Jennette McCurdy, I'M GLAD MY MOM DIED

Jennette McCurdy, I'M GLAD MY MOM DIED

Zibby is joined by former Nickelodeon star Jennette McCurdy to talk about her debut memoir, I’m Glad My Mom Died, and why she chose the book’s eye-catching title. The two discuss some of the narratives Jennette grew up with that she had to unlearn in adulthood, as well as where she is now in her eating disorder recovery journey. Jennette also shares why it was important to write from her younger self’s perspective, what it was like for her to write about such heavy topics, and which projects she’s working on next.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jennette. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your amazing memoir, I’m Glad My Mom Died.

Jennette McCurdy: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to talk with you.

Zibby: I have to say, I have four kids. I was holding this book. I always read right before they go to sleep. This was my bedtime reading a few nights ago when I started it. I was sitting there reading. They looked at the title. They were like, “.” They’re like, “That’s so mean.”

Jennette: It’s funny to hear kids being horrified by it. Often, my experience has been that mothers are horrified of it. How can you say that about your mother? I’m aware of how it comes across. I also know that it’s a title that I wouldn’t have named the book if I didn’t mean it sincerely and if I didn’t feel like I earned it in the writing of the book. I hope that that comes across to anybody who reads it. I hope it makes sense to them by the end of the book, and maybe sooner.

Zibby: It makes sense to me. I read every word of this book. I was hanging on your every word. I found so many parts of your journey just utterly fascinating, particularly, obviously, your relationship with your mom. Even though you say you’re glad that she died, the complexity of your relationship is laid out on every page. Obviously, she was sick for a long time. That is so hard to deal with loving someone who is in a prolonged illness and all of the stress that comes with that when their quality of life is so impaired, especially towards the end. The backstory of your relationship and your realizing how things were as you looked at them again as an adult — you know what? I’m filling in all the stuff you should be saying.

Jennette: No, this is great. It’s making it easier for me. I appreciate. I’m like, yep, cool.

Zibby: It’s just that sometimes you don’t realize in the moment that the person who’s supposed to care for you the most is maybe not treating you in the best way for you. It’s hard to realize in the moment because you have nothing to compare it to. You have all that mixed with a mom with an illness for a long time. It’s very hard. That was so much on your shoulders from such a young age, which you write about so beautifully.

Jennette: Thank you. I think it’s impossible to face that kind of a reality of, this person who’s meant to be my protector may in fact be my abuser. As a child, facing that reality would be against your survival instinct. There’s that need to survive, that need to cope. My experience certainly was that I just lived in delusion and lived in, well, my mom wants what’s best for me. I just suppressed any thought that I had that didn’t agree with that narrative that I had of her, which was on that pedestal. I, of course, wasn’t aware of all of the mental gymnastics that I was doing at the time. In retrospect and through a lot of therapy and recovery processes, I was able to recognize, oh, that’s what was happening. That’s what was going on that entire childhood and even adolescence and even early adulthood. It was a tough reality to come to terms with. It was very, very challenging because it sort of meant reorienting my lens that I viewed the world in. Everything was oriented around, what would Mom want? What does Mom expect of me? What are Mom’s goals and Mom’s needs? Mom, Mom, Mom. To say, wow, okay, I need to take a step back from that and figure out what I want and what I need separate from my mother, who had a lot of really destructive needs to both herself and myself, it was very daunting. It was very daunting and very exhausting. I’m happy to have done the work and to be, never fully on the other side of anything like losing a parent, and all the complications that come with that dynamic of the relationship aside, but I do feel, for the most part, on the other side of it. I’m really relieved about that.

Zibby: What I think you did so successfully in the writing of the story is, we went along with you on the ride. Even though things jumped out at me, the way you wrote about it was like, and then we would take showers and she would give me exams. When you read it, you’re like, wait, what did she say? What kind of exam? You take the reader along with the innocent eyes of you as a child. It isn’t until later when we go through it with you when you’re in therapy and the doctor kindly points out, “You know that maybe that’s not how everybody’s mom is, that they don’t let them shower by themselves until they’re sixteen, seventeen years old?” You realize it. Then we’re along with you. It’s almost like you’re just taking us through this grueling process and then coming out the other side with you. It was very emotional, the whole journey. You did a great job with it.

Jennette: Good. I’m so glad it resonated with you. Truly, that’s amazing to hear. I’m glad that you mentioned this taking you through the present moment of my childhood. First off, I just find it more entertaining. From a very frank standpoint, I just think it’s more entertaining to be really experiencing the eyes of a child. We can all relate with that. We all know what being a child entails. That was important to me, to be entertaining. Then also, I find that when I write from where I’m at now about my past, I feel like my instinct would be to get too wistful, too poetic. I think it’s too easy for things to get a bit more glossy. I think there’s something about the delusion of who I was as a child and the delusion that I was living in that’s funnier and more striking. I think it hits a little harder. I hope it hits a little harder. That’s what I certainly hope.

Zibby: You also did an amazing job — I really tip my hat to you. I am not just saying this. I interview tons of people. The way that you dove deep into your eating disorder history and showing the underside, really, of bulimia and what it can do and the scenes where you have vomit on your arms, you’re showing us this is not glamorous. Being a celebrity with an eating disorder is not a walk in the park. Thank you very much. You show the underside of fame. You show the underside of living with something that takes over your brain, really, and is so destructive. Again, it’s so powerful to see you come out the other side. There is a chapter at the end — I think it’s chapter eighty-two. I literally was screenshotting pictures because I have a friend who struggles. I was like, I want to send her this whole chapter. I’m actually just going to send her the book because then it became, wait, but this is so perfect for her too, and this and this. I’ll send her the book. If I could just read maybe a paragraph from the chapter if that’s okay. It’s about your relationship with the scale. Even just this one paragraph. Okay, two paragraphs.

“It’s cold and heavy in my hands. I walk slowly with it because I’m stalling. I’ve gotten rid of it before seven or eight times, but every time, I go right back out the next day and get a new one. So far, I haven’t been able to get through twenty-four hours without getting a new one, but I’m hopeful that this time might be different. Maybe this time since I’m making it more of an occasion, since my getting rid of it is my gift to myself for my twenty-fourth birthday, I’ll be able to get rid of it for good. My scale has defined me for so long. The number it shows tells me whether I’m succeeding or failing, whether I’m trying hard enough or not, whether I’m good or bad. I know it’s unhealthy for anything to have that much authority over my self-worth, but no matter how hard I’ve tried to fight it, I have always felt reduced to the number on the scale, maybe because, in a way, it’s easier. Defining yourself is hard, complicated, messy. Letting the number on the scale do it for you is simple, direct, straightforward.” Then you say, “It sounds ridiculous, life beyond scale. It’s so dramatic, but unfortunately, true for me. I’m embarrassed that this is my reality. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that’s growth, to be embarrassed.” So good.

Jennette: Thank you for reading it. It makes me a bit emotional to hear it read back. It’s so rewarding. It really feels like that connection of — I guess just connection. It feels so nice. Thank you for reading it.

Zibby: You’re welcome. Candidly, I have been writing about the scale since I was fourteen. I had this essay in Seventeen magazine with me literally holding my scale in disgust being like, I can’t deal with this. It’s been a lifelong thing for me.

Jennette: No kidding?

Zibby: Yeah, with ups and downs. When you go through the part where you’re having to track the not tracking, I spent seven years in, every single bite was written. We’ve all had our stuff.

Jennette: You were fourteen, you said?

Zibby: Yeah.

Jennette: I’m so intrigued how you had the wherewithal to write about the thing while in the thick of the thing. That must have been intense.

Zibby: It was intense. It wasn’t supposed to be for Seventeen. It was supposed to be my interior thoughts, but my mom found it and was like, “You should publish this. It’ll help other girls.” I was like, “Why would I do that?” Anyway, she encouraged. I was like, “It’ll never sell.” Then I sent it in, and they ran it. That literally put me on this whole path because so many people responded to the piece. So many girls out there were like, thank you. I had gained a bunch of weight. Not even a bunch of weight, but I had gained twenty pounds when I was fourteen when my parents divorced. It just made me feel terrible. I was just chatting with a girlfriend yesterday. Our moms are of the grapefruit-for-breakfast generation, the workaholic, Jane Fonda, nonstop. They’re still in that camp, so I related so much to your mom. My mom is tiny. She’s adorable. I love it, but I feel like I could eat her for breakfast at this point.

Jennette: Jane Fonda and grapefruit for breakfast are just the real quintessential of that era, that generation. They’re the flagship body images that come to mind, for sure.

Zibby: In your whole relationship when your mom teaches you calorie restriction, I literally was given a book of calories to count when I was nine. I still have it somewhere.

Jennette: When you were nine?

Zibby: Yeah. It was a little different. It was different, probably because I was unsuccessful, whereas you succeeded, in a way. I could not pull it off.

Jennette: I was so good at bulimia.

Zibby: You were so good at anorexia and bulimia. I’m so jealous. No. I’m kidding. Obviously, this is a sick joke. I’m sorry. That was making light of it. There is this, what can you do to control your body in feeling so out of control? That’s why I found it so interesting that you said it’s actually how you define yourself versus being out of control. It’s very different. It’s about identity versus controlling the uncontrollable, in a way.

Jennette: I think both played such an integral role in my development of eating disorders. It was interesting to me you mentioned right after your parents divorced is when it started for you. I feel like so often when I hear people speak of their experience with an eating disorder or eating disorders, right around the inception of the eating disorder was some sort of intense life event. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I think that’s pretty commonplace for eating disorders. It’s so fascinating to me. I think fascinating is the right world, truly fascinating to me in, not a gross way, but I wish there was more work done toward just helping people with eating disorders. I know there’s so much work that’s being done. I know they’re talking about it in such a different way than they were ten, even five years ago. I’m so grateful for that. I do feel that the narrative that it’s this lifelong recovery process and that you can never really get out of them and that they’re always kind of going to haunt you, it sounds awful. It sounds horrifying. I remember hearing that when I first entered recovery, my therapist literally being like — the most well-meaning, wonderful therapist. He was amazing. Jamie, if anybody’s in Toronto. He’s based out there.

He said, “This is going to be a lifelong struggle.” I thought, that doesn’t really motivate me much to try working on it. I like the idea of being able to get to the other side of something. I like the idea of being able to not have to live with the baggage and just dragging this thing through life. I say this because I don’t feel like I’m there now. I’m not plagued by any sort of destructive eating behaviors and not even destructive thoughts about eating. I thought that that piece would always be there. I’d always have to keep the thoughts in check and keep, oh, I’m obsessing. The eating disorder voice is dialed down. I would say it’s near silent in my head. I think that’s important to share. I want to share that for anybody listening who might have eating disorders because I do I think recovery is possible. I do think being recovered is possible. I don’t think it’s something that you have to battle and take with you for your life. I want that, no pun intended, weight to be lifted. I don’t want that to be something that people carry with them. It’s really unfortunate to me.

Zibby: I agree. I feel like alcoholism is presented in the same way. It’s just each day. How many years are you in recovery? The paradigm of that to people who are more goal oriented, I think, is incredibly destructive.

Jennette: Yes. It’s hopeless. I think it can actually lead to more of a spiral. I think that if there’s ever a slip, I think it can quickly lead to a spiral when you’re just thinking, what’s the point? It’s always going to be with me. I’m never going to get to the other side of this. How are you with all of that now? How do you label it? How do you identify with it?

Zibby: I’m now at a different life stage. I’m accepting, sort of, a larger body than I would like, but it’s something that I’m still dealing with. Okay, here I am in another clothes size. I don’t know. I’ve rationalized it. I don’t have time to do this. I keep finding these programs. I’m like, oh, okay. Then it’s like, I don’t have time to eat three ounces of steak and an apple. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to go back to eating my normal food. Thank you very much. I love food. It’s not worth it. It’s a work in progress, but I don’t have an eating disorder. I just am probably heavier than I would like. I would just leave it at that, I guess. Maybe I don’t think enough about what I’m eating. I kind of went the other way where you go from being so obsessed with it, and now I’m just like, okay, great. My husband’s like, “Here, take these dark chocolate sea salt caramels.” I’m like, “Great. I’ll just eat these all day. Thanks. That’s so sweet.” I’m eating them because he loves me.

Jennette: I found that bit, too, when I initially felt like recovery was such a stumbly process for me. Once I really started finding my footing, I got so rebellious with food. I was like, fuck it. I’m going to just eat junk food all day long. I’m going to have brownies and cookies and Coke Icees and just enjoy it and enjoy the food that I deprived myself of for over a decade. It tasted amazing. It’s so strange for a Coke Icee to be a healing experience, but it was in my case. Now I’m at this cool place where I love healthy food, and I love junk food. I literally couldn’t even tell you what I ate yesterday. I’m sure there was a mix of some sort of salad at some point. Oh, I had pizza for dinner and a salad on the side. I had eggs. There’s no rules. It feels great. What I’m trying to say is I would like some of your sea salt dark chocolates.

Zibby: I would be happy to share them with you. I could FedEx them to you. They’re delicious. I’m sorry. I feel like I was totally oversharing in this. It’s about you.

Jennette: No, I’m so grateful. I enjoy it. I appreciate it.

Zibby: This is my last thing about food. Then I want to move onto something else. This last paragraph, you said, “This new relationship to food deeply confuses me. For years, I have been in control of my diet, my body, myself. I have kept myself rail-thin and my body childlike, and I have found the perfect combination of power and solace in that, but now I feel out of control, reckless, hopeless. The old combination of power and solace is replaced by a new combination of shame and chaos. I do not understand what is happening to me. I am terrified of what will happen when Mom sees me.” That was at another stage of your journey. I also thought that was really beautifully written. Then on top of just regular eating stuff and growing up and all the other stuff that the average person has, because you grew up on TV and in the public eye, you have to contend with that, which is just another level of stress. You wrote, “The kind of fame I have now is causing me a level of stress I did not know was possible. I know everybody wants it, and everybody tells me how lucky I am to have it, but I hate it. I feel constantly on edge whenever I leave the house to go anywhere. I’m worried that strangers will come up to me, and I get very anxious when interacting with strangers.” Then you say, “I am so unimpressed by people, even irritated by them at times, even disgusted by them. I don’t know exactly when this happened, but I know it’s a relatively recent switch, and I know fame had something to do with it. I’m tired of people approaching me like they own me, like I owe them something. I didn’t choose this life. Mom did.”

Jennette: That was my bitter stage if you couldn’t tell. I think fame is such a — it’s so bizarre. We get it to some degree. To write about it and reflect on it can sound so whiny. I think I mentioned that at some point. God, I know how whiny this sounds. I felt that at the time. I felt like, how petulant and annoying and whiny to be complaining about this thing that everybody glorifies, everybody romanticizes, or I should say many people romanticize and glorify and many people want. I felt ungrateful. I felt the shame from feeling ungrateful for this thing. Then I had the pressure from my mom, who loved the fame and really found her worth in the fame. Then that suddenly switched, and she started becoming jealous of the fame. The way I see it now is that I think fame drove this wedge in my relationship with my mom because I think fame is the first thing that led her to really understand that she and I were different people.

I think that we were so enmeshed and that she so found her identity in who I was before then. Then when she’s seeing me getting my picture taken and she’s on the sidelines watching, at first, it was, “Smile big. Smile bright. Sign your name. Be sure to do the curly Y.” It was all the direction. Then it quickly morphed into something a lot darker where I’m sitting there going, oh, my god, I don’t enjoy this. I don’t want this. Then I’m looking at her. She’s saying comments to me that are very aggressive and jealous. I’m thinking, I can’t do anything right. I fought for this life so long, for a decade. I got it, and now she’s still unhappy. It was so disappointing because in my mind, success or fame would have made my mom happy, would have healed our relationship, would have made my family’s life better. It didn’t do any of those things. I tried to show that and also be honest with how whiny it sounds at times to be complaining about it.

Zibby: I’m sure you and your therapist are so familiar with all the research on being a child of a narcissist, but there is nothing you can do. There was nothing you could have achieved or done to really ever please her because she’s a narcissist. She was on such an end of the extreme. The scene when you talk about your getting your first adult apartment and she was like, “Can I sleep over?” and then she stayed for three months, it literally broke my heart reading that part. I was like, oh, my gosh. You’re unable to say anything because then she guilts you like crazy. It’s this whole vicious cycle. No matter how perfect you are, it makes no difference, but it’s like you still have to try.

Jennette: It felt crazy-making. Unpacking those narratives in therapy and trying to get to the bottom of them and understand how much they dictated my life and how much that need to be on, need to be present, need to be perfect, need to be — even just every part of myself was orchestrated in that way. Understanding how deep those narratives ran for me was an uncomfortable process. It was definitely not easy. I think anyone who is the child of a narcissist, I’m sure, unfortunately, they can relate. They get it.

Zibby: I think ultimately, the belief that you are not fully loved by the person who’s supposed to love you the most is something very hard. How can they actually love you if they don’t actually have your best interests in mind?

Jennette: Yes. You know what? That makes me think of, my belief was always that I could earn love, that love was a thing that needed to be earned. I didn’t even realize that that’s how I viewed it for a long time. Of course, it took years to really get there. I thought that it was a thing that you earned by doing well, by being good, by being on, by sacrificing everything that you want for the other person, and by navigating their moods every second of the day and surrendering your entire identity to somebody. If it’s not all of those things, it’s not love. I’m not worthy of love if it’s not all those things. I don’t deserve love if it’s not all those things, which is a mind-fuck. It’s intense, for sure.

Zibby: I will say, in having done research on this and a million other things, children of narcissists have a strong tendency to end up with partners who are also narcissists. Just put that on your radar screen. Keep that in your back pocket, for what it’s worth.

Jennette: I think I’ve already dated a few of them.

Zibby: I’m like, maybe I’m too late on this, but just throwing it out there.

Jennette: Are you a child of a narcissist? Are you comfortable sharing that?

Zibby: I’m an armchair psychologist, essentially.

Jennette: Okay, great. Love it.

Zibby: How did you write this book? How did you do this? Did it all just come pouring out? Did you give yourself a time limit? Did you know it was going to be a book? I know you mentioned writing earlier in your life, that that’s actually what you wanted to do from a young age, and it was completely ignored. When you actually sat down to do this, how did you do it?

Jennette: It started in the pretty traditional sense with a book proposal. I had written two essays on my life. The proposal essays were when my mom teaches me calorie restriction, that essay, and then one that became various other pieces, which is me at a Teen Choice/Kid Choice event with a therapist. I included those in the proposal and fortunately, sold the book. I was so surprised that the deadlines come so quickly. I just sold the book. Then they’re like, “Okay, it’s coming out August 9th of next year.” I’m like, whoa, it’s moving so fast, which was very exciting and exhilarating and motivating. I started out with a goal of a thousand words a day, bumped it up to fifteen hundred, then bumped it up to two thousand once I really got in a groove, but wanted to start out gently. I don’t do a ton of outlining, but I do just — my editor considers them vignettes versus chapters because some of the vignettes in the book were as little as a page. I kind of mapped out, I know I want to cover this thing, I know I want to cover this thing, and just a few words of whatever the topic was for that specific vignette. Then I did a first draft and then filled in a lot of blanks, so would add vignettes not in a chronological way at all. I’d go, oh, I think there needs to be something between this and this. This doesn’t quite make sense. I need to connect the tissue there.

I went through about a dozen drafts over the course of a year and four or five months and was just very in it. I laughed a lot while writing it. I cried a lot while writing it. It was a true healing process for me. I’m really grateful that Simon & Schuster believed in me, specifically, my editor, Sean Manning. He was amazing and gave the most incredible notes and really understood my voice. I think it would’ve been so easy, and I was scared of this, of sending in a proposal of what I want it to be and then having an editor come on board and be like, actually, maybe let’s tone this down a little bit. Let’s make this have more of a heavy hand in what — let’s have this piece be more amplified in the book because we want to show the — I was very concerned about it becoming something that it wasn’t, that wasn’t truthfully what I felt was the most important piece, my relationship with my mom and that story. I’m extremely grateful that my editor was so supportive. Literally, every note that he sent in made the book so much better. He never once lost sight of what it was. He was really helpful in guiding it. Shout-out to Sean.

Zibby: That’s awesome. It makes all the difference. I hope you’re going to keep writing. Are you going to try a novel or anything?

Jennette: I’m working on a novel right now. I’m working on a novel and a collection of essays and alternating with each of them. It’s been really fun because that way, I don’t get burnt out on one of them. I can kind of shift gears. I can pop out an essay in a couple days. Then, oh, I’m more excited by the novel right now, so I can then go back into that. Being able to switch gears has been super fun. It’s been very fun.

Zibby: I operate the same way. I can’t just do one thing. I’m working on a novel that’s coming out in 2024. I had a memoir that just came out this month.

Jennette: No kidding. What’s your memoir?

Zibby: It’s called Bookends: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Literature.

Jennette: Okay, I’ll get it.

Zibby: I’m happy to send it to you or whatever. A lot of these themes are in the book, PS. In working on the novel, I literally spent the other day, I was just like, I could not do this all day every day. I need all the emails. I need getting up and running around and the kids. I don’t know why, but my brain works that way for whatever reason. It sounds like yours does too.

Jennette: Yes. I don’t quite understand it. Maybe it’s because of the chaotic upbringing I was in that I kind of need a little bit of chaos in order to feel creative. I need a little something. I don’t know. I don’t know what that is exactly.

Zibby: At least I’m not alone in that.

Jennette: I would love to read your novel also. Do you have a date when you’re —

Zibby: — Oh, my gosh, I’m still writing it, but it’s coming out in the summer of 2024.

Jennette: Great. Awesome.

Zibby: When is your novel coming out?

Jennette: I don’t know. There’s no date.

Zibby: Oh, sorry. I’m running long. I don’t usually ever do this. Lots to discuss. Thank you so much for coming on. I really loved it.

Jennette: Thank you so much for having me. I truly enjoyed this talk with you. It was really fun.

Zibby: Me too. Hope to stay in touch. Take care. Buh-bye.

Jennette: Bye.

Jennette McCurdy, I'M GLAD MY MOM DIED

I’M GLAD MY MOM DIED by Jennette McCurdy

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