Viewing entries tagged
depression

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Feelings. Better Out Than In.

Far too often, most of us choke on our feelings. We feel tears welling up with that awful, aching lump in the throat, and we take several deep breaths, forcing the emotions back down where they can do all kinds of damage. They make us sick or depressed, give us physical pain and discomfort, sometimes with the weirdest symptoms that doctors simply cannot explain.

We fear being seen as weak. For some reason, our culture thinks a display of emotion means we're out of control. But there are only two occasions on which emotions can hurt us.

One is when we stuff them and do not acknowledge them. The other is when we make hasty decisions purely because of our feelings, without thinking them through, and end up hurting ourselves - or others - as the result of our poor choices.

But there is nothing wrong with having painful or difficult feelings, and there is nothing wrong with expressing them (appropriately). Having them makes us human. Expressing them helps to get rid of them and it connects us with others, many of whom will offer support and comfort, thereby strengthening our bonds with one another.

The best way to get rid of unwanted feelings is to immerse yourself in them. Take a little time and allow yourself to really feel every bit of whatever it is that hurts. If you want to cry, cry. Lots. Until you can't cry any more. You'll feel a whole lot better for it. If you're frightened, feel the fear. Ask for some hand-holding. And remind yourself that you are strong enough to get through anything.

Do whatever you need to do when bothersome feelings are standing in the way of you and your happiness, and let them out. Get it over and done - once and for all.

Think of it as housecleaning. Gathering all the rubbish and putting it out on the drive to be collected on trash day. If you keep digging, eventually you'll find less and less “stuff” that needs removing and turfing.

This doesn't mean it's a good thing to sit around and feel miserable every waking minute either. You must strike a balance. But certainly, choking back unhappy feelings is not any better for you than spending 24/7 whining about your miseries for days, weeks and months on end. Once the crying jag is behind you, take some time to look at the positives in your life. Set some goals and take a step or two (even if they're teeny) toward achieving them.

Just don't be afraid of your feelings. Allow them to be heard. You can't fix what you don't acknowledge, as the good Dr Phil says. Give your feelings a chance to speak up so you know just what's on your plate. Chances are, the more you do this, the quicker the issue will dissolve or will find a resolution in your heart.

You wouldn't let an infection fester below the surface or in your blood. You'd be off to the doc, figuring out how to fix it because you know that infections left untended can kill you. Well, negative emotions can do it, too. Quietly and insidiously by giving you cancer, heart disease or a million other ailments, or a little more overtly by making you say and do some very hurtful things to yourself and/or to others.

Expressing your emotions is the great equaliser. It makes you the same as everyone else. It levels the playing field. It shows your strength. It shows your vulnerability, your softness.

It helps people get to know you because they see just what affects you on a deep level, which then connects you with everyone else on the planet because really, we are all pretty much the same in many ways. We are unique in our personalities and in our perceptions of our life experiences, of course, but everyone hurts, everyone needs, everyone feels some version of the same emotions. How we do all of this and how we express these aspects of ourselves is what separates us from one another.

But we're really not so different in terms of our emotions. So go on. Stop hiding behind a wall that you think keeps you separate and sets you apart from everyone else. Because I can assure you, you're not fooling anyone. We know you hurt, too.

And we'll be here for you when you're brave enough to tell us about it.

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Graham Kay: A Professional Comedian's Inside Look at Stand-up Comedy

We've all heard about comedians who have suffered with deep depression and taken their own lives, such as Freddie Prinze, Richard Jeni, and the extraordinarily brilliant Robin Williams.

But is it essential to suffer such extreme torment in order to be funny? And just what does it take to be a successful comedian?

I chatted about this with professional stand-up comic, Graham Kay. "I think it starts when we're kids," he speculates. "It has to be somebody who's smart but has to deal with adversity...you deal with stress by using humour as a safety valve."

He hastens to add, "You don't have to be miserable to be funny. I write some of my best jokes when everything's going well and I'm happy. But you had to have been unhappy in the past, or gone through something in your formative years because that forms your personality."

As an amateur comedian, I can definitely relate to that. I grew up in a hostile, toxic environment, doing my best to be "a good girl" and was painfully shy.

Until I turned 13 and suddenly became the mouthy class clown.

It wasn't a decision; it just sort of happened. I guess something in me knew it was the best way to keep my crazy family secrets and to make sure no one could see my bottomless pit of pain and insecurity.

For decades, my life continued to spin out of control and eventually, I found my way to the comedy stage where I could poke fun at myself and my biggest challenges.

Kay, a multi-award-winning Canadian stand-up comic now living in L.A., notes another key ingredient to becoming a successful comedian. "You have to know what it is to be on the outside looking in. I think that's why Jewish people dominate comedy, and black people dominate, and why American comedy is dominated by Canadians. We can all speak the same language, but some of us are out of the club."

One aspect of the comedy scene that Kay finds frustrating, particularly in L.A., is that there are "...a lot of rules about how many white males you can have on your show." He estimates that 85% of comedians are white males so it can be tough for anyone in that category to get those coveted spots.

"Sometimes the rules are too strict," he remarks. "You're only allowed to have, like, one white male on a show with six people, and the rest are women and black guys - which I like, don't get me wrong. I would hate to see a show with all straight white guys. It would be boring; it's one perspective over and over again. But I just mean they're going too far the other way."

The result? "It's an interesting phase we're going through where they're pushing really hard to include people, and discriminating at the same time...[On the west coast] their mentality is very different from the east coast...I notice this about Vancouver. No one has black friends but they're so over-the-top worried about race problems, they won't hold a door open for an old white lady but they will for a 20-year-old black man just to prove to themselves and everyone around them that they're not racist.

"I think political correctness is good," he continues. "But I think it can morph into racism when you start treating another race differently than you treat your own race."

I've only dabbled in doing stand-up as an amateur but for decades have held onto a secret dream of doing it professionally. Aware that it takes a concerted effort and many years of hard work, I tell Kay that I figure I've missed that boat because I'm older than dirt (well, maybe not quite).

"In comedy, it doesn't matter how old you are," he replies. "There are lots of mature comedians. And it makes you better. You have more to talk about. You have more life experience. All the 20-year-old comics talk about their dicks. Who cares? You have actual things to talk about. You have five kids. You've dealt with teen pregnancy [and much more]. That's the shit people need to know about; people are going through it themselves. Misery loves company."

So what "misery" has Kay experienced to help shape his work and success as a comedian? "Nothing crazy," he smiles. "I had really good parents...I had learning disabilities that I didn't understand. I had really bad OCD [Obsessive Compulsive Disorder] that my parents didn't understand...I had an autistic brother...my only sibling. That's the major factor that shaped my personality...taking care of him, worrying about him all the time, being embarrassed a lot by him in public and learning how to deal with it."

Kay acknowledges, "The crippling OCD never goes away. When I'm tired, it'll creep up...it doesn't affect me day-to-day. For all intents and purposes, it's gone. But I know that if I don't keep an eye on it, it'll come back."

Kay has managed to keep this powerful anxiety disorder at bay without the use of drugs. "I have to use my brain to suppress it so I'm constantly tending to that. A little part of my brain energy every day is devoted to keeping my foot on its neck."

On-stage, Kay is witty, opinionated, and obviously tuned into what matters in life and in the world. He is quick, clever, deliciously sarcastic and brilliantly funny, yet it never feels like I'm listening to a well-crafted act. It's more like Graham just being Graham - the mark of a polished professional.

Off-stage, the unassuming Kay is quiet and kind, a true gentleman, his heart, compassion and humanity evident in both word and manner. "I love that I can...tell a joke...and I can make [people] see my light and make them laugh."

Yes, indeed. His radiant light is shining brightly and he is definitely making us laugh.

For more about Graham Kay, visit comedybythegraham.com

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How to Climb The Mountain That's Staring You in the Face

Have you been to hell and back a million times in your life? Have you felt like you were standing at the base of a mountain, your destination the other side of it, but not seen one bit of figurative climbing gear to be seen? - not one harness, not one descender, nope, not even one little crampon?

I know what it's like to look up at the top of that mountain. You feel like you'll never get there - but you know you have to do it; there's no turning back. So now what?

If it's too much to look up, turn your attention to the base of the mountain. You'll feel a little less pressured if you just focus on what you can achieve right now in this moment, and leave the rest to unfold as it will.

I know that sometimes when I've glanced up at that mountain top, I've felt immobilized. I've wanted to give up before I started. So I just grabbed onto the first bit of rock I could reach, picked up a foot and found a little step up. As long as I continued to do that, I made progress. Looking up was not an option. I could afford to look only at what was directly in front of me.

Whatever it is that you're facing, find the first rock that you can handle and take that small step. Leave the biggest, scariest rocks if you can, and get some of the smaller ones out of the way first.

Soon you will feel a bit of relief. Your anxiety will diminish; you will feel stronger. It will reinforce your belief that you must not, under any circumstances, look up, not just yet. To do so might be paralyzing. Forward movement and momentum are paramount. So just keeping grabbing for one small rock at a time, and don't look up.

Before long, you will feel ready to tackle the most challenging rocks. They might not put you at the top of the mountain right away, but you'll be well on your way to reaching it. You might even be able to look up after that. Because the beauty of it is, you'll also be able to look down and see how far you've come.