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.

Mental Health Day Guilt

Leslie Knope As I write this, I have just come home after seven hours of enduring nausea and abdominal pain at work. I’m wrapped up in my bathrobe that makes me look like a unicorn, I have just scarfed down some chicken broth, and I’m scanning Tumblr for anything related to the musical Hamilton. Mind you, I have enough sick time accrued for four days, but I just couldn’t bear the idea of leaving early until the pain became unbearable.

I experience enough guilt with calling out at work because I’m physically sick. The idea of calling out because I am too stressed? Too depressed to get out of bed? That’s considered a fake excuse. I’m constantly encouraged to go about my routine as usual and maybe “facing the day will get me in the right headspace.” This also comes from not only school, but also my heavy performance background. If anyone in the cast was absent for more than two rehearsals, they were out. This was even if it was just a chorus member of Annie, Get Your Gun at the community theatre. School and/or work included, that’s at least 10-to-12 hours of putting on a face and saying that you’re OK.

This is meant to make someone analyze how they use their time off, but what really happens is that the guilt sets in and I end up taking no time off. I’ve yet to miss an improv class. I have never wanted to miss a class. There’s so much information that is missed if a single class is skipped. As I am often shy and nervous around new people, I try my best to go to class on my scheduled day. I’ve entered class in a depressive state, grimacing with menstrual cramps, or in a hysterical mess of stress. That’s nothing! I think. Dave Grohl broke his leg during a concert and still finished it! Be Dave Grohl! Heavy metal! Exclamation points!

Halfway through Level Two, I was having one of the worst days mood wise. I had not gotten enough sleep the night before. Work was inundated with a plethora of emails and difficult tasks that had a hard deadline coming up. I had forgotten to pack dinner, and my scheduled pre-order for Which Wich fell through because of construction. And when I finally got out of work, ready to go food searching, I was met with horrible traffic. I raced to Deep Ellum, parked by 6:10 p.m., and shoved quarters into the meter before galloping to AllGood Cafe.

The waitress picked up a menu upon seeing me. “Let me take you to your--”

“I’m getting this to go!” I said, a little too loud as I waved my credit card in the air.

Eighteen minutes later, I snatched the styrofoam box from the waitress’s hands and crossed the street back to the training center. I walked in and the entire class is there, staring at me as I destroyed tortilla chips and a vegetarian sandwich. My eyes were welling up with salty tears, and I was prepared to use any fallen tears as extra seasoning.

“So,” my instructor said, “how is everyone doing?”

“Awful!” I announced. Of course, my cheeks were filled with food, so it sounded like, “awr-fuhr!”

“‘Awful’?” he repeated with a laugh. “Alright, then!”

I probably should have missed that class. I probably could have made it up easily, and that meeting new people wouldn’t be so bad. As they say, “Shoulda, coulda, woulda.” The guilt is stronger than what little rationalization I have in those moments. However, there was a release with the honesty when I admitted that I was anything but “fine.” I had an awful day, and it was acknowledged. No one was trying to make it better.

I hate letting a cold or depression or anxiety get the best of me, and therefore I force myself beyond my limits and pretend it’s just another day. For others, this is a great way to get back on their feet. For me? It’s not so great. I know that, but I don’t do that. So if I look miserable beyond belief, pretend I’m a co-worker that came into the office with a severe cold. Do a stubborn girl a favor and tell me to go home.

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.

Performance Anxiety

sadnessMy class-day schedule looks a little like this: I arrive at work at 8:30 a.m., take a 30-minute lunch, and typically leave work at 5:30 p.m., working close to a nine-hour day that only leaves me time to eat dinner in the car. I could leave at 5 p.m., like normal people, but I work close enough to the Deep Ellum area to take the risk. Especially since it leaves little time for my brain to go into its coercion mode:

“Hey, buddy,” it says, “there’s still a chance for you to turn around and go back home. I mean, you can miss one class, right? Make it the first one! The first class is just a ‘getting to know you’ type thing. Plus, The Great British Bake Off is on Netflix now. Yay, cake!”

Driving to the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) training center with this voice isn’t hard at all. For me, the hardest part is getting out of my car.

I arrive at the training center at six-ish, pay the meter, and then sit in my car for a little while longer. There are people I don’t recognize sitting outside. They talk to each other and check their phones for texts and Facebook updates. This means that the training center isn’t open yet. My chest tightens and my brain kicks back in with a new strategy…. utter panic.

“There’s still time!” my brain screams. “Run! Drive away before it’s too late! Never come back! Let them keep your money and consider it charity! Please, please don’t do this to meeeee! Oh god, we’re going to DIE!”

But here’s the thing: I love performing. I have a BA in theatre from Texas State University. I’ve been on my fair share of auditions. I’ve acted in a few short films for UT students. I’ve been in the chorus of community theatre musicals, very tempted to pull an All About Eve. I’ve been writing material that I’d like to use on my first open mic night. I’m never more comfortable in life than on stage or in front of a camera with a spotlight in my face and the ghosts of laughter responding to me.

I’m also an introverted person with depression and social anxiety.

Let me break this down a little bit. We all know that depression and anxiety are irrational voices. In some way, they are trying to dissuade us from taking risks, whether it is physical or emotional. Because of that, I am left with fear of rejection when it comes to an audition, playing around in class, writing an essay or script, or normal things like talking to my family about what I’m interested in. There are so many things that I haven’t even begun because these mental inhibitors play such a key part in my everyday life.

There is a bit of a stigma when it comes to depression and anxiety. First of all, they can be a situational occurrence for some people. Those situations are not fun. For others, they are constants for whatever biological reason - hormones, seratonin, etc. - and these have to be regulated with medication and counseling. (The latter is what I do! Hello!)

Depression isn’t just about being sad, and sure, it is that sometimes. But it’s also a lack of motivation, a negative state of being where the person who has it is not good enough or does not see the point. Not so much “glass half empty” as “what does it matter that the glass has water in it, we’re all going to die someday and it’s all my fault and I need to stress eat peanut butter M&M’s.” There are days when I’m drained of energy and will, and I think to myself, “I want to go back to bed… but I have work and class.” So what do I do? I go to work and class. And let’s be honest, those are not great days for me. I’m low on energy, and I don’t see the point, and the kind feedback of my instructors is translated by my brain as, “You were horrible.” I will then go home with an “I knew it” attitude, relive bad performances, and cry myself to sleep. And I will eat those peanut butter M&Ms because I’m an adult, dammit!

The good news is that I always realize the following day that my instructors did not say I was “horrible.” However, I did stress eat 2,000 calories worth of candy and I have to plan my day around a salad and a 5k run.

As for anxiety, it is that voice telling me that this cliff I am on is way, way too high and I need to retreat from the edge a bit. This is a good thing! Anxiety is a great survival tool. However, it also manifests as that strange urge to pee before a live performance because that gives me time to come up with an escape route. But then I remember that I paid $250 for this class and I don’t want to disappoint anybody, so out I go. The surprise ending is not the applause or Quentin Tarantino being in the audience wanting to cast me in Kill Bill, Vol. 3.

No, the surprise ending is that I just performed on stage... and I didn’t die. Even if I didn’t kill, I didn’t die. And for me, that’s a pretty major win.

So my goal for the next several weeks: Just get out of the stupid car and walk through those doors. I promise myself I will not die. I should know, my brain has been telling me that for weeks and I’ve yet to experience a Final Destination-type end.

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.