The link between comedians and depression is tragically ironic, but real; there are many in comedy, such as Robin Williams, Wayne Brady, Ellen DeGeneres, Conan O’Brien, and Jim Carrey, who have opened up about their offstage struggle with depression. Now, in a stirring essay published in Glamour, 44-year-old comedian Sarah Silverman has revealed the raw, real truth of what it’s like to live with depression on a daily basis.
Sarah has spoken about her depression before; in fact, a writer named Amy Koppelman heard Sarah talking about her experiences on The Howard Stern Show, and wanted her to be in a film based on her book called I Smile Back. When Sarah heard the news that she would be playing housewife Laney Brooks — who seems to have it all on the outside but actually is suffering from depression — she was incredibly fearful. “. . . I collapsed on the floor of my bathroom, shaking,” Sarah wrote in Glamour. “What had I done? I knew playing Laney Brooks would take me back to a very dark place.”
Sarah reveals she’s experienced episodes of depression ever since she was 13. In fact, she remembers the exact moment it started, the moment she walked off the bus from a “miserable” school camping trip. “You know how you can be fine one moment, and the next it’s, ‘Oh my God, I f—king have the flu!’? It was like that,” she explained. “Only this flu lasted for three years. My whole perspective changed. I went from being the class clown to not being able to see life in that casual way anymore.”
Sarah couldn’t hang out with her friends — in fact, she couldn’t even go to school for months. She suffered from debilitating panic attacks. “People use ‘panic attack’ very casually out here in Los Angeles, but I don’t think most of them really know what it is,” she wrote. “Every breath is labored. You are dying. You are going to die. It’s terrifying. And then when the attack is over, the depression is still there. Once, my stepdad asked me, ‘What does it feel like?’ And I said, ‘It feels like I’m desperately homesick, but I’m home.'”
She was prescribed large amounts of medication — at one point, she claims, 16 pills of Xanax every single day — until she saw a new psychiatrist who weaned her off of them. “I remember taking that last half pill at the high school water fountain and finally feeling like myself again,” she wrote. “And for the next six years I was myself again. I didn’t need medication; life was good!”
Her career started to take off; in her early 20s, she joined SNL. “The whole world was open to me,” she wrote. “But one night, sitting in my apartment watching 90210, something came over me again. Though it had been nine years, I knew the feeling immediately: depression. Panic. I’d thought it was gone forever, but it was back.”
Through medication, therapy and the support of friends she was able to overcome the setback. And ever since, she’s been living with her depression, and she deals with waves of it at times — times when she fears for her future, when she can’t even get herself out of bed in the morning. “The dark years and those ups and downs—chemical and otherwise—have always informed my work,” she explained. “I believe being a comedian is about exposing yourself, warts and all.”
Her darker times have also taught her an incredibly important lesson. “There’s one thing I know that I used to not know: It will pass,” she continued. “And it does. . . I’ve learned that keeping busy is a good thing for me. Like my mom always said, you just have to be brave enough to exist through it.”
“I wouldn’t wish depression on anyone,” she concluded. “But if you ever experience it, or are experiencing it right now, just know. . . The tough times, the days when you’re just a ball on the floor—they’ll pass. You’re playing the long game, and life is totally worth it.”
It’s so essential to keep this dialogue going, and the more we talk about our experiences, the more we can dispel the negative stigma surrounding mental health. Thank you, Sarah, for continuing the conversation about something so deeply personal. Read the full piece here.
(Image via I Smile Back/Search Engine Films)