You can tackle depression with comedy. They are an unusual combination, yes, but the humorous side of depression can show us that we need to move the discussion from being purely medical or pity-based to something more useful...
When this writer was diagnosed with depression, people either wanted to understand or support him. This sounds great, except he didn’t want to be treated like a patient or a lost puppy. He just wanted to do something that would help him feel anything.
The book Little White Helpers was written to show that depressed people are neither damaged nor dying; they’re just people. Depression is an illness, but that shouldn’t be the only way we talk about it. Everyone experiences it differently and there’s no one solution for everyone. We all want a simple cure, but each person has their own, unique journey.
Writer Rhys Knight’s own experience with mental illness involved being diagnosed with ‘severe depression’ when he was working in a corporate role. First, he wondered why the word ‘severe’ was necessary, then he thought how depressing the diagnosis was, then he burst out laughing—because depression was really depressing.
Little White Helpers has been a work in progress for three years, during which the author transformed his life completely and now writes full-time, skydives, has taken up motorcycling and lives, what he describes, to be a really weird life. The book is the story of Jack, a mostly fictional character whose depression diagnosis made him really depressed. As Jack antagonises his boss, does too many drugs and generally makes terrible life choices, he’ll discover that... nope, there’s no moral here. What’s more, in this edited extract, the writer shows us that this is not a self-help book for people who are looking for a solution to mental illness. It’s a dark comedy for adults so please don’t buy a copy for the kids.
Excerpt from the book:
Jack was depressed. At 28, his life seemed over, his girlfriend had broken up with him a few weeks previous and his dog got run over just last week; but yesterday, he had received the most depressing news of all. “I’m afraid,” the stern looking psychiatrist had said, “That you have depression.” “Bummer,” said Jack.
“Don’t let it get you down,” said the psychiatrist. Jack raised his eyebrow, not sure if he was making a joke. “There are things we can do,” said the psychiatrist. “Drug things?” asked Jack hopefully. “Drug things,” said the psychiatrist, nodding quite reassuringly.
Jack had thought that a drug-based solution to his crippling depression sounded good, much better than the alternative of learning to deal with his emotions. Then the psychiatrist had leaned back in his chair and looked over the top of his glasses at Jack and said in a grave tone, “Now Jack, we need to talk about side effects.”
“Side effects? What sort of side effects?”
“Nothing to worry about and nothing permanent. I’m going to put you on a drug called Nolav. It’s got a very high success rate, but it can cause headaches, nausea and intense paranoia.”
“I have to say, if you’re listing those in order of priority, you have it back to front.”
“Remember how we discussed using humour to deflect?” asked the psychiatrist.
“Now if you experience any of those symptoms, let me know, and we will move you to another drug.”
“If I have paranoia, isn’t there a chance I’ll just be paranoid when I think I have it?”
“Either way, you’d be right.”
Jack paused. “Oh yeah, quite right, carry on.” “But there are a couple of side effects that you are certain to experience. The first is yawning.”
“I yawn already.”
The psychiatrist rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Fine, excessive yawning.” “Did you know cheetahs yawn before they run to bring more oxygen into their body?”
“Fascinating. The other side effect is a significant delay in ejaculation during sexual activity.”
“Well, I just broke up with my girlfriend.”
“Alright, but when you’re masturbating just be aware of it because it may take longer.”
“I’ll be on my own, why would that be a problem?”
“You don’t want to take the skin off.”
“Right. Duly noted.”
The psychiatrist gave Jack a prescription and told him to take two white pills with his breakfast each morning.
“And then I’ll feel better?”
“Yes. Well eventually.”
“Why not now?”
“It takes a few weeks or so to kick in.”
This morning Jack had taken his pills with his breakfast and, as it was a Saturday, he plopped himself on the couch and watched television until late afternoon and reflected on his depressing life, happy in the knowledge that he’d be less depressed in a few weeks or so.
“How was the head doctor?” asked Sophie, sitting down beside him. Sophie had been Jack’s flatmate for three years. He told her everything, especially when he was drunk and emotional.
“I have depression.” Sophie knew that Jack needed caring and support and she rested her head gently on his shoulder.
“You wanna get f—ked up?”
Jack breathed in deeply and looked thoughtfully at the TV. “Yes. Yes, I do.” Sophie picked up a decorative frog from the coffee table and pulled the head off it and took a bag of weed and some papers from the hollow out of it.
“I love frogs,” said Jack.
“Clarence is my favourite frog,” said Sophie as she skilfully rolled a joint. “And that’s including Kermit.”
“He’s also a good friend,” said Jack.
“Why did we call him Clarence?”
“I can’t remember,” said Sophie, looking under the brown, stained couch cushions for a lighter. “We were probably very stoned; it sounds like a name that stoned people would come up with.”
“Yeah, sober people would have called him Greeny or Froggy or something that made sense.”
“Yeah, sure. Anyway, I think that I’m an ideal friend for a person with depression.”
In fact, Sophie was a disastrous friend for a person with depression. Having been abandoned by her parents and put into foster care at the age of four, she was then re-abandoned by her foster family at the age of 15 having set two consecutive houses on fire—once intentionally and once by accident. She had then been through a series of abusive relationships to keep a roof over her head and kept her out of the foster system. This had meant being something of a fugitive from the foster system until she turned 18, which in turn limited her ability to get a legal job.
Fortunately, Sophie wasn’t above giving blowjobs to strangers for money and so had always had a steady stream of income. She had met Jack in a bar and, in a first for Sophie, she had decided not to either f—k him or steal his money and they ended up moving in together. Jack had been trying to shag Sophie ever since, but as Sophie had never had a functional male friendship she rebuffed him, and as Jack had the attention span of a goldfish with attention deficit disorder, he never took it too personally.
“And what makes you such a good depression buddy?” asked Jack.
“Well, my natural optimism and cheery demeanour for one.”
Jack raised an eyebrow, went to speak and thought better of it.
“Also, I have access to many mind-altering substances that I assume are just as good as medicine.”
“I must admit I was somewhat sceptical, but I’m glad you’re here. And also your drugs.”
Half an hour later Sophie was leaning on Jack’s chest, and they were having one of their classic intellectual conversations. “I reckon five hundred bucks,” said Jack. “And you’d be able to? Even though it’s a guy?” asked Sophie.
“Yeah, but I wouldn’t look down so that it wouldn’t count.”
“It would totally count.”
“I beg to differ. How about you?”
“I couldn’t do it for any amount of money; I’d know it was a girl.”
“How? Just don’t look down, that’s the trick.”
“It wouldn’t work.”
“I’d notice that she knew what she was doing.”
“So what else did the doctor say?” asked Sophie, passing the joint to Jack.
“Take two pills with breakfast, and I’ll feel better in a few weeks.”
“Why a few weeks?”
“That’s what I said. Apparently, they’re slow-acting so that I don’t come down in a crashing heap when I forget to take them for a few days. They take a while to get into your system and then a while to get out again.”
“Oh, and he said that I have serious issues with my parents that I need to deal with.”
“I could have told you that.”
“And that I’ll last way longer when I’m having sex.”
“Why, does your jizz have depression too?”
“No, it’s a side effect of the pills. Wanna try it out?”
“No, the lasting way longer in bed thing.”
“Shit that reminds me, I have a date.”
Sophie looked at her watch. “He’ll be here in 20 minutes. Sorry, you’ll have to try the sex thing out by yourself.”