Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Well, it is a dark, dismal, cold, wet, dreary day today—and I feel great! Hmmm… what accounts for my feelings of happiness and contentedness? Can anybody guess? No, of course not, because I have been reticent lately on my blog. None of you can possibly know what’s been going on in my life, because I haven’t shared. More on why that might be so later.

But I know why I’m feeling good. It is a confluence of factors, all coalescing together at this most opportune and auspicious time.

One of things that's been making me feel so good is the Comedy 101 class I've been taking at a local theatre. I saw flyers advertising this class a year ago, but I did not act—even though in the last two years I’ve written material ideas and have dreamt of doing stand-up comedy for years and years.

The reason I did not act was because I was afraid. What if you dream about doing something for years and then you finally try it, only to find out that you suck? You are crushed afterwards. Your dreams are extinguished, and you feel like an arrogant fool for thinking you could do it in the first place.

I know, some of you are thinking, “But you have to follow your dreams no matter what. And if you fail, at least you know you tried.” Maybe that’s true, but that’s not how I feel in my gut. Of course, “gut” is a euphemism for a different part of my brain. See, I can rationalize things to myself, but if my “gut” doesn’t agree, it doesn’t matter. Again, more on that later, too.

Anyway, “graduation” night is next Monday. Graduation consists of each of us getting up in front of a crowd and performing a 5 minute routine. I’m sure I’ll be nervous the night of (the class instructor said there’s something wrong with you if you are not nervous) but right now I feel good. I tried out my routine last night at class and it went over pretty well, I think. At least the teacher had no suggestions or criticisms for me when I was done. It’s just a matter of tweaking my routine just a little bit, but for the most part I feel very ready for graduation night.

So, I feel confident about my comedy. I feel confident that graduation night will be the first of many such occasions. I have A LOT more material, and now that I’m getting the knack of the art form better, I’ll be able to continue to incorporate more and more stuff. In fact, after graduation I’ll be hitting as many open-mic nights that I can find in order to test new material, and redo old material. I think I’ll write another posting later about my observations regarding stand-up comedy, i.e. how I develop material, what my material is like, what my stage presence is like, etc.

Another factor for why I’m feeling good is that I’ve finally figured out what I’ll be doing my term paper on. The term paper is one half of my grade for one of my classes, and so I HAVE to get an A. Even though I’ve only written one sentence, it’s simply a huge relief to have an idea of where I’m going with it, because for weeks I was totally unable to get the creative juices flowing. I was growing concerned.

The last factor for my good mood is that the lexapro is starting to kick in. Lexapro is an anti-depressant.

Back up a little.

Since the age of about 20 I've suffered from a mild, insidious form of depression called dysthymia. Unlike a manic depressant or some other type of depressed person, dysthymics often don’t realize they’re dysthymic because of the subtle nature of the condition. In my case, it marked itself by slowly turning me into an increasingly bitter person as I progressed throughout my 20’s.

Whereas everybody suffers from depression or self-doubt some point, or points, in their life, when the dysthymic suffers depression, we get hit pretty hard, which is why it is called a double-dip depression (because you’re already mildly, chonically depressed). For me, whenever this would happen I would make rash decisions, usually bad ones. For example, I dropped out of the University of Madison-Wisconsin after one semester, and thus cut off my study of Arabic, even though I had gotten an A. Then I went to Israel for my junior year and after one month got horribly depressed and wanted to come home, but my parents talked me out of it. At the time I didn’t understand why I felt so… terrible. I remember thinking to myself that when I was 17 I had spent 5 months in Israel during my senior year of high school and I loved ever second of it. No homesickness—nothing. Why, I asked myself, when I was older did I feel like a little 5 year old sent off to overnight camp?

I knew I was depressed, because I felt depressed, but I didn’t put two-and-two together. I figured I was just being a baby, whereas other people were more stoic about any feelings of depression or homesickness. But the truth is, that episode rattled me. I sort of realized that for the second time I almost made another rash, bad, decision owing to feeling hopelessly depressed. And in a certain way I also realized, even if I didn’t admit it to myself, that something was different about me as a 23 year old than when I was a teenager. It was as if I was emotionally stronger when I was younger.

Luckily my mother began noticing the slow change in me. She would tell me from time to time that I seemed grumpy every time I was around the family. “What happened to that happy little boy?” she would ask. But the weird thing about depression is that being depressed allows you to do things that can legitimately make you depressed later. It builds on itself. After dropping out of school and ceasing my study of Arabic, I would later get really down on myself for having made such a short-sighted, horrible mistake, which could make a double-dip episode even worse.

Later I graduated and was working as a waiter and doing a little writing for the local university newspaper, but not doing much. I felt dissatisfied, and decided to move to Israel. In retrospect I think I used Israel at times as an escape hatch from a dissatisfying life back home. I sorta knew I’d probably get depressed there, but I thought I’d just deal with it. I later did get depressed, but got over it, and then got depressed again and after one year returned home. I told myself and friends and family I returned for other reasons, but the truth is I had a good crew of friends there, and things were going well on paper, but it was depression that brought me back home. When I get depressed like that, I have an overwhelming urge to get rid of that which I think is causing my anxiety and depression. Hence the bad, rash decisions.

I came back and landed a great job at the local Jew newspaper. I worked there for two years and felt good about what I did. Unfortunately they decided to rearrange the office and positions, and as a result of being the lowest rung on the latter I got laid-off. This was a huge blow for me. I ended up getting another job, but I fucking hated it with a passion. I suffered depressions again and became increasingly bitter. Finally, my mom had a big talk with me and talked me into agreeing to see a therapist and consider getting on an anti-depressant. I finally agreed, although for years I wouldn’t listen to my mom when she’d tell me she was concerned that I wasn’t a happy person.

Talking to the therapist seemed sort of like a waste of time. He tried to find out if I had some shit from childhood haunting me or something, but I didn't. I did tell him, however, that even when I didn't have a depressive episode, which was rare (maybe once or twice a year... but over a ten year period that adds up!), most days I woke up in the morning feeling a little sad, but it would go away by the afternoon. I just thought that's how life was, that's how I was. I didn't realize it, but that's dysthymia. Anyway, after talking during the first session he told me he thought I was “neurotically depressed.” I went and did an internet search on it and came up with the term dysthymia. When I read the description of dysthymia symptoms I was rocked—it described myself throughout my 20’s almost to a T. It also said that most serotonin reuptake inhibitors seemed to relieve the condition.

Once I finally admitted to myself that I suffered from depression, and once I began to understand why I was depressed, I changed my view on anti-depressants. When I learned that my brain, for whatever reason, didn’t process the “happy” chemical serotonin properly, it seemed to make sense to take a drug that could help the neurons in my brain to transmit the chemical properly. It made sense to me in the way that diabetics have to take insulin because their bodies don’t process insulin properly. The problem with a chemical imbalance of the brain, however, is that our emotions and feelings help make up our character, whereas diabetes says nothing about a person’s character. That is why my struggle with depression is still difficult to talk about and admit. Who wants to admit they have a problem with their character?

I don’t like to admit I’ve struggled with depression. I still can’t help but to see it as a weakness of my character, although it isn’t. I know a lot of people disagree, and are against anti-depressants, but to them I say two things: You have either never suffered from real depression and anxiety, or you have and you are a fucking masochist!

Then you have that asshole Tom Cruise, scientologist loony, who publicly condemned Brooke Shields for going on anti-depressants to help her cope with crippling post-partum depression. In Tom Cruise’s world, kicking depression is simple: all you have to do is be lucky enough to have movie-star good-looks, become a world renowned movie star, earn tens of millions of dollars, sleep and date any beautiful woman you want, and voila—you’re happy. No depression. Simple as that.

Fuck you, Tom.

Back to moi… So, the lexapro was really working for me. I studied, took the GRE’s, got into graduate school and started going in the right direction. I began dating more, and my brother joked that I was on sexapro.

Then, I met a girl who knocked my socks off. Things seemed to be going really well pretty quickly. I felt like I was complete and finally had everything I ever wanted in life: I was happy in school, with friends, family, healthy, and I had met this incredible, intelligent and beautiful girl who actually liked me! But for reasons that I still don’t understand, she abuptly pulled away and in the process broke my heart. I think I dealt with it pretty well at the time, however. I was saddened, but it's okay to be sad for legitmate reasons.

Then, in about May I decided to take myself off the medicine. I told myself I had kicked whatever was ailing me. I had always felt fortunate that I’ve never suffered suicidal depression, or the crippling kind that keeps one holed up in their bedroom for weeks on end, and so I thought I was ready to go off. Plus, I still wasn't comfortable with the idea that I needed to be on an anti-depressant.

Big mistake.

Over the summer I slowly slipped back into dysthymia, although I didn’t notice it until about a month ago, when I became particularly depressed ever since the semester began. I don’t want to get into it in-depth because I’m sick of typing and I have a class soon, but suffice to say I sort of realized this just as my roommate/brother and parents were starting to notice the subtle changes in me. I didn’t become bitter or mean this time, but I noticed myself feeling anxious, negative about my future, and uninterested in dating (because I didn’t feel confident). I also began feeling really bad about the failed relationship from before, even though I thought I was over her. When I began to feel utter terror about the mere thought of performing comedy, and generally overwhelmed with life starting about three or four weeks ago, I realized things weren’t right. In retrospect I now have to admit that even during most of the summer I was feeling a off, too.

I began taking lexapro again about two weeks ago, and it generally takes about two weeks or more to kick in. Sometimes it can actually cause severe anxiety and depression in the beginning, and that happened to me last week.

Here's what happened. I was feeling good last Monday. I performed some material which was actually brand new and basically made fun of how I noticed I was getting depressed again (the silver lining is that I wrote got some more material out of this latest depressive episode! I have other depressed material, too.). But last Monday I was feeling good, because one guy in the class who had actually lived in LA and tried doing comedy there approached me after class and complimented me on my material and said he thought I had some good stuff from earlier in the class, too. He seemed genuinely impressed with my stuff, and it made me feel GREAT and CONFIDENT!

But by Wednesday I woke up with the worst depressive anxiety EVER. I couldn’t concentrate on ANYTHING. I couldn’t do school work, I couldn’t work on my comedy—nothing. All I wanted to do was crawl into bed, read, and sleep. I totally lost my appetite. I can’t really describe how I felt, but it wasn’t just mental—I felt it physically. I was pacing. I felt like my heart was racing. Every time I read my routines or comedy ideas, I felt disgusted. It didn’t seem funny—and what an idiot I was to think it was funny. I was in agony. I’d try to be rational with myself, and remind myself that things were actually okay, but it didn’t matter. Like I said before, when you have a feeling in your gut, it doesn’t matter what you or anybody else tells you otherwise.

But the good news is that since Saturday evening I’ve felt better again, more like myself. Funny thoughts are flowing again, and I feel optimistic. I’ve even gone to bed at night looking forward to the next day. Like I said before, my routine went well last night and I feel ready for graduation.

Part of the reason that I wrote all of this is because it feels good to do it, and to re-read it and better understand myself. But I’m also writing this in the hopes that if there is anybody out there who can relate to what I’ve experienced, maybe they'll be inspired to get off their ass and do something about it. My message is that you can feel better. Admittedly, being dysthymic is probably the mildest form of depression one can suffer—and not every body can handle the side effects of the meds (I for one like the side effect because it relaxes my hyper-libido and allows me to go longer during sex—hee hee!)—but there are ways to feel better, and it can even be as simple as taking a pill sometimes.

If you think dealing with depression but you don't talk with anybody or take medication, you might think it means you're a strong person. You are wrong. A truly strong person will be honest with themself and admit the truth—and then tackle the problem.

Finally, I wonder if I've slowed down on blogging because I've been, well, depressed? I guess we'll see...


Blogger airforcewife said...

Medicating a health issue becomes a problem only when one is medicating for the medication and not for the condition.

since you have tried life without the medication, obviously this is not an issue with you.

I'm truly glad that you have found how to treat your personal condition so that you can enjoy life and those around you.

And I hope you don't think I'm making light of your own situation when I say that perhaps someone should send Howard Dean some information on dysthymia. Your description seems pretty spot on to me.

10:14 AM  
Blogger semite1973 said...

Don't worry about making light of my situation. I do it all the time. In fact, I have a good amount of depression material and bits that I've written and will perform in the near future.

9:21 AM  

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