Comedian Gary Gulman: Mental Health Tips For Sports Fans During Quarantine

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(Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Hilarity For Charity)
(Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Hilarity For Charity)

Comedian Gary Gulman has been open about his experience with anxiety and depression on stage, in interviews and on social media.

In 2018, Gary Gulman became an Only A Game favorite when he joined us to share the story of his experience playing football at Boston College — and how it ultimately led him to a therapist's office.

Gary Gulman returned to Only A Game to talk about strategies for staying mentally healthy during this pandemic.

KG: Gary, so good to have you back.

GG: Oh, it is a pleasure to be back. And I'm honored that I'm a favorite. That is a really great compliment.

KG: You are absolutely a favorite. So there are really three main things that I know about you. I know that you're a comedian.

GG: Yes.

KG: I know that you're a sports fan.

GG: Huge.

KG: And I know that you've been very open about your anxiety and depression. So, not to put too fine a point on things, but you're a comedian with currently nowhere to perform. A sports fan with no traditional sports to watch. How are you holding up? 

GG: I am holding up very well, considering. I don't know what led me to do this. I think it was an interview that I had to give on on CNN.

I made a list of all the things that I had done at the beginning of my recovery from my depression, things that were working. I made the list, so I had them all in front of me, and I was able to continue to do them on a daily basis. I guess it goes to the vigilance that I swore that I would keep, once I recovered from my depression and anxiety episode that lasted for two and a half years.

KG: Well, obviously, everyone is keyed in right now on best practices for hand-washing and social distancing and all those other strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But why is it important to pay attention to mental health right now as well? 

GG: Well, I think that, if you are a human, then during these times you get stressed out and you get anxious and you get sad and you get depressed. And those are normal reactions. But it's also important to be aware [of] what is actual mental illness, what is affecting your outlook and your chemistry.

So, when I think you see those symptoms, then it's time to reach out to a therapist. And in the past, when I've had short stints of not feeling like myself, I have consulted with my psychopharmacologist, my psychiatrist, who has, in one case, upped the dosage of a medicine that I took. And I found within four or five days that that was all that was necessary.

KG: So tell me about that list you've made. What have you been doing these past few weeks to safeguard your mental health? 

GG: Right. I think when this happened, I was concerned that I wasn't going to be seeing enough people, and that I wasn't going to be having enough conversations. And I found this app on my phone that I hadn't used in a long time. It was actually the "phone" app. And I'm happy to report, one, that it's still in working order. And two, that for the most part, especially with FaceTime and Skype, you can really make connections. And at the very least, get out of your head for a little while. But also, I've had some really deep conversations with friends and family and sharing some of the fears and concerns...but also laughing and reminiscing.

And the other thing is that I've been exercising regularly. And we have to be careful about social distancing. Luckily, I'm staying in a suburb outside of Atlanta. So I have I have a lot of room to jog and walk and get outside. There were a couple of days I played basketball by myself, but then I was concerned that I was encouraging other people to play basketball — that they would see me and they would feel safe coming out to play basketball. So I stopped that.

But I have been really good about running almost every day. That is an anti-depressant in itself. Just the getting the heart rate going. And it doesn't take that long to get the antidepressant effects. I think it's the act of putting on your outfit and your sneakers and getting out there. That's really the hardest part, and that really gives you some inertia that can really help you through the rest of the day.

The other thing that I think should be adhered to during this: don't spend all day watching or listening to the news, especially if you're prone to catastrophizing and worry and anxiety. I think it's helpful to avoid. You will hear if there is a cure, because everybody will be cheering and running around the neighborhood.

"While you can't watch sports, you can take the lessons from sports. And you can read about sports."

Gary Gulman

KG: There's another aspect to this, and I sort of mentioned it at the beginning. But one of our major distractions has been taken away. You know, the Olympics have been postponed. Almost all sports leagues are shut down. How have you been coping without that escape? 

GG: Well, it's interesting... When I first started to practice basketball, I wanted to spin the ball on my finger. And I failed for hours and hours and days and days. And then, one day, it started to spin on my finger. And I remember the elation and the excitement. And it was also such a great lesson that you could improve if you stuck with it.

So I would say that while you can't watch sports, you can take the lessons from sports. And you can read about sports. And my favorite thing about sports is actually reading about them. I would start by reading anything by David Halberstam. And then, of course, with YouTube and sports networks, there are so many games. And it's very pleasant to watch and see, even the outfits of the basketball players have changed so much since when I was a kid. And it's very nostalgic.

And a lot of my advice involves getting out of your head. And I think that's pretty helpful in this time, is to watch these games that have brought us so much joy and relief over the years.

KG: Do you have any particular games we should look up? 

GG: OK. So in 1984, the Lakers played the Boston Celtics in a seven-game series for the first time in the history of the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson face off.

And it was every bit as exciting and dramatic as you would have hoped. They had played in their final college basketball games against each other, and Magic Johnson had won. But they hadn't played [in the championship] in their NBA careers. And it was just one of the greatest things I've ever witnessed.

That's a good place for somebody who is exactly like me. But there are so many great events that we haven't seen in a long time that can bring about a respite from the worry and the anxiety.

KG: So I can't let you go without asking one more question. And it might be a bit of a downer. But since you're originally from the Boston area, how are you handling the news about Tom Brady becoming a [Tampa Bay] Buc? 

GG: Oh, I will admit that it didn't bother me at all.  I've been secretly — or not so secretly — railing against Boston fans for so long, because we had it so good. And they seemed so ungrateful from afar. When I would listen to the talk radio shows, and they'd call in and complain about how the Patriots had had a losing season, as far as they're concerned, because they didn't win the Super Bowl this year. It just, really ... by the end, they didn't really deserve him.

The Patriots when I was growing up, were not even playoff contenders most of the seasons of my life, so the fact that they were always favored every Sunday, that was something I'm very grateful for, and grateful to Tom Brady for that. And I hope some of the listeners will take time to be grateful for the run we had.

KG: Gary, thank you so much.

GG: Karen, it was a pleasure. And your your voice is very soothing, and to make you laugh has been a pleasure. And so I will hopefully see you on the other side of this.

Check out Gary Gulman's recent HBO special "The Great Depresh" and his 2016 special "It's About Time."

This segment aired on April 4, 2020.


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Karen Given Executive Producer/Interim Host, Only A Game
Karen is the executive producer for WBUR's Only A Game.



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