I often hear that laughter is the best medicine. But is it? For the award-winning comedian Chonda Pierce, making other’s laugh was an escape from her deep depression and loneliness. It wasn’t until she hit a wall (metaphorically) at the peak of her career that she finally had to deal with both. Not only does she open up about her story of overcoming, but she shares a few very practical tips for dealing with depression.
If you don’t know who Chonda Pierce is, let me tell you. She is an Emmy nominated, best-selling comedian whose winning combination of fierce wit and southern charm has made audiences laugh for more than two decades. In fact, she’s the most awarded female comedian of all time. (There’s a funny story about that award in the interview.) And not only is she a stand-up comic, but she’s also a television host, author, and actor.
In this episode, Chonda and I talk about depression and loneliness--where it comes from and what she does to cope. Listen to the podcast to hear the entire interview, or keep reading below for the highlights.
As a teenager, Chonda lost both of her sisters. When she was 16, her older sister died in a car wreck, and just two years later, her younger sister died of leukemia. Chonda admits that she was unable to process physically and emotionally the deaths of her sisters at such a young age. And the way she dealt with it was very primal--anger, frustration, being mad at God, and wanting nothing to do with him.
In addition to the deaths of her sisters, Chonda had a terrible relationship with her father. He was abusive in many ways, and this relationship marred Chonda’s view of her sexuality.
If we don’t learn to process things like this well, Chonda says, our bodies will do it for us, manifesting itself in other ways--overeating, addiction, depression, etc. Unfortunately, for Chonda, this is exactly what happened.
She was well into her career when she hit a wall running. She was overworking and tired and was too driven. But she believes God used the stress and the strain of those things to wake her up. And what she found was that she was deeply depressed.
Although she didn’t want to go, she ended up checking into a psychiatric hospital. It was there that she began the journey of unpacking all the pain she had stuffed down for years around her sister’s deaths and her upbringing and began reconciling the fact that she had used comedy as a band-aid to cover up the sore she had never really dealt with.
Loneliness on the road
Not only was Chonda depressed, but she was also lonely. As a comedian, she has spent a good deal of her life on the road. While she loves comedy and doing what she does, she admits that being a mom while on the road is extremely difficult. A part of her wanted to be home with her kids, doing mom things--baking cookies, getting her kids off to school, and the like. And when she couldn’t do that, she became lonely when she couldn’t be with her family, kids, and husband.
Fortunately, her husband, David, took care of things at home while she was on the road. But he became lonely too. And in Chonda and David’s mutual loneliness, they grew distant. Knowing that that other was lonely, they wanted to protect each other, so they stopped sharing the truth. Chonda didn’t want to share about the fun things on the road, and David didn’t want to share about things happening with the kids because they both knew it would make the other sad. So they basically stopped communicating.
While their loneliness led both of them to make poor choices, they worked on their relationship, got the help they needed, survived mutual affairs, and adored each other until the end, when David passed away. But, Chonda says, when this happened, the loneliness she was experiencing was the greatest it had ever been. Through this loneliness, she began to understand why the Bible says to “look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). When a widow, like her, loses the love of her life, she’s left with a horrible, broken heart. It takes others to rally around her as she mourns the loss of her husband.
Finding healing and learning to live with depression and loneliness
Chonda’s first step towards coping with her depression and loneliness started with getting medication. I love how Chonda puts this process. She says that if someone has been in a deep, dark place for a long time like she had, their body accommodates to that deep, dark place. The brain, then, stops producing the chemicals needed to make someone happy. So medication actually helps as a jump start to get someone in the right headspace so they can begin to process what got them there in the first place.
Once Chonda was on the medication she needed to help her level out her emotions, she began counseling. Through this process, she uncovered the sore she’d kept hidden and started peeling back the layers of great pain from all the years prior. Over time, the infection inside began to make its way out, bringing with it great healing.
Another thing Chonda has taken on to battle depression and loneliness is holding to the idea of not letting herself get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. As she puts it, she’s put things in play--organizes her life in such a way--so that she doesn’t succumb to those four things.
Part of this is getting into a routine. Chonda once heard Patsy Clairmont share, “Just get up and make your bed.” The idea is that getting into a physical routine helps put the mind in the right place. Chonda actually writes down her routine and follows it so that it becomes a natural part of her day.
One more thing Chonda does is allow herself to sit with her pain but only for a time. When she’s feeling sad about her sisters’ deaths or when she’s missing her husband, she allows herself to feel the full emotions of those things. But she knows that sitting with the pain of one thing for too long will lead to the pain of another thing, which will lead to the pain of another, and before long, it becomes overwhelming.
So Chonda will set a timer and allow herself to experience those emotions for a predetermined amount of time. But when the timer goes off, she gets up and moves on--moves to a different chair, puts on music, calls a friend, etc.
In addition, when she’s journaling, Chonda sometimes allows herself to write about a personal fault she’s feeling. But only for one page, no more. She says that more often than not when going back a week later and rereading, most of what she was feeling in the moment was shame-based, and she was just condemning herself. Which leads to something else she’s learned over the years.
The best thing to do is leave your baggage and shame with the Lord. This is something we all have to be reminded to do, and as Chonda says, Jesus doesn’t condemn us. But, so often, we’re the ones condemning ourselves, and we have to learn to surrender all of our baggage and shame with the Lord and trust his love for us.
A verse in the Bible says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23.1). That idea of not wanting is a form of surrender. We don’t want because we’ve surrendered it to the Lord and trust him with whatever is happening in our lives.
Using our broken pieces
I love Chonda’s willingness to be vulnerable about where she’s at in life, depression, loneliness, and all. And the amazing thing is that God has used her broken pieces to help others. Not only does she make us all laugh--and yes, laughter really is one of the best medicines--she’s also developed a great love and tenderness for others who are depressed. Along with her brother, she started Branches Counseling Center, a place for people to find healing, reconciliation, and redemption. She’s also written a book about what she’s gone through called Laughing in the Dark: A Comedian’s Journey Through Depression.
I’ve been friends with Chonda for years, and I loved being able to connect with her in this real and raw way while she shared her story, listening to her heart, and hearing how God is using her.
If you’d like to see Chonda on tour, you can check tour dates and cities at chonda.org. She’s also starring in a major motion picture coming out in Spring 2022, so be sure and check that out.
The post Battling Depression and Loneliness with Comedian Chonda Pierce appeared first on Auntie Anne Beiler.