I don’t want to call myself a comedian; that wouldn’t be accurate. I crack jokes on Twitter and in the company of others to hopefully make at least one person smile, but I wouldn’t say that makes me a comedian, no matter how often I wish that were the case. I’ve only been on a stage twice in my life. I’ve never been paid to make anyone laugh. I’m just a dude who, though a self-proclaimed misanthropic curmudgeon, honestly likes to see people happy, no matter the method. That all being said, I’ve also battled with clinical depression for a good portion of my life, as well as thoughts of suicide. The laughter comes at a price.
Never in a million years did I think I’d be one to have such thoughts. Yeah, life early on had its ups and downs with my parents’ divorce when I was around six or seven, the financial troubles I was a part of, the yearly moves and school transfers, etc — I just thought I was sad all the time or, better yet, simply disappointed in myself and my situation. As time passed and my brain began to develop and mature, I started thinking that maybe something was wrong, that maybe my wiring was a bit off. My teen years were filled with emotion, change, and pain. Headaches became frequent, fits of rage became sporadic, and tears fell from my eyes for seemingly no reason at least three times a week. At school I kept my shit together, put on a smile, walked the halls with the rest of the world, waved to everyone, and played it cool, but when I went home I wanted to be alone in my room and in my head. That’s when I beat myself up the most.
Would drinking mouthwash in excess do the trick? Nah, that’d probably just give me a stomach ache. Maybe I can go for a ride with friends and jerk the wheel on a back road? No no no, I wouldn’t want to hurt them in the process. Does anyone I know have a gun? Come on, Charlie, don’t make them see you like that…
That’s the kind of stuff I would think about. On the outside I was this chubby, lovable, happy-go-lucky, and overall kind person, but I had demons of my own to take care of, to fight off and lock up before I started my day. I had no one to talk to; I didn’t want to burden others with my troubles because that would just be an inconvenience to them. I sincerely didn’t think anyone would take me seriously if I attempted to lay out my issues, so I kept them hidden from everyone, even family. All through high school this dragged on. Then came college.
In 2010 I moved to Ann Arbor to begin my stint at UMich. The transition from small town to college town was huge. All of that change and culture shock hit me at once. Sure I made friends, ones that I talk to and love to this day, but the depression ate at me more than ever while I was there. I’d lock myself in my room, turn off all of the lights, and sleep. People would pound on the door and yell because they knew I was in there. I would never respond to them. I’d even go as far as hiding in a corner with a blanket over me so that there was no way ANYONE would be able to see me, even if they found a way to peek under my door. I suppose the reason I didn’t want anyone to come in is because I put on a front and pretended to be happy. This opened another door to them to talk to me about their own issues, forcing me to listen and concern myself with more problems that weren’t even my own. I would console them and comfort them, make them feel good about their situations until they were able to sleep soundly at night. Not to say their problems were added weight to my shoulders, but tack those on to an already full mind and I was beating myself up even more over what I knew was petty bullshit. I know it sounds strange, but my brain felt just like I did: it wanted to be left alone.
Later on I would try my hand in comedy. During the good days I would write a whole helluva lot of material, so why not share that? Who knows, maybe it would make me feel better. The first time I was onstage was beautiful and I loved every minute of it. The jokes were solid, the crowd was beautiful, and I seemed to have a knack for it. The second time was not as well-done, but I knew that every amateur comic had their moments, so I didn’t sweat it too much. These two instances lead to briefly happier times and more intimate writing sessions where I could release my troubles through jokes. Again, these moments were brief.
More bad thoughts came as the clock ticked forward. What would happen if I dove from the fourth floor window? There’s a chance it would just hurt a lot, but not necessarily do the trick. Well, what about the buses? They’re constantly running routes, right? Dive in front of one of those. No way! That’s going to fuck with the many people that have to witness that. Have some decency, man.
That was the last straw for me. I ducked out of college in 2012, partly due to financial issues, but mainly because I didn’t belong there. Everyone was out and about having a good time, spending money, spending time with friends, spending their youth enjoying life, while I was cowering in a corner pathetically trying to hide from anyone that wanted to see me. That was no way for a twenty-year old to live.
The next couple years were spent working and trying to better myself. I’d put in 50-70 hours at work, during which time I wouldn’t worry too much about my personal life. This was OK, but the depression war raged on at home, only this time I was truly alone. I finally went to a doctor to get help in early 2013. The antidepressants he gave me were enough to keep the crying fits at bay, but they weren’t helping me as much as I’d like them to. I do suppose this may have been because I lied to him and said I never had thoughts of suicide (I didn’t want to trouble the poor guy). He upped the dosage after I explained this to him, which seemed to help a little bit, but I definitely still felt shitty most of the time. This cycle of lying and medicating went on and on and on to, well, present day.
I still feel this way most days. I laugh as much as possible and encourage others to do the same, but behind this curtain of happiness is still a very sad, lonely, angry person. And last night everything was kind of put into perspective when I read the breaking news headlines:
ROBIN WILLIAMS IS DEAD.
Not just dead, but apparently dead from suicide. Robin Williams…suicide… It didn’t add up. One of my heroes, my inspirations, the man who could lift me up more than a majority of people in my real life ever could, the man who did the same for nearly every single person on the planet with a television set, the man who seemed to be the kindest, gentlest, and arguably funniest person in the history of entertainment…killed himself?
Why? Why? Why? That’s all I could ask myself. How could someone like that take his own life? Robin Williams dealt with a lot of shit that was made public, but those were speed bumps, right? How could he feel so…depressed? Did depression cause this? All this time he was lifting the spirits of millions of people, was he really this sad? Alone? Afraid?
The whole situation got my mind racing at a hundred miles a minute. Then I began to simmer down and think: If I have felt this way for so long, who’s to say this man wasn’t going through similar bullshit? People go through it all the time and Mr. Williams is no different. We all saw him as this funny character, but none of us truly knew what went on while the cameras weren’t on him. This is not unlike the rest of us who deal with issues every single day; no one knows what we are going through unless we talk about it. If we are not honest with those we love, then how can they possibly know that the person they see isn’t real? I guess that’s the reason why I’m writing this.
Listen to your loved ones. Don’t just talk to them and try to relate to what they’re going through, fucking listen. Don’t assume that because someone is happy or funny or generous on the outside, they are feeling the same way on the inside. For years I have felt that I have had no one to talk to about any of this because every conversation I try to have turns into the other person trying to one-up my problems. I know everyone has shit to deal with, but it’s important to just be there for others. Let them talk. Let them vent. Let them cry, for Christ’s sake. Hug them, hold them, rock them, rub their back, stroke their hair, kiss their cheek, dry their eyes. Do what you can to be there for them. You never know what’s going to happen in the future, so do your best to be there for those who need it most. Trust me when I say that they will return the favor tenfold, especially if they are in better spirits when that time comes.
I, for one, am glad to report that I am slowly trying to transition into a better lifestyle through a mixture of comedy, medication, education, and self-realization, but this will most definitely take some time. The power of laughter is real, my friends, and Robin Williams was proof of that. If you’re like me or Robin or millions of others who suffer from depression, then you must also realize that there needs to be balance in your life. Laughter can heal; however, you have to not only make others laugh but find time to better yourself as well, through writing, performing, reading, drawing, etc. You need to smile, too, dammit.
And if you are dealing with thoughts of suicide, DO NOT HESITATE TO TALK TO SOMEONE. There is always someone to talk to at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). I know calling the “suicide hotline” might feel strange or whatever, but when there’s no one else around they will help you fight your battle. “You will have bad times, but they will always wake you up to the stuff you weren’t paying attention to.*” You are not alone. You are loved.
*Rest in Peace, Mr. Robin Williams