Erin Triplett is a writer-comedian living in Brooklyn and is therefore very unique. She graduated from NYU in 2014 with an MFA in Dramatic Writing. She is currently trying to watch as many films that are part of the Criterion Collection as she can. She has depression, but she has no shame about it (or tries not to).
What first brought you to NYU’s [Department of Dramatic Writing] and how was your experience there?
I was living in Indianapolis and working in public health. I was at a point where I didn’t know what to do with my life, and I had this strong calling to be a writer, specifically for television. What DDW taught me was that I just liked writing in any capacity. I applied to NYU on a whim. I’d never written a script or a spec before.
What did you submit?
I submitted a “Parks & Recreation” spec and a pilot about a woman in her late-20’s who didn’t know what to do with her life. [Laughs]
[Laughs] What’s it based on?
They say write you know, but I thought I’d go out there and write something different. I didn’t tell anyone I applied, but I definitely wanted something to change. I’d originally wanted to do public health in New York City, but that didn’t work out and I moved back home. At first things were great, but then a really bad depression set in and I kept seeing myself at 65, not doing what I really wanted to do. Grad school wasn’t necessary, but it was a way to learn the skills and have dedicated time to improving my craft. Even with the insane student loans, I don’t regret getting this Masters.
I agree. I would’ve never moved if my acceptance hadn’t pushed me to move.
Exactly. When I’m around NYU, this wave of nostalgia always comes over me. I remember being so stressed out at one in the morning, drinking my third cup of coffee, and trying to finish a screenplay. I thought I was unhappy at the time, but now that frantic writer is where I want to be. I also found a really good therapist through the program, so that was a big help.
I had a pretty big breakdown in my first semester. There was just too much going on. I had also been dealing with depression for a while and pushing it down. I always thought, “If I were in a relationship, I’d be happy. If I went to NYU, I’d be happy.” It made me realize this was an illness I had to take care of, and having weekly sessions really helped me.
It’s interesting that you’re talking to me about self-care, because I’m actually not doing that right now. It’s made me remember what I think is normal right now, is not normal. It’s not normal to be this tired all the time. It’s hard to be proactive in the depths of your depression, but when you start to feel better, you think everything’s fine, and you don’t do anything. In those times that you feel it has passed, that’s when you need to take precautions.
Did you write growing up?
I was in a theatre magnet program in high school, so in a way, yes. I’d also write out situations I was going through to see how a conversation could go. Writing about mental health has helped. It feels weird to be that raw about this stuff, but the response I receive is why I keep writing about it. It’s good for people to know we’re all going through these struggles and that we’re not alone. I’m re-reading “Harry Potter” and “Prisoners of Azkaban” is my favorite because J.K. Rowling captures what depression is like with the dementors.
You also do improv. How do writing and improv feel different?
The thing I like about improv is that you’re not supposed to be in your head. Being in writing and improv communities can be overwhelming because everyone is trying to do the same thing. You can start to take everything personally. I want to perform more but I don’t know how my writing will fit into that.
You can do a one-woman show.
I want to do a piece about assisted suicide in terms of mental health. My uncle committed suicide and it was really hard. He’d been sick for a while and he ended his own life because he was losing control. As he got sicker, he’d say to my aunt, “I wish we had assisted suicide in this country.” He didn’t want to live like that. I’m nervous to write this because it’s a lot to explore.
When did you first begin experiencing depression?
[Pause] I think I’d had it before this, but I was a senior in high school when my family was like, I don’t think this is normal. I started seeing a therapist then and I’d come home during college summers to do psychiatric evaluations for my medication. They asked me if I was feeling better, and I said no. So they just kept upping my medication and it made me completely devoid of emotions. I didn’t want that either; I just didn’t want sadness to be the overwhelming emotion. For someone who preaches self-care and mental health awareness, I’ve definitely had my struggles with it.
I doubt someone would care to prioritize their mental health unless their life has fallen apart because of it.
And with mental health, it’s hard to know. Is this person just an asshole or is this my depression making me overanalyze everything?
Right. Sometimes it’s just a bad situation and that’s why you feel shitty.
Exactly. “You’re the Worst” has a main character that deals with depression. She says on the show, “I can’t tell my boyfriend that my brain is broken.” I find that kind of illuminating. This situation is making me upset, and I wouldn’t be this upset if I wasn’t already feeling down about these other things. Sometimes I feel like my brain attacks itself. My brain picks certain situations that already bother me and amp up those situations when I’m already feeling down or insecure. That’s all I’ll be able to think about.
What’s the biggest misconception about depression?
A friend once said to me, “I know sometimes you get really sad but you never let it show.” I do think I put on a brave face, but less so in the past few years. My 20’s was a lot of going out and being happy, then getting home and breaking down. Now, I am able to tell people I am not going out if I’m not feeling up to it.
I struggle a lot with allowing myself to not do things.
It does help to be around people. I stayed in for three days during a snowstorm last year. I remember feeling so much better the first day I got outside. But it is hard. Sometimes people give you energy and sometimes they take it away. It’s about finding the balance. 2017 is going to be about getting my mental health taken care of. That’s the first step to being productive as a writer, a friend, and a partner.
It’s nice to have friends who have been through this and understand it.
Something that came up in Joe [Mango’s] play we saw was losing friends because of depression. I don’t know for sure, but I’ve lost some friends and I kind of blame it on my depression. When someone asks me how I’m doing, I don’t want to just say, “Not well.” But I also don’t want to lie. You start to feel you’re a burden to people. That aspect of the play really hit me. Your friends want you to reach out to them when you feel bad. The thing about depression is that it can last for a while, and I think some friends want you to “get over it” faster.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I feel like I’ve been coming out of writer’s block since graduation. I had a really hard time after finishing DDW. I was almost sexually assaulted the summer after the program which put me in a deep depression. They put me on Wellbutrin which caused me to have a seizure. Then 2015 was about finding a new job and getting settled. I was commuting from Brooklyn to Columbia University for work and I didn’t have the mental capacity to write. Now, I’m starting to feel excited about new ideas. I’m trying to remember that spark, that calling to be a writer. I want that excitement back. I had an animation writing professor who told us to just set a timer every day and just give ourselves 20 minutes to write. I don’t think writing needs to be that much of a production.
Sometimes scaling back your goals will actually help you do more.
There was an article that said restricting the time you have to be creative can make you feel you have to be productive during that time.
During your low points, what helped you come out of them?
[Pause] Sometimes it’s about being proud of the little things each day. Once I was really proud of getting out of bed that day. This is a tiny step, but this is okay. You also have to remind yourself that this won’t last. Not every day is going to be this hard. Doing one little thing a day, like actually cooking and eating a healthy meal, can make a difference.
As a survival of sexual assault, how do you process these experiences that are such a violation?
I wrote about this on Medium. I was actually sexually assaulted on 9/11. I went through this group therapy program and the skills I learned from that really helped. When the emotion hits, just acknowledge it and let it pass through. A lot of women in the comedy community have been really supportive and they’ve been more open about the unfortunate commonality of this experience. I know women I can turn to who have survived this.
The rawness of it kind of goes away over time, but I don’t think you’re ever really over it. For a while, there were days when a bunch of shit would go wrong, and I’d be like, and I was raped on top of all this. This isn’t fair. There has to be a day when you can just be a bitch because, I’m sorry, I’m a survivor.
With something like this, is it more frustrating when people ignore what you’ve been through, or is it more frustrating when people try to talk to you about it?
It depends on where I’m at and who it is. I didn’t tell anyone I was raped in college until I wrote about it in 2016. People wrote to me saying, I’m so sorry, I had no idea you went through this. A part of me felt guilty because I never sat them down to tell them, but I also didn’t know how to bring something like that up years later. Writing about it was a blanket way to let my truth out. It was this huge relief to have it out there. If people want to talk about it, I’m open to it. I don’t want people to pretend it didn’t happen.
Who are some of your favorite writers?
J.K. Rowling, Marsha Norman, Julian Barnes, Lorrie Moore, Barbara Kingsolver. I’m going to send you some articles by Heather Havrilesky [of New York Magazine’s Ask Polly]. Barnes wrote “The Sense of an Ending” after his wife’s death, and it’s about him coming to terms with that. It’s just beautifully written. I also love David Sedaris. I’m trying to find more humor writing right now.
Humor can be very healing. It’s always a fine line between that and inappropriate. It’s probably why you gravitate towards improv as well.
Yeah. It’s kind of a thing that everyone in improv is sad and lonely. [Laughs] I have to remind myself that I do have a good support system and people who care about me.
As someone who juggles different jobs, how does money affect your self-care?
My parents come from working class families. When I first became depressed and wanted to go to therapy, I thought it was this novelty for rich people that we couldn’t afford. Eventually, my mom was like, “What are you talking about? We have health insurance.” There’s still a lot of stigma around mental illness, but I think people are starting to become more open about it. We are looking into the realities of mental health issues in lower-income communities. That being said, I think there’s this attitude of, everyone has problems. You just suck it up, go to work, and do your job. You don’t time to bitch about stuff. That’s kind of hard. Wanting to get help and not being ashamed for it is a big deal. What helps is being open about it.
What would you do or say to someone who also struggles with depression and trauma?
I would tell them, “You don’t have to talk to me, but I will sit with you and be there for you.” A lot times, people want to fix the problem or say the right things. Brene Brown talks about this. Rarely does a response give us the answer we need. Someone being there is what we need. I wouldn’t try to solve the problem. Sometimes, it’s just about letting someone know you’re there.
Anything else you want to add?
Sending a text or an E-mail can make such a difference. We all get so busy and wrapped up in things, but it just takes a second to let someone know that you’re there. That can mean a lot to someone. And respond to texts. Sometimes people won’t explicitly say “I’m not doing well” but their seemingly benign text may be them reaching out.