I’ll tell you two things about my recent chronic obsession with podcasts: first of all, I am without fail at least three months behind on listening to new shows because there are too many of them downloaded on my phone and I don’t have the heart to delete them, because what if that one is an interesting one and then I miss it?
Secondly, over the past year, no voice has become more of a comfort to me than Peter Sagal. If you don’t know who that is, he’s the host of one of NPR’s most popular shows, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, a weekly hilarious news quiz (a popular NPR host is probably a contradiction in terms, I understand the irony). He’s unfailingly warm and witty, and to my mind, just a generally excellent human person.
In plowing through some of my oldest podcasts during a recent flight, I put on the first episode of The Hilarious World of Depression. I’d subscribed to it because, well, a) as established, I have a deep love of podcasts and not enough of them already, b) *cough, cough*… I deal with depression, and c) my beloved Peter Sagal was the first interviewee.
There’s this fairly common trope that often comedians are the people dealing with some of the darkest emotions. Robin Williams, Maria Bamford (who’s in episode #2!), etc. We often forget, as host John Moe points out, that these people suffer because outwardly, they make us laugh. They display boundless energy. I had never considered that Peter Sagal suffered from depression. I was really taken with this first episode in particular, because I resonated with so much of what Peter had to say.
For example, I too am an acclaimed NPR host – no, actually that’s a lie.
But in reality, like Peter, I’m a high-functioning sufferer of depression, which means I’m good at hiding it and going about my shit on a daily basis fairly well. I’ve never, until just recently, been open about it – and in fact, this blog is the first time I’ve ever written about it – because it felt (feels) like this shameful thing, this ugly weakness. Both Sagal and Moe discuss how this is the cunning of the disease: it wants you to feel alone. It thrives when you feel cut off. And though unlike Peter Sagal, I have never been through a traumatic divorce, I too have used Amy Poehler’s Parks and Recreation as therapy. (Also, Friends, 30 Rock, and the first eight seasons and last episode of The Office (season 9 was stressful. Let’s not get into it)).
Alongside Peter, John Moe is a wonderful and compassionate host. He begins the episode relating (so to speak) his ‘depression credentials’, his personal story, the paralyzing fear that I know pretty well that you’re just plain going crazy. He discusses the power of comedy that has drawn so many people (knowingly depressed or not). And how it wasn’t until adulthood that anyone bothered to explain to him that no, he wasn’t a weirdo, he was depressed. He also mentions how frightened he was to go public with his depression… and the in-pouring of support and comradery he received in return.
When I say that these two men, chatting openly about their mental illnesses, both seriously and in jest, made me feel less alone, don’t take it lightly.
I’ve heard all of the counseling stockpile statements about how many people secretly deal with depression, regardless of how unique and isolated and misunderstood I felt. I know the gist, I’m not the only one and I’m not alone. But how many of us really believe that when our brains our telling us the other 23 hours in a day that we are complete outsiders to real, neuro-typical society? I’ve worked hard to make it so other people don’t see me struggling. But I never assume that other people I encounter are fudging it just as much.
The day I listened to this was a week or two after one of my worst breakdowns in real recent history, a day where multiple weeks of pain had built up and I couldn’t figure out a single concrete reason that I was alive (other than to feed my cat, I kid you not), and had my first panic attack in months at my therapist’s office.
But then John Moe and Peter Sagal came on, and they told me everything was mostly going to be okay, and that they knew what I was struggling with, and suddenly I wasn’t alone and I was going to be okay, and I knew that with a clarity that I haven’t had in months. They made me feel seen. Understood.
So, if you’re struggling with mental health right now, I see you. I can count there’s at least four of us now. Go listen to John Moe say calming things. We can still be real, good people even with depression. Like Peter Sagal.
If you aren’t, you probably know people who are, and it’s a beautiful and moving and funny listen anyhow, so put it on and do whatever chore you’ve been putting off.
You can find The Hilarious World of Depression here: https://www.apmpodcasts.org/thwod/2016/12/peter-sagal-opens-up/
And then, once you feel all fuzzy inside, put on a Wait, Wait for good measure. Peter Sagal will appreciate it.