Changes: Jennette McCurdy
The audio version of this episode is available here.
Annie [00:00:05] Hello and welcome to Changes. It is Annie Macmanus here. Delighted to be back with you, bringing you a whole range of conversations, all about change. At a time of year, of course, where that word change is so pervasive in our discourse, it's all we're thinking about. How can we change our lives for the better? Maybe that is something very small, like just cutting out meat for the month, or maybe it's something much bigger than that like, you know, leaving a relationship, moving countries. This is a time where it's impossible not to kind of stop and look at your life and think, is everything okay? Does anything need to change? Well, no better podcast to be listening to than Changes where we like to explore those stories of change. How people navigate change, how people choose it, seize it, embrace it, or navigate ourselves through it and get at the other side. We're kicking off the new series with a woman who was an incredibly famous actress, a child actress. She worked from the age of six, starred on Nickelodeon's iCarly, and later did a show called Sam and Cat, co-starring with Ariana Grande just before Ariana Grande became the pop star. She also had a brief stint performing country music, releasing two EPs and an album. However, despite appearances of a successful and happy life, her reality as a child and as a young woman was very, very different. Her name is Jennette McCurdy, and last year she released a memoir called I'm Glad My Mom Died. Now, you've probably heard about this book if you're in any way into reading or even if you've just been in a bookshop, it will have been in the window or in the front display. It's one of those books that's been everywhere for the last year. It became a number one New York Times best seller, sold out within 24 hours of going on sale and was cited one of the best books of 2022 buy such a huge list of publications and platforms that I couldn't read out but I'll give you some highlights. Time Magazine, Good Reads, Glamour, Barnes & Noble, Audible, Amazon. It goes on. So suffice to say, this book has been huge. In the book, Jennette gives a very detailed account of her childhood and specifically her relationship with her mother who was obsessed with Jennette becoming famous. The book details so many examples of Jennette's mom's unbearable controlling behaviour, including putting Jennette on a calorie restricted diet from the age of 11, giving her extensive makeovers like teeth whitening to try and keep her looking as young as possible and insisting on showering her until she was 16. There was also the problems that came with being a child star, of course, and being forced to go through gruelling auditions. Jennette grew up in a mormon family with three brothers. She was homeschooled. She had very, very few friends. But the way she talks about her experience in the book is not kind of tugging at your heart strings, anything but actually, it's all done through the prism of kind of humour and this very visceral narrative voice, which we will discuss. As you can imagine, the book has changed her life, and on top of that the book has helped so many other people recognise abuse in their own lives. Don't feel like you have to have read this book to enjoy this conversation. Jennette's story, which she will bring us through, is mesmerising whether you've read the book or not. But I do urge you to go and get your hands on this book as soon as you've listened to it because you won't regret it. For now, I am thrilled to welcome to Changes, Jennette McCurdy... Jennette, hello. Thank you for being here with us on Changes. It's such a pleasure to have some time with you.
Jennette [00:03:55] I'm so excited to be here. I'm a big fan of the podcast and how you conduct and approach your interviews.
Annie [00:04:01] Oh, amazing. Thank you. So how are you firstly?
Jennette [00:04:05] I'm good. I just got back from- I've been doing a college tour, speaking at some colleges and I just got back from Rhode Island.
Annie [00:04:12] So you're travelling, you're talking about the book and it's literally everywhere. How do you feel about its huge success?
Jennette [00:04:19] I'm so grateful. There's nothing I can say that doesn't sound like a canned response. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that it would have this kind of a reaction.
Annie [00:04:29] But it also must be like- the context of the success is you being wholly yourself and sharing some really uncomfortable truths and kind of like putting everything on the page, all your shame, all your guilt, all, all the reality of what's happened to you. And for this story to resonate so much, that aspect of it must make the gratitude even more intense.
Jennette [00:04:52] Yes. And also, I have to say, there was so much doubt about the book going in. Like, you know, sending it to so many different publishers and most people passing. People saying you can't title a book that. You can never-
Annie [00:05:06] And you always wanted to title it that from the start? Was it always that?
Jennette [00:05:09] It always had to be that. It had to be that.
Annie [00:05:12] And why did it have to be that?
Jennette [00:05:14] It's so true to me. And it's so- I'm aware that it's attention grabbing, but I felt like it was sort of a really bold statement that I then felt like I backed up in the book. Also, I you know, I didn't want what I judge as just a really like solemn memoir title. I didn't want to be like, The Tears of My Mother or like something like, okay, calm down *laughs*. Like, I'm not going to do that. It had to be a title that had a sense of humour to it. To me it had to really represent the book in a way and, and it was the only, the only title that ever made sense to me.
Annie [00:05:49] We would like to talk about the book, obviously, and your life through the prism of change. And we always ask three kind of foundational questions in these episodes. If you don't mind, we will start with the childhood one. So, looking back at your childhood, what was the biggest change that you think you went through?
Jennette [00:06:05] So I've thought a lot about these questions, but the thing that was really coming to mind for me about childhood was puberty and specifically the onset of an eating disorder when I was 11, right at that age when a lot of my friends were starting to enter puberty and sort of my really, really intense resistance toward it, It didn't feel to me like, you know, in retrospect, it doesn't feel to me like it was just sort of that normal kind of fear of change and fear of growing up and, you know, loss of innocence and all of that. It was like a very intensely motivated refusal to hit puberty. I'm expressing it that way because it was such a resistance to change. It was like I literally couldn't handle the idea of the changes that were coming at me and that were inevitable. And I went to great lengths to avoid them.
Annie [00:07:00] Yeah, and your mother assisted you in those, of which you speak of in the book. Let's rewind a little bit then to kind of just the lead up to that. Paint us a picture, if you don't mind, of the house. Who lived there, your childhood home and what was it like there?
Jennette [00:07:13] Yeah, I grew up in a in a town called Garden Grove, California, affectionately referred to by its inhabitants as Garbage Grove *Annie laughs*. So hopefully that gives you a picture of like, how fondly we cared about it. It was a 1200 square foot home. My mom and my dad lived there. My grandma and my grandpa on my mother's side also lived with us and they had moved in when my mom was actually first diagnosed with cancer when I was two years old, so they moved into the home then to kind of help out and then they just never moved out because it just kind of worked better for everyone. We really couldn't afford the rent, so everybody was kind of chipping in. And my three older brothers, Marcus, Dustin and Scottie and all of us were in that little cramped 1200 square foot house. And to make it even more cramped, my mom was a hoarder. She had OCD and one of the manifestations of OCD, as I understand it, is that hoarding can be can be kind of aversion. It's really interesting to me the different ways that OCD manifests, and it's something that I have certainly struggled with and still experience in sort of more stressful times in my life. My brothers have experienced it and my mom as well, and her manifestation was hoarding. So I'm talking like floor to ceiling, like couldn't see an inch of wall if you're looking around the room. You know, at one point we had a dining table and it was just filled with shit all the way up to the, you know, nearly scraping the ceiling so that we didn't have a table to sit at. So we sat and ate on these little- we called it the white thing, and it was a trifold map that just kind of unfolded and we just set that on the floor and put our cereal bowls or whatever on that mat. And we didn't have room for beds, so we slept on more mats. We had a lot of mats in our house *laughs*. We slept on like those gymnastics mats that foldout that you can get for kids to do their old flips on or whatever. So my brothers and I slept on those and, you know, ate on mats, slept on mats and then just had kind of shit everywhere in the house. It felt pretty claustrophobic, you know, It really felt like- I didn't like the feeling that I got in that house. Every time I stepped foot in it, I felt I became smaller. I became more just fearful. And it was overwhelming, honestly, to just be surrounded by so much stuff.
Annie [00:09:25] Yeah, yeah. And then how did your mother fill the house?
Jennette [00:09:29] Well emotionally, she took up all that space. She was a person who didn't work on herself or her issues and really refused to, and so she didn't do the work but the emotions were still there. The intensity was still there. So they were just coming out all the time. You know, she was very erratic, very unstable. Everything from chasing my dad around the house with a giant, you know, kitchen knife, to kicking in a cupboard door till the wood splintered and poked out and, you know, caused her ankle to bleed. And then she immediately blames it on somebody else, even though she's clearly the one who just kicked in the cupboard door. It's "Mark, why'd you make me do that!". Her husband, my dad. So emotionally, I did not feel that there was space for me. I really felt that it was my job and my responsibility to curate my mom's emotions, to help regulate her, which then led to a lot of emotional issues for me in adulthood because I had just years of, you know, decades really, two decades of suppressed emotions. And that kind of became an extra hurdle to overcome in adulthood, which, as I've been speaking at these colleges actually, I've realised that's a really common thread for people who grow up in dysfunctional or abusive, chaotic environments. Is that instinct to regulate your parent and then coming into adulthood and realising, oh my God, now I don't know how to regulate myself because all my efforts were spent on somebody else. And now here's me, I'm confronted with the reality of me and that is daunting in itself.
Annie [00:10:59] Yeah, the book is written so, so brilliantly. It's so immersive because of the way that you write. You know, it's written from a first person perspective. It's written from the perspective of who you are at that age. So, you know, you're learning about your life and your surroundings, you know, from a six year old we hear about that from your kind of very innocent and, you know, quite pure outlook on what that was. It's so interesting and we can talk about this later, this idea of change for you. Your entire viewpoint of what your life was, you then had to change. You had to turn upside down as an adult and look at it completely afresh. That must have been such a huge upheaval in terms of your sense of identity and of who you were all the way up to that point.
Jennette [00:11:45] You know, it really was. My whole life, my whole perspective, my whole- every decision I made was really filtered through the perspective of, that my mom wanted what was best for me, that I needed to do what my mom wanted to make her happy. It wasn't you know, even you mentioned earlier sort of that she had had a hand in the eating disorder and she explicitly taught me calorie restriciton when I was 11 years old and really, you know, measured out my food, counted my calories, measured my thighs, weighed me on a scale- like she was in control of my body to the point that I wasn't thinking like, oh, what do I want to eat? What do I want to do today? It was like, what would mom want me to eat? What would Mom want me to wear? What would Mom want me to say? How would Mom want me to do this role on this television show? Like it was, everything was kind of filtered through that lens. So to then come to the very uncomfortable reality that my mom was abusive, which was first explained to me by a therapist who I then quit because I couldn't tolerate that idea at all. Just the the idea was just impossible. I couldn't face it that my mom was abusive. But after about a year and a half, I then returned to therapy and started kind of doing the work to accept that reality and whatever that entailed. And it was truly, I mean, the most intimidating aspect of my life and absolutely the one that created the most change in me because I had been one person skewed one way for one reason, to please my mom, and then realising, oh she's abusive. Then it's like, oh, so I guess I should try and please myself and do things for myself and live my own life for me but what does that even mean? I was so co-dependent, so enmeshed with my mom that I had really no semblance of an identity as I see it outside of her and the identity that she wanted for me. So then I was kind of met with that- those overwhelming questions at 21 after she died.
[00:13:44] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:13:54] Just talking about what she wanted for you then. So when you were six, she kind of told you that she wanted you to be an actress, is that right? And that was a kind of beginning of this journey of you being a child actor.
Jennette [00:14:05] Yeah. So she had always dreamt of being an actress herself. My mom had erm, her parents wouldn't let her but she had always sworn that she dated Chris Knight, who plays Peter Brady in The Brady Bunch. She said that they had like this long relationship and that he adored her. Like I hadn't seen one picture of them together so I had my doubts. She stalked Donny Osmond, like she waited outside of Donny Osmond's house for him to like, come out, so she could like, you know, see him in his- in all his glory, in his Donny Osmond shiny teeth glory. So she was really, you know, obsessed with fame. I've even heard from a few family members since I've been grown and kind of tried to just have more conversations about her, this is, you know, in the first few years after her passing, it really became clear to me how obsessed with fame she had been for her entire life. There was something about it that she thought she was born for it. She thought she was destined for it. And if it wasn't going to be her, it was going to be someone close to her, whether that's who she married or in her case, her daughter. And I've also wondered, you know, why was it me that she really, really put her dreams on instead of my brothers? And I think it's a few things. I think it's I'm the only girl. I think there's an element that's just as simple as that, so she saw more of herself in me. And I also think that I was just wired to really, really do what she wanted to do. You know, I wasn't a rebellious kid at all. I was really, really fixated on making her happy. Maybe partially because she was first diagnosed with cancer when I was two years old. So those very early memories were just a longing for my mom that I think once she overcame that cancer the first time and I had her, I think I was just so obsessed with her. I mean, this is a presence that hadn't been in my life in those key years. And then I had her and I had a mom, and I think I just wanted to keep her, honestly, I just wanted to keep her. And I'd do whatever that meant, even if it was as I now see it, you know, completely neglecting myself.
Annie [00:15:59] So she signed you up for dance classes, 14 a week. There was regular grooming, where you had to have your teeth whitened, your lashes tinted, like, can you remember a point in your childhood where you realised that you guys were not the same as other girls around you?Because you were homeschooled too, so you obviously didn't have that much like exposure to other girls or other people your age.
Jennette [00:16:28] Yeah, homeschooled and also Mormon, which has another layer of just kind of suppression and secretiveness. But I do remember at auditions there seemed to be a different dynamic between my mom and I than other girls. You know, my mom would brush my hair really obsessively. She had a thing where she was obsessed with hair, I think because she lost hers with the cancer and she was constantly talking about that. So she was just fixated and would just, you know, I'd be trying to practice my lines for Without a Trace or whatever and like trying to get in the mood for this serious character and my mom's just sitting there - brush, brush, brush, brush, brush. And, you know, she would like press her ear against the door to try and hear how the audition was going. So I'd like, I'd open the door after and she'd like, stumble backward and I'd realise like, oh God, Mom was listening. There seemed to be more of an intensity to her. And I certainly saw a fair share of stage moms, but my mom was definitely a heightened one for sure *laughs. Like, very, very heightened. Yeah, I remember there were other girls who could just kind of like go in, their moms wait in the cars in some cases, and the girls would just kind of go do their audition and go out. And they seemed so much less stressed. I definitely remember there were a couple girls who did not- they seemed like they enjoyed it. They seemed like they would just kind of like waltz in and be like, 'hey, Lacey' to the casting director, and then like start their lines. And I thought, like, that seems like who should be doing this. They're comfortable. They like this. They're not a nervous wreck like I am over here peeing 15 times before the audition. I definitely started picking up on that but I shoved it all down, which I think is pretty common for kids, where it's just like, oh I don't- that's- I can't, I don't know how to unpack that. Like, I'm not going to unpack that at all, I'm just going to keep clinging to this reality which is, Mom's good, Mom's great. And that's what I did.
Annie [00:18:11] And then there was the kind of reality of auditioning at a young age. So again, there's so much that's just casually so shocking about just the world that you're in, the world that you're occupying as a child. The roles that you're auditioning for, like, you know, a child being murdered or someone witnessing someone being murdered, it's just casual. 'Yeah, so today I was auditioning for this' and you're like, what! Because you had the crying on command.
Jennette [00:18:34] Yeah. You got to be sobbing and dealing with, like, a profound loss. I was like, I'm a shoe in. I'm going to get this one.
Annie [00:18:41] I got this.
Jennette [00:18:42] Yeah. Parents dying, like, same time. Cool. I got it.
Annie [00:18:45] Yeah, Yeah. But also, like, how did you- you know, you talk about that kind of pushing everything down. Was that the same with when you were rejected for auditions? Because I can imagine that's very hard as a child to know how to separate the rejection of being rejected from an audition or just yourself being rejected, not feeling like you're good enough for those people.
Jennette [00:19:06] I'm so glad you bring attention to this because that's something that I really think, you know, I really think was damaging for me. And when I think of how, you know, a lot of people talk about, well oh, fame is such a privilege and, you know, it's sort of touted as this thing that's so glorious and romanticised and whatever. But I think certainly, you know, financially it can be a privilege. Psychologically, I do not think. Fame, I do not think. Showbusiness is a privilege. I think it makes things a lot more difficult or certainly did, I can only speak for myself, it did for me. And certainly in childhood there were just these elements that I didn't know how to differentiate from. I, you know, it was impossible for me. I was six. How could I know that when I didn't get a part, it wasn't just me as a person. That it was, I was three inches too short or for whatever reason, they needed a girl missing her front tooth. Like how- couldn't separate that so I just thought, oh, I'm not good enough. And I think that really instilled in me from an early, early age, this like deep pattern of believing that I'm not good enough, believing that I need to prove myself. And that's something that I have, you know, explored in therapy for for years and years and years. And, you know, I feel like I've made a lot of progress there. But it's still kind of one of, if I'm being honest, it's one of my natural instincts. It's one of my go to's is believing that I need to prove myself, believing I need to, you know, beat down every door and fight for every opportunity and, you know, because I'm not good enough as I am. So I just need to keep- you know, like that is just something that was created for me when I was six. And anything that's created when you're six is going to be hard to undo.
Annie [00:20:39] Absolutely. Yeah. And your mom didn't help that either, because she was kind of, you know, not really making you feel better, it seemed from the book, when you were rejected.
Jennette [00:20:48] Well also, I don't think she knew. Now, I just don't think-
Annie [00:20:51] She felt rejected too probably.
Jennette [00:20:52] Yes! Yes! Because she couldn't differentiate between myself and her, she thought we were one of the same. And so I think that the rejection, she took it- you hit the nail on the head. I think she literally thought that she was being rejected and I was being rejected and she couldn't find reasons. So she couldn't comfort or validate me in any way because she's sitting there feeling it herself, you know? It's wild.
Annie [00:21:11] Yeah, yeah, yeah. What was going on around you then at home? Like, what were your brothers doing then? Your dad, your grandparents? Did anyone notice that there was this kind of closeness that could have been, you know, unhealthy at the time?
Jennette [00:21:24] Brothers were playing a lot of video games. Really, to me that seemed like their kind of way of escape. Just they're going to put their heads down, play their video games, and not have to deal with any of this. I think everybody had their escape mechanisms for sure. I think, you know, so my dad worked two jobs, worked at Home Depot and Hollywood Video, so he was just very, very busy, overworked, tired. And also, my judgement of him is, you know, not the most emotionally deep or in-tune person. So I don't- I just think there were things happening that he either couldn't pick up on or was scared of facing. He did try at times, he would tell my mom, you know, if she's in the middle of chasing him with a kitchen knife, he would tell her, 'Deb, you need help. You need to get help. You can't do this to your family. The kids can't be around this'. And she'd just scream, 'you need help!'. So she just, she couldn't see that she had flaws and she would retaliate when someone suggested that she did. So I think it just created this environment where nobody wanted to call her out on anything because everyone was scared of her. It really felt like walking on eggshells all the time. And I think, you know, my grandpa did- I have such a special place in my heart for my grandpa. But he, I think, just felt the same way where he would say that often to her, you need help, and would be met with the same kind of reactions that she had with my dad. So I think people just kind of at some point gave up, you know, didn't know what to do. Just felt like, felt the fear of her wrath, which is kind of funny. She was 4'11, a tiniest little spitfire of a person, but she was the, when I say the scariest person I've ever met, I really mean like she- there was a fear that I had in me toward her that I couldn't identify for a long time. But that was the biggest fear I think I've known.
[00:23:03] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:23:13] Tell me about when you sat in the back of the car and told her that you didn't think you wanted to act anymore?
Jennette [00:23:19] Yeah, I had had this one audition and it was one of those crying on cue type of auditions that you had mentioned and I think there was a part of me that just knew at that point, you know, I'd been doing it for a while and I was just exhausted. I was just tired. And I think, you know, the part of me that usually was able to cry on cue was kind of saying like, no, we're not. I can't do this anymore. Like, it was just almost a physical, a visceral reaction in my body that was just like refusing to do it. So it kind of just, you know, came out of me. It just spilled out of me like, Mom, I don't want to do this anymore. She was driving. We were going on our way home from that audition. She was driving. She became hysterical, you know, screaming and crying and wild kind of gestures with her hands leaving the steering wheel and merging and, you know, really dangerous reaction on the freeway. And I realised immediately, oh, that's not something that we say. We don't say that we want to quit acting, we just keep acting. Because this is what it yields, it yields a literal, life threatening, you know, situation. So then I didn't bring it up anymore, even though I still, I felt it a lot, you know. I felt it quite often I would say.
Annie [00:24:31] Yeah. And there was a keenness from your mom to infantilize you, to kind of keep you young. Tell me how that was kind of manifested. And again, when you realised that maybe something wasn't okay about that.
Jennette [00:24:47] God, I'm glad you're bringing this up because this is something that feels really kind of- it's deep rooted for me and I don't even think I've fully processed it in therapy or anything like that. But she really, really, really wanted to keep me young. And she did actually with one of my other brothers as well. And why? So my two older brothers were sort of allowed to grow up. You know, they were allowed to kind of be age appropriate. And for my brother Scott and myself, we were completely infantilized and completely- of course, I didn't know it was happening at the time. So eventually, you know, I get cast on this Nickelodeon show when I'm 14, and that's when I'm really- because all the roles that I had done beforehand were really on adult shows. So it was, I was a kid in an adult environment. So, as I guess precocious as I could kind of pretend to be in those moments, I wasn't aware of what was age appropriate because I wasn't exposed to people my age. And in church, the interactions are so limited. And in dance you're doing your dance classes. Although I did start having kind of inklings of the discrepancy between me and other people my age in dance, when the girls started kind of getting boyfriends and they started getting training bras, and I just remember thinking like, I wouldn't even entertain the idea of a boyfriend or a training bra, those are just things that I was never going to have. Those were things that would lead me to my downfall, you know, as my mom would often tell me. She'd say, You know, boys will ruin your life but you should focus on your career. And the younger you look, the more acting roles you'll book. So I had these messages of like, okay, I need to stay young. But then when I got cast on Nickelodeon show I was around people my age and it started becoming a bit clearer to me of, oh, they're going to, you know, go- they walked next door to pick up their takeout from a restaurant and they walk back with it, or they're listening to songs that say shit in them and, you know, these Katy Perry songs and these Avril Lavigne songs, which for me were very edgy. I mean, should tell you all you need to know about how young I was for my age. And I didn't know, I didn't know how to kind of close that gap at all because I felt that any attempt that I made to grow up was a complete betrayal to my mom. I felt like any step that I made in the direction of me becoming age appropriate was me just, you know, slapping my mom in the face. I felt like I couldn't do it.
Annie [00:27:17] So you went to her when you felt like you were kind of, your body was changing, and you were kind of like, I don't want to do this. And she was very happy to assist.
Jennette [00:27:28] Yes. So, this this kind of moment in life that that you're referring to happened- this is a couple of years prior to getting the role in the Nickelodeon show, I was 11 years old. I felt a lump in my right breast and I thought it was cancer. I was scared that it was cancer. So I went to my mom and I told her and she expressed, no, it's just your developing boobies. And I said, well, I don't want boobies. I absolutely don't want boobies. And I remember her devastation at the idea of me getting boobies. Like I could just feel her disappointment or like, just radiating off of her. I said, well I don't want boobies. What do I have to do to stop the boobies from coming in? She said, well there's a thing called calorie restriction. And that was the day that that addiction started for me, that that obsession-fixation started for me. And I mean, it did not go away. I had several different eating disorders, anorexia, binge eating and bulimia. But it lasted for, you know, over a decade of my life. But my mom directly taught me what calorie restriction was, taught me, you know, what diuretics were and the types of food, you know, let's drink black coffee, because that will, that's good for your metabolism and cayenne peppers and bell peppers and like the types of foods that I should eat, the types of food that were bad to eat. She had me on a 1200 calorie a day meal plan which then got limited to a thousand calories a day. I mean, as a growing child, it was the first thing I thought of when I woke up and the last thing I thought about before I went to sleep. Like it was an obsession that she helped with.
Annie [00:29:02] And you were 11.
Jennette [00:29:04] 11 years old. Yeah. And I just- and I really didn't- of course I didn't know that it was a disorder. I didn't know that what was happening was abuse. I didn't know that what I was experiencing was an eating disorder because it was so- it was a bonding tool for my mom and I. It was like a thing that we talked about giddily like, what did you eat today? Oh, you didn't do that, me neither. Oh, let's both skip on that. Like it was, like a shared secret between friends. It was so sick and twisted as I see it now. But at the time, it really just felt like, ooh, this is so exciting. We're in this together. Like, yippee! You know, it was really, really, really- I liked it at the time.
Annie [00:29:41] So this is going on in the background then, you know, you go through puberty, you get this show on Nickelodeon which makes you really famous. There's a quote here from an interview you did that I thought was so powerful, you said 'I think fame was the first thing that really conveyed to my mom that she and I were separate people. We were so enmeshed and I think she really saw her identity in me'. So how did that fame change your relationship with you and your mom?
Jennette [00:30:09] It was the thing that I thought she had wanted for so long. And then, yeah, as you mentioned, it was the thing that I think led her to realise that we weren't the same person. So because we had been so enmeshed and I forget how you sort of phrased it earlier, but it was so well said where it was just like, she took my- any rejection I got as an acting role as her own because she couldn't differentiate between the two of us. Fame was the first thing that I think led her to realise that we weren't the same person because suddenly I'm getting approached all the time. No one's asking mom for a picture. Everyone's asking me for a picture. Everyone's, you know. People bombarding. Like it got to the point where it was, it was so stressful. Just leaving the house became like, I didn't want to do that anymore because it was so overwhelming. I was a really anxious person. I didn't know how to handle the attention. I had no boundaries, so I didn't know how to give people what they wanted while also giving myself what I wanted because I couldn't figure out what that was. But I remember it was so bizarre because it was the thing that truly I thought would make her happy. I thought, like when I got that show, I thought like, Mom's dream has come true. She's going to be satisfied now. And then to watch her become completely jealous of me was so confusing because I was thinking, well, this is what you wanted. This is your dream. Why now does it feel like you hate me for having this thing that you had wanted me to have for so long, you know? And she'd scream and say like, 'I'm going to make a vine, too! I'm going to have fans. My fans are going to love me!'. Like, just so angry that she didn't, I guess, have the fame. And so I think that added another- if there weren't already enough complicated layers, it added another complicated layer to our dynamic where it's like there was this confusion of, okay, so she's now mad at me for having the thing that she wanted me to have, but also wants me to have more of it. She always wanted me to have more fame, but also wanted it herself so was completely envious that I had it. And I didn't know how, I didn't know how to navigate that. I literally felt like there was nothing I could do to win. Like there was nothing I could do to win her love, to win her affection, to win her, you know, her stable, consistent love. It was always like I didn't know what I'd done to upset her until she would express as much in one of her kind of fits. And then I'd try and piece it together, but I couldn't. There was no formula. Like I could never get it right.
Annie [00:32:29] Yeah. I mean, it's not surprising that you were an anxious child.
Jennette [00:32:32] Yes.
Annie [00:32:33] It's just, there's this constant sense of kind of fight or flight.
Jennette [00:32:37] Yes!
Annie [00:32:37] You know, just like constant fear of not getting it right.
Jennette [00:32:43] Absolutely. Yeah. It led to a very hyper vigilant nervous system that I'm only just now, I think, calming it a bit. Well, not always calming it, I'm drinking coffee right now. That's not helping. *Laughing* but generally I work on calming it.
Annie [00:32:58] It seems very important part of your life where I mean, just as an aside, for anyone who hasn't read the book, there was a moment where you were pursuing a music career, a country music career, and you were properly recording albums, spending time in Nashville with songwriters, blah, blah, blah. But your mother's cancer came back when you were 18, which meant that she was too sick to go on this tour with you and you had to go on this tour, this music tour alone. How did that change you, that tour?
Jennette [00:33:26] That time in my life felt like the most, maybe the most pivotal, in that I was just getting to that point- because at this point I had been, you know, experiencing fame. I'd been on TV for several years. I was dealing with my mom's sort of anger and jealousy toward that. And also my body at that point was was finally really developing. I got my period when I was 16, I got it on set, I was 16 years old. And then, you know, I went back to anorexic because I didn't want to get another period. So I was really trying but my body was like finally saying, like, I am going to develop whether you like it or not, I'm going to grow up. My body was making the calls for me. And so I had gone to this place where I was finally feeling like I wanted to rebel against my mom. I wanted to figure out who I was. I wanted to fucking kiss a guy. Like I wanted to just have normal experiences that people my age had. I really wanted to feel my age, and that's when my mom got the cancer again. So then it made it so that I felt guilty again. You know, I was putting on the big girl pants and being like, I'm going to do it. I'm going to be my own person. And then she gets cancer so then it just roped me right back into the dynamic. But one piece that I do see as being, honestly, just really, really useful and really kind of integral, I think I needed that, was that she wasn't able to be such a presence in my life anymore. You know, she'd have chemo sessions so couldn't physically be on set because she'd need to be at chemo. As you mentioned, she couldn't go on this tour with me for music. And I, I felt relief and I felt really, really, really guilty that I felt that relief because I, you know, I thought that this makes a terrible person. I love my mom. How can I be feeling like glad that she's not with me when she's dying? Like, I must be evil. I must be terrible. And as challenging as it was kind of psychologically, also just having the space from her I felt like I could breathe. That was really the first time in my life that I started, you know, eating normally. And then that led to binge eating because my body again was going, I'm done with fucking restricting. I'm going to eat and I'm going to eat everything I want all the fucking time and it became like a lustful activity for me. Everything felt kind of dangerous, even though it's, you know, it's eating or like my first kiss in a Hampton in a suite, like I wasn't doing cocaine or, you know, I don't know what the edgiest drug is. I don't even, see I don't know that. What's the edgiest drug?
Annie [00:36:00] *Laughing* I don't even know.
Jennette [00:36:01] Shooting heroin! I wasn't shooting heroin *laughs*.
Annie [00:36:03] Heroin, there you go yeah.
Jennette [00:36:04] I wasn't shooting heroin, but I felt like I was. Like there was a part of me that felt like, yeah! Like, I'm eating a pop tart. I'm edgy *laughs*. And I think I really, really needed that. It was when I was first starting to kind of come into my own in as weird of a way as it was. Like I think it literally took her starting to die for me to start becoming myself.
[00:36:27] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:36:38] So, she died in 2013. You were 21 years old. Would you say that's the biggest change that you went through in your adult life?
Jennette [00:36:48] I would say accepting that she was abusive was the biggest chang. I think after she died, I was still so clinging to that narrative that she wanted what was best for me, that my mom was good, that she'd just tried her best. All the narratives that everybody tells you of like, you know, mothers know best and they just try so hard and I'm sure they love you like all those things I was telling myself and I didn't realise it, but completely gaslighting the reality of the situation, completely gaslighting my own experience of abuse and invalidating my own emotional experience by doing that. But I didn't know that, so I was still clinging to that. And then I would say the biggest change was finally accepting, oh, she was abusive and I'm going to- it's going to be a lot of work. I'm going to have to, you know, reorient myself to this new life and this reality of what my life has been. But it was work that I think was, as difficult as it was, really, really, really worth it.
Annie [00:37:45] You quit acting, I think, in 2017. So four years after she died, was that part of the recovery process for you?
Jennette [00:37:53] 1,000%. Acting had really been the entirety of my identity. It was the area where I felt like I was- it made me feel worth something. Like I felt completely worthless without it. I felt like if I booked a role, I could make mom happy. If I didn't, she was devastated, depressed, like she wouldn't get out of bed. It was just, it felt like her happiness and her love for me hinged on me booking roles. And then of course, experiencing fame and then being known in the public eye for this thing, it just kind of, it kind of compounded that. So I felt like I needed to not act in order to figure out who I was without acting. I mean, I've been doing it since I was six. I didn't have memories not acting, not trying, not fighting for a role, not, you know, that thing of proving myself like I didn't know what that looked like. And I felt like I needed to find out. But it took several years because I felt so scared of leaving it behind. And of course, really well-meaning friends and family with reasonable advice would say, don't throw this away. You have got to be out of your mind to throw this away. You're making a living at something that's so hard to make a living at. Like, why would you do this? You're so young. Like you've got years ahead of you, just do it for a couple more years, just like, collect as much as you can and then if something doesn't pan out, then let it go then. And I'm like- it was another one of those experiences and I'm just realising now, honestly in our conversation how much it was like, my body got to a point where it was making the choice for me. Where it's like I couldn't convince myself anymore that something was right when it was wrong because my body was saying, nope, I'm done.
Annie [00:39:30] And how was your body saying no?
Jennette [00:39:32] Like my manager would send me, you know, an audition and I just I'd say like, okay, I'll do this. And then I just couldn't couldn't bring myself to or I had been offered a role for a thing that seemed like, you know, by every definition, like a good opportunity and seemed like something that I should do, and the idea of like waking up, going to a sitcom set and being like, 'honey!, like, what are we doing?' Like, whatever, however, the sitcom like voice and like bobbing in and just being so fake, I felt like I couldn't do it anymore. I was at a place in my life where there was so much pain and so much reality that was like bubbling to the surface at the same time that I felt like I couldn't just be like sitcom girl anymore. I just couldn't do it. And the reality of looking at an offer that seemed good, that seemed like I should do it, and tears streaming down my face of being like, but I cannot do this. That's what I think of as like my body refusing to do it anymore. Every part of me logically is going, this makes sense, you should do this, don't be crazy. Don't make a bad decision. Don't throw away your career. Don't throw away your life. And my body is like sobbing, you know? Like, that's the difference.
Annie [00:40:49] And then a few years later, you start doing this one woman show where you talk about your story. And I'm really interested in this transition, this realisation that you can harness all of this mind fuckery that you've been through in your whole life, and you can use the public that you've been thrust in front of and you can turn this situation around so that you have agency for the first time in your life. You have control. You are telling your own story in a way that you want to. And people are going to want to hear the truth of what happened to you. That whole transition, that whole change of viewpoint, was there a catalyst there? Was there a moment there that you remember where you're like, okay, I can tell my story and it can be maybe healing for me.
Jennette [00:41:42] Mmmm. It just sort of came out of me and I, from all the friends that I've spoken with who have either, you know, written memoirs or something that sort of- creatively exploring some aspect of their personal life, it sounds kind of like a like a, I guess, a pretty common experience, but it just felt like it needed to come out, I guess. It needed to kind of- there is some part of me that needed for it to come out. And I remember just, I wrote- so the one person show I wrote pretty quickly like, first drafts always come quickly for me and then it's like the work comes after that, you know? When I wrote all that, and then I'd actually ask my friends to- I texted one friend specifically being like, here's my idea for it. I've written this thing. Will you give it a read? And I'd like for you and like four other friends to go up each night and like perform the thing but wearing, you know, the sort of- I had like a very specific hairdo on the Nickelodeon shows, and I wanted each person to wear, like, a wig of that hairdo for the shows. And my friend very candidly told me that's a terrible idea. Like, we're not performing your show. I love you, but that's bad. Like, that's trash. You need to do it yourself. And so I had kind of like a come to Jesus moment with myself. Like, how much do I want to do this? Because, A, I have really a lot of baggage with performing. And then B, there's very real, like performance anxiety for me about it of like, you know, the baggage isn't- it's just like, that's a thing that I'd have to really work on and try to kind of come to terms with. And I wasn't sure that I could. And I actually had a specific type of therapy for performance anxiety. A type of therapy called EMDR. And they take sort of like- it's actually a therapy, I believe, for trauma and kind of like rewiring your neural pathways to not have the same trauma response to a certain incident. So I had to think of times in my past where I'd have to go into auditions and my body would feel like I was six years old again going into the audition, a nervous fucking wreck, and then trying to create a kind of more calm memory and a more- a place where I'm really, where I feel very peaceful and tranquil and trying to replace that trauma response with that. So that, just to kind of bridge that gap a little bit and make it more doable. And that type of therapy helped me tremendously. And then I also think the reality of saying words that I really believed in made a huge difference.
Annie [00:43:57] Right, interesting. So your body wasn't going to reject something when it's true and authentic for you?
Jennette [00:44:04] Yes, yes, yes, exactly. My body for so long had felt like, I don't want to say those lines. And when I was younger as a performer, my character was very sarcastic. And what people didn't know, what the public didn't know is that I was just like being sarcastic about the lines that I didn't want to say. Like any line that I was saying was me kind of being like, fuck this, about that line. But I, you know, I think that worked for that, but it doesn't work for anything that's, you know, has any heart to it, I don't think. So that was kind of- its own journey was like the performance anxiety piece and then also realising that I had so much baggage about needing to be perfect and needing to be on my mark and do everything just right from from youth. That instead my therapist suggested that I switch the goal to something else, something that's not so tied in to my previous experience of acting. So I made it to kind of connect with the audience. And when I say that made a world of difference, I mean it made like a complete 180 to my experience of it. I would find a couple of people in the audience who were just very empathetic and really giving a lot emotionally. And I would, you know, say portions of the various monologues kind of to them and it really, really helped to feel like, oh, it's not about me, it's about connecting, it's about connection, it's about the experience with somebody else, and I need somebody else for that and feeling like it was okay to need somebody else for that and I could then be vulnerable as opposed to just being, you know, completely stuck in myself because of thinking that I needed to be perfect or whatever. It completely changed my view on performing.
Annie [00:45:39] Wow.
Jennette [00:45:39] Totally, totally changed.
Annie [00:45:40] That's so deeply profound because you're trying to kind of heal all of these kind of deep rooted wounds, detrimental neural pathways that have been carved out because of your childhood acting. But it's your own story that is allowing you to do that. It's again, it's kind of harnessing what's happened to you and making it something that's going to be good for you as opposed to bad.
Jennette [00:46:03] Yes, absolutely. And I think there was also an element of being seen or validated as myself that I think was important to my healing, where, you know, part of the experience of child acting is that I was really known as a character and I was so used to hearing myself referred to as a character. And nobody means any harm by that. No fan of the shows that I was on like, is trying to be mean and I totally get that. But it's just they just saw me as that and that wasn't who I was. And I was really scared. I was scared that I'd go out there and people would just be like 'Sam fried chicken!' or like yelling comments that I'd heard so much in my past. And to be so, you know, received and validated by them and for people afterward to be, you know, they'd come up to me and share some element of their own story and it would lead to this just kind of like opening and this openness and this, what felt like- I hate the word healing, I feel like it's so corny, but it felt, it just felt really, it felt nice and it felt good. And it felt like just so different than what I was used to in my past, honestly.
Annie [00:47:06] Constructive.
Jennette [00:47:07] Constructive. So much better. I'm gonna use that every time I think of the word healing. Thank you.
Annie [00:47:11] The one, that's the one.
Jennette [00:47:12] That's the one.
Annie [00:47:13] Can I ask you before I let you go, Jennette, what and where are you at at the moment in your journey? And I know it's a journey when it comes to grief and your mom. Like, where do you stand with her right now?
Jennette [00:47:28] These days, I'm able to miss her in a way that's just like missing her. That's not complicated. You know, initially it was just really intense grief. And then accepting the abuse was an angry grief. I mean, like rage. It was, I would miss her and then I'd want to fucking throw something across the room. I'd feel so like, how can I miss this person who abused me? How can this exist? How do I reconcile these two parts of me where there's one part of me that longs for her, and then the realer part of me that just longs for the person she never was, that I pretended- I needed her to be as a child. Like, there was this whole other mourning layer that now I just, I don't know if it's- I'm sure it's some combination of, you know, almost ten years in therapy now and, you know, and writing the book or the one person show, I'm sure all that's kind of played a factor. But I feel like I'm able to just miss her. You know, I went to Disneyland a couple of weeks ago and saw the fireworks, and she really liked the fireworks and I just felt like, oh, I miss my mom. And yeah, like, it honestly makes me a little emotional. It just feels like it's nice to be at that place. And also, I'm quick to give myself credit. You know, my therapist has really recommended that I do that of like, you run that, that's not something that she, you know, granted you. Like that's something that you really got for yourself.
Annie [00:48:51] You worked so hard, yeah, to get. And can I ask how your brothers are and have your brothers read the book?
Jennette [00:48:58] Two of my brothers have read the book. My oldest brother has not, and I wish he would. I totally understand that, you know, he said that he doesn't want to, like, revisit the trauma, but I just think it'd be really healing for him, if I can be so bold.
Annie [00:49:13] He might come around if the other ones have read it.
Jennette [00:49:16] You know, I hope so. And honestly, I'm most surprised that he of the three of them has not read it. That surprised me the most. It's my oldest brother and sort of he and I, I mean I love all of them and have a very special relationship with each of them. But just, he was the one who, you know, really took care of me when my mom was ill the first time. And he really kind of stepped into that that dad role. But my brother Dustin and Scottie, they both live kind of nearby. I have three nieces now and I love them so much. And watching my brothers with them, let me tell you, is a beautiful, profound experience. They're such good dads. Those little girls love them so much. They're so seen by their fathers. And I'm just seeing these little girls go about the world just like being who they are and being authentic and being free. And it's like, the most special experience.
Annie [00:50:08] Yeah. Yeah. Well, listen, I'm so happy I got a chance to talk to you, and I'm so grateful to you for this. Thank you so much, Jennette.
Jennette [00:50:16] Thank you. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness and hope that we can meet in person one day and have a conversation and a coffee.
Annie [00:50:23] I would love to... Thank you so much to Jennette. Such a smart and funny and generous guest. She also mentioned she's doing more writing, which is fabulous news. Now, you may have seen that I have started a book club on Tik Tok, and this week we are discussing Jennette's book, I'm Glad My Mom Died, which is available everywhere. So if you haven't read it, do and get involved in the book club on Tik Tok. I'd like to discuss it more with you. Let's hear what you think. Every month we're going to be discussing a new book on Tik Tok. So if you love reading, go and check us out on Tik Tok. Now, thank you so much for listening to Changes. I'm so gassed to be up and running with this new series. Don't forget to rate, review, subscribe to Changes on whatever platform you listen on. And please also share this podcast on social media. Share it with your friends and family. Anyone who you know who's read the book, obviously, and anyone who just loves a good story. We will be back next week, releasing episodes every Monday on Changes in 2023. Changes is produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions. Until then.