What happens when you're supposed to be funny and you're suffering from deep depression? It was no joke for comedian Chonda Pierce, who in LAUGHING IN THE DARK tells of her 18-month journey through depression and offers hope to fellow sufferers.
Nicknamed "the Queen of Clean," the 15-year comedy circuit veteran and mother of two teens chronicles her annual "winter break" from work that became a winter breakdown. In a warm, person-to-person style, she tells of childhood events and tragedies, therapies and a search for wholeness, all interspersed with one-liners and zingers that will keep you laughing even while reaching for the Kleenex.
Included throughout Pierce's story are separate insights from a psychotherapist on recognizing and dealing with depression, which will be good starting points for reflection. These insights include everything from recognizing the signs of depression to helping a friend who is going through depression. She also incorporates emails from her fans, thanking her for helping them deal with their depression, which feel a little more like rah-rah filler but might be of interest to some readers.
On her journey, Pierce learns that there is more to a relationship with God than emotion (especially when she goes through a period of feeling nothing). She learns to rely more on what she knows; that God loves her and wants the best for her. Pierce also comes to believe that her depression was not because of a sin she had committed as so many Christians are told: "there was nothing wrong between God and me." Rather, it was a combination of medical problems and past events that needed to be dealt with. "What's hard is uncoiling all those wound-up experiences so that you start thinking straight again," she writes. "In my case (like most people with clinical depression), I couldn't do it on my own. I needed help from my doctors, my therapist, my friends --- and most of all from God."
As her story unfolds, Pierce tells of her father, a bi-polar/manic-depressive pastor, who left her family the day of her brother's wedding. Her childhood years were punctuated with his threats of suicide, sexual abuse, her fear of abusive punishment and insecurity. Pierce's two sisters both died unexpectedly in childhood, and her brother became an alcoholic. When she finally sees a licensed counselor and psychiatrist (besides a friend, who had helped her along the way), the influence of these tragedies --- which she calls "old ghosts and demons" --- and others are brought to light and examined.
Among the need for confronting her past and taking medication to get her brain chemically "balanced" is Pierce's realization that she is frantically busy. And, ironically, the comedian realizes it is important to find ways to have fun. "It's no big surprise that depression disorders occur twice as often in women as men, since women tend to take on extra responsibilities more often," she writes, adding later, "Find some ways to give yourself more hours in the day. Not only will you restore your mind and emotions; you will restore your soul."
A bit of charisma flavors the book, as Pierce gets goosebump-raising messages from God via various people who help keep her moving forward. Pierce also addresses the topic of peri-menopause, which can begin 8-10 years before menopause and significantly alter a woman's mood --- a topic not addressed nearly often enough in books about women and depression. One of the last chapters of the book dealing with her relapse will be especially reassuring to anyone who has suffered from depression and struggled to return to wholeness.
LAUGHING IN THE DARK gives Christians "permission" to admit they are depressed and takes the stigma out of the need for anti-depressants as part of a holistic approach to getting well. After all, Zoloft is not a four-letter word.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on November 13, 2011