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.
Trigger warning: Rape
When I was 16 or 17 I was in college at a school that catered to younger students. Ostensibly we were intellectually done with high school. I don’t know how many of us really were ready for college, either academically or socially. I think their main criteria for acceptance was whether students could pay tuition or not. Most freshmen were 16 or 17. I turned 16 in my freshman year.
There was a small group of boys whose parents were low-level somebodies; one of their fathers was Slim Goodbody. They were wealthy, white, NYC prep school kids, complete with the privileged attitudes, blaring-loud rap music, and baggy pants. They were snotty shits. They were also not attractive. By any stretch. But they had a facebook (an actual facebook) that they used as a catalogue for girls. They put stars next to the girls they wanted to fuck. I have no idea what their stats were. I don’t care. But I would bet that they didn’t get much action.
One night I ended up in one of these kids’ dorm rooms with a friend of mine. I’m not going to use his name, but I will say he had no neck. Like, his head ended and his shoulders just began. I can’t remember if this was in my first or second year. I feel like it was in my second year, but I’m just not sure. For some reason the three of us were watching porn. I was really uncomfortable. I didn’t understand the point of watching porn with people you weren’t planning on immediately sleeping with and I wasn’t planning on sleeping with of either of them immediately or, ever. When the, ahem, film was over, my friend said she was heading back to her dorm. I got up to go with her and the No-neck asked me to stay. I said no. I looked around for my shoes and could only find one. He told me he’d hidden the other one. My friend laughed and left. I’m going to repeat that. My friend laughed and left. She heard me say I wanted to leave, heard No-neck say he hid my shoe, and she left me there with him. She’s a therapist now.
No-neck came on to me. I said no. What proceeded was an hour or so of him talking me into having sex and me saying no and asking for my shoe. Maybe it was less than an hour. I have no idea how long I stood there telling him I really didn’t want to have sex with him and I really wanted to go home. It felt like forever.
I finally gave in. I said, “Fine,” and sat down on his bed. Then he asked me for a blowjob. And the whole thing began again: me saying no and him begging. My old roommate and I had bragged the semester before about how good we were at giving head. He said I needed to prove it. I held firm and refused. I guess he decided to quit while he was ahead and take what I was extremely reluctantly giving him.
He humped me for a few minutes and came. I felt filthy and small and filled with shame. He got up, dumped the condom in the trash, walked over to his stereo, and said, “Hold on,” and stared into space for about 10 or 15 seconds, and then said, “I was farting that entire time.” He turned his music on full blast, walked out of the room, came back with my shoe, and tossed it at me.
“It was in the freezer,” he said.
I got dressed, put my freezing shoe on, and walked back to my dorm alone.
I dropped out of school shortly thereafter, had a nervous breakdown a few weeks after that, and ended up in a psych ward. That was not all a result of the rape, there were a lot of factors, but it was definitely one of the final straws.
It took me many years to come to terms with what happened that night and admit that it was rape. I have carried around the shame of this. Even now, 20 years later, I hear myself thinking, “You could have walked home without your shoe,” “You shouldn’t have been watching porn with him,” “You shouldn’t have bragged about blow jobs,” “You shouldn’t have said yes.” I said yes. Well, I said “fine.” And even if I had eventually said yes, it would have come after many, many “nos.” No one should have to say no twice.
I can not imagine wanting to have sex with someone who says “fine” after I’ve coerced them. I can not imagine coercing someone into having sex with me. Recently I was with a woman who said she didn’t like doing a particular thing and it never occurred to me to ask her again. Why would you want someone to do something to you or with you that they weren’t totally enthusiastic about?
No-neck is not alone. Hell, he’s not even the only person who sexually assaulted me. This is common. I have an ex who’s entire m.o. was “getting women” to sleep with him. Some men think coercion is foreplay. Listening to some of the stories coming out about Harvey Weinstein, I’m not at all surprised, though it is traumatizing and deeply triggering. Listening to him beg Ambra Guiterrez to come into his hotel room and to not “embarrass” him is sickening. I started shaking when I heard it. I’ve heard those words. I’ve heard that tone. I have been Ambra. So many of us have.
Coercion is rape. Coercion is rape. Coercion is rape.
To anyone who has experienced sexual assault (and there are billions of us), I love you and I stand with you. You are not alone. It was not your fault. It doesn’t define you. You have nothing to be ashamed of.
We are strong. We are beautiful. We are warriors.