August 21, 2014
“Coming Out… Again”
I never planned to share this deeply in a public forum, but after the suicide of Robin Williams on August 11, and the resulting flood of discussion, opinions, and confessions regarding depression and mental illness in the news and on social media, I can no longer fight this need to share my own journey. For most of my friends and family this will be their first time hearing this.
Depression has been a daily struggle for me for as long as I can remember. The feeling is with me every day to varying degrees, without regard to circumstance. When it hits hardest, it is a heavy, physical, draining ache that stretches the length of my body, from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet. Most notably, my stomach presents a hollow, churning, sinking feeling, and I feel inexplicably exhausted. The simplest tasks feel impossible, like eating or showering or standing upright. Depression falls over my brain like a warm blanket, a deceitfully soothing feeling which insists that my only option is a full retreat from human interaction, while the alternative elicits major physical and mental anxiety. What’s more, my depression deviously convinces me that my self-destructive thoughts are real.
Every joyful, transcendent moment I have experienced in life, either while playing a character on stage or while sharing moments with friends and family, has also coexisted with the deep pain and sadness I secretly carried. Often I would find solace and validation in these theatrical fantasy worlds because I was allowed to be ugly, imperfect, or damaged, and audiences literally applauded my exercises in emotional exorcism. But later, as I sat alone in my apartment hurting myself physically and emotionally, the audience was silent.
As I transitioned into my late 20’s, and as I continued to retreat further into the chaos of my thoughts, I found it harder and harder to be on stage, or to even interact socially offstage. I was scared that people could see my painful struggle, and I was ashamed. My stage fright escalated to uncontrollable levels, and connecting with people via music became impossible to endure. Meanwhile, I increasingly managed my fears via various methods of self-medication and substance abuse, without any satisfaction.
After a terrifying and debilitating panic attack at age 29, which I kept secret from everyone, by my 30th birthday I had reached my deepest rock bottom. I was scared, confused, and exhausted. This is a large part of why I moved from New York City to Los Angeles three years ago at age 32, feeling that I needed clarity and also knowing that the emotionally unstable life I had built during 14 years in NYC was not going to support this journey. So, I relocated to the City of Angels, a city as equally obsessed with self-improvement as it is with ego, with my only plan being the pursuit of my own happiness.
Once I had arrived in LA, I confessed my stage fright to a trusted friend, and he told me I didn’t have to live riddled with anxiety. This was news to me. He helped me begin my journey towards better understanding the separation of my critical mind from my true mind. I devoured books on the subject, and absorbed podcasts and videos led by various gurus. I learned to meditate in an effort to differentiate between my various brain chatter. Only then did I start to understand that the self-destructive voice in my head was not the real me, and because of that realization I was finally ready to start fighting back. I secured an office job, mostly for the health insurance and stability, and I reached out to another caring friend for a therapist referral.
My first and only previous experience with therapy had been one session when I was 15 years old. It was through this session that I found the forum to come out to my parents as gay, and they were loving and supportive. I remember feeling that I could no longer hide part of my identity from my friends and family, as anyone who has come out of the closet can likely identify. Meanwhile, all of my deeper, depressive shame was overshadowed by this dramatic acknowledgment of my sexuality, and I never returned to therapy again, feeling I was destined to live the rest of my life with this larger darkness, though at that young age I was not yet able to identify it as depression.
For the past two years here in LA I’ve been exploring unexamined childhood trauma with a therapist. I had pushed this pain down so deeply in order to survive my daily adult life. I was always conscious of these memories, but I had always refused to look at them in the light, preferring ignorance to enlightenment, and forming a resolute acceptance of my darkly damaged nature. My brain biology provided the depressive platform with which to cope - that deceitfully soothing feeling - basically clocking-out so as to not have to experience the pain.
Since I was a child, I’ve repeatedly thought about suicide as an option. I am without control of the instinct as it arises in my thoughts, and in that moment it always seems like such a logical solution to escape the waves of hopelessness that wash over me, as well as a viable alternative to the crushing prospect of digging myself out of my dark, lonely hole. In addition, my brain convinces me that to no longer exist would be the most loving decision for myself and my loved ones. The deceptive instinct feels selfless, not selfish. The thought of suicide fleetingly popped into my head as recently as a month ago, as my frustration with the immense, emotional heavy-lifting of the past two years of intense therapy reached its overwhelming peak.
I have never actually attempted to end my life, and I can’t imagine I would ever try, since my logical brain screams quickly and loudly to remind me of all the profound reasons I must stick around. That said, I’ve certainly made choices in my life which have killed parts of myself emotionally, while trying to process the shame and guilt of my darkness. I’ve also made consistent, conscious, risky choices to jeopardize my physical health in other ways. This is a kind of emotional suicide that I know very, very well, and it is truly miraculous that I have survived.
For most of my life I had accepted that this dark monster living inside my brain was the real me, and that I was doomed to be alone in this struggle. I was deeply damaged goods, broken and therefore unworthy of love or happiness. Meanwhile, my heart has always has been full of love and a deep desire for connection, but until very recently my pain has always prevented me from feeling worthy of this love. Struggling with this dichotomy has been my lifelong challenge.
For people who know me, either personally or professionally, this may all be a big surprise. Or, maybe some people have always seen this war waging behind my eyes, and the true acknowledgment of that vulnerability has always been my greatest fear. I have often compensated by parading an over-inflated sense of worth, which in reality was just air pumping into a balloon with an unseen leak.
The healing process has been an arduous one. It took me a year to trust my therapist, since I had built so many impenetrable emotional walls. Once I felt safe enough to finally share everything with him, and to allow myself to be fully seen by another human being, it has taken another year to walk hand-in-hand with him through the healing process. As difficult as the journey has been, I have chosen fight over flight, with the result being that my life has been saved in more ways than one.
I’m not out of the woods yet, but I can finally see a clearing ahead. I see my therapist every week, sometimes more often if I’m struggling with the darkness. By sharing my truth, I am accountable to myself, my therapist, and everyone I love. I feel safe for the first time in my life. I’m finding my voice again, both figuratively and literally. I’m not as scared to be seen by people, both onstage and off, and I have begun reaching out to those who can provide me the forum to share my musical gifts again. Hopefully my singing can help to ease the pain and loneliness of others in some small way. In hindsight, it was singing that saved me all along, because without it I would have felt entirely alone.
I think that’s why I felt the need to share this - to help those who feel inexplicably alone feel less alone, and through that connection feel less alone myself. In the same way that I felt compelled to acknowledge my sexuality at 15 years old, I must also share this piece of myself at age 35, regardless of any similar fears of rejection.
My therapist recently shared a Carl Jung quote with me: “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” I’m hoping to lessen my fear by allowing light to illuminate my darkness. The light inside of me will always coexist with the darkness, but I now have reasons to better understand their duality, and I no longer feel shame for being human.
August 21, 2014