Degrassi Talks: Depression

Pat Mastroianni – his story

by Catherine Dunphy

 

The stories in this book [i.e. – Degrassi Talks on Depression] were all told for the TV show Degrassi Talks… On Depression. Each person interviewed describes the nature of his or her own depression, or that of their loved one.

But… There’s a real difference between the depression described by the people in these stories and the “normal” depression … that Pat Mastroianni describes in the interview which follows.

Pat, the host of the Degrassi Talks… On Depression show, played the character Joey Jeremiah in the Degrassi TV series. He, like most of us, has experienced bouts of “normal” depression, when friends were cruel or a girlfriend dropped him.

Pat Mastroianni was scared as he and Degrassi Talks producer Linda Shuyler drove through the streets of Red Deer to Don’s home.
The last time they had been there, with the camera and sound mic, he had talked to Don. And Don had cuddled his tiny baby daughter Carolanne in his arms and talked about his plans and dreams for himself, and Carol and their new family.
But this time everything was different. Even the house where Don lived looked different. All his stuff was in boxes, the baby was in Montreal, being cared by Don’s mother, and Carol was gone.
Really gone. She was dead. A month before, she and Don were going to be married, she got out of bed in the middle of the night and killed herself with an overdose of pills.
It wasn’t her first try at suicide, but it was her last. Finally Carol had escaped the depression that had dogged her since she was a kid.
Pat remembers feeling spooky. He was scared to talk to a guy who had just lost everything, whose girlfriend had killed herself.
But Don was calm. Too calm Pat thought.
“It really got to me. He was very mellow. I asked him how he felt about it and he wouldn’t give me answers. I got upset because he was holding back. It bugged me. His denying got to me. I can accept death, but I can’t accept denial.”
What Pat didn’t understand was that people have many ways of experiencing grief. Don was putting on a brave face – that was his way – but that didn’t mean that he wasn’t feeling, deep down, lost and wretched and miserable.
In fact, people who don’t show their emotions often feel just as much (sometimes even more) as people who can show their feelings, somebody who might show more emotion, who might cry, get angry, blame themselves.
After the interview was over, Pat took a break and walked out onto the balcony. He was frustrated and upset by what he thought was Don’s lack of emotion – he wanted to get away from him.
But out on the balcony he felt even worse. Standing there, he could look through the window into the bedroom where Carol had died.
Even now, months after the interview, Pat is obviously troubled by what she did. He still cannot understand the depths of despair, the fact that Carol’s depression was an illness which required medical attention.
“I have never thought about killing myself”, he says. “Nothing can be that bad that death is a better solution. I’m sorry, but I don’t care what’s happening in a life.”
Well, sure, you are probably thinking, what does Pat Mastroianni know about being depressed? As Joey Jeremiah, he’s been at the centre, the heart of the Degrassi High and Junior High series.
When he was 16, in 1988, he was nominated for a Gemini for best actor. Not best child star or best actor in kid’s series, but best actor, period. A Gemini is like Canada’s Oscars – only for television.
And Pat won.
As the show became more and more popular, so did Pat. People stopped him on the street. He got on a lot of magazine covers, plenty of articles were written about him. Along with others in Degrassi, he crisscrossed Canada, hit a lot of the States and even some countries in Europe, doing public appearances.
And, of course, he got paid for acting.
So what would he know about depression?
As it turns out, what Pat knows about depression is what most of us know.
He didn’t experienced the kind of clinical depression Carol endured. He never became depressed enough to see a doctor or a professional, such as a psychiatrist, for help.
But he did feel a kind of sadness where you have no energy for getting up, where you believe everybody you know is against you, and where you think you know you’re a loser.
For most of us, that kind of depression goes away with time, or with the support and comfort of good friends or family.
This is the kind of depression a lot of kids go through, when something happens that makes them think that nobody likes them, that they have no business being on this earth, that there will be nothing but bad times in the future.
That’s what happened to Pat. His world came crushing down around him in the fall of 1990, just as they were finishing off the last show – ever – of Degrassi.
When director (and, along with Schuyler, Degrassi creator) Kit Hood yelled, “It’s a wrap!” that last time, everybody fell into each other’s arms.
There was champagne and a lot of talk about missing everybody, missing the show, tears, promises to never lose touch.
But Pat finished his champange, went upstairs, grabbed his gear and left.
“I wanted to be out of there. Those people meant nothing to me,” he said.
That’s what he really thought then. The kids he’d grown up with in Degrassi, the actor’s he’d considered his blood brothers? Forget it. Forget them, he told himself. It’s over.
Pat’s the kind of guy whose middle name is loyalty. You make friends with Pat, you stay friends with Pat. For life. At least that’s the way he likes it.
And if you’re a friend of Pat Mastroianni, you’re perfect. And he won’t let anybody badmouth you, not while he’s in the room.
Pat’s a sentimental kind of guy; in fact, he’d been talking about how great the Degrassi gang was, going on and on about it, because that’s the way he is, the night when finally, one of the guys in the room couldn’t take it any more.
Look, this guy said to Pat, nobody’s perfect, even the kids who act on the show. And not everybody is as fanatically loyal about their friends as you are.
In fact, he went on, some of these so-called friends had been putting the word out on Pat behind his back. That Pat was a user. Pat thought he was such a bi-i-ig star.
It shouldn’t have been such a big surprise to Pat. After all, he was the first of them to win the Gemini and it was his character, Joey, who was the most popular guy on the show with the viewers. This was just a little professional jealousy, not that big a deal. Pat should have seen through it.
But Pat couldn’t. When it comes to friends, Pat is all or nothing. He remembers just staring at the guy who was telling him all this. He remembers he simply couldn’t believe it.
Then came the clincher: one thing that guy said that made Pat feel like someone had just punched him in the stomach. Hard.
One of Pat’s closest friends, one of his co-stars had deliberately seduced one of Pat’s girlfriends the year before. And never told him.
“It was a betrayal. The people I thought were closest to me weren’t. They were fakes.”
“I felt like a fool. And I felt such shock. I kept saying, ‘No, no’. I couldn’t sleep that night.”
“Then I had to go back on set and work with them the next day and pretend they were my friends. I was happy to get to the end. I didn’t know how I could work with them”, he says.
“I’d given up everything for them. Degrassi was my life. In interviews I would say that we were a family and I really would mean it. I believed it.”
Maybe he wouldn’t have taken it so hard if at the same time he was taking in all this news, his girlfriend had not broken up with him.
But she did. Pat’s had his share of girlfriends but he was quite gone on this one. She was really attractive and she was talented – a great singer and dancer. Pat had fallen hard for her.
So there he was, heading into winter ( a season he hates), with no job, no friends, no girl.
” I started drinking. I’d sit at home alone drinking a mickey of Canadian Club or half a case of beer. I’d go to parties and I’d drink too much.”
He knew he was being a stupid drunk to get the attention or pity of the girl who’d dumped him. But that didn’t make him straighten out.
Finally, about a month later, Siluck Saysanasy (who played Yick Yu in the Degrassi series) sat him down and yelled at him.
“He thought I was contemplating suicide”, Pat can laugh about it now.
But it worked. It worked because Pat knew then that Siluck was a real friend, that he cared.
“Right now, I have only two friends I trust”, Pat says. One is Siluck, the other Mark, a friend since Grade 9. “The rest are acquaintances. But I don’t mind. I like it that way.”
It took him longer to trust women again, though. He looks a bit ashamed as he confesses he went on a “womanizing spree” for about a year.
“I needed to go through the selfishness. For so long I hated people. I had to drag it all away. Be selfish, but then stop. Now I’m back and I know where I am.”
But he was hurting so much, he even hesitated about working on Degrassi‘s big blow-out finale, a two-hour television movie. Called School’s Out, it wraps up all the loose ends with the kids from Degrassi and literally sends them on their way.
Professionally, it as a chance in a lifetime for Pat. But he didn’t jump at it. Could he act well enough to make people believe he liked the very person he felt had betrayed him?
He had to be talked into doing it. And in the end, he’s the better for it. Every day he worked on the set, and every day, off set, he worked had at working things out.
At being friends – even just casual friends – with the guys again. Maybe he would never feel as if they were blood brothers again, or anything as intense as that, but he could still work with them, and enjoy being with them.
“I figured out who I was and where I was going. It felt good to be back in action”, he says.
Pat needed a break away from Degrassi. He needed not to need the people in it so much.
He knows that now. He’s the first to admit the series had been his entire life for years. An only child, he had made the other kids on the show his brothers and sisters, the family he didn’t really have.
Adored by his parents, he lived a very protected life before he went to audition for Degrassi. He says he had no friends; he lived in Scarborough, went to a local school, came home, watched television, went to bed.
He auditioned for a part in the Degrassi series at the end of his Grade 9 year. Halfway through Grade 10, the series – with him in it – went on the air.
Pat shrugs. It got off to a slow start, he says, aring at an awkward time slot, so he wasn’t exactly a big star. Not then.
He was quiet and studious, a good student. His only friend was Mark. They got to know each other after he shoved Pat against a locker after Pat had been razzing him. Not enough to hurt him, just enough to make him stop. Pat respected that.
When Degrassi became more and more popular, so did Pat. But he was suspicious of all these kids who now said “Hi” to him in the halls.
“Where were they they before Degrassi?” he asks. “I was nobody in Grade 9. Nobody wanted to be my friend.”
By Grade 11, his marks had dropped but his personality had blossomed. So had his self-confidence. But the people he wanted to hang out with were all on the show, so that’s what he did.
They grew up together on set, sometimes they dated each other, but always they were there for each other.
They’d work together all season and then for a two-week holiday they’d rent a cottage together. They’d party together weekends, go to movies, gossip, spend New Year’s together. They just couldn’t seem to get enough of each other.
“Ridiculous”, Pat laughs. “Work together, take a brake from work and then all holiday together.”
In 1988, when Pat won the Gemini, a fast-talking agent told him to head to Los Angeles, pronto, to take advantage of his big win.
He went, but he discovered two things: one of them was that most people down there didn’t know about Degrassi, and they sure didn’t want to know about him. The other was that he missed – and needed – his friends on Degrassi.
So he came home, humble and determined to learn everything he could about acting before he broke away again. And grateful to be back with his friends.
“I was happy. I thought my life was more than perfect.”, he says.
But no one’s life is. Pat discovered he was like everybody else when Degrassi ended and he spent a painful year nursing his wounds and learning to trust again.
“This past year I have learned how to deal with the emotions that hurt”, he says. “I faced not having a job, not knowing where I was going in life. I was afraid of not succeeding.”
But an interesting thing has happened to him because of what he went through. He grew up. You can still see on his face some of the vulnerability he felt.
He’s still fun, still a party animal, still loves his Mustang. There’s still a lot of Joey Jeremiah in Pat Mastroianni.
But he faced up to and faced down his worst fears and not only is he a better person for it, but also he’s a better actor.

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