Wednesday June 18th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL
I need to make a difficult declaration of five words that to my knowledge I have never used in a sentence describing myself. They are harsh words and even a little intimidating, and they may turn more than a few people off. Too bad. If I don’t get them out, more damage will be done.
Here goes: I have a mental illness. Wow. That really looks horrific as I see it in print, but it’s a fact and I have to deal with it. Millions of others have one too, and mine isn’t any better or worse than anyone else’s. The only thing it is is mine, and if I don’t deal with it I’m in for a dim future.
Nobody enjoys being ill in any way, but mental illness has a stigma. People automatically assume that it means barking at the moon and hearing voices in one’s head. I’m sure there are those saddled with these worst possible symptoms, and my heart goes out to them. This is anything but comedy fodder or something to make fun of. It’s an unpleasant part of the human condition and millions need help.
It’s far from a secret that I have struggled with depression for many years. Most creative types – at least the countless ones that I’ve met – do, and I’ve always known I’m not alone in this fight. Unfortunately, when those dark clouds roll in is the time when it feels like nobody else is around. A feeling of utter hopelessness and despair sets in, and it feels like there will never be any relief.
I’ve been to the point of suicide more than once, and it’s not a happy place. I’m not there now, and that’s why this is the time to bring this up so I can get help. When I’m low, there’s nothing I can think of that makes me feel better. I’m drained of life and I don’t even want to get out of bed.
Lots of others share my condition, and everyone’s situation is individual. Some have it a whole lot worse than me, and others not so much. Mine comes and goes, and sometimes certain triggers – usually family holidays – really set me off. This last Mother’s Day was one of my very worst.
One thing that has really helped is getting back in touch with my siblings after being apart for a lifetime. We were never raised in the same household, and we only visited in short spurts during our extremely tumultuous childhoods. That was no place for any kid, and we were all hurt by it.
Being able to talk about it recently has really been therapeutic for me, and I think for them too. While I’m delighted we finally got a chance to do it, I’m not delusional enough to think I’m now ‘cured’. I’m much better, but I’ll always be dealing with this and other issues for as long as I am above ground. I need to see a therapist at least for a while, and work through this pile of issues.
Like most comedians, I’ve gone through a lot of painful events that were far above and beyond whatever the boundaries of “normal” might be. I’ve been through hell, and it’s only natural to be damaged by it all. Thinking I can just “suck it up” or “tough it out” is as stupid as stupid can get.
There is nothing wrong with needing help mentally, and it doesn’t mean that I’m going to need it forever. I do need to get myself on some kind of a program, because inevitably that darkness is going to return like it always does. That’s not the time to think about finding help. It’s too late.
I also may need to take medication. Quite honestly that has always scared the hell out of me for many reasons, but I have spoken with many friends recently that are on meds and there are quite a few that I had no idea were on anything until they told me. Most of them swear by it, and I will wait to see what a doctor says. This is all very uncomfortable to admit, but I feel it’s necessary.
Too many people refuse or are afraid to admit they struggle with mental illness, but that’s just plain ridiculous. It would be like denying one has chicken pox, when everyone else can see them plain as day. Illness is what it is – illness. There are doctors that are in business to make it better.
The reason I am being so up front about this is to hopefully help someone that may be afraid to seek help on their own. I had a family full of wack jobs that were FAR worse off than me, but of all of them not one ever sought help even once. As a result, the rest of us had to suffer with their inner anguish and it made for some unpleasant memories that are part of what I am still fighting.
I can’t stress enough that just because someone deals with this sort of struggle it doesn’t make them a bad person, or “crazy”. There’s good crazy and bad crazy, but this is neither. It’s a matter of one’s all around health, and quite often the problem is a chemical imbalance. That’s treatable.
I haven’t been officially diagnosed by anyone, but from everything I’ve been reading lately I’m a classic example of having bipolar disorder. Yikes! That’s even more frightening to read in print than “I have a mental illness”, but I am just reporting the facts. Everything I’ve read points to it.
A lot of great artistic types have or had it as well, and they all had to deal with their own way. I want my story to have a happy ending and I don’t think suicide is in that script. Many can’t begin to understand why anyone would want to kill themselves, but only the depressed can understand.
I don’t understand how people can’t stop drinking or abusing illegal drugs, but that’s not where my illness lies. Thankfully I have never had to struggle with that along with my depression, and I couldn’t be more thankful for it every day. Quite honestly I’m not sure I’d still be here if I did.
I don’t want to name names of the people I’ve spoken about this with recently, but many are of higher stature in the entertainment business. Out of respect to their confidence in me to share the stories they did, I don’t see a need to mention any names. There’s still that stigma attached to the subject of mental health issues, and I wouldn’t want to cast any shadows on those that I respect.
One famous person I will mention by name that struggled viciously with his mental illness for years was Jonathan Winters. He spoke quite freely about it, and was locked up on more than one occasion. It didn’t make him any less of a performer and his unique genius was without question.
Coming from someone who is allegedly supposed to be a comedian, there hasn’t been a whole lot of funny in this particular post. I don’t deny that one bit, but life isn’t always a comedy show – especially for comedians. We’re some of the most dented cans on a planet chock full of them.
I don’t ever feel that my depression hurt my actual act, but it sure did hurt me in my off stage dealings business wise. If someone happened to catch me on the wrong day, they just might get a face full of the unvarnished me. That’s not smart business on my part, and I am sure it hurt me.
I’m not saying going to a counselor or therapist a few times and popping a bottle of happy pills are the answer for a trouble free life, but getting myself checked out and diagnosed will sure help me avoid this inconsistent roller coaster I have been riding for too long. I need to find stability.
I couldn’t be more grateful for all the friends that have made it a point to contact me and offer their input. This has been one of the most stressful periods of my life, and it’s comforting beyond belief to know I have so many caring souls in my corner who have been where I am themselves.
Mental Illness is nothing to be ashamed of. The shame is in not admitting it and getting treatment.
The great Jonathan Winters struggled with mental illness throughout his life, as do many other ‘creative types’.