By Jolie Shave
Comedian and storyteller Chris Smith wasted no time diving into his reasons for standing in front of an audience filled with students and professors –– some who knew him, some who had never met him. Smith currently serves as the departmental secretary in the College’s criminology department, but has a complicated past.
“In 2008, I tried to commit suicide,” Smith said, providing a window to what his life looked like a decade ago.
Smith told the audience in the Library Auditorium stories about his life the night of Thursday, March 29. He spoke about his father’s battle with addiction, his personal experience with being in a mental hospital and his daughter’s struggle with anxiety.
Smith explained that he had written a paper after his suicide attempt, which he had the opportunity to review when he took a graduate class in 2017. The paper, titled “Tattooed and Educated,” served as a therapeutic outlet for Smith at the time, and he brought his writing to life in an inspiring presentation that offered solace to students who might also be in the process of bettering their mental health.
He explained that when he went back and reviewed his paper, he realized that he had to start worrying more about what he thought of himself instead of what others thought. He encouraged everyone else to do the same.
“I know there’s a lot of people in here right now that have probably been so damn depressed before that you’ve thought about the idea of taking your own life,” he said. “I lived this life of my dad being a methamphetamine addict and my mom has rheumatoid arthritis, so there were days when my mom couldn’t get out of bed and days when I didn’t know where my dad was.”
He said that he hoped no one ever had to witness the effects of methamphetamines, yet he made jokes about how he recalled his father washing dishes that weren’t actually there. He took stories of potentially traumatizing situations and retold them with humor. His goal, he explained, was to get the audience to laugh in response to the stories about his life experiences.
“I’m gonna make some references to things that happened to me and I want you to keep in mind, this is my story and I can laugh at it today because that was the only way I ever got through it,” Smith said.
Not only did Smith make the audience laugh, but he did so in a way that showed everyone that it’s okay to make light of difficult times. He explained that people should be responsible for what they make of their experiences, which is why they should make the best of them.
He spoke about his 13-year-old daughter, Maddie, who was previously hospitalized because of her severe anxiety.
“With my anxiety, he’s been there for me … and he inspires me to do my best and be myself,” Maddie said. “When I’m feeling down when I’m older, I can … just think about how dad got through it or what dad would do.”
But Smith’s stories have inspired more people than just his daughter. Emma Rarich, a senior English major, was a classmate of Smith’s in a literary theory course at the College in the spring of 2017.
“He was really funny in class, so I wasn’t too surprised by his good humor, of course, but I thought a lot of his stories were really important and valuable,” Rarich said.
Whether it be his daughter, students he has taught or complete strangers, each audience member was able to take something away from Smith’s stories and the messages behind them.
The audience fell silent as he said, “No matter what you do in this world, go out and be passionate about it … the next time you feel like ‘man, I don’t know if I can do this,’ I promise you, you can.”
Smith hoped to see that people could weather their personal storm without getting caught up in them. While this seems like a simple concept to some, people who struggle through difficult times are not always able to easily grasp it –– but Smith came to show them that the sun still shines even behind gray clouds.
“When we take on issues, we get so consumed by them that, when it doesn’t work out the way we want, it’s a defeat,” he said. “When, in reality … it’s a different direction. We just have to keep moving forward.”