Crying Clowns, Healing Words

John McManamy Health Guide
  • I am the original crying clown.

    Last month, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) staged one of its three road show national conferences in New Jersey. As president of the newly-resurrected state organization, it was my job to give the opening welcome. I saw the conference as a unique opportunity to put our state organization on the map. At least half of those attending would be from the Garden State. I had to be the lightning rod to whip up enthusiasm and enroll volunteers.

    The standard opening welcome would not do.

    I emerged from a service entrance dressed as the guy in the Six Flags theme park commercial. For those not in regions served by Six Flags, a guy made up as an octogenarian and outfitted in a tux with a spiffy red bowtie, black-and-white wing tips and outsized horn rims steps out of a retro bus and performs the best dance routine since Fred Astaire tapped on the ceiling in Royal Wedding. By the time I shuffled my way to center stage, various segments of the audience were singing the very catchy Six Flags jingle in anticipation.
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    Suddenly the music went on and I broke into the dance. My footwork was no match for the guy in the commercial, but the audience was fixed on my goofy grin and wildly flapping arms. As far as they were concerned, I was the real deal. One second into the routine and they were rolling in the aisles. I was doing better than Jim Carrey on a good day. So this is what it must be like to kick a winning field goal in the Super Bowl, I realized, as I brought my routine to a triumphant close 19 seconds later.

    After that, selling our state organization was a snap. I remained in character (and costume) throughout the day. During the breaks, the attendees flocked to our table and many signed on as volunteers. Last week we got them together in a special meeting and handed out assignments in a feel-good atmosphere permeated by the aroma of my baked ziti.

    Life, says the Buddha, is an illusion. People see me as a wise-cracking exuberant, given to doing slightly-crazy things. Just call me McManic. In reality, every day I battle low grade chronic depression. Laughter is how I cope, but my mood can swiftly head south when things go wrong. Then the laughter dies in sorrow.

    Planning and organizing the conference and special meeting required an extraordinary amount of time and effort on my part, much of it spent trying to win over some skeptical board members. Work and family were being to be squeezed out, and I felt myself beginning to become undone over the stress. My dealings with certain board members became increasingly strained. Then came the depressions. I was in my worst mental health crisis since my diagnosis in early 1999.

    One good side of depression is the rose-colored glasses come off. There is a theory that depression confers an evolutionary adaptive advantage that allows individuals to realistically assess personal situations and make clear decisions. The enormous suffering that is part of the package, so the theory goes, is the trade-off nature is willing to make. Apparently, we need these genes in our gene pool.

  • The way to deal with my depression, I realized, was to take corrective action, not to change my medications. For me, working on the state organization was toxic. My stupid pride and misplaced optimism had blinded me to this brutal fact of life. No amount of treatment would help until I removed myself from the toxicity. Yesterday, I stepped down as president and board member. It greatly saddened me, but I had no choice. I’m not a quitter by nature, but as Kenny Rogers says it, you gotta know when to hold ‘m, know when to fold ‘em.
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    It was time to fold.

    I am viewing my depression as a blessing in disguise. I am confident my crisis will resolve in a matter of days. Had I remained in my toxic situation, however, I know I would have decompensated in other ways. I probably would have flipped out and done something completely outrageous, putting my marriage and business at risk.

    My business is writing. I spend about 60 hours a week on my own depression and bipolar website and newsletter. For me writing is a healing activity. I literally wrote my way out of my suicidal depression in 1999. Working with the state organization was taking away from my writing. It was cutting me off from my sustenance.

    Today, for the first time in what seems like forever, I am writing again. I am healing.

Published On: October 10, 2005