Sam Grittner has suffered depression since he was a preteen.
The St. Paul-born, now New York City-based, comedian says he is an addict who was destined to find drugs. He has been sober, relapsed and attempted suicide. Surviving an overdose that doctors believe should have killed him has caused Grittner to believe he is here for a reason, and he’s going to work on staying sober so he can discover that purpose.
This is the last part of my interview with Grittner, who shares his ride with 67K Twitter followers. Because of how well Grittner expresses himself, I was interested in his thoughts on media coverage when someone famous dies by suicide.
Q: Were you destined to find drugs — or if you had never started using drugs, would your depression be better now?
A: First of all, I am an addict. I would have found them. My body processes drugs and alcohol a different way from normal people. I understand that now. I thought I could control it. That became clear that wasn’t true when I got into the hard-core stuff. Eventually when I was 31, I was able to quit everything but pot. I was convinced pot was OK. The relapse taught me that, for me, there is no such thing as one anything. If I take a drag of a joint, I’m off to the races. There is this dichotomy. If I’m perfectly honest, drugs and alcohol did save my life on a couple of occasions. When I relapsed in February, I had a friend fly me out to California. I had planned to take my own life again. I was going to go out to the ocean after the wedding and slit my wrist. But I ended up so drunk that at 4 a.m. I looked at my watch and thought, “Oh [expletive, and he starts laughing]. I forgot to kill myself. May as well have another beer.”
Q: When I see commercials on TV for people with depression who might have suicidal tendencies, are those ads helpful or not? Or is it good the subject is being openly discussed?
A: For me personally, I called 1-800 suicide hotlines on three occasions. All three times have been really helpful. When I see stuff like that it’s definitely not a trigger for me.
Q: Do you believe there is a copycat effect in suicides?
A: Yeah. Definitely when famous people do it [who] someone connects to, I feel like they view it as a more viable option.
Q: Does your therapist ever laugh at something that ordinarily is not a laughing matter?
A: The problem for me is that I feel I was born a performer. In therapy, it doesn’t matter how serious it is, there is always a part of me that’s trying to get a laugh. I’m sure I’ve phrased stuff inadvertently or subconsciously where yeah, they hear really dark stuff all the time. For me it’s the best audience of all. They’ll laugh at stuff other people might think they’d be judged for laughing at, [but] even then that’s cathartic and helpful. It’s acknowledgment of, yeah, it can be really bleak, and to me laughing at the darkest stuff is the best medicine.
Q: What can newspapers do better when we report about suicides?
A: The biggest thing other people have pointed out to me is the idea that when Anthony Bourdain took his life, or Kate Spade, it seems like the story is people are SHOCKED that wealthy people suffer from depression too. I guess it would be, just the idea that depression is just like alcoholism. It doesn’t care about your skin color, how much you weigh. It doesn’t care if you like potato salad or not. If it has chosen you, you are born with it. It’s indiscriminate. I think the caveat for me is that it affects everyone. I saw a couple of articles that blamed Anthony Bourdain’s on a girlfriend. That’s pretty horrendous. When I was at my rock bottom, when I woke up and decided to kill myself, no one could have talked me out it. That’s not to say you shouldn’t reach out, but … no one should be judged. Depression and alcoholism [don’t occur] because you are weak-willed. The short answer is don’t vilify anyone else or lay the blame on anyone else’s feet, and don’t blame the person. It’s the fault of the disease.
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.