I just finished reading The Hilarious World of Depression by John Moe. Since I do not listen to NPR very much, opting to listen to jazz on SiriusXM radio instead, I had never heard of John Moe. I really found his book by accident by means of a search for books about depression on Libby through the Akron-Summit County Public Library. This was the first book that came up in the search.
John Moe is a long-time host of various shows on NPR, and the creator of the award-winning podcast, “The Hilarious World of Depression,” featuring discussions with well-known comedians about their struggles with clinical depression, hence the title of the book and the podcast. The book itself is a memoir describing Mr. Moe’s own lifelong struggles with clinical depression.
I was searching for books on depression, because I have also engaged in a lifelong battle with clinical depression, and “clinny D” as it is called was back with full force in January. I did find a lot in the book that I related to, and I was able to process a lot of the book in a poem. However, I must admit, I fail to see any humor in depression. I discussed this briefly with my current counselor, and she agreed.
I do not know exactly when I first became aware of my depression. One of the things that depressed people learn early on is to hide it. I am sure that my father also experienced bouts of depression, but he would vehemently deny it, just as he would deny that he suffered from migraines, which I also inherited from him. Depression is often viewed as a sign of weakness, and as Mr. Moe noted, “There is discrimination against people with mental illness and, yes, it can be a scary thing to talk about.” I remember an extended discussion with my former counselor about the concept of “showing up.” No matter how bad I felt or how many drugs I was on (at one time I was on three antidepressants at the same time), I always “showed up” for work or that social event, because that was what I was obligated to do.
Like Mr. Moe, I went through numerous counselors, and I really identified with his statement, “…all I ever took away from therapy was a somewhat clearer understanding of how messed up I was.” There never seemed to be any solutions, that is until I accidentally found on the Internet the counselor that truly saw through my exterior like she had Supergirl’s x-ray vision and immediately understood who I really was. She literally helped me answer that most basic of questions “Who am I?” and set me on the path of finally living as my authentic self after repressing my true gender identity for over sixty years. Then she just as quickly totally disappeared from my life, so even that solution was temporary. I have been with my current counselor for about a year now, and I feel like we are still just now starting to find our way, but maybe, just maybe, we have finally turned a corner.
The first year of my transition was the absolute best year of my life, but, of course, it did not last. I think there are three reasons for that, at least in my case, which Mr. Moe notes in his book. First, “Depression can’t be cured by positive life circumstances because depression is not a reaction to circumstances.” I may be on a high for a while based upon some success, perhaps the acceptance of a poetry submission, but it does not last long. I was raised by my father to be a perfectionist, and as Mr. Moe writes, “And we’re perfectionists…and because nothing can ever be perfect, we are perpetually frustrated and ashamed. So we think we need to try harder. And when that doesn’t fix anything, we despair.” Then there is the “imposter syndrome,” which is the feeling that any achievements are flukes and will be exposed as fraudulent. As Mr. Moe explains, “…the more accomplishments the saddie rings up, the better the chance the saddie will have imposter syndrome because they’re constantly striving and sharpening their skills in order to get ahead and throw the authorities off the trail.” This is a biggie for me, and I would venture to say for a lot of LGBTQ+ individuals. I am constantly wondering if my success as a poet is due to the fact that I am a transgender woman who writes poetry, or I am a truly talented poet.
I did find a slight bit of humor in the book and an insight into my fascination with bigfoot, ghosts, and other paranormal creatures. As Mr. Moe writes, “Bigfoot represented hope that there was more to the world than the life I was forced to live.”
The overall theme of Mr. Moe’s book and podcast is an extremely good one and one that I fully endorse and strive to further. We must bring the discussion about depression and mental illness out into the open so that more people can get the help that they need. This is particularly crucial for those of us in the LGBTQ+ community who all too often succumb to suicide. I have been on the edge of that abyss myself a couple of times in my life, but that is a story for another time. Suffice it to say that I was able to not let the depression overwhelm me.
Barbara Marie Minney is a transgender woman, poet, writer, speaker, and quiet activist. She is a retired attorney and originally from West Virginia. Now based in Tallmadge, Ohio, her first collection of poetry entitled “If There’s No Heaven” was the winner of the 2020 Poetry Is Life Book Award and the Akron Beacon Journal Best Northeast Ohio Books 2020. It is available at www.poetryislifepublishig.com. Follow her at www.barbaramarieminneypoetry.com.