Wendi McLendon-Covey—Beverly on the sitcom The Goldbergs— shares tips on how she deals with depression and laughs in the face of stigma.
By Michele Wojciechowski
Every week, Wendi McLendon-Covey dons a huge blond wig of puffed-up 1980s hair as she slips into the character of Beverly Goldberg, the real-life Mom of The Goldbergs’ creator Adam Goldberg. As Bev or Bevie, McLendon-Covey spends each episode of The Goldbergs trying to make life better for her three children. Her scenes are hilarious, and by the end of the 30-minute sitcom, while life isn’t perfect, the problem has been solved—or at least reconciled.
In real life, McLendon-Covey knows that certain issues, like those with mental health, can’t be solved that quickly. She knows firsthand, though, that even with a depression diagnosis you can live a full, fun life and even make people laugh—a lot.
“One thing I’ve learned is that people are more accepting of depression than you think they are,” says McLendon-Covey, 49, who was first diagnosed with depression when she was 23 years old. “Depression is something I manage. I’m not ashamed of it. We all deal with something, and it’s better to be aware of it and stay on top of it than to deny that it’s there.”
All in her family
Depression runs in McLendon-Covey’s family, and she can identify symptoms of depression in herself as early as in kindergarten. She also experienced anxiety in her tweens so severe that her mom took her to a therapist.
McLendon-Covey says that her depression wasn’t dealt with back then because growing up in the 1970s and 1980s was a different time. People didn’t know about brain chemistry and its influence on anxiety and depression. “Most adults didn’t acknowledge that it was a problem,” she says.
In addition, her family was really religious, and McLendon-Covey explains that they would try to pray things away. So they prayed about her anxiety. While she doesn’t fault anyone for not trying to get her additional assistance, she admits that it didn’t help.
“That doesn’t work. You have to take action,” she says.
In time, McLendon-Covey says that her issues with anxiety resolved. When she was in college, though, her depression came out of nowhere and hit her hard.
“The first time it became debilitating, I was 23 years old, and I just couldn’t get off the couch. I couldn’t stop sleeping. I felt helpless. I just couldn’t function,” she recalls.
When McLendon-Covey was officially diagnosed with depression, she remembers thinking, “I don’t love this diagnosis, but it makes sense, and at least we’re getting somewhere.”
Although she began seeing a therapist, talk therapy didn’t alleviate the overall symptoms of her depression. It didn’t get her back to feeling like herself. McLendon-Covey made the decision to try antidepressants. It took two tries to find something she could tolerate.
“The first medication didn’t work for me, but that’s going to be true for a lot of people with depression, and that doesn’t mean you stop trying. You have to keep trying and find something that works,” she says.
McLendon-Covey stresses the importance of seeking treatment in whatever form works for you, because she wants people to learn to live with their depression. Literally. As she recently learned about members of her own family tree, the alternative can be fatal. Connie – please delete: “about eight members” – it just raises too many questions.
“You have to keep going,” says McLendon-Covey. “It’s going to be messy in the beginning…You have to keep trying because you are worth saving, and you can get on top of it.”
This is true even after the condition seems to be under control. Her antidepressant kept McLendon-Covey on an even keel for years—until it didn’t. When she found herself at age 29 back on the couch crying for no reason, feeling totally hopeless, and unable to make a move, she saw her physician and said that he needed to change her medicine.
“I’m not a functional human being,” she recalls saying to him. He tried another antidepressant that work for her.
“The good thing was that it immediately cut off the negative tape I would play in my head,” McLendon-Covey says.
Foray into comedy
Believe it or not, McLendon-Covey says that she’s taken from her experience with depression and used it in performing comedy.
“All comedy comes from misery—trying to correct something that’s wrong and failing at it. That’s where comedy comes from, and that’s why comedy is so hard,” she explains. “You really can’t be funny until you’ve really gotten in touch with the dark side.”
While growing up in California, McLendon-Covey says that she wasn’t always funny. “I was quite an annoying child—always trying to make people watch my shows,” she jokes. But she was always interested in comedy and would watch comedy greats such as Carol Burnett, Phyllis Diller, Mary Tyler Moore, and Flip Wilson, the whole time studying what they did.
Like many families, McLendon-Covey says that hers didn’t encourage her to go into acting. Although her parents are proud of her today, they worried about acting as a career. As a result, McLendon-Covey didn’t get into comedy seriously until she had grown up.
When working at a dive hotel in Anaheim near Disneyland, McLendon-Covey began taking improv classes. This led to her becoming a part of the celebrated Groundlings improv troupe from 2002-2009. In 2006, TV Guide called her the Queen of Improv because she was working on two unscripted TV shows at once--Reno 911! and Lovespring International—and had performed in three movies in a row that were also completely unscripted.
McLendon-Covey continued appearing in big projects. She played Rita in the hit movie Bridesmaids, Pam on Modern Family, and Liz on Rules of Engagement. Then in 2012, she received a script based on a real family and set in the 1980s—that script was for The Goldbergs. Without having to audition, McLendon-Covey was cast as Bev, and she’s been making people laugh through her meddling ever since.
In 2019, McLendon-Covey has appeared on the big screen as Olivia in What Men Want and as Cathy in the film Imaginary Order, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. She also provides the voice of Nancy Green in the cartoon series Big City Greens on the Disney Channel.
Keep on keeping on
Although McLendon-Covey isn’t currently seeing a psychotherapist, she says that she would if she believed she needed to.
“Everybody benefits from therapy at some point in their life. I think of it as taking your brain to the spa,” she quips.
McLendon-Covey also works on herself daily. She is hyper-aware of what could trigger her; for example, she likes to be busy. “I can’t have too many days in a row where I just have free time to do whatever I want. As luscious as that sounds, that’s not good for me,” she says. She watches what she eats and exercises, which is less about controlling weight and more about keeping herself from becoming anxious or thinking bad thoughts. “I have to sweat it out. That’s what works best for me,” she says.
Over the years, depression has sometimes affected McLendon-Covey’s social life and her relationships. There are some days, she says, where she just wants to be alone. Her true friends understand. She says, “Education has been key with everybody understanding this. The ones who understand were meant to be in my life, and the ones who don’t can pretend they’re fine elsewhere.”
She’s especially grateful for the love of her life, her husband, Greg Covey. They’ve been together for 25 years and married for 22. “He knows the good, bad, and the ugly, and he loves me. He chooses to stay, so that’s good for me,” she says.
In spite of the fact that McLendon-Covey loves acting, she’s just not big on the Hollywood scene. For example, she doesn’t enjoy red carpet events, mainly because of the intense criticism.
“I’m going to be critiqued from head to toe. How fun,” she jokes. In all seriousness, she knows that some photographers will focus in on any flaw, like eczema on her leg, or some will wait until she sneezes, then take a photo that will show up in print.
What she does like is doing basic things—digging in her garden, going on a hike, and roller skating as well as spending time with Greg and their cats.
Speaking out to help others
McLendon-Covey has begun speaking out about what it’s been like for her to live with depression because she wants to help people understand that while she was once in a terrible place emotionally, she’s learned what to do to live a great life. She believes that if she can do it, others can as well.
“We’re not put on earth to be miserable. That’s not why we’re here,” she says. “I know what it feels like. I know how awful it is. I don’t want anybody to feel that way. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re in that hopeless place—but it’s all because of your brain chemistry. Get help. Don’t deprive the world of whatever it is you bring to it.”
What works for Wendi McLendon-Covey
Going Sugar Free: I try to eat sugar only once a week because I’ve noticed that it really bums me out. Even a lot of fruit can make me feel uneasy.
Work It, Girl!: I like to listen to podcasts that are fun, and my favorite one is What’s the Tee with RuPaul and Michelle Visage. It takes me out of my thought process and gives me something completely different to concentrate on.w
Netflix and Chill: I’ve gotten into Mexican soap operas in a big way! If you want to be completely taken out of your brain, that’s a way to do it. I also like foreign comedies like Kath & Kim from Australia. When I watch something in which I don’t know the actors in real life, it helps me to just get absorbed into the story.
Snuggles: I have to spend time with animals. I have to cuddle. Of course, I’ve got my own [she and Greg have four cats], but I’ll make friends with any animal that wants to make friends with me.
Rolling On: I’ve roller skated since I was a kid. When filming the second episode of The Goldbergs, I had to skate for the first time in 25 years, and I remembered how much I loved it. So I bought skates and keep them in the trunk of my car for whenever I get the chance.
Printed as “Make ’em Laugh”, Spring 2019
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
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