Our Experiences With Mental Health Medication

Our Experiences With Mental Health Medication (Artwork created by Brigido Bautista)

Staying on theme with Mental Health Awareness Month, the Adult ISH podcast team opens up about their journeys with medication. Producer Georgia Wright and co-host Nyge Turner share their expectations versus realities of taking meds. Merk Nguyen shares a poetic story on her recent experiences navigating through her anxiety and depression. Writer and actress Mara Wilson (yes, from “Matilda” and “Mrs. Doubtfire”!) joins to challenge misconceptions about medication, life in the public eye and her mental health. Big thanks to L’Oreal Thompson Payton for editing Merk’s story, Lissa Soep for her guidance and this Oakland Scenes story that further helped shape the narrative.

If you’re looking for some mental health resources, here are some to check out:
Latinx Therapy
Therapists of Color
Asian Mental Health Collective
Therapy for Black Men
Therapy for Black Girls
National Queer & Trans Therapist Network
• Even MORE resources on this Google Doc

Our team really wishes you the best of luck on your mental health journey. We know it’s not easy but we believe in you. <3

Episode Transcript

(rattling of pills in a bottle)

Nyge: What’s up everyone, I’m here with our amazing producer Georgia Wright. Um, Georgia, could you stop that sound?  

Georgia: Oh hey Nyge! Sorry ‘bout that. Just rattlin’ my pill bottle, as I do. 

Nyge: You rattle your pill bottle?  

Georgia: Sometimes. It’s like a maraca. 

Nyge: Yeah, I feel it. I feel it. So, you know, I’m here to ask you a deeply personal question, Georgia. You ready? 

Georgia: My favorite kind of question. Go for it. 

Nyge: So it’s about that maraca that you’re shaking.

Georgia: Yes, it’s my mental health medication! Which I have been taking every day for many years, as you know. 

Nyge: Yeah, we talked about it a couple of times, and I have been taking medication for her for a couple of years, too. Okay, but here goes the question. What did you think that medication for your mental health was going to do when you first started taking it? 

Georgia: I was pretty nervous about it when I first went on it, you know. I went on probably four or five years ago when I was having really bad OCD symptoms. And I think I thought that it was going to just like either — I don’t know — change my personality or like it was going to — I don’t know — give me all these crazy side effects or something. What did you think that your medication was going to do when you first started taking it? 

Nyge: I’m kind of on the opposite end of that whole thing. Like, everybody told me they’re like, “Oh, don’t have like all these super high expectations. Don’t think that it’s just going to be like this magical fix to all of your anxiety or whatever.” But like, I listened and I was like, “Oh yeah, of course. Of course, I won’t think that.” But like, for some reason, like something in me was like, when I take this, I should be able to feel it like tomorrow. I should take it and be like, “Woo, I’m good,” or whatever. 

Georgia: Yeah, I do. I definitely thought it was going to work really fast. I was like, if there are any changes that are going to happen immediately overnight, which is totally not what the doctors told me. But, you know … 

Nyge: I want to know, has your mental health medication been what you thought it would be? 

Georgia: No. I mean, I think I felt like it did not act immediately. It took honestly, like several months for me to start feeling the effects of it. It was really interesting. It was such a gradual shift that I didn’t notice it at first. And then after a while I was like, whoa, my highs don’t feel quite as high and my lows don’t feel quite as low, like I feel a little bit more stabilized. And for me that was like really what I needed was like to feel a little bit more steady. And it also, you know, was something where I didn’t feel like I was any different as a person. I think if anything, it just let all of the sort of junk clutter in my brain get out of the way so that my personality could shine through even more. So what I was afraid of was like that it was going to alter my personality for the worse. But actually it like made it more possible for me to be myself without being constantly held back by all of these, like, terrible thoughts that were getting in the way of me living my life. What about you? What was the experience like compared to what you thought it was going to be? 

Nyge: After I got put on medication, I also started taking these, like, anxiety classes at the same time. And everybody kept talking about, like, you have to do the work, you have to do the work, you have to do the work. And I thought medication was the work. And so I was like, “I’m doing the work. You know, like I’m taking the medication. I’m doing it like…” 

Georgia: Common misconception. Common misconception. 

Nyge: The work is not the medication. Like it was just one of my many tools that I was able to develop over time to learn to manage my mental health. And I think that’s what really changed things for me, was just like viewing it — learning to view it as just another one of my tools, another one of my methods, like my meditation, like my five senses, like all these other things to manage my anxiety. And then once I started thinking about it like that, then it all made sense for me. But it definitely wasn’t what I thought it would be. And it definitely didn’t work in the way that like I had imagined it working.

Georgia: I totally resonate with that. I remember feeling like, “Oh, yeah, I just, you know, if this does anything, it’s going to just happen overnight and it’s going to be just this, like, magic bullet for my anxiety,” which it totally wasn’t. And the entire time I’ve been on medication, I’ve also been in therapy because, you know, you got to kind of do both at the same time so that you’re also like retraining your brain manually. It’s like manual versus automatic, I guess, like in a way. And they both have a time and place and they both support each other. I don’t know. I think it would have been really hard for me to get to a place where I could do the work without the medication. But it also would have been really hard for me to try to take the medication without doing the work like they both really needed to be there. So I really hear you. People don’t usually talk about this type of thing publicly. So thank you for asking and I’m excited for you and Merk to get into it today. So, yeah. Let me play you in. 

(rattling of pills in a bottle)

Nyge: (laughs)

[Music Break]

Merk: Hey Adult ISH fam, it’s Merk Nguyen. Georgia passed me the baton for the rest of this episode and I am ready to bring home the gold. 

Nyge: Hey, and it’s your boy Nyge Turner, no baton’s over here, no gold, just a green participant ribbon, you know, green for money. I didn’t win, but welcome to Adult ISH produced by YR Media, a show where we, I guess, run in the mental health Olympics over here. 

Merk: Yeah, it’s day two here and the torch is going strong. And even though Nyge doesn’t have the gold, he does have the green participation ribbon. So that means experience. That’s a good thing. You’ve made it to the games. 

Nyge: Aww thanks coach. You, lowkey, really sound like an Olympic sports announcer that tripped me out. 

Merk: That’s my side gig. 

Nyge: Anyway, today’s “Mental Meds and ISH” episode came to be because something we wanted to focus on with this season was talking about issues as we’re going through them rather than talking about them after the fact. It’s just another way that we’re trying to be even more honest with y’all as an audience, and something our team is all going through right now is our relationships to mental healthcare and mental health medication, and the roles that they play in our lives.

Merk: Yeah, and as you heard, Nyge and Georgia have quite a bit of that experience. I on the other hand have a lot less ‘cause I’m just starting out on my medication journey and have lots of conflicting feelings about it, which you’ll hear about in a sec. You might be in the same boat or maybe meds aren’t even something you’ve considered. No matter where you’re at, we wanna make it very very clear we’re NOT telling you whether you should or should not take them. That’s a decision for you and your doctor to make! 

Nyge: Definitely. It’s not a one size fits all experience. Make sure you are consulting with your doctor and find what’s right for you. Also later in the show, we’ll be joined by writer and actress Mara Wilson — who played Matilda back in the day. She’s gonna open up about her mental health, medication experiences, and being in the public eye. But for now, Merk, you’ve got a little story to share with us.

Merk: Yes I do. So buckle up, keep your hands in the moving vehicle at all times and enjoy the trip inside my mind.

[Music Break]

Merk: Sometimes I speak in couplets ‘cause it’s easier to say/My sporadic feelings in an interesting way/Just know that in this story when you hear me bust a rhyme/These are my raw emotions, which you’ve heard of over time. So … Anxiety, anxiety, the world in which I dwell/It’s an endless stream of thoughts that makes me feel unwell/Now, listen to the story of what I’m going through/It started from a song, then grew and grew and grew.

Do you ever get a song stuck in your head? One you haven’t heard in years but for some reason you know every single word and then one day it shows up and you’re like, “Ohh… that’s what this song’s about? Dang… I feel it in a whole different way now.” For me, that song is “Marilyn Monroe” by Nicki Minaj. I first heard “Marilyn Monroe” when I was about 16. It occasionally came up on my big sister’s car stereo when she wasn’t blasting all the other songs from the Pink Friday album. 

I loved when Nicki sang, “I can get low, I can get low, don’t know which way is up/I can get high, I can get high, like I could never come down.” It painted a roller coaster of opposites that was fun for me to imagine as a pretty healthy, well-adjusted teen with good mental health. But when the song returned to 24-year-old me in 2020, amid a global pandemic and racial reckoning? It hit hard. Suddenly, I found myself questioning the ups and downs of my own mind, which had become a lot more intense over the years, even if not everyone saw it. 

When you meet me, you may notice my bright and shining light/With wit and spark and confidence — they say I’m a delight/I’m pretty high achieving, with a positive worldview/A joyful people pleaser in most everything I do. But …  What you don’t see are the days when I can’t stop thinking/When I assume the worst and my self-esteem starts sinking/I question every detail and every tiny thing I do/What to watch? What to eat? What to wear? Red or blue?/Am I smart? Are you mad? Is it something that I said?/And on and on it goes for hours in my head.

As a kid, I wasn’t diagnosed with any mental health conditions. From what I knew, no one else in my family had any issues either. When doctors asked about our mental health history, I’d think, “Well … My mom and dad lived through the Vietnam War and witnessed horrible things in their youth …” But I’d say, “Not that I know of,” because I honestly didn’t know. Mental health wasn’t something we talked about openly in my house. And talk therapy? Yeah, that was treated like a joke.

But sophomore year of college changed things. I’d call home crying about how I was overwhelmed with school, work, being an RA, life. We put a name to it: stress. But not anxiety. Psh … I was too strong for that. Perfect daughters don’t succumb to pressure … Even when quote-unquote “stress” sometimes led to panic attacks, which followed me into my twenties. A weird thing ‘cause I don’t remember always being this way.

I don’t know why I get into this hyperactive mode/I’m searching for a reason, deciphering my code/In doing this it feels like my poor brain can never rest/And that’s when my anxiety begins to manifest/It takes over and I’m clouded with these constant, awful doubts/My heart starts beating fast and my inner critic shouts,/“Your actions, words, beliefs? All that isn’t good enough./You’re lying to yourself. They’re gonna call your bluff.”

I didn’t know much about Marilyn Monroe until Nicki’s song came back to me. All I’d heard before was she was a Hollywood sex symbol with a sad death. I didn’t know she was born with the name Norma Jean, nor that she struggled mentally. I didn’t know she was an ally to people of color, like Ella Fitzgerald, or that she was constantly denied roles that weren’t the “dumb blonde.” It’s when I saw her in “The Misfits,” her last movie before her death that I learned these things. The character she played was so familiar, it was almost like watching myself on screen. Someone who feels everything so intensely, looks put together on the outside, but on the inside is … a little messy.

‘Cause there’s many times where I feel like: “I can get low, I can get low, don’t know which way is up/I can get high, I can get high, like I could never come down.” Reading about Marilyn’s life had me reflecting on my own: What help do I need? How can I get better to live freely? How can opening up about this help others who are also struggling? 

I know that I can bring so much hope into this world/I’m still that joyful kid who sang and danced and twirled/She’s still there some days, but I just don’t know why/On other days, it feels like all I do is pout and cry/Refusing people’s help, like I’m too good for it … /A spoiled and ungrateful and privileged little shit/Who whines, and groans, despite the fact her parents survived bombs/In the 1960s war on the streets of Viet Nam/Why can’t I just be happy and feel mentally strong?/When will I appreciate life as its own beautiful song?/Is medication the solution? Who is the one to say?/Maybe I’ll go down that route and try it out someday.

It’s January 2021. New year, new ways to take care of myself. I checked out a list of female doctors and noticed one who spoke Tagalog. Even though I’m Viet, my best friend growing up was Filipina. I wanted to be comforted by someone who would remind me of her. So, I booked my appointment and about a week later, there I was. She said, “Alright, what’s going on?” I said, “I just … I’ve never been diagnosed as anxious, but I know I get that way. I’ve had panic attacks before. Sometimes I can’t slow down my thoughts. And this isn’t always a bad thing because it makes me really creative at times but, it can get overwhelming and I figured it’s time to get help. I don’t know if that means medication but, I’m here to see what my options are.”

We agreed on getting some bloodwork done. After that, we walked out to the waiting room and she said, “You know, from what you’re describing I think there’s a way for you to think of all the symptoms you’re experiencing as superpowers. You don’t have to think of the ways they’ll hurt you but how they’ll help you.” “Huh,” I said. “Superpowers. That’s a good way to look at it.” About a week later, my blood results came back. Nothing out of the ordinary. I had a virtual follow up appointment with her and she asked, “So how many times a week would you say you get anxious?” I hadn’t been keeping track but it was at least 3 times a week. She then described the kinds of medications that might work for me and I decided on lorazepam. 10 small pills. Before prescribing it, she told me to log when I am even thinking about using it. That’d help me notice my anxious patterns. She also told me to think of the meds as a “break glass in case of emergency” and to ask myself, “Is this something worth calling the fire department for?”

I’m not gonna lie and say the work I do is easy/Sharing stuff like this is hard and makes me feel real queasy/So one day, I decided it was time to break the glass/I found the bottle, took half a pill and prayed, “This too shall pass.”

Within the hour, I fell asleep. Then a few hours later, I woke up with racing thoughts. Well, at least I’d tried. My anxiety hit another high at the end of March. It’s also when I noticed myself get into a sad slump. That’s when I contemplated taking the other half of the pill. I told my partner Samuel, “Ughhhh … I can get over this, I know I can! I don’t need meds.” “So is that why you’re holding the pill?” he asked me. It took a solid couple minutes but I took it. And was actually able to get half of a project done without feeling overly imcompentent to the point of paralysis. It wasn’t a perfect experience. But it was a start.

I’m lucky to have support systems that tell me it’s okay/To use meds as a tool when my mind’s going astray/My siblings, Samuel, coworkers and my roommate too/Remind me it’s my choice: “Meds? They’re up to you”/My parents on the other hand had told me once before/“You’re stronger than those pills. You don’t need to open that door.”/“Addiction, weakness, dependency are reasons why you keep it closed.”/I’d be lying if I said my thoughts and theirs were fully opposed 

(sigh) So… If you’re out there listening and you know how I feel/Know that your many changing emotions are all so very real/I might not know you now, your future or even your past/I can’t answer why you’ve been chosen for the role you’ve been cast/In this life/In this life that is full of ups and downs/But also smiles, sunshine kisses and hopeful upside-down frowns/We’ll get through this fight, my friend, I know it, you and I/The best we can do for now is to not-so-simply try/Is medication the answer?/I can’t be the one to say/But don’t give up, cuz I have hope, you’ll somehow find your way.

[Episode Break]

Nyge: Sheesh Merk, thank you for sharing with us those parts of yourself. It’s really deep.

Merk: Thank you for listening, truly.

Nyge: I’m lowkey jealous, too, because like that, like I’ve never thought to even put a narrative and some poetry together. I’m like, “Ooh, why didn’t I think of that?” 

Merk: Hey, new season, new thing. We’re trying out new things. 

Nyge: It was fire. It was fire. But I do have some questions. 

Merk: Okay. 

Nyge: So when I was going through my own mental health struggles, my mom said something similar about the superpowers. How did you feel when your doctor said to think about what you’re going through that way? 

Merk: I felt more optimistic about what I was going through because it’s like all of this is so new to me and like professionally getting diagnosed. And, you know, I felt like, “Oh, it’s a superpower. Like, this is a positive thing.” Like it was just a new way to reframe my thinking about it. And it was actually pretty empowering when she said that. I was like, “Oh, I’m not doomed. Like I have or have the power within me to make this different.”

Nyge: Do you feel like you’ve been able to really use those powers yet or do you feel like you’re still like in the process of figuring it out and figuring out how to look at them that way? 

Merk: I’m definitely still figuring it out because there are a lot of days where it’s really hard, where I’m like, I didn’t ask to have the superpower, though, you know? I don’t want to be saving the world. And I guess in this case it’s like having to save myself, which is a lot of pressure. And like I said, I’m really glad that I have the support systems like you and Georgia, my family, Samuel, and all these people. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s like up to me to figure it out. And I think that can be intimidating for any superhero. 

Nyge: I like how you just called yourself a superhero. That was really dope. 

Merk: Spider-Girl here. 

Nyge: Big facts. I guess the obvious question after the story is I’m just wondering where you’re at with it now. 

Merk: Well, the depressive stuff is a newer thing for me, and I actually started taking antidepressants. I haven’t touched the anxiety stuff because I’m like, you know what? I still don’t really want to go there. And I’ve been taking it for the past like month now and knowing that this may take several months to actually kick into my body, especially it being on the lowest dose, I’m like, “Okay, I want this to work,” and stuff like that. So just knowing that it’s not going to be this (snaps) snap, “You’re going to be solved,” and stuff like that. And I still have to deal with it like? Me going to therapy every couple of weeks, like on some days, I think it’s helping and other days I’m like, “I don’t know.” I feel like I’m really in the thick of it. 

Nyge: Yeah, something I kind of want to get into. As you said, “You don’t want to go there yet,” with the anxiety medication. What do you mean by that? 

Merk: Having to depend on it, I guess.

Nyge: So you feel like your anxiety can be managed more like holistically? 

Merk: That’s what I think. And again, I think my upbringing has a lot to do with that. Like, I’m really glad that we are talking about this now in the month of May when it is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month, because I think that in this community, it’s something that wasn’t always talked about before. And I am seeing a lot more hope in the new generation, just like vocalizing and verbalizing, “Hey, it’s how I’m actually feeling. This is what I’m struggling with,” because, you know, lots of our parents and even those outside of the community have had to deal with lots of things. And like mental health, medication wasn’t really the way to do it. 

Nyge: Right. So you talk about being, you know, in the thick of it and we heard your story. What do you feel like is the way through?

Merk: I think, yeah, just finding the courage to continue to want to work at myself and to love myself a lot more. I think that’s the way. 

Nyge: And I think you are exactly right. Thank you for sharing that story with us again. And, you know, we’re always here for you. And yeah, let’s find a way through. 

Merk: Let’s find a way through. 

[Episode Break]

Nyge: You’ve seen her in “Matilda” and “Mrs. Doubtfire,” but our next guest is much more than the characters that she’s played in childhood. She’s an author and playwright, who occasionally lands pieces in, you know, little places like the New York Times, and has been outspoken about mental health and well-being. It’s actress and writer Mara Wilson!

Mara: Hey, so glad to be here. Thank you so much for having me. 

Merk: Yes. 

Nyge: Glad to have you. Thank you. Thank you for being here. 

Mara: Yeah. No, it’s a pleasure.

Nyge: Being from the Bay Area, Mrs. Doubtfire is one of our cinematic treasures. Do you have memories from filming that in San Francisco, like with someone as special as Robin Williams? 

Mara: I love San Francisco so much and it still holds such a place in my heart. It’s still probably — like San Francisco in the ‘90s is still probably like one of my all time favorite places in the world. And it really was a magical place. And Robin had such he was such a big part of that community. You know, he hired people that lived in San Francisco and he insisted on working there. And he did so much for that city and was such a part of it. And he really loved it. And you could definitely feel that he really loved it there. And I actually, I walked by the “Mrs. Doubtfire” house, which has since been revamped, but there was a family there taking pictures of it. And they were like, “You know, this is where a movie was filmed.” And I was like, “Yeah, actually I do.” I was like, “Yeah, I was in that movie.” And they were like, “Oh my gosh!” And they ended up giving me a ride back to my sister’s apartment. 

Merk: Oh nice!

Mara: And I was like, “Thanks, guys. Yeah.” And it was like a mom and child. So I didn’t think I was going to be, you know, kidnapped or anything. 

Merk: So you’d be safe. There you go. 

Nyge: Yeah, that’s super cool.

Merk: So, setting aside your work for a second. Talking about your experiences that might have related to work and you being open about your mental health, what made you decide to go public with those kinds of discussions? Did it have to do with the fact that you were already in the public eye? 

Mara: Yeah, I think that for me, what really helped me with getting diagnosed with OCD was I read a book about OCD called “Kissing Doorknobs,” and it was about a girl who had similar symptoms. And funny story I found out later I remember thinking the author’s name sounded familiar and it was actually written by an actress on Matilda’s mom. 

Merk: Oh.

Nyge: Oh wow. 

Mara: Very small world. And, you know, if I’d been exhibiting signs of OCD on the set, she probably would have been able to help me out then. But it was actually right after we stopped filming “Matilda” and probably it was because film sets can be very regimented places. So I felt very, very like I was in a safe place there and sort of regimented. And then when I went back to school, I felt much more out of control and much more out of everything. And I was worried about my mom being sick. And that’s when I started getting panic attacks and obsessions and things like that. But it really was seeing accurate portrayals in the media that really got me help. And the thing was, I saw a lot of inaccurate portrayals of mental illness. I wanted to help people. I always wanted to help people. That was something that was very important to me from a very young age. My mom was somebody who was very active in the community, you know, always, always, you know, helping, helping unhoused people when they needed it and, you know, helping like any kind of underserved community and helping and being like a loud voice, a squeaky wheel. So I think that that was sort of in my nature as well. 

Nyge: While you’re kind of on that point, OCD is a diagnosis a lot of people get wrong. Are there any OCD myths that you’d like to bust while we’re on the subject of it? 

Mara: OCD isn’t about liking things. It’s not about liking things a certain way. It’s about needing things to be a certain way. I think people see, people look at OCD and they see discomfort or they see, you know, persnicketiness or fastidiousness. And it’s not about that. It’s about the fear. It’s always about the fear and the compulsions. Sometimes people will think like, “Oh, you must really hate doing the compulsions,” and we do. But the compulsions are like — they’re kind of like scratching a mosquito bite, like we know it’s wrong, but it gives us temporary relief. But it’s always just kind of come back and feed into that cycle again. I wish people knew that OCD wasn’t about like feeling slightly uncomfortable and that it wasn’t like a personality type because like people would be like, “Oh, you have OCD, you must be really neat.” And I was like, “No, not at all. I’m such a messy person.” And another thing I think about people with OCD and anxiety is a lot of us are really good in a crisis. Having anxiety can be like having a fire alarm go off all the time, you know? And so then when it actually does go off, you are very good in a crisis and you’re very good at calming others and helping others because it’s like, “Well, this is kind of what I’ve been waiting for.” I think that people also assume that, like, we want to be thinking about these things or we want to be — and we really don’t. It’s sort of like I mean, there’s a reason it’s connected to Tourette’s syndrome. Tourette’s syndrome, a lot of times you say things you don’t mean and OCD, a lot of times it’s you think things that you don’t want to be thinking. You think about violence. You think about war, you think about hatred. You think about all these horrible things. And you don’t want to be thinking that.

Nyge: Is it similar to like that kind of “what if” urge that you get like when you’re driving on like the bridge and you’re like, what if I just like, drove off the bridge? Like I don’t want to drive off the bridge, but like what if I did? 

Mara: It is definitely. But I think in people with OCD, we have more of that and more often. But also it’s kind of like we have it’s like we have sticky brains and things stick in our head much more so. Like I think for a long time we kind of assumed that we were — we kind of assumed that we were the only ones who had those thoughts. But then more and more studies came and they were like, “No, everybody has those. Everybody has those kinds of thoughts.” And that was kind of a relief. It’s just that we tend to obsess about them more because these things get stuck in our heads. 

Nyge: I’ve talked about this a little bit on the podcast before, but the first time that I was really forced to confront my anxiety and depression was when I was actually hospitalized for my mental health when my mom’s like early onset dementia, got to the point where she had she no longer really knew who I was anymore. And I remember that being the point where I started having these panic attacks, I started being — I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Like, I couldn’t really be in the types of settings that I used to be. And I kind of really didn’t feel like that same person before. And it’s incredibly hard dealing with it and dealing with these things in your mind, in your body, that you don’t really know what they are and how to manage them. And you actually had to learn to deal with that at a much younger age than I did. So what was it like for you experiencing these panic attacks after losing your mom at such a young age? And how did fame add fuel to that struggle? 

Mara: I mean, it was hellish for a couple of years there. I would say that probably for about four years I felt very lost. And I just kind of lived at the mercy of whether or not — because a lot of times anxiety will kind of come and go. So I just kind of lived at the mercy of whether it was going to be a good day or a bad day. And there were times that I showed up for jobs and I was having panic attacks so badly that I couldn’t do it. And so the answer is like I didn’t really handle it and I didn’t really handle it well. And I know that a lot of the work and, you know, a lot of the parts of my life that I’m most ashamed of what happened when I was a child. And I, you know, and my mother had just died and I was living with such terrible anxiety. It’s awful to hear, you know, that your mother’s early onset dementia. That is terrible. And I do think that a lot of times a traumatic event like that can trigger things that can kind of set things off. But I think that eventually when I started reading about OCD — and there were some like articles in teen magazines and stuff at the time that were actually pretty good — I went to my school psychologist and school counselors and I said, “I have this and I want to get help.” And they were like, “Whoa, okay.” And this is also why, like a lot of times I’ll hear people say things like, you know, a lot of times when people talk about, like trans kids and they’ll be like, “Can you really know that you’re trans at like 12 and 13?” I’m like, okay, well, being trans and being mentally ill are very different things. But I knew I needed help and I knew something had to change when I was 12. So, yeah, I think they can. That’s just me soap boxing for a second there. But yeah, I knew I needed help and I knew I needed some things to change in my life. But I think it was kind of hard for my dad to accept it first because no parent wants to believe that their child is sick. 

Merk: Yeah. 

Nyge: Yeah. 

Mara: And I think it was very hard for him to accept. And it wasn’t that he was discouraging or was mean about it. He definitely wasn’t. He was very kind about it. And I remember him saying things to me. He was like, “Don’t worry, you’re not crazy.” And I was like, “I don’t think I’m crazy. And I don’t know if there really is such a thing as crazy.” I think that I’m suffering from something. And then eventually, you know, he was like, “Okay, yeah, you do need help.” And he did take me to a doctor and he took me to a psychiatrist. And I remember being really afraid to tell my brothers, but they were very accepting about it as well. And so was my sister. And I think it was also because mental illness definitely had a genetic basis in our family. Like, it was funny because I do feel like some media depictions I saw of like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or personality disorders growing up, I always thought, oh, these people, people who have these must be really scary or they must be really — they must seem really strange or they must seem this. And then I realized it was kind of like I grew up and it was like being afraid of the ocean when you’re a dolphin. It was like, “Oh, wait, this was all around me.”

Merk: I mean, I’m at the very beginning of this journey where I am taking medication, and it’s something that I mean, there’s so much of what you said that I resonate with. Like I’m still feeling despite taking the medication — I don’t know — I feel like I’m still at this big question mark. But I want to know from you, like is that something that you’ve had to struggle with, too? And also just like regarding medication and taking it for your well-being, what do you wish that more people understood about what it’s like to take meds? 

Mara: I do wish people knew that medication doesn’t — it doesn’t make you very happy or very, very this or very that. It just kind of brings you up to the baseline functioning for a human being. I’ve been on medication for a long time since I was a teenager. And I’ve been on low doses and high doses and I’ve been on many medications and I’ve been on only one medication. And it makes it so that I can function. It makes it so that I can get out of the house. It makes it so that I can socialize with people. I really love the saying that sort of floated around the Internet to the past five years or so, which is it’s like a cooking show, on cooking shows. They say, “If you can’t make your own, storebought is fine.” And so it’s sort of like if you can’t make your own, you know, like brain chemicals store bought are fine, you know. But I also wouldn’t force anybody to go — like, I’m not going to tell people that they need to go on medication because that’s not my call. But I would tell them that it personally did help me. 

Nyge: Right. 

Mara: Like ADHD is something I’ve been struggling with. But it’s so funny to me because since going on Vyvanse, I finally understand time. Because my whole life, my parents hated getting me up for school in the morning. I had alarms, but I would sleep through them. I’ve never understood how long anything would take. And I was late for things all the time because I would get distracted by something and then I would just go into a world where I couldn’t focus. Now, the voice in my head that says it’s time for this is louder. And I have been early for things. 

Nyge: Oh wow. 

Mara: So my friends now are like, “You arrived here and like your hair is dry and you …” 

Nyge: And your hair is dry. (laughs) 

Mara: Yeah, exactly. And like, “You’re only partly covered in cat hair.” 

Merk and Nyge: (laughs) 

Mara: And you, yeah. And, “You knew exactly where we were and you read the right, you know, you’re not actually two blocks away because you got, you know, east and west mixed up again.” Like it is beneficial to me. 

Nyge: I relate to that a lot because I had to appeal to my school board to graduate because all of my tardies. 

Mara: Yes. And this is a thing that I feel like we don’t talk about. I also think that a lot of people think of ADHD and they think of like young white boys. You know, they don’t think about adults and they don’t think about women and they don’t think about, you know, and people of color are underrepresented in mental health treatment anyway. And yeah, and so I think that for me, it looked a little bit different than, you know, the kid who was always, you know, jumping on things and bouncing off walls and skateboarding and stuff like that. 

Merk: So as someone who talks a lot about their mental health while advocating for others, how do you walk the line between being open and honest with your audience and sharing too much? 

Mara: That’s a very good question. I think especially during the pandemic, I’ve sort of taken things back a little bit. And I think that when I was young, I was kind of compulsively honest and compulsively sincere, which I think is why I did well in film, because they could get, you know, sincere performances out of me. I think that that gave me kind of a people pleasing streak. And I think that that’s something that I’ve had to unlearn. You know, I have had to find boundaries for myself. And I think seeing other people model boundaries has been very helpful for me. But yeah — and embracing boundaries and being like, you know what? The whole world doesn’t deserve to know this. And is this going to be beneficial? Is this going to help people? You know, is this not?

Nyge: Something I was interested about is in your New York Times op-ed, you called your and Britney Spears’ experience as child actors, The Narrative, or the idea that anyone who grew up in the public eye will meet some tragic end? 

Mara: Yeah.

Nyge: You said one big difference between yourself and Britney Spears was that you had a really good support system around you. Why is the support system so important and how did you maintain your support system? 

Mara: When you are a child and you are in the public eye or when you were a young person in the public eye? People tend to change a lot because they get, first of all, they get more suspicious of other people because people want things from them. But people also, I think, can get a little bit more entitled because they’re used to having people do things for them. And a lot of these people don’t really have people that they know and trust and people who really know and trust them. You are kind known, but you are unknown when you are a public figure. So what you need is you need people you can trust. And I will be the first to say that I have trust issues. I have trouble trusting people. So and a lot of my friends, I think, are people that like people I’ve known since before I was acting, which is a very long time, you know, like since I was three or four more people who knew me in middle school when I wasn’t acting and I was in a weird place or people I’ve known since high school who saw me at my worst and also my family. I’m very close with my brothers and my sister and I think that it needs to be people who really know you, who really love you for you, and for some people, that’s a partner that they have. For a lot of other people, it’s spirituality. And it’s spirituality that is, you know, is grounding for them and reminds them that they are a part of something bigger. For some people, it’s just friends and it’s family. For a lot of people, it’s chosen family. But I also think you need people who love you unconditionally and people who tell you also when you’re wrong. That I think is very important, too. And people to call you out. I think that is a loving thing to do. 

Merk: Well, are there any other projects or writing things that you have coming up that you wanted to share with our audience? 

Mara: I have a couple of things coming up, but not much that I can talk about yet. If you want to see a breathing exercise I’ve done, look up project, UR. Letters, UR OK. And that’s something that kind of helps me do my breathing when I’m anxious. I write at Mara.Substack.com. I’m @MaraWilson on Instagram and on Twitter. I also have a cameo. And so if you have like a daughter who loves Matilda or something like that, I would be happy to make a video for them. I love doing Cameos, I thought I would be kind of shy about it, but they’re so fun and it’s like, I love that it’s like somebody like librarians and teachers who love Mattilda, who are like, you know, can you do this for my wife? Can you do this for my sister? Yeah, I love that. So, yeah, that’s what I’ve got going on right now. And thank you so much for having me on. 

Merk: Yeah, thanks so much for being here, Mara.

[Music Break] 

Nyge: So top takeaways for today are one, medication is different for everyone, when prescribed it can be a tool in learning to manage your mental health but it is best not to come in with expectations. 

Merk: And two, struggling with your mental health can make you feel like people don’t understand you or you don’t understand yourself, you might feel alone. But we want you to know you aren’t. Never stop fighting for better days, we promise there is a way through. 

Nyge: And with that thanks for listening to Adult ISH, produced by YR Media, a national network of young artists and journalists creating content for this generation. 

Merk: Thank yous go out to our producer Georgia Wright, Executive Producer Rebecca Martin, and the young people at YR who contributed art for this episode. 

Nyge: Again, just a reminder that we’re not mental health care professionals. If you think you need some extra support, we’ve got resources and info to get you connected to the pros on our website adultishpodcast.com.

Merk: To stay up to date with us, be sure to give us a follow on all the socials @YRadultISH.

Nyge: We’re also proud to be members of Radiotopia by PRX. An independent listener-supported collective of some of the most mentally stimulating shows in all of podcasting. Find them at radiotopia.fm.

Merk: And now for next week’s out of context clip.

(phone notification)

Merk: Ahhh no more exciting sound than that one right, Nyge?

Nyge: You have no idea … alright y’all catch you next week everybody. 

Merk: Later!

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