Repost: How Robin Williams helped me come out of the depression closet

It’s been about 18 months since I first decided to blog about my own struggles with depression, inspired by Robin Williams’ tragic suicide. Since then I’ve embarked on a journey to better understand how this insidious condition really works and which therapeutic approaches work best. I plan to share much of what I’ve learned about the science of mental health, but until then, here’s the original story to catch you up to speed.

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The unexpected death of Robin Williams got me thinking – once again – just how tragic depression really is.

It fills the heads of its victims with crippling despair, distorted thoughts of self-hate, even the most intelligent, seemingly (outwardly) fulfilled sufferers can’t ignore. Oftentimes it targets our society’s most sensible, talented, passionate creators and producers of society. And worst of all, it’s a tragically invisible disability many sufferers can’t talk about.

In the Facebook/Twitter/Instagram generation of faux happiness, we’re conditioned en mass not to talk about our bad days, because heaven forbid we be the party buzz-kill.

Well that’s too bad, because it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.

Yes, if you haven’t guessed it already, I very much suffer from bouts of depression likely fueled by bad genetics and a shitty childhood and a few poor life choices. And I want to get this off my chest if I’m going to understand and hopefully beat it.

Depression_diagram

First off, a tiny confession. I almost published a version of this blog post about a year ago, after the tragic overdose of Glee star Cory Monteith. Ostensibly this talent had the life: as the star of a popular show with a loving girlfriend and a hopeful future. But that’s the picture that’s always painted – especially when you have agents, managers and publicists operating the paintbrush.

But then of course I got cold feet. I can’t remember why. I probably got chicken-shit after my mood took an upswing. I certainly didn’t want to shatter the illusion people may have that I’m totally fun and confident, that I’m actually somewhere on the spectrum, bordering on the edge. Eek. Don’t invite that Negative Nancy to the party.

A year later the news of Robin Williams’ death arrived around the same time I’d sunk to an oppressive low of self-defeating thoughts. Then I watched a Ted Talk about the Power of Vulnerability by author and leading social worker Brené Brown. I slurped up her wholehearted Kool-aid until it finally dawned on me. If I truly wanted to beat this, I’d need to open up and be damn honest about even this kind deep, dark shit if I wanted to see positive change.

brene-brown

Brené Brown’s Power of Vulnerability in a Coles Notes nutshell

Maybe you’re thinking: Wow, how more self-centred and self-indulgent can a narcissist get? A celebrity figurehead dies tragically and somehow Bryce once again finds a way to relate it back to himself?

Here’s the thing, I routinely struggle with seemingly irrational bouts of negative thinking, and I very much work in the TV / film wheelhouse, a bumpy road of feast or famine where uncertain circumstances only trigger or exacerbate the symptoms. Maybe it’s just my hyperbolic nature, but their deaths struck a major chord.

I knew something might be up when I finally started to get my act together – and I’d still manage to downward spiral into crushing pits of despair. My first major TV doc Survival of the Fabulous gets green-lit, but that must be a fluke: it would end up failing, proving I’m just a shallow hack. I finally got into the Canada Film Centre’s TV Writing Program – the third time applying – but probably because of pity: or lack of quality applicants that time around. Even when I ostensibly attained my personal Holy Grail – an attractive, wholehearted guy who actually liked me back – I’d still second guess every moment with him: he doesn’t really like me, he’s just using me until something better comes alongWhen we inevitably end up breaking up, it fulfills the prophecy that I’m fundamentally unlovable, destined to be alone forever. These thoughts might seem like irrational melodrama, but they seem impossible to dismiss.

Recently an investigation of my family tree for my documentary revealed an alarming, interesting find. Multiple cases of depression and more horrifyingly suicide. My uncle jumped from a high rise about a decade ago when he was 36. Two great aunts killed themselves via rat poison and shotgun. Apparently another lumberjack actually felled a tree so it would intentionally crush him.

BS_SOTF_Family Tree_v8

It just so happens depression, alcoholism and drug addiction have reared their ugly heads all over both sides of my immediate family, so it’s certainly hereditary to some degree, so are my demons naturally going to grow up into all-consuming, suicidal Devils? I sometimes wonder if contemplating the contemplation of suicide even counts as suicide ideation. It’s true I probably am too much a drama queen to go out in a quiet fashion. I mean at the very least I’d want to recreate a kill sequence from my favorite Final Destination and make a trashy posthumous reality show out of it.

I used to think I’d dodged the addiction bullet. I’d never smoked a cigarette in my life. I didn’t start drinking until well into university and I’ve never used it to dull the pain. Maybe my family of felons and addicts acted as reverse role models – and saved me from a predestined path of self-destruction.

But let’s call a spade a spade. I may not be addicted to booze or blow, but I certainly do have an addiction for validation, which I’ve chronicled extensively on this blog – and will recap more in part two of this uber-fun depression series, where I try to get to the bottom of why people like us suffer from depression.

The Cycle of Validation

For the longest period of denial I tried to convince myself that I was in no way like the aforementioned Tortured Artists of the world. I don’t go on partying binge-fests that result in blackouts and shaving my head.

Some of my friends and family even know I have oscillating super-highs and depressive lows. But they think there’s no cause for concern because I’m really just an attention-seeking Drama Queen, too shallow to raise alarm bells. I’d even convinced myself and got really good at concealing my brooding darker side. If you only see me as a vain, vapid pre-law school Elle Woods, that’s because the more confident, more shallow and all-around funner Bryce is clearly more likeable than the real, tortured deal.

It turns out this is Comedy and Depression 101, as this fantastic article by David Wong about Robin Williams illuminates why funny people kill themselves. The seemingly obvious jist of it? Depressed people use jokes as shields to hide their abused souls.

I’m not crying for help with this post. In fact, I was going to keep all this to myself. Or maybe sugar coat it for a psychotherapist.

But I want to understand the nature and nurture of depression, figure out how it really manifests. Maybe even some of the readers out there – you know, all seven of them – would find it helpful to know just how common depression really is, and that it’s okay, in fact necessary, to be candid about it.

Once I better understand this depression business, I’ll formulate a strategic battle plan, so I can beat the crap out of it. I won’t pretend like this battle will be easy. It’s a bit terrifying that it’s 2014, and we still don’t know the answers. Doctors prescribe anti-depressants like they’re one-size-fits-all cure-alls and some psychiatrists believe we shouldn’t even be taking them. The stigma facing people with depression makes seeking professional help all the more challenging, not to mention the lack of access.

The future for depression might seem bleak, but I’ve decided I no longer want to be a debbie downer. I know seeking help is possible, because I’ve already started to do so. From what I’ve read so far, beating depression does work, with time. A whole lot of it, considering it’s more like a life-long war that will require a daily regimen of patience, willpower, and committment.  As somebody important once said, “I had to judge a tightie-whitey contest for Lamda Kappa Pi. Trust me, I can handle anything.”

It truly is a shame that Robin Williams and so many other talented artists like him never found their answer. But I will say thank you for giving me the courage to speak up.

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