It was like with kind of a group of people, and and it was a very gay school. I went to Emerson. So there was like not, you know, that huge of a risk. And she was like, “What are you?” And I was like, “Oh… like, I guess I'm bisexual.” And she and the guy friend high-fived. And I was like OK… interesting!
It’s not a big deal in her college, which is a small liberal arts school. But that doesn’t mean that her bisexuality is never a big deal. Because eventually she has to leave her accepting little bubble and go out into the world, and it gets complicated.
Gaby: I had boyfriends who were like, not into it. Like I had boyfriends who were always sort of like... they didn't want to hear about it. They didn't want to talk about it. They didn't want that to be the situation. I had like, some girlfriends for little periods of time, but then I would have these boyfriends for like years, which I think is like social conditioning.
The social conditioning is one reason why visibility is so important to Gaby. Because if she’s got a boyfriend, people can just assume that she’s a straight woman, and a huge part of her identity is erased.
Gaby: When I have had boyfriends, I've tried to look as like, lesbian as possible. Like, I was like, I want people to see me and be like, that's a lesbian, and then see me with my boyfriend and be like, now I'm confused. [laughs] Like, that's what I wanted. I mean I’m covered in tattoos. Like I would like wear these shirts that were like, “bisexual and still not into you,” or like very aggressive, like aggressive, like Doc Martins. And like, I'm wearing a sweatshirt right now that says pride. My ex-girlfriend was like a fashion person. And she was like, you have 75 t-shirts with gay slogans on them. And so we— she made me go through all of my graphic tees and was like, “I understand that like visibility is important, but you don't need like…” like I had a shirt that says, “This is my gay apparel.” I have a shirt that says, “God said Adam and Eve so I did both.” I have shirts... like I wear that shit out! Because I’m like, you’re right, sometimes I’m like, maybe people will think that, you know, oh, that's just a quirky straight girl or whatever.
So much has changed for Gaby since first whispering about her queerness on a boat cruise, or concealing her sexuality to just make it through high school. She’s shouting it from the rooftops and from her clothing. She is loved and accepted by her parents and her friends. And we’ll be right back.
We’re back, and Gaby Dunn is out. Now, who Gaby dates isn’t restricted by gender. She’s currently dating a musician named Mal who is transmasculine and uses they-them pronouns, and who I mistook for Gaby’s manager at the iHeart Radio awards because of how fast Mal grabbed our phones to help us pose for a photo. I’m sorry, Mal.
It’s very easy to see almost anything as a success story. And Gaby — with her 70+ gay themed tee shirts — seems like she’s made it through the wilderness and into acceptance of who she is. And she has, but that acceptance comes after it’s own form of grief. I’ll let Gaby explain.
Gaby: I think like even as a bisexual, I kind of held onto... I had, like, internalized biphobia where I was like, OK, well, one day I'll be good. I'll be like, married to a guy, and I'll be good. And I had that a little bit in my head. And when I realized that like I probably was going to be more on the queer side I was like... sobbing. Like, I felt like, really scared. Because you grow up your entire life with, like, Barbie and Ken. This is this. This is that. Like so... even if you're the queerest person to be like, that's all gone. That does not apply to you. That is gone.
Accepting and embracing who you are comes at a strange and incalculable cost… the loss of all those future selves you may have lived into. We all make trades as we grow older. For example, the other week when my friend Brandy and I were marveling at the sophistication that is Cate Blanchett, Brandy said to me, isn’t it funny we’ll NEVER be like that? Like, that ship has sailed? I’d never thought about it before, but it’s true.
The author Mary Laura Philpott described this in her book, “I Miss You When I Blink,” essays about what it means to evolve into who you are — which is not just leaving behind who you were but winnowing down the possibilities of who you will be. That isn’t to say Gaby doesn’t love who she is and where she is, just that, like all things, it’s more complicated than simply LOVING YOUR LIFE.
Gaby’s expression of her gender and sexual identity are up to her — a way to signal to the world who she is. But there’s another part of her identity that is just as scary as the aftermath of that first Skittles kiss in the school bathroom: her mental health.
Gaby is openly bi-polar. People used to call it manic depression, but it’s characterized by really high highs — mania — and low lows, depression. At the top of the episode, you heard a little bit about what the depressive side is like. Gaby has talked about this openly on her podcast “Just Between Us,” which is also a YouTube show she hosts with her longtime friend Allison Raskin, and she’s talked about it in lots of interviews. So I asked her about the diagnosis.
Gaby: I got diagnosed like, four times before I accepted it. Like, I heard it a bunch of times and I was like, “No, no, thank you.” In 2008, I had like a huge breakdown, but I didn’t even really remember it till I, like, went back and looked at pictures from hanging out with some friends on the beach. And I was like, skeletal. And I was like, “What the fuck was going on?” And then I was like, “Oh, yeah. I was like not eating and like, totally freaked out. Like, anxious and like losing my mind.” But I, like, forgot that that happened.
So that happened. Somehow I got over it. I don't know. And then in 2012, I had a real bad one where I had no money. I flew to Paris. Like, got mugged when I was in Paris, like had to like, go back, fly back with no money. So I didn't have any food. And then I had to call my ex-boyfriend to come pick me up from the airport, because I didn't have credit cards or a Metro card. Like it was just like so not thought out and so impulsive and manic and like I could not eat. I had like... trying to eat made me shake. I was like ,sobbing. I was like, laying on the floor of my brother's house hysterically crying, telling him I was dying. Asking him to call 911. I laid on the sofa in the same pajamas for like weeks, like literally catatonic. Did not move. And I started on medication, and the medication made me like, pass out in the shower.
I was living in New York, and my dad was in New York in my apartment. My roommate had let him in. I was on the floor. And he was like, get up. And I didn't know how long I had been there. And he was like, get dressed. And then he flew me home to Florida and was like, you don't have a choice. And I got there and they basically were like, “You could go to a rehab or you have to stay here and like, you can't go anywhere. You have to get up at 6 a.m. and do yoga. We're gonna make meals for you. You have to eat.” Which is kind of in like a twisted way, I was like, I got to be a child. Like…
Nora: Yeah. You got big comfort.
Gaby: Exactly. For a month my parents were like, “Good morning, it's 6 a.m.” I saw nobody. We like, went to the movies. I like, went to bed early. Like I stopped drinking soda, stopped drinking coffee, all this stuff. And then I begged to go back to New York. I was like, please let me go back to New York. And they were like, OK. And I went. Didn't change anything. Didn't fix anything. And I was very ambitious and like, stayed out late and partied and like, did all this stuff.
By “all this stuff” she means ALL THIS STUFF, like working for Buzzfeed and really having her YouTube and podcast take off, moving to LA and having another breakdown. Hearing the word “bipolar” and ignoring it, resisting it.
Gaby: I think I like, wasn't getting out of bed. And I was like... crying and kind of inconsolable and, like, numb.
Here’s what she’s been told about the diagnosis she finally accepted. She and Allison were at a workshop for Sundance. Gaby had just had a breakup before they got there, so she was already pretty down. But in this workshop, she’s given an assignment to pretend to have a conversation with someone she really wants to talk to and can’t. She… freaks out. She is convinced she’s having a heart attack. Allison, who is a mental health advocate herself, sprang into action and got Gaby an emergency appointment with a psychiatrist. Allison goes with her and gives this doctor Gaby’s whole history, and the doctor says… “Gaby, it sounds like you have bi-polar disorder.” This is the fourth time she has heard this diagnosis.
Nora: What made that one different?
Gaby: Because Allison was like, “I heard it!” [laughs] “There’s nothing… you HAVE to go on medication.” She’s very busy. She’s like, “You HAVE to!” And I also was like, I'm miserable. And so I went on meds, and the meds are great, they super help. It's definitely better. But like it’s not it's not like gonna go away.
It’s not going to go away, but she does have medication. She does have therapy. She does have a vocabulary for things like flying to Paris on a whim without any money. That’s the mania.
Nora: What does mania feel like? Like what is... what does it feel like to you, like emotionally and physically? And what does it appear like to people around you?
Gaby: It feels like, shaky, like vibrating, and you kind of don't remember some stuff. And like it, it depends. Like, I flew to France. Like I was like, you know, I'll look up like… like grad schools in Japan. Like, I’ll be like… I bought a bunch of books on how to write a musical. I'll talk really fast. I... it's... it's tough. It's tough. I mean, the last time I was like, a little bit manic, I was like telling Mal that I was like, I'm going to propose to you. And they were like, OK. And I was like, you're never gonna know when it's coming. Could be tomorrow. Could be the next day. And I think I'm being like… and Mal was like, you're freaking me out. And I was like, am I? Or am I going to propose to you in two weeks? And then Mal was like, do you remember telling me that? I was like, what? Which luckily I've had partners who are like, not also crazy. So like, to use the C word. And my sister was like, “Hey, you texted me about ring shopping.” And I was like, I what? Like, which like, obviously I love Mal. But like, Mal was like, “I think maybe we should discuss that first.” You get like ideas in your head and you're like, I'm amazing. This is obviously going to happen. This like, needs to happen. You also get like really… social media is very bad. It’s like strings of tweets or like, posting things. It’s just like… it's tough because, like, sometimes you write a whole screenplay and you're like, I'm amazing. And then it's like, well, that's really cool. You have a screenplay. You did it. But also like, is it any good? You have to eat. You're not eating. Sometimes it's like turns into like day drinking or you're like, you know, be like, “I'm so invincible. I'm having such a good time. I'm going to take two Klonopins and drink an entire handle of vodka at noon. And I'm going to like, text everyone I've ever met how much I love them.” Which is like, lovely? It's hard because you lose memory. So like I could tell, you know, I think also like mania, it gets to this delusional place where a lot of times, you're like, “I'm God, I'm Jesus. I'm whatever.” Hypomania is like a little bit below. Like I'm like, I'm a God. Like I'm like, I can do anything. This is let's do this. Let's do that. Like, every idea is the best. I'm going to email every person I've ever had a general meeting with this script that I wrote like... which is like, embarrassing. [laughs]
Remember back when Gaby wanted big comfort? When she wasn’t sure how to get it, how to ask for it? She doesn’t HAVE to ask for it anymore. Her family gives it to her. They’ve showed up to pick her up off the floor, to keep watch over her when she’s depressive. Her dad, who’s sober now, is very into queer rights and trans issues and sends her a near constant stream of love...
Gaby: His text messages to me are psycho. Like, I love him, but like they'll be like… can I read you one?
Gaby: This is the type of shit that I get. And I'm like, I love you so much, you lunatic. Okay. This is where is it? “May the power of the universe bless you and watch over you. May the spirit of your energy bring positive light to you. May that light be lifted towards you and give you peace and love. Love you do.” And then a cowboy emoji.
Gaby’s sister, Cheyenne, also lives in LA now. She likes to be close to Gaby. She has not, as of the recording of this show, decapitated Gaby.
Gaby: I know Cheyenne is a bit traumatized by it, because I moved and she was like, OK, well, I'm gonna move. And she moved like five minutes away. She's moving like, tomorrow. And Mal was like, “Why does she have to live five minutes away?” And like, didn't understand it. And then had like, a conversation with Cheyenne, where I guess Cheyenne was like... “in case Gabby is suicidal, like I have to be nearby because like, I can't be far away.” And I was like, whoa, like I felt... bad because, like, definitely it's hard on like her, where like, you know, I don't pick up my phone for hours and hours. She comes over. I'm passed out, you know, in my bed. And she's like, “I hope I'm not finding your body.”
To illustrate this point, near the end of our interview Gaby points out that she’s supposed to meet her sister in 30 minutes. And then her phone buzzes.
Gaby: That was Cheyenne.
Nora: Who was that?
Gaby: You know who it was. You know who it was. Do you understand the energy? Terrifying!
Nora: So far you’re 30 minutes early for meeting and still she’s worried. You didn’t answer your phone!
Gaby: “Hello. Is anyone awake?” “Gabrielle, I'm going to kill you. Wake up.” “Hello? Are you alive? I'm going to kill you. Wake up.” This is a series of text messages. “Don't forget the cooler today, please.” “Wake up!”
Nora: You're like, “I'm at work!”
Gaby: And I told her, I said, I'm going to be doing a podcast. I'll be there at noon. Multiple phone calls, and then my father called me as well. She called me three times. My dad also called me to probably to be like, “Why aren’t you answering your sister's phone calls?”
Gaby is now, as you know… open bi. A bi-icon for the bisexual and bi-polar communities. The risks of being openly queer are numerous — and so are the risks of being openly bi-polar.
Gaby: I mean, I think there are probably some people who are like, “Oh, that explains it. She's crazy.” Because my political views are like, liberal and leftist and, you know, and I didn't want people to be like “Oh, of course, like the Tumblr bisexual with her colorful hair and her gay shirts. And she's bipolar, and she's crazy with her leftist views.” I mean, like, they're stereotypes, you know? And so I was worried about that. And it's been positive in the sense that... I hear from other bipolar people and I talk to them and like they feel seen and they feel comforted.
The last time Gaby was suicidal, in 2019, she and Allison got on their “Just Between Us” podcast and recorded an episode about it.
Gaby: Everyone checked in very much about if we should air it, because obviously you're not thinking clearly. And then also, I was worried that people would be like, “This is not OK for a role model, for young kids to say that she wants to kill herself.” But it got positive feedback. Nobody felt that way. Because I was like, are they going to be, like, worried? Are the fans going to be like, nervous? Because they're they're young. Like, I didn't want them to be, like, freaking out. And I was also like, are they going to feel suicidal? I don't know. I was worried, but it ended up being super positive. I mean, I think it's always been... a very positive reaction. I mean, it's been hard seeing... I work in Hollywood and it's been hard seeing media from people that I respect that has had, like, really inaccurate or negative depictions of bipolar disorder. And I never know whether to say something or not. I always do, because I run my mouth, because I run my mouth. But I love Ari Aster. I dressed up as a character from “Midsommar” for Halloween. I loved that movie. The beginning of the film — spoiler alert — has a character murder her entire family. And there's a throwaway line where they say, “Well, she was bipolar.” It's not necessary. You understand that she has some sort of mental illness. You don't need to specifically point out that it was bipolar. And also, I don't think murdering your entire family is a symptom of bipolar disorder. Like, I...
Nora: “Side effects may include…”
Gaby: Yeah like I don't even think it's really a symptom of schizoaffective disorder or schizophrenia. Like, if you meant schizophrenia, but you said bipolar disorder, that's also not really accurate. So, you know, the stereotype is that like gay people are serial killers and that bipolar people are serial killers. And I just want everyone to know that I am a serial killer of my own right and my own accord. And it has nothing to do with being gay or bipolar. I'm tired of the stereotypes! [laughs]
This has been “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” I’m Nora McInerny. Our production team is Marcel Malekebu, Jeyca Maldonado-Medina, Hannah Meacock Ross, Jordan Turgeon, and Phyllis Fletcher. Our theme music is by Geoffrey Lamar Wilson. We are a production of American Public Media.