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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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Paula

Don't think about it as 'depression', but maybe as what separates you from being so easily absorbed into the materialistic world that you find yourself on the cusp of. I think of mine as a conscious.I never feel guilty for having a conscious.

cynical

Happiness is overrated. Thanks, Michael, for sharing more about your personal story. I suppose the fear among those in "public life" is that this kind of revelatory info could make people think less of you, when in fact it tends to make people think more of you. I think of you more and more lately. Oh, wait ....

Michael

What helped me was meditation and "spiritual" books.

Aliya

I feel my own bipolar disorder is what helps make me funny. Self-loathing and mental dysfunctions covered up with humor is perhaps one of the most productive ways to mask how you really feel. I think unbalanced brain juices is something that provides great material... all the best "artists"(I hate that word, but I suppose it works) are fucked up, and it's good you take some pride in it. Michael Ian Black, you rule, and the fans wouldn't have ya any other way.

Slub

Michael,

It was great to hear the honest feelings of a celebrity. Your blog has been a great read, and not just for the comedy that I was expecting.

FYI, the state is the greatest show I ever watched. After the DVDs were released I have been forcing people to watch them. Everyone has thanked me.

Capt. Monterey Jack changed my life!

Jenny

Oh, Michael, you're a good guy. And talking about this is great for not only your psyche, but, obviously, for the tons of other people out there who are in your kind of shoes. I'm grateful that you're able to use your talents and entertain/enlighten so many of us, and aren't letting your paper-cut get the best of you. (paper-cut is an excellent analogy by the way. i wanted to laugh but couldn't bc I was so impressed with your word play.)

I will see you tonight in SF. And I will bring you fancy cupcakes to cheer you up. :)

Melgarina

For all the creative types loving up this post check this out - http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

Camille

Crazy is the new normal, dontcha know? Revel in it!(you may want to wait for a manic phase first) I kid, I kid....I seriously appreciate this kind of blog in addition to your others because as you can see, so many people can sympathize because they(including myself) struggle with it as well. March on, brother!

Jaime

here here to kat. And I agree -- nice comment to other cat :)

Jaime

And cam :)

Kelly Hagg

Being an occasional Crazy Head, I get it...some solutions are at one's fingertips. I am saving vast sums of jing by skipping therapy and re-enrolling in 6th grade..yes I look a bit creepy and hunch over often, avoiding eye contact and gym class showers... but I kick ass on the playground and am always holding 'the conch'. Life is beautiful.

kat

Thank you Jaime! Everybody has encouraging things to say! So Hooray for everyone willing to open up and share to!! One more post I want to share is, that I have been offered lexapro and other meds and I refused them. I'm not saying any of you should do the same. But I would rather find an answer to releving depression a more natural way. And,I beleive that it has to do with the whole body and not just one part. I read books by a doctor by the Name of Don Colbert.(http://www.drcolbert.com/) also you can get these books cheaper on other book sites or walmart! He has a series of books called 'The Bible Cure for' they are really good and beneficial to feeling better the healthy way. One of the books I have is for 'Depression and Anxiety' chapters;
1)Joy instead of Sadness
2)Peace instead of Anxiety
3)Joy-Filled living with Proper Nutrition and Diet
4)Joy-filled living with Vitamains and Minerals
5)Joy-Filled living with Exercise and rest
6) Joy-Filled living with the Word Of God
(ok you may disagree with the last one)
But I have seen results following what his books have to say. Sometimes, just a change of diet(to much intake of sugar?)
and getting enough sleep can make you feel so much better!
Peace!

Adrienne

i just wanted to say that i think stella is probably the funniest thing ive ever seen. Whenever im feeling down I take my bong and watch it. Its like im self medicating haha i just want to thank you for that.

Also you should come to edmonton alberta and do a show here!

Joey G

Hi Michael,
I don't know if I wrote this before. I always intend to send a comment on how much I love the blog but often I chicken out.
I have physically thought you are adorable since I first saw you on The State. I truly began to admire your work when I saw Stella. It is recently with this blog , your books, and MMHI that I have moved that status to Fan. ( I hate the term fan. It makes me think of psycho stalkers but I can't think of a better term off the top of my head.) I will be at the Philly show on Thursday at the Troc. If your still feeling down tell your Philly Fans. We are a damn supportive crowd.
On the depression tip. I have also been uber-depressed lately since my career fell apart. You remember Meatballs, " It just doesn't matter." I know it sounds pessimistic but I chant that when things don't happen the way I hope. It helps me and gets me ready to move on. Or maybe I am choosing apathy over emotion. Either way at least I don't feel worse.
On a side note, When are you and Dave Foley going to make a comedy about mistakenly gay men? A good old fashion black comedy about typecasting. I can see it now.

Amanda

I'm just quoting cat on this one. You've made me smile a lot in the past few years, especially this year when life has just felt like a constant car wreck. I know that doesn't really help make you feel better, and I don't expect it to... But it's always nice to know when you're appreciated. And you clearly, truly are.

Thanks for sharing. We all love you!

Stevi

Thank you for sharing your story. It means a lot to me to know that there are other people out there like me.

Kristina

I just want to share some of the blog I just wrote about this past weekend. I know it’s really really long, but please bear with me.

About a year ago, the play I was in ended its short run. That night when my friends and I went out, I just kept thinking “There’s no purpose in life anymore. Nothing to get up for. That was what I was waiting so long to do, and now it’s over. And I know I won’t do it again anytime soon because it didn’t make me that happy. I’ll never have that kind of experience again. It’s over.”
But I went on pretending to be happy and like my plan for going to LA to become an actor and comedian was still totally intact and set in stone. I was going to be like I thought all the actors I loved were – confident, happy, able to drink a lot, comfortable in their own skin, emotionally shallow, etc. I was going to do that and live up to that even if it killed me.
I was going to be superwoman. Get famous and be saved.
I’ve known for a while comedy is the thing for me. I’ve always thought it was going to save me. But I never did much about it because it would make me anxious. “Save me?” From what? Myself, I think. Or, more accurately, my depression. It was my defense against the depression.
But I didn’t want to even admit I was depressed… not because, as a normal person would think, “it sucks,” but because then I wouldn’t be “just like” the actors I saw as indestructible gods who used their talents to eradicate any negative feelings from entering their minds ever again. I was incredibly anxious about making myself perfect so I could be a dazzling performer. And so performing could save me.
So after my first (and only, to date) comedic performance, which I loved while actually onstage, but was less than thrilled about at pretty much every other point in during the process of preparing for it, I was sad and disappointed. Why didn’t it fix things? Why didn’t I want to keep doing stuff like it? Why was I telling myself I had to even though I didn’t want to? And how come I was so terrified of admitting all that to myself, much less anyone else?
I watched my every move to make sure I didn’t find out how I was really feeling. Because I was ashamed. I felt broken and defective and weird and unlovable and a failure.
Everything I did was to hide the fact that I wasn’t happy. Pouring myself into watching and trying to emulate the mindsets of comedians was my way of hiding the fact that I wasn’t happy. Or my way of trying to make myself be happy, I guess. When a doctor told me I was depressed, I fought it even more, which made me even more anxious…
I finally snapped I think at the point when I realized I didn’t want to take another acting class. When I realized I was exhausted trying to play confident, competent, and happy. And then I didn’t know what to do. I think I just tried to hide. I was incredibly scared.
When I caved and went on Lexapro, I thought for sure, “This is it. I’ve failed at everything I thought I wanted. Time to start finding a new life, new dreams…” New comedy, new music, new hair, new clothes, new…as much stuff as possible. I was going to kill off everything I once wanted because clearly, in my mind, trying to get it had ruined me. And I was, admittedly, pretty excited about this.
But I’ve never been able to shake what I said when I was out drinking one night last December: “I just wanna do what the guys from The State do…that’s all I want to do. That’s all I want…” I couldn’t throw that away, but I did try to hide it… I kept watching The State and Reno 911! and Stella and loving the performers, but I distanced myself. I told myself I didn’t want to do what they were doing.

So when it was time to go see you and Showalter in SF this past weekend, I was really uneasy about it because while I love you guys, I was feeling like it would be mentally stepping back into a world where comedy protects me from emotional shit by hiding it.
But then I read that you feel like you have no clue what you’re doing sometimes, have used your career to hide your feelings from yourself, are prone to depression and take Lexapro also… The thing is, I had this stupid idea that you were invulnerable and totally content in life. I had the stupid idea that everyone is. And I was sad that I could never seem to feel that way. So I thought I had to give up trying to do anything even remotely close to what you do, even though I admire it so much.
But you’re much more human than I’d thought, which somehow makes me feel less ashamed to feel like a human being myself. And the show the other night was so good, so funny… I found myself thinking a mixture of “I’m so in love with the world right now” and “I could so do what they’re doing. I want to. I want to do this.”
That scares me. I have to be honest. It scares me to admit that I want to be a comedian. It scares me to admit that I might always have problems with depression.
But at least I’m not the only one. Thank you so much for your honesty.
Side note: Also, oodles of thanks for signing shirts for my sister and me. You were very sweet…I absolutely don’t regret driving 10 (yes, it was 10 because I drive slow) hours to see the show. It was one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time.

Jen

I fucking love you.

That is all.

chris

As someone who has spent the majority of this year battling depression and winning (girls seem to help as much as the lexapro), I was surprised to see someone I find a hilarious dry wit as having the same issues as me. I emailed this article to a friend and said, "It's like we're all just human" (jokingly).

Elissa

I equate my depression with a constant 'Day After Christmas' feeling that I have more and more as I grow older. I have to say that comedic distractions such as Stella and The State have offered brief 'Day Before Christmas' feelings by way of laughter that I and my friends deeply appreciate.
Thank you for sharing.

Matt

I feel compelled to respond to these two recent blog posts.

I'm not going to suck your dick and tell you how much I love you, because as someone that has driven hours to see you live, has seen you live 4 times, went to a book signing, bought all of your work for myself and as gifts, I feel like I've done my part there.

I'm not like you. I'm not depressed. I feel pretty successful for a 25 year old.

However, I was also made fun of an enormous amount in junior high for being a "fag" (despite having girlfriends at the time and never being attracted to dudes) and adopted a self-deprecating humor as a way of getting around it. These two blog posts have provided me with insight to why I relate to you so well. Perhaps it's the people that have been disenfranchised, to some extent, and used humor to veil their perceived flaws and self-consciousness.

That may be an over-generalization, but regardless, I have never been more convinced that we would be friends in "real life." I agree with Renee that nobody is necessarily looking for you to be witty when off-stage. I appreciate you being real, like you were with these blog posts. It's refreshing and helps clarify where you're coming from. That perspective adds depth to your work.

I don't know that you'll ever be completely accepted by the mainstream, but I wish you success with whatever project you work on next. I will be there to at least give it a try and I'm confident that I won't be disappointed.

PS - If you ever want to play $20 NL hold'em (high stakes, I know) with a group of guys that you would definitely appreciate and relate to, hit me up when you're going to be in Chicago. You have our email addresses through this thing, right? If not, get my info from Renee. We won't expect you to be funny, but, if you wear headphones, prepare to be made fun of the entire night.

Matt

PPS - I strongly recommend this book: http://www.happinesshypothesis.com/

Reen

Thanks for that vote of extreme confidence in me, Matty.

So, Michael. Let's pretend there's a table of 25 year old guys and you playing poker in Chicago. I want to play the part of that creepy cougar who finds purpose in serving cucumber sandwiches to you hungry fellas. "Coffee? Tea? Me?" snort snort snort

But seriously, Matt, if you and the boys ever hook up with my main man here to just hang out? Like if you DON'T invite me? It won't be pretty.

XOXO

Camille

And,like, Renee...if you don't tell me all about it? Well, let's just say you can expect my half of our BFF necklace in the mail.

Kristen [Rage Against the Minivan}

Once again, thanks for putting this out there. As a therapist, and as someone who has had her share of therapy, I appreciate the candor. Sanity is a cozy lie - especially for the genius. I'm glad you are speaking your truth.

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