It’s something I found myself telling a friend recently. Those bad days, those shaky feelings, those moments of thinking I suck, I don’t know what I want, I don’t know what happens next, I don’t think I’m happy right now. Those stretches where everything sinks into a comfortably numb gelatinous existence, where your brain starts to slowly fog up and your motivation starts to decline. Those days of thinking I’m not good enough. I’m lonely. I’m scared, and I have no reason to be afraid. I suck. I suck. I suck so much.
They’re also the moments when I realize I’m in trouble.
Everyone on the internet has something to say about the recent suicide of Robin Williams, and I’ve refrained from commenting on it until now. Mostly because I had never met the man, and because – although I usually enjoyed his films – I didn’t have the kind of deep connection to his work in the way that many others did. I never really saw myself in him, probably because I never thought of myself as particularly funny. I don’t have the gift of making people laugh, at least not in the same, razor-sharp, immediate way. My mental acrobat just doesn’t spin that fast.
But in the days since, there’s another conversation that’s been sparked. A response to an overwhelming sentiment, one that I’ve heard in conversation and in tweets and texts alike. So many well-meaning people, wondering aloud how someone so very funny, so obviously gifted, so obviously successful, could have also been so sad.
Clearly, they’ve never hung out with a comedian.
I am constantly surrounded by funny people. Smart people. Quick-on-their-toes people. People who have made their careers out of the ability to stand in front of others, and entertain.
And after everyone applauds, we drink. And after we drink, we go home. And after we go home, we are alone. Even when we are with others. We are sometimes very much alone.
I’m broadly generalizing, of course. That’s not the story for all of us. I know incredibly well-adjusted funny people. I know humorless folks who are wrecks. It’s not a direct link, and this is not everyone’s story, and this is certainly not everyone’s story at all times. But – it’s a pattern often enough that in no way was I surprised to hear the news that Robin Williams struggled with depression, with addiction, with feelings of inferiority and despair.
I’m surrounded by people who struggle with those things. I am one of those people who struggles with those things.
And, wow, yeah, even though I know better, just typing that feels like a total admission of failure.
This past year was one of the greatest creative successes of my life. I designed sixteen shows – jobs I didn’t even have to apply for, but merely sat back and watched my offers roll in. I was signed by a literary agent, who approached me and offered me representation. I started writing freelance articles for MTV, of all places. I have this wonderful, unique platform where people I don’t even know tell me how great I am, tell me how my writing has informed their perspective or improved their mood. Complete strangers sent me money on the internet, merely because they liked something I wrote, or because I made them laugh, or because they knew how tough it is to be piecing your paychecks together and wanted to help. The New York Times called my work funny. The New York Freakin’ Times. It all felt so very, very extraordinary.
And it should have made me happy. Instead, this winter was one of the lowest places I have been in a very long time. I’ve mostly climbed back out, and these days I really am okay. Truly. I am. I want to be really clear here: I am okay now.
But there are still these moments when without realizing it, I suddenly find my toes on the edge of a shadowy pool, a tentacle of dark mist swirling around my ankle, thinking, Oh, wait. Shit. I’m not quite out of the water just yet. I hate it when it sneaks up on you like that.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of looking at things that are supposed to make you feel happy – validation! acclaim! success! – and feeling – well: nothing. Or more specifically, feeling like it’s not good enough. Feeling like you aren’t good enough.
There’s a part of me that is afraid to admit that one of the things about myself that I love – my ability to work and work and work and work – is driven so deeply from fear. The usual fears are there, sure. Like the fear that if I don’t say yes to everything, I will starve, I won’t be able to pay my bills. That’s all there, and it’s all still true, and it’s stuff that, as a freelance artist, I will deal with every day.
But the bigger fear is that if I don’t keep working constantly, that if I don’t keep pushing and pushing and distracting and creating, then I’ll be left with just myself in the room. And chances are, when it’s just me in the room, I won’t like that person very much at all.
Do you know this old joke? It’s not really a joke. It’s taken from this Spanish poem called “Reir Lorrando.” Means, roughly translated, “To Laugh While Crying.”
So a man goes to the doctor. Says he is depressed. Says the world feels vast, and he is alone. The doctor suggests that he take his mind off things.
“The great clown is at the circus,” says the doctor. “Go to the circus. By the time you have seen the great clown, you will have laughed and laughed and you will feel much better.”
“But doctor,” cries the man, as he bursts into tears. “I am the clown.”
I’m lucky that my fleeting moments of darkness have never been so dark that I felt the need to listen. The moments when I considered not being alive — those were such short, tiny, thoughts that they didn’t bear weight. I am so grateful that it has been many years since I’ve thought, fleetingly, in a manner that now seems frighteningly casual, what if I was to hurl my body down the stairs right now? What if I was to take a long bath and not ever leave? What if I was to not wake up tomorrow? What if? What if?
My downs don’t spiral that low anymore. I am really, really grateful for that.
And I consider myself really lucky that this is the case. I consider myself really lucky that I have a wonderful support system.
And I consider myself really, really lucky that when people have needed to talk their own stuff out, they’ve reached out to me.
It takes a tremendous amount of bravery to say I’m not okay. Something’s wrong. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to admit that. And it takes a truly extraordinary person to listen and to love and to care. I’m lucky that I happen to know a whole lot of you extraordinary people. And I thank you for being you.
If you are someone who needs to, please talk this out. The suicide line in the US is 1-800-273-8255. I’ve never called myself, but I understand those folks are excellent at their job.
And if you’re one of those people who, like me, don’t spiral down that low but who still find themselves sometimes mired in that swamp. Talk it out anyways. Even when it sucks. Even when it’s really hard to say I am not okay. Find the right person to say it to, or the right forum to say it. Even when it’s hard. Because it is. It is really goddamned hard.
There’s something so terrifying about admitting weakness. Admitting to flaws within yourself. Exposing that to others. I really wish that saying “I’m depressed” was akin to saying, “Excuse me, but it appears I’m trapped in a swampy pond right now, and I’m having a hard time climbing to the surface. Is there any chance you would mind helping me out? Thank you ever so kindly.” Because that’s the truth of it. You aren’t weak. You are literally trapped somewhere that you don’t have total control over. Please: know that. Own that. Recognize that. You can’t figure out your escape plan until you know what you’re fighting against.
Depression fucking sucks. It really, really fucking sucks.
But I am really loved. And I’m okay now. And I’m so very grateful for that.
And as much as I know that I am loved, I would be willing to bet that you are, too.
ps: Here are some really excellent things worth reading, if you haven’t seen them already.