The View From Away: Laughter is the best medicine (followed closely by therapy and psychotropic meds)
One of the more enlightening aspects of my Canadian adventure, and a reason I will have a soft spot for Canada long after this job ends, is the experience of working without the specter of depression looming over my head all the time.
The clinical kind, I mean. I still get plenty of the garden variety.
When you spend all day sitting in the same room, looking at the same faces, watching people out the window who all seem to be having a better time than you, sooner or later, you’re going to start questioning some of your life choices, if only temporarily.
If you’re unfortunate enough to have the more serious kind of depression, every minute seems like a chore. The simplest obstacles threaten paralysis. It was only when I took a step back from producing for other reasons that I began to understand how much my depression had been affecting me. It has been a joy to return to that milieu and not feel that veil of darkness drawn over everything.
Carol and I were discussing those not so good old days recently and she asked if it was possible to will yourself out of a depression. It must seem so to someone who has not experienced the real depression. People with depression often still accomplish a great deal. Maybe you can will yourself out of depression. I’m no expert. I had to admit, though, that I never could.
Doctors have explained that my body either does not produce or does not retain enough serotonin, a substance that among other things contributes to maintaining a sense of well being. Sure, I could research it and find out exactly what it is and what it does, but why clog our heads with a lot of “knowledge” and “information,” when it is all going to get pushed out of our brain the next time we watch “The Real Housewives Of Some Place You Wouldn’t Be Caught Dead In?”
The point is that I don’t have enough of it naturally. So when something knocks me off balance, I'm more likely to stay off balance. How far off balance and for how long is affected by a lot of factors: coping skills, therapy, size of the problem.
In hindsight, I had episodes periodically starting at least in high school. A big one in college when my girlfriend dumped me so she wouldn’t flunk out, or so she said (yeah, whatever, Andrea, but what about me?).
The longest, four years, occurred during the standup comedy years. When I turned 32 without achieving my self-imposed goal of being on the "Tonight Show" by the time I was 32, my emotional elevator cables snapped. You may have heard the story that if somebody told a person in the depth of depression that there was a pill on a table across the room that was guaranteed to cure all his problems, the person would not be able to conceive of having the strength to get up, cross the room and get it. I never sank quite that deeply into depression, but I remember watching the same channel on television for hours because the remote was six inches out of my reach. Sometimes, during an infomercial, I would stare at it mournfully.
It was kind of funny how I got out of that one. During my annual physical, the GP asked me how I was feeling about life in general. I said, “You know. Same as everybody, I guess.” He asked what I meant. About two minutes into my litany of all the reasons life sucked for everyone on planet earth all the time, he called a shrink. Apparently, not everybody thinks life sucks for everyone on the planet all the time.
Therapy and psychotropic medication ensued, the first steps on the long road to another way of life. I hesitate to call it recovery, as depression has never seemed to be something you get over, like the flu. Or the plague, to name one of the other things I often wished I had instead of depression.
Will was valuable, not in getting out of depression, but in functioning on top of the condition. Simply living daily life is a big accomplishment for a person with depression. I managed to function at a somewhat higher level, thanks to the people who loved and supported me, and to being lucky enough always to want something very badly, whether it was proving I wasn’t the stupidest kid in my high school or becoming a comic, or a career in a capricious business.
If you are going to be wired for depression, it helps to be wired also to be driven. It’s even better if you can get off the depression not-very-merry-go-round. I spent most of my life, and nearly all of my professional life, feeling like I was running a race, and I was the only one dragging a 10-ton weight. It felt like a miracle when that cycle stopped. I was afraid the price of that miracle was abandoning a craft that gave me great satisfaction.
In this job, here in Canada, for perhaps the first time ever, I have to wait for somebody else to make me miserable. That’s progress. Since I’m an American, you could call it a Pilgrim’s progress. Or you could groan. It might depress me, but I’ll get over it.