The relative sense of social isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic only compounds issues surrounded by the fear of contracting the virus.
“That is leaving, I think, a lot of people with mental health issues they’ve never explored before,” Gab Bonesso said.
She certainly has explored her own issues, through the candid material in her award-winning comic performances and as a nationally booked speaker for mental health advocacy.
For World Mental Health Day, Oct. 10, she will share her successes and struggles with her inspirational “Ride the Wave” talk during a Zoom presentation starting at 7 p.m., hosted by Peters Township Public Library.
From suffering through trauma and the effects of bullying as a child to losing both her parents when she still was young, combined with diagnoses of bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, Bonesso has developed a variety of coping skills that she finds to be especially helpful in the era of COVID-19.
“I’ve spent so much of my adult life figuring out why I do what I do when I do it, to try to make my life easier, my life better,” she said. “And some of my friends have not had to do that. Now they’re wondering, why am I having a rage fit? I’ve never thrown a dish in my life, and I just yelled at my husband and threw a plate.”
Bonnesso is finding she can offer perspective in such circumstances.
“I’m almost like this sensei,” she said. “I say, ‘This is what you need to do: Take a walk and be careful, and don’t watch the news every day. If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s cope through a tragedy. So I’ve got you on this one.’”
Her willingness to put herself and her situation in the public eye – whether through comedy, music, political activism or presenting programs for children – tends to have a cathartic effect for her own psyche.
“I always say that it happened very organically. I was diagnosed. I was doing stand-up. I would talk about my mental health in my stand-up,” she recalled.
At one point, somebody caught her act and suggested she adapt it for speaking at mental health advocacy events.
‘The next thing I know, I’m getting asked to do another one and another one,” Bonesso said. “That’s how I cope.”
She acknowledges the role of her late mother, Starla, in also helping considerably along the way. But she dissuaded Gab from taking her experiences public, “because people are not kind.”
“I just felt like it’s worth it if there’s some little kid like me who needs to hear this,” Gab said. “I remember how bad I felt as a kid, and I couldn’t identify why. I was a good kid. I was always trying hard. And yet at the end of every day, all I could do was a list of self-hatred of what I didn’t do better. Until I was diagnosed with bipolar, I didn’t know why I hated myself.”
For youngsters who are going through something similar, she has some advice.
“Don’t let your brain trick you,” she said. “You’re awesome.”