Joe Pantoliano is on a mission. He has opened up about his clinical depression because so many people are afraid to do so. He wants people "to okay emotional intimacy. To end the shame. To end the bigotry. To end the discrimination." He wants people to know they're not alone.
In his new memoir "Asylum: Hollywood Tales from My Great Depression: Brain Dis-Ease, Recovery, and Being My Mother's Son," the star of massively popular films and TV shows such as "The Matrix," "The Sopranos," and "Goonies" talks about his battle to overcome it and his determination to help others who have it.
The actor was greatly affected by 9/11, partially because three good friends died as a result. He told Starpulse, "I was in shock and didn't know it. I couldn't get this stuff out of my mind. I kept going back to it."
Following the terrorist attacks, he said, "The sadness got deeper and deeper...Years went by and I didn't know I had it (clinical depression). Years went by...Somehow I needed to numb it."
He unconsciously took out his anger on his family. He felt "underwater," tired, lost 30 pounds, and self-medicated. He didn't want to leave the house. He isolated himself and he didn't know what was wrong. It was "through the grace of God" he wound up in a psychiatrist's office.
The doctor told him his condition was fixable and it had a name: clinical depression, or as he likes to call it: dis-ease. "The disease is the opposite of ease, the opposite of peace and mind," he explained.
"In numbing my depression, I numbed my joy, I numbed my happiness, I numbed the love that I could feel from my children...I was so desperate to feel something," he added, admitting he had relationships with other women, drank and did anything he thought would change his state of being.
For the first year and a half he lied to his doctor even though he was taking 15-20 vicodin a day and pretending he was sober. He stopped drinking because he put on weight while the painkillers made him feel better and curbed his appetite. Later he found out there is a connection between drug use and mental disease. One in four Americans are affected by mental disease and four out of five are affected by their loved ones who have it. "That means we all have it," he said.
As for the "seven deadly symptoms" he mentions in his book (the term he coined for his addictions to food, sex, vanity, alcohol, prescription drugs, shopping, fame), he said: "I'm using myself as a dictionary." He's telling his story so people know they aren't alone.
He added, "If any of this sounds familiar? If any of this is like, 'Wow, no kidding, I do that,' than you probably got the dis-ease."
He learned by making his 2009 documentary "No Kidding, Me Too" that he unconsciously found a craft (acting) where he could sublimate all the unresolved pain and put it through the characters he played.
"We don't give pain and discomfort the credibility it deserves. We don't thank it enough. My pain was telling me that I was hurting. In acknowledging my pain, I started to get better," he said.
Was he worried that talking about his depression would negatively impact his career? Pantoliano had to sign waivers in case he had a nervous breakdown during production. Fellow actors advised him not to reveal he was on antidepressants. "I was angry and I was also dumbfounded - why are we ashamed to talk about our emotional intimacy? Why is it that mental disease is the only disease you can get yelled at for having?" he said.
How is Pantoliano doing today? He continues to support his cause and he's an avid meditationalist and yoga practitioner. He's working on a play with Mario Cantone called "Moolah." And the odds are he won't stop talking about depression and educating others about it anytime soon.
"Asylum: Hollywood Tales from My Great Depression: Brain Dis-Ease, Recovery, and Being My Mother's Son" is available at Amazon.