Dave Hill’s
excerpted from his

Being “in the arts” is never easy. In addition to all the clove cigarettes, scented candles, and ultimately regrettable haircuts, the artist is almost guaranteed to experience firsthand either clinical depression or addiction, or maybe even both at some point in his or her creative life. To its credit, though, addiction has plenty of plus sides—addicts often have great parties and even better outfits, for example. But, aside from rapid weight loss and enhanced cheekbone definition, depression just kind of sucks. I learned that for myself shortly after college, a popular time, statistically speaking, for that sort of thing to kick in whether you are thinking of forming a band or going to school for graphic design or not.

Looking back on it, depression had likely been plotting its attack on me for a while. Not only was I a fairly anxious and worrisome kid, but I also come from a long line of people who furrow their brow and grit their teeth for no apparent reason. For the most part, though, it seemed like depression just decided to show up one day like an annoying relative I never even knew I had.

It was a Saturday morning and I had spent the night before—as I did most Fridays—loading up on all- you- can- drink wine and assorted fried things with friends at a Chinese restaurant on the Upper West Side and then stumbling around Manhattan until we were either no longer certain we were going to live forever or one of us passed out on the sidewalk, whichever came first. I don’t blame any of those things for what happened next (though the gallon of wine probably didn’t help much), but when I woke up the following morning I felt extremely off. Sure, I had a hangover— those had been business as usual since college (high- five!). But, in addition to that familiar headache, grogginess, and begging of one of my roommates to buy me a burrito, a tidal wave of paranoia, panic, and despair had also shown up for brunch.

“Whoa,” I thought. “Must have gotten ahold of some bad Kung Pao last night.”

I figured it was nothing a nap couldn’t fix, so I tried to go back to sleep for a bit, only to find it impossible. In fact, lying in bed without my roommates or Saturday morning cartoons to distract me from my brain only made things worse.

“I am seriously calling that Chinese restaurant and demanding a refund just as soon as I find my pants,” I said to myself, groaning. “The Mai Fun is no fun.”1

As the day wore on, I started to feel like I’d been sucker punched in the gut by a prizefighter, the wind permanently knocked out of me. I spent the next few days puking— or at least trying to— even though I ate next to nothing, convincing myself I probably had just about every disease I could pronounce. And suddenly every aspect of my life, even the stuff I was normally pretty psyched about, seemed to suck beyond repair, a perspective that felt extreme even for me and my already dark, twenty-something world view.

Not exactly sure what to do about the situation, I decided to hop a plane to Cleveland to visit my parents for a long weekend that ended up lasting several years. I figured I’d probably still feel pretty crazy back home, but at least then I could just blame my parents for everything. And if these awful feelings persisted, worst- case scenario I could always just move back into my childhood bedroom and spend my days working at the grocery store up the street from my parents’ house and my nights watching Golden Girls reruns on television for the next couple of de cades until the fog lifted.

1 I guess you could mentally add a rimshot sound effect here if you feel like it.

“The way I see it, I put in my time as a bagboy, work my way up to stockboy, then produce guy, and next thing you know— bam!—your brother is a goddamn part-time assistant manager,” I told my sister Miriam. “I’ll never have to pay for cole slaw again. None of us will! Can’t you just taste it already?”

“Are you feeling okay?” she asked, recognizing something besides my often questionable career aspirations might be afoot.

Despite feeling absolutely awful, I was oblivious enough to reality that I still wasn’t sure what she was getting at. Even so, I promised Miriam I would go see a doctor before combing my hair, putting on a clean shirt, and heading up to the grocery store to show off my people skills.

Unfortunately, the psychology department at the local hospital was booked solid for the next two weeks, which might as well have been two years as far as I was concerned.

“I’m not sure I’m going to be around in two weeks,” I told the lady on the phone. I don’t think either one of us really knew what I meant by that. Was I just going out of town or possibly doing something really negative by comparison? Either way, it worked like a charm and I went in for an appointment the next morning, which was a massive relief.

As I sat in the waiting room, I looked around at the other people sitting there with me. It was hard not to wonder what kind of crazy shit might be going on inside their heads. And I wondered if they had similar thoughts about me. Ditto for the cute girl at reception who seemed to grab her pen back from me a lot more quickly than seemed reasonable.

After a few minutes, I was greeted by Mark, a warm and friendly guy in his mid-thirties, who would become my therapist.

“How can I help you today?” he asked, sounding more like an oddly laid- back car salesman than a guy about to analyze me.

“I’m really not sure,” I answered.

Mark had a mullet, which I thought was refreshing given his profession, kind of cool even. Still, it didn’t exactly fi t with the Sigmund Freud clone I’d expected. Also, his office looked like a regular doctor’s office instead of being outfitted with overstuffed leather chairs, Oriental rugs, and richly stained woodwork like I’d hoped.

“So much for this being just like a Woody Allen movie,” I thought.

Still, I knew this was a time when I really needed to pick my battles, so I decided to let it all slide.

“Tell me what’s on your mind, Dave,” Mark said, wrinkling his brow a bit in an effort to suggest genuine concern.

“Do you ever get the feeling you might die at any moment and it actually doesn’t sound like such a bad idea?” I asked.

“And what kinds of things might cause you to suddenly die, Dave?”

“All of them.”

“I see.”

Mark and I continued our chat for about an hour before he gave me his diagnosis. As it turned out, I wasn’t crazy (at least not in a way recognized by modern medicine), but instead had a combination of clinical depression and anxiety with a dose of obsessive- compulsive disorder (OCD) thrown in for good mea sure, an assortment of garden-variety mental illness.

“Is this your way of telling me I’m a wuss?” I wanted to ask him.

Like a lot of people, I had always dismissed the things he’d just told me I had as forms of weakness, the kind of stuff that could be sorted out simply by telling the afflicted to pull themselves together. “Crazy” at least gets you invited to a fun party every once in a while. But “mental illness” doesn’t pack quite the same punch. “I saw that dude drink ten shots in a row, break a bottle over his own head, drop his pants, and then barricade himself in the bathroom with a goat— he totally suffers from mental illness.” You never really hear that sort of thing.

Mark also arranged for me to get a prescription for the antidepressant Zoloft.

“You might find it causes vomiting, diarrhea, fainting, decreased bladder control, dizziness, hives, peeling of the skin, swelling of the tongue, and, perhaps most of all, erectile dysfunction,” he explained.

“But other than that you might find it quite helpful.”

“Sounds fun. Thanks.”

While I popped my pills and met with Mark each week to discuss whatever was pummelling my psyche that day, hour, or minute, I tried to make sense of it all. Like skydiving, colonic irrigation, and intimate hair removal, mental illness is unfortunately the sort of thing one has to experience firsthand to truly understand, regardless of whether or not you’ve ever shit your pants or spent three hours in the shower trying to induce an erection. Depression, for example, is a misnomer, if you ask me. It has little to do with just being sad—that would make it almost charming by comparison. It’s more like swallowing a small bomb that is perpetually threatening to go off in five minutes, five hours, or maybe even five days— you’re not sure—and not being able to mention it to anyone. I’ve also heard it described as feeling completely alone in a crowded room, but to me it felt more like not even being in the room at all.

Adding to all this weirdness, of course, was my mother, who struggled to understand what was going on with me. Hoping to knock out the problem, she showed up in my room one day with a rosary in her hand, a not entirely surprising Catholic- lady move.

“This will help,” she assured me before pressing it in my hand and patting my head.

“But Mom, my therapist says I have OCD,” I told her. “I really don’t think reciting a bunch of Hail Marys and Our Fathers over and over again is a good move for me right now. It’d be like throwing water on a drowning man.”

“Says who?”

“Says me mostly. But I bet my therapist would agree.”

“Just hang on to it anyway.”

I appreciated the gesture, but at the time the only thing the rosary definitely helped with was confusing the cops when they pulled me over a few days later ostensibly for running a stop sign but ultimately to search my car for drugs. My hair was long and I looked like hell so I guess they decided to just roll the dice and hope they found something to bust me for. (In case you’re wondering, aside from the rosary, they did find plenty of drugs, but that’s only because I had started taking my Zoloft prescription with me everywhere.)


Run-ins with the cops aside, I slowly began to settle into my new life as a mentally ill person living with his parents. On the surface, it didn’t seem all that bad. I dragged myself out of bed at five thirty each morning, unable to stare at the ceiling any longer, and sat in the kitchen waiting for my parents to finally come downstairs by seven o’clock or so, which felt like an eternity. Then I’d watch them eat breakfast and I’d pretend to do the same with an old piece of toast or whatever they happened to push in front me. After that, I’d usually go back to staring at the ceiling in my room for a few hours before retiring to the Barcalounger in the family room to watch television until midnight. Then I’d go upstairs to toss and turn for a few hours before starting it all over again the next morning. From a distance, it probably just looked like I was on a shitty vacation.

“Blanche was up to her old tricks again last night,” I’d say to my mom in passing.

“Yeah, well she’s nothing but a tramp if you ask me,” she’d respond.

“The biggest, Mom. The biggest.”

Aside from my steadily dropping weight (a bonus in my case as I had been on a strict Ben & Jerry’s diet in the months prior), the only outward sign that something was seriously wrong was my clothing.

Depression, anxiety, and OCD had rendered me a sartorially challenged individual. Suddenly, an old button-down shirt and a moth-eaten sweater vest I’d found in a garbage bag in the attic seemed like a perfectly reasonable ensemble to not only wear every day, but also to sleep in at night. My mother capitalized on my compromised state by talking me into wearing almost every article of clothing she’d gotten me for Christmas over the past ten years or so.

“David, remember those gray and tan wool slacks I got on sale for you last year?” she’d ask. “I bet they’d look great with that maroon turtleneck and your high school letterman jacket.”

“Anything you say, Mom,” I’d mumble.

I was so defenseless, she probably could have talked me into putting on clown makeup. Still, I was so caught up with my own thoughts I no longer recognized the importance of personal flair. As a result, photos of me from this period remain perhaps the greatest tragedy of all.

Meanwhile, my therapist, Mark, had given me some homework to do. As he explained it, my OCD had kicked in as a way to deal with my anxiety. OCD and anxiety teamed up to cause my depression. To help me better understand things, Mark wanted me to pick up a book on OCD called Stop Obsessing! and read a few chapters before we met again.

“Do you have a book called Stop Obsessing!?” I asked an employee at the local bookstore.

“I’m sorry,” he told me. “We don’t have it at the moment.”

“Do you have a book a called Stop Obsessing!?” I asked him again two seconds later.

I don’t think the guy at the store found it very funny, but at the time I thought it was pure gold. And possibly a sign that the regular me was still in there somewhere.

I had also begun to subject myself to daily “worry periods,” something both Mark and that OCD book I finally got strongly recommended. The worry periods were designed to help me gain some control over my obsessive thoughts, the nature of which seemed to change on an almost daily basis. One day I might be convinced I’d gotten mad cow disease from a corn dog, the next I’d worry that I might accidentally stab my entire family with a wayward butter knife at the next holiday gathering2 or perhaps do something else that would make it so there was no way in hell anyone would ever give me that bagboy job I still hadn’t entirely ruled out. And while I never developed physical compulsions, I had a habit of creating mind exercises to try to distract myself from my obsessions. One of my favorites was to type out the lyrics to classic rock songs in my head. I’d picture the keystrokes on the typewriter and everything. Ridiculous maybe, but that’s the name of the game when it comes to OCD

2 Note to my family: I have since learned that the odds of this ever happening really aren’t very good at all. Seriously, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Except for you, Rob.

Each worry period consisted of locking myself in a room at the same time each day for between twenty minutes and an hour—depending on what I thought I could handle— and attempting to do nothing but sit there and think the darkest, most apocalyptic thoughts possible about whatever was terrorizing me the most that day.

“I am definitely going to be kidnapped by Shriners,” I might tell myself one day. “In fact, I’m pretty sure I heard one of those tiny little cars pull into the driveway just now. There is no escape. And I will be forced to wear one of those weird hats.”

No one suggested I pull my hair, send everything on top of my dresser crashing to the floor, or scream “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” the whole time, but some days I would throw that stuff in anyway just to make it my own.

The idea behind the worry periods was to embrace the hopelessness, to really let it make me its bitch for a while. And, by assigning a designated time to freak out about something and then try to do nothing but freak out about that one thing only during that designated time, I would eventually get to the point where I would no longer get so worked up over some bullshit or another that I’d find myself rushing to puke in the bathroom of a Jewish deli down the street from my parents’ house before my corned beef and latkes had even shown up to the table. It’s just hitting me now that it was all a bit weird. Even so, the worry periods were surprisingly helpful. Supposedly brain scans of people who have undergone such therapy have shown that you can actually change the physical makeup of your brain if you do it long enough. Sometimes I wonder if I could use similar techniques to physically alter myself in other ways. The possibilities are endless.

After a few weeks of pills, therapy, and worry periods, I decided to take my own additional steps toward a better, less deranged tomorrow, the biggest of which was to get a job. Mental illness or not, the thought of working for the man had always given me reason enough to be depressed. But— given my druthers at the time— I would have just lain in bed all day biting my toenails, drooling on my pillow, and practicing my heavy breathing, so I figured having to show up for a job might keep me from doing that so much.

Partly out of convenience and partly so I would feel extra bad about ever calling in “sick,” I gave up my part- time- assistant-manager-at- the- grocery- store dreams and instead took a job working for my friend Tony’s dad’s landscaping company. I never thought of myself as a wimp, but I also wasn’t the fi rst guy you should call if you needed a giant wheelbarrow full of gravel pushed up the side of a steep hill. I figured struggling with that sort of thing as well as any lawncare equipment I’d be asked to handle would help distract me from whatever was happening in my head. After all, it’s hard to give neurosis the attention it screams for when one false move could send your big toe fl ying into the pachysandra. My plan worked, too. Never underestimate the healing power of a Weedwhacker. And don’t even get me started on a leaf blower— it is the hammer of the gods.

Despite all the therapy, the Zoloft, and even the leaf blower, it was still a long time before I felt like I was no longer at risk of changing my name to Sparkles and moving into a group home where I’d be required to wear pajamas, mittens, and a helmet at all times. Fortunately, I never really felt suicidal. Sure, there were plenty of days when being dead had its appeal, but when depression is at its worst, suicide, for many people (including me thankfully), just feels like it would take way too much time and energy. Getting yourself to change the channel on the television is hard enough. Who has time to go to the hardware store or CVS for death supplies? It’s just too much of a scheduling hassle.

Gradually, however, as promised by the medical community, I started to experience tiny windows of seminormalcy where I’d not only have renewed interest in things like ice hockey, girls, and heavy metal but, perhaps more important, restored hatred of things like jam bands, people who wear sweatpants on airplanes, and the unpredictable coming and going of the McRib.3 These windows got bigger and bigger over time, too. And while I would occasionally find myself seemingly back at batshit crazy square one, it didn’t take quite as long to start feeling better again. It was kind of like being the pi lot of a shitty airplane— the ride never quite felt smooth, but as long as I kept the engine running it seemed like I might be able to keep the thing in the air awhile longer, even if it meant coughing from fumes the whole way. My outfits slowly began to improve, too.

I was also able to get my OCD under control in a few months and all these years later it seems to only really make itself known in the form of me checking to make sure I locked my apartment door a little more often than I would like. But it took a good five or six years before I felt like I really had much of a handle on any of that anxiety or depression bullshit. It still pays me a visit every once in a while, usually after a perfect storm of stress, travel, lack of sleep, and a few too many open bars knocks me on my ass just long enough for it to show up like that annoying relative all over again. And, as unwelcome as it is, at least it comes with the surprising side effect of making real life problems like death, restraining orders, or the advance I got to write this book not necessarily any less upsetting, but, by comparison, refreshing in their tangibility. Also, like most things in life, it doesn’t take long to find others familiar with experiencing an occasional case of the crazies. After all, Norman Bates was right: “We all go a little mad sometimes.” It’s nice to have someone you can call to talk you down from the proverbial or literal ledge and for you to be able to do the same for them.

“Hey, it’s Dave,” I’ll say over the phone to a similarly afflicted friend or relative.

“Hey, Dave. How’s it going?”

“Not too good. I think I caught herpes from the StairMaster yesterday.”

3 Seriously, McDonald’s, this has gone on long enough, so for chrissakes please stop toying with our emotions. You know everyone loves the McRib. It’s delicious and the fake rib impressions on the “meat” only add to the fun. Just leave it on the menu for good already. What— do you hate money?


Despite what all those made- for- TV movies, sappy commercials, and other things that don’t skimp on having sad piano music in the background might tell you, I don’t think dealing with depression makes someone a “survivor.” There’s only two groups of people in the world deserving of that title and one of them is Beyoncé. People dealing with clinical depression don’t deserve any special treatment, either, at least not any more than someone with a bad case of the flu, chronic back pain, or even two broken hips and a third testicle. But they do deserve the same acknowledgment and insurance coverage that all those other people get, no questions asked. (Even the three testicle guy. You’d think he’d be bragging instead of complaining but whatever.)

What the person suffering from depression doesn’t deserve, however, is pity. Not now, not ever. Unless, of course, that pity ends up leading to sex, in which case I’m all for it. In fact, I’m sitting here right now and I feel absolutely worse than ever.

from Tasteful Nudes by Dave Hill. Copyright © 2012 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

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Dave Hill’s Author-on-Author with Dick Cavett and Malcolm Gladwell (Tasteful Nudes Book Trailer) - watch more funny videos

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