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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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Do

Nice blog. Is your show canceled yet?

Sarah

I can't pinpoint exactly when my depression started, sometime in grade school, but I know that the anxiety that goes with it prevents me from doing a lot of things. I listen to you and Showalter on my Ipod to get through the day, in a job I hate, in a city I hate. Thanks for sharing your story, it is very refreshing, and thanks for the comedy, you are like my own personal Prozac.

Margo

This is exactly what I needed to read today Michael. I've dealt with generalized anxiety disorder my entire life. its not fun. at all. everything you love turns into everything you hate, and everything you look forward to becomes everything you dread. and depression is something that comes along with it. two years ago, my favourite musician went public about dealing with bipolar disorder (http://bit.ly/r6Ywu), and being only 16 at the time, feeling as alone as ever, it gave me the courage to tell the people around me how I was feeling and ultimately get a diagnosis for what I was dealing with. This post of yours makes me feel the same way as that one did two years ago; less alone. more human. and i thank you for it. the world needs more people like you Michael. people to help us feel like we're not the only ones in the world fighting these battles. You're a great person and an exceptionally talented individual, thank you again for posting this.
Take care.

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Perry Block

I have at times been critical of Michael Ian Black. I presumed he changed his name from something considerably more "Jewy" to try to seem like some kind of proto-Wasp. But then I haven't been able to be too critical.

You see, my son's name is Brian Michael Ian Block. And that's how Jewy is name is today and how Jewy his name was from the start. So I can't throw stones, either biblically (because we're talking about Jews) or non-biblically (since we're really talking about guys" names).

Then I read "A Brief History" and all critical thoughts about Michael Ian Black vanished in a puff of lithium. As a life long depression sufferer myself, I was knocked out to learn that he has built his successful life and career while battling this terrible disease. It's hard enough to get out of bed when you're battling depression. It's even hard to get out of bed to turn off Jimmy Fallon when you're battling depression.

So thank you, Michael Ian Black, for sharing this with all of us. From now on, for my part, you can call yourself whatever you like. You can be Muhammed Ian Black, if that makes you happy.

There's just one thing. Please try to hire a few funnier writers for your Twitter page. Sometimes even I can see what's coming. And that's not a good thing, coming from a bi-polar Jew from Philadelphia who, 20 years ago, thought to name his son Brian Michael Ian Block.

Britt Warner

"Depression" is the pigeon-hole term for "too intelligent to delude oneself into being chipper when life is obviously fucked up." How many bummed-out morons do you come across? Smart people are born plagued by often-unanswerable existential questions and tend to be more deeply affected by life in general. In that sort of predicament, it is nearly impossible NOT to feel depressed.

I guess what I'm saying is: ignorance really IS bliss. Thank you for sharing - I'm obviously not alone in my admiration for you and your great talent.

~Britt~

Evan Waters

Thanks for talking about this. It's the old cliche- people who suffer problems like this need to know they're not alone, high-profile examples and success stories help, etc. Still, it's true.

Kayden

Thank you very much!
http://www.rapidsharemix.com

Comedy over Cymbalta


I can definitely relate to this, as I've been depressed since I was 12 (I'll be 21 in 8 weeks), which is also the age I was when I became interested in design. Being surrounded by thick headed people with no aspirations (maybe they should become depressed and therefore creative? who knows..), being called weird, being mocked and tormented -by my family btw- because I'm quiet and introverted (I'm a black woman, so this is not normal behavior at all) I've found it hard to stay positive and uplifted, but your comedy has always been able to take my mind off of my situation for an hour or so, and so I wanted to thank you for your post, and for your work, because laughter has proven to have been the best medicine for me.

Bryn

Michael, this is actually the first time I've ever commented on anything you've written. Will I get into a habit of it? Probably not but I still wanted to thank you for sharing something serious like this in an overall comedic blog from someone like you (very famous). It probably means something really cool about you like that you have a gigantic penis or are really fantastic in bed. Or maybe I just read that somewhere (here).

Anyway, thank you. Most of the best art (comedy, paintings, novels, what have you) come from some kind of pain. I hope you can channel yours and never let it get the best of you because you are smart, witty, and kind of sexy (in addition to being very famous).

eh

i love you
i burst into tears with you.

Depression Counseling

Depression in a younger stage is a major issue.

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kevin blumer

Hi your story is well told i could see i like your article but then that would be being unsimperthtic i was the same at school picked on called big nose rat gay faggot all that kind of stuff the one thing that really goes for you is that you depresion isnt that long that is good i can get very very long depresion spells and they will be worse with BPD im glad that you are coming out of the woods and telling everyone it will probably help you in recovery also im glad the tablets work in my case they aint that effective your also right deppresion is a life long battle satistics say if you have had deppression there is a good changce in life that it will come back

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