Tag Archives: Mental Health

On Depression: It’s Not a Choice

26 Oct

Depression is not a choice.  One of the few people with whom I shared my diagnosis of major depressive disorder told me, “that’s no way to live your life.”  I have no choice in this matter.  As little as I know about my family history, depression runs on both sides, and I am yet another unwitting victim to the cycle of depression and the continued denial of mental illness.  Having depression does not mean that I am always sad and upset.  It does not mean that I am broken.  It does not mean that I am a bad person.  What it means to me is that my world runs over with great possibilities of succumbing to darkness, and that I will recurrently enter that abyss on my own. Depression is a feeling that is difficult to describe.  Perhaps the best way to describe my depression is a feeling of infinite emptiness and an almost tangible hopelessness.   It is also one of the most isolating illnesses.  You are alone in your head.  Your internal thought processes are broken, and you feel as though the cycle will never be broken.  No amount of love or concern from others will fix it.  You walk alone.

I first started feeling sad on a regular basis when I was in middle school.  At least six years of being mercilessly teased in school finally caught up with me.  Simply thinking of some of the names I was called and the things that were done to me sends a shock of pain though my body.   At the age of thirteen, I told my parents that I wanted to kill myself.  They took me to a therapist, who in turn told my mother that I was simply too smart for my own good.  The problem would get worse a few years later.

My second major episode of depression came following the end of a long romantic relationship.  I thought that I would be with him forever, as silly as that now sounds.  I can still hear some of the cruel things he said when it was over.  The last time I saw him, he held a scrapbook of our pictures in his hand: “if I give you this, you’ll never get over me,” he said.   Little did he know, that was not the problem.  The problem was internal rumination, and the inability to brush off cruel words, another symptom of depression.   I did get over him, but it took a long time.  A long time filled with crying fits, a thirty pound weight loss, and a year of being almost continuously drunk.

The third major episode began with the death of my on-again and off again boyfriend and best friend, Dave.  Since his death, my mind has been in a fog.  I have started caring less about other friendships.  I now know what death does to those who are left behind.  It changes a person, from the inside out.  Despite his deep flaws, he was the most emotionally supportive person in my life.  And now I am here without him, more broken than I ever was when he was alive.

When my depression is at its absolute worst, I feel as though I want to die, but then I suddenly think that I do not want to die, and my mind duels with itself in a devilish dance.

I want people to call me to ask to spend time with me, but then I realize that they will not want to spend time with me.  Hardly anyone can stand me due to my depression, my dark mark.  It does not make me fun to be around.  It makes my narcissistic traits bubble to the surface, as there is something inherently narcissistic about being wrapped up in one’s own depression.  How I wish I could make it all go away.

Despite these horrid feelings that ebb and flow within my cortex, I manage to make it every day.  I function – perhaps almost too well – and I go to work, I freelance for extra money, I manage to get onstage to do comedy at least five days a week, I piece together a full-length screenplay that is moving slowly but surely.  I will not give up.  I will not go gentle into that good night.

The stigma against depression remains thick in this world, and especially in the United States.  A bootstrap mentality pervades this land, and no one wants to hear about feelings – those messy, unknown things.  A conversation on mental illness seems so far away at this point and time, and for those of us struggling with the realities of what it is to be human, to face your frailty on a daily basis, the problem persists.

If you know someone who is struggling with depression, please check in on them regularly.  It will mean everything in the world to them.


Robin Williams: the Pain of Laughter

22 Aug

I was lucky enough to see Robin Williams live in person on two occasions. The first was sometime in 2009 when I attended a taping of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon at 30 Rock, and the second was early last year at the Macky Auditorium at the University of Colorado at Boulder, for An Evening of Sit-Down with Robin Williams.  Both of these occasions were amazing, and the audiences were treated to the genius mind of Williams, which was frantic, manic, and tinged with a unique ability to move in and out of endless characters and voices.  He was an utter genius, and anyone who was a fan of his comedy and films was well aware of this.  He surely will be missed by millions of people around the world.

When the news that Williams had committed suicide spread, some of the first reactions were of complete disbelief.  Not very many people could believe that a man who brought so much laughter and joy to others could possibly have wanted to take his own life.  However, there have been many well-documented studies that link the personalities of comedians and performers to psychotic personality traits.  Earlier this year, a study performed at Oxford University concluded that “stand-ups of a modern era are likely to have greater levels of extraversion – a form of impulsiveness – yet be more depressive and unsociable at the same time”.   Making people laugh is viewed by many comedians as a form of self-medication.  One thing was clear about Robin – he loved to laugh and to make others laugh.  However, there is often hidden pain within many people, and Robin’s battle with depression is one shared silently by many others, including myself.

The odd thing about depression is how it comes and goes, and the dark surprise by which it takes you when it returns.  When I attempt to discuss my depression with people close to me, I am more than often met with disbelief.  People refuse to believe that “someone like you” has any right to be depressed.  Depression is not a right, nor is it a conscious choice.  Depression is a disease that encompasses not only mental effects, but physical effects as well.  My struggle with depression began early in life, perhaps around the age of thirteen, when years of bullying caught up to me.  For years, I was tormented regularly by children in elementary and junior high school, for a multitude of reasons.  I was the favorite target, most likely because my tormentors knew how easy it was to make me cry.  Years later, second and third waves of depression hit me following a difficult breakup and the death of  my best friend.  I am currently in the process of recovering from the third major depressive episode of my life.  This most recent depressive episode coincided with my starting stand up comedy.

A sensitive heart and soul is often a feature of an artist, and comedians in particular tend to have addictive personalities and tendencies toward mental illness.  As someone pursuing a career in comedy, I can easily say that a depressive personality is common among comedians.  Many fellow comics struggle with anxiety and depression, among other mental afflictions.  This does not mean that comedians are completely dysfunctional, but there is a quality that attracts people to quality that directly corresponds with some sort of need for validation.  I know that for me personally, my experiences with being teased for many years in school is a contributing factor toward my desiring a career in the creative arts.  It is part of a drive to leave a legacy and somehow show those who put me down that I am indeed valuable in some way.

Although none of us will ever know the exact factors that drove Mr. Williams to take his own life, it is important for an conversation regarding mental illness and depression to commence in this country.  Far too many people suffer in silence, unable to discuss their feelings with their own family members.  The stigma of depression is what leads to acts of suicide shocking so many people.  However, to acknowledge the pain and struggle of depression is to become more self-aware as humans and as friends to one another.

You will be missed, Robin Williams.