Let's All Laugh at How Depressed We Are for a Sec
The hilarious John Moe dissects my Trump desolation.
Image: Matthew Eisman / Getty
John Moe, the host of "The Hilarious World of Depression,"—a podcast featuring comedians of various ages and levels of fame, each discussing their respective battles with mental illness—says that depression has affected his own life since at least junior high school.
Moe's depression reappeared intermittently in high school and college when he studied acting, which "came in handy when [he] had to cover up what was really going on." It wasn't until his mid-thirties—when he had a family and a copywriting job at Amazon—that it manufactured more extreme, harrowing moments. He says incidents like road rage so intense that he likened them to out-of-body experiences,and even suicidal thoughts compelled him to finally consult a doctor, who diagnosed him with depression and prescribed him medication.
Since then, Moe has transitioned into a more fulfilling career as a public radio host. After establishing contacts with many comedians, who were frequently mentioning depression either during his broadcasts or pre-interviews, he came up with the concept for "The Hilarious World of Depression."
Its first season just wrapped, and the show has consistently hovered near the top of the iTunes charts since its launch in December. The podcast's structure is unique in that combines organic, funny moments from comedians somehow seamlessly embedded with gut-wrenching episodes from their respective pasts in dealing with depression. Guests included Dick Cavett, Andy Richter, Maria Bamford, Jen Kirkman and Paul F. Tompkins.
Moe took time out of planning his next season to discuss how the political rise of Donald Trump might be affecting depression sufferers—myself included—who personally feel wronged by the system, as well as crippling disappointment and a sense of dread about the future.
Since Trump got elected, a lot of people have been dealing with disappointment, then fear, and now there's so much information it's just overwhelming. What are your thoughts on having to deal with these emotions?
I think for people who are Trump opponents—going through that election, the aftermath and these first few weeks of the administration—there's that sense of helplessness in the face of larger forces, and it's like, "Welcome to the club, non-depressives!" That's how a lot of people who deal with depression feel, regardless of what is happening in the world. It's that same sense of, "I don't have a place in this place." I think that has been a lot for people to bear.
My brother killed himself as a result of depression. My wife found a therapist who specializes in family members dealing with suicide. He told me, "Don't try to get over it. Just walk through it." I've been able to apply that to so much. If it matters a lot to you—and for a lot of people the election does; the results could be what you wanted and it's still a seismic change—but, if it doesn't feel normal, don't try and make it feel normal. Don't try to go to war with your brain. This is the world now and you've got to keep going.
So it'll get better?
It'll get different. If the world doesn't implode—which in being a Generation-Xer and growing up under the shadow of nuclear weapons, I've always had this ongoing belief that the whole thing might blow up at any second—the only constant is change.
In terms of a shock to the norm of your system … the things that are among the most traumatic for people are things like moving or the changing of jobs; the disruption of routine can be very upsetting, even if you're moving to a better job or a better house. [The election is a] seismic upheaval, whether you're happy with it or not … and for depressives, it's like "Oh, shit, one more thing I have to adjust to, one more thing I have to cope with that is completely not of my doing." It can be rough.
For someone suffering with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses, what kind of impact does the fear of the unknown have on them?
This is purely anecdotal; I'm not a doctor—but from having gone through it and having people close to me go through it, it's terrifying to imagine it continuing indefinitely. I think that's the instinct that leads a lot of people to suicide. Even though they may still yet be in a position where they can intellectually parse out that if they die they won't feel any relief—because there won't be anything left of them to feel the relief – there's this sense of, "I can't go on like this, it's unendurable."
I think it was Baron Vaughn, who I had on my podcast, who said, "Anxiety is the fear of the future, and depression is the fear of the past." That's why they go so well together. They're the Hall and Oates of mental illness.
Part of what makes me feel overwhelmed sometimes is, because of social media, I see so many people protesting and taking action. This is a positive, but sometimes I wonder if I'm doing enough.
I look at something like Facebook or any of these other platforms and, people are in touch with each other and in a lot of ways that feels really good. But at the same time people tend to present a version of themselves that is not entirely realistic ... In day-to-day life you're just kind of stumbling through and social media can create a sense that everybody is smarter and more successful and just has their shit together much better.
Yeah, not everybody has these Winston Churchill quotes memorized. They've Googled them.
Right. We're all being negatively affected by this and perpetuating the problem, too. I don't want to put up a picture of my kids lying around and watching TV, or a video of me yelling at them to do their homework. Nobody wants to see that.
It can be a tough thing to reconcile, and when you see someone out there supporting a cause that you also support, it can make you feel like you're not doing enough, even when you're doing plenty.
Looking forward, I guess we just have to be strong, stay the course, live our own truth and just do the best we can, huh?
I would agree with you except for the 'being strong' part. You don't have to fuckin' be strong. It's okay to just watch TV, to go pet a dog. It's okay to just fuckin' collapse and weep and eat ice cream. Maybe, don't do that all the time, but I think if anyone takes on the responsibility of the president's administration as their own responsibility—positively or negatively—it's going to crush you. It's not designed for you to carry it. Occasionally, somebody who's really great at carrying it comes along. Abe Lincoln could carry it, but we're not Abe Lincoln.
And, by the way, Lincoln suffered from depression.
Lincoln suffered from depression and look where that got him. But I think the idea that we have to overcome this and be heroes is just a recipe for misery.
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