October 22, 2019

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No laughing matter

Air Farce alumna's memoir details struggles with depression

Tim Leyes photo</p><p>Author Jessica Holmes talks about her episodes of depression with remarkable candour.</p>

Tim Leyes photo

Author Jessica Holmes talks about her episodes of depression with remarkable candour.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/5/2018 (535 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It may come as a surprise to some that the perky Jessica Holmes, famous for lampooning Céline Dion on Royal Canadian Air Farce, has written a book about depression. It’s titled Depression the Comedy, but Holmes makes it clear the funny part came later. As the saying goes, tragedy plus time equals comedy.

Even if Holmes’ particular brand of comedy doesn’t always translate well to the page, readers will appreciate her candour. She is brutally honest about how her illness affected her marriage and family life.

For anyone dealing with depression, it can be validating to know even successful, seemingly happy people are not immune. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 49 per cent of Canadians who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never sought help from a doctor.

Before joining Royal Canadian Air Farce in 2003, Holmes starred in her own short-lived sketch series, The Holmes Show, and opened for ­comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld and Ellen DeGeneres.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/5/2018 (535 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It may come as a surprise to some that the perky Jessica Holmes, famous for lampooning Céline Dion on Royal Canadian Air Farce, has written a book about depression. It’s titled Depression the Comedy, but Holmes makes it clear the funny part came later. As the saying goes, tragedy plus time equals comedy.

Even if Holmes’ particular brand of comedy doesn’t always translate well to the page, readers will appreciate her candour. She is brutally honest about how her illness affected her marriage and family life.

For anyone dealing with depression, it can be validating to know even successful, seemingly happy people are not immune. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 49 per cent of Canadians who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never sought help from a doctor.

Before joining Royal Canadian Air Farce in 2003, Holmes starred in her own short-lived sketch series, The Holmes Show, and opened for ­comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld and Ellen DeGeneres.

She wrote her first book, I Love Your Laugh: Finding the Light in my Screwball Life, in 2010, and became a life and career coach through San Diego’s Life Purpose Institute. She has spoken at Ottawa’s Cracking-up the Capital comedy festival, an event that raises money and awareness for mental illness.

Holmes now lives in Toronto with her husband and two children.

In Depression the Comedy, Holmes talks about her postpartum depression and her second depression some years later, when her life went from a "happy, if chaotic adventure" to "rocky." She "became less of a June Cleaver and more of a David-Hasselhoff-when-his-daughter-videotaped-him-lying-facedown-on-the-bathroom-floor-unsuccessfully-trying-to-eat-a-hamburger."

Depression may have many causes; Holmes attributes hers to "lack of creative purpose, chronic insomnia and a handful of psychological factors." Her daily routine became lying on the couch watching TV, crying and playing Candy Crush on her iPad, followed by more crying and TV watching.

Recalling her frustration when "NBDs" ("Never Been Depressed") would ask, "Well, why don’t you just get out there and do something?" Holmes points out that "one of the most prevalent symptoms of depression is not feeling like doing anything, ever."

"It’s an illness," she reminds us. "I’ve never met someone with Type 2 diabetes and thought: ‘See, I’ve always just eaten bags of delicious sugar and been fine, so I’m not sure why you can’t figure it out.’"

Ironically, the nature of her profession means that comedians are often more susceptible to depression: "The hard part is the downtime," she says. "A common symptom of depression is not being able to fathom a time when you won’t feel as down as you currently do. It’s like you become emotionally near-sighted. If I bombed when I was depressed, I went from ‘That was a bad gig’ to ‘I’m untalented and we’ll be living in our RV within a year.’"

Though Holmes did take medication during her postpartum depression, she opted not to when she became depressed a second time.

What got her through, aside from the support of her family, was finding ways to make comedy a "healthier place" for herself, by working more in group settings and talking to other comedians, who were largely supportive.

She also ditched her "depression diet" of sugar and processed food — or "sorta" food, as Holmes calls it — and strives to have "more structure" in her daily schedule: writing for a few hours, walking the dog, eating at regular intervals and getting some sunshine.

And she cut down on her exposure to social media, treating it "like a hot tub: get in and out before you catch something!"

Depression can return — Holmes calls it "the cold sore of the mind," and says "watching for signs of depression is a lifelong commitment."

This is not a self-help book — Holmes stresses that she can only share her own experience — but she offers hope. There is no cure for depression, but there are many resources out there to help manage the symptoms and breathe joy — and comedy — into life again.

Lindsay McKnight works in the arts in Winnipeg.

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