I called a depression and anxiety hotline. The recorded message said:
If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly.
If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2.
If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5, and 6.
If you are paranoid-delusional, we know who you are and what you want. Just stay on the line so we can trace the call.
If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a little voice will tell you which number to press.
If you are depressed, it doesn't matter which number you press. No one will answer.
If you are delusional and occasionally hallucinate, please be aware that the thing you are holding on the side of your head is alive and about to bite off your ear.
Stress is when you wake up screaming and you realize you haven't fallen asleep yet
Off stage, every comedian I have ever met suffers from depression. They explain that life is so exasperating that dealing with it is boils down to an ‘A-B’ choice: you either cry or laugh.
Most people have got ‘burying your head in the sand’ down to a fine art-form. Some – who are lucky enough to work – bury themselves in a career. Others find god. Still others use drugs... sex… gambling… booze…
Disappointment after disappointment leads to frustration upon frustration, which in turn often ends up being suffocated by self-loathing and confusion.
Unsurprisingly, through bitter experience, most people survive day by day through presenting a mask that helps them cope with life’s ups and downs. (Which, when you think about it, is quite ridiculous as no one can be themselves - everyone lives in a masquerade).
For a depressive, rather than burying themselves IN distractions they feel buried BY distractions. (Stress is waking up screaming realising you haven't fallen asleep yet). Having to look at the naked truth of reality day after day is enough to drive anyone to despair.
We all search for meaning… a purpose… behind the madness of others… society…work… friends… family… lovers… ultimately irritation within ourselves.
Adverts promise that we’ll find happiness through buying stuff.
Politicians promise we can find happiness through society. (But in many instances, ‘society’” never receives that particular memo).
Religion tells us that there is a far bigger picture – which at some point will fully reveal itself.
Music can be a great support. Often authentic lyrics conducted by a great tune, speak volumes that platitudes from well indented ‘experts’ and friends often simply cannot reach.
Movies are another great escape. (Sure, for every ten flicks, only one may hit the spot. But boy, when it does, I am blown away). Something about a character or plot scratches my skin. Even when a plot initially appears to have no similarities to my own life – its message and characters can stir me. Like people, great movie stories, aren’t really about what is on the screen– but what is revealed – once you look beyond props and special effects.
It always amazes me how writers, actors, directors, who I have never met – and never will meet - manage to make me laugh...cry…think…keep me on the edge of my seat. In the darkness of a cinema, flickering flashes of piercing light rip from the inside out – leaving wounds which I alone feel – and experiences that touch the entire audience.
A wonderful man called Victor Frankl, a holocaust survivor, wrote a remarkable book called, Man’s Search For Meaning. In it he explains that whilst everyone and everything around us may be unfair, unjust and even (in the case of concentration camps) pure evil, it is how WE approach and react to situations that makes the biggest difference. It is up to us to interpret how we see, hear… experience. Understand that – and without deluding ourselves– at the end, anything is only as abysmal as we allow it to be. Evil is evil. But that doesn’t mean it has total power over our deeper response to that wickedness.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”.
Which brings me back to depressed comedians. Often comedy touches so many because it picks on issues that would otherwise remain buried. It picks and pecks until wounds become red raw in all their bloody glory.
Once something is exposed… discussed… explored… even lampooned… it’s out there. Exposed to the light, like most things that go bump in the night, the darkness is split and weakened. Even those who have learnt to wear straight-laced, tight-lipped masks have to cry with laughter at the irony and pain – the alternative would be to scream.
Everyone I have ever met who suffers from depression has a heightened sensitivity to life that others who are hardened will (sadly - for them) never allow themselves to fully feel.
Even for the most morose of comics, getting people to laugh provides the amazingly empowering chance to offer CBT (Comic Behavioural Therapy) to entire audiences at once. The magnificently brave comic looks at adversity straight in the eye – and together with the cynics in the audience through laughter, beats it into submission.
Of course, so many things in life are candidly beyond a giggle, let alone a laugh. But maybe that’s part of what potentially makes life ultimately joyful. Nobody wants to struggle – especially when that struggle is so incredibly painful to endure. However, imagine if every mountain climber could instantly reach a summit? What’s the point – the journey to reach the top evaporates. They are robbed of any sense of achievement.
Sometimes watching ‘The Housewives of …” I get so worked up that I shout at the TV: “What are you people actually bitching about? I mean, you live in the most fabulous homes, drive the sleekest cars… married to the most beautiful people – get a grip!”
But then I am reminded of the props in movies. It dawns on me that despite all the wealth – maybe these people are lonely. Maybe they feel torn wondering why they hold what everyone else will never have. Perhaps they feel that despite being surrounded with ‘stuff’, they are empty – and the more stuff they get – the emptier they become? Perhaps it is maddening to even appear on a programme about the lives of the rich and famous - when being part of the reality show feels more like a pantomime – to entertain others at your expense.
Or maybe I am disappointed in myself...of what could have been… or maybe not...
Pick…pick…pick the open wound… The pain becomes laughable…
I don’t live the life of the materially wealthy. But I can try to recognise truth – beyond appearances. Stand-up comics also see beyond the superficial – then pick at haunting hang-ups and worries.
And what must it be like for them – when jokes that take hours or even weeks to craft become commoditised as just fillers in routines. But I guess that’s reality. It’s only through talking about it, sharing experiences, shining a light on the absurd, the sick, the unfair, the heart-breaking, the struggles, the frustrations… the anger… the experiences which make us human – that we can have the last laugh.