Love. Music. Passion. Creative Genius. Chronic Depression. Success. Those who live with chronic depression are often deeply misunderstood. Recent research shows that nearly 1 in 5 of those 18 and older in the U.S. have reported suffering from depression. Although we’re making strides in the destigmatization of mental health issues, silent struggles continue behind the scenes. By having honest conversations about depression, we can pull back the curtain to create the massive change we need. Join Dr. Carla and Owen Dara—singer, songwriter, filmmaker, playwright, and author—for a deep, honest dive into living and thriving with chronic depression.
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An Inside Look at the Highs and Lows of Chronic Depression with Expert Owen Dara
Destigmatizing Chronic Depression with Honesty, Hope, and Courage
Love, music, passion, creative genius, chronic depression, and success. Those who live with chronic depression are often deeply misunderstood. Research shows that nearly 1 in 5 of those 18 and older in the US have reported suffering from depression. Although we’re making strides in the destigmatization of mental health issues, silent struggles continue behind the scenes. By having honest conversations about depression, we can pull back the curtain to create the massive change we need.
In this episode, we’ll focus on this real-life question. “Since my late teens, I’ve struggled with chronic depression. My parents ignored it. They told me it was part of being an adolescent. Many years later, there are days I force myself to get out of bed. I’ve even been told to get over it as if depression is a choice. Medication hasn’t helped much. Is there anything else I can do?” With that question as the focus of this episode, this is Imperfect Love. I’m joined by a special guest, Owen Dara, singer, songwriter, filmmaker, playwright, and author. He will be sharing his expertise on creativity, passion, and living with chronic depression. I am grateful and blessed to have you join us. Thank you for being here.
Thank you so much for having me, Dr. Carla. It’s great to see you again. That question is fantastic. Some of it I have experienced and gone through similar things myself, not exactly that. We’re all somewhat different, but I can certainly relate to a lot of what was asked.Love. Music. Passion. Creative Genius. Chronic Depression. Success. Those who live with chronic depression are often deeply misunderstood. Join Dr. Carla and Filmmaker/Musician/Author Owen Dara for an honest, inside look at living (and thriving) with… Click To Tweet
I love talking with you because you’re transparent. You’re such a genuine, love-filled, amazing human being. I’ve seen your films and read your book. There’s something magical about you. I’ve heard you sing during the pandemic. I’m tuning into your concerts. It’s amazing and uplifting. Behind all of that success, beauty, and delight, there is also a lifelong struggle with chronic depression.
One goes in hand with the other because it is the depression that initially pushed me toward creativity. It was a way of dealing with depression. Without depression, I wouldn’t have that spark for creativity or that drive to create. There are plenty of creative people who don’t have chronic depression. I’m happy for them.
I consider myself fortunate in that. I’ve learned to control it over the years. In my teens and early twenties, it was extraordinarily difficult. Creativity was certainly something that helped me and hindered me in a way because when we get depressed, we’re searching for a way out. We don’t have a lot of time, support system, energy to pull ourselves out, or the know-how. At least, I didn’t in my teens and twenties. A lot of time, I was alone going through all that.
When I perform, at least back then, it would give me a reprieve from it. Expressing myself, being on stage, and feeling the love of strangers and an audience would lift me up, but the following day, I would be maybe two steps back from what I’d been the day before. It would be like, “In the evening, I’ve done this. I feel great. I’m cured.” The next day, I would find that I had taken a step back. In a sense, it can hinder us.Chronic Depression is real. U.S. stats show that nearly 1 in 5 of people over 18 suffer from depression. We're making strides in the destigmatizing mental health issues, yet silent struggles continues. Join Dr. Carla and Filmmaker Owen Dara for a… Click To Tweet
The quiet creativity, the expression alone, and those honest feelings without particular feedback can slowly bring you out of it or help you to cope with it as it’s going on. I find it more as I get older. I talk to people such as you and people who also suffer from chronic depression. It’s like we recognize each other. Somebody will say something about suffering from depression, and I’ll say something. There will be a little spark of like, “This is someone who understands.” They must have someone in their life who has depression that they’re close to, or they must have experienced it.
The conversation will escalate into something extremely open, like, “You know about that. You feel that?” Sometimes, people will say, “You must have done so much research on that.” I’m like, “Yes, the only reason I’ve done any reading on it, listen to any podcasts about it, or take a specific interest in it is because I understand that world.”
I’m grateful for the fact that I go through long periods of not being depressed. My MO in life is to avoid depression. It’s not that I can ever avoid it. It’s going to come back. I need to find some sense of equilibrium where I don’t get too high or low. I get on with day-to-day life and do my work. I’ve found certain things in my life that will help me to sustain a sense of well-being.With depression on the rise, we can't afford NOT to destigmatize real-life mental issues such as chronic depression. Join Dr. Carla and Owen Dara--singer, songwriter, filmmaker, playwrite, and author for a deep, honest dive into living and thriving… Click To Tweet
I want to dive into what works and what doesn’t work for you as a way of circling back to our reader’s question. First, if you don’t mind, I’d like you to share with our readers a little bit about you and your journey in life. Where were you born?
I was born in Cork, Ireland, and I grew up there. That’s my entire childhood into adulthood. I’ve come back from there. I spent a few months over there, which was fantastic. It’s great connecting with family and community there, at least most of them. There were people I went to school with. I was like, “There was a reason we haven’t kept in touch all these decades.” It was joyous to connect, especially with my mother. I was able to spend a lot of time with her and with some of my siblings, nieces, nephews, and some old good friends.
Connecting with people helps. Our essence as humans is connectivity and a sense of community. I went through a down period. I locked down for five days in the middle of that time because I could feel when depression was coming on. I don’t always know 100%, and I am in denial about it. I say, “I feel like I’m getting depressed, but I think I’ll be okay.” I power through. It comes to a point where I go, “I have to recognize this and take the steps.” What I did at that time was I isolated, which works for me.Chronic depression is unavoidable. It's going to come back, but you need to find some sense of equilibrium where you don't get too high or too low. Click To Tweet
The thing that I tell people and hard for them to understand is the hardest thing to deal with is people and even people you love. The hardest thing is if you are around somebody who doesn’t understand or who’s trying to lift you out of this situation and who’s trying to fix you. The only thing that can heal is time, taking care of yourself, and going through it. You have to go through it. I’m not saying you have to go through it by yourself because the support group is extremely important.
What my family and some friends did was communicate with me every day, several times a day. They brought me meals, which was a huge help. They didn’t judge. They said, “Are you okay? What do you need?” They are not telling me what I needed but asking me, not judging and saying, “This thing is happening tomorrow. Do you want to be part of this? Would it be appropriate to include you in the invitation? How do you feel?” If I text back or say, “I’m not ready to see people,” they understand.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, my sister contacted Jessica, my other half who knows me. I don’t want to say mood swings because it’s not that, but I suppose my ups and downs that she tends to recognize even before I do. I’ll say, “I think I’m going into depression.” She’ll say, “Yes, I could have told you that a few days ago.”
They communicated a bit and said, “What should we do?” I don’t usually spend extended time with my family. What she said was, “Don’t worry and leave him be.” That was her advice. If we hear somebody suffering through something, we want to help them and be there. We want to say, “Come, I’ll take you out. I’ll do this and that.” What people don’t understand is that if someone is sad, they can be cheered up. If someone is depressed, they need to go through that in order to get out the other side of this phase. Because it is a phase, it is chronic. It’s going to come back, but we do get out of it. Even the most depressed of us, we get reprieve.
I’m certainly not a medical expert. I know, having gone through it, that I understand much more than a number of professionals because I had a conversation with a close friend of mine who’s medicated for many decades since he was a teenager. We have in-depth talks about depression. He can tell me things that he doesn’t tell other people. Even his psychiatrist said to him one day, “I can’t understand what you’re going through because I haven’t experienced it, but here are the things that we do. Here’s what I’ve been trained to give or tell you to do at this time.”
I never went down the path of medication. I was prescribed medication a couple of times. Part of it is the fact that my friend has been reliant on it. It’s had some adverse effects on him. I didn’t want to be tied down to something that would be perpetual in my life. I would continue to have to have health insurance and doctor visits. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to control it without having to have medication. I’m not saying it was the best path for me to choose. Possibly, it might’ve been better for me to take the medication when I was prescribed. I take SAM-e on a regular basis. If I’m feeling down or I feel like I’m on my way towards it, I take SAM-e every day.
It was prescribed, but the information was given to me by a fellow depression sufferer who came into my life because his wife was my boss at the time. I couldn’t finish out a day’s work. I told her that. Rather than say, “You have to work. I don’t have somebody to replace you right now.” She said, “Go into this room. Take your time and relax.”
She called her husband. Her husband came in, and he spoke to me. He was somebody who suffered terribly from depression. It was one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me in my life. He took charge and said, “This is what I’ve been through. So much to me was familiar. These are the things that work for me.” Some of them I had heard before, and some I hadn’t. One was, “I take SAM-e every day.” He gave me a book. I don’t know who wrote the book. If it was somebody working for the company, I don’t care at this point because it worked for me, and it helped me.
I started taking it every day, and fish oil, vitamin B12, B6, and multivitamins. I started eating healthier. We can’t have a healthy brain without the right foods. I had let my physical health dwindle because I was living a life for many years of being an entertainer and being in comedy clubs. I was a comedian for many years. I didn’t feel like I needed to keep my physical health in peak condition for that. I was able to sleep during the day, be out at night, and have some drinks after, during, or before the show. Nobody judged you if you were having a couple of drinks before you went to work because you were on stage and you were a comedian. It was expected, almost.
It’s part of part of your lifestyle.
I got away with that for a number of years, but it caught up with me. I have been a vegetarian since my teens. Somebody also told me, “If you start eating fish, it’s going to help your mental health.” I didn’t want to believe that because I’m a vegetarian and I want to stay a vegetarian, but we’re all different. All our body types and brain types were all different. I thought, “Why don’t I try that?” At least to me, at that time, the most important thing was mental health.The most important thing is your mental health. Click To Tweet
I started eating fish again. That also helped me physically and mentally. It’s not always possible, but I try to keep a healthy diet that will sustain me in a good mental place. Sometimes, the symptoms of my mental illness will come to me at the most unexplained or unexpected times. It’s like, “Life is going great. I’m doing this. I’m excited about this project I’m working on. My film is almost finished.” I get excited about working on it, and I’ll start to feel a little twinge of something, a little staring off into the distance and wistfulness for no explainable reason.
Depression is inexplicable in many ways. There are many factors that must play into it that I don’t understand. I’m sure the general consensus is that there are many things still to be understood about this. I’ll find myself wondering why at this time and for what purpose, and there it is. I’ll say, “I have to take care of myself. If I don’t, it’ll go on for a long time. If I do, I can hopefully not quite nip it in the bud.” I’ll still have to go through it, but it will not be as long-lasting and not as severe if I catch it early and do the things that I know I need to do
I’m sitting here. There were plentiful tears in my eyes, and my heart was getting sad at being with you. I can’t help but be stunned by the courage that it must take to live with chronic depression because I’ve never suffered from depression. The closest I’ve gotten is periods when I’ve lost a loved one. I know how excruciating that can be.
For me to realize, as I’m sitting here, that it’s not triggered by the loss of a loved one but a loss ongoing in the life of this period that you are in, where it’s normal, lovely, and wonderful. You feel it inexplicably encroaching. You don’t have a reason for it. You can’t say, “I lost this loved one.” It’s this chronic lifelong surge, it feels like. What courage, Owen.
Thank you, but I feel I have little choice. I don’t know if it’s courage if you have a choice. I’m sorry for your loss. You and I discussed that before. It’s a horrible thing to lose a loved one. It’s awful to have someone so close and such a big part of your life to be gone. Those feelings are inexplicable to those who have not felt that either.
Yes, but yours is lifelong. You started suffering from depression. How old were you?
I was somewhat of a morose child. My aunt and uncle said, “Yes, we’d bring you to these things. Did you have a good time?” You’d say, “Yes, I did.” I wouldn’t ever be smiling. I don’t know if he enjoyed himself or not. That’s not something I have much memory of. I remember not being a particularly happy child. Depression came upon me in my teens. I was maybe 17 or 18 when it hit me. It hit me again when I was about 19 or 20. It was like, “Something serious is going on here.” They say it’s hereditary. My dad suffered terribly from depression. I’d seen that in my dad over the years. At that time, at least in Ireland, it wasn’t accepted as an illness. In some circles, people go, “We all get sad.” We hear that, and we’re like, “That’s true. We all get sad.”
This is different.
I developed what’s akin to maybe concept-checking questions with people as to, “Do you ever want your life to end?” I would say, “We all get sad.” Do you want your life to end at that time? Yes, it crosses my mind. How long does it last? X amount of time, and it stops. When does it come back again? How long does it take before we go? I ask these questions. They go, “No, I never experienced anything like that.” I go, “Yes, it’s because it’s different.” Sadness and depression are worlds apart, and there are some crossovers, but you can’t tell me, “Everyone gets sad. Everyone understands what depression is.”
One of the things I didn’t mention before, and I suppose this is important, is when I burn the wick at both ends, which I tend to do as an artist because I’ll get driven to finish a project. I’ll love it, and I’ll be excited about it. That is the other end where I lean towards the high, where the brain’s working fast and well. You’re creating things that you couldn’t if you were on an even keel. I feel like the bipolar element is certainly there, but not to the extent that I can’t control that.
It’s not like I run down the street hauling at the moon when that time comes. I recognize that I’m on a high now, but I have a place to put all that into my creativity, and it’s when I’m the most creative. I find that if I burn the wick on both ends like that, that will set it off. That is a recipe for me to go to a lower place or for a dark cloud to come upon me. As the years have gone on, I’ve realized that even as much as I want to and as excited I am about creating something, I need to curb that and put a normal day’s work in, which might be 6, 8, to 10 hours, but not fifteen.As the years have gone on, I've realized that even as much as I want to and as excited as I am about creating something, I need to curb that and just push a normal day's work. Click To Tweet
Balance is key for you.
I went through phases of doing fifteen hours a day with nothing to me, which is crazy. That’s crazy now that I think about it, and not just fifteen hours in one day. Sometimes, that would go on for weeks. I wouldn’t take a single day off. I’d be excited about it. I’d be like, “This is great. I wish it were always like this because I would feel good.”
That’s the higher end of the spectrum that I wish I could live in, but I can’t. If somebody gets drunk and they feel great, there’s the hangover. It’s the same if you are on that creative high and you keep it going for as long as you can because you don’t want it to end. It will be ended for you. The other end of the spectrum is it’s not worth it. I’ve discovered that it’s not worth it.
I will consciously stop work at 5:00 or 6:00. I have someone, thankfully, in my life, Jessica, who will come, and she’ll walk in and go, “You have to stop.” I go, “No, I need to finish this scene or verse.” She’ll say, “Yes, but you know what’s going to happen.” I’ll be like, “Yes.” I’ll stop. That’s important. We have to know our triggers. It’s taken me years to realize and accept what my triggers are and what can get me out of it. If the person who had asked that excellent question, because somebody who is living with all those things and recognizes and acknowledges it in the spirit to ask questions about it, that person and all of whom go through similar things, needs to find formalists for themselves.
I have a couple of questions for you, Owen. When it comes to drinking because you mentioned it earlier, do you refrain from alcohol now completely?
Yes, I wish I could say otherwise because I do enjoy having a beer, but I used to drink to help get me through it, and now I abstain completely when I can feel it coming on. If there’s a project that I have to do, and I know this is going to be intensive and intense over this next month, or if I’m directing a film, I feel I need to stop drinking alcohol. I need to have no alcohol, not even a glass of wine or a beer. I need to abstain, especially if I’m doing a gig. I do a lot of music gigs now. I like to have one drink after the gig. I don’t drink before, but I like to have one after the show.
I’m not a drinker, but I did drink to get me through depression until I learned that it was putting me steps back. It’s making them worse because in the evening, when I would say, “It’s 5:00. I can have a drink.” I would think, “That helped. That took the age off. I’ll have one more.” That’ll take more of the age off. I’ll have another couple of drinks. I’ll start to feel good, and I’ll go, “This is the solution.” I’ll trick myself into thinking this was the right thing to do. The next day, I’ll realize that I’ll need the alcohol even more because I feel worse than I had the day before I drank. It goes in a vicious circle or cycle.
I have learned to completely refrain from drinking. I’ve gone through the last couple of weeks of not feeling fantastic but not being completely down. I’ve been able to do my stuff and function, and I haven’t drunk. I had a non-alcoholic beer. I thought, “Is this right? Why am I drinking a non-alcoholic beer?” I go, “If I drink an alcoholic beer, even one, it can inhibit my recovery.” We had planned to have this discussion. We first talked about having this when I was feeling great.
You were in Ireland.
Part of it is adjusting to being back in this life, as opposed to that life where I had a different community and experiences. Those kinds of things can also trigger certain feelings, which can contribute to a downhill slide if I’m not careful. I hope that maybe by this time, I will be able to have an alcoholic drink and not worry about it.
I have many questions for you, but one right in front of my nose is, how does exercise factor in? I’ll load you up with a couple of questions. I’d like to know how exercise factors in. I’m also curious if you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert. Those are two that are right here in front.
I’m glad you brought that up because it’s important. One of the things is the gentleman who came in and gave me a therapy session, even though he wasn’t a professional. He advised me all these things and told me his story. One of the things that he said is it’s important to bring the heart rate up. If you certainly exercise, walk as fast as you can manage because when you’re in a depression, you can’t move fast. I have trouble lifting my foot off the pavement at times. I’ll stroll.
It’s as much as I can manage to do. People will see me and go, “Are you okay?” I’ll be like, “No.” They’ll be asking if I am physically okay because it’s almost like I’m not walking at a normal pace. I’m walking at a slow pace, but physically, I’m fine. It’s all connected. Exercise is important. At times, I’m out cycling a bike. When I lived by the beach, I used to rollerblade a lot. It was a thing that helped me control it.
What that gentleman had told me that day was that some people control their depression solely with exercise. They don’t do anything else. They run on the treadmill every day for 20 or 40 minutes, getting the heart rate up and releasing the endorphins. That’s how they control their depression. I find if I’ve gone through a sedentary phase where I’m riding at the computer or not, and I’m not doing my exercise, that is a negative for the illness. In Ireland, I was getting around a lot by bicycle, and I felt great. It was wonderful. I was like, “I got to get my bicycle happening here again. I have to exercise.”Some people control their depression solely through exercise. Click To Tweet
It’s hugely important, and it’s the hardest thing to do when you’re feeling down, but you have to force yourself or somebody who’s close to somebody who has depression to invite them to exercise even a little bit out for a stroll. It’s important. I make a concerted effort, as hard as it is. Every evening, during those times, I’ll go out. Even if I can’t make it to the end of the street, which is only three blocks away, maybe I’ll do one block. At least, it’s something.
I’m hearing so much mindfulness and the importance of the support of someone who doesn’t judge you but steps forward to invite you to give a gentle suggestion and a block. That’s good. It’s out, wind, air, sunshine, whatever time of day, getting out. I love that you honor the importance of any amount of exercise, but as much as you can to get your heart rate going up, to get the endorphins going to give your brain that little surge of boost it needs to help you. Thank you. The other question is out of curiosity. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
I would say extrovert, but during those times, I was completely the opposite. I’m an introvert. I don’t communicate with people other than texting or sometimes on the phone, but I don’t want to be around people. I wouldn’t be able to go to social functions and feel like I could fit in. I went to my hairdresser once, which I don’t go. I don’t go that often since COVID. It’s a once-a-year thing, but I remember going once. She said, “I know you, Owen. This is not you. What happened?”
First of all, I didn’t want to have a conversation. I thought that was one of the things that I could say, “I can do something that’ll give me purpose. I can get a haircut. All I have to do is sit there and get my hair cut.” She didn’t understand what was going on. She kept prying and asking. It was the hardest thing not to be able to explain. If I said, “I’m going through a depression,” She would say, “Why? What happened? What’s wrong?”
It was a mistake engaging with somebody who’s not a friend, who doesn’t understand, and who wanted to talk about stuff. In retrospect, I think that now, but it’s certainly not a mistake to find something that you can handle on that day that’ll give you purpose. I’ll do that, even on the days I don’t feel like getting out of bed. If my bladder doesn’t force me to get out of bed, I’ll force myself to get up and do something. Even putting a slice of toast and I don’t feel like I can butter it, I can put it in the toaster, press the thing, and sit down. When the toaster pops, I can try to motivate myself to stand up again before the toast gets cold.
It doesn’t always happen, but if you have someone in your life who’s not judging you and is prepared to butter the toast for you and bring it to you, that is such a gift. Who doesn’t say, “The dishes need to be done? I’ve cooked all day for you. I’ve done this and that. Why don’t you do the dishes?” Who doesn’t do that? Who goes, “You need somebody to support you 100%, and I’ll be that person?” When I was in Ireland, I was living by myself, but my family, who have been educated over the years about such times, brought me food. They didn’t intrude, come in, or force themselves in. They came to the door. They spoke to me for as long as I was able or willing to speak, which generally wasn’t long, and said, “We’re all here for you.” It meant so much. Living with a partner who understands is huge.
We’re talking about love and relationships. We each need somebody different in our life. Each person is going to be compatible with a completely different person than another person. The one thing in my relationship that stood out at the beginning was, when I went through a depression, she was there at the end of it. She didn’t get scared off, and people get scared off.
Finding someone who didn’t get scared off, understands, and realizes that I haven’t got the energy or the motivation to do the dishes, but I will be able to in a week or two or a month. Thankfully, my depression tends not to last that long anymore. I’m grateful for that. I look back. When they would sometimes go on for several months now, I would still have to function sometimes during those times, which I suppose would accentuate the whole thing and would make it drag on. That’s part of it. If you have to get up, go to work, do something, and have to work through it, you’ve taken a step back. This is why I wasn’t able to hold down a full-time job because it would be like, “I am mentally unable to do the task that’s in front of me right now. I’m not able to do it.”
Going back to your question about the introvert or extrovert, people who know me as an extrovert don’t usually see me when I’m being an introvert because I do that by design. I don’t go, mingle, or see people who don’t understand this. I’ve learned to do that because I used to put on a brave face. Somebody would say, “Come on, it will make you feel better. It will be fun. We’ll have a drink. We’ll see this person. They’ll cheer you up.”
You go, and you’re not the person they know because you don’t have it. Your personality is like another personality. You can’t laugh at their jokes. You can’t make jokes. People start to worry about you and go, “What is going on with you?” They probe and pry, “What’s wrong? Have another drink.” You peer pressure. You have another drink. You’re like, “That will make me feel better.”
A lot of the prolonged depression for me was that I didn’t take care of myself. I worked through it. I did the things that I felt like I had to do. I didn’t make my mental health my priority. Getting through this time, I didn’t make it a priority. Whereas now, as much as there are commitments and things I have to do. I remember directing a film through a depression. The fallout from that afterward was several months, but I had to do what I had to do at the time.
If somebody has COVID, their priority is locked down for a week or ten days. This should be treated the same. I do what I need to do to get healthy and feel better again, get through this, and not infect others. If you feel we’re infecting others, like, “You’re bringing me down because of such and such,” that also brings us further down. I tell people the truth now, not always. It’s hard to admit and acknowledge it. Generally, I try to tell people the truth. I say, “I’m feeling down. I’m going through a low phase. I can’t do that. I can’t come to that gathering right now.” Usually, more than historically in my life, people seem to understand.I try to tell people the truth. I just say, “You know what? I'm feeling down. I'm going through a low phase. I can't do that right now, or I can’t come to that gathering right now.” Click To Tweet
It’s good for you on this journey, listening to you, how it’s beautiful that you, over time, have become more aware of your needs. You’ve become more aware of what doesn’t and does work for you of even going into, as you said at the beginning, shutdown mode. You could have self-care. You are surrounding yourself with people who get you, who know not to force and judge you but to be there to support you in gentle, kind ways.
I love the piece and the story about the hairdresser. It’s poignant because she may have been well-meaning, but she didn’t have good boundaries, sensitivity, or empathy. We can, as readers, come to a greater understanding from everything that you are offering, whether it’s someone who’s suffering from chronic depression, getting such great nuggets of self-care, or somebody who lives with someone or knows someone who suffers from chronic depression. It is about the exquisite sensitivity, hard work, and balance that is required to make it through each unremitting episode because there is no end in sight. You can only hope they get better and don’t last months, that it’s maybe weeks.
The other piece I honor is that you’ve talked openly about having been prescribed medication, yet not taking it and not judging that either way, but some people even believe. I remember I was at a seminar on psychopharmaceuticals. The lead presenter was saying, “People think that taking an antidepressant is going to take 100-pound weight off their back.” When it only makes that 100-pound weight into an 80-pound or 70-pound weight, they feel as though they’re broken or something wrong with them when, in fact, we can’t, especially, I’m hearing it crystal clear from you.
We can’t expect medication or anything to magically make mental health issues go away. We need to learn to talk about them and be with people with empathy, consideration, and appreciation for their courage. I go back to courage because I see it sitting here with you. You do have such immense courage because I can’t even imagine going through depression. I’d probably waste away in a corner. I can’t imagine it.
I’m grateful, Owen. One last piece, because you’ve talked about it a lot, but we’ve been a side avenue. The power of love. I know your sweetheart is an incredible human being, and it sounds as if you have love in all corners of your life. We’re such imperfect beings in love. It’s not a magic bullet, but imperfect love can certainly go a long way to making life worth living. Can you talk a little bit about love, please?
I was one of those people who thought that maybe I would never meet the right person because I would have relationships and they wouldn’t work out. Part of it was I wasn’t ready to be the person they wanted to be, or I couldn’t be the person they wanted to be. I didn’t feel like I was ready to commit. Having grown up with parents, without going into the details there, I thought, “Why would anyone ever get married? They choose this. I’d never done that.”
We get heartbroken as teenagers, which is what happened to me, the young love, and it doesn’t work out. Some people say, “We never quite get over that.” I hope we do, but it’s acceptance and being there for the other person. I joke about this sometimes. How I used to get out of relationships was I’d be dating someone, and I’d go into a depression. They’d say, “What are you doing on Saturday night? Do you want to go to a movie?” I’d say, “I can’t go because I’m not feeling well.” They were like, “What’s wrong?” I’d say, “I suffer from depression. I feel it is coming on right now. I need to be alone.” That would be the end. They’d be gone.
I joke about it because sometimes it would work in my favor. I’d be like, “I don’t want to be in a relationship with this person.” A depression would come on, and I’d go, “This is the answer.” I remember when I met Jessica, and I thought, “I don’t know how this is going to go.” Neither of us thought it would turn into a serious relationship. We didn’t verbalize that at the time, but months later, we looked back and thought, “I don’t think this would become something it.” It became something.
The pressure and the expectations weren’t there because we met each other through friends. We enjoyed each other’s company. We had fun. I wasn’t thinking in terms of a real relationship at that point, and neither was she. Through that, it developed because there were no real expectations. We learned that we liked each other’s company.
When I did go through a depression, and I told her, I said, “I am not up to meeting for a couple of weeks,” She wasn’t quite sure what to do. I remember she brought a plant to my door, which was sweet. Her mom was a therapist. She spoke to her mom, and her mom told her, “If you like this guy, what you need to do is allow him to be.” Jessica went along with that.
At the other end of it, when we met up again, I was stunned that she was accepting. That was the biggest thing in my life. First of all, I was always scared that I would meet somebody who would not acknowledge that I was an artist at heart. That’s what I do because it’s who I am. We can’t choose not to be an artist if we’re an artist. That’s the thing. It’s who we are.I was always scared that I would meet somebody who would not acknowledge that I was an artist at heart. It's what I do because it's who I am. Click To Tweet
I was talking to a songwriter, a friend of mine, who was saying, “I would die without music. If I didn’t have music, I think I would die.” I said, “Me too.” We didn’t need to say anything more than that because we both understood. My dad was an artist at heart. It’s like breathing. We have to do what we do. I used to wish that it weren’t. I used to wish that I could choose something else that was easier and would bring me, I don’t want to say joy because it doesn’t always bring me joy. I don’t always enjoy the process. I know that I have to do it.
I’ve accepted that, but my fear was getting into relation to somebody who didn’t understand that and what is fundamental about an artist that we have to have to create. She was someone who got that. I was in relationships with people who didn’t get that. I remember going out with someone one time and telling her, “It’s a drive that I can’t explain. Something in you needs to strive towards creating the perfect joke as a comedian or perfect song.”
Not that you’ll ever create anything that’s going to be perfect, but I’ll never forget her reaction because it was physical. She got scared, leaned back, and was like, “I have no understanding of what this is. This guy should be out there trying to be a stockbroker.” I was like, “The money doesn’t matter. It’s not important. I put all this stuff in. I have to make a living, but that’s not why I do it.” I think for her, and we were young, but maybe at the point where you are finding your life partner. To her, it was such a shock of like, “This guy seemed like a good bet.” All of a sudden, she had a corporate job. She had no understanding of how that could be.
There were other people I’ve met over the years who get it and understand, but the fact that I met somebody who didn’t judge my depression and understood 100% why I had to be an artist. I thought I would never find that person, and that’s impossible for me. I’m not going to be able to find somebody who gets both and who’s not going to judge me for either. The other elements were there. She’s attractive to me. She’s a wonderful person. I’m saying that because she came in, and she’s in the next room. She can probably hear me.
I can confirm. She is a beautiful human being.
I’m fortunate. I was in my late 30s when I met her. Prior to that, it hadn’t happened to me. People say, “I’m 28, 32, or 46.” It doesn’t matter the age. I have a friend in Ireland. He was 40 when he met his wife. I said, “It’s great. You’re such a great match.” He said, “Yes, it took me a long time to find her.” When they say that there is somebody out there for everyone, I didn’t use to subscribe to that, but now I do.
As flawed as we are, the concerns that we think may be our weaknesses and the reason people won’t want us may be the reason that the person wants us because she told me. She said, “I couldn’t be with somebody who wasn’t driven to be an artist.” I touched on my parents’ relationship before. My dad was an artist. I don’t think my mom, as much as I love her, she’s fantastic, ever understood what that drive was. It caused conflict and also his depression. I realized because I’m an artist and I suffer from depression. I was like, “There’s no hope. Anyone is going to put up with me.” When the chips are down, and you’re going through that place, and the person is there on the other end, that’s love.There is somebody out there for everyone, as flawed as we are. Click To Tweet
Love is action. Love is the relationship and the back and forth, truly being there in sickness and health, better for worse. That is love in action. You are right about creativity. I feel like psychotherapy and writing are oxygen to me. That’s what I breathe. You are such a magnificent creator across many realms. I know that I’ve had the joy and pleasure of seeing your work in multiple realms. It’s amazing to me that you do all of those realms brilliantly well.
As we wind to a close, I could keep going for ages, but you’ve offered so much of your time, and I’m grateful. Could you tell our listeners a little bit, not only about where they can find you, but if you don’t mind mentioning your book, giving a blurb about that and a couple of your movies. I’m a fan. Please, if you don’t mind.
I do live performances. I’m at a club in Pasadena near where I live every Tuesday night from 8:00 to 11:00. If anybody comes, I’m at The Speak Easy 1881 or the 1881 Club on Tuesday nights. Of the two films that I have out right now, the first one is called Choosing Signs. It was filmed in my hometown in Cork, which is picturesque. It’s beautiful. That is a drama, but it’s got a lot of comedy in it.
People tend to like the movie. I was relieved when we did the premiere, and people liked it. I had no idea. When you’re going through it yourself, and you’re editing, you’re like, “Are people going to like this?” That’s available on multiple platforms. The next movie is a comedy. It’s called The Holy Fail. That’s been out a couple of years. You can also get that on Amazon and a bunch of other places.
I love it. It’s a caper. It is great. Plus, your lovely significant other is in it. It’s especially magical.
She’s a wonderful actress. We couldn’t have done it without her. She has a fantastic performance in both movies. We have another movie coming out called A Lesser Gift. Before our conversation, I was finalizing a part of the post-production because I’m handing it over to the sound people who are going to do dialogue editing.
That will be available hopefully in early 2024, I’m hoping, but it might be later in the year. I have a book that I wrote called White Horses in Irish Childhood. It’s about my childhood. I haven’t put it out to the general public yet because my mother is a private person. It’s a lot of our family details. She said, “I’m happy for you to publish this book as long as I’m dead or I have Alzheimer’s.” That was her thing. She’s got a good sense of humor.
For now, I sell that at my gigs. I sell it here in America to people who want to buy it directly from me, but I haven’t put it out properly yet. I’ve written a couple of plays, which I’m hoping to get produced. We’ll see, maybe in the coming years, in Ireland because they’re based in Ireland. I’m constantly making new music. I have music on Spotify and Amazon Music, wherever you find music. I have real CDs that I sell. It’s hard to find somebody with a CD player, but occasionally, someone will come up, and they’ll want a hard copy, which is nice. I’m doing a variety show. I’m going to premiere a song and do some stand-up comedy.
Thank you, Owen. I can say your book is fantastic. If somebody wants to get their hands on a copy, could they email you?
If they go to OwenDara.com, there’s a contact page, and it has my email address. They can get in touch with me via my website.
You can find his website and his amazing and plentiful work. I had a sneak peek at one of your plays. I was stunned and touched. It still lives in my heart. I can’t wait. Even if it’s in Ireland, I have to find a way to somehow scoot over or take a ship.
It’ll be an excuse to go. We’d love to have you.
Thank you for your honesty, for sharing so much with me, with us with helping to peel back some of the myths and misconceptions about chronic depression, about helping us understand the power of boundaries, self-awareness, self-care, love, and all of these beautiful parts of the package that make living with chronic depression possible. It might be too much to say, but it feels to me like you thrive despite it.
Thank you so much, Dr. Carla. It has been wonderful always to talk to you.
It’s always a blessing to connect. Thank you, Owen. I’m grateful. You’ve been with Jessica for how many years now?
It’s going on twenty on December 2023.
It’s a testament to the beauty of love, imperfect love, and imperfect being. Blessings to you, my dear. I’m grateful. Thanks again.
- Owen Dara
- Choosing Signs
- The Holy Fail
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About Owen Dara
Owen Dara is an Irish-born, Los Angeles-based Singer/Songwriter, Comedian, Filmmaker, Playwrite, and Author. His films have won multiple awards, and in 2020, four of his original songs made the Oscar list of just 75 songs in the running for an Academy Award for “Best Original Song.” His book, White Horses: An Irish Childhood, and one-man show performances are based on his early life experiences in Ireland. His latest feature film, “A Lesser Gift,” is currently in post production and due for release in 2024.