The challenge, sometimes, of being a humor writer is that life is rarely hold-your-ribs funny. And sometimes even when things are going okay, your mind goes on the fritz, kind of like a temperamental refrigerator. Except instead of spoiled meat and brown vegetables, you have crying fits and suicidal thoughts.
Like, 80% of the time I feel fine. I’m outgoing, folksy, creative, funny and energetic. Maybe with a little dorky and awkward thrown in.
So it comes as quite an unpleasant surprise when my depression swoops down on me like the anti-Mary Poppins. Instead of a spoonful of sugar I get a headful of crazy. It’s the kind of thing people who have had no history of depression never understand.
I was diagnosed several years ago with depression. I am on medication. A year or so ago my doctor had to up my dosage because my mind started taking me to dark, terrible places that frightened me. I was afraid I would hurt myself. I started having crippling anxiety along with panic attacks.
The comedienne Maria Bamford talks about her own anxiety and depression issues, which caused her to drop out of the public eye and put her career on hold. She asked the rhetorical question, “Would anyone tell a cancer patient to just “get over it?’” Depression and anxiety are real illnesses, caused by imbalanced neurotransmitters. That’s right. I know science-y stuff.
I can’t control it any more than I could will myself to mend a broken leg. I take meds because I need them to function on a daily basis. Apparently this is very common amongst us “creative types.” Besides the usual artists and writers, great political leaders such as former Prime Minister Winston Churchill openly wrote about his depression, calling it “the black dog.” (Also check out 50 Famous Artists and Thinkers Who Have Struggled With Depression.)
So the thing that makes my brain the special lil’ guy we all know and love is also the thing that causes it turn against me. Living in my head is basically like being chained to a toddler 24/7. You never know what will set it off.
What is so, so frustrating about this is that it’s still not considered a valid reason to say, call in sick. How do you call in depressed? Literally everyone asks: “What’s wrong?” or “What happened?”
I WAS BORN WITH A CHEMICAL IMBALANCE, THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED. Now can I get back to hiding under my covers until the urge to fling myself out the window goes away? Thanks.
It’s bad enough that I feel “crazy” or “not normal.” The fact that I have to justify how my brain works makes it a million times worse.
Because then on top of the anxiety, the depression, the feeling of unworthiness… I feel guilty. And, not only that, but the general opinion (even from friends and family) is that depression is something to be ashamed of. Or, worse, that it’s not “real.” And then I feel alone on top of the top of… it sucks, is what I’m saying. Would I be embarrassed to call in sick because of bronchitis or something… else?
So why do I feel the need to make up some phantom illness when I feel this way? So it doesn’t affect my job? So people won’t look at me different? Why should I have to worry about this?
The answer, of course, is that I shouldn’t. And I’ve decided that I won’t. I’m sick of being unable to talk about it. Also, I’m a really bad liar, you guys. Anytime I’ve had to “make up” an illness, it’s always something totally ridiculous.
I mean, look what hiding from mental illness has done to some truly talented people. We laughed at “train wrecks” like Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston, but it doesn’t seem so funny now, does it? Sorry, that went to a dark place again.
So, no, I can’t “force myself” to feel better. If I make plans but then am hit with depression and/or anxiety, I’m not going to invent illnesses just so I don’t make people uncomfortable.
If I can deal with my depression, then people can deal with hearing about it. (Just to be clear, I’m not going to Ancient Mariner-er people to death about how the brain works, okay?) Nor will I go on and on about my symptoms, like that one old relative we all have who starts talking about her bowel movements as soon as there’s a lull in the conversation.
No, I will just be the eccentric, creative girl who has a deeper side she dared not reveal to the public… until now. Kind of like a funnier version of Sylvia Plath, only less suicide-y.