“I’m glad my mom died,” said almost no one. Except it’s the title of a new book by Jennette McCurdy, Nickelodeon actress turned author. Our host Gabe Howard simply had to know: Is McCurdy truly glad her mom died? And if so, Why?
Listen now to learn the circumstances behind McCurdy’s book and what lead the iCarly star to share her feelings with the world.
Jennette McCurdy starred in Nickelodeon’s hit show “iCarly” and its spin-off, “Sam & Cat,” as well as in the Netflix series “Between.” In 2017, she quit acting and began pursuing writing/directing. Her films have been featured in the Florida Film Festival, the Salute Your Shorts Film Festival, Short of the Week, and elsewhere. Her essays have appeared in HuffPost and The Wall Street Journal. Her one-woman show “I’m Glad My Mom Died” had two sold-out runs at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre and Hudson Theatre in Los Angeles. She hosts a podcast called “Empty Inside,” which has topped Apple’s charts and features guests speaking about uncomfortable topics. She lives in Los Angeles. Jennette’s heartbreaking and hilarious memoir “I’m Glad My Mom Died”was released in August 2022. Find out more at www.JennetteMcCurdy.com.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.
To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hello, everyone. I’m your host, Gabe Howard and calling in to the show today, we have Jennette McCurdy. Jennette starred in Nickelodeon’s hit show iCarly and its spinoff Sam & Cat, as well as in the Netflix series Between. She hosts a podcast called Empty Inside and recently released the book, “I’m Glad My Mom Died.” Jennette, welcome to the show.
Jennette McCurdy: Thanks for having me, Gabe. I’m excited to talk with you.
Gabe Howard: You know, I thought the title of my book, “Mental Illness Is An Asshole,” was very arresting and clever. But then your book crossed my desk and I just immediately realized upon seeing the title that there was just absolutely no way around it. The first question that I was going to ask and am going to ask is, are you really glad your mom died?
Jennette McCurdy: I am I, I was aware, of course, when I went with that title that it’s attention-grabbing and provocative as intended. But also it’s something that I would never say flippantly. I mean it sincerely. And I think I earn it not only in the writing of the book, but in the life that I live to get to that perspective. And also, I love the title of your book.
Gabe Howard: Thank you so much, Jennette. I like the title of yours as well because it just lays it out there. There’s a quip that I like and it’s Oh, they said the quiet part out loud. And when I saw the name of your book, it was like, wow, she is yelling the quiet part out loud. You’re not easing people into it. You’re not BSing people. These are your feelings. Was that your point? That you’re just like, look, this is it. This is what’s happened. This is who I am, and I’m not going to apologize for it.
Jennette McCurdy: 100%. I think anybody who has experienced abuse from a from a parent has this need to kind of protect and preserve the narrative of their parent being good. And that’s, I think, largely because of society’s judgment and the stigma around being honest with the reality of what your upbringing was and what your parent was like. But it was really important to me, not only for myself, but also for anybody else who’s experienced parental abuse to just say the truth and not sugarcoat it. I think people deserve more honesty.
Gabe Howard: Do you feel that this directness is helping people connect with your message, or do you feel that it’s so off-putting that people won’t read it? What’s been your experience since the book came out? And of course, in talking to the public about it?
Jennette McCurdy: I’ve been so, so thrilled with the reception so far. And even people who come up to me, whether that’s online or even people who come up to me in person and have said, I’m so excited to read your book, or I’ve run into a few people who have who have read early copies and they’ve been so emphatic and supportive and understanding. And that was exactly my hope. I think that the book that I’ve written is very nuanced. And it’s not black and white. There’s there’s a lot of layers and a lot of complexity there. And I hope and think that people are and will continue to appreciate those aspects.
Gabe Howard: How long did it take you to realize from the time that she died until you noticed that you felt better? There had to be a transitional phase. I mean, again, I I’m I don’t know how to word questions about when did you realize that you were glad that your mom died? But that’s that’s sort of my question. How long did it take from the time that she passed away until the time that you were like, huh, this isn’t so bad?
Jennette McCurdy: It was it was years in therapy. I talk about it in the book better than I could ever talk about it off the cuff in a twenty-second sort of response, but I quit therapy initially when my first therapist had suggested that my mother was abusive. I couldn’t tolerate that information. I was in no way ready to accept that reality. And it was, it was several years before I was able to kind of recommit myself to therapy and really face the reality of my past and come to terms with it, including that I was glad that my mom died.
Gabe Howard: I’m glad that my mom died is such a big question. And I just want you to know, as we’re sitting here, it’s a nervous thing for me. Every time I ask you a question about your mom and her death, there’s like this pit in my stomach. It’s like, dude, don’t do that. Like, what’s wrong with you? You’re being rude. She’s a nice person. I owe you condolences. I owe you a casserole. I owe you support. And there’s just this overarching. I don’t know, like the rules of society state whenever somebody dies, they immediately become good. We don’t talk ill of the dead, and you tell everybody something wonderful about them. Is that messing with you in any way? And is that messing with people who interview you? Because just full disclosure, it’s kind of messing with me.
Jennette McCurdy: In what aspect? Is the is the belief or the narrative that romanticizing the dead is sort of a social standard messing with me? Is that what you’re asking.
Gabe Howard: Yeah. I mean, you’ve definitely rejected it and for that full praise. But it that does that feel any way for you? Was it hard to reject it? Do the people around you do they ever try to sit you down and say, hey, hey, no, no, no, you’ve got to say nice things only. What’s it like for you and everybody around you pushing this societal norm just down a flight of stairs?
Jennette McCurdy: Frankly, I think it’s important work. I think bringing to light the uncomfortable narratives, point of view, the uncomfortable topics that people don’t talk about is work that needs to be done. And the reception from the people who either saw my one person show or have read the book has been overwhelmingly positive. And aside from that, I have my my brothers and their support and their their understanding. And that’s that’s really very, very important to me. And then as for, like the narrative of romanticizing the dead, I just don’t subscribe to that. I don’t subscribe to the idea of romanticizing anything. I think I think it’s important to take off the rose colored glasses and and look at reality.
Gabe Howard: Was writing in the book, something that you did for yourself. Did you have intentions in the beginning of selling it and make it public? Was it a therapeutic thing that just ended up being published for all of us to read? What was the genesis of doing that? And I believe it started with your one woman show and then just sort of turn into a book. But what was the idea behind all of that?
Jennette McCurdy: From the one person show and the book are actually two separate projects. So it wasn’t like I just took the one person show and wrote it into and just like typed it out into book form or anything like that. The one person shows the musical and has a lot of interactive audience elements, and I hope to do it again at some point. It was it was quite rewarding to be able to do and experience the audience reactions in person and everything. And the book covers quite, quite a different for the need of the book, covers it quite a different time in my life, which is my childhood and my upbringing as a child actor and a teen star, if I can use that term.
Gabe Howard: I think you can use it.
Jennette McCurdy: So.
Gabe Howard: You you were a teen star. You are a star.
Jennette McCurdy: Uh, I’m. I’m losing the question here. Oh. Oh, no, I remember. I remember. Okay, so the the book was for me, everything that I cover in the book was something that I. Privately worked on and privately unpacked and explored for seven years. So in no way did I feel like, Oh, I’m going to write this book about my life at any point during that work privately. And I think it was only through doing that work privately that I was able to get to the point where I thought, You know what, I think there’s a way of crafting this into not just my life story, but more importantly, as I see it, a good book, which is what I think I ultimately did. And I’m really proud of. I’m proud of myself for the personal obstacles that I’ve overcome, but I’m also equally proud of myself for the good work that I’ve done in this book.
Gabe Howard: Did you have to sacrifice any relationships because of this? Was there anybody that said, look, I’m not going to stand by while you speak ill of your mother?
Jennette McCurdy: No. The people who are in my life by the point that I started writing the book, which was a year and a half ago, are my my true friends and family. And those people I trust will be with me forever. Those relationships are really strong. I feel a lot of support from them.
Gabe Howard: That’s got to be such a weird juxtaposition for you, because as I listen to you talk about your brothers and your friends and the people around you, I think, wow, this woman has this incredible support system. But you wrote a book called “I’m Glad My Mom Died.” And as we learned at the top of the podcast, you are glad your mom died. You’ve experienced so much trauma and manipulation from her, and of course that’s not supportive at all. These are such extreme things, they are polar opposites. Is this an issue for you?
Jennette McCurdy: No, let me let me bring this. We’ve got a theme here, Gabe. We’ve got this theme of gratitude going on. I feel grateful for my past and the the lack of support that I felt in it, because it’s helped me to really, really make sure and discern people in my relationships nowadays so that I feel like I will. There is no situation where where I’m I have somebody in my close circle who is not worthy of of. A deep trust.
Gabe Howard: I imagine that the listeners want to know how? How did you do it? How did you get to this awesome place?
Jennette McCurdy: Well, I think this goes back to it goes back to boundaries and it goes back to therapy and self-discovery and it goes back to the hypervigilance from my youth, where how I was able to sort of channel it. And that is only through the boundaries and through the therapeutic work. So I think they’re all kind of interrelated in this life. But and also I appreciate you asking the deeper kind of question here, because I think it is easy to for anything that’s talked about in this kind of arena to be very meme-ified. So I think I think there’s more to it than that. And for me, I don’t know what anybody else is experience is like, of course, but for me it was really about doing the work in therapy, discovering what I actually want and need, understanding my values. And then getting a grasp on on boundaries and how to implement those so that I could I could trust myself and in trusting myself learn learn to trust others and also learn which others deserve my trust.
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Gabe Howard: In reading your book, there’s many, many layers. It’s very apparent that your mom was very manipulative and she was very abusive and she seemed to have a tendency towards gaslighting you. My question is, is if you had the power to, is there a single interaction with your mom that you would like to undo or change in any way?
Jennette McCurdy: I think everything that I went through only made me a stronger person and a more, a more full person and a more empowered person. So ultimately, I am grateful for everything. I think that it led me to where I am now and I’m able to express and explore everything that happened in a very creative way, in a way that’s fulfilling to me. I’m able to write, I’m able to direct. And I don’t think I would be. Nearly as creatively expressive if these things didn’t happen to me. So I’m glad that it put me on the path that I’m on now.
Gabe Howard: On one hand, Jennette, I love that answer and I love that you’re doing well, but also with with reading the book there, I don’t want to say that you were angry, but you were definitely hurt and traumatized in it. It seemed to impact you. In what? These are my words in a negative way. So to hear you talk about it now, you’ve got sort of a more balanced view. Is this been the result of, you know, experience, time and therapy? When did you arrive at sort of this more nuanced view where you’re doing well and able to move forward in a healthy way?
Jennette McCurdy: I arrived here through years of internal work. And absolutely. You mentioned therapy. Absolutely therapy. Thanks, Aaron and Jamie. Jamie was my eating disorder specializing therapist. And Aaron is my current therapist and has been my my regular therapist for a while. And it’s I think I think where I’m at now as a result of all the work that I’ve done and also, frankly, the writing of this book, which is hugely healing for me, and an instrumental aid in getting me to where I am now.
Gabe Howard: One of the themes in the book with the relationship with your mom is that you really strived to appease her as a child. There was there was a lot of I want my mom to be happy. How did that impact your other relationships and how does it impact your life as an adult now?
Jennette McCurdy: I was a quintessential people pleaser. I think a lot of people who were child actors experience that. And you’re not only tuned into what your stage parent wants to do, but also to what your the producers of your shows want of you in the the everybody around you, whether it’s a network or representation, you’re very sort of hypervigilant to those external forces. And I think that being so hyper-vigilant was anxiety inducing and stressful for a while. But now I’ve been able to hone it in and understand the value to it. I think I’m a good director, and I think that hyper-vigilance is what makes me one. I think I’m able to read the room, see what the crew needs, to see what the cast needs, and hopefully help to facilitate those needs. In as peaceful of a way as possible.
Gabe Howard: Many people can’t get to that place. Many people who have been abused, hurt, manipulated by, who grew up in similar situations to you, they’re having trouble moving on. They’re struggling. They’re not able to do so. Do you have any suggestions or maybe even just thoughtful advice for for folks that are listening to this and they’re thinking how? How were you able to do that?
Jennette McCurdy: Absolutely. I appreciate that question. Boundaries are huge for me. I think implementing both personal boundaries and boundaries toward, you know, every relationship in my life. Personally, professionally. Understanding emotionally, physically, environmentally and mentally what I need and understanding how to take care of those needs for myself has been has been hugely helpful. So I hope people consider boundaries in a deep way. And then also I think self respect. I think regardless of what your path is, what your path since then it has been that and you’re now in the present and focus on yourself now and on moving forward and keep your head held high because you deserve dignity and respect. You deserve to have dignity and respect for yourself.
Gabe Howard: Let’s talk about your first acting audition. Now, this was driven by your mom. I believe that you always wanted to be a writer and a director. Correct? Your goal was not to be an actress. You wanted to be behind the scenes. Am I am I stating that correctly?
Jennette McCurdy: Yeah. Yeah, you are.
Gabe Howard: And then your mom wanted you to be an actress. She wanted you to be in front of the camera. Can you walk us through what that was like? I mean, as much as you can remember.
Jennette McCurdy: My experience with acting was that I was put into it when I was six years old, and I go into all this in the book and I’m much more interesting and well written way well articulated, the way I should say. But my mom had wanted to be an actress her whole life, and her parents wouldn’t let her. So as I see it now, she saw kind of an opportunity to to fulfill her dreams through me. I think that’s more common than than it should be. And so then I started acting when I was six years old, and I went on countless auditions and books and things and experienced a lot of of just a wide array of experiences. But I did enjoy being good at acting. I felt like I was good at it. I got to a point where I felt like I was good at it, and that was always a an uplifting aspect of the career for me.
Gabe Howard: I know that you mentioned that you were nervous about acting. And I, I never think of actresses and actors and creative people on your level as having even the ability to get nervous. What’s that like in those moments? I don’t think that regular people, the public, see that nervousness. How does that feel to you?
Jennette McCurdy: Huh? Interesting, I. I experienced a lot of performance anxiety as well as social anxiety. Which does not mix well with being publicly recognized wherever you go. But I worked on all that, all that stuff and I actually work, work specifically on performance anxiety when I was doing when I was performing my one woman show, “I’m glad my mom died.” And I got to the point where from the first show to the last show that I performed in it, I felt like a different person. Before going on to that stage, I went from being so nervous. My hands were shaking and just experiencing crippling self-doubt to then the last performance where I’m listening to the 1975 song in my earbuds and bobbing my head 5 seconds, for I go on stage and to have that sort of transformation so really empowering. And I and I and I felt like I had I felt like I had conquered that performance anxiety element. I guess we’ll have to find out if I perform the show again. I’ll keep you posted.
Gabe Howard: One of the things that you said, Jennette, was stay hyper-vigilant. What does that look like for you?
Jennette McCurdy: I don’t think I said stay hyper-vigilant. I said my, in my past that hypervigilant looks one way and now it looks very, very different. So in my past, the hypervigilance was externally oriented, and now I am vigilant to my own wants and needs. And of course, they want the needs of those people around me that I love and would like to be happy and fulfilled.
Gabe Howard: Thank you. Thank you so much for clarifying that. How were you able to make that shift?
Jennette McCurdy: It is a dramatic shift. I feel I’m feeling like I’m going to come across like a broken record now because it really was, it really was through therapy and implementing boundaries.
Gabe Howard: I think for for many people, I too, love therapy. We all love therapy. But when people listen to, you know, my show and they’re like, Hey, Gabe, we could just go to therapy and stop listening to your podcast, I’m like, No, that’s a really bad idea. Never, ever stop listening to my podcast. I’ll have to go back and get a real job. I can’t I can’t do that.
Jennette McCurdy: So you want people. You want me to point people to your podcast? So you want me to say, you want me to say.
Gabe Howard: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jennette McCurdy: I’m joking.
Gabe Howard: Yeah. Everybody should listen to Gabe’s podcast. Jennette McCurdy said so. No, but but like like what’s what’s an actionable item? So now everybody’s in therapy and which is good. That’s excellent. But what are some takeaways that they can have? I mean, you know, setting a boundary is a conclusion, right? You’ve set the boundary. How did you set the boundary?
Jennette McCurdy: By tuning inward. For me, tuning inward came from a lot of I really focus on solitude, specifically solitude in nature. So I’d go to botanical gardens, I would take solo trips, I uninstalled all my social media apps on my phone. I really, really focused for several years on just tuning into my internal cues that I had really abandoned for quite some time.
Gabe Howard: There’s a story in the book where you and your mother went out for ice cream and you were asked what flavor you wanted and you you picked the flavor that you actually wanted. But this this bothered your mother. She believed that that’s not the flavor that you wanted, that your favorite flavor was nutty coconut, a flavor that you no longer liked and did not want, but ultimately to please your mother. You ordered nutty coconut and you even took it a step further and that you were really effusive about it. You’re like, Hmm, this is delicious. Yum. So that way that your mother would feel good about the decision that you made for the ice cream that you were eating, your mother was a strong influence in your life that shaped even decisions about ice cream. Now, after your mother passed, this external force was was no longer pushing down on you. There was nobody to change your decisions or to there was nobody that you had to appease anymore. So you had to find your own voice. Was it difficult to find your own voice? Was it difficult to make your own way? And how did you do it?
Jennette McCurdy: It happens through creativity for me. Of course, therapy was a huge factor in sort of discovering myself. But creativity has been probably the leading force for me. I’ve written and directed five short films. I hope to direct again soon. I have several feature scripts that I’ve written recently. I’m working on a novel and a collection of essays. All of these things to me, all of these forms of creative expression are ways of finding healing and catharsis and also making good work, which is very much at the top of my priorities. I do think creative expression is a really healthy outlet. And I think it’s something that feels very movement based in terms of it being versus spinning your wheels or trying to focus solely on the path. I think it’s a nice way of of exploring a lot that’s going on in your subconscious through whatever medium is most exciting to you. I think it’s a really healthy outlet.
Gabe Howard: I love creativity and I think that everybody should do it. And I don’t mean on the, you know, the Hollywood level. I mean, go paint. Who cares if you’re never going to sell it for $1,000,000? Right. Go, go act in local theater.
Jennette McCurdy: Yes.
Gabe Howard: Do you think that there is this this sort of I want to say this, this we just don’t appreciate creative expression unless it pays millions of dollars. Can you talk to people about that? Because so often I’m like, hey, go, go, go join a community theater. You’ll love it. And they’re like, Well, that’s pointless. I’m never going to make it in Hollywood. And I’m like, Who said anything about that? I just I want you to make it on the stage in Columbus, Ohio. Like, that’s where I wanted you to stop.
Jennette McCurdy: [Laughter] I think, you know, I think whether imposed by society or just by ourselves, I think pressure and expectations can really put a certain hue on creativity that doesn’t need to be there. And I appreciate you mentioning that, because I think there is value to creative expression, regardless of whether it’s seen by a million people, a hundred people, or whether it’s just done for yourself. I think there’s something so pure about the experience of for me it’s writing. But for anybody who paints or sculpts or gardens, you know, there’s I think so much value to that connectedness that can really only come, I think, from some creative expression.
Gabe Howard: Jennette, thank you. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you for pushing back on boundaries that have been in place for literal centuries. I think that some of the reasons that we do things is it’s just peer pressure from dead people. Right. Well, don’t speak ill of the dead. Well, this has been around for generations. Like I don’t know who came up with that, but I sincerely doubt that they’re still around to enforce this rule. So thanks for changing the narrative, especially for people who desperately need the narrative changed for their own mental health.
Jennette McCurdy: Thank you so much, Gabe. I appreciate it.
Gabe Howard: Where can folks find you online? Do you have a website? Is it JennetteMcCurdy.com by chance?
Jennette McCurdy: It is JennetteMcCurdy.com. You nailed it. Good guess.
Gabe Howard: You know, it’s it’s it’s a gift. It’s not like I looked it up
Jennette McCurdy: Okay.
Gabe Howard: Before. I just guessed. I swear. Don’t. Don’t read. Don’t ask any follow-up questions. Jennette, thank you so much.
Jennette McCurdy: Well, thank you, Gabe. Nice talking with you.
Gabe Howard: You are very welcome and a big thank you to all of our listeners. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations.” I’m also an award winning public speaker who could be available for your next event. My book is on Amazon because, well, everything is. Or you can grab a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me by heading over to gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It is absolutely free and do me a favor. Recommend the show. Tell a friend, a family member or a colleague. Sharing the show is how we grow. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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