Coming Out of a Depressive Episode

Today, for the first time in two weeks, I don’t feel oppressed by an undefinable, but still very powerful force. That force is Depression. I’ve had it – as far as I can tell – my whole life. Didn’t start dealing with it until I was 18. Didn’t make palpable steps toward battling it until the last two years.

So, why am I excited to write about it?

Because I can see my demonstrable progress and it’s awesome.

Duration: Two weeks sounds like a long time to be depressed and frankly it is a long time. But so far in 2017 this has been my longest stint of depression and I used to have 3-6 months at a time. If two weeks is my new definition of ‘long’ then I’m killing it!

Productivity: A huge part of how depression affects me involves my productivity. I remember going days without doing much of anything – sometimes that included showering. Depression fights me tooth and nail to stop doing anything other than Facebooking or Netflixing. These last two weeks I have gotten a decent amount of stuff done. And I know that because I track everything now.

Whether it’s health (eating & exercising), work (teaching, writing) or leisure (time with girlfriend, friends, movies) I have lists and charts that I keep daily. And I can look back at the last two weeks and see that my workouts and eating dipped a bit, but overall were still pretty good. I spent a lot of time with amazing friends, and I still managed to accomplish a number of work related tasks.

Coming Out of It: It’s always a weird eye opening experience to come out of a depressive episode. I don’t know if others experience it the same way or not, but for me it’s almost like I’ve been wearing a heavy blanket over my head. And today for whatever reason, the blanket is gone. I can stretch and look up and experience things more richly again.

The trouble is that in the past I would shed this metaphorical blanket and then realize that the last two weeks (or however long) was a depressive episode. And then I would remember that I’ve accomplished next to nothing in that time. I would look at everything on my to do list and understand that I am way behind on all of it. This would overwhelm me often shoot me back into depression.

If you ever feel depressed or anxious, you need to believe that it can get better. It takes a lot of work and the process will feel excruciatingly slow, but you can do it. And even though I will likely never be completely cured of depression I can make it happen less frequently and less intensely.

Thanks, y’all!

 

Advertisements

How I Plan to Accomplish A Huge Project: Race to Failure

A few months ago I decided that 2017 would be the year I confidently added ‘TV Writer’ to my resume. Not saying I’ll necessarily get hired to write for a TV show this year (but wouldn’t that be cool?), but rather I will be confident in my skills to do so.

How was I planning to do this? A stupidly ambitious/stressful endeavor called: Project 12 Pilots. I didn’t feel the need to be creative with the project title. Saving my creativity for the project itself. It’s pretty self explanatory. By the end of 2017 I want to have twelve different original pilot scripts in my hands. One per month…crazy, right?

Why am I doing this? I have many artistic talents I could focus my energy/effort into. So, why writing? And why television?

I currently perform and teach improv as my meager living. I’m great at both. Love ’em. And I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Even if I made it crazy big and became a revered and famous name I would still make time to perform and teach improv. But I don’t want to stake my financial future on teaching or performing. They simply don’t pay that well.

I used to perform stand up for ten years. I loved it. But the life of a stand up is often filled with a lot of solo travel between low grade motels. And I just don’t want to do that.

I am an actor and have built up my resume over the years. If I pushed it hard enough I could probably gain some more traction as such. And while I’m still going to audition and act, I do not want to focus the majority of my energy on that.

I have always loved writing. I was a writer/artist before I was anything else. Some of my happiest memories are of me alone in my bedroom in Texas on a cool spring afternoon with the window open so I could feel the breeze, lying front side down while doodling/writing in one of the many sketch books my mom had bought me. I drew and wrote about characters and stories. I created comic books, short stories, songs, info pages and portraits on those beautiful blank pages.

Most of what I did as a young age, was super derivative of existing works. For example, I wrote 4 or 5 issues of a comic book called ‘Teenage War Raccoons’ which were raccoon versions of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They had different weapons and names, but otherwise it was pretty much the same. They’re enemy’s name was ‘Dicer.’ Damn, I was clever.

Other than stand up, sketch and occasional prose I went for years without writing. I focused on performing. And I got good. I have a resume I’m super proud of as a performer. I’ve worked for Second City, Mission Improvable, ComedySportz, Comedy Shrine, the iO and many other places. My two man troupe Rollin’ In Riches has performed in eight states and been asked to teach workshops in multiple cities and festivals. I am currently a member of Mission Improvable who routinely plays to sold out houses every Friday and Saturday night in Santa Monica. I love what all I’ve accomplished as a performer.

And now I want another challenge. I want to reinvent myself with something that I have been since I was a child.

By the way, writing this blog post is insanely difficult for me. I apologize if I come off as bragging. My whole life I have been turned off by braggarts while simultaneously always feeling insecure about my accomplishments. And for the first time I’m completely secure in saying that I’m good at something. It still feels weird to say, but I realize that ‘bragging’ comes from insecurity. While knowing you’re good at something comes from self confidence – a trait I have worked hard to build up, because I never had any my whole life.

Anyway, back to the project. Why television and not movies or plays or novels? A few reasons.

1. Time invested. I have experienced more television than theatre, cinema or novels. I love them all, but at the end of the day, I have logged more hours experiencing it.

2. Time v. Output. I don’t currently have the patience to write a novel. I finished the rough draft of one last year and I understand how much time it’s going to take me to revise it several times before I have a finished product. I want to have something I can label ‘finished’ sooner than the next year. Same goes for plays or screenplays. It simply doesn’t take as long to finish a pilot, because it’s shorter. If I modified this project I bet I could only finish 1 novel, 2 or 3 screenplays, or 2 or 3 plays by the end of this year at best. I’d rather have 12 pilots.

So, why twelve?

I had already written one pilot before. It took me about eight weeks, but I wasn’t super focused. I am assuming I can knock one out per month and have the endurance to keep that up for a year.

Will this work?

Yes. Either I’ll make twelve scripts or I won’t. If I don’t, I’ll have learned a lot from the experience. If I do, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment.

And that’s the crucial point for this post. I am okay with failing at this. It’s the only way I can embark on this ridiculous commitment. If It was ‘succeed or die’ I’d feel too much pressure and just quit before I started.

I am racing to failure. I write something like ‘work on your outline today (dare to make it super shitty)’ on my to do lists. Again, it’s the only way I can do them. If every outline, draft, joke had to be awesome I would be paralyzed with overthinking each move and I wouldn’t get it done. And I’d quit.

I am trying to anticipate what will cause me to not finish this project and fix the problem before it starts. While there are many other things I’m doing, the most important is the mantra ‘dare to fail.’ It’s what I tell my improv students. And it’s easier for me to say. I have been doing improv for 18 years. So, now I’m putting it to practice with something that truly scares me.

At the end of the year I aim to have twelve pilots. They might all suck. But will I have lost much? I will either get better as I do it or I’ll learn that I can’t get better and abandon the idea. Sounds like I win either way. And either way, I will be able to completely back up the statement, “I am a TV writer.”

Thanks, y’all!

 

Anxiety & Crowds: My Kryptonite

Tonight a friend of mine had a birthday party at a bar I’d never heard of. I had a class til 10, so I zipped over there at 10:30 to stop by for a bit. I get to the bar and find that it is a small space filled to the brim with people – typical of L.A.

I circled the bar the best I could, but couldn’t find her. Maybe I happen to arrive when she was in the restroom or something. But I discovered something about myself in that brief two minutes…my stress level skyrocketed.

This is not news to me, per say. I am 35 and have been in many crowded loud bars. But this was the first time that I ever stopped to take notice of exactly what I was feeling. My anxiety went into overdrive. I felt shaky, nervous and on edge. So…I left.

I never saw my friend, but I couldn’t take it. I didn’t want to be there.

I will send her an email apologizing for missing her party after saying that I would be there. And I genuinely am sorry for not making it. But I realized tonight that I need to take care of myself.

I am easily prone to stress, depression and anxiety anyway. I simply cannot keep voluntarily putting myself in situations that exacerbate those problems.

Crowds have always been unpleasant to be around. A few months ago, I went to a karaoke bar in the valley with three people and we were the only non-employees there. We stayed about two hours. By the time we left more people had arrived, but the total was only ten or twelve max. And I had an amazing time. I sang six times. I never bumped into anyone. I didn’t have to raise my voice to speak to the person next to me, or dip my ear to hear them.

Now, that particular situation is rare, especially in Los Angeles. So, I know I cannot expect to find that too often. Which unfortunately means that I’m not going to be frequenting too many bars.

During the two minutes I was circling this bar tonight searching for my friend I noticed that everyone there seemed to be having a good time. People were dancing, talking and laughing. And I realized that I have no idea how they do it. I don’t know what’s fun about any of that. And that’s okay. Many of those people might not understand what I find so fun about playing a game of RISK with five people for three hours. Different strokes and what not.

If you were at my last two birthday parties you might wonder how I could have had fun since they happened at a bar that got pretty crowded too. Here’s how: 1. the bar I went to was much larger 2. There was an outdoor area and apparently that makes a difference 3. It wasn’t crowded when I first got there, so I was quite liquored up by the time the crowd formed 4. I hadn’t had this realization yet. Not sure what I’m going to do for my next birthday, but after discovering this, I’m going to be looking at a potential house party or something outdoors maybe.

So, if I know you and you’re having a bar party at a small place that will likely be crowded, I apologize in advance if you don’t see me there. But I gotta take care of myself and those situations do me way more harm than good.

Thanks, y’all!

Playful & Taskmaster and Me

I am of two minds. I have two very distinctly different personalities. They’re both very important, but neither one of them can drive my life well without relying on the other. I simply call them ‘Playful’ and ‘Taskmaster.’

 

When I was a kid I would often sit in my room and just daydream. I had no plans or responsibilities. I would just imagine stuff. Occasionally I would write out, draw or act out what I had imagined. My mom still has boxes full of notebooks I filled when I was a child. I miss those times.

 

Back then ‘Playful’ was full in control. I’m not even sure ‘Taskmaster’ existed back then. If he did, he mainly only existed to execute orders by others like teachers and parents. As I got older I accrued more and more responsibilities like most everyone else does. But I was never all that great at self motivation. Occasionally I would come up with an idea I wanted to execute and I would make it happen. But the older I got, the less frequently that would occur. I spent so much of my taskmaster energy doing what others told me to do (work, study, chores) that I never matured that side of me very much at all.

 

I became an adult who didn’t often do what I wanted to do. I worked for people for money in order to survive. I aimed my life toward being creative professionally, but I kept waiting for others to give me permission to do things. For example, I wanted to tour the country doing comedy. So, I auditioned for Second City & Mission Improvable. Neither cast me at first. And so I gave up on that dream. I didn’t search out other touring troupes or try to form my own. I just accepted that if they weren’t going to hire me it wasn’t going to happen.

 

I spent the vast majority of my time and energy working for other people and not doing much in the way of self motivated projects. When I moved to L.A. I had a great resume for an improviser/sketch performer, but I had very little to show in anything else.

 

As is the case with most people who move to L.A. to get into the world of HOllywood, I did not hit success right out of the gate. I realized that the only way to really do what I wanted to do (write and act for camera) was to push myself. So, I learned techniques and philosophies from books and interviews about self motivation. I started to do a few things here and there.

 

And it went pretty well considering. I have a YouTube channel. I got to be part of a truly viral video and I have an IMDB page with ten credits. I’m still not nearly as far along in my career as i want to be, but I am way further ahead than I was. The trouble was that while I was developing ‘Taskmaster’ I was very much ignoring ‘Playful.’

 

The playful part of me wants to do playful things like hang out with friends, listen to music for hours on end, binge watch TV, hike, go on trips and stuff like that. The taskmaster in my knows that when I’m doing that stuff I’m not accomplishing anything toward my career and therefore sees that as a hindrance.

 

And I realized that what had happened was I put ‘Taskmaster’ in control of everything. And I locked ‘Playful’ away in a cell demanding that he do things for me such as write and act without allowing him to play.

 

And I was miserable. I was yelling at myself for wanting to do the things that I love to do the most. And I realized that something had to change.

Now, I understand that both Taskmaster and Playful work for me. I’m the boss. And good bosses reward their staff for a job well done. They give their employees kudos, gifts, vacations and fun outings. A good boss doesn’t yell unless it’s absolutely necessary (which it rarely ever is), but instead encourages, guides and helps.

 

So, this year I plan on bringing balance to my life way more. I’m going to accomplish a lot while also relaxing and having fun. I need both. I’m fairly certain this will cause me to significantly decrease my worry and anxiety. How am I going to do it?

 

Aside from all the things I’ve been changing in my life (reading more, meditating regularly, breathing more, etc.) I will recognize that the two sides to my personality are not at all at war with each other. They need each other and balance each other out like Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, Stan & Kyle or Key & Peele. So, I’ve made a list of strenghts and weaknesses for both:

 

Creative Side 

Fun/nice/energetic

Gets scared easily

Knows how to relax

Not great at focusing on one thing

Finds new and creative ways to solve problems

Smiles a lot

Does not respond well to scolding

Likes to free write and be insightful

Encourages

 

Taskmaster side

Productive/organized/on time

Gets frustrated easily

Knows how to persevere

Not great at melding ideas

Executes actions that are repetitive or that I’ve done before

Can endure discomfort in order to accomplish a task

Needs structure and order

Likes to schedule and organize

Cracks the whip

 

My taskmaster side needs to chill a bit. It’s doing a phenomenal job, but it needs to remove the stick up his ass. And to be fair, that stick is there solely because I have placed outrageous productivity demands on him. I need to be the type of manager I love to be managed by. I will genuinely let go of the anger I get when I don’t do something I want to do. I will let go of the absolute need to get pissed off if my plans don’t unfold the way I want them to. Let it go.

 

My creative side needs to breathe thru the stress just a bit and realize that it’s best if we can restrict play time to happen when I need it to and not just whenever I feel like it. If I’ve got a crazy hectic day, there won’t be  much time for play, but I will recognize that and plan something fun in the very near future to make up for it.

 

My taskmaster side needs to realize that even though I do desperately want to change my life, that I will lose a lot of happiness if I deprive myself of too many things or yell at myself for not working hard or fast enough. My taskmaster side is a leader, an encourager and a motivator.

 

My creative side needs to realize that it’s going to be even more fun when my creativity coalesces into something more than just ideas waiting to be developed. We need the taskmaster to help us finish our books, sketches, screenplays, blog posts, etc. My creative side is awesome, but by itself it’s not good enough to make it happen.

 

So, that’s basically it. No matter the situation, one of the two sides of me is going to be better at it than the other. It is up to me to recognize when I need to play and when I need to work. I will encourage myself rather than yell at myself. I will try to have the most fun I can while still accomplishing what I need to get things done.

 

Realizing this was a true epiphany. In hindsight it seems quite obvious, but I never realized there were multiple sides to me. I saw myself as simply having flaws. But they’re not flaw, they’re strengths to be used at different times in different situations.

 

And that excites me for what I’m going to do with my life from now on.
Thanks, y’all!

2016 – Rich’s Greatest Hits

Was 2016 a particularly cruel year compared to other years of the past? For many of us, the answer is unequivocally ‘yes.’ However, I believe we can mine shiny pretty things from even the muckiest of mucks.

So, I choose gratitude and positivity. And in the spirit of such, I will tell you the highlights of my 2016. I don’t have the best of memories, so this won’t be completely comprehensive, but that’s okay. Let’s begin

1. I met the love of my life

Her name is Ryan. We met when one of my closest friends and comedy partner Rolland Lopez turned to me in the car after looking on OKCupid and saying, ‘Rich, this girl’s perfect for you.’ He wasn’t looking for a girl for me, but he recognized that it was the right call to tell me. I can never thank him enough. Ryan and I have been together nearly seven months and it’s by far the best relationship I’ve ever had. So thankful for her.

2. I travelled a lot

Between touring with Mission Improvable and Rollin’ In Riches I got to perform for and meet a number of amazing people all across the country.

3. I Taught Many People

I’ve been a teacher for many years and seeing a student leave my class feeling better about themselves because they have learned a bit more never gets old. I coached improv teams, individual actors and improvisers. I directed a sketch team, taught people how to rap, how to write and how to perform. In total it was easily more than 500 students across the country. I love my job.

4. I moved

My ex and I had broken up last October, but stayed living together til June. We said it was because of money, but it was mostly because of fear. I give her all the credit for catalyzing the actual move. She came in from out of town in May and said, “I can’t do this anymore.” I agreed and finally made myself look for a new place. And we have both been much healthier for it.

5. I went home

Just got back from a seven day trip home to Texas where I introduced my girlfriend to much of my family and friends. Had a great time. Love it when I get to go home. Loved it even more since I got to show someone I love such a big part of my life.

6. I grew a brand

Rollin’ In Riches had a huge year of shows. We toured 13 cities and played a number of cool shows around L.A. I had a blast spending so much time with my partner Rolland. And it was so awesome to begin to see the emergence of a reputation in the kick ass improv community in this country.

7. I made stuff!

I released my first web series The Pastor John Heavens Show, created my YouTube Channel Wealthy Pastry Productions, shot four original scenes/sketches (one hasn’t been released yet), was the voice of a viral video called Gym Wildlife, performed in a sketch by the Hambone Group, was a co-writer and voice actor for a web series called WTFK with my good friend Akello, wrote a full rough draft of my first original pilot, played a major role in a feature film by Hollywood Shakespeare, released a bunch of podcast episodes for ‘Lost & Confounded,’ wrote and hosted a bunch of trivia shows with Nerdology and recently shot something I came up with that’s in post production right now that I’m really proud of.

I filled out most of my credits on IMDB and contributed several times to this blog. I sometimes fall prey to the habit of beating myself up for not being productive enough, but looking at this list I can see definitively that I did good this past year. And I’m probably missing a few things from that list that didn’t come to mind. Can’t wait to do even better next year!

8. I Grew New Healthy Habits

I workout more consistently. I meditate every morning (for over six weeks so far!). I read regularly. I eat at home a lot more. I say ‘no’ more. I consciously breathe more. I’m probably missing a few, but just based on this list, I’m super proud of myself.

9. I Changed My Mindset

I am prone to depression, anxiety, worry, feeling defeated, feeling unmotivated, etc. But in the last two years I’ve begun to work on all those. I still struggle with lots of things, but I have vastly improved. I understand I can only accomplish so much. I know there are times I need to do stuff and times I need to ask for help. I don’t have to say ‘yes’ to something juts because it’s offered. I don’t have to be scared of failure. Finishing something is now way more important to me than perfecting something. Nothing is perfect. I can control myself a lot more than I realized. I need to love & forgive myself like crazy, because I have to live with me. At 35, I feel way better about life than I have since I was a small child. And I can help myself thru the hard times and in some cases even change them.

10. I had fun

In addition to everything above, I also played with my dog a lot. I played board games, volleyball, tennis. I shared laughs over stupid bits, attended parties filled with fun people. I played music, sang karaoke, played video games and even just chilled out and relaxed.

Again, I’m sure there’s lots to 2016 that was good that I didn’t write, but it was a pretty good year. I did a lot of amazing stuff. Were there bad times? Oh yeah. Panic attacks, very strapped finances, arguments, cancellations, cruelty, celebrity deaths, Trump, etc. But I choose not to focus on those. I tried my best to learn from them and move on.

If you feel like 2016 just wasn’t your year, I encourage you to take the time to remember the stuff you are proud of. The stuff that makes you happy to remember. Dig the shiny pretty thing out of the mud and admire its beauty.

Here’s to an amazing 2017!

Happy NYE!

Thanks, y’all!

You Don’t Have to Win So Dare to Fail Happy

In certain scenarios I secretly hate it when people say things like ‘you’re gonna do it!’ I know they mean well, but it often tempts me to put a lot of pressure on myself.

For example, when someone says, “I know you’ll be famous some day” I hear that and instantly think: ‘I have to be famous. Crap. What if it doesn’t happen. I’ll have failed this person.’

It takes something I’d like to do for myself and makes it something I have to do for others. And I’m not always the best at that. Even as a kid, I didn’t like doing things other people told me to. Even when those things were good for me. The fact that someone told me to do it, turned me off the idea entirely.

To a certain extent, that went away with maturity, but a powerful sliver remains that mutated into something more psychologically damaging. Rather than rebel against doing what someone tells me to, it becomes part of a narrative in my mind where I simply must do something no matter how impossible it seems. And that makes me anxious and depressed.

As a kid, I would often clean my room when no one told me to. I would look around the room, see it’s a mess and decide to put things away. It was immensely satisfying to look around and realize I accomplished all that. And it only happened because I felt like doing it. Not because someone told me to.

In the past few years I have put an enormous amount of pressure on myself to succeed in life. And when I think about it it feels like there’s a metaphorical gun being held to my head by someone. However, that someone can only be me. It’s all in my mind. So, why does the pressure feel so real if it’s only in my head?

This mostly has to do with my own expectations of me, but a small part of it comes from other people’s expectations of me. When people – who have the best intentions – say something like ‘you’ll totally become a professional writer’ or ‘there’s no reason Hollywood shouldn’t cast you,” that fuels the intensity of the imaginary man who holds the gun. It exacerbates him.

Tonight I came to an epiphany. A way to potentially rid myself of the feelings of anxiety and depression caused by this man with the gun scenario. I’m going to start telling myself that I don’t have to win.

I’m not saying I’m not going to win. I’m not saying I’m not going to try. I’m saying it’s not a choice of ‘win or die.’ Rather its a choice of succeed or fail. And failure is an option. It’s by no means my favorite option – quite the opposite. But it’s not the equivalent of being shot in the head.

It’s just failure. Failure is not something to fear. It’s something to embrace. I have failed before. It didn’t crush me. Didn’t end me. Didn’t make me miserable.

I failed at sports growing up. I played football for one year. I was terrible. Played basketball two years in high school. I sucked.

I got fired from my only real civilian full time job. I had lost interest in it. And I failed.

I failed to get a spot on the touring company with Second City.

I failed at being engaged. Usually engagements end in marriage. This one just ended.

I failed to show up on time to set once and everyone was waiting on me.

I have failed at many things. I used to think of these things as black marks on my permanent record. But that’s not true. They’re simply events. Maybe they hold in them some great life lessons, but they didn’t break me. I’m still here.

I toured with M.I. instead of Second City. I still worked for Second City on their cruise ships and I still work for them as a teacher. And I’m a damn great one too.

I’m currently in the best relationship of my life.

I have made my living as a performer ever since that day job fired me.

My friend’s web series still got made. Me being late didn’t screw up the whole production.

So, maybe I’ll fail at a lot more things. Bring it on. I’m not afraid of failure.

In fact, I’m going to start using a phrase that I often use in my classes to tell to myself. ‘Dare to fail.’ When I say this to my students it’s to take the pressure off of themselves to succeed at improv exercises. I tell them that every great improviser has failed at thousands of improv scenes and games. The only way to get great is to fail a whole bunch, learn from it, get better and fail less frequently.

Now, I’m saying it to myself. But I mean something slightly different.

Here’s the deal: There’s no way to know for certain if you’ll succeed or fail at anything. You cannot guarantee success. If that’s true, then you cannot put the demand on yourself to do it. Because the demand is meaningless. It’s just a bunch of pressure and intensity with no guarantee of helping. It’s not helpful.

So, if I might fail no matter what, then I dare myself to fail with a smile on my face. This won’t guarantee I’ll fail. As far as I can tell it won’t significantly (if at all) decrease my odds of success. But what it will do is take the pressure off myself from myself.

If I ‘dare to fail’ then I’ll still pursue my dreams, but I’m going to make sure I”m happy while I do it. I have put so many things on hold trying to chase my dreams. I haven’t vacationed very much. I haven’t played sports a lot in the last few years even though that used to be one of my favorite things. I haven’t played a lot of video games or my guitar.

There’s so many things that I love to do, but whenever I take too much time for the fun stuff then I scold myself for not spending my time working on my career. And that sucks, because that means my goal of being a successful writer/actor has become the thing stopping me from having fun.

Now, I do believe that those who succeed do sacrifice things for that, but they also find a system to balance it all out. That’s where ‘dare to fail’ comes in. When it’s time to work, I’m not going to worry about being perfect or even good. I’m just going to do it. I’m going to work on something (an audition, a screenplay, whatever) for an allotted amount of time. And even if I don’t feel I was as productive as I wanted to be I’m going to move on. And have some guilt free down time.

I dare myself to fail at life. And I dare myself to have fun while doing it.

Thanks, y’all

‘Know Thyself’ or ‘Bigger/Better’

Who are you? Who really are you?

Who am I? Well, I can answer that question a lot more clearly and in depth than I ever could before. And it’s helped me to be happier and a better version of me. But this isn’t about who I am. It’s about me realizing that getting in touch with who I am is super important for my overall well being. And I think it might be for everyone else also.

I don’t know much of anything in the grand scheme of things. I’ve lived for 35 years and had a sporadically successful life sometimes. So, who am I to tell anyone how to do anything?

That said, I think I have a knack for pattern recognition. At least that’s what the I.Q. test said. Wish I could exchange some of that ‘prestigious’ I.Q. for a lot more tenacity and grit. Two qualities that would serve me better than being ‘smart,’ but we don’t get to choose the hands we’re dealt.

And this pattern I believe is in just about every wise person’s repertoire. They seem to all get one concept universally. Some may come to it a bit more by nature, but each and every one of them had to earn this in some real and likely painful way.

The pattern is the knowledge and confidence in the self.

‘Know thyself’ is a very old phrase.The Greeks said it (Gnothi Seauton). And I believe it’s just as relevant today as it ever was.

It’s so simple and short too. It reminds me of Einstein’s famous equation, e=mc^2. A super simple short formula that explains some of the most powerful phenomena in all of the universe.

How can you be the best version of you if you don’t know who you are?

Don’t take my word for it. The message is everywhere. I just saw it displayed beautifully in the Disney film Moana. It’s clearly the thesis of other great works of fiction of Casablanca, The Name of the Wind, E.T., and a number of amazing songs just to name a very small few examples.

Why is it so important? I’m not sure. But I think it has something to do with the seemingly true fact that the greatest power we as individuals have comes into being best when it is manufactured in us.

In other words, our best resource is ourselves.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be willing to ask help from others. That’s important, but before you can achieve greatness, your best course of action is to spend some time getting to know yourself.

If you are great, you must know that before you can believe it. We can’t simply choose to believe in something. Belief is inspired by knowledge. When someone displays a trustworthy act we can use the knowledge of that experience to fuel our belief in their abilities.

The same works with you. How can you believe in your abilities when you don’t really know who you are?

I can’t tell you who you are. No one can truly. If I or someone else told you that you were great that might make you smile but it won’t change how you view you until you look at yourself thru new eyes. See all of you. Forgive yourselves of any past mistakes or screw ups. Encourage yourself. Tell yourself what you have done. What you will do.

Give yourself the gift of accomplishments. If you really believe you’re not worthy of anything, prove yourself wrong. Do something. It can be super small. But do it. It could be something as ‘small’ as making your bed or taking out the trash. Anything you do you are allowed to use as an excuse to shower yourself in flattery and pride. Bring it to your harshly opinionated judges in your heads as evidence that you’re not worthless.

Work your way up bit by bit.

There is a game I have played before called Bigger Better. Get five or six teams of 3-5 people each. Give each team a penny and send them off. Give them a time limit (say 2 hours) to return to base. During those two hours they are going to trade their penny for something ‘bigger or better.’

Usually a rule in the game is that you can only exchange what you have to a stranger. You ask a stranger, “I have a penny. I’ll trade for something of yours that’s bigger or better.” Then whatever they get from that stranger they take to a different stranger and repeat the process. They do this as many times as they can in the time they have.

I have played this twice with two different groups. The second time I played it, one of the groups came back with a car. An actual car that sometimes even worked.

The game is a bunch of fun all the way thru, but the end is particularly great, because it’s essentially a game of show and tell. Everyone tells the fun stories of how they ended up with whatever they ended up with.

And all they started with was a penny.

If you don’t have faith in yourself, I challenge you to an alternate version of this game. Take whatever amount of will power you have and force yourself to complete one task. Make it super simple. Make it ‘to small to fail.’

For example, if you don’t meditate, maybe challenge yourself to attempt to meditate tomorrow for one minute. And try to repeat that the next day. Just one little minute. Sixty seconds of your day. It’s such a small amount of time. Surely you can do it, right?

After you do one day, do two. After two, three and so on. After a number of days in a row (the specific number is individual for all of us, so feel it out) challenge yourself to 90 seconds instead of 60 seconds. After a while up it to two minutes.

Bit by bit, get slightly better and slightly better. Six months from now you might wake up every morning and meditate for five minutes. That’s how I did it. I began so small. And after a while I got used to doing it daily. So, I could increase the time bit by bit over time.

Now, I can honestly say I have the discipline to meditate for five minutes a day. That may sound like a small amount, but I’m proud as hell. And I show no signs of slowing. By my birthday in July I might be up to ten minutes a day. Just a little bigger or better every day adds up over time.

So, who are you? Are you someone who does the things you want to do? If not, become that person. You can do it. It’s not a super power. It’s built into your DNA. You’re a survivor whose ancestors were survivors. Go be amazing. Know yourself as someone who crushes it daily.

A good first step to this process is to start disecting yourself. Take one minute and write about you. Write about a happy memory or a dream or a goal. Anything. Just write about you. Do this once a day. Start getting to know yourself. Fill the page with words that are in some way all about you. The more you get to know yourself, likely the more confident you’ll become.

It’s advice that was given to so many people in an early season of The Simpsons (clip below) that I’m just now really understanding for the first time.

Thanks, y’all!

You Can Be A Better Version of You

Had a pretty bad bout of depression today. Woke up with a numb feeling in my mind. I had three gigs in a row so I didn’t have time to think about feeling sad, because I had to go to work. When I got home it all hit like a dam bursting.
I just sat on my couch for an hour hating every moment that passed for about 45 minutes. That’s 45 minutes I needed to be working at one of the many tasks I have to do today. But I just sat there.
Here’s the good news. Over the past 2 years or so I have read watched and listened to many many many awesome resources (many of which I have shared on FB). They have equipped me with certain mental tools the aid in getting me out of that toxic mindset.
And after 45 minutes I recalled this. I opened YouTube and watched a couple of motivating videos I have saved for just such occasions and I was able to get off the couch. I then talked myself thru some verbal exercises that helped me to respond to some emails.
Finally, I was able to convince myself to workout. And now that I have I feel 60% better. I don’t expect to feel 100% better. In my experience depression doesn’t work that way. But the amazing thing is how much growth I can measure over the last two years.

Me from 2014 would have let that 45 minutes go on literally for ten or more hours or even multiple days. I am so grateful that I can know for certain that I have improved. I am a better version of myself than I was. I never enjoyed hating the moments. I never wanted to prolong my to do list by accomplishing nothing. But at the time it didn’t even occur to me to try to find a way out. I just thought that’s how life was.

Now, I not only understand that there’s a way out, but I have guide maps on how to find it. And it feels so great.

If you have depression or anxiety, I encourage you to seek help. Below is a partial list of resources that have helped me the most. I think self help tools are very unique to the individual. So, I cannot promise any of these will help you, but I encourage you to keep seeking. There are hundreds of podcasts, YouTube vids, FB pages, books, blogs, etc. that offer self help. Not all are good. And not all will help.

But you owe it to yourself to search thru as many as needed until you find one that does help. Don’t be a version of yourself you don’t like. Be the best version of you. The you that goes to bed at night proud of what you’ve accomplished and happy to face the next day.

I am not fully the best version of myself by any  stretch. I’m a work in progress as is everyone else. Few if any people think to themselves, “I’m the perfect version of me.” So, don’t aim for that. It’s an impossible standard. My advice is to aim to be a slightly better version of yourself tomorrow than you are today. How?
Love yourself:
I used to say the meanest things to myself in my head. I never thought to correct that because they were just thoughts. But I still heard them. And it still affects me. Be nice to yourself.
Take care of yourself:
Sleeping, eating and exercising are big factors in not only how we look, but also how we feel and how we function. Your brain works differently when you eat differently. The better you eat, the better you sleep, and the better you move (exercise) the better you’ll feel, look and act.
Set extremely small goals: 
If you want to start meditating, try doing it for 30 seconds. Or ten seconds. Get in the habit of doing that every day. And then up it to 45 seconds or 15 seconds. Don’t ever feel bad about how small your goal is. They will grow over time.
Get rid of the all or nothing attitude:
In 2014 if I was depressed for 45 minutes I would feel like the whole day was wasted and I would write it off as such. Now I realize that while 45 minutes is a good chunk of time, it’s less than 1/16th of my waking time for any given day. This also applies to if you do have a bad day or a bad week. Try again tomorrow.
These are just a few of the many things I’ve encountered that have helped me. See the resources below for more content.
Thanks, y’all!

 

Videos (this is a playlist of eight videos and as I find more I’ll add them to it):

 

Books:

The Tools by Phil Stutz

The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey

Getting Things Done by David Allen

My Fight/Your Fight by Ronda Rousey

Easy Street the Hard Way by Ron Perlman

10% Happier by DAn Harris

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwarzenegger

Happy Accidents by Jane Lynch

Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Milliman

Presence by Amy Cuddy

Sites/Articles:

 

 

My Windy Road to Supporting Clinton

Okay. I’ll admit it. I was a Bernie supporter who switched to Johnson after Bernie dropped.
I fell in love with Bernie’s ideas. I giggled at the whole bird landing on the podium thing. I really believed he had a real shot at becoming president and making this country better. I hated watching him trail further and further behind Clinton in the delegate race until the very end.
Then I discovered Gary Johnson and Bill Weld. They – like their party – were completely new to me.  And I liked many of their pitches. “Two former two term republican governors from heavily blue states” and “I want the government out of your pocket book and out of your bedroom” were phrases I caught myself repeating and enjoying.
 
I watched every interview and read every article I could find. I kept up with the polling. And even got quite angry that they kept him out of the first debate. Honestly, I’m still perturbed by that even though I’m no longer voting for him, because I think it shows how rigged our system actually is, but that’s a whole other idea in and of itself.
And I wasn’t completely stupid. I knew he wasn’t a good candidate. He’s not a great speaker. And he would sometime say things such as ‘the pentagon wants to cut 20% of the military budget’ (https://youtu.be/k566Xb7Jb_E – 1:15) that I discovered was not actually true (http://tinyurl.com/hwjmv2g), but rather an inaccurate over simplification of a complex report. But I did feel at the time he was better than the other options.
And I was intrigued by the idea of a Federal Consumption Tax as opposed to our current system. I still am intrigued by this and want to know more about it. But based on the little I’ve researched it seems like a good idea (http://tinyurl.com/zeprctu)
I was also a fan of his marijuana policy, but that didn’t affect me as much, because I live in California where it’s basically legal now and will almost certainly become recreationally legal after November.
 
I officially stopped supporting Johnson about a week and a half ago or so. I didn’t drop him after his Aleppo moment (https://youtu.be/fOT_BoGpCn4), but I did get out before he failed to name a single foreign leader (http://tinyurl.com/hz72dyh). I dropped him because he basically shit on science (https://youtu.be/BxREh8vzoGo)
 
Turns out that clip was from 2011 and he responded to a question about it recently by saying that he was making a joke (https://youtu.be/GcwFk7rqGQo – start at 5:49). Okay, fine. I like jokes. I do comedy for a living. And I appreciate the he says (same clip) that he ‘cares about the environment,’ but his official policy (and this is from his website http://www.johnsonweld.com) says this: “In a healthy economy that allows the market to function unimpeded, consumers, innovators, and personal choices will do more to bring about environmental protection and restoration than will government regulations driven by special interests.”
And my problem with that is that the evidence for this kind of behavior does not add up. Before government mandated them employers worked their employees in hellish conditions for extraordinarily long hours in exchange for ridiculously low pay. While I would love to live in a world where CEOs care about the environment more than their profits, we don’t live in that world. CEOs are often beholden to stockholders and boards. And those people want profits and growth. They may also care about the environment, but it’s at best secondary and at worst not even a consideration.
So, I dropped Johnson. And who was left…
 
Now, I’m fully on board with Clinton. Truth be told I was likely going to vote for her anyway, because I am scared of Trump more than anything else. But now I believe she really is by far going to be a better president than the other three choices (I’m including Stein just to be nice even though she has way less a realistic shot than Johnson) we have.
I still wish that someone else was running like Joe Biden or Michael Bloomberg or Elizabeth Warren. And I wish Clinton spoke more assuredly about how to cut the deficit, invest more in technology & space, completely revamp our education system and be open to the idea of a brand new tax system. But there’s no such thing as the perfect candidate. I LOVE Obama and he’s not perfect either. So, I no longer hold it against Hilary Clinton that she’s not perfect or even as appealing as Obama. She’s the best we have and I’m voting for her.
Please understand I’m not trying to tell anyone who to vote for. That’s a personal decision you must come to on your own. Don’t let ANYONE tell you who to vote for. Think for yourself. Make up your own mind. This is just my story as to how I arrived at my decision.
 
Honestly the thing we need to worry about more than anything is how rigged the political system is when it comes to gerrymandering, making it difficult on people to vote and how at the state and national levels we have a largely unbalanced amount of republicans compared to democrats. At least according to this VOX video (https://youtu.be/15WhOT_lQiA).

I don’t know what’s going to happen with this country. I obviously hope that tensions ease, we get out of debt, we stop shooting ourselves in the foot when it comes to education and that our politicians stop spending all their time fighting each other and instead spend their energy to rationally discuss the best ideas for how to run things. But for now, I know the best decision for president as far as I’m concerned is Hillary Rodham Clinton.

#ImWithHer

Image

Let’s Talk About Depression…

Part of the reason I never used to talk much about Depression is because I was always living in a state of partial (if not total) denial that I even had it. You know how stereotypical alcoholics sometimes refuse to acknowledge that they have a problem at all despite the fact that their lives exhibit clear indicators that they do? Well, that was me in regards to Depression. I thought that I was just sad sometimes. And what I didn’t realize is how negatively it affected my life.

So, let’s talk about Depression…

How Depression Affects My: Sleeping

Many times in my life I have had a problem staying up to ridiculously late hours (it’s currently 1:51AM btw) for no reason other than I didn’t feel like going to bed. That’s one way Depression affects me. I don’t want to go to sleep. It’s not that I can’t sleep. I just long for the peaceful solitude of the late night. Oddly, I never seem to use that solitude to do anything helpful or  productive. Most of that time is spent watching YouTube videos or Netflix.

And you may think that staying up late isn’t the worst of side affects, right? Sure, it’s better than anal leakage (re. Olestra) I suppose. But it still sucks. As a self employed person my time is worth my potential money. And as a human being my time is worth potential good times. When I stay up super late one of two things happen. Either I wake up in the morning and feel exhausted all day or I sleep in til a ridiculous hour and lose so much of my day. And I almost never have a good day when I sleep past 11. There are exceptions, but they’re few and far between.

The summer between my sophomore and junior years of college I was so depressed that I sometimes slept til 4PM. When I worked on my first cruise ship for Second City I sometimes stayed awake til 8AM doing nothing more than binge watching True Blood or House M.D. Those are two examples where I could have been doing something a lot more valuable and satisfying with my time. As a writer it nearly sickens me to think about the sheer number of hours I’ve essentially wasted because of this.

How My Depression Affects: Other People

During my sixth (and unbeknownst to me at the time final) cruise ship my fellow cast mates realized how depressed I was to the point where they were concerned about me. They alerted the higher ups at Second CIty and I had to have a phone call with one of the producers who said, ‘We’ll happily replace you and fly you home if you need it.’ I talked him out of doing that and they let me finish the contract, but I never got much happier. I just got better at hiding it.

My most recent ex girlfriend could tell I was depressed. She gave me an ultimatum at one point. I either had to go to therapy or she would break up with me. I chose therapy. We broke up later for different reasons. But the point is that it was so bad that she not only noticed but felt compelled to force me to get help. That’s not a good sign.

How My Depression Affects: Food and other pleasures

When my depression spikes up I long to fill my mouth with sugar and chips and any other kind of food that’s bad for me. Many years ago I had a stand up joke about how I ate an entire package of Nutter Butters in one sitting. The joke got a fair response from the crowd. I think part of the reason the joke worked was because it was so true. I found a way to make real pain funny.

What It’s Like When I’m Depressed

First of all, I have Depression, but I don’t feel sad 100% of the time. There were times in my life looking back where I realize that I did feel sad 90+% of the time, but even at my worst it was never a 24/7 feeling.

It doesn’t always have a cause. Sure there are life circumstances that come up that trigger it sometimes. But much more often than not it just spikes. Think of it like rain. Meteorologists know more about it than lay persons, but no one can predict it or explain it perfectly well. Sometimes it just rains. And sometimes it rains much harder than others.

The part of Depression I hate the most is that it stops me from doing. I have sat on the couch knowing that I had to go to the bathroom for an hour. My body can ache, but if I don’t have the motivation to get up and walk twenty feet to the bathroom then I’m not getting up until I have to. If I don’t have any need to be awake (like a job or a meeting or something) then I have a hard time convincing myself to get out of bed. I’m not super comfortable in bed by that point. I usually have to pee pretty badly, my mouth is dehydrated and my body aches from sleeping in an awkward position for too long. Yet I will still lie there and scan Facebook on my phone. Not because I’m dying to read Facebook, but because I just can’t make myself get up.

Sometimes when I’m depressed I don’t want to eat. Other times I don’t want to stop eating even when I’m no longer hungry and starting to hurt because of how full I am.

I rarely ever want to exercise. I can’t stand the thought of answering email. And the ideas of creating something like writing a sketch or educating myself like reading a book seem so foreign to me when I feel depressed that I can barely think about them.

And lastly…anger. This one was way more of a problem when I was younger. It doesn’t happen as much anymore, though it does happen. I can get so angry with everything. Other people, drivers, the city, traffic, dogs, elevators, slow internet connections, etc. When I was younger I used to take my anger out on inanimate objects. I once punched a hole in a drywall. Fortunately it was in the back of a closet at my high school so no one noticed it. So, I switched to bricks. And when I was alone and pissed I would full on swing (keep in mind I have never known the proper technique for throwing a punch, so that probably added to the stupidity) at brick walls. Hurt like hell, but I didn’t know what else to do. Thankfully I haven’t punched too many things in the past five years.

What Others Can Do and Not Do

I have amazing friends and family. They’re all great in their own ways. I am so thankful for them.

However, please don’t ask me why I’m depressed. I don’t know. Because I am. That’s all I got. There is no answer to your question and it’s frustrating not to know.

Also, please stop telling me what cheers you up in the hopes that it will cheer me up. I’m happy to hear a story about you having a good time doing whatever, but I don’t need a happiness prescription. I know you mean well, but it’s frustrating. I either have to explain to you why that’s not going to help or I skip that part and lie to you by acting like that was helpful.

Don’t ask me how I’m doing if you don’t wanna know. I’m sad sometimes. I will say when I am. It’s nothing to get bent out of shape over. It’ll pass. I’ve been sad before. I am still me. Chances are excellent that you won’t even know that I’m sad unless you ask me. This is particularly true if we’re on a job together. When I’m on a stage, in front of a camera or teaching a class, almost no one would be able to tell that I’m experiencing anything sad.

I love friendship. And sometimes it’s really nice to talk to people about it. What’s best is if you just will listen. Don’t offer advice. No need. Tell me how you’re doing. Listen to me bitch and moan for three minutes and then we’ll move onto a more fun topic like whether The Hulk is the greatest super hero ever (spoiler alert: he is). Just be my friend. Not my therapist or my healer. You’ll do a lot more for me by just being your awesome self. I chose you as a friend because you’re amazing.

The Good News

I’m gonna be 35 in two months. And one thing I can say that’s pretty cool is that I have a better handle on my depression now than I ever have. First of all, I recognize that I have it. It’s totally real. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed of it either. We have a healthy relationship – well, maybe not ‘healthy,’ but far from toxic.

I experience the rainy times less intensely, shorter in duration and less often. Today was rough. This whole week’s not been great. I can feel it lifting. I think tomorrow will be great.

Also, I’m rarely completely useless when my depression spikes. Used to I would do nothing when I was feeling the sadness. Now, I can usually convince myself to do at least a few things. Today I convinced myself to go jogging before I had to go to a job. Only got in 15 minutes and I didn’t run anywhere near my hardest, but I got out and did something. I moved my muscles and felt better. I used to not be able to convince myself to do anything close to that.

Resources

I’m not a doctor, but I have healed quite a bit. Maybe some of the things that helped me to heal can help others. They also might not, but it’s worth noting them just in case:

Books:

The Tools by Phil Stutz

10% Happier by Dan Harris

Easy Street the Hard Way by Ron Perlman

An Improvised Life by Alan Arkin

Quotes:

‘One day we’ll all die.’ ‘Yes, but every other day we won’t.’ -Calvin & Hobbes

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy

YouTube Channels:

Bite Size Psych

Inspiration Journey

Conclusions

I write this post just because I need to say all this. I need a record to show that I finally know something about what I live with and how far I’ve come to deal with it so much better. If it helps someone else, that’s amazing. Depression is real and sneaky. It often disguised itself to me as ‘natural.’ Everyone felt this way. And I believed it.

If you think you might have Depression I encourage you to try to look at the behaviors and experiences in your life. Are there any common negative patterns? Oversleeping, insomnia, binge eating, drinking heavily, anger management issues, etc. If something is holding you back from living the kind of life you want to live, there may be ways to help you. Please ask for it. So many others have gone thru the same thing. Don’t give up on yourself. You are probably worth the effort it will take to heal.

Thanks, y’all!