I realize I have a tendency to share more on social media (and here) when things are not going well. Writing is a way of processing for me. Not surprisingly, I feel less compelled to process when things are going well. But maybe that's the wrong approach. Maybe I should be processing when things are going well so I can try to figure out how to keep that shit going.
I've talked a bit about the pressure I feel to make myself look more shiny on social media. We all know that most people use social media to portray a better version of their lives. I know an actor who posts so many professional photos of herself it looks like she has a photo shoot every week. I asked her about it and she said she just strategically posts photos that she has stored up. It's smart. But, honestly, I don't have the interest in being that strategical.
Complete off-topic sidebar: I went to a group thing on Monday where we had to break up into pairs and interview each other, and then introduce each other to the group. My partner asked me what I do and I said I was an actor and when she introduced me to the group she called me an "actress." What is that? Why?
ANYWAY, the point is, things have been going really well for me for the past year or so, and honestly, I feel like it's my fucking turn. It's been a rough haul for a long, long time. My mother's death, coupled with a few other traumatic things I went through around that time, really knocked me on my ass. It took me a long time to recover.
I've felt a lot of shame about my depression. I share about it openly now, but it took me forever to own it, and not feel ashamed that my healing process took longer than others. There's another actor around my age whose mother died when she was around 16 or so. This woman, as far as I'm concerned, has the career that I could have had if I had a) been able to recover faster from my childhood trauma and b) stayed in NYC instead of fleeing to Los Angeles for more than a decade. I look at her and it's like seeing what my life could have been. She has become a symbol of what could have been. I have shamed myself because she seemingly bounced back from the loss of her mother much faster than I did. Granted, I don't know her intimately, but it certainly seems like the dark shadow of chronic depression passed her by. And I find myself feeling resentful of her, even though her success is well-deserved.
It wasn't until recently that my therapist pointed out that my mother's death was not my only trauma, and that a lot of shit swept my way in a very short time. I'm almost 40 and just coming to terms with the fact that it wasn't just that my mom died. She was diagnosed less than three months after I won the Tony, and died less than two years later. In kid-time, those gaps are eons. In reality they are blinks of an eye. My greatest success was almost immediately dwarfed by my greatest tragedy. Added to that tragedy was a family that had been drowning in alcoholism for the first decade of my life (and well before that), a family member experiencing life-threatening domestic violence that I could do nothing about (despite having called the man's mother and telling her I would cut his balls off if he ever hurt my loved one again. I was 10), parents who were largely emotionally absent or lacking, and a couple of sexual assaults/rapes that I brushed off as "my fault" or "just city life."
Added to all of this is the extremely complicated and twisted thing that happens to a person when they achieve success at an early age. There's all kinds of weird developmental stuff that gets interrupted or thwarted. There's an expectation from the outside world to be the person they knew you to be (which is a whole nother level of fucked up. Ask yourself why people expect child stars to never grow up while the rest of the world does. Whatever happened to Baby Jane?) And a pressure to perform at your peak all the time, which is impossible. I could write a book about what child stardom does to the human brain. (Note to self: Email literary agent.)
Yesterday I organized my file cabinet (it's a glamorous life I lead, folks), and I came across my grades and evaluations for middle school, high school, and the first college I went to. I don't know why I still hang on to these things. I shot five episodes of a hot new TV show and apparently didn't save a single script, but I'm still carting around shitty report cards from 20+ years ago. I'm not going to dig them back out to quote them here. In fact, I will probably throw them away tonight. Suffice it to say, one teacher said I almost succeeded in driving him crazy, another said I had an over-developed talent for shushing my classmates, most of them said I had trouble focusing, and one said that I handed in essays that were disorganized, fraught, and sloppy. A college writing teacher said, "Writing doesn't come easy to Daisy." Bitch, who the fuck does writing come easy to? This shit is hard. What the fuck kind of dumbass statement is that? "Writing doesn't come easy to Hunter S. Thompson. If he's not careful, he might blow his brains out one day while his wife is making pancakes." I mean, what the fuck?
Almost every single teacher said that I was smart and had incredible potential if I would only apply myself.
Fuckin' story of my life, kids. Story of my life.
Let's look back, briefly on the summer of... '95 (I think); the summer between 10th and 11th grades. I was doing drugs that made me miserable, desperately trying to keep up with a group of friends who were actively trying to shake me off. I was wildly miserable. I went to the Roxy one night with said friends (the 90s in NYC, guys. It was a different time), and got lured into a dark corner and sexually assaulted. I told no one. Though I did see the guy a few days later at The Cube in Astor Plaza and confronted him. He had no idea who I was. Or pretended he didn't, anyway. My father was intensely self-focused. My sister had moved across the country. I felt very alone. So, yeah, I had trouble focusing in school, didn't do my work, and was generally a fucking nightmare.
And then I went off to college when I wasn't even 17. That was a great idea... Basically I was running away from my life. I was endlessly spinning. Trying to find anything to grab on to. And writing wasn't coming easy to me.
Finally in '97 I lost my footing for real and ended up in the hospital. It was pretty grim, but it saved my life.
Chronic depression and anxiety carve new pathways in your brain. Eventually those pathways are so neatly carved out that of course those are the pathways your mind will take when trying to navigate through the world. The new pathways are lined with billboards that remind you of how worthless you are. It's like the old billboards for Burma-Shave.
This is the path
You've tread before
That man assaulted you
'Cause you're a whore
There's nothing left
But woe and dread
You'll feel bereft
Until you're dead.
Thank you. You can find my published collection of depression billboard poetry in your local Walmart.
Anyway, that's the kind of message your brain tells you day in and day out. And it's become so much a part of your thinking that it is now reality. It takes years of therapy (and evil. evil pharmaceuticals) to begin to understand that the billboards are lying to you, and that you don't have to take that path anymore. The work is about carving out a new path, with new billboards, which is a fucking slog.
The past is done
It can not change
This work's not fun
It's new and strange
But bust your ass
Take your meds and see
That from your past
You will break free.
Jesus, I am so good at this.
Then eventually you'll (hopefully) end up on a path lined with billboards that say shit like, "Werk!" "Slay!" "Get it!" and "Yas, Queen, yas!"
Right now I'm on the service road in between those two paths. But the entrance ramp to that last freeway is coming up on my left.
I'm gonna take it.
Here's to a new year. Here are the things I would like to check off my list this year:
What are some of your goals for 2019?