This was originally posted February 26, 2010.
I deal with suicidal, unipolar depression and I take medication daily to treat it. Over the past seven years, I’ve had two episodes that were severe and during which I thought almost exclusively of suicide. I did not eat much and lost weight during these episodes. I couldn’t sleep at all, didn’t even think about sex, and had constant diarrhea. The first thing I did each morning was vomit. My mind played one thought over and over, which was “Kill yourself.” It was also accompanied by a constant, thrumming pain that I felt through my whole body. I describe the physical symptoms because it helps to understand that real depression isn’t just a “mood.” These two episodes were the most difficult experiences of my life, by a wide margin, and I did not know if I would make it through them. To illustrate how horrible it was, being in jail in a wheelchair with four broken limbs after the car accident that prompted me to get sober eight years ago was much, much easier and less painful. That isn’t an exxageration and I hope it helps people understand clinical depression better; I’m saying that I would rather be in jail in a wheelchair with a body that doesn’t work than experience a severe episode of depression.
To clarify the timeline, I got sober eight years ago and my first episode of depression was seven years ago. I had been in talk-therapy with a psychologist for months and was getting used to life without booze. It’s my understanding that it’s not terribly rare for someone in early sobriety to get depressed. I started to exhibit the symptoms I described above and had no idea what was happening. My psychologist urged me to see a psychiatrist, as did my family, among whom alcoholism and depression are old pals, so to speak. Everyone wanted me to go on medication, except me. I felt that it would be “weak” to do so and that I could soldier through and get a handle on it. But everything got worse and it was terrifying. Most of my thoughts were telling me to kill myself and I began fantasizing constantly about suicide. The images of my head being blown apart by a shotgun blast or me swimming out into the ocean until I got tired and drowned played over and over in my head. My whole body hurt, all the time.
Fortunately, a tiny part of me recognized my thought process as “crazy.” I knew that if anyone other than me was describing these symptoms I would lovingly handcuff them and take them to the hospital and help the shit out of them, whether they liked it or not. So I tried very hard to step out of myself and look at the situation with a modicum of objectivity and “imagine” that I was someone who deserved help.
Quite literally I thought, “I don’t think anyone else would shoot me with a shotgun, so maybe, temporarily, I’ll postpone that and try this Lexapro that everyone who knows me is recommending.”
It worked. It wasn’t magical, but it addressed some chemical issues in my brain that allowed me, gradually, to feel better and actually experience my life. I ate again, slept again, got boners when I encountered attractive women, and made normal number twos when I went to the bathroom. I didn’t and don’t feel euphoric all the time or anything. I still get angry, sad, and afraid sometimes. But I also get happy, excited, and horny too. I experience the full range of human emotions, rather than just one horrible one.
Just under eighteen months ago, after a couple of years of both my marriage and my decision to pursue comedy full-time, I experimented with a lower dose of medication and had another episode. It was as bad or worse than the first one, but thankfully I had some idea of how to deal with it. This episode drove home the knowledge that, like alchoholism, depression demands respect and attention. Whether it’s a “good” thing or a “bad” thing, I cannot pretend to know, but it exists and it can kill you dead.
My psychiatrist adjusted my dose and I got feeling better over time. If you know me personally, all this information may surprise you, as I think I generally have a pretty sunny demeanor. For most of my life, I’ve been a happy, optimistic guy. But for whatever reason, I’ve had depression of a serious, life-threatening nature rear its head a couple of times.
The sole reason I’ve written this is so that someone who is depressed or knows someone who is depressed might see it. While great strides have been made in mental health over the years, certain stigmas still exist. I strongly resisted medication at first. But after having been through depression and having had the wonderful good fortune to help a couple of people who’ve been through it, I will say that as hard as it is, IT CAN BE SURVIVED. And after the stabilization process, which can be and often is fucking terrifying, a HAPPY PRODUCTIVE LIFE is possible and statistically likely. Get help. Don’t think. Get help.