In my experience, I have found that depression and anxiety are moving targets. They are shapeshifters. The combination of the two is essentially Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th, and after you think you defeat him, he disappears into the murky lake and comes back again to kill you, most likely while you are trying to have sex with a hot lifeguard or when you smoke weed. In my case, much like the Friday The 13th series, this has happened 12 times with plans for more, and every year it seems like there’s a new remake with new characters but the same old killer.
Statistics show that 1 in every 10 American adults suffers from depression, and anxiety disorders plague around 18% of the U.S. population. I combine anxiety and depression into one category because it's not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa, and with both the symptoms overlap quite a bit. Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and parasitic on those plagued by it.
An unknown statistic is how many “funny people” out there suffer from one or either of the diseases; however it is well known that many of the greats in comedy have suffered from and many times succumbed to both. The assumption is that the two can often times go hand in hand even without empirical data to prove that, and it raises the question whether being depressed makes you funny or whether funny people just plain get depressed.
Depression and anxiety themselves can actually be funny, I have found this to be true when retelling stories from episodes in which I was suffering from one or either the most. I think the humor comes from the ineptitude to follow rational thought, and therefore ridiculous things happen because your brain is too clogged up with the panic and the smog to deal with anything else other than trying to flush them out. The kicker is that you have to flush out the bullshit to be able to appreciate how absurd it really was, because in the moment, nothing is funny and everything sucks.
One instance that I find appropriately tickling is one time right before my honeymoon when my wife and I were trying to go through security at the airport. My wife often gets the brunt of my anxiety when traveling, and coincidentally handles it quite well and acts as my studio audience for when I’m ready to laugh about it. We had stayed up late the night before opening wedding gifts because we had pushed it off to be able to attend a cookout at my dad’s house. When our 3am alarm went off, we had gotten about 3 ½ hours of sleep so we were cooked, and we had to load the car with our luggage in the pouring rain, drive an hour to the airport in the pouring rain, and then sprint from a faraway long term parking lot to get into our terminal. My nerves were going already, and the rain had soaked my entire body, but my shorts got the brunt of the soaking as did my underwear. My wife was rushing, and we decided to go to the bathroom quick, but as a result of my unfortunate drenching, I decided to change. Feeling the time crunch, I changed into jeans but did not change my underwear, so as we walked towards security I had on warm jeans with sopping wet boxers underneath them clinging to my like an extremely cold and wet below the belt hug.
I hate the airport and I hate the security line so my nerves were really going and with my sleep deprivation in full show, I was barely able to do anything other than check my pockets repeatedly for guns and an ISIS badge that my obsessiveness made me consider that I had. The airport had installed this odd wind tunnel that you step in and it checks your whole body and you step out. It seems revolutionary in hindsight and was not something to be worried about, but in my head it was a lie detector that could read every bad thought and injustice I had ever committed and my incarceration was soon approaching. My wife went through, and she was fine. There are breaks in anxiety for profound things, and sometimes dull things that seem profound, but in that moment, right before my doom, seeing her walk through that tunnel smiling and putting her shoes back on drove home how happy I was she was my wife. Two days before we had committed to this, but in that moment, although for no reason at all, she looked beautiful and I felt calm. Then it was my turn, and no wife or happy thoughts could save me.
Shoeless and beltless, I stepped into the truth cage that I briefly was worried would morph into a gas chamber, and the wind began and the detector started detecting and with a whirl of the wands it finished and I heard a loud buzzing noise as I stepped out. They told me I was failing the test and had to go back in. “Fuck, they found a knife or some bottle with too much liquid and I’m going to Guantanamo. Goodbye Netflix and Cheese-It’s! Goodbye Freedom!” I thought. I went back in, my mind raging with fear and panic as my wife watched me get checked by the honesty machine. I stepped back out and heard the familiar buzz again. I could see on the screen outside of the machine to my left the image of a human man with a giant red circle around his crotch. Two T.S.A. agents came over and I froze. One big man said “Sir, we are showing a "crotch anomaly", can you tell us what is causing it?” It took me a minute to not laugh at the phrase "crotch anomaly" and then another minute to think of why my crotch would be going off. Again, the worry about weaponry and a possible terrorist tattoo that I didn't ever get popped into my head until I realized that I was failing the detector because my underwear was wet. I had to somewhat loudly explain in front of a bunch of curious onlookers why my underwear was wet but my jeans weren’t while I got my crotch felt by security and while my wife snickered in the background. They took my story after a few minutes of being skeptical and let me go. I grabbed my shit as quickly as possible and off we were.
The trip was full of these types of occurrences. I took Tylenol P.M. thinking it would replace the anxiety medication I left at home, and then had to walk the Vegas strip and watch a burlesque show high on P.M. medicine. Once I got my medicine by calling home, I overcompensated and took too much and in the morning I was found sleeping in a bed with a scorpion and once alerted I barely flinched. A few days later I lost two nights of sleep worrying about a well known female hotel ghost raping me because I read she was into male visitors, and various other bizarre events occurred on our two week married victory lap.
I have been able to create a witty and humorous persona to compensate for the darker side of myself, and in general through this I believe I have been able to make my default personality the bright one, as opposed to letting the dark one reign supreme. There are a lot more events in the spectrum of these dark episodes that are not funny, and those moments make me wish away any comedic skill to be able to never feel the darkness again, but I do admit I am grateful for being able to strike the balance I have.
The hardest part in all of this is that when things are good, you worry that lurking around any corner is the hockey masked killer waiting to ambush you with his machete made of hopelessness and panic. When things are bad, your brain chemistry seems to change as you are in the embrace of it, and you forget ever feeling good before. There is a pervasive feeling that nothing good will ever come again. American existential psychologist Rollo May summed it up best when he said “Depression is the inability to construct a future.”
I don’t think the right response to feeling this way is to hide it. I agree that some people can overshare, and I can sometimes fall into that camp, but if you are to hold in all of the madness, I believe it changes you for good, and your default becomes the dark, not the bright. I believe that in our American culture, my experience is not unique, but I don’t see others accepting it and bringing it out of the shadows the way I attempt to, and that scares me, because I believe sooner or later, the slasher becomes the slashed, or worse, you have a “I Spit on Your Grave” revenge narrative where the only success is a high body count which we see all too often in this modern day.