Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Laugh When You’re Afraid

“If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go in sane,” sings Jimmy Buffett. “Time spent laughing is time spent with the gods,” says a Japanese proverb.

A sense of humor, for me, is by far the most useful weapon in my depression arsenal. Which is why Eric is panicked when I stop laughing, when my funny bone is split in 43 places.

For two nights in the psych ward, our group therapy session was to watch a comedy act by an actress (I forget her name, sorry … I was on too many sedatives to take notes) who pokes fun at depression and mood disorders, the way I try to do on Beyond Blue. Our psychiatric nurses were well aware of the studies showing that laughter can be a powerful tool for recovery and healing. In between meals and meds, they did their best to evoke a few chuckles from their patients.


Depressive Art Buchwald translated his pain into hilarious columns; Robin Williams uses the manic and depressive cycles of his bipolar disorder to produce comedic genius on and off screen. Many comedians throughout the ages have used their wit to persevere through severe depression.

In a “Parade” magazine profile, I learned a bit more about Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.”


stephen colbert2.jpg

The article starts with this line from Colbert: “I like damaged people. And I am certainly damaged.”

Like Buchwald and Williams, Colbert sought refuge from a painful childhood–when he was a young boy his two older brothers and his dad were killed when their commercial flight crashed–in making people laugh. “The beginning of my junior year, nobody knew me at school,” said Colbert. “A year later, I was voted Wittiest, and people were happy when I showed up at parties.”


Like many comedians, Colbert used his humor to process some of his inner turmoil. Eventually he began to lean on his faith as well, just as he and his mother had in the years following the plane crash. Colbert tells the story about a wintry day in Chicago, when he was walking down the street and a Gideon handed him a Bible. He flipped it open and read the Sermon on the Mount, the passage that I call the “chill out verse,” about the futility in worrying, in anxiety.

About the same time he was apprenticing with the comedy troupe Second City, when all of a sudden he burst into laughter while on-stage (and not on narcotics). He said this about that night, which is a wonderful, wonderful line: “Something burst that night, and I finally let go of the pretension of not wanting to be a fool.”


I love that so much because I can relate so well. For the longest time, I didn’t tell anyone about my depression, about the severity of my mood fluctuations, about wanting to die so much of the time. I took it all so seriously, as I was so scared by it all.

“My God, if anyone knew what went through my mind, they would think I’m a freak!” I thought. I became imprisoned by the task of “seeming normal,” by doing whatever I had to in order to fit in.

But then, like Colbert, that moment came …. in April of 2006, when I penned a short op-ed piece about how much I admired Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan for bowing out of Maryland’s gubernatorial race to treat his depression. I made fun of everything that I had done to try to get to sanity. What freedom I felt in finally articulating the truth and trying to laugh about some of it!


I’m not sure if some invisible spirit sprinkled me with fairy dust that day, but for the first time in my life, I truly didn’t care what anyone thought of me (probably because I had plummeted to a place where I was ready to take my own life … and as all person contemplating suicide know, you’re not exactly worried about what others think … you just want it to be over). To all of the uneducated folks out there (most of the US population), I might be a certified whackjob who should be embarrassed of her raw content. But that just doesn’t hold that much weight anymore. Yup. I’m damaged goods. But who isn’t? And who’s keeping track? (I don’t want to meet her.)

It all boils down to fear, and turning it into comedy, so that you can laugh instead of cry–which is how Colbert describes the lesson of the Sermon on the Mount:


Not living in fear is a great gift, because certainly these days we do it so much. And do you know what I like about comedy? You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time–of anything. If you’re laughing, I defy you to be afraid.

Click here to subscribe to Beyond Blue and click here to follow Therese on Twitter and click here to join Group Beyond Blue, a depression support group. Now stop clicking.

  • Elizabeth

    I am finally learning not to get so scared by and take my phobias so seriously. Now when I talk about them, it isn’t from a place of fear but a place of humor (most of the time).
    Reading Beyond Blue has certianly helped me make this transition.
    God Bless,

  • Betty Burger

    My God .. everyone should read this. I just felt the weight of a lot of B.S. lifted from my shoulders.I USED to be concerned by what others thought of me and just reading this article put SO much in perspective. Of course, I’ve always known ‘this.’ Just needed to have it put in writing to my understanding. Suddenly I feel really ‘whole.’ Thanks!!!

  • FlamingToilet

    What does this pop psychology have to do with religion? Isn’t this called “Belief Net”? Is Colbert your God?

  • Susie

    Thanks for this, yup, I’ve been trying SO hard to look normal while inside I’m freaking out! I knew a bit about Colbert. I haven’t gotten to the laughing point yet but I’m now going to try adding some comedy to my life, can’t hurt!

  • Jeanne

    Dear Therese,
    Oh, it’s so true. Laughter and humor help so much. After 8 long years of treatment resistant depression, I am on Symbyax and it is working. One of the ways I can tell is that I am cracking jokes again and laughing. It had gotten to the point with me that I couldn’t laugh at even the funniest stuff. My husband says he’s so glad to see me smiling and laughing again. I thank God for my blessing and pray for you and your family to be blessed. You are a blessing to so many!

  • Cissy

    Thank you! Just Thank you!

  • Sharon

    Wow! I never connected my humor with my depression. I have suffered with depression for the past 20 years, still consider suicide, have attempted it twice. Without thinking, I have always covered up how I was feeling with humor. I have been told I missed my calling as a stand up comic. If only people knew what was really going through my head! I am at somewhat of a stable place right now, but humor seems to be what gets me through some of the tough times (besides prayer…and lots of it). Thank you for all your wonderful posts. You put words to things I feel, so I don’t feel so alone in this craziness.

  • Donna

    I found if I watch America’s home video’s and funny animal video’s, I laugh out loud and feel so much better. I’ve been depressed for most of my life. I appreciate Beyond Blue. Look forward to reading it everyday. I believe this has saved my life.

  • Dorothy

    Thank you very much for we all need help of some kind in this crazy world we live in?

  • Gracelyn

    Sharon your right – Therese “You put words to things I feel, so I don’t feel so alone in this craziness”. Today’s blog makes perfect sense. I have been struggling so much over the past few years that sometimes I forget to laugh. And I am learning some valuable lessons.

  • SuzanneWA

    As my refrigerator magnet says – “Laughter is an intant vacation” (thank you, Milton Berle!). I am now pretty stable between my euphoric and low moods, and find that if I turn some hurtful thing into humor, it helps get over it. So…keep laughing, Therese, and thanks for a GREAT post today!!

  • SuzanneWA

    Oops, my bad…I meant to say – “Laughter is an INSTANT vacation.” Guess my proofreading skills went with the endoscopy and black-out I had this morning!!!

  • Jennifer

    This is exactly what I’ve been struggling with.
    Thank you.

  • Deborah

    Robin Williams is NOT bipolar. You can’t just assume things, and research bears this up on more than just the one URL attached.

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