Jeff Garlin is an actor, producer, director, comedian, writer, and all-around super nice person who is hilarious both on the screen (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and on the page (My Footprint: Carrying the Weight of the World). He is also hilarious on the phone, where he was kind enough to talk to me about a few things we have in common, like ADD, eating-disorder recovery, and getting past anxiety (which, as you can tell from the amount of “ums” and “uhs” on my end, is something I’m still dealing with—this was the first interview that I have ever conducted). Though I was extremely nervous and shaky, he could not have been nicer nor more understanding about my anxiety and ADD tendencies, nor could he have been more open and honest about his own. He was funny, warm, and inspiring, and after we talked I felt a little braver, which is how I hope you’ll feel after reading this interview.
PIXIE: Hi, how are you?
JEFF GARLIN: Hi. I’m good. The, uh, the recording device has an English accent. [In an English accent] You’re being recorded for Recorder for iPhone.
Maybe they just wanted to make it sound fancy?
Yeah. So, sister, ask all the questions you want, I’ll answer them all honestly.
OK, I think, um, it’s going to help a lot of girls who read the site, so it will be good. Um, I read your book!
I did, yeah!
And we actually have a lot in common, because I have ADD too, and I have … I had an eating disorder when I was younger. You talk about all of that stuff in the book, so I related to it a lot. Um, was it therapeutic for you to write the book? Were you nervous about being so open about all of it?
No, I’m never nervous about being open at any time. The only time that it really doesn’t pay off to be open is sometimes when you’re in love with somebody, because you reveal yourself and if they decide they don’t like that part of you, that’s horrible, and it’s really hurtful and sad, and I’ve always hated that. But, you know, I am the way I am.
I know with my own recovery, it helps me to be open with my friends and my family, because it helps me stay accountable for my behavior. And I noticed in your book that you were really open about your problems so that the people you worked with could help you stay on track.
Yeah, but the bottom line is you can only rely on yourself. People can only help you so much.
Right, right. So, um, what was your earliest memory of having ADD?
Wow, my earliest memory. Well, the thing is, I was not diagnosed until really my late 20s.
Oh, OK, that’s the same for me.
It was just, I knew there was something different about me, you know? And I always wondered why I was so different, and then a lot of that became clear when my friends’ parents, who were social workers, said, “Have you ever investigated this?” I was like, “I’ve never even heard of it.” And then when I got tested and started seeing doctors, they were very clear that I had it. And meditation really helped me.
Were you relieved when you had a diagnosis?
Oh, of course! You’re always looking—you always know there’s something wrong with you, but to find out what it is, and that there’s a way that you can deal with it, it’s definitely a relief. It explained to me why, all through school—especially junior high and high school—I didn’t do as well as I could’ve. Because, you know, I think I’m pretty intelligent, and looking back, I should have been great at school. I should’ve gotten great grades. Instead I got terrible grades, and I barely graduated high school, and I would say it’s because of ADD.
Right. Like for me, I did well in school, but my ADD is more like, I was really, um, I get irritated really easily, like by lights and sounds, and I get disorganized, you know?
I have both of those.
And I would drink, like, a TON of caffeine, like every day—
Oh see, but that’s self-medicating.
Yeah, that’s what I mean. It was actually the only thing that would calm me down, and I didn’t know why until I was 25, and I was like, “Oh, well that makes a little sense.”
If I drank a lot of caffeine, I would definitely be self-medicating. As of now, I don’t drink coffee at all. I drank coffee once for a week when I was 40. I don’t even drink soda. As a matter of fact, I haven’t had sugar in almost three years, and that’s had a great effect on my ADD. I think sugar is one of the things that really exacerbate ADD.
And I try to eat as few artificial ingredients and things like that as possible—chemicals and stuff in food. I try to eat as natural as I can.
Do you find that it’s hard to explain an ADD brain to people who don’t have it?
I don’t even know why you need to explain. As much as people say it’s a curse, I think it’s more of a blessing, at least if you want to be creative, because it’s almost like a creative mind. The unfortunate thing for people with ADD is, they tend to, in school situations, not be able to be constrained, and in social situations, they tend to make a lot of faux pas. But I think the key to the whole thing is, just be nice to yourself and know that’s just what you are, and kind of accept it.
So, you write and you act and you direct and you produce. You have a lot of stuff going on at once. I mean, the ADD can be beneficial for that, but do you have anything that keeps you organized or focused while you’re balancing all of these things at the same time?
I think it’s really important to have a good organizer [laughs]. I think that’s really, really, really important for keeping track of what you need to accomplish, and what your big goals are, and the small goals that lead you that way, so you don’t get off track and get off course. The other thing that I have learned over the years is to do your best to listen. Listening is really, really, really important, and people with ADD want to generally talk while other people are talking, because they’ve already got a reply, so it’s a challenge to sort of—
I’m trying not to do it right now! I’m trying not to do it while you’re talking!
It’s hard, you know? You want to get it out before you forget, you know, what you want to say—
Yeah, well, that’s ADD. And you’re gonna have to say to somebody … I’m writing with someone right now, and when you’re writing with somebody, sometimes you have to say, “Can I please say this? Because otherwise I’ll forget it.” And if they understand what’s going on with you, they’ll be cool with that. Or at least if you have a pad of paper in front of you, you write it down while they’re talking.
You mentioned earlier that you take medication, which I do too, and I find it really helpful. But everybody with ADD is different, everybody’s, you know, treatment is different? And some people benefit from therapy, and some people benefit from medication, and some people benefit from both. Have you found something that works for you?
I have not taken medication for years. Right now, my big thing for ADD, and for everything, is I do meditation, twice a day.
Oh, meditation. I’m sorry.
Yeah, I don’t really take ADD medication anymore. I do meditation, and that really seems to help.
Is it hard at first to start?
No, I find it easy. I do Transcendental Meditation. You don’t have to focus on anything. It’s effortless, and I like that.
So, um, I know you do stand-up, improv, comedy—do you consider that to be a coping skill?
That’s really a great observation. It really is a coping skill. And I think I’m a better improviser because of ADD. ADD allows me to be better at all the things that I do.
I wouldn’t be as good as I am if it weren’t for ADD.
Um, I’m really nervous. I’m trying not to be. This is the first interview I’ve ever done, so I’m trying not to be super nervous, um…
The way I look at it is, you’re trying not to be nervous, but the reality is you are nervous, so you should just embrace it.
The more you fight against it, the more you fight against nerves, the more you will get nervous. The more you embrace it—it’s sort of maybe a Zen approach, but you gotta embrace it and just say, “Hey, I’m feeling quite nervous.”
You’re doing a great job.
I’m trying! I’m trying not to, like, stumble. I’m just trying to go from, like, thing to thing here and figure out what I want to say.
You’re doing a fantastic job.
Oh! [Laughs] I’m trying. Um. Something that I wanted to talk to you about was something that you just mentioned, about embracing your nerves and sort of accepting things. I was first diagnosed with my eating disorder when I was 18 and the ADD later, but I think over the years it’s become something that I’ve had to accept as something that, um, I have. But I don’t have to, like, suffer with it? It’s just something that is a part of my life, and it’s not like a sentence as much as just another regular part of me that I have to adapt to.
Most definitely. Yes, yes yes yes yes, yes yes yes.
Was it ever hard for you to deal with that, or was it easy for you to get help when you needed it?
Um, geez, I think it’s all pretty hard, if you ask me [laughs]. I think it’s all very, very hard. I’m accepting of myself, but it’s a daily struggle—with my eating, with my ADD, with everything. It’s always, always a struggle. There’s good parts to my day and there’s bad parts to my day, and I sort of just embrace all of it and do the best I can.
Yeah, I go to one in particular. I haven’t been for a while.
When I try to explain anorexia recovery to people, that’s the comparison that I go to the most. I’ve been in recovery for eight years, but it’s something that I have to do every single day. Like, if an alcoholic takes a drink, they’re screwed, and if I try to lose five pounds, I’m not going to be able to stop, you know what I mean? So I thought that was an interesting comparison.
I totally know what you mean.
Do you think people will ever treat food addiction and eating disorders as seriously as drug and alcohol problems? Or do you think it will take a long time for that?
I think it should already be taken as seriously, but unfortunately it’s not, and I don’t think it will. I think people look at fat people as having a lack of willpower, when willpower has nothing to do with it. I didn’t change my life until I approached everything like an addict. I haven’t had sweets in almost three years because I know if I have one cookie, just like if an alcoholic has his first drink, I’m off to the races and I’m back eating sugar again.
I read Tina Fey’s book, and she said that improv sort of shaped her outlook on life in general. It taught her to say yes, to not be afraid of things. Do you find this is true for you?
Completely true. When it comes to anything involved with my art, or show business, or whatever you want to call it, I’m pretty fearless. I don’t care. I mean, I care, but I’m saying I can’t be stopped. I’m not going to let fear stop me. I think the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that everybody’s scared, but successful people don’t let fear stop them. They keep moving forward through their fears.
Yeah, like the more you do it, the less scary it becomes.
Well, I think it’s always scary to one degree or another, but you don’t let it stop you. You just keep moving forward. Because I think unsuccessful people, in life, in their profession, all that stuff, I think the problem lies in the fact that they let their fear paralyze them.
What do you think has been the most important part of your recovery process over the last few years?
Just that I can’t deny it; I have to embrace it. I have to embrace that I have ADD, I have to embrace that I have anxiety, I have to embrace that I’m a compulsive overeater, I have to embrace everything and admit that I have it. And that way, I can do everything in my power to get past it. I don’t deny any of it. But I don’t obsess about any of it, either.
You just have to let it go.
You have to embrace it and then do what you can to fix it.
And rely on people in your life to just be supportive.
No, I can’t rely on anyone for anything. You’re not wrong by saying rely, and I know a lot of teenagers will be reading this interview, and it’s all about their friends, and they rely on their friends. I have very close friends who are very warm and supportive, don’t get me wrong, but the bottom-line lesson is that you have to rely on yourself. You have to have self-reliance. You have to fix all of these things yourself. You can get help from doctors, you can get help from friends, but it’s really your responsibility.
When I was in the hospital they would say the choices you make every day are on you. Nobody else can make them for you.
Yes, right. It’s on you.
So I guess this answers the final question I have for you, which is: what advice do you wish somebody had given you as a teenager, when you were dealing with anxiety, or … I guess you didn’t know it was ADD at the time, but, um, if you had known?
Here’s the thing. When you’re younger and you’re in high school, you think that there’s this drama that surrounds everything. You feel like this is the end of everything, you know? You feel that everything is magnified, with your ADD, with your eating, whatever it is. What I wish somebody had told me (and really if they had I don’t know if I would’ve listened to them) is that it’s a long life, and it’s a long journey, and you can overcome all adversity. Adversity is the most wonderful thing that can happen to you, because success, really true success, does not come without lots of adversity first. So adversity is the most fantastic thing. When you face these things, like ADD, right now it’s adversity, but you’ll find out later that it’s like, “Thank god I had that, because it helped make me this special person that I am.”
This was really great, and it helped me, so thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
Sure, and if you have any follow-up questions let me know, and if any readers write in with any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.
Oh great, OK. Well, thank you so much.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. Take good care. Bye.
You too. Bye. ♦
If you have any questions for Jeff, please email them to [email protected], and write JEFF GARLIN in the subject line.