Eileen Kelly on Interviewing Michael Cohen and Amanda Knox


Eileen Kelly had just come out of a five-month psychiatric hospital stay when she got the idea for Going Mental, a podcast about mental health. “My priorities completely shifted,” she says. “I want to help people who have gone through similar things as me.”

The 25-year-old sex educator—once described as a “millennial Dr. Ruth”—found viral fame for her sex-positive Tumblr while still in high school. That led her to start the successful Instagram account Killer and a Sweet Thang where, for a decade, she answered questions about love and sex in the digital age. Her follow count grew to more than half a million, but behind the scenes she says it was hard to separate her identity from her online personality.

After seeking treatment for an anxiety disorder, Kelly took a step back from blogging last year to try her hand at podcasting. A few months into the pandemic, she ordered audio equipment online and began recording Going Mental from her East Village apartment in Manhattan. So far she has landed an impressive number of high-profile guests she describes as “contentious” (take Caroline Calloway, for example) to talk about anxiety, depression, and the impact Instagram has on mental health. “I want to hear from different types of people,” she says, “because I think everyone has a story worth telling.”

Below, Kelly on shifting her platform with Going Mental, learning to live less on social media, and finding an unlikely connection with Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen.

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Getting help was the best thing that ever happened to me

I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and it got to the point where it became debilitating. I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t functioning in my day-to-day life. I was really suicidal. When I was getting help in the hospital, I learned what really matters to me. Now I wake up and just feel happy to be alive. I took some time to figure out how to ease back into work, because I didn’t want to overwhelm myself. I learned so much while I was away and met so many fascinating people in my program that I wanted to share that experiences on a podcast.

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Why I invited Amanda Knox to come on Going Mental

We actually went to the same high school. She’s a lot older than me, so we never crossed paths, but I messaged her and invited her to talk about mental health on the podcast. I find cancel culture really fascinating, and I don’t really believe in it. As a society we should be aiming for redemption and giving people second chances.

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Social media is my livelihood—but it’s no longer my identity

I always had underlying mental health conditions, but I do think social media aggravated them. I started my blog when I was 15 or 16, and it got popular pretty fast. I’ve been online nonstop since then, and I think it became hard for me to distinguish my identity outside of my online personality. I was trying way too many things. I had a clothing and merch line, and we did books and events. I felt like I was stuck on a hamster wheel.

I am so grateful and privileged to be able to make money off of social media and I acknowledge that fully. But at the same time, I’m like who and what was I doing it for? I’ve learned to approach social media differently. I’m much more cautious about putting my mental health and sanity first. The other stuff will come. To me, social media is a fun tool to connect with friends. I don’t take it as seriously. I have someone who runs Killer and a Sweet Thang for me now, which has been really great for my mental health. With Going Mental, I’m dipping my toes back in at my own pace. Whatever that leads me to next, I’m excited for. I don’t want to just become a content machine, which is what I was before.

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My bizarre interaction with Caroline Calloway

I had never met her, but she agreed to come on the podcast. She got my name wrong, and then asked me, “What is this podcast? I know I agreed to come on it, but I don’t know who you are.” I brushed that off. I ended up meeting her at a party a week or two after we did the interview, and she didn’t recognize me or know who I was, even though we spoke for over an hour, and she had opened up to me about some really difficult subjects. To not remember me was super bizarre, but I’m like, wow, you know what, maybe this is just genuinely how she is.

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How I convinced Michael Cohen to come on the podcast

I randomly know Michael Cohen’s daughter really well, and saw firsthand what it was like to have your dad go to prison. It changed her family’s social standing in New York. The people she grew up around and was friends with really dropped her, which was fascinating to watch. When I was thinking of people to have on the podcast, I asked her, “Would you ask your dad if he would be open to coming on?” He hasn’t talked about the mental health aspect and anxiety of what he went through before. I didn’t invite him on to go head to head on his beliefs, I wanted to know what it was like being at the top of his career, almost at the White House, only to become a social pariah.

As a 25 year old liberal woman, it was interesting to hear his perspective. But I also wanted to ask him some hard hitting questions like, “If you hadn’t been thrown in the trash by Donald Trump, would you still be a Trump supporter?” I feel like he answered honestly. He basically said he was human and fucked up and made mistakes, and this is how it made him feel. That’s something I want to focus on in Going Mental, like even if you hate someone’s political beliefs, they could still be struggling with mental health stuff.

My dream podcast guest

I would love to have Azealia Banks on. I would also love to talk to Kanye West and have an honest conversation about what it’s like to be at that level of fame. How can you trust anyone? How does that affect your psyche? Open dialogue is becoming more and more rare, but everyone has a story to share. You may not agree with certain things that they think or believe or have done, but you can learn something from every person—even if it’s what not to be or what not to do.

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Why therapy and education are key to being happy

It’s funny, when you’re doing well, you forget what it’s like to feel bad. I know I’ll struggle with mental health issues for probably my whole life, but I have an amazing therapist I still work with, and I’m on medication. I go to therapy twice a week, and have all my tools in my toolbox to not let things get out of control again. I’m also coming at it from a much more educated place. I’m not naive about what I’m struggling with. I actually understand what I’m dealing with. If I can help even just one person going through something similar, that makes this all worth it.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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