I am hesitant to even write this. I’m supposed to be working on my taxes right now. But writing this is something I’ve been on the fence about for a while. And today, a very nice young lady approached me to say she was a fan of mine, then told me she sent a link to a podcast interview I did along to a friend of hers who is “having a tough time” lately, and that convinced me that I should probably put this out into the world.
This type of thing, people approaching me about their own or friends’ depression issues, has been happening to me a lot lately. It first started around maybe 2008 or so, when I became a lot more open about talking about my issues with anxiety and depression on stage. I’d get a lot of Facebook messages from people who saw me in shows and who were suffering through some of the same stuff I went through. And lately, after publishing A Bad Idea I’m About to Do and also alluding to that side of myself on the public access show, there’s really been a lot of people emailing and messaging me about that stuff. A lot of them say nice things about how me being so public about that stuff has helped them, and that means a lot. Many more have asked me how they should deal with it, which is nice but a lot of responsibility and a little bit scary.
There is a big part of me that is frightened about getting all these emails, because I have been overwhelmingly busy lately. The good thing about trying to do your own thing in life is that it’s really fulfilling. The tough part is you have to work at maximum capacity almost all the time. And I’ve been missing tons of emails and messages lately and I feel really bad about all of them, let alone any relating to this stuff that have slipped through the cracks. If you email me about ANYTHING, I promise I feel bad if it’s taken me a while to get back to you. If you email me about your depression issues and I haven’t gotten back to you, I feel doubly bad. But life is life and there’s only so much time to deal with things and that means emails pile up.
But there’s another scary thing about these emails, which is if people are reaching out to me because they’re sad and feel like I can help, that’s a lot of pressure and responsibility and I don’t take it lightly, but it’s also super-overwhelming, and also I’m not qualified in any sense to help anyone. So it’s an overwhelming thing to deal with for me on a personal level.
So what I am thinking is, I am going to write here a version of my opinions on this stuff. This is not to say “here’s a form letter I would have sent you anyway”. It is to say that a lot of people have reached out to me personally on this stuff and I have opinions on it having been through it, and also I have some fear that if there are this many people reaching out to me then there might be more who aren’t, and maybe they will find some solace in this stuff.
Also, I feel like this is very self-indulgent and mopey and dark and that’s not really what this website is for. This site is more for promoting videos of me and my friends drinking milkshakes made of canned meat. Stuff like that. But, if it helps it helps. Also, I remember reading something Rob Delaney wrote a couple years back putting his issues on the table – it really hit home for me and helped me. I really respected him for doing it. So if even a small number of people are looking my way for help on stuff like this, I feel like it’s worth being a little emo for one stupid blog post.
And before I say ANY of this, know that this is all just my personal opinion. I only have my own personal experience to draw from. But again, people have been asking me about this stuff, so here is my opinion. This ain’t doctrine, or fact by a long shot. It’s what I’ve learned, for me, from a few decades of being depressed pretty severely. If it is something you identify with or can take anything from, I am super psyched and glad to have helped.
Here we go -
First things first, get help. Real help. If you are reaching out to a comedian online for advice on how to be less depressed, you are aware enough to know that you need help. Know that a comedian you’ve met online can’t really help you. A shrink can. And there is no shame in going to a shrink. At all. It is not as scary as you think it’s going to be, either. And also, you aren’t going to wind up less creative or interesting, if you are a person pursuing a life of creativity. In my case that was a huge, huge fear for years that kept me from seeking therapy and medication, and when I took the plunge and went down both of those roads, I found that I was just as creative as ever, and also I was way more in control of how and why I was creative. I didn’t make my living as a creative person until I sought help and got my mental issues under control. Getting my head straight didn’t make me less funny, and on top of that did make me more able to plan and focus and go for the life I wanted to go for.
The internal monologue of a depressed person tries to convince the person suffering that it is the correct and truthful perspective, and it almost never is. This is very hard for me to describe to people who have not plunged into real medical depression, but it basically goes like this – when I am depressed, my own internal monologue tells me a lot of things, and years of therapy have taught me to realize that those things aren’t true. It is very weird to realize that your own thoughts are saying things to you that you deep down don’t really believe. It’s the out of control part of you at work. It is easier to believe that your thoughts are the truth than it is to admit that your thoughts on occasion get out of control to the point where you have dueling internal monologues, one of which tells you crazy and negative stuff and the other of which begs you not to believe all the crazy and negative stuff you are telling yourself.
Your depression is self-preserving. Your internal monologue when you are depressed will try to convince you of some version of “You need me.” You don’t need it. It’s lying to you. All the reasons it gives – “You won’t be as creative”, “People think the crazy part of you is the fun part of you”, “You can’t trust other people and your depressed side is the defense mechanism keeping you safe”, those are all bullshit. You will not only be as creative, you will be MORE in control of your own creativity, and better able to manage your time, focus, and choices. People do NOT think the crazy part of you is the fun part of you. Maybe they do for like fifteen minutes of it the first time they see it in action. But when you are all manic and crazy, it dawns on people pretty quickly that you are not in control of things. They are concerned about you when they recognize it. They do not enjoy it when they figure out where it comes from.
And that last example I listed among those lies is one that’s really, really important to me. You can trust people. Your depression is not keeping you safe from the harm that comes with opening up to other people. In fact, in my case it was the opposite. People are the safety net that guards you from your own isolation and your own dark thoughts, and that’s why your thoughts are trying to convince you to believe in them and only them.
People are great. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got – and this is something that stuck with me so hard for some reason, something that was such a game changer for me – was “People will surprise you if you let them.”
That really turned around my perspective. I spent so many regrettable years of my life being so closed off and distrustful of people in general, assuming that people had bad intentions and would betray me/let me down/show me their awful sides if I let my guard down around them. I have so few regrets in life, but the way I held people at arm’s length due to a distrust of people in general is a real and true one. I did that for so long, and it was such a mistake.
I don’t even remember who told me that or where I read it. “People will surprise you if you let them.” I decided to give that a shot, and it immediately changed my life. It was a shift in mentality, but I realized so quickly – in big ways and small ways, people really do want to be good to each other generally. There are definitely bad people, there are definitely people who treat other people in shitty ways – I live in New York City, I see it all day every day. But more so, I see people giving up seats for each other. I see people putting other people in touch with even other people who can give them opportunities. I see people really wanting to know how other people are doing, and asking because they care. I see strangers surprising each other with kindness, I see old friends breaking out of their routines to go above and beyond the norm they’ve established.
I am treading into real cheesy territory, but it’s beautiful. People are really beautiful. It’s why we’re all alive, because in general we protect each other. If we were all really on our own, if no one was looking out for each other, saber-toothed tigers would have torn us apart one by one thousands of years ago. It is dictated by evolution that for us weak, unable to climb well, unable to run fast, not really properly furred for cold weather creatures that lose their teeth and their eyesight so easily – we must stick together. We have to pull each other up. We aren’t built as a species to be on our own. And we do look out for each other, all the time. We don’t even think about it, but we help each other. If you look around you, you will see it all the time – you’ll see people carrying each others’ bags, borrowing each otehrs’ phones, asking each other if they’re ok. People want to help other people. People want to be nice.
Granted, you will see a lot of negativity and isnanity when you look around as well. But in my case, it really turned me around when I came to understand – the negativity and insanity are the outliers, and the nice-ness is the norm. Your depressed shitty inner monologue is gonna find the bad, the awful, the fucked up people and tell you things like “See? This is why you shouldn’t even bother to deal with other people.” And that’s how you wind up staying in bed all day, because you are convinced by the shitty negative awfulness that your depression floods your brain with. But it’s not true. For every shitty person, there are a hundred people with good intentions, who again – will surprise you if you let them.
Another thing that my internal monologue spent a lot of time telling me that I believed for far too long is – “Things are never going to change.”
That’s the biggest lie. That’s a fucking scam. Hopelessness is an ally of depression. Your depression wants you to believe that things can’t change.
Things can change. At any moment. I’ve seen it, I’ve lived through it. Things didn’t change for me when I wanted them to – things changed when it was time for them to. I’ve fought many years for a chance to break out in comedy – I got that chance via a part on a sitcom. That happened after years of stress, anxiety, and depression – but it happened when I was ready to handle that opportunity. It happened at a point in life where I would be ok if that opportunity wound up failing. Which it did, and I was totally ok. If it happened earlier, it wouldn’t have been a good thing. Things changed. Things happened when they were supposed to. They swung in one direction, they swung in the other. It’s all been positive.
Just by definition, it’s silly to tell yourself things can never change. There are exactly two correct answers to “Can things change for me?”
They are YES and MAYBE.
You can say yes when you feel things actually changing in your life. Every other second of every other day, the right answer is maybe. It’s never no. Don’t convince yourself it is. Maybe things will change for you tomorrow. Maybe if you put the work in, it will happen down the line. You will wind up being who you are supposed to be. But do not give up hope. Things can change. You might meet someone who helps with that. You might get an opportunity that you weren’t expecting. You might have an experience that changes your perspective on how things already are. Is it gonna happen tomorrow?
Maybe! I mean, probably not, but isn’t there a lot of hope in knowing that the answer really and truly is maybe? The answer is never, ever no. Maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day, maybe ten years from now, maybe on your death bed – things might always get better. That’s always the answer. For me, realizing that answer made life fun. It’s not a matter of if what you want to happen can happen, it’s a matter of when. And a matter of how hard you need to work to get there. And a matter of it ultimately should happen anyway.
But the answer is never NO. Change is never an impossibility. Literally nothing is, is my experience. Get to work and know that whatever “it” is, it MIGHT happen. Might is a good thing. The whole idea of maybe is a really great thing.
The last thing I want to say is this – I still suffer from depression, and more often than a lot of people around me realize. There are still days where I wake up and realize that I am in trouble. My depression has told me some crazy shit over the years. It has told me to give up on dreams. It has told me to not talk to people I respect. It has convinced me to lash out at people who don’t deserve it. It has told me I am ugly. It has told me people instinctively don’t like me. It has told me I’d be better off dead. It has told me to get fucked up on booze and drugs because that’s the only way I can be interesting. It still tells me all sorts of shit like this.
But since I’ve put in the effort to work on this stuff and heal myself, I can tell you – it’s not that my brain doesn’t say stuff like this to me anymore. It’s that I know not to believe it. And when I got into the habit of not believing it, it has happened less often. And less severely. I know it is a liar. I can even fucking call it now – if I get all manic or out of control, I can turn to a friend and say “I am gonna be depressed in about 48 hours.” That’s my personal time table. I see that sneaky shit coming a mile away. It still gets me sometimes, but I called it, I saw it coming, it does not surprise me and I see it for what it is.
Even when I am depressed, I have found the strength to now simply tell loved ones “If I seem weird today it’s because I am depressed today – I am on top of it and pushing through it, you don’t need to worry,” or even sometimes “Yeah, keep an eye on me, I’m in a shitty place today.” I am not ashamed for people to know what I deal with, and I’m certainly not ashamed to ask for help.
I have gotten to a place where I can have business conversations while depressed. I can get errands done while depressed. I let it say what it wants, I shake my head knowing that it’s not true, and I don’t allow it to convince me. I live my life. I probably take more naps on days when I’m depressed. And am more introverted than usual. But I don’t let it convince me, I don’t let it last for days, I let it pass through like a cloud that just keeps moving.
Things first built to a head for me around 2002. After a life of trying to deal with this bullshit on my own I finally got help. From about 2004 to 2007 I was doing really well. Then I decided to be tough and deal with it without using medications, as if that was somehow a mark of toughness. It wasn’t. I wound up having a hugely damaging stretch of life in 2007 that was probably as bad as things got. I had friends who looked out for me, and I found a new doctor pretty quickly, and I have been really on top of stuff for probably the past three years or so.
I still get depressed. That’s not going to go away. There is no cure for what people like us go through. I know that I am depressed a lot of the time.
But I’m also the happiest I’ve ever been. Those two things, believe it or not, have very little to do with each other. Even on days when I have fallen into a bad spell, I am very grateful and aware that my life is a good one and straight up happy. I have figured out that I can be completely depressed and totally happy at the same moment.
Because, like I keep saying, for me that depression is its own monologue – it’s a decoy, it’s trying to become the dominant aspect of me. I have not learned how to eliminate it from my life, but I have learned to discount it, to recognize it as non-truth, and to function in spite of it. So much of that happened because of many people who I allowed to surprise me, so much of that happened when I realized change was a maybe and not a no, and so much of that happened when I realized that just because I was the one convincing myself of negative lies, they were still negative lies. It took me a long time to realize that I sometimes think things – and with strong conviction – that I don’t believe.
This has turned out to be way longer than I thought. It’s rambling and nonsensical and I bet it doesn’t make much sense to most of the people who have read it. But for people who have been through similar stuff, I bet it makes too much sense. And for those people, in any way, I hope it helps.