Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Please welcome my extra special guest, Tonight Show joke writer and humorist Dylan Brody. His publicist saw my recent blog about depression and Dylan wanted to add his opinions about this often misunderstood illness.
Be sure to leave comments for Dylan and to check out his book. All proceeds for the month of September will be donated to help those suffering from depression.
Interview with Dylan Brody
As a humorist, I genuinely believed that I would be able to write my way out of a deep and difficult depression by mining it for every laugh I could find. Once I thought of the idea of creating a satirical self-help book, mocking the self-help genre ruthlessly, I was sure I would succeed. I did NOT write my way out of the depression. I did come up with this deeply goofy book that promises to help readers get the most out of their depressions, the deepest possible lows, the darkest possible blues.
I eventually found other tools to battle my depression, but it wasn’t easy and each one seems to have a limited span of usefulness. For years I self-medicated with marijuana, which I didn’t actually realize until it stopped working. Then a heavy athletic regimen served me for about fifteen years and eventually that stopped doing the trick and the depression re-emerged. Now I’m medicated, but I remain hyper alert for resistance to the medication or changes in my chemical and emotional balance. It has been thrilling and a great relief to learn that I can be funny and creative and productive without being a miserable ass all the time. (I might still be an ass. But I’m not always miserable)
Did writing “The Modern Depression Guide” help you? Did it lift your mood since you wrote it on the sarcastic side?
Writing the book did not particularly help me, but it did give me the opportunity to really examine and explore the cycles and spirals of my depression in ways that I hadn’t before. It’s also led me to a marvelous screenplay by the same title and it always cheers me up to have another project to shop around. In truth, I have become to feel a bit like a fraud. When I wrote the book, I still genuinely believed at some level that depression was a necessary part of the human condition, that it was definitely integral to my creative process. That’s part of the reason that I took the stance, ironic as it was, that produced the book. Since then I’ve found a way out of the depression for decades. Now I just hope the book can serve to help open up a much needed conversation about depression and mental health in general. The only real way to explore taboo or uncomfortable intellectual territory is with the light – and the lightness – of humor.
Have you ever dove into a bag of Chips Ahoy or other snack, or (gulp) like me, packed on a bunch of weight because of a depressive episode?
Quite the opposite, actually. When I was really depressed, I think I used to eat way less and lose weight. One of the side effects of my current medication is weight gain. Also, difficulty reaching orgasm. It’s hard to believe that with side effects like those, the stuff could cheer anyone up at all. It does though. It’s sort of a chemical miracle.
Have any of your friends or family or employers been alienated because of your depression? Or if not quite alienated, what kinds of problems have you had with them?
Oh, I suspect I alienated any number of people during my years as a serious depressive. There were a lot of club owners who didn’t want me back as a comic after I worked for them and I had all sorts of paranoid fantasies about why that might be. It never occurred to me that it might just be because I was snarky and critical and mean and no fun to be around. The more depressed I get, the more I blurt out hurtful things thinking they’ll be funny.
When I went into therapy in ’93 or ’94 it was because my wife couldn’t take it anymore. She said, “You have to talk to someone. You’re absorbing all the light in the apartment.”
Does depression run in your family and if so, who else suffers from it?
My father suffers from depression, though I don’t think he recognizes it. I think he believes his frequent, deep sadness is simply the proper experience of the human condition. I suspect it was from him that I learned a lot of my coping mechanisms over the years. The very attitudes that make the book’s point of view funny, I think, are attitudes I learned from my father.
Has your depression ever been so bad that you were suicidal? If so, would you like to share your survival story?
I’ve certainly thought about suicide. I’ve never attempted it. Career suicide, yes. Actual existential suicide, no. I allow myself the room for suicidal ideation as a sort of creative exercise, a dark outlet. I don’t judge myself too harshly for things that I think. I have no intention of ever taking any real action in that regard.
Do you see a doctor for your illness and do you take medication? If do, do you feel this helps? What other things help you to manage your depression?
I think I’ve already answered this, but yes. I’m currently on Paxil which seems to work very, very well for me. Martial Arts training was incredibly important as I started to find my way out of the combined troubles of depression and a pot-haze that no longer cheered me at all. For about ten years the Martial Arts training alone staved off the depression and, as I understand it, for some people athletic activity on a regular basis is enough to keep depression in check for ever. (My father works out every day and I suspect this is one of the reasons) I go in and out of therapy, calling for tune-up sessions when the darkness starts to close in.
What age old purpose do you think depression serves?
I think the idea that depression serves a purpose is one of the lies that depression tells us. It tells us that without it we would not be aware of injustice or we would not have creative inspiration or we would not strive to improve our own lots or society. When I’m depressed I start to believe these lies. When I’m not depressed it becomes clear that not only am I still inspired, creative, conscience-driven, conscientious and ambitious, I am also better able to take action to create, to express, to improve my self and my world.
The idea that everything we feel must serve a purpose, must be intended to teach us something is sort of a weird post-hoc justification for a chemical event.
Do you have someone who is supportive of your depression? How do they show their support? How would you like them to show their support?
I don’t want anyone to be supportive of my depression. I want people to be supportive of me as a battle the depression. Over the years I’ve known many who were the former, rather than the latter. There are a lot of people who are most comfortable when those with whom they commiserate remain as depressed as they. I try not to hang out with those people. Some of them do it with subtle digs at one’s accomplishments or one’s appearance. Others offer lengthy diatribes on the injustices of the world with no mention of solution, only hopelessness.
My wife is tremendously supportive of me in my struggles with depression. She has struggles of her own and I strive to be supportive of her in those.
I also have a circle of good friends who let me hang out with them even when I feel quiet and not at all funny, who forgive me when I get all snarkilicious or douchey. Sometimes I need that, just to be around people who I know will not hate me if I feel unlovable.
Do you slip into depressive episodes often? Do yours tend to last a long time? How do they manifest? Do you cry a lot? Sleep too much? Miss a lot of work? Hide in your house? Cancel dates with friends and family? Hide in the closet or under your blanket?
The episodes don’t happen as often as they used to. They used to hit me once or twice a year and last a few weeks to a few months. Generally I would sleep a lot and avoid people. I would stop showering and shaving. I would hate everything I wrote and see only the flaws in anything I did. It’s been a while since I’ve gone through a bad one like that.
Has anyone accused you of looking for sympathy or of being lazy when you were depressed?
Do you mean anyone other than me? ‘cause I accuse myself of both of those things constantly, depressed or not.
Have you lost anyone (spouse, partner, girlfriend/boyfriend, friend) due to your depression? If so, would you like to share about it?
Oh, yeah. I spent years on the road as a comic. I’ve known a lot of great people who have given in to depression and taken their own lives either actively through suicide or passively through drug or alcohol use. My best friend from the time I was in college committed suicide shortly after I moved to Los Angeles in 1986. For years I blamed myself, thinking that I should have been able to hear on the phone that something was wrong, that I should have been able to save him somehow. A couple of years ago I talked to his widow and found out that he had been bipolar, that there was genuinely nothing I could have done, nothing I would have even been equipped to do had I known. It was an enormous relief for me, after all those years, to be able to let go of my self-blame over that. Yeah. I’ve lost people. I’ve lost way too many people. Thanks for asking. Now I’m all bummed out.
Have you or do you ever self medicate or abuse substances because of your depression?
I smoked cigarettes for years. Have I mentioned marijuana? I’m pretty sure I mentioned marijuana. It was a huge part of my life for years. When I finally stopped smoking pot and was in therapy, my therapist said that I was lucky I had found marijuana, that the self-medication had probably kept me from being suicidal through college and the years afterward that I smoked. Also lucky that, when it stopped working I had someone around to say, “you need help. Something’s wrong.” Also lucky that I didn’t find heroin or crack or some other drug to self-medicate with that would have been far more destructive and far more difficult to kick when it became more of a hindrance than a help.
What is your favorite comfort food(s)?
I really don’t eat any of my favorite comfort foods any more. The damn Paxil weight. Any weight I put on is nearly impossible to get rid of. Man, I used to love Haagen Dazs chocolate and peanut butter ice cream, though.
Please share with us your basic depression(and other) exercises and how they work (or don’t work).
Do you mean from the book? If you want to improve your self-loathing, the best one I’ve found is this: You list your greatest accomplishments. (If you can’t think of any, you win) Then think about what your parents would say about those accomplishments. Think about what your fourteen year-old self would have thought of an adult who listed those as his/her greatest accomplishments. Think about how long it’s been since you accomplished them and how unlikely it is that you will ever top them. Ever. This should get you a little more unhappy than you were before you started.
What depresses you the most? Why? Or does everything and anything depress you during a depressive episode?
During an episode, everything is seen through a depressive lens. Puppies will get old, develop hip dysplasia and then die. After years of pain. The success of my enemies depresses me and is proof of an unjust world. The success of my friends fills me with envy and is proof that I am a rapacious jerk. My own success is proof only that the world doesn’t have the basic sense to spot a fraud when it sees one. This is the chemical nature of depression. It’s not about facts or events, it is about perception.
What is your opinion about Robin Williams and his recent suicide?
Mr. Williams’ suicide made me sad, but I certainly don’t judge him harshly for it. I liked the world more when he was alive, but if someone’s pain is stronger than his/her natural survival instinct, if death seems to a person to be the only possible escape, I cannot put a moral judgment on that. I think life and death are always very personal choices. I have no opinion about his suicide, I have only feelings and those are mine to deal with and not his responsibility or anybody else’s.
Has anyone thanked you for writing your book and helping them? (Besides me – I’m thank you right now – thank you!)
I’ve gotten some lovely e-mails from people telling me that the book helped them. That it helps anyone is enormously gratifying. Not as gratifying as royalty checks, but – aw, who’m I kidding? The e-mails are way more gratifying than the checks. Because the checks aren’t really that big.
(All my royalties from this book for the month of September are going to MIND, a UK-based charity dedicated to mental health and depression research)
Please share an excerpt from your fantastic book.
The book is fairly short and the self-loathing exercise I offered above is in there somewhere in some form, so an excerpt now seems excessive. I will say that I’m pretty sure I use the words, “of”, “because”, and “down” several times. Aw, what the hell. I’m giving away the September royalties anyway.
From the Preface: Like millions of other Americans I sometimes get depressed. This happens frequently enough that I am getting quite good at it. My mood can swing like Diana Krall
on a three-martini lunch. On a bright day when everything is going well for me I can find the hidden source of sorrow, the magic trigger and... Voila! The bleakness of
the world comes clear to me and once more I am depressed.
Through years of experience I have developed -- or observed myself to be practicing -- certain straightforward techniques to help a momentary sadness build upon
itself, resonating and reverberating like feedback, doubling and redoubling down the corridors of my empty little life until, at last, I am comfortably ensconced in my
apartment, using up my sick days to watch LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE with my cat who has made it very clear that he will not be coming near enough to
comfort me until I take a shower.
With this book, I hope to share some of my hard-won expertise with others who may seek to improve their skills in experiencing, maintaining and utilizing a
Whether you are a one-time depression-sufferer due to a painful break-up or a chronic depressive whose sadness recurs regularly, there is no excuse for not putting
time and effort into getting the lowest possible lows out of your moments of despair. Here is where this Guidebook comes in.
With useful exercises to help you improve your sense of self-loathing, easy-access listings of worldly injustices to ponder and helpful hints on how to break your
personal hygiene habit, this book is sure to have your mood spiraling downward like Larry Flynt at the Guggenheim.
But depth is not all there is to a depression. A depression must also be valued for its duration. In order to ensure that a bout of melancholia lasts a good long while,
attention must be paid to detail in the vital settling-in period. If you stick with the program, follow the simple, step-by step instructions in this book, cut your personal
productivity and increase your TV-watching time sufficiently, I can personally promise that you will see no mood brighten before its time.