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Part 108: The Host of “Hidden Brain” Shankar Vedantam

On Wednesday, March 6th, 2024, I met Shankar Vedantam of the "Hidden Brain” podcast. We’d never met in person, only talked once in an interview, plus email exchanges–– and I’m here to say, he has a great vibe.

The two-hour interview back in 2018 was so difficult for me, several times I felt on the verge of an anxiety attack talking about the past and my tangled relationship with my father, on top of that, at times I felt sorry for the show–– I became worried that the story was too strange to make sense out of, or if I was making sense. A feeling of, “don’t tell them that” and “oh no, why did you tell them that?” bubbled up in the interview in real time.

At the time, I was struggling to come to terms with the fact that Riley may have been a sociopath. I’d connected with many of my half-siblings by then, as well as two of my father’s brothers. Through them I’d found out so many more details about his past in such a short period of time, my brain couldn’t compute, and sometimes I’d seize up... literally unable to speak. I also thought (or perhaps needed to think) that I would be only a part of the show, others with parallel issues would talk about their difficult relationships, plus an expert on the subject would sort it all out, perhaps the expert would’ve written a book on the subject and we’d all rush out to buy it.

During the interview, my husband, David, was in the sound booth, and I began talking about things to the producer and Shankar I’d never told him. Or anyone else. That interview left me rattled, and after the show aired, I worried that perhaps I should’ve kept everything inside. But the “seizing up” scared me. It had happened before then, in writing classes when I was called upon to read my work, the writing concerning my father. It was embarrassing. I always had a fear of public speaking, which is odd because I majored in theater, (being in a play was fine, I wasn’t myself, I was someone else, plus dozens of rehearsals) but this was more than being nervous. The fear of public speaking in general seemed workable, with rehearsal and practice. But this anxiety about my dad was different. Each time, I think I can do it, but then the “seizing up” fear thing happens, and it surprises me, knocking me off my center. Then I worry it’s going to happen, which balls me up.

I wanted to meet Shankar in person to shake off this connection my brain made, a channel in my gray matter, between the host and producers of "Hidden Brain" and my strange, unexpected lizard brain fear response. I got the chance when he came to town to do his talk, which included topics such as fear and anxiety, knowing what is in our control and what isn’t–– something that wasn’t announced beforehand. Perfect. I kept thinking during Shankar’s talk...well, maybe this topic will help me with my awkwardness when I stand in line to meet him, which I’d planned to do, we’d had an email exchange where I asked to meet, and asked if it would be ok to have a photo.

I stood in line with a few others ahead of me. Then it was my turn. Relaxed at first, we shook hands, and I was simply happy to meet in person after all these years. But then, he asked about the story and how it might be developed in the future, and it happened out of nowhere, I felt my voice changing, my face flush, and I couldn’t meet his eye. This lasted what seemed like an eternity, but perhaps was only a moment, then I snapped back to “somewhat” normal. My friend Erica stood next to me, and said she didn’t notice anything, only that he seemed happy to meet me.

I also have this thing where I don’t want to “take up too much time” (which I notice other people absolutely do not have.) I asked a young man if he’d take a photo of us with my iPhone, and he took a great one!

As I was leaving, Shankar said, “The story about your father is great.”

After, I texted a friend about that moment when I became flustered. “I was a little nervous. Wish I was a breezy person."

“It’s so weird when that happens. And then I have anxiety about how I don’t have my anxiety under control,” my friend texted back.

Yes, that’s exactly it, that’s exactly what happened. Thank you, friend, I love the company. I want to know if this happens to anyone else, not that I wish it on anyone, but it helps to know that other people have this experience.

Anyway, here’s the picture. Thankful that I look how I felt right then, happy. That’s it for today.


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