My name is Chonda Pierce. I am a comedian, and I am depressed. Sounds like the start of a great 12- step meeting, doesn’t it? But it is what I confess to thousands of people every night from a stage since falling into that dark pit and climbing back out. Since this is National Depression Awareness Month, I thought it was a good time for us to talk.
No doubt, with the passing of Robin Williams and the outward struggle with addictions of many stand-up comedians, you would think that all comics struggle with some sort of inner demon or mental illness. Only a few wade into the open waters and talk in very serious terms about this disease - especially not in the middle of a comedy concert! But it’s a story that resonates loud and clear with my crowd and somehow we wind up laughing…laughing in the dark!
Women make up 85 percent of my fans. And many of them are dealing with waking up every morning, dreading life, forcing themselves to push out of bed, struggling to make the simplest decisions, and relating to family and friends. And most of them are doing this in silence because they are afraid of what people would think and asking for help makes them seem weak. So every night I am on the road, telling funny stories and exposing the absurdities of life, and sharing my story so that the audience will know that they aren’t alone, that there is help for them, and there is no shame to have an illness that affects over 40 million Americans.
Before I go any further, I want to say I’m not an expert on depression. But I AM an expert on MY depression. And since I “came out” and talked openly about being depressed, more fans and friends have come out of the woodwork saying, “I know what you mean, I’ve been there” or “that’s where I am right now. How can I get help?”
Here’s the kicker. I am a comedian AND a born-again Christian. I grew up in an era when Christians were rarely considered funny and were most certainly never depressed. Believe me, those Christians depress me the most!
I was a hectic and busy working mom. I thought I was juggling that pretty well. I was traveling as a stand-up comedian for about fifteen years. But when you find yourself deeply depressed and you’re a stand-up comedian that can put a kink in your job.
Looking back, it seemed to start with just feeling gloomy - but then my head actually hurt, my shoulders ached. I thought I was coming down with the flu and I couldn’t eat. And then it went from that and anxiousness to just wanting to stay in the bed and dreading the start of another day. Then it would be almost noon before I really felt like climbing out of the bed and getting something done.
As it progressed, I stopped getting out of my pajamas and spending all day long in my room. The tipping point came when it became a detriment to my health. I actually verbalized to my family I did not want to be alive. And hours and hours and hours of sobbing and crying and then crying because you’re crying and then crying because you can’t remember what you’re crying about – and crying out to God so many times and feeling this vast distance between me and someone whom I had found a haven with, my Heavenly Father – God.
I sought counseling and was told it was a chemical thing. I needed medicine. I started down that merry-go-round. When one didn’t seem to work well or didn’t work fast enough, you feel so beaten up or hopeless. And I felt like maybe I wasn’t relying on God enough and maybe I should be listening to the Lord more and my doctor less. But with Christian counseling, a wonderful doctor, love and support of family, I made it through.
People ask me all the time, “Well, did God heal you?” I respond, “Yes, He healed me. He is still healing me and He will continue to heal me ‘till Heaven.” But between now and then, I’m taking my Effexor and holding my head up.
There was more to my recovery and dependence on God through my faith than can be dished out in a quick article. For now, know this: we who laugh – also cry. You are not alone. A documentary about this and more hits the theaters soon and I want to encourage you to step out of the darkness. Laugh with me and cry with me. I’ll meet you there with the popcorn.
Chonda Pierce is recognized by the Recording Industry Of America (RIAA) as the best-selling female comedian in history. The film about her life, Laughing In The Dark, is a Fathom theatrical one-night event on Tuesday, October 27 at 7:00pm (all time zones). ChondaMovie.com.