Originally published August 12, 2014
Most comedians are taking an inventory of some sort today. Whether it is an inventory of their own struggles or of those in their circle of comedy buddies, it ishappening all across the globe. A large majority of us get it. I thought I got it years ago, but I didn’t. Until I did.
A mere 10 years ago, I struggled to understand friends battling depression, panic attacks and manic behavior. I had always been “pretty well-rounded when dealing with tragedy.” Those were my therapist’s words, not mine. Therapist? What does a well-rounded person need with a therapist, you ask? I’ll give you the cliff notes. There was a short period in my life, 3 years or so, that just wouldn’t stop kicking my ass and so, my brain broke. Just.like.that. I remember the moment it happened as clearly as if I had broken my leg. It was that profound of a moment. I could almost hear the SNAP in my brain. I thought to myself, “so THIS is what a nervous breakdown feels like, huh.”
That is what people who can’t comprehend things they cannot see, don’t get. It is different than being sad about a bummer thing that happened to you. It is a fundamental shift in the way a brain works, in the same way a broken bone is a fundamental shift in its composition. The difference is when we break a bone, our friends rush to our side and offer to go grocery shopping. When you break your brain, people tell you to get your shit together. But your shit is broken. Your brain is a clusterfuck of thoughts and emotions, each shitty thought ricocheting like its an endless game of BINGO. Each haphazardly bouncing to the forefront at random while some mysterious voice calls out the writing on the ball. “Why were you just rude to that nice lady, asshole,” “stop wasting your time, you don’t have the talent,” or ” of course she will leave you, look at you.” Whatever your struggles, they will pop into your head on repeat, over and over and over again. Just wanting the game to end. For someone to call “BINGO!” Anyone but you, that is.
Let me be clear. What was happening to me at the time was something I DIDN’T BELIEVE IN. Yet, it continued. I was in no place financially to run off and heal my brain. Few of us ever are. Rarely can one call into work “crazy” and check out for a month and let the swelling go down. If I had a broken leg, sure, I would have been given time to let it heal. But on a broken brain, you just keep going. You add more stress to what is already there. Compound stress. One on top of the other. Until you are at maximum capacity. That kind of strength gets applauded when it is applied to a physical injury (think of Kerri Strug and her Olympic glory) but oftentimes goes unnoticed when your brain is broken and you try to stay in the game of life. And worse, if you check out, people will say you chose to quit. Would ANYONE have blamed Kerri Strug for checking out and not jumping on an injured ankle? Not likely. But folks will run to the front of the line to judge Robin Williams. Some will go so far as Matt Walsh and claim to KNOW that it was a choice, plain and simple. I don’t know Matt Walsh and I respect his opinion. But to him I say, “I KNOW MAN! I used to be just like you! And now I am on the other side. Do your best to stay where you are buddy, trust me on this one.”
Of course killing yourself is a choice. It isn’t homicide. But if anyone thinks a normally functioning brain comes up with suicide as an option, they are ill-informed in the mechanics of our brain. Furthermore, if someone implies that choice is made out of selfishness, they don’t understand that the LAST thing a suicidal person thinks is that anyone will care if they are gone. That is part of the jedi mind tricks your brain has in store for you. It is broken and bruised and wants to be done. You are the only one that can help your brain put a stop to the constant insanity.
I’m not sure why I’m writing this, honestly. In upcoming weeks, there will be talk of the “dark side” of comedians. This is a real thing. I don’t know if comedians are more susceptible to this “dark side” than other artists, or if it is just the club I belong to, so those are the people I know. What I do know is that instead of throwing your ego and emotions into a subject you may know nothing about (like I used to do) try trusting it is just something you don’t understand and hope to god you never do.
What I do know is that I used to be in the majority. Strong mental capacity. Mad coping skills. A joke and a smile kind of gal. Unable to comprehend suicide or depression or why my buddy started crying. Until it happened to me. I made it through it, and I am thankful for it.