“I’m sick of it.” Lou Reed might sing. “I’m sick of you.”
That’s the way I feel about depression and suicide. I’m sick of you, sick of it. Flat out disgusted by the lives it ruins, the will it crushes in man. This disease, this curator of zombies, is an elusive coward that can’t just be cut out of your belly or lungs. Instead, we must wine it, dine it, spoil it with pills and pray that it will be numbed into submission before some level of peace is gifted.
When Chris Cornell of the band Soundgarden took his life last week in a hotel bathroom in Detroit, I felt sick. The image of the famed singer lying dead on a bathroom floor isn’t what turns my guts. Thinking about the days and years and hours that led up to his decision to let go for good, well, that’s what sickened me. No person should suffer such anguish.
So, I reached out to my friend Ryan Bourassa, a really funny comedian from Manchester that performs in Las Vegas and California these days. Ryan makes no bones about his own battle with depression.
Soundcheck fired off some questions to Bourassa in hopes he could shed some light on this loveless disease.
1. As best you can describe, what does a heavy bout of depression physically and mentally feel like?
It’s exhausting. For me, a single negative thought can throw me into days, sometimes weeks of depression. I’ve spent a lot of time in bed, feeling like there’s no other option. My issues revolve around Borderline Personality Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder, which means my default setting is always a low mood. I have a lot of difficulty regulating my emotions, which can result in a lot of “crying for no reason” which is like an unpleasant workout for your body and mind.
2. Can you ever really predict when one of these severe episodes will occur? Is it seasonal? A certain time of the month? Lack of movement?
I’ll find myself feeling off on gray days. It’s hard for even me to believe that the weather can affect your mood, but I’ve felt it enough times to be able to confirm that “seasonal depression” is a real thing. I can also tell you that sunshine makes a world of difference, even if you don’t exactly notice. Moving from New Hampshire to Nevada and skipping winter entirely has probably added a couple years to my life.
3. Explain, please, to the readers, how being onstage and making people laugh as a comediain helps or instigates a depressive state in you.
As a comedian you are obviously trying to get the audience to laugh as much as possible. When that happens, I promise you, there isn’t a better feeling in the world. It’s a drug. You will want more laughs the second you get off stage. A good night will leave you feeling high. With that comes the desire to keep the high going (hence why a lot of comics party and use drugs and alcohol). The last thing a comedian wants to do is go home after a great night and that’s where you can really get low. Bombing on stage is a whole other monster. I’ve seen comics destroy on stage and behave as if it didn’t matter. They are too in their head trying to find the next high.
4. What can someone who knows nothing about this crisis do for someone who suffers a disease? Talk more? Less? Or just be there for them?
Listen! Just listen. Be there and be present in the moment. Some people will want to talk, some people are too afraid to talk. You just have to try to understand that depression and mental illness isn’t who that person is, it’s what they are going through. Let people know that you are have open ears and an open heart. You could save someone’s life.
5. Do you find that medications work with your own battles? I know that you’re an advocate for marijuana and it’s benefits. Have you found that cannabis helps with depression?
I’ve only recently started taking anti-depressants again. It’s the first time in over three years. It’s too early for me to confirm if they work or not. So far they just make me sleepy. I swear by marijuana. I believe it saved my life. It’s important to find a balance. Weed isn’t the solution to everything and it certainly isn’t for everyone. You have to have perspective and understand that it could potentially make your anxiety and paranoia much worse. I have my medical marijuana card and it’s been a fantastic alternative for years but sometimes the brain needs a little chemical intervention.
6. When you hear people say that suicide is a cowardly, selfish act, is there another perspective you could offer to the ignorant? What is it they just don’t understand about the severity of the illness?
Honestly, I avoid those people entirely. You have to be pretty diplomatic in stand-up. You are going to work with a lot of good people but also a lot of backwards types who thrive on being mean and ignorant. I’ve bitten my lip to silence myself many times, especially when celebrities kill themselves. When Chris Cornell killed himself, there was a torrent of dumb, pointless and insensitive jokes being thrown around. It breaks my heart. I avoid confrontation as much as humanly possible but it might not be an option soon enough. My patience is nearly on empty but some people, comedians especially, are beyond help when it comes to mental health education and behaving like a human being.
7. Lastly, I have a lot of respect for you coming forward and speaking about this. Any final thoughts or advice you could give someone in the throws of depression and haven’t figured it out yet, Ryan?
It might seem hard but PLEASE talk to someone, anyone if you are feeling depressed. Seeking professional help is tedious and might not feel beneficial immediately but getting your thoughts out to another person can really make a difference. You shouldn’t be alone with all these negative thoughts in your head, it will only make things worse in the long run. Talk to someone. If you don’t have anyone in your personal life, find a local mental health center and make them work for you. There are many government programs you can enlist in if money is a concern. I’ve never paid a dime for four years of therapy and medication. Make sure you find a therapist that works for you. For example, I’ve always felt more comfortable speaking to women. You won’t hurt anyone’s feelings if they aren’t a good fit for you. If you are at the lowest point in your life, just talk to someone. Call the suicide hotline! I used to have them on speed dial! They are wonderful people who volunteer their time to helping people in need and can provide you with many resources you might not have otherwise considered.
How to find help
If you or someone who know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available at the following places:
N.H. Hotlines: Headrest Teenline at 1-800-639-6095 (24-hour line) or Headrest at 1-800-639-6095 (24-hour line)
National Hotlines: Friends for Survival at 1-800-646-7322 (noon-10 p.m. ), The Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386 for LGBTQ Youth or the Military Hotline at 1-800-959-8277
Rob Azevedo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org