If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. That simple sentiment is definitely true, at least in my life. Maybe believing this suggests some inherent optimism or maybe it is an attempt to escape that dull, lazy feeling that often overwhelms me when I find myself in a depressed state. In all honestly, it’s often my excuse to watch endless hours of Parks and Rec on Netflix, and it’s why most of my literary choices include autobiographies and essays written by some of America’s favorite comedians.
Most recently, I read I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend by comedian Martin Short. I knew I would be entertained with wit and humor, but what most struck me was a particular couple of passages Martin wrote about being a man in his young twenties. He had a relationship with another comedian, who was undergoing her own personal struggles, including an eating disorder. Martin explains his lack of understanding of her behavior in the below excerpt:
“I could never fathom, in our time together, how a woman of her talent and advantages could get so down on herself…So for Gilda not to appreciate her good fortune…well, it was just beyond what my inexperienced young man’s brain could comprehend.”
When I read about Martin’s experience, I realized I have not spent enough time looking at things from the perspective of my friends and family, who have truly gone through a great deal of pain and struggling because of my pain and struggling. I have not been the only victim of my illnesses. An eating disorder and depression, as can happen with addictions and other mental illnesses and disorders, made me, for a lack of a better word, selfish. I’ve spent a great deal of the past couple of years stuck in my own head, caught up in my own confusing sea of thoughts. I also spent much of my time physically exhausting myself, not leaving a lot of room for my own emotional needs to be fulfilled, never mind taking into concern the needs of others.
I am not writing this to get down on myself. It is the nature of these types of illnesses to draw one towards isolation. When you are not behaving like the rest of the world, it becomes more and more difficult to connect with those around you.
That being said, I am also careful in my recovery not to dismiss every negative behavior as something that simply my “illness” did, as something I didn’t partake in. I think if we look at our behaviors during struggle in that light, then we don’t learn from them.
For example, when I was in the throes of my disorder and depression, I did not stop to think about the confusion that those around me must have been going through. For my friends and family, the situation was probably a bit more than puzzling. I was, on the outside, a lucky girl. I had been raised in a great family and made my way to a prestigious university. Much like Martin Short felt as a young man in his twenties, those around me may (and they can correct me if I’m wrong) have wondered why a girl who had a great deal going for her would want to destroy her body, for what on the outside seemed like an unnecessary pursuit of thinness.
Throughout my struggle, I had to leave school and jobs—all opportunities I was so lucky to have in this day and age. For a long time, despite losing these opportunities, I still persisted in using my negative behaviors. Of course that would be frustrating and confusing to anyone who loves me—to see me sacrifice my great life for something so terrible cannot be easy.
Of course, I was sick, plain and simple. No one truly in his or her right mind would ever choose to live the way I did. But my sickness didn’t take over my body like the flu, so it’s a bit more difficult to understand. It manifested itself in my very own actions. I was the one harming myself and my body. I didn’t know why, and I didn’t know how to stop, but those around me had to watch me inflicting that pain. And I was the only one with the ability to stop what I was doing. Confusing, right? My head is spinning now, and writing this has made me realize what a trip I must have been to deal with the past few years. I was dealing with a tricky beast, and so were those around me.
As I’ve said before, things are not perfect now. But I do consider myself in recovery, which has allowed me the clear-headedness to look back on my past behavior, on the selfishness I slipped into in the depths of my illness, and learn from it. Some days, like today for instance, I have the ability to step outside of myself and look at my life from the perspective of someone who cares about me. I can see and understand the anger and fear. However, I can also connect and explain. I can explain the nature of my illness from a healthier place, a place of clarity that is a bit calmer than the constant chaos that once consumed me.
When I step outside myself, I can also see and feel hope, which I know will grow with every day that I continue to strengthen myself. My experience and mistakes have taught me that this strength does not come from being alone or being selfish, but from developing connections with and understandings of others.
Peace and Love,