By Cuilin Chen
It is wonderfully terrifying to sit in the Robsham Theater and listen to Kevin Breel’s talk—I think people around me are going to explode as their laughter bursts out again and again. Mimicking a drunken person he saw one night with wavy arms and exaggerated body shakes, Kevin Breel is stirring with on-stage hilarity. His humor, especially the light-hearted and witty use of sarcasm, brings such excitement for the audience, it is hard to imagine that this young energetic comic was once depressed and wanted to end his own life.
It isn’t too unimaginable for me, though, having watched Kevin’s TED Talk: Confessions of a Depressed Comic last summer. Kevin Breel is a 21 year old writer, stand-up comic, and mental health activist from Canada. In his TED talk, I heard the story of a vulnerable teenager told with such vivid honesty that I felt as if I could touch his pain as I listened to his recollections of being trapped by depression. The Kevin on stage now, however, stuns the audience with an exuberant personality and his comic potential—his delivery is casual but the effect is explosive, a surge of laughter sweeping the audience at every throwaway line.
The transformation from a teenager who once wished not to live anymore to the Kevin today, who has the strength to share his story and help others, must not be the easiest thing in the world. For many people struggling with similar issues, it is deeply meaningful to hear his story as they realize they are not alone in fighting depression. And more importantly, the sense of sharing and caring about others brings people together, and reassures them that it is not as much of a nightmare as they fear. Even though everyone has peaks and valleys in life, and levels of depression vary, it isn’t unnatural to empathize with one another’s deepest feelings, because this is why we are human. I greatly admire Kevin’s efforts in fostering the sense of connection between people and helping them to move out from under the shade of depression.
I caught up with Kevin after the show to talk about the decision to go public with his experiences. Kevin tells me that doing stand ups helps him tremendously in defeating depression. Over the years, the important things he has learnt about fighting depression are to care about people and to be honest with himself. “The only way to be truly loved is to be truly known, and the only way to be truly known is to be vulnerable,” he says. I could not agree more.
Just among the audience tonight, there will be more people swimming in that darkness than we tend to presume. When it comes to speaking out about a stigmatized condition that affects millions but is still difficult to talk about, a brave candid voice like Breel’s is akin to the most beautiful music. Or at least I believe so. Moments of breakdown are usually despised, dismissed and disliked by us; they cut life sharply into pieces; they are the raspy noises interrupting a soothing melody.
But wait a second: Moments of breakdown also open windows for us to peek into our true selves and build bridges for us to feel deeply for one another. I searched through my life experiences to verify what Kevin says and came to the conclusion that, indeed, the friendships that I value most were built when my friends and I were going through difficult times. Take a second and ask yourself if it is also true for you.
At the end, one student asks Kevin a pertinent question: “Are you still depressed?” Guess what the answer is? Personally, it does not matter to me whether he is still depressed or not. I have learnt from Kevin’s talks that the most important thing is to react actively when you are, well, “not utterly happy”. After all, depression can happen to anyone; it is not something to fear but, rather, something to be treated tenderly. What we should do in response, which is also my key take-away from Kevin’s talk, is remember these words: Love, Care, Share, and LAUGH!