Monday, November 14, 2016

Never Underestimate the Power of Humor

So, there was recently an election that didn't exactly turn out the way most of us thought it would (to put it lightly). There have been a laundry list of reactions to the election of Donald Trump to the highest office in the Country, from anger to confusion to apathy to full blown depression. It's that last one I want to address today. We all know that there are several groups of people who are now fearing for their personal safety during the Trump Times, and most of that fear is being expressed through outrage and protests and articles not unlike this one. There are those, however, who are reacting in a much more quiet, but no less intense way: deep, soul-sucking depression and hopelessness. If you are one of these people, or know someone who might be, please know that I am worried about you. There has been a rise in suicides since Election Day, especially among the LGBTQ+ community (a community that already has some of the highest suicide rates in the Country), and I could not sit by without addressing this sensitive and nuanced subject. Thankfully, I am not alone. The following essay was sent to me from someone who wanted to share their very personal story in the hopes of reaching someone who could use a little hope right now:

Before I get into the meat of this essay, perhaps a little background is in order.

            For the past ten years, I have been living with a degenerative nerve disease that causes insanely intense pain that will never go away. With the chronic pain comes dealing with cycles of depression. Needless to say, I am often not a happy camper. It is on one of the days where the combined effects of the pain and depression occur, that our story begins.

            I was nearing the end of an intense 12-day stretch working on an independent movie. The days were long, and the workload was immense, but I was loving it. I was putting everything I learned about film making and acting to work, and I was making something. I was exhausted, but happy.


            Occasionally, when dealing with the fabled chronic pain / depression combo, something innocuous can set it off. Some little thing can make the whole situation in your head much, much worse. That’s what happened on the last day of filming.

            A fellow actor and crew member, whom I had put a lot of stock in, was undergoing his own emotional turmoil, and took much of it out on me. I don’t blame him, it was his way of dealing with it, but it just so happened to hit me at exactly the wrong time. I was in pain, I was fighting the depression, and I was hiding it from the crew so I had no support system.

            Filming was on location, so when we were done, my wife came to pick me up for the long drive home. The car ride was quieter than usual, and I dismissed it as being tired, not wanting to burden her.

We stopped for something to eat at a dingy little Burger King just off the highway. The kind of place that has been long forgotten by corporate, where the floor is a special kind of dirty and the chairs their own kind of slippery. The flickering fluorescent lamps served to punctuate the fact that this was a building where dreams went to die.

I picked at my food in silence, feeling my emotions slowly getting the better of me. I pretended, much as I had many times before, faked a smile and laugh, and fought back the oncoming assault of tears and snot.

By the time we made it home, however, I no longer could. As soon as we got inside, the walls fell. And I don’t mean they slowly crumbled. They exploded in a massive eruption of tears and snot. I had no more emotional walls, no more defenses, it was raw and pure.

It was sadness and hatred.

I hated myself for letting the people around me down. I hated myself for not being able to beat the pain. I hated myself for not hiding it better from the people around me. But most of all, I hated myself for hating myself.

For years, I had done everything I could not let the pain beat me. I told myself I was stronger than it. I actively fought against it. I would go to work, or go on stage with a crippling migraine just to prove that I still could.

            But in that moment, I couldn’t. The pain had beaten me; the self-hatred and loathing had beaten me. It had won.

            Anyone who battles chronic pain and depression knows that the thought of doing something terrible to themselves will cross their mind more than it probably should. I had fought off these thoughts before, but in the raw emotional state I was in, I no longer had the energy to make a defense against it.

            I didn’t care who I hurt, just as long as my hurting stopped.

            Which, by the way, is what is known in most cultures as “a dick move.”

            I reached for my box-o-pills™, the myriad of medication that I take on a daily basis to combat the pain, and began doing some desperate math. How many of which pill would it take to put me to sleep and never let me wake up.

            Now, I’m not sure why I did what I did next, but it was a little action that made a world of difference. I grabbed the remote and clicked on the TV, just to have some noise in the room other than my ugly-crying. That’s when it happened.

            My wife had been watching something on TBS, so the TV was open to that channel. It just so happened to be the night that they were marathoning the entire first season of Angie Tribeca.

            About a minute after I turned it on, something incredible happened.

            I laughed.

            It was a little joke, I think. A pun that caught me off guard. But it was the most powerful joke I ever heard.

            If you’ve ever wondered what the definition of “juxtaposition” is, imagine a person who is bawling their heart out and laughing at the same time.

            Something incredible happens in that moment. Your brain doesn’t know how to handle two intense, opposing, emotions. So, it does the only thing it knows how: it resets.

            I found myself in an odd moment of clarity. Face wet with sadness, hands full of pills, and laughing like a madman. The sheer absurdity of the situation made me laugh in a different way, which brought me back from the brink.

            I put the pills away, I grabbed some extra tissues, and I turned the volume up.

            I spent the rest of that night laughing.

            And I have been laughing every day since.

            Life can be a bastard sometimes. It can show us things that we want, show us things that we could be, and laugh in our face when it tells us that we can’t have it. Life can be the monster who hides under our beds and whispers bad thoughts into our dreams. Life can be that annoying song that gets stuck in your head and plays incessantly every time you try to lay down to sleep.

            In short, Life can suck.

            But, and there is always a but, Life can be ridiculous. It can be absurd and inane. It can be wonderfully bizarre, and bizarrely wonderful. It is in these moments where we can allow ourselves to take a step back and see the natural ridiculousness that pervades all things. It can help us to find a strength in ourselves that we didn’t know we had.

            I doubt the people behind Angie Tribeca will ever know the true impact that one little moment had. That their silly joke helped keep a person from the brink. Nancy and Steve Carell inadvertently saved my life – by being funny.

            I’ll never be able to thank them, not in any significant way. But I will always owe them my gratitude, and my respect.

            Humor is a powerful tool. One of the strongest. It’s universal, it’s understood across all boundaries, and even the most jaded and bitter among us are bound by the natural desire to laugh. Nothing can stop humor.

            But, humor can stop so much.

            Thank you.


If you are one of the many people around the Country suffering from depression and/or contemplating suicide for whatever reason, I implore you to take a moment to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Their website is a wealth of information and hope, as well as a contact point for anyone who needs it (including a chat option). Please consider vising their website or contacting one of the numbers below, because no matter how it may seem at the moment, the world is a better place with you in it.

Lifeline: 800-273-8255
For Deaf & Hard of Hearing: 800-799-4889
In Espanol: 888-628-9454
Trevor Project Lifeline for LGBTQ+: 866-488-7386
Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860

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