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October 22, 2009

A Brief History

After my last blog entry, which dealt with my recurrent bouts of depression, self-doubt, and existential angst, so many people wrote lovely comments detailing their own experiences with similar issues that I felt compelled to address this topic again even though I am afraid of making this blog even more self-indulgent than it already is. If the dewy-eyed photo of my self on the masthead isn’t enough to make people think “what a pretentious, albeit gorgeous, asshole,” these posts just might do the trick. Even so, I felt like I couldn’t quite move onto more interesting topics, such as “How to Laser Etch the Statue of Liberty Into Your Pubes,” without at least writing a brief follow-up.

My depression started when I was very young, around the age of nine or ten. This coincided with Ronald Reagan’s election to the presidency. I do not think the two events were related but I am not ruling anything out. I do not know if there was an actual trigger which activated the precipitous drop in my happy brain juices, but I suspect living in a tiny townhouse with my lesbian mom, her verbally abusive partner, and three other kids, one of whom needed constant care due to Down Syndrome (not me), didn’t help. Chances are, I would have been a miserable fuck regardless of my life circumstances but who knows? Whether I was unhappy at home because of my depression or my depression made me unhappy at home I do not know. All I know is that fourth graders shouldn’t dress like Goths.

Things went south very quickly in sixth grade. I was always young in my class because of the way my birthday fell but I became a lot younger when I skipped fifth grade and moved up to sixth. In my town, sixth graders went to a different school, which combined all the town’s elementary schools into a huge “Lord of the Flies” type jungle environment in which the larger boys began hunting down and killing the smaller boys. I was almost two years younger than many of my classmates and I could not relate to their violent, pubescent ways.

To make things worse, as a kid I used to burst into tears frequently and without provocation. My mother used to say I was “sensitive,” which was her code for “probably gay.” My sixth grade peers used the word “faggot,” which was their code for “faggot.” So I got tagged with being gay from a fairly early age, a perception which has continued to this day, which is weird considering that I have always been deeply and profoundly attracted to girls, even ones without dicks. I’m not sure what it is about me that seems to scream “homosexual,” but sometimes when I see myself on TV even my own gaydar pings. Frankly it’s embarrassing, although you’d be amazed at how much tail this single character trait used to get me. Ladies seem to like soft girly men such as myself.

I mention my hyper-sensitivity only because I finally figured out how to bury all of my emotions around the eighth grade, which probably made my depression even worse. So I became, essentially, a zombie for the rest of my schooling. A very funny zombie, yes, who happened to own what can only be described as an “awesome” Miami Vice sateen jacket. But a zombie in a Miami Vice jacket, no matter how awesome, is still a zombie.

The depression stayed with me for the rest of public schooling, through college, and through my twenties. It wasn’t always there but it was there enough that it was a problem. Earlier diagnosis and treatment would undoubtedly have helped me, but therapy wasn’t really something people did back then. Unless they were New York Jews. As a New Jersey Jew I didn’t qualify.

So for a long time I didn’t even realize I had a problem. I just knew that I was miserable a good portion of the time, and rather than deal with anything that was going on with me, I put all of my energy into career. Acting classes, plays, and then the State. Had you asked me if I thought having my own television show at the age of twenty-two would help my problems go away, I probably would have answered, “I know I’m supposed to say no but I’m pretty sure the answer is yes.” As it turns out, the answer was no. I was miserable on “The State,” miserable on “Viva Variety,” “Ed,” and have been on and off miserable throughout. Not because of anything anybody did but because I have Crazy Head, which I later learned is the clinical term for depression.

Now, finally, I feel like I’m better. Not perfect, but better. Here’s what helps: medication, therapy (which I don’t go to enough, but should), and my family. Professional successes don’t help. Money doesn’t help. The very nice BMW does help a little but only because I look so good in it. And I have found that talking about it helps.

What I know is that depression is a lifelong battle and I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m grateful because there are lots of people, some in my family, who have much worse depression than me. Mine is sort of like a paper cut. It hurts for a little bit but it doesn’t last that long and then I can get on with my life. Until it happens again. Because I’m terrible with paper. The rest of it: the self-doubt and existential angst and everything else are just different symptoms of the same problem. So sure, I’m a self-indulgent, bipolar pussy. But I like to think I’m best kind of self-indulgent bipolar pussy, the kind who eats pills. And lots and lots of ice cream.

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Chris Cella

M,

I'm not sure if you've heard of papa johns pizza, but if not, I want to make you aware of it. They make pizza, obviously. You can get pretty much any toppings you want, though that will cost you a little bit extra. You can get bread sticks and coke with it, but a lot of times its just too much bread for me. Although, if that happens, you can put the leftover bread sticks in the box, or even in a ziplock bag if you have one. Then, what you do is, you put that in the fridge,and it will stay for at least a few days. The thing you should remember is that the bread sticks will last longer than the pizza because the pizza has cheese and that tends to go bad quickly. When that happens, what I like to do is just scrape off the cheese, and then I mix some ketchup and string cheese in a bowl and spread it on the slice of pizza. Problem is that I'm very allergic to ketchup, so I actually get quite nauseous. Still, I don't want to waste food, and I eat papa john's pretty exclusively, so I don't have many other options.

Another good tip is, if your eating papa johns for breakfast, you can make a papa johns omelet. It's pretty straightforward, you stick about 2 slices of pizza in a blender along with a few eggs and a glass of milk, then you pour the mixture onto a frying pan. I'M NOT SAYING THAT YOU CAN'T ADD YOUR OWN EXTRA FLAVORS OR INGREDIENTS. I never said that.

Other times, I just take the pizza and roll it up into a pouch and pretend that it's a burrito. And then I think, well, tonight is mexican night. So I'll put up streamers and a pinata and throw on some mariachi music. I don't travel much so I try to incorporate ethnic themes into my tuesday and thursday nights. The hardest thing about putting a poncho on a cat is that, generally speaking, cats do not enjoy wearing outfits. It already takes a few hours to make the poncho and it can take close to the entire night trying to force it on a cat. If your thinking that there is some service that does this for you, think again. At least to my knowledge, there is no company that will even distribute small outfits for cats, let alone assist you in dressing the animal. Nonetheless, it is rewarding once you get the whole ordeal over with, then you can take a few dozen pictures of the cat and upload them to facebook the same night. Of course, this is all wishful thinking for me because I do not personally own any pets.

Nick

My girlfriend is bipolar too. I'm probably depressed, but I keep justifying not getting treatment. Sometimes my internal anger is the biggest source of my creativity.

In any case, sorry I won't see you in LA. I would go and see you in San Fran, but alas, the rents are coming this weekend, which means I'll be milking them for a free dinner.

Lex

You are seriously awesome for sharing this, Michael. My offer to host you and yours for dinner at my jersey home still sands.

You are inspiringly funny, and your candidness in these posts is refreshingly cool.

Thanks.

Ellen

I have depression, and I'm a singer. I once told a therapist that I have all these self-doubts because I'm a performer; he said, "No, you became a performer because you have all these self-doubts." So APPARENTLY if you're good at anything performance-related, it's because you're already screwed up. I'm not sure I buy this entirely, but there's plenty of anecdotal evidence out there. In any case, I didn't even attempt to become a pro because I knew I couldn't deal with the angst. Kudos to you for keeping on keeping on.

JW

Really, really good timing with that one. I used to do that "burst into tears" thing too, and I share your fear of taking off my shirt at the beach (made worse by the fact that I grew up on a beach). My secret technique to not being depressed is living with a Texan. They're very confident and goal-oriented people, and they love to work. Best of all, they don't seek the acceptance of the public. When a Texan artist sells you something, even if it's just a shitty rap demo, he makes you feel like he's the one doing YOU a favor, and that kind of "independent hustle" mentality is very refreshing to me. I know that you don't want to be a hustler, really, but you might want to acquaint yourself with some of them. They're invincible to failure.

Look at this Paul Wall interview for a little inspiration. Seriously:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-37xX0Lmw0

Dave

Wow man, its so good to hear that i'm not alone or broken to be feeling like that. Cheers for sharing.

ps You and 'Stella' have been a huge inspiration in my life and i could never thank you enough.

Pps- can you believe my girlfriend told me to kill myself? What a bitch right?

Dave

Also that 'Papa Johns Pizza' sounds good, do you know if they deliver?

Aaron

ADOPT ME, I WANT YOUR BABIES?

Reen

Thanks for the introspective update, Michael. Beautifully written, as usual. You should consider doing speaking engagements on this subject from time to time. Or include it in your book. You're doing a lot of people a lot of good here.

It sounds like you found the formula (meds/therapy/family/venting) that helps you to feel better emotionally, and that's half of the battle right there. You know, someone to listen, or in this case, people who read and empathize - that is often all people are looking for when we share our personal stories. Not necessarily advice. Certainly not pity.

I'm so guarded in this arena that I find I'm in awe of courageous men like you - that you can write so honestly about your emotional struggles and trials. I find there are very few people on earth in which I trust enough to risk sharing myself with. But being heavily guarded in matters of the heart is my cross to bear. We all have something. Or several somethings.

Anyway, I applaud you for your sensitivity and wide-open heart, Michael. May it continue to serve you well. (And consequently, get you lots of tail).

FlyinyourSoup

Mmm, ice cream. It does help.

I'm glad you wrote a follow-up post. I find it kind of amazing how many things you went through emotionally that I went through, but thought was something that was only going on with me. I thought I was alone in the whole 'zombified' thing. Anyway, I say good on you for sharing all this personal stuff. I have even more respect for you than before.

p.s. I think soft girly men are so appealing because they are the exact OPPOSITE of the violent assholes who were making fun of us in grade school. Whatever the reason, it's hot.

Ryalye

I wish I could relate. On second thought, no I don't. I don't even like people and their stupid feelings. Unless they're my own, because I am a selfish, selfish whore.

Darren

This is officially my favorite post you've ever written...just beating out the "Finding Nemo" story. I wish more famous people could be this honest with their fans. It would really help everyone. Thanks again.

Kat

Allow us to be your Therapists. Don't you agree that it is so much better to vent out to friends, fans who know you? And love you unconditionally ,then to a complete stranger that gives you answers due to what he/she learned in school or books? I'm not saying I'm against them, if it works.. keep going. But, Id rather talk to a friend about stuff. Thankyou for sharing more and more. Me & my friend prayed for you the other night.. and I sensed that you have a 'Root of Rejection' in your life. Its kinda like the same scenerio keeps coming up in your life, but played by different characters. Kinda like Déjà vu. You have a 'void' in your life, Michael.Even you said that money,success and nice things dont fullfill it. Though, these days there are gay couples getting together and marrying and adopting kids and the kids turn out allright? Right? Or do they? And also single people raisng kids alone. I'm sure there is a high percentage of healthy kids making it without the missing parent (or opposite sex parent) but, I dont think you or I or many others have turned out the best we were supposed to.. so I think this is the reason for this depresion we have. You are lacking a 'Father Figure'. I am probally gonna get attacked for making this next comment:
But there is something that a man gives the son and daughter that the woman cant give. And visa versa. Plus your mom wasnt emotionally available for you. A lot of us (Me) come from dysfunctional homes and then later in life we try to have healthy relationships and though it may be working allright, we tend to keep re-acting the same way when we were growing up, right? (insecure people getting together with other insecure people doesn't work)We look for love in all the wrong places.
Deceived into thinking.. that true love and fullfillment is based on 'what we do' rather then 'who we are'. I'm not here to 'preach' to you to tell you whos right and whos wrong. But, you gotta beleive in something/someone higher then you, right? Whatever religion/beleif someone has.. they too have a void and want to follow someone/somthing that gives them purpose and love. I think we look to 'GOD' as a Father figure. We compare him/her/it? to our earthly father. My father wasnt good to my mom and he caused a lot of fear in me and my brother. He was abusive and fianally wasnt around much anymore. Ok, so other people have experienced bad childhoods and grown up fine. So a few of us are sensitive... thats ok. That doesnt mean we are gay, we are just lacking a Father or a Mother in our lives. Michael.. I know you can get better. This doesnt have to be a lifetime thing. This may sound silly.. but you just need to find an older man and become his friend and allow him to 'Father you'...

Kristie

Not sure if anyone has shared this with you, but there is a blog out there by a guy called Dad Gone Mad (you can google it and find him easily) by a guy who is hysterical (like you) and has publicly shared his battle with depression (like you, as well.) In fact, he just published a great book about it, which you might enjoy reading. Or you might not, in which case just forget I mentioned it. But my point is that I admire both of you for sharing your stories.

Frothyleet

Look, Michael, I swear to god, if you overdose on speedballs I will transfer your brain to a robot body and beat its ass. Also, you dick, thanks for not touring near my hometown.

Jaime

JW, I lika way you think pardner. See Michael? It's your aversion to Texas that has crippled you all these years. But a beautiful Norwegian birdie whispered you might be coming by UNT. I taught at Texas Women's University, also in Denton. That's a totally random irrelevant fact. I wish you weren't performing on a Thursday. That's a 6-hr round tripper on a school night, unless I go and get a sub. For you, that is a sincere possibility.

As to this post, you have exposed yourself so endearingly here that your vulnerability is more just the most inspiring form of bravery. You've emotionally flayed yourself, and I am pretty amazed by it. When you go expounding on existentialism and spirituality and issues and emotions, I think that, my friend, is when you truly shock me, and I love to love ya. Thank you. This post is like a gift. And it's inspiring. You're a human being, something more complex than a one-dimensional Hollywood PR depiction, and I love it when you remind us of this.

Jaime

Also (srry for the double post), but I wanted to add that your comments on the way you were treated as a young man hit on exactly the problem I have with gender issues always being so focused on how women are victims of sexual descrimination. They might be, but they're not alone. I think men are so much more restricted by concepts of gender than women, and bugs the ever ivin tar out of me. My husband is also a very sensitive romantic good-hearted person. He's like no man I've ever met. He's amazing. And it bothers me so profoundly that good men are belittled for not meeting a meat-head standard of machismo, and that this constricting concept is so pervasive that it either beats the goodness out of some men, or it hurts their heart. I'm so glad you've found peace in your family. You deserve it.

the end.

J T

I don't comment often on your blog, however, I just wanted to express my appreciation of your work and by extension, admiration for you. Indeed it may go with saying given that I wouldn't dutifully read said blog every time I see it crop up in my Inbox otherwise, but really, wow. I usually enjoy your entries and these last two were especially, dare I say it, beautiful. It's the least 'unguarded' channelling of your hilariously caustic self I've seen thus far and it is wonderful.

I truly empathise with a great deal of what you've mentioned, from the childhood abuse and forcing myself to adopt a steely impenetrable persona to perpetual feelings of worthlessness and despair. I too suffer from severe depression and anxiety and going to therapy is one of the best decisions I ever made.

You know this already: depression is not something that can be cured and there are always those worse off. Why torment you with redundancy then?
Well, quite simply, I put it to you that the dissatisfaction and disillusionment may not entirely stem from depression or rather, anyone with a single shred of perspicacity cannot look around at the world and NOT feel like shit. As a lowly undergrad whose future is uncertain at best, I fail to see how you are unsuccessful. I'm sure it's been said before but you cannot possibly want to move to L.A. and/ or become another Dane Cook?

I know words of encouragement from 'yet another fan' are most probably empty, but I hope to have reciprocated your genuineness and probity. If not, think of the chore that is reading through this as a work-out, after which you most assuredly will deserve all that ice cream.

Richelle

I'm a New York Jew so I started the therapy thing around 10 or so. It didn't do much. I left and only recently started up again. I'm on meds and finally feeling better.

I really liked what you said about success and happiness. I know it's supposed to be a given that one won't help the other, but you want to believe that it will anyway. That you will be the exception to this long standing rule. I am a painter and sometimes I catch myself thinking, "If I come up with something great, everything will get better." The only problem is that this kind of thinking adds an unwanted pressure. So much so that sometimes I talk myself out of even painting at all because I know I won't be able to come up with anything great which just makes me even more depressed.

Why is depression so linked to creativity? Maybe it's because we just have more interesting things to say and give back to the world. Happy people are boring. Try saying that out loud. I hope it helps. Hang in there!

Billpoyks

Who is Michael Ian Black?

Melisa

I got diagnosed with severe clinical depression a couple of weeks ago. I'm in my 20s, and have known something's been off for years, however just got help now. Even still this whole "officalness" to it scares the shit out of me. I was put on Lexapro and now I'm just hoping it kicks in sometime soon.

Good luck with everything.

Jessica

Thank you for sharing this, Michael. While I was reading this I couldn't help but become so overwhelmed by how incredibly awesome you are. I mean it. I had tickets to your LA show tonight, & although it was canceled and I am extremely bummed about that, I will never...stop loving you? That sounds weird, but I know what you mean.

I think I've been depressed since I was a child. For silly things, really, and then it got one hundred time worse in high school and bits and pieces throughout the rest of my life from then until now. I have never gone to therapy or taken medication for it. I wish I would, because I do believe I need to. However, I don't really have the funds right now, & the free counseling service at my school always conflicts with my school schedule. Perhaps it should not conflict, but the point is, it's always refreshing to read about someone you admire & think of as a happy-go-lucky person go through similar things.

Hope to see you again soon (this would have been the 4th year in a row I would have seen you live, around the same time)!

cat

Man, Michael I love you. I'm 18, been suffering from depression and panic disorder for a few years now. Seriously, your comedy is like the only thing that makes me smile sometimes. Ugh everyone always has nicer/witty comments, so I'll end here. Thank you for the inspiration and honesty.

K

A lot of what you described is almost identical to things I've experienced. Luckily I was diagnosed early on and have been able to take medications that work for me (I'm on Lexapro as well) in addition to finding myself a fantastic therapist. While all of that has helped I'm kind of stuck in a shit-tastic cycle right now and your writings have lifted my spirits some.

I just want you to know that you're great for writing about this. I've been a fan for a while and these updates have made me respect you even more than I though possible. I know it's very easy to forget but I'm sure you'll continue to do awesome things and regardless of what the vast majority thinks you'll have people that admire and support you.

kat

To Cat
That was a nice comment you made! Were not in a contest here to see who is the more interesting..or comical. I'm glad you shared to!

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