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The Anxious Lad podcast with PJ Gallagher: A Deep Dive into Mental Health and Personal Struggles

It has been a pleasure having Matt from the Anxious Lad Podcast in our podcast studio at The Edge in Tallaght, Dublin.





Sitting down with Matt is the renowned comedian, playwright, and actor PJ Gallagher. Let's delve into this in-depth conversation about his life, mental health, and more.


Setting the Stage


We often begin our sessions in the comfort of our homes, but today, it's a special treat as we convene in a real studio space at the Podcast Dublin, located at the Edge Incubation Centre in Tallaght. A huge shout-out to them for making this episode possible.


A Day in the Life of PJ Gallagher


The conversation kicks off with a light note:


"Right. So, welcome to another episode of the Anxious Lad podcast. And I normally start off by saying, join me in the virtual studio U, but tonight we're pulling out the big ones and we're in an actual studio. An actual studio."


PJ chuckles, reflecting on life's busyness, "It's crazy at the moment. Between the shows, TV stuff, and on top of it all, babies. I had twins in August – they're eight months now. One's crawling, one's screaming. That's my life loop now. No sleep. No parent ever tells you the truth."


The Reality of Parenthood and Mental Health


Parenthood is a massive commitment, and PJ doesn't sugarcoat it. He shares the real struggles, especially with twins, and how it impacts every facet of life. Here's a candid take from PJ on the early months with twins:


"Everything's easy apart from babies. They just suck all your time. I had twins in August; they're eight months now. One's crawling, one's screaming. And that's your life loop now, isn't it? Yeah. No sleep. Nobody sleeps."

Comedy and Depression: The Two Faces of PJ Gallagher


Despite his comedy career, PJ is no stranger to the darker sides of life. He openly discusses his experiences with depression, which many might find surprising given his humorous public persona.





"It's unbelievable. You spend years trying to make people laugh, and then you become known for being depressing rather than for the laughs. You're no longer the comedian; you're that 'depressed fella'."


PJ explained how his unexpected fame for something other than comedy surprised even him:


"You spend all these years trying to make people laugh. And then all of a sudden, you become more known for being depressing than you do for giving people laughs."

A Surprise Late Late Show Revelation




PJ went silent from the scene for three months due to his mental health struggles, leading him to eventually open up on the Late Late Show – a decision he initially thought would put an end to questions and speculations.


"I thought, just say it once on the Late Late Show, and it's done. How naive was I? The next day, it was on all the papers. Tens of thousands of messages poured in. That's when I realized I couldn't stop talking about it anymore."


Many people reached out, sharing their stories and struggles, realizing they weren't alone. This chain reaction exemplifies the importance and impact of sharing one's journey.


Childhood in a Madhouse


Gallagher's childhood was unconventional. His home was part of an experiment called "boarding out," where previously institutionalized individuals with severe mental illnesses were placed in domestic settings. This formed the backdrop to his early years:


"Our home was part of an experiment by the Eastern Health Board, taking people institutionalized and putting them in a family home. Six of them in our house – some with schizophrenia, delusions, thinking there was a dog living in their belly."


The First Encounter with Mental Illness




PJ recounted his first serious episode of mental illness at around 19 years old. It started unexpectedly and disastrously after what seemed like a simple panic attack led to six months of housebound anxiety and depression.


"One day, watching the Oprah Winfrey show, a guy in the audience had a heart attack. Then I thought I was, too – it turned out to be a panic attack that lasted six months. All fell apart."


Misconceptions About Mental Health


A significant theme in Gallagher's story is the widespread misunderstanding and stigma around mental health. He strongly emphasized that mental illness is not merely about feeling sad or stressed – it's far more profound and distressing.


"Mental illness is like any serious illness – it takes over your body. Every cell of your body is trying to kill you."

The Turning Point: A Simple Text Message


Perhaps the most pivotal moment in PJ’s recovery came down to a simple text message. On a day when he had resolved not to live anymore, a message from his friend Stephanie asking if he needed her changed everything. He called her instead of following through with his plan:


"If that text wasn't there, I wouldn't be here. It was that moment that changed my life. Made the call, went to her house. That was where everything began to change."


Becoming an Advocate


PJ now uses his platform to speak openly about mental health, emphasizing the need for a multifaceted approach to recovery. It's not just about medication or therapy alone – it’s a combination of activities, social support, and proper medical guidance.


"A comprehensive approach is what works. New meds, therapy, walks, group therapy – you need to try everything."


His candid sharing has proven influential, sparking conversations and encouraging others to seek help, showing them that vulnerability is strength.


Reflection and Moving Forward

Gallagher’s journey is a testament to resilience. His ability to find humour, connect genuinely with people, and share his struggles continues to inspire many.


"Sometimes you’re a happy person with bad days, and sometimes you’re an unhappy person with good days. The last two years…I’m a very happy person with the odd bad day."

His relentless spirit and appreciation for life’s small joys embody hope for anyone struggling with mental health.


Conclusion



PJ Gallagher’s story serves as an honest, heartfelt examination of mental illness from someone who’s experienced its depths first-hand. By talking openly about his life in comedy, personal struggles, and eventual recovery, Gallagher offers hope and a reminder that reaching out for help can make all the difference.


Remember: It’s okay to seek help. True strength lies in vulnerability.

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