Comedic Depression


I have friends who know how to reach out. They are the wise souls who text their sister, source Facebook for uplifting book suggestions and get out of the house when they’re in the trenches. They say “yes” when invited out, exchanging tattered sweats for jeans, knowing it’ll do them good.

Unfortunately, these profoundly healthy behaviours do not describe me. When I’m struggling, I tend to burrow. I deftly sidestep all opportunities for connection, retreating deeper into myself until the destructive messages in my mind threaten to overwhelm me.

This tendency, though harmful, proved life-threatening when I had post-partum depression. I completely shut myself off from everyone. I stopped responding to messages and texts. I avoided social gatherings and dodged phone calls. Nothing of the outside world remained, except one thing. Every month, regardless of how broken my brain was, I wrote for this magazine. It would have been so easy to shut my laptop and succumb to the darkness.

Thank God, I didn’t.

Every day, Depression told me I was alone. Depression hissed that I was a terrible human, an unfit mother and that the world as a whole would be better without me in it. Depression screamed I would never, ever get better. But when I wrote, I uncovered a sliver of who I used to be, buried beneath the rubble of mental illness. I remembered who I was, if only for the thirty minutes I forced myself to sit at my laptop.

I would dump my fears onto the page and somehow muster the courage to send them out into the world. I was desperate for connection, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was desperate to be seen. I was desperate for the truth. My mind seemed to have forgotten what the truth was. It worked. People saw me. They took the time to stretch their arms across the void. They wrote messages, reminding me that depression was a liar, that there was hope, that my scrawled, sobbed-over words meant something. They told me not to give up. They told me to keep writing.

Desperate and drowning, I kept writing.

In 2016, comedian Patton Oswalt lost his wife—and mother to his seven-year-old daughter—very suddenly. He completely fell apart. In the weeks that followed, he turned to drinking and eating to cope. He struggled with depression. Yet four months after her death, still completely encompassed by grief, he returned to stand-up. From the outside, it seemed like a bizarre choice. But Oswalt explained it this way:

“I started going back onstage in August of that year, completely not ready and completely feeling incapable. But also I went onstage out of that feeling of, ‘I don’t know what else to do. This is what I’ve always done about everything else, and I don’t have another outlet to express and work out my grief.’ “

Comedy was his way of reaching out from the darkness. Crafting a set and performing before a crowd allowed him to connect with others in an immediate, personal way.

Desperate and drowning, he kept writing.

He sent out his words just like I sent out my words. Perhaps you send out painting or pottery or tap dancing or drumming. Whatever it is, send it out.

Two years after his wife’s passing, Oswalt posted an image of a rain-soaked street on Twitter along with these words:

“If you can, make your depression look like this street. Bleak and rainy but there’s music and art and even comedy hiding in its lonely cafes and you can use those to escape.”

We are moving into a time of year that is joyous for some, tricky for others and devastating for many. My prayer is that you would reach out. Whether with spoken word poetry or stand-up comedy—whatever is ingrained within you, reach out.

Illuminate your darkness so others can see it, and help you climb out. And whatever you do, don’t believe the lies.