or Chris and Barb— Your not so typical happily ever after
As a therapist and someone who enjoys stand-up comedy, I thought the idea of a comedian tackling the subject of Mental Health would be brave, daring and challenging. I figured, if nothing more, this was an opportunity for people to see how someone who struggles with mental illness makes it day-to-day. But what we receive is far better than I could have anticipated…
Chris Gethard does an excellent job going between comedically inspired sets and moments of seriousness in his HBO stand-up Chris Gethard: Career Suicide. We learn about his relationship with his questionably effective therapist, Barb. I found it most fitting to use her in the title because what you walk away with after 90 minutes with Chris is that one of the answers to dealing with mental illness is to have a trained professional to support you—kind of.
It’s important to note that Chris has some pretty serious diagnoses. He struggles with anxiety disorder, alcoholism, OCD, “massive depression,” ADHD, and has been considered high-risk for suicide. This is not light-weight stuff here folks– whew! Not to be taken out of context, but we also seem to explore this idea that as soon as you are diagnosed, another diagnosis is around the corner. And from there, usually, another prescription follows. And that’s where Chris shined. We’re all familiar with commercials that promote prescriptions and how, despite the possibility of drowsiness, diarrhea, upset stomach, indigestion, and death— it’s perfectly amazing for that condition you have. But what we don’t experience is what it’s like to take those drugs that come with life-changing side effects.
Take a journey with me…
Gethard shares the humorous moment of what it’s like to be on an anti-psychotic. He decides to tell a person about his new medication and explains that with the explanation, he has to deal with them pulling back and passing judgment. They say something to the tune of: “oooh, you take that?” And he responds like” well, hell yeah.” He parallel’s the idea to taking life-saving drugs “… Oh, you have diabetes? There’s no way you should take insulin? Oh, you have cancer, why would you ever take chemotherapy?” And from his shoes, it makes total sense. These drugs, though as negative as their reputations are, help make him better, alert, and “funnier!”
As we transition from comedy to dramatic/reflective monologue, the lights settle, a yellow set turns blue across the stage and we break into the raw, uncut, seriousness life of someone who is mentally ill. He is emotionally exposed and leaves no detail untold. In an instant, he saw a car coming towards him and thought, should I stop or let it hit me? And in that moment, he was able to rationalize dying from an accident versus taking the “cowards” way out; suicide. There’s a glamorous, and memorialized feel of accidental death versus the shame and sadness of suicide. But he survived!
But that was only one instance! The last time he found himself in a suicidal moment, we learn how Barb empowered him to be him. The underlying theme is that Barb is simply a horrible therapist. She doesn’t have boundaries, she never asks the right questions and is really focused on herself. And of course, in the moments he needs her most, it seems as if she feels him the most. But I’d argue that Barb saves his life.
The last time he recalls feeling suicidal he shares with us his experience with Barb. Picture it: I’m on the edge of a cliff and going to jump. I call and say, “I’m on the edge of a cliff and going to jump!” Her response was short, disengaging and represented what he felt was disinterest. She goes on to say he will see her on Thursday and they can talk about it then. He thinks, damn you suck again. Like I’m on a damn cliff ready to kill myself and you’re saying, cool, see you Thursday! But finally, he realizes that Barb normalizes him. She validates his presence. She knows his strengths. She takes the fun and appeal out of suicide. She had a choice in that moment to entertain his suicidal thoughts or to say see you soon. And guess what? He finds himself in front of Barb on Thursday.
He’s married and functioning really well now. He’s found stability in his career, peace in his personal life and with his mental health. You walk away understanding that it’s no one’s job to take care of you but yourself. You have to do your work and find someone who gets you. That’s Barb! Friends and family often get consumed and are afraid of mental illness. They subscribe to the idea that there is a wrong or right thing to say. But when you find Barb, you find an ally, advocate and voice when you feel voiceless. You walk away feeling as if you understand the pains, pressures and challenges of a person who is suffering a little better. You walk away understanding that people are not their diagnosis. They can live a full, functioning life, and if you suffer, you know that you are not alone.
All in all, I can say that I enjoyed Chris’ stand-up. He takes a humorous approach to a traditionally dark subject. He does so in a way that is liberating for him and informative and educational for his audience. The intimate setting works exceptionally well versus the commonly used big stage, bright lights approach. In fact, his interaction with the audience enhances the subject matter and brings us into life. He’s so close that you feel as if you’re right there with him, taking the journey, experiencing the highs and the lows.
Chris Gethard: Career Suicide, which debuted May 6th, is still airing across HBO’s channels well into June and is on HBONow/Go and OnDemand.