After every mass shooting, every suicide, there is a call for an open and frank discussion of mental health issues. The conversation always starts with a safe, distanced, "what can be done for these people," approach. Psychiatrists and experts talk to anchors and reporters. Let me step forward and say this: I am a humorist who struggles with depression. I function. I work. I make people laugh. I am often sad. There are things I need to say. Read on.
Robin Williams’ death hit me hard. It hit a lot of people hard, people who had worked with him extensively, people who had passing professional relationships with him like myself, people who knew him only in the way that a celebrity is known by the general public. We all knew, to one degree or another, of his struggles with depression and with substance abuse, but that a man of such energy, such productivity, such genius could reach a point of suicidal despair came as a shock. His death feels like a loss. His death by his own hand feels somehow like a betrayal, as though giving into the power of his darkest demons is something this wonderful man has done to us, rather than something he has done to himself or, even more accurately, simply done.
I have faced and continue to face my own battles with depression. I have felt the certainty that the world and my loved ones would be far better off without me, have made the shift from looking at the stack of bills and thinking about expensive things that I own and could sell to looking at the swimming pool and thinking about heavy things that I own and could tie to my feet.
Right now my depression is fairly well under control. For decades I self-medicated with marijuana. Eventually that stopped working. For about fifteen years I kept the depression at bay through a combination of cognitive therapy and martial arts training. Eventually the darkness crept back up my spine to infect the creases in my brain. Now, depression is mitigated as a side effect of the Paxil I take, because I now see a strict Orwellian Therapist who medicates me against political outrage. (My wife points out that the therapist in this joke should be a strict Huxlian and I know she’s right, but I think “Orwellian” is more accessible and the medication keeps me from caring that much about such details.) Still, I remain vigilant for symptoms, knowing that should I develop a resistance to the medication, should my chemical balances shift, should the wrong confluence of events occur, I could once again find my mood spiraling downward like Larry Flynt at the Guggenheim. I hope that when it happens I will recognize it and find a new weapon to utilize in the continuing battle.
Depression lies. It lies in all sorts of ways. Depression tells you that you are worthless and that nobody needs you. It tells you that it cannot be treated. It protects itself from treatment by telling you that it is necessary, that without depression you will not be able to write or to paint or to be funny or to be passionate about your political beliefs. Depression tells you that it is permanent and unavoidable and correct. Depression tells you – and this is the most dangerous thing of all – that nobody cares, that nobody will listen, that nobody will understand.
In truth, some people will not care, will not listen, will not understand. Some people are dismissive assholes. But if you are lost in the darkness, keep calling out. Someone will respond, I promise. Eventually someone will not just hear you, but will listen. Someone will take your hand, lead you toward daylight and hug you reassuringly along the way.
If you are not lost in the darkness, keep your ears open. You needn’t save everyone. Nobody can save everyone. But be ready, when you see someone in need, to open your hand and your heart. Be ready, when you can, to help.
Depression isn’t easy. Hell, life isn’t easy. But if we can all be brave enough to share our own burdens and to help others who need to share theirs, there’s a damn good chance we can get through this together.
You guys are all wonderful in your humanity, every damn one of you. Stay alive, would you? I can’t manage my struggle without you.