Mandatory Reads: ‘The Hilarious World of Depression’ Speaks to Your Inner Isolator

If you think depression is no laughing matter, you haven’t met John Moe. The former Wits host and self-proclaimed “saddie” has released a memoir, The Hilarious World of Depression, based on his popular podcast of the same name.

In the book, Moe attempts to trace his clinical depression (or “Clinny D” as he calls it) back to its origins. Was it caused by a genetic predisposition passed down from Norwegian ancestors “like a lefse recipe”? Was it the result of inherited or childhood trauma? Did growing up with an alcoholic father play a part? Whatever the cause, the mental illness took hold in Moe’s head in middle school. It continues to stalk him to this day.

Moe has become an unintentional expert on depression, and reminds readers that it isn’t a mood or a reaction to adverse life circumstances, but rather a disorder. “A disorder is when you can’t recover from that feeling. A disorder is when you feel that way even when devastating events are not taking place or when you can’t hold down a job or relationships or take care of your responsibilities,” Moe writes. “It’s a set of conditions that cause a whole series of thoughts and behaviors to happen over a long period of time, often things that are wildly different from one another.”

Moe imagines the depressed mind as running “a marathon combined with an obstacle course” every day. Aside from being exhausting, depression is also liar, and Moe says its greatest hits go something like this: “Nothing is good…nothing has ever been good, and so it stands to reason that nothing will ever be good. The way you feel in your worst moments now is how you’ll always feel.”

Depression has one goal: to kill its host. Its mortality rate is one of the reasons why Moe believes it’s important to talk about depression, not shroud it in shame and secrecy. Moe likens depression – and the suicidal ideation it inspires – to a serial killer named Kevin. If a serial killer were running rampant around town, wouldn’t you warn your loved ones? If Kevin killed your brother (as, indeed, Moe’s brother died by suicide), wouldn’t you shout it from the rooftops? “Instead, everyone acts like it’s an embarrassment to be killed by Kevin,” Moe writes. “In fact, Kevin is the one who should be embarrassed that he keeps killing people. Shame on Kevin!”

Moe stresses that speaking up is crucial to defeating – or at least treating – depression. “If more people were able to freely speak about mental health, there is no doubt more of them would get help,” he writes. “But what do we as a society choose to do instead? We freely elect NOT to talk about it. That is so goddamn stupid. It’s like we could administer the polio vaccine by saying the words ‘polio vaccine’ but elected to not do that. I guess to respect polio’s privacy? Fine, then. I’ll be the loudmouth.”

Moe isn’t alone, though. He incorporates voices from a colorful cast of celebrities who have experienced depression, many of them comedians, like Maria Bamford, Margaret Cho, Gary Gulman, and Jen Kirkman, who share their stories, struggles, and successes regarding the disorder.

While depression is not a one-size-fits-all mental illness, and can morph and change throughout one’s life, there are often similarities between those who suffer from it, such as: many first experience depression in middle school, no amount of achievement can cure it, talking helps but therapy can be hit-or-miss, medication isn’t always helpful, and pain may never fully go away. Moe dedicates several chapters to finding these through-lines between his experiences and those of the people he’s interviewed on his podcast.

The Hilarious World of Depression is a laughably relatable (and at times bittersweet) read for those who have experienced depression and an enlightening one for those who haven’t but want to understand it better. Throughout the book, Moe aptly describes what depression feels like with silly analogies and personal anecdotes, showing how a comedic approach to depression can be healing in and of itself.

If you’re in need of an honest, uplifting book to pass the quarantine time, The Hilarious World of Depression has you covered. When you’ve finished it, check out these other excellent books on depression.

Cover Photos: American Public Media and St. Martin’s Press

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