The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.
On the comedy stage, Nikki Glaser is fearless — as comfortable talking about her sex life as roasting Alec Baldwin (a moment that's been viewed 4.6 million times). Whether on stage, TV or a podcast, Glaser makes exposing your inner life — or mocking someone else's — seem effortless, even fun. But behind the scenes, the 37-year-old has long struggled to remain open about her battles with mental health and anorexia.
That was, until the pandemic hit. Forced to press pause on her comedy projects, Glaser was left staring her own insecurities in the face, and became determined to do something about it. So the comedian made a move that was both shocking and, in 2020, completely unoriginal: She moved back in with her parents.
"It was embarrassing really to be there because it was clearly by choice. I couldn't say it was a financial reason," says Glaser. "Like there's no shame in moving back home with your parents for any reason, but financially is more accessible. When you just want your mommy and daddy and you're scared of the world, that's what my case was."
While there, she joined a support group for her eating disorder, did karaoke in their living room and learned that the only way forward is through. Now running her own weekly podcast and set to host HBO Max's upcoming reality show Fboy Island, Glaser opens to Yahoo Life about ADD, recovery and why Taylor Swift is a "central part" of her mental health regimen.
What was it like living with your parents during quarantine?
I think that humans are social creatures. And I just had to admit to myself that I get depressed when I'm alone. And it's, like, not good for my mental health to isolate. I need to be accountable, I need people to see what behaviors I'm indulging in. Things just can spiral out of control if I'm alone... I really did get severely depressed last summer and had to have some serious mental health intervention that thankfully got me in line perfectly for when the world opened up.
Was that your first major battle with depression?
I was always a depressed teen looking back, which I think a lot of people can relate to. I had ADD, which wasn't looked at because it's usually boys jumping off the walls [and] talking too much and I was really quiet. I was scared of attention and disorganized and preoccupied with thoughts and had no coping mechanisms. So I think I was depressed but it didn't really set in until I got an eating disorder, which stemmed from OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder] and depression.
Did you find it difficult to open up about what you were going through?
It's tough because I come from a family where mental illness is not discussed — not because people are cruel, but because it's just too much. There's too much history there and it's too hard to look at. And they just can't and I've accepted that my family didn't get any help for my anorexia not because they weren't so terrified and not because they wanted me to die, but because they just were frozen in fear.
Were other people commenting on your struggles with eating?
When you have an eating disorder, you can learn how to look normal and then still be a mess. You might not look anorexic but you are — you can live like that. It's even worse because no one can see it. So I was in the depths of an eating disorder when COVID hit and I had nothing else to look at. And it was just like, OK, you need to fix this. If you don't want to live with your parents the next time, you better fix it because no one can get close to you when you are hiding habits that are the best part of your day. The best part of my day was dinner because I would starve myself all day. I'd say it was intermittent fasting and eat a big dinner and no one would really notice. It was hell and now I just want to keep my life as honest as possible, because if I can be honest about something, it means it must not be that shameful.
Did you feel like the pressure from society for women to be perfect and thin made it worse?
All I wanted in high school was someone who I looked up to and thought had it all together to say that they struggled with one of the things I struggled with. All I wanted was Jennifer Anniston to show insecurity. And it just never got through to me in any Seventeen magazine or Teen People. I was craving authenticity and realness... that's why I f***ing love Taylor Swift. If she was around when I was in high school, I would have turned out differently. No better, not worse, just different.
What is it about Taylor Swift that you love so much?
I can't feel my feelings because I grew up always feeling guilty about how I felt. And also thinking that crying was a manipulative tool that didn't work. Like, people don't believe it. So Taylor Swift helped me feel my feelings. There's a song for every emotion I could be feeling.
Wow, sounds like she has made a big impact.
She helped me a lot through this pandemic, a lot. I've always been reluctant to be one of these people that's like hanging on Billie Eilish's arm as she's trying to walk away like, "You saved my life." And I'm like, oh my God, so dramatic. But music definitely saved my life as a young girl and even now, Taylor Swift is a central part of my mental health regimen.
What else has helped you overcome these struggles?
I'm in a recovery program for my eating disorder and you know, if any other readers want to know what got me to finally figure it out they could absolutely always DM me on Instagram. Really, what it is is just like really accepting the fact that I am not a bad person and that the things that I do that are not great and that I'm mad at myself for are just me trying to do my best and failing — and that's OK.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
If you or someone you know is struggling with body image or eating concerns, NEDA’s toll-free, confidential helpline is available to help by phone (800-931-2237) and click-to-chat message. Crisis support is also available via text message by texting ‘NEDA’ to 741741.
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