anxiety

Anti-Depressants and Comedy

serotoninBy the time you read this, I am currently in Colorado Springs for a seminar for my day job. As I write this, I’m on day four of sporadic anxiety attacks. My relationship with planes is not great. I’ve always hated heights, planes love heights, therefore that mathematical equation equals out to “I hate planes.”

My survival instincts are on overdrive, before anything actually happens. My heart beats faster, my muscles tense, my stomach sours. I am on the edge of tears because the fear is real and irrational and my body doesn't know what to do.

Then I took a Klonopin, and everything seemed to calm down within 30 minutes of taking it.

Look, there is still a stigma against taking medication for depression and anxiety. As if to say, "Tough it out! Those are your human instincts kicking in! Don't make a big deal out of everything." Even comic Christopher Titus had a comedy special a while back that discussed the amount of prescription drugs being handed out willy-nilly, participation trophies, etc. And there are comedians known for abandoning prescription drugs for meditation, mindful practices, yoga, etc.

Here's the thing: Not everybody needs anti-depressants. But telling a severely anxious or depressive person to find her inner strength to overcome it is akin to sending a serf out to go talk to Khaleesi's Dragons without armor or pants on. Hyperbole? Absolutely, I'm an irrational person. Side note, I don't watch Game of Thrones because that show gives me anxiety.

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I use medication to stabilize the rampant nature of my depression and anxiety, and counseling to gain an unbiased perspective on my world. It's not an either/or thing for me. There was a long time when I focused on only counseling, fearing the side effects of antidepressants. Especially since performing comedy and theatre were so important to who I was, I was afraid my talents and my emotional availability would be dampened. You can't initiate a character or emotion if you can't hit your highest highs or lowest lows.

Finally, my depression got so bad that there wasn't really another option for me. So I started on a medicine regimen. Soon, everything leveled out. More importantly, I could still feel within my full emotional spectrum. I could perform and notice when I had a good night rather than dread how I ruined an evening with a single unfunny bit, or that my anxiety did not prevent me from going back out there after an unfunny bit.

Asking for help is the best thing I've done for myself as a performer. The combination of anti-depressants and a counselor helps my future as a mentally healthy being without ruining my improvisational mojo.

Mind you, there are other things to deal with as well—remembering to refill my prescription, trying not to die at the intersection where my pharmacy is, and other logistical issues. Then there's the other problem of your medicine's effects lessening, meaning upping your dosage or switching brands. Never mind the fact that my memory is shoddy and I can't remember whether or not I actually took my medicine. (Thank you, existence of pillboxes.)

Does the medicine eliminate depression or anxiety? Not entirely, but it lessens the everyday ordeal it has been in the past. I'm a better writer, performer, and general human for admitting that I am a flawed human being. Training wheels on the bicycle of life are perfectly acceptable.

KC Ryan is currently a Level 5 student at DCH. An office worker by day, she spends her nights writing, improvising, recording podcasts, and having existential crises. She’s a co-host of Parsec Award-nominated podcast Anomaly Supplemental about general sci-fi and fantasy topics. Her greatest achievement so far is convincing her husband to watch Project Runway.

Three Books for Comedy Nerds with Depression

Humorous Depression Books I'm a career book nerd—started as a library assistant in high school, went on to become a Borders retail kid, and now my current job involves working with older books. I like to consider myself a reader, but I've become extremely picky with the things I read. Especially humor, which is probably the most difficult thing to convey in written word. Like Shakespeare, humor is at its best when it's performed.

Then again, can you really enjoy a book about mental illness that is written without any humor? I have depression and anxiety, but I can still laugh at a good joke. And when the joke lands in print, that's the work of someone who understands themselves as well as their comedic voice.

I've found three memoirs-slash-personal essay collections that meet my unrealistically high standards for both humor and authenticity. They've made me laugh, cry, and forced me into epiphanies for underlying issues. If you're looking for a book club pick that will embrace your need for weird and honest, consider any of these.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

If you aren't aware of Hyperbole and a Half, you are probably new to the Internet. Although the blog is a barren wasteland now due to her up-and-coming writing career and her latest book coming out this summer, Hyperbole and a Half's print companion includes some of the blog's most popular posts as well as a few newer ones. Brosh's two-part "Adventures in Depression" is included in the print version, chronicling her perspective on what it's like to experience depression and explaining it in such a bizarre yet nuanced way, involving dead fish. It sounds weird, and it is, but there's never been a more appropriate analogy for what I undergo at low points. Another favorite is a chapter not seen on her blog entitled "Identity," which I won't spoil here. I actually want you to read these, guys.

Furiously Happy by Jenny “The Bloggess” Lawson

I'm a fan of The Bloggess, a blog run by fellow Texan lady Jenny Lawson. I would even say she inspired me to create a wishlist on Pinterest for taxidermy creatures of my own. (Napoleon Bonaparte mouse, you will be MINE someday.) Following her hilarious debut memoir, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, Furiously Happy delves a little bit deeper into what it's like to have a slew of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, and a host of others. She writes about deeply touching moments where she walks out into the snow or has a conversation with her husband about how hard life is. And then there's the part where she goes to Australia and is determined to hold a koala while wearing a koala costume. This is literary gold, friends.

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

My friend Sue recommended this book to me, saying that it hits points on mental illness as well as the fascinating life of actress and Internet entrepreneur, Felicia Day (The Guild, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Geek and Sundry). Now, I don't believe in "serendipity" or anything like that, but reading this book at the time that I did was a bit of a wake-up call. During her chapter regarding the start-up of Geek and Sundry, a YouTube network dedicated to geeks and... their... sundries (words good at, I am!), Day describes the amount of stress she put herself under and how it affected her not only mentally but also physically. Then I recalled another friend of mine who was undergoing a similar situation, and we both joked about how she had "stress cancer," because that's how you get through hard times. As I ended that chapter, I turned to my husband and said, "I think I have stress cancer like Felicia Day did." But he was asleep because apparently I had been hardcore reading this book until 12 a.m.

KC Ryan is currently a Level 5 student at DCH. An office worker by day, she spends her nights writing, improvising, recording podcasts, and having existential crises. She’s a co-host of Parsec Award-nominated podcast Anomaly Supplemental about general sci-fi and fantasy topics. Her greatest achievement so far is convincing her husband to watch Project Runway.

Depression and Comedy: My Experience Being a Depressive Funny Person

Sad Apple Depression is like the animated ellipses that let you know someone is texting. Wait, no. Depression… is like Windows 10 update notifications. No, that’s not it either. Hang on, I have this… depression is… um… depression...

You know what, depression just sucks, bro.

Here’s the truth of it: I’ve been in a depressive state for 24 hours as of the time I’m writing this. I’ve said before that I take a low-level anti-depressant. That’s exactly what it is—low-level. Enough for me to have a wide range of feeling without completely suppressing what it is to be me. However, this means depressive moods are still going to happen. I’m not quite sure what happens—I’m not a scientist, I have a degree in theater arts. Then again, research and studies are still being done about depression, so even the fancy schmancy scientists aren’t all the way sure. As far as I know, it could be anything from an increase in hormones to sleep deprivation to simply forgetting to take my medication on time.

What I do know is that being depressed kills my creativity. There’s a misconception that depression equals sad. While I did want to listen to Adele ballads and the second acts of Hamilton and Next to Normal for most of the day and cry, that’s not what I’m feeling at this moment. I’m feeling apathas if nothing matters. All of my emotions are muted. Therefore, there is nothing to inspire what I really enjoy doing. No writing, no sketching, no playing ukulele, no brainstorming. I would at least have something to draw from if I felt sadness! Just take a peek at my high school sketchbook. So much sadness… so much angst… like the episodes where the Tenth Doctor regenerated. (High five for Doctor Who references, nerds!)

Now the big question is, “How does depression affect performing comedy?” It’s a popular idea that mental illness and funny people go hand-in-hand. That being said, and I’ve only met one other person who experiences this while performing but improvising while feeling numb on the inside is italics-level hard.

Oh! I have another bad analogy for you! Are you ready? Let’s say you’re running a race. Do you know how tired you feel when you’re about one mile away from the finish line? You think, “I can do it. I just need to push myself. I can make it. I’m tired… but people are watching. So I’m going to make myself do this.”

Think about that level tiredness, and imagine having that at the beginning of an improv class or  performance. That’s me doing anything! I am pushing myself for 30 minutes to make something, anything happen. And the whole time, I’m thinking, “Is this what normal people look like? I hope I’m smiling because right now it feels like a gorilla snarl. The initiation for this scene is what? Maybe now is a good time to rest on a more unfeeling character—nope, everybody’s screaming because improv murder. Screaming hurts. You know what, side support is good. I’ll be over here on the side… supporting...” The finish line, the applause that signals the end of my run, and the orange slice at the end of the race is my comfy jammies and laying in bedtime.

The good news is that depressive states come in cycles. It may take a few days to a full week, but the feeling passes. In the meantime, I stick with my “I’m feeling down cycle routine: personal development audio books, an ungodly amount of shimmer pop in my YouTube playlist, avoiding news sites, a few comedy podcasts, re-reading Hyperbole and a Half and Jenny Lawson’s books. When my SSRI levels out the chemicals in my brain again, I’ll be back to my usual self and ready to bring on some funny person whatnots.  

My husband and I just watched a few missed episodes of @midnight, and jokes that would often have me rolling on the floor with laughter didn’t have an effect. Then a bit came out of nowhere and I started chuckling. Not a guffaw, not pee-inducing giggling. Just a little chuckle that ended in a squeak.

I turned to the spouse and said, “Hey, I felt something.”

He smiled and patted my knee. “I’m glad.”

“Rory Scovel actually spent the whole episode naked.”

“Yes,” he nodded. “Yes, he did.”

KC Ryan is currently a Level 5 student at DCH. An office worker by day, she spends her nights writing, improvising, recording podcasts, and having existential crises. She’s a co-host of Parsec Award-nominated podcast Anomaly Supplemental about general sci-fi and fantasy topics. Her greatest achievement so far is convincing her husband to watch Project Runway.

Four Reasons I Am Open About My Depression and Anxiety

superthumb Is there still a stigma around depression and anxiety? Yes, I’m afraid so. That’s why I have to make a conscious choice to talk about it.

Here’s the thing: I write these blogs because this is the best way I communicate about my mental and emotional struggles in an honest manner. If you talk to me about the topic in person, I will make jokes about it until you are on the floor crying from laughter. At least, that’s the hope.

Because maybe it will distract you from the reality of sitting on the couch in the dark playing Food Network shows, but not really watching them because there’s no point because life is fleeting and your insides are numb.

Or, your heart rate is going and your mind is racing because somebody said something that was erroneous to them, but to you it is a mystery that could destroy your standing with this person. What did that mean? Does she not like me? Does he think I’m stupid, but playing it like we’re cool in public? What’s wrong with me? What did I do wrong? Is it too late to say I’m sorry—I think it is, oh god!

Each of these thoughts or something like them will run through my head at least twice a month. Times vary from a few hours to a few days. It feels like a solitary existence. That’s why I have to talk about it, and I’ve discovered that there are four good reasons to share.

Instant Support Group

This is the gimme reason, but it’s still important. Having support circles during the times when your mind rules your senses is one of the most important things to have. Talking about it with your classmates and instructors will provide insight into your life and mental state. It will help your performances because you are revealing another side of yourself, and it allows you to go to deeper and darker places in your shows. More importantly, they will be there for you on a rough day. Vulnerability is tough, no lie. I struggle with being sincere as opposed to making jokes about it. But whether you want advice or pity noises, they will be there for you. Like the theme song from Friends. ‘Cause no one told you life was gonna be this way... (Clap clap clap clap!)

Your Instructors Will Benefit

With many creative fields, there’s a “just do it and it happens” sort of mentality. That’s a great sentiment, and it’s great advice that teachers give often. But for people like me that live in their heads, that’s a bit like saying that there is a 10 percent chance I will fly if I jump off the roof. It’s a wild analogy; however, this is how I think. It’s really hard to trust just doing the thing. Being honest with your instructor about how you approach improv and life make them think about the underlying gears of the process. What tools can students utilize when they freeze up during a scene? How would I approach improv if my brain couldn’t stop yelling at me? Should I suggest KC Ryan’s anxiety and depression blog posts on the DCH website? It will be easier for them to explain to other students that have similar anxiety and depression experiences.

Being Honest About How You Feel

Has someone asked how you felt today, and you responded with “fine” despite feeling the exact opposite? I always feel like I’m lying when I do that during a heavy depressive state, but there’s a fine balance of being open and not scaring your co-workers that I haven’t quite figured out yet. Instead, I openly talk about having depression and anxiety when I’m feeling OK. I feel better when I’m able to joke about it, but still tell the truth about myself.

Then when my day or week is rough, but I don’t want to burden anyone, I decide that I’m going to be honest in at least one question about my week. This is usually at improv since every instructor has a habit of asking how the students’ weeks are going. I love it because I can solemnly shake my head and say “bad” and that is acceptable. Getting the energy up to do the improv itself is a little harder, but that’s another blog.

It Allows Others to Open Up, Too

One of the best experiences I’ve had with talking openly about depression and anxiety is meeting others who identify with my struggles. They’ve done the counseling dance, they’ve taken the medication. We laugh about how our minds go to irrational places. “You thought you were getting fired for a typo? I’ve had that too! Hilarious!”

Or it could help someone realize that they have had similar experiences, thinking that something was wrong with them but that it was just something they had to work on by themselves. No, no, you are not alone even if you feel it. There are tools and steps to getting the help you need, and there is a group of people who have been through the ringer who can offer advice. Sometimes I don’t believe that myself—“nobody understands me,” “there’s no reason for anything,” “I’m never getting better,” and all that rot. Yet knowing that I can help someone just by saying that I have depression and anxiety makes me feel as if I am helping in some way.

Ugh, this has been too much sincerity for me. Let’s end this blog with a raccoon wearing a tuxedo.

Raccoon Tuxedo

KC Ryan is currently a Level 5 student at DCH. An office worker by day, she spends her nights writing, improvising, recording podcasts, and having existential crises. She’s a co-host of Parsec Award-nominated podcast Anomaly Supplemental about general sci-fi and fantasy topics. Her greatest achievement so far is convincing her husband to watch Project Runway.

Warning for Graphic Violence, Grisly Images, and Mild Panic Attacks

Movie Anxiety It’s embarrassing to say that movie-watching anxiety happens to me quite a bit. Especially in our current culture where intense action sequences and reality based character moments are the norm. I mean, how often have you cringed when an awkward scene from The Office or Louie occurred? Did you feel like you had to leave the room? Increase that experience by 10 or more, and you have my common reaction to movies like Argo and No Country for Old Men. Great movies, but I do like having control of my heart rate and breathing. Therefore, probably never seeing those movies again.

Of course, this would be a great excuse if it were just related to modern movies.

“Okay, I can’t do this anymore,” I said to my husband once.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Can we just pause the movie? I can’t handle this right now…”

He tilted his head. “Um… sure, but I need you to tell me what’s wrong.”

“My favorite character I like is going to die, I know it! I feel like I can’t breathe! Just pause the movie!”

“It’s The Great Escape, honey. It’s just like Chicken Run--”

“THIS MOVIE IS NOTHING LIKE CHICKEN RUN!

I’ve been thinking about this a bit since Sunday after seeing Deadpool during a brunch showing at the Alamo Drafthouse. My anxiety is often amped up by graphic violence and high threats of danger, which I was expecting going in. However, I shielded my eyes once or maybe twice throughout the entire movie while feeling no stress. My breathing remained even, my body did not shrink into my seat like an accordion, my eyes were not tearing from fear that my favorite would die. Why was this?

The obvious answer might be the fact that it was a comedy. Come to think of it, one of my top 10 favorite movies is Shaun of the Dead and my favorite TV show is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I avoid horror movies and war/gangster/violent-lifestyle dramas at all costs, so it takes a lot of convincing, bribery, and alcohol to get me to watch them. The straight horror and violent drama films always have the same reaction from me, where I have to split the movie over several days. Yet despite the fight it took to get there, the films that are grounded with comedy win my heart. It takes me back to when I first saw Aladdin and the Genie first shot out of the lamp. I was terrified by that immediate impression but in the next second it turned on its head when I heard Robin Williams’s voice say, “Oy! Ten thousand years can give you such a crick in the neck.” That was a telling moment, I think. Even though people could get decapitated left and right or a stare-down could go too long to the point of discomfort, I find that in most cases comedy provides not only humanity but escapism from what I fear.

And not all hardcore violent movies give me anxiety.

My husband’s latest fascination is a series of Internet videos called “Everything Wrong with [insert movie title here].” After watching one on Mad Max: Fury Road, he told me that the shots were set up to reflect Max’s point of view during one of the chase sequences. Rapid cut to’s and shaky cam and what not.

“That explains why my anxiety ramped up during that scene,” he said afterward.

“Wait, what? You had a near anxiety attack?” I asked.

“Yeah. You didn’t?”

“No, I wanted to put warpaint on my face and start a fire! Then I could dance wildly about the flames as the Doof Warrior plucks and pulls notes that would make my enemy captives wail in pain from the sheer amount of awesomeness happening around them! FOR VALHALLA!”

“... huh.”

Different strokes.

KC Ryan is currently a Level 4 student at DCH. An office worker by day, she spends her nights writing, improvising, recording podcasts, and having existential crises. She’s a co-host of Parsec Award-nominated podcast Anomaly Supplemental about general sci-fi and fantasy topics. Her greatest achievement so far is convincing her husband to watch Project Runway.

An Actor Mentally Prepares

SlingsAndArrowsOut of curiosity at work, I searched “tips for performing with” on Google. The phrase is finished with various words like “a cold” or “anxiety.” Believe it or not, most of the responses to this question are simply, “Get over it. If you want to be on stage, just do it.” Well, that’s not helpful advice, I thought.

I’ve been in the spotlight my fair share of time. In the chorus at the community theatre, high school plays, workshops for directing courses in college, a few student films--trust me, “getting over it” is not as simple as it sounds. I developed a routine and set of rules to be as comfortable as possible before an audition or show date. I find this is the best way to cope with stress, anxiety, or simple stage fight. A routine is unique to a specific person depending on their needs. However, I feel like I have a few basic ideas that could be the starting point for a modified pre-show anxiety plan.

Find a Quiet Spot

I "charge up" best when I’m alone in quiet areas, therefore running errands or going to a loud restaurant for a pre-show lunch is a horrible idea. What I do instead is reserve one to two hours of uninterrupted time to focus in a more-or-less quiet spot. This may be a park, a library, or the comfort of your own home. I prefer coffee shops for the ambient noise and easy access to pre-show tea and pastries. I use this time to stretch parts of my right brain that are unrelated to the stage, like writing in my notebook and doodling in the margins. This allows me valuable time to get out of my head about the oncoming call time and be present in a safe space where I can think and breathe.

Do. Not. Drink. Caffeine.

An instructor may have told you (or will tell you in the future) not to drink alcohol before a show. That’s a good tip. Another one from me: if riddled with anxiety beforehand, don’t drink caffeine before class or a jam or a show. That will just worsen the anxiety, and I’m speaking as an admitted coffee addict. Personally, if I absolutely have to get my “fix,” I go with green tea. While it does have caffeine in it, it has a much lower caffeine content than a cup of coffee. The best beverage for nerves (and voice) is always water, but drinking ginger or chamomile tea with a bit of honey and lemon helps too.

Meditate in Stillness, or Perform a Soothing Activity

Meditation is highly recommended for pre-show prep. Ten-to-15 minutes of being still and focusing on the breath has been proven to relieve stress and anxiety in most cases. That being said, I’m a very, very fidgety person, so I find a physical act that keeps me calm and occupied instead of focusing on the panic. My choice of activity is knitting or crocheting. I grab a pair of needles, a crochet hook, a ball of yarn, and lose myself in the repetition of stitching together a scarf. Take note, I have been asked if I’m knitting for my future baby. If by “baby” they mean the “growing ball of tension and doubt welling up in my chest and stomach,” then yes! If “baby” equates to “tiny human,” I burst into hysterical laughter that was meant to be a polite “no” and then get back to knitting. No offense to the tiny humans, of course, but I like to think they would be offended by the stereotype, too. #NotAllKnitters

Channel Your Energy Into Your Performance

Yes, yes, this sounds like some self-prescribed hippie-dippie pagan bull for theatre students. I mean, that’s not incorrect, me being a theatre major who prescribes to the hippie-dippie pagan bull. However, it’s as simple as mindfulness, being aware of the emotions and adrenaline pumping into the mind and body. Instead of bottling up that energy, use it for a character. I’ve done this during classes on depressive days and stage fright-driven showcases. Instead of tamping that down, I use mindful thinking to electrify my performance. If I can only handle two or three scenes in a 25-minute show? That’s OK. As long as I did not ignore the well of inspiration offered by my own immediate anxiety, then I call that a win. Performing is how I exorcise my personal demons, so why not make them tap dance to “Puttin’ on the Ritz?”

Like Exercise, Don’t Forget to Cool Down

True fact: the nervous-turned-positive energy I have after a show really messes with my circadian rhythm. To get the full night of sleep that I desperately need, I have to be smart and play ambient music on the way back home. Then I lay down in my bed and re-read a familiar book like Rebecca until I finally drift off. This is an admittedly difficult thing for me. I’d much rather play songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: A Hip Hop Musical at full volume on the way back home and dance around. (Imagine tiny, ol’ me at the wheel of a Honda Accord wildly bouncing in my seat and rapping, “Hey yo, I’m just like my country, I’m young scrappy and hungry, and I’m not throwin’ away mah SHOT!”) Although, the melatonin gummy chews from Kroger help, too. Never doubt the power of melatonin gummy chews.

While my suggestions are not ingenious and original tips, they are formed off of building blocks that I’ve had to search out and experience for myself. Honestly, some of the worst advice I’ve ever received is “getting over it,” whatever the circumstance is. Not necessarily because it is insensitive (which it is), but because it is so impossibly vague. When it comes to many things, especially something as terrifying and enthralling as performing on stage, a pre-show anxiety plan is the best way I’ve learned to manage my life as an actress, an aspiring comedian, and a functioning human being.

KC Ryan is currently a Level Three student at DCH. An office worker by day, she spends her nights writing, improvising, recording podcasts, and having existential crises. She’s a co-host of Parsec Award-nominated podcast Anomaly Supplemental about general sci-fi and fantasy topics. Her greatest achievement so far is convincing her husband to watch Project Runway.