Last summer when Robin Williams took his life, it invited public conversation about depression and suicide -- topics that generally are considered taboo. For a period of time, folks felt comfortable broaching the subject of mental illness.
In the days following Williams' death, people asked, "What was he thinking? He had everything going for him. He was beloved, hysterical, and immensely talented. Why would he kill himself?"
A Gray World
These were some of the questions that Derek Hird's friends posed. Hird, who also suffers from depression, tried to explain what goes on in the minds of those who find themselves in such a desperate spot that suicide seems like the most viable option. It's not that Hird supported suicide, but he understood the rapid decline.
"A clinically depressed person simply cannot see the happiness in their life even if, from an outsider's perspective, they seem to have it all," says Hird, who lives in Vancouver BC, Canada. "The sun can be shining all around them and yet it's still gray in their world."
Talk show host David Letterman describes clinical depression as a sinkhole. "You get on an elevator and the bottom drops out," says Letterman. "You can't stand looking at the sunlight. You can't wait to get back in bed at night. You're shaking. You're shivering."
Understanding this pain on a visceral level, Hird was compelled to find a way to show what it is to battle depression. He met with others who were equally as passionate about the subject, and before long a short film titled The Weirdo Hero began percolating.
A Labor of Love
Hird and his friend Randy Myers co-wrote the script and produced the 20-minute film. Ryan Curtis, who works full-time on the hit TV show Supernatural, is the director.
"I was interested in this project because it has the opportunity to bring gritty, heartbreaking emotions to the surface," says Curtis. "The story is coming from a very real place that we can all relate to on some level."
The Weirdo Hero follows the life of a successful pro wrestler named Fabulous Frankie Myers, who after claiming the title championship, sinks into a deep undiagnosed depression as his real-world responsibilities start to slowly suffocate him. Financial and relationship troubles add to his despair, leaving Myers feeling lost and alone.
As Myers falls deeper into emotional darkness, an animated form of his self-doubt materializes and torments him to the point of utter desperation. Ultimately, Myers finds himself on a bridge contemplating the jump.
Stomping Out Stigma
"In its basic form, the movie is about a man who doesn't know why he feels the way he does. He's dealing with undiagnosed depression," says Curtis. "There's a big stigma, especially with men, [who feel like they can't] admit [to having] a mental health concern. This needs to change. Even the biggest, strongest, most physically fit, successful men can battle depression."
Curtis says he hopes that viewers will walk away from the film with the desire to more closely examine their own mental health. If the movie prompts someone to say, "Hey, that's just like me," at the very least they know that they're not alone.
The Weight of Depression
Unless you have suffered from clinical depression, it's next to impossible to fully comprehend the pain. David Foster Wallace, an author, essayist, and short story writer, understood, firsthand, the agonizing nature of clinical depression and in his novel Infinite Jest (1996) poignantly described the dark places it can take you:
The so-called 'psychotically depressed' person who tries to kill herself doesn't do so out of quote 'hopelessness' or any abstract conviction that life's assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire's flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It's not desiring the fall; it's terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling 'Don't!' and 'Hang on!', can understand the jump. Not really. You'd have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.
Tragically, Wallace found himself on this precipice in 2007 and was unable to step back.
It's shocking the number of people who end up in dire straits. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "Each year more than 800,000 people die by suicide; this roughly corresponds to one death every 40 seconds."
This is precisely why Hird and his team vowed to do something about it.
No More Shame
The film portrays the highs of public adoration and the lows that are exacerbated by negative self-talk. But the movie also does a beautiful job of reminding viewers how our actions affect those we love -- particularly following a suicide.
When a clinically depressed individual hits rock bottom, they are no longer able to contemplate the heartbreaking consequences that will follow. So lost in their own despair, they can't think about what this final action would do to those they leave behind.
"Depression is something many people are ashamed of [and so they're] afraid to ask for help. As a result, they suffer in silence when they don't have to," says Hird. "The purpose behind this movie is to educate those who don't understand depression and to encourage those who are hurting to seek help."
Make a Donation, Make a Difference
The cast and crew, many of whom have been touched by depression, all agreed to work on the movie without compensation. Nevertheless, Hird must still find ways to cover the cost of equipment rental, site location, insurance, and food. Therefore, he has launched a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo.
The Weirdo Hero is scheduled to be released at festivals in June. Hird also will be looking to channels such as Bravo, TLC, Netflix as well as streaming. The Blu Ray DVD will be available for purchase online.
To learn more about the film and those involved, visit the following links:
List of the main crew
Curtis, Myers, & Hird discussing the genesis of project
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.