Howie Mandel has lived with severe anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder for most of his entire life, but that doesn’t mean every day isn’t a battle.
“I’m living in a nightmare,” says Mandel, 65, who first exhibited symptoms of his OCD (repetitive and intrusive thoughts and fixations, often brought on by his debilitating fear of germs ) as a young child.
“I try to anchor myself. I have a beautiful family and I love what I do. But at the same time, I can fall into a dark depression I can’t get out of,” he shared to PEOPLE for one of last week’s cover stories.
Mandel, who has been married to wife Terri since 1980, shares a son Alex, 31, and daughters Riley, 28, and Jackie, 36 (who also suffers from anxiety and OCD), with her. He also admits the pandemic was very triggering for his mental health.
“There isn’t a waking moment of my life when ‘we could die’ doesn’t come into my psyche,” he says.
“But the solace I would get would be the fact that everybody around me was okay. It’s good to latch onto okay. But [during the pandemic] the whole world was not okay. And it was absolute hell.”
Mandel didn’t open up about his conditions until 2006 despite being diagnosed in his 40s and admits he went back and forth about sharing it with the world.
“My first thought was that I’ve embarrassed my family,” he recalls. “Then I thought, ‘Nobody is going to hire somebody who isn’t stable.’ Those were my fears.”
Mandel says he’s often used humor to work through the darker days. “My coping skill is finding the funny,” he says. “If I’m not laughing, then I’m crying. And I still haven’t been that open about how dark and ugly it really gets.”
He continues, crediting comedy for saving his life. “Comedy saved me in a way,” says Mandel. “I’m most comfortable onstage. And when I don’t have anything to do, I turn inward – and that’s not good.”
Mandel, who admits he still deals with waves of extreme depression, acknowledges others may not understand just how bad it can get, especially when he is in the public eye.
“People see inconsistencies, especially in the media,” he says.
“‘Oh he hugged someone’ or ‘he shook someone’s hand.’ I can shake your hand. But then I’d think I didn’t wash it well enough. And I’d go back and forth in a loop washing my hands for hours. I understand the funny in that. But it doesn’t mean it isn’t incredibly painful. And I don’t want to defend my mental health. I just want to maintain it.”
“My life’s mission is to remove the stigma,” continues Mandel. “I’m broken. But this is my reality. I know there’s going to be darkness again – and I cherish every moment of light.”
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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