Until last week, I’d never heard of actor and comedian Chris Gethard. I’ve never seen any of shows or watched his YouTube videos. Then our bloggy buddy Debbie pointed me to something he’d written. (The power of Twitter, again)
Gethard was asked on his blog if he’d ever felt suicidal, by someone who said they were ‘in a bad place recently’. He responded at great length, within minutes, and with great openness.
This is worth reading.
For Gethard – Anonymous asks: Gethard I know you’ve talked bout depression and anxiety issues before and if you don’t answer this cause it’s a complete downer i understand but I’m curious if you ever had suicidal thoughts. I admire you and your show and have just been in a really bad place lately. I used to see your show as the last thing I had to look forward to but I haven’t even been back for months and can’t even bring myself out the door to get there without panicking. I’d appreciate any advice really.
I just got this message and am going to answer it. Anonymous, this one is just for you, but since this came into our inbox anonymously I have to post it publicly. My apologies. I feel very unsure of if this is right to post this, but I want to help if I can. Anyone else can feel free to skip reading this one. – Geth
The first thing I need to say is don’t do it.
I repeat, whatever you are thinking about doing right now, I want to seriously implore you to not do it. I know you’re in a place where you’re scared and you’re confused and things seem like they aren’t going to get better, but I personally can promise you that things can and probably will change for the better. And the reason I can promise you this is that they got better for me.
You are feeling alone and I know first hand that in this mind state you feel like no one even wants to help or knows how. I know that feeling of reaching out to people and feeling them either ignore these feelings or demonstrate a complete inability to connect with any way that matters to you. I know how scary it is to need to connect with someone and to be unable to, I know how that makes you feel even crazier when you try to connect with someone and it doesn’t stick.
But I want you to know I saw your message about thirty seconds ago and I’m already writing this. I stopped everything else because even though you are anonymous to me, I want you to know that I care about you and your well being. I have a ton of shit to do. I was up way too late last night writing, and today I have all sorts of writing and show organizing to do. .. And then on top of THAT, outside of being busy, there’s a conversation with myself about if I’m opening the door to all sorts of issues by even answering this on a public blog, if it is my place to answer this at all.
But I am dropping all of those concerns right now. They can go on the back burner. And the reason that can all go on the back burner is that I want you to know that I care about you. I care about you very deeply, me personally, I care about you. And I don’t even know who you are…If it turns out that you’re already one of my best friends in the world, I care about you. If you’re someone I’ve literally never interacted with in any way before this, I care about you. You are a person and you’re in pain and that makes me care. That makes a lot of people care. I would stop on the street if I saw someone crying. I’d ask if they’re ok. Tons of people would…Because you deserve that kindness.
So please, the only thing I ask in return for me giving you this time is that you don’t do it. That you take a breath and maybe at some point today take a walk and breathe some fresh air and try to clear your head and that you not do it, not today. I’ll give you my time and attention and thoughts and energy, and the only thing I’m asking in return is that you recognize that this is someone caring and that you do your best to let that get through. Ok? Deal? Honestly, if I had your email address I’d write to you there, but you came in anonymous and this is my only option, but I’m not talking to anyone else right now, I’m talking to you. It’s me and you and I consider this a personal one on one interaction and I want to make that deal with you – you reached out for help and I want to give you my time and do my best to offer up that help – and in return, I just want you to do your best to relax a little bit and not take any action that I promise you will regret and will make so many people so, so heartbroken.
People love you. I know they do. And you know that too. …There are other people out there like you – I’m one of them. We feel so much love when we feel it, but the trade off is we feel pain just as big. And love can often sting if it’s not requited, while pain only needs you as a receptor. I get it. I know what it feels like to feel emotions in a way that you know is much bigger than most people feel them. But this pain will pass, and it will be replaced by an equal and to be honest probably even bigger feeling of joy and love. At some point those feelings will come along and wash over you as much as the pain you’re feeling right now, and I just want to beg you to push through this painful stretch, because to someday feel love and joy as big as the pain you’re feeling in this moment will be SO, SO worth it.
To answer your question directly – yes, I have had suicidal thoughts in my life. You are not alone.
I first remember having them around eighth grade. And then, during my freshman year of high school…Things got REALLY bad for me in college and I went through a few stretches where I was very much having suicidal thoughts. I had been depressed all through high school and college, and look back and realize I had a few panic attacks in high school and had absolutely no idea what they were. But in college they got really frequent and really bad and I remember by my senior year they were out of control. I remember having a panic attack that came on so suddenly and so severely that I collapsed to the floor on the spot. I was alone in my bedroom and just fell to the ground, unable to breathe, my face going pins and needles, feeling heat spread over my entire body. I had constant stretches where I would be totally manic and where I felt like I was so out of control that I was listening to my own thoughts instead of thinking them myself. I tried to talk to a few people about it and no one really seemed to understand what I was going through, they thought that I was being melodramatic.
And I’ll tell you – there was one day where I just broke. I couldn’t handle that being how I lived anymore. I sat in my room in total darkness playing a keyboard for hours. Just so you know, I don’t know how to play a keyboard. I was just fucking jamming out in the dark by myself. Again, I think back to that and remember that I was really fucked up and out of control, but it does make me laugh so, so hard. Just 21 year old Gethard, feeling those blues, sitting in the dark in his room playing a Casio like a madman all night long. It is sort of hilarious to think about now.
But the part that’s not hilarious is that leading up to that things had gotten really dark for me and suicide was seeming like a good idea… And on that keyboard night, after a few hours of just slamming keys and really expressing my pain through untrained electronic musical expression, I took out the knife and dragged it across the underside of left forearm. I wasn’t pushing very hard, but when I got back towards my elbow I pushed hard enough to break the skin, and then dragged the knife down fair enough that there was about a three inch cut. It wasn’t deep – more of a scratch then a cut – but for the first time I’d actually taken action that lead to pain. I knew that I was physically capable of cutting my wrists.
Maybe 90 seconds after that cut, one of my roommates, Tarik, opened the door to my room and was like “Yo, the keyboard is driving us all fucking insane.” But then he stopped because he saw that I was sitting in total darkness and even though I couldn’t see him yet I could feel that he was concerned. And he turned on the light and he looked at me and the first thing he said was “How did you get that cut?” And I was real cracked out and I’m sure he could see that all over my face and I lied and said I got it at work and bumped it against something and re-opened it.
And he did NOT believe me. He didn’t bring it up again, but he sat down in my room and we shot the shit and a little while into that conversation I realized he was looking out for me. And he didn’t bring up my feelings directly, but that’s because we were both 21 year old kids and he didn’t know how. But he stayed with me until I was laughing and it was clear I was feeling better and he helped get me through a night that he rightfully suspected was almost much worse than it was.
I had another friend like that too, my sophomore year…Jeff and I are still really close. And you should know, Jeff is the best, but he’s also a huge ball buster and hilarious. And a few years ago in a rare moment of vulnerability, I said something like “Jeff, just so you know, you used to let me sit in your room overnight and I honestly think there were a couple nights where you saved my life.” And he looked at me and said “I know,” and then we went back to making fun of each other and talking about The Knicks.
So to answer your question very bluntly and with no small amount of fear regarding sharing all these stories in public – YES, I have had suicidal thoughts. I have gone too far with them and at least in that way, I know how you are feeling.
I’m not speaking in generalities or hypotheticals when I tell you – I’ve been where you’ve been, and things will get better. And I won’t bullshit you – they’ll get better for a while, then worse again, then better again, etc. But in my experience at least, the longer time goes on, the longer the stretches of the better times get and the shorter the stretches of worse. You learn how to live with what you’re feeling now and you’ll learn how to make those feelings a source of strength in the long run.
I don’t think back on the pain. I don’t think back about how lonely I felt. I don’t think back and give any thought or validity to how much I felt in those times that circumstances would never change. All of that proved untrue.
But like all aspects of life, I think back and remember… the POSITIVE parts. The funny parts. The ridiculous parts… I can look back at the absolute darkest things and the only reaction I have to them is to laugh at the funny specifics that surrounded them. Even those bring joy.
There’s happiness and love and life all around you. Right now you can’t see it… Looking back I realize that the problems and dark times were small when compared to the absolute grand beauty and joys of so many experiences I’ve had since.
You are strong. You are brave. You are beautiful. You are loved. And you have so many experiences ahead of you. There will be more hard experiences ahead of you, but there will also be so many shockingly beautiful ones.
The first time you do something is the hardest time. When I first went to therapy I felt completely defeated and shitty. When I first went on medication, I felt weak, like I should have been able to handle my bullshit myself, I was defeated. There were all sorts of weird side effects then – medications have gotten so much better. It felt like such a valley, such a moment of defeat…
Well, within two years of going on medication, I found myself driving cross country for the first time. This was 2004. I’ve gone cross country five times since then, it’s just about my favorite thing, driving around this country.
And that first time, there was this stretch. I’m pretty sure it was in New Mexico…And this train rolled by. This big gigantic freight train. And I don’t know how to explain it except to say that the timing of how things worked out meant that for about an hour or two, me and this train were doing this weird dance. I didn’t see any other cars the whole time. I was just along this train in the middle of this vast desert on one side and all this prairie grass type stuff on the other. Then the train would dip in one direction and I’d lose sight of it, then 15 minutes later the highway would bend and the train would come back into view way out on the horizon, then the train would come back towards the highway and I’d see it from a new angle, then the highway would go up on a bridge and the train would duck under it and I’d think that would be it, but then the tracks would curve and the train was on the other side of me and I was seeing it from a whole new angle. That went on for like I said, between an hour or two. My buddy asleep, no other cars, just me and this insane landscape I’d never seen while growing up in the northeast, and this giant freight train that was just weaving around me on different sides of the highway.
I don’t think there’s anyway to make it sound impressive in writing eight years later. I’m not a good enough writer for that. So I’ll just say that I was very aware while this was happening that it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I’d never been more at peace than I was while driving in total isolation, this really good friend of mine sleeping soundly next to me, nature unfolding before me, I was just a small dot of a car somewhere in this vast giant part of America, with no one I knew worried about me, with no anxiety or fear or depression on my mind, there was just me and the sky and the desert and this train. I wanted to cry, not even because I was happy, but because I was so much at peace.
Dude, it was less than two years before that when I crashed a car and immediately realized that I at least partially allowed it to happen in the hopes that I would die. Less than two years. That’s how long it took for me to go from one of the darkest incidents I’ve ever had to something so overwhelmingly beautiful that I know there is no way to describe it to anyone in a way that captures how it made me feel, and how that means that even more than it already was it will be an incident that existed in time only for me, and that because it is something I will never figure out how to capture in words or writing or feeling, it will always remain only mine, and that somehow makes it even more beautiful.
Those experiences are waiting for you. There are things you will see. There are people you will meet. There are experiences you will have. They will blow you out of the water. You will find incidents that make you want to pull your car over to the side of the highway so you can cry about how at peace you feel, but you can’t do it because then the train will pass you by and the euphoria of that experience will end before it has to. And I won’t lie – I’m not a motivational speaker, I’m just a very average person you asked for help and I’m not going to sugar coat anything – you’ll have more heartbreaks, you’ll have more crushing blows, and yes, you will have more incidents where you feel that all hope is gone…
I really can’t implore you enough to go get professional help. There’s no shame in it. And if you’re reaching out to a comedian no one has even heard of anonymously over Tumblr, you are smart and brave enough to know you need help…
There are people who can help. Please, find someone you trust and allow them to help you…You need help right now. You asked me for it anonymously on tumblr… But you reached out for help to me – you can reach out for help to other people. You’ve broken the seal on looking for help. Find a doctor. Call a hotline. Go to an emergency room. Please, don’t wait. Go now. Walk out of work. If you’re not at work, go tell a family member they should drive you to the hospital. If you don’t want to tell them you think you’re going fucking nuts, tell them you’re having an asthma attack, then tell the doctor the real truth once you get there. Just go get help. You are strong and you are brave. Be strong and brave enough to go get help.
And please. Always remember that beautiful experiences and massive amounts of love are on their way. If you are able to feel pain and sadness this profoundly, more than most people can ever imagine, remind yourself that you can feel happiness and joy and love this profoundly as well, and that’s our little reward as depressed people. We feel things harder than other people do, and when those things are negative they are complete and total torture. But while we feel pain harder than other people have to, we feel beauty and joy and love harder than anyone else gets to, and that’s the victory that’s waiting on the other side of this pain for you. Hang on. Be tough. Better times are coming. Beautiful things and loving people are already out there, and when this cloud passes you get to experience them all so, so deeply.
Please know that you are loved. Please know that there’s help. It’s right there, right now for you. It is as close as your phone. Call a hotline. Go to a hospital. Don’t wait. Don’t feel stupid. Don’t feel defeated. Most of all, don’t think you can shoulder this on your own. Take action right now and help yourself.
Don’t do it.
I got your back.
Very sincere love to you,