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The Comedy of Tragedy

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No stranger to the blues, Peter Sherwood has earned the right to say that depression ain’t funny – except in retrospect

I may have discovered the ultimate oxymoron: a podcast series titled The Hilarious World of Depression. As a chronic sufferer, and an obsessive observer of human foolishness, I was intrigued. Not because depression is amusing. But it can take on a funny form when cherry-picked from a distance.

Looking back, I recall moments when I may well have been temporarily crazy – a danger to myself and the furniture. It never occurred to me that my behaviour nudged the outer stratosphere of normal. Or that the astronomical highs and lows I endured, that scoured the bottom of the Mariana Trench, were anything more than the mean reds.

As for the podcast, it wasn’t much fun, but it had some tips on survival. And suggestions for coping, such as listening to a couple of Beach Boys songs (co-founder Brian Wilson endured years of depression and drug addiction). I enjoyed the show; it was like Alcoholics Anonymous for the mentally ill.

The thing about depression is that unlike a comedy show there can be no laughing till it’s over. Like when I shambled into my doctor’s office at half my usual weight and crashed to the carpet, howling like a spoilt child. He was quick with his diagnosis: “Pete, old son, scientifically, medically…you’re screwed,” (he used a more colourful adjective). That’s pretty funny – 25 years later.

At one point the shrink prescribed a tranquiliser in addition to the other cocktail I was ingesting. It worked, I think. I slumped, unconscious, at a friend’s apartment about a minute after taking it. He said later he’d heard a thud in the spare room and rushed to find me comatose and bleeding on his Persian rug. Searching for an antiseptic for the wound, and finding none, he ruthlessly applied an expensive aftershave. Had I been awake the stinging pain would have returned me to unconsciousness. I woke with the sun in a room that smelt like a tanker of perfume had crashed into Prince Edward Flower Market.

Why am I telling you this? Men typically don’t mention it which is why many choose an early exit over depression’s abject misery. I write to let you know it’s OK to talk about it. If you imagine it’s mostly a ‘feminine emotional thing’ that can’t possibly be happening to a ‘real man,’ who can tough it out, you’re wrong. More wrong than lobotomies and bloodletting. You should also ignore all overtures to cheer up.

Dismiss as irrelevant the comparisons of everything that could be worse. And like thoughts and prayers, well-meaning sympathy will get you a cappuccino – if you just add HK$35.

The truth is no one can possibly know the terror you’re enduring, except yourself. If you’re depressed, stick your hand up and get help. Now, is there an upside to this terrible torment? Certainly. I learnt a million valuable lessons that would otherwise have passed me by. I gained some enlightenment, and wrote two books. But the price was heavy indeed.


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