May 18

“The Hilarious World of Depression” by John Moe

Public radio personality John Moe, who has a podcast called The Hilarious World of Depression, now has a memoir by the same name. Yes, he’s a funny person; yes, he’s been depressed most of his life. And that’s not all—his brother died by suicide; his father was alcoholic.

From the publisher:

Inspired by the immediate success of the podcast, Moe has written a remarkable investigation of the disease, part memoir of his own journey, part treasure trove of laugh-out-loud stories and insights drawn from years of interviews with some of the most brilliant minds facing similar challenges. Throughout the course of this powerful narrative, depression’s universal themes come to light, among them, struggles with identity, lack of understanding of the symptoms, the challenges of work-life, self-medicating, the fallout of the disease in the lives of our loved ones, the tragedy of suicide, and the hereditary aspects of the disease.

Moe likes being able to put mental health issues out in the open, easing stigma for “saddies” while also educating the “normies.” Melissa Broder, New York Times:

The Hilarious World of Depression…could be a particularly useful tool for those who grew up in homes where seeking therapy was seen as weakness, those who don’t have the language for mental illness, and particularly for men age 50 and older. If you’re looking for a Father’s Day book for a depressed dad who is aware of his condition but averse to seeking treatment, this is the one.

An illuminating excerpt from the review at Publishers Weekly:

Despite his suicidal ideation and his struggle to move past his guilt after his brother’s suicide, Moe’s story is not bleak. While he does not come out on the mythical other side, he learns—with the help of medication, dogs, listening to music, and therapy—to break the ‘habit of converting stress into bleak, goth-eyeliner-wearing despair.’ Such side-eye commentary separates Moe’s story from the ‘trite ’70s self-help’ he loathes, as does the inclusion of quotes from podcast guests Maria Bamford, Patton Oswalt, and others. Moe’s edifying, enjoyable take on the realities of living with depression will uplift any reader.

Selected quotes from Moe’s recent interview with Terry Gross, NPR:

I didn’t want to be taken away from my family. I didn’t want to get in trouble. I didn’t want to be institutionalized. So I thought, I better keep it a secret. But it was just this unsourced terror that I had….It led to a lot of kind of hyper-achieving mentality. I joined every activity at school. I was elected to class offices of vice president and president of my class. I tried to be the friendliest, most outgoing kid I could — thinking that that could be medicinal and counteract it.

A big thing I’ve been hearing [during the pandemic] is a fair number of depressed people doing miraculously OK through this, because we’ve been preparing for this for a long time.

Andy Richter was on our show and he’s compared his depression to a bad back. Like, you know, that it’s a thing that you have, and sometimes you’re feeling great, and then when it starts to flare up, then you need to take a hard look at it. You need to go back to your therapies and your treatments. You need to look at what’s the best way to address this flare up: Is that medication? Is it physical therapy (if it’s a bad back) or mental therapy (if it’s your mind)? So, things might go wrong, but you have a toolkit for dealing with it.

Nov 29

“Hi, Anxiety”: Kat Kinsman’s “Nerves”

The author comes to the realization that there is no one method that works for everyone, and many can’t manage the fear well, but that these emotions come from an illness and shouldn’t be a source of shame. Kinsman encourages those suffering from the malady to acknowledge what is happening so that they can get the support they deserve. Terry Lamperski, Carnegie Library, Pittsburgh, PA, regarding Kat Kinsman’s Hi, Anxiety

Writer and commentator Kat Kinsman has a new book called Hi, Anxiety: Life With a Bad Case of Nerves. From her publisher:

Taking us back to her adolescence, when she was diagnosed with depression at fourteen, Kat speaks eloquently with pathos and humor about her skin picking, hand flapping, ‘nervousness’ that made her the recipient of many a harsh taunt. With her mother also gripped by depression and health issues throughout her life, Kat came to live in a constant state of unease—that she would fail, that she would never find love . . . that she would end up just like her mother.

Kinsman’s public admission started in January of 2014 via a blog post (CNN.com) that’s full of compelling quotes. A sampling:

Anxiety and panic have been my constant companions for as far back as my memory reaches.

Anxiety hurts. It’s the precise inverse of joy and blots out pleasure at its whim, leaving a dull, faded outline of the happiness that was supposed to happen. It’s also as sneaky as hell.

If depression is, as Winston Churchill famously described, a “black dog” that follows the sufferer around, anxiety is a feral cat that springs from nowhere, sinks its claws into skin and hisses invective until nothing else exists.

Anxiety is not easily explicable or rational — at least not to those who don’t suffer from it — and that only compounds the problem. If it were something concrete — a fear of clowns, birds, cheese or the music of Michael Bublé — there would no doubt be a definitive course of attack involving immersion therapy and a really weird party.

For me, it’s physically painful, from stomach, head and muscle aches to exhaustion from chronic insomnia to raw thumb skin that I’ve picked at until it bled — and kept picking some more.

It’s senseless and hurtful to people I love, and that more than anything is why I’ve been trying to get better.

Behavioral therapy has perhaps been my most effective weapon, but when panic bolts down and pins me, shivering to my bed in the wee, small hours, it’s hard to summon semi-steady breath, let alone any mantras or creative visualizations.

Unfortunately, as Kinsman explains in Hi, Anxiety, certain common remedies haven’t been particularly helpful:

Anti-anxiety medications work beautifully for millions of people. The withdrawal from a particularly wicked one nearly ended me, and the brain zaps (those are sharp, horrifying electrical currents you can physically feel inside your head) and metabolic sluggishness increasingly outweighed any benefits while I was on it. Perhaps I will change my mind someday, but for now that’s not an option.
The gym can be useful, but it’s on the other side of that damned door. So are the much-vaunted yoga and meditation classes that inevitably make me feel as if I’ve failed for being insufficiently zen and relaxed.

While therapy has been good for her overall, she’s also had the misfortune of having to deal with the unexpected loss of her long-term therapist (due to the latter’s health crisis). As reported in the blog piece, however, Kinsman eventually did find someone else to see.