One of the reasons I stopped posting blogs for the last few months was that I had a rough time in August in Edinburgh. I was exhausted, discouraged, and disappointed. One of the people I was working with was a terror, and I allowed them to largely make my experience miserable. Every day I would resolve to not let them get to me, and every day, when I had to deal with them, my blood would boil, and I'd feel seething anger take over my body. I wish I could be the kind of person who could let shit slide. I'm not. I never have been.
The experience was akin to being in an alcoholic family. There's the one parent who has a massive drinking problem, the other one who is desperately trying to maintain some sense of calm and normalcy, which, unfortunately means doing a lot of covering and apologizing for the drinker. There are the kids who work to please everyone all the time and act like there's no problem, going so far as to laugh off the VERY OCCASIONAL apology, and being like, "You're right! I'm the problem. Please keep yelling at me." And there are the other kids who are like, "Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck this." That was me.
One of the problems with this kind of family is that when one of those kids who isn't buying it is like, "I'm not buying this," no one from the rest of the family steps up to be like, "Hey, me neither." Even the other kids who aren't buying it don't chime in because generally they're too checked out to bother.
I was triggered left and right. The only reason I didn't walk away was because I wouldn't have done that to my fellow cast mates. But, Jesus I wanted to. I was away from home. Away from my son, who was starting first grade without me there. Away from my career. Not getting laid. AWAY FROM MY THERAPIST. I would get back to the flat I shared with four other people, exhausted and angry, knowing I should be writing, and only use my computer to binge Schitt's Creek. It wasn't a good look.
It sent me into a depression. Because I suffer from chronic depression and anxiety, if my chemistry isn't right it can turn situations that are normally handleable into swirling holes of disaster. And because I've been on meds so long, sometimes I think, "I'm going to see what it's like to lower my dose!" and then my brain goes, "It puts the right dose in its mouth or it gets the depression again." I lowered my dose some months earlier, thinking, I GOT THIS! But, clearly I hadn't got it. So, rather than seeing a problem for what it actually is (someone treating everyone around them like garbage), my brain starts telling me lies. "No one likes you," "You don't deserve to be happy," "When you ask for what you want, you are a horrible selfish monster." The greatest hits. It turns an immediate problem into a symbol for my whole life. I begin to not be able to remember a time when I felt happy at all. I become convinced that I will always feel this way. And, when it gets really bad, I start thinking that Monty will be better off without me in his life.
It's not fun.
So, I've been battling that for a few months.
I've been thinking about chronic Depression (big "D" Depression, as in a chemical imbalance, not little "d" depression, as in a response to an upsetting or traumatic episode, that ultimately goes away) like cancer. You have to treat it aggressively and while it may seem to go away, it's more just that you're in remission. It could come back at any time. And if you have suicidal Depression, one could argue that you're living with a terminal illness that requires constant, aggressive treatment.
It's scary to be so open about these struggles, because I worry that it's going to effect my hirability (or that it already has). I worry that the powers that be will think that I won't be able to do my work if I suffer from Depression. The irony is, a great many actors live and work with Depression all the time, it's just we don't all talk about it. So, no. It doesn't generally effect my work. The last time it did was in 2013 when I had to miss a show because I had a panic attack and ended up lying on my living room floor unable to move. I tell myself that the right people will understand what Depression is, and that if someone doesn't want to hire me because of it, I don't want to work with that person. Authenticity is more important to me anyway.
Those of us with Depression know that our friends will be supportive up to a point. But eventually (and usually very quickly) they start suggesting ridiculous things like, "Get some exercise!" or "Pick up a hobby!" or "Write an affirmation on your bathroom mirror!" Statements like those do more harm than good. It's next to impossible to go to the gym when all you can think about is how much you want to die. No amount of crocheted doilies, or homemade cupcakes is going to change your brain chemistry. And there isn't an affirmation on the planet that will pull someone out of a depression. These people don't understand that making glib suggestions usually makes us feel worse. We already feel like shit for not wanting to leave the house. It compounds our guilt and makes us feel even more alone.
Usually the best thing a friend can do is listen. Offer to come over and binge garbage TV (in my case, documentaries about serial killers). Say "That sounds really hard." Download Candy Crush and play it while they cry over the phone. They won't know.
That said, go to therapy. I literally don't want to hear it from you if you know you have a problem and you won't go to therapy. There are free or very low-cost options everywhere. I don't have time if you don't go to therapy.
Anyway, this post is rambly. The point is, I felt pretty shitty for a few months, and I'm climbing out of it now. I have up days and down days. Life is hard. I'm working really hard to stay present (which is especially hard when you're almost always waiting to hear if you booked a job.). My meds are adjusted. Monty is happy. I bought a Nintendo Switch Online subscription so now I can play Super Mario Bros. 2 and eat cookie dough straight out of the package. Because that what normal people do, right?
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.
The following is a guest post from Melissa Howard, Head of Prevention Outreach StopSuicide.info. This piece highlights methods for recognizing and combating early signs of depression.
Photo Credit: Pixabay
Identifying When It’s Time To Seek Help:
4 keys to emotional wellness
Do you spend most of your days feeling content? Are you able to relax and enjoy your life? Is there a strong support group that rallies around you? Do you feel good about who you are? Can you say “no” when you need to without feeling a sense of guilt? And finally, can you easily share your feelings with a friend or loved one? If you’ve answered “no” to one or more of these questions, it’s time to consider ways to improve your emotional wellness.
According to the Office of Health Education and Promotion at the University of New Hampshire, these indicators determine your emotional wellness. They break down your emotional wellness into four categories: Stress Management, Mental Health, Communication & Relationships, and Sleep. Let’s take a closer look at each.
Everyone experiences stress, but the degree to which we successfully manage it tells us a lot about our emotional wellness. If you’re unable to cope with life’s stressors, you need to start to focus on stress management.
The American Psychological Association reports there are five keys to eliminating stress, they are:
Unresolved mental health issues are a major source of emotional wellness problems, so it’s extremely important to seek proper treatment for these conditions. And, when a person with a substance use disorder is also suffering from a mental health disorder, it is critical that they carefully manage both disorders to ensure that a relapse from one to the other does not occur. Once both disorders are fully active, the person’s condition can turn life-threatening.
Communication & Relationships
If we’re unable to clearly communicate our intentions, for example, turning down a drink if we’re struggling with an alcohol addiction, we leave ourselves open to emotional instability. So as we look for meaningful ways to heal, it’s important to establish healthy communication techniques.
Nothing can harm emotional wellness quite as much as being in a bad relationship. Any journey to emotional wellness will rely on your ability to have healthy relationships.
Emotional wellness can be greatly affected by our sleep habits, as poor sleep causes irritability, emotional sensitivity and a decreased ability to handle stress. And according to medical experts at Harvard University, chronic insomnia can increase the risk of developing anxiety or depression. If you’re experiencing sleep issues, work on some ways to get yourself back to waking up on the right side of the bed.
If you’ve made a committed effort to work on each of these and you’re still experiencing any of the following warning signs, it’s time for you to reach out for help.
● Talking about wanting to die or searching for ways to die.
● Feeling hopeless or as if life has no purpose.
● Experiencing unbearable pain.
● Feeling trapped.
● Increased drug or alcohol use.
● Feeling like a burden to others.
● Heightened anxiety, anger or recklessness.
● A sense of isolation or loneliness.
● Experiencing extreme mood swings.
Our lives are precious gifts meant to be enjoyed and lived fully, but each and every one of us encounters roadblocks. No matter what your obstacles are, it’s important that you personally focus on overcoming them. For some of us that’s a committed solo effort, for others it’s working with an experienced professional. Either way, remember it’s OK to ask for help. In fact, by doing so, you’ll not just be putting your life on track to returned happiness and joy, but who knows you could be sharing your story of hope and recovery to motivate others to get well, too. Imagine the precious gift you’d be sharing.
Notes from the Road
Part Five: Boston
It’s snowing again.
It’s snowing. Again.
It’s. Snowing. Again.
I think I may be living in an episode of The Twilight Zone. Like, the punishment I get for booking a great job is that I have to do it for the rest of time and the rest of time will be snowing.
When I was pregnant, a woman I didn’t know except on social media (we’ll call her Jess, because that’s her name) approached me with the idea to have a “Mommy Blog.” She thought that my voice and perspective would be good to add to the infinitely increasing din of women yelling into the void about their experiences raising Cody and Conner and Braden and, I don’t know, Ralph. Or whatever. There was potential to get paid in advertising dollars and free crap that the baby industry would throw my way so that I would blog about how great the newest baby monitor is that not only tells you if your kid is still breathing, but also tells you what their aptitude for math will be and what colleges to start applying them to. At the time I was pregnant, procrastinating on writing a show I had been commissioned to write, and worrying that I would never work again, so I thought the blog thing was a great idea.
Jess very generously set up my website (I paid her a little), and I think maybe we had an agreement that she would get some portion of my advertising revenue. We launched the website, I put out a couple press releases, wrote a pretty stellar piece about finding out I was single and 10 ½ weeks pregnant, and then basically blogged once a month if the mood struck. Jess explained that if I wanted to get anywhere with my Mommy Blog, I was going to have to increase my output to at least two entries a week.
I have this thing where I don’t really want to share writing with the world unless it’s thoughtful and has, like, a point? I know that’s not necessarily obvious by looking at some of my output, but I try. I looked at other Mommy Blogs and I wasn’t really sure I had anything to add to that conversation. I’m not interested in being another opinion in the “which smart stroller is best for your Mommy and Me Walk-Off-The-Baby-Weight classes” debate, or in barking about whose fault it is that a baby fell into a Gorilla habitat (It’s the zoo’s fault because animals shouldn’t live in confinement.), or being another voice in the outcry for sensible gun-control, LGBTQI2 rights, or against racism, etc. (there are far better and more informed people already doing that.).
One of the annoying things about success is that you’re supposed to exude an air of success while you’re trying to become successful. We love hearing about people’s struggles only after they have come out the other side of it. It’s rare that we take a journey with someone in real time through the shit and end up on the red carpet with them. And the truth is, despite a hormone high for the first five months of Monty’s life, I was going through the shit. I was a full-time mother which was something I never wanted to be. Monty, it turns out, was really easy, but no baby is easy while you’re going through it. And I was immeasurably lucky that I had a co-parent who understood and respected my biological need for sleep. My brain short-circuits if I don’t get enough sleep (“enough” is a relative term…). And about five months in to being a new parent, I had a massive hormonal crash and needed to get back on the anti-depressant I had gone off of during pregnancy and nursing so Monty wouldn’t grow fins or a second head or something. I remember sitting in the glider (The Super Deluxe Great Gilder tm from Gliders R Us! Only $8000 if you mention this blog!) one evening, waiting for Kurt to get home, trying to get Monty to go to sleep, singing “One for my Baby”, and crying because I was sure that no one was ever going to cast me again because all of Broadway thought that I had a baby just to cover up the fact that I was an untalented has-been (this is your brain on baby). But I couldn’t share that in a blog. Firstly, I couldn’t muster the mental acuity or will to write a blog at that point, and secondly, we are all supposed to have the next five years of our lives completely mapped out with one job after the other, right? And we're DEFINITELY not allowed to admit publicly that we feel like a fraud.
And we all know that none of us has the next five years of our lives mapped out with employment (except maybe for Audra MacDonald because she is a literal queen.), but we can’t admit that. And we all know that we all feel like frauds at least some of the time (even, I bet, Audra MacDonald, who, despite being a literal queen and a goddess, is also a human being), but we can't admit that. Yes, secretly, when we run into each other at Rite Aid on 8th avenue we say things like, “Trying to figure out how to pay the rent!”, but publicly we’re supposed to act like the walking embodiment of talent and unavailability.
And then there’s this thing where I don’t want to be like, “Oh, my god, you guys, my life is AWESOME! I’m working and creating, and having all the sex, and I never go to the gym and my body is slamming, and Monty is the best kid that ever existed, and my skin is clear!” when those things are happening (which, believe it or not, they do happen to me…), because, gross.
And, as we all know, I suffer from depression and anxiety, which is another thing we’re not supposed to share while we’re going through it (nor, really can we, because... depression). I have plenty of times where I’m not going through it and life looks something like that last paragraph (to varying degrees of awesomeness), but I tend to be more of an Eeyore than a Tigger (to use a metaphor from a book I never liked. I know, I know, I’m the only one on the planet that doesn’t like Winnie the Pooh.), and there’s only so much belly-aching one can share before their audience is like, “Uh, you suuuuuuuuuuck.”
So, for those of you keeping score, I’m not sure how to generate two blogs a week between the not wanting to lie about how successful or happy I am, not wanting to brag when I am successful and happy, not giving a shit about which brand of baby bottle warmer you should buy, and not wanting to weigh in on the latest garbage mess our country is in. And it's not that I want to make money from my blog, necessarily, but I would like to publish more often (and I'd like to get a book deal...) Also, to be fair, I spend time writing other things that aren’t for immediate public consumption. Maybe there’s a way to do that? Ideas and suggestions are welcome.
Meanwhile, Jess has gone on to create a successful company and doesn’t need my Mommy Blog revenue. Thank “god”. ‘Cause there ain’t none.
Hey, what do you know? It stopped snowing.
I've been thinking a lot about my life from when I was about 13 to 16 years old. It’s such a short period of time. A blink. But so important in developing the tangled ball of yarn that is my psyche.
When I was 18 I had a nervous breakdown and spent hours literally trying to untangle my stepmother’s skeins of yarn. Only now do I see the metaphor.
Anyway, after my mom died I was angry. I don’t begrudge myself that anger. I had a lot to be angry about. I had a great therapist, but beyond that I had very little support. My father was dealing with the loss of his wife of 26 years and was not able to be there for me in the way that I needed. I was largely left to my own devices. I went to school if and when I felt like it. I smoked cigarettes like a fiend. The group of kids I spent my time with smoked pot, so I did too, even though I hated the way it made me feel. I would be gripped by a paranoia so intense I would end up curled up in a fetal position inside my own mind. But the alternative was not smoking pot and not fitting in. I had spent so much of my childhood being uncool and I desperately didn’t want to go back there. So, I would get high and retreat into silence, trying to seem cool with a bunch of kids who I already knew didn’t think I was cool to begin with.
It's remarkable how many people I meet who say it took them well into their adult years to shake whatever image they felt that had in high school, or even grade school. So many of us look in the mirror and still see a nerd, a dork, a freak. Inside, so many of us are still an awkward kid who just wants to fit in. That shit sticks.
When I was 14 I went to Chicago to shoot a movie for six weeks. When I came back my two best friends had made friends with two different groups of people who were complete strangers to me. They were “ravers” and street kids. They did drugs, died their hair, wore crazy clothes, got into clubs, never seemed to go home. They were cool. And they were not shy to let me know I didn’t fit in. All they knew about me was that I was some bougie actress who had been away shooting some big movie and I didn’t fit in with them. They mocked me for how I dressed. They teased me for double-knotting my laces. “Eiw, you don’t want your shoelaces to come undone? Laaaaaaaame.” I was embarrassed that I had money even though I had earned it myself. One of my best friends had a boyfriend, Andre, who would regularly call me a bitch and tell me to “shut the fuck up” regardless of what I was saying. Apropos of nothing, he would get in my face and yell, “Shut the fuck up, bitch!” And no one defended me. And worse than that, I didn’t defend myself. I just took it. I was so desperate for friends I would let these people treat me like garbage. I was so eager to fit in, I hung out with people who were never shy to make sure I knew how much I didn’t fit in. And I would go home, frequently to an empty house, and cry in my room, finally letting the sting of their cruel words escape my tight, burning throat.
In the end, after months and months of trying to ingratiate myself to these kids, they all abruptly shunned me. Maybe it wasn’t abrupt. The signs were there. It was no secret how they felt about me. But it sure felt abrupt at the time.
Even the people who had actually been my friends for years, the people who had known me since before my mother died, the people I considered closest to me, began to mock me openly. The friends I used to laugh with were now laughing at me. They were openly hostile. There was never any explanation. They just turned their backs on me.
In truth, I don’t blame my friends for cutting me loose. I was no longer just Daisy; I was Daisy Whose Mom Died. When a kid’s parent dies they become a reminder of impermanence. If their parent can die, what’s stopping your parent from dying? And who the hell wants to think about that when you’re just trying to smoke terrible weed you bought at Washington Square Park in your single-knotted laces? No one, that’s who. Also, I don’t think I was a picnic to be around. I was angry at the world. I lived in abject terror of being abandoned and I managed to alienate myself from the very people I needed most. I think I expected unending sympathy from everyone. People needed to be nice to me because I was the victim of tragic loss.
None of that was conscious. I didn’t wake up in the morning and think “Yes! Everyone has to be nice to me now!” But I think, subconsciously, I thought I was due universal kindness.
The thing is, you can only be nice to a person whose attitude is generally shitty for so long. Eventually their doom and gloom wears on you and no matter what hardships they’ve endured, you kind of want to run whenever they approach. One of the reasons Eeyore is such a popular character is because we want to believe that we will be accepted even at our gloomiest. But truthfully Eeyore would not have friends in the real world. He would probably be that kid who sits alone in front of his computer in the dark trolling people who seem happier than he is. Oscar the Grouch needs a lesson in being nicer to the people around him. No one who isn’t a felt puppet would put up with that shit for long. And Maria, because Maria is a goddess and we all know it.
It’s okay. I’m friends again with those kids I had been friends with before my mom died. We all managed to make it through our adolescence and put a lot of stuff behind us. I forgive them for not knowing how to treat me. I hope they forgive me for being a fucking nightmare most of the time back then. I’m working on forgiving myself for that.
I’m learning to look back with love and compassion. We were all struggling. Being a teenager is hard. It’s the worst. That’s a scientific fact. It is scientifically the absolute worst. But if we can look back with kindness and empathy we can start to untangle those impossibly snarled balls of yarn that are our psyches.
I have forgiven myself. I have forgiven them.
Except for my friend’s ex-boyfriend, Andre. Seriously. Fuck that guy.
Several times now I have posted a blog here declaring I would begin posting more often, only to then fail to keep my word. I’m like that friend who keeps saying, “Let’s tooooootally get together soon!” but never actually makes a plan to see you. Yeah, I’m that guy.
I’ve been trying to figure out what’s keeping me from posting more often, or even, in truth, from simply writing more often. (I say “simply writing” as if writing were ever simple. As if sitting down to write wasn’t excruciating.) A conclusion I’ve come to is that I tend to write with rigorous honesty which is exhausting and scary even when you don’t plan on sharing what you’ve written with the world (and by “the world”, of course I mean the modest handful of people who read this blog).
We are supposed to project and air of success. People want to work with successful people. Our persona on social media is supposed to be one of cheery optimism. No one wants to work with a drag. But I suffer from depression and anxiety, as I’ve made abundantly clear in previous posts, and I tend to share the world as I see it, through blue-tinted glasses. It turns some people off, I know. It may cost me some jobs. But I believe it a) is more interesting than being Sally Sunshine (which I couldn’t be if I tried), and b) can help others who experience depression or anxiety. The more we share our struggles, the more normalized they become and the more likely people are to reach out for help if they need it.
When Monty was born I was given a clean slate. A fresh start. I was able to forgive myself my regrets and “bad” decisions. Every step of my life brought me to Monty. It was and is the ultimate lesson in gratitude.
I left NYC in 2003 because I was restless. I left because I wasn’t disciplined enough in my career and I felt I had developed a bad rep among casting directors for giving less than terrific auditions. Whether this was true or just a paranoid perception, I can’t say. But I was auditioning very seldomly and getting cast even less. My heart wasn’t in the game anymore. I felt beat down and tired. So, I escaped my life and went to Los Angeles.
When I moved to L.A. I was in the middle of what I now call my “20 Year Lost Weekend.”
I did not spend 20 years in a drug-induced, blacked out stupor. I worked. I made a few movies. I was on Broadway for a third time. I played a variety of women in various states of duress on TV. I got married and divorced. Bought and sold a house. Quit the business. Finished school. Got back into the business. I lived my life. But generally, when I look at the time between when my mother died when I was 13 to the time I had my son, almost exactly 20 years later, I don’t recognize that person. It’s as if a stranger was living my life for two decades.
And suddenly I had a human life I was responsible for (“Suddenly” means 41 weeks of pregnancy, of which I was only away of 30 weeks…). I had a white, cis male that I had to raise to be… better. Better than a lot of the white, cis men I have known. Better than the toxic representation of white, cis men that he will be bombarded with from every corner of our culture.
Better than me.
I take that responsibility very seriously.
The great weight of that responsibility, coupled with depression that was now hormonal and chemical, meant I have spent much of the past four years feeling as though I were treading water. True, I’ve managed to make huge strides in my career. I wrote and produced a one-woman show before Monty was a year old. I won awards for my writing. I made the gigantic (and terrifying) leap to move back to NYC. I have managed to turn a corner in my career with regards to my discipline and my abilities. I have worked hard. (Success! Success! Success!) But, if my achievements were taken away, what would be left? I am Monty’s mom. I am an actor. I am a writer. But who am I beyond that?
I have made the agonizing choice to leave Monty with his dad in Seattle while I pursue my career with a focus and discipline I’ve never had before. I feel like a monster most of the time for doing this. It feels incredibly selfish. But my other option is to move to Seattle and, what? Try to make a living doing theater in Seattle? Give up acting again? Be miserable? I would be with my child, true. But I would be giving up my dream and who would that make me? What kind of mother could I be? How can I teach my son to follow his heart and never give up on himself if I am doing just that? How can I teach him to be better if I’m not being my best? How can I teach him how to be better than me when I don't know who "me" really is?
How can I stop being a stranger in my own life?
I’m hoping he will forgive me for not being there. Hopefully he will understand this sacrifice. Hopefully he won’t resent me for too long. I am his mother. He will resent me. Just hopefully not for this or just hopefully not for too long.
I am incredibly lucky that Kurt, Monty’s dad, is a superhuman with a massive capacity for understanding. I would not be able to do any of this without his seemingly endless support. There are times I worry that all I’m doing is traipsing around New York City, seeing shows and schmoozing, while Kurt works full time and raises our son day in and day out. He is there for all the stubbed toes and ear infections, the bathtimes and bedtime stories, breakfasts and dinners, tantrums and nightmares, hugs and kisses. All of it. And I’m here. And he never fails to remind me that what I’m doing is vital. He reminds me that in order for me to be the best mother to Monty that I can be, I need to be here. And he does this despite the fact that we aren’t together romantically anymore. He does this while knowing that I’ve been falling in love with someone else. He does this while being the world’s best dad.
Monty is in the best hands possible.
But he’s not in my hands, which torturous. And necessary. At 37 years old, I finally get to figure out who I am. I have to figure out who I am.
I recognize that this is intense navel-gazing. So, feel free to move on. I hear there’s a great piece about single, working motherhood on Goop…
One of the good things about suffering from panic attacks (Not that there are lots of good things about it. There are maybe two. One is getting out of ladies nights or yet another invitation to an Arbonne spa "party".) is that eventually you come to know the early warning signs of an impending attack and can take measures to dampen or stop it all together. The same is true of depression. If you live with chronic depression (as I do) you learn what the signs are that you're headed for another tailspin. For example, hypothetically, it may be fantasies that you'll get T-boned by a semi. You gleefully imagine that after impact you and your car spin serenely, and in slow motion, through the intersection before you lose consciousness completely and forever. Or, just say, it's a persistent and bizarre intrusive thought of getting shivved in the right kidney; an image that increases in frequency until it dominates your thoughts and you can't even jam out to "Hunger Strike" by Temple of the Dog with your three-year-old without thinking about it. Or maybe it's that you start thinking about what a loser you are and that no one loves you and you'll never be cast in another show because you can't screlt and your voice generally is just okay, and then what will you do because you already quit the business once and you don't want to be that guy that's always quitting the business, and do you really think you can be a successful therapist as a fall back if you are this crazy, and what will your child do without you and you shouldn't have had a child in the first place, what were you thinking? Just, as an example. So, when you start having these thoughts you know your meds aren't working and whatever you're talking about in therapy is probably garbage. And hopefully then you can head it off at the pass. Because if you don't you'll end up under your covers for days and you have a child (or a job, or just basic adult responsibilities), so that's not exactly an option.
Last December I had a panic attack in the produce section of the C-Town in Park Slope. It came out of the blue. I mean, my life was far from stress-free, but I had just booked a big gig I really wanted, my kid's father had landed a decent job, and we were finally going to be moving into our own place on the first of January. But, as I stood in front of the lemons I suddenly got very hot. I took off my jacket. I peeled off my scarf. I took off my sweater. I just kept getting hotter. I sat down on the edge of the dairy fridge and put my head between my legs while keeping an eye on Monty. My chest tightened. My breathing got really shallow. Quickly I was hyperventilating. My dad came back from the cereal aisle. Monty gasped.
"Look, Mama!" He said. "Cheerios!"
"Awesome!" I said, my head starting to swim.
"Uh huh." I turned my head to my dad. "I need help." I mumbled.
"What?" He asked. And then, "Are you alright? Your face is white as a sheet."
Thankfully the brave men from FDNY Engine 239 were doing their shopping at C-Town, too, and it didn't take long before I was surrounded by firemen (a personal fantasy, by the way.) taking my pulse and giving me oxygen.
One ambulance ride of three and a half blocks later (for which I was billed $600, which is remarkable when you consider that most EMS workers make about $11-an-hour.) I was sitting in the Methodist Hospital E.R. waiting to be seen by a doctor. Two hours later I was still waiting. I asked a harried nurse for an anxiety med. He said he we would to get the request approved. An hour later I realized that I had my own anxiety meds at home that I wouldn't have to wait for the request to be cleared on or pay $250 for and also I still hadn't seen a doctor, so I left. What was the doctor going to possibly have to say to me anyway ("Try to reduce the stress in your life.")?
In the following seven months I had some near misses, but always managed to head my anxiety off at the pass by taking half a Clonapin and removing myself from my child's presence whom I love immeasurably and would die for, but who sometimes makes me regret being alive. And once I took myself to a nearby bar for a double scotch, listened to a true crime podcast (www.swordandscale.com, by the way, which if you haven't listened to it go now and start at episode one and I'll see you back here in a couple of weeks), and played Candy Crush until I was ready to rejoin my life.
A couple Mondays ago I was in the city to teach a class. Monty's dad and I are separated, and I have Monty most of the week while his dad works. We're staying with parents of a friend out of the city for reasons that are too complicated to delve into now. So, I had Monty with me. It was easily 6000 degrees out. I had my suitcase and Monty. On Metro North on the way in, Monty had a full on melt down, screaming and hitting me repeatedly. Hard. I'm doing this weird thing where I don't hit him because I believe people who hit their kids are monsters. And I try not to scream at him unless he's about to run into the street or put his hand on the stove. So, I'm hugging him and telling him I love him and that when he hits me it hurts me emotionally and physically. I'll admit that finally, out of frustration, I told him if he hit me again I would leave him on the train which I KNOW is basically just as bad as hitting him and I'm officially the worst. I'm sure the threat of abandonment is just as scarring as actually scarring him. But you know what? It worked. And then I apologized for saying it and explained that sometimes I get so frustrated that I say things I don't mean. And then I gave him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and all was forgiven. Or maybe it wasn't. I don't know. It seemed like it was, but he'll probably bring it up in therapy when he's in his twenties. Also, I called him "Mein Fuhrer." The worst.
I'm well aware that my problems are nowhere near as bad as most people's in the world, but they are mine and pain isn't relative and I'm not trying to belly ache about how hard my life is. I'm just trying to set the stage. So, the stage is set, right? I'm stressed out.
My friend, and hero, Eve, met us at Grand Central to watch Monty while I went to teach. When I got back from teaching I knelt down to give Monty a hug and a kiss and got extremely light-headed upon standing. I chalked it up to old age and not the fact that I hadn't had much to eat or drink all day (except for a 32 ounce mocha coolata from Dunkin' Donuts which, in my defense, I was told was the "yummiest value."). Monty and I parted ways with Eve and headed to the shuttle on our way to Grandma/Grandpa's place in Brooklyn. Near the beginning of the tunnel to the shuttle my head began to swim again. My chest tightened and I started gasping for air. I knew there was a newsstand toward the shuttle and decided I just had to make it there and get some juice. Pushing Monty in his stroller and pulling my rolly suitcase, I managed to get to the newsstand where I stumblingly bought an apple juice and some almonds and then collapsed on the ground next to Monty. I considered taking a Clonapin, but I had to weigh the option of completely fogging out from anti-anxiety meds against being awake enough to still parent my toddler.
I called my father. I wasn't sure what else to do. He told me to call 911 but that felt a bit dramatic. I chose, instead, to flag down an MTA worker who said they would go get the police. And then I waited there for 20 minutes hoping to god someone I knew wouldn't walk by and see me being all anxiety-y. Though don't think for a minute that I didn't compliment a woman walking by in her fierce two-piece outfit. No doubt she went home and burned it. No one wants to wear something a crazy lady from the subway floor complimented.
The only person I alerted, besides my dad was a friend whose brother is a cop. Basically I was just like, Uh, can I go up to a cop and just be like, I'm having a panic attack? He called. I didn't answer. He texted. I didn't answer. I know people who call friends at the slightest hint of a rough time. Everything constitutes a crisis. I, on the other hand, having an actual crisis, didn't want to bother anyone.
Monty asked for gummy candy which he NEVER has, but at this point I would have bought him a bag of sugar to distract him from what was happening. He finished the gummies and asked for more. I got him another pack.
"Are you sad, Mama?" He asked me.
"No, baby, I just don't feel well." I told him.
"You want a gummy? It'll make you feel better."
He gave me his candy. Then he emptied the rest of the bag into his hand and said, "That's it!" and gave them to me.
My son is a god damned champion.
The police finally showed up. But not before I folded and called 911. There were cops all over Grand Central Station and I had to call 911. It's like the one time you actually want Starbucks and there is nary a Starbucks to be found. That said, the two officers who eventually showed up were helpful and brought me out to the ambulance. While one EMS worker, who looked exactly like Alan Arkin (He got it all the time), took my information, the other, suggested they take me to the hospital. Apparently I didn't look so good, which, I know, weird, right? My dad suggested that the EMS guy was compelled to tell me to go the hospital as part of his job. Like he works on commission. An extra 10% for every sucker he actually brings in. I figured giving Monty a ride in an ambulance would be better than passing out in the back of a cab and waking up somewhere deep inside Queens, hog-tied in a basement. I may have some trust issues.
So, Monty got a ride in an ambulance to NYU Langone. He pushed all kind of levers and buttons that I'm sure I'll receive a bill for somehow.
Emergency Transportation $850
Entertainment of Toddler $6000
Total $10,436.72 (including composition of bill, time, and postage)
I was attended to immediately by both a nurse AND a doctor, as well as a tech who gave me all kinds of beepy boopy tests. When I gave my pee sample Monty asked if it was apple juice. When a nurse gave me apple juice Monty asked if it was pee. Another patient walked by with her pee sample which looked like pomegranate juice. I felt fortunate to only be sick in the head. Two orthodox Jewish men walked by and Monty said,
"Look, Mama! Jingle bells!" Really loud.
My doctor was cute AND Jewish. Unfortunately he was wearing a wedding ring, which, honestly, how would we have told the story of our meeting at our rehearsal dinner? "She was a broke, harried, crazy, single mom. I was a successful doctor. She came to see me for a panic attack. It was a meet cute!" Clink clink.
Anyway, he made me drink two buckets of water and told me to try to reduce the stress in my life...
So, here's the conclusion, I have had to write and re-write much of this piece over and over because of bugs with the app. Monty and I fought about 10 times today. Let me break that down for you. I, a 36-year-old MOTHER fought with my three-year-old son. Because I'm an adult. And he is threevil. He is currently in the other room watching complete garbage on my phone because I can not bear the thought of fighting with him again right now. And it gives me five minutes to "end" this piece. And it prevents me from completely breaking down. Again. Although tonight, when I'm trying to go to sleep, I will lay there wracked with guilt over fighting with my child. I'm supposed to be an endless source of joy and enthusiasm for him. I should be happily giving up my life to play train tracks with him. Or watch him "perform" The Dream Police for the 7000th time. I just can't.
And tomorrow it will start again first thing in the morning. He will throw a tantrum because the banana has a bruise on it. Or I won't let him watch Mickey Mouse Club House or I'll ask him to take his diaper off. And I will try to remember to breathe and try to remember that he is still a baby and won't be able to fully reason for another 23 years. And I will spend the day debating whether or not to take a pill or part of a pill until it's finally the end of the day and he screams and yells for me to sleep in the bed with him which I'll do because I'll just be too tired to fight him again. And anyway, going to bed at 8pm is highly underrated.
I haven't posted in maybe six months. I was having trouble with the Weebly app and got frustrated with not being able to post from my phone, Also, I got very busy with holiday stuff, looking for a place to live, and prepping for the concert of The Secret Garden at Lincoln Center in February, I got sick with a cold on the first day of rehearsals and here we are, two months later and I'm still sick. Pretty sure I'm dying but everyone else is like, "Get over yourself. You have a cold."
Kurt got a job in December working for the Devil's spawn and his dung beetle of a wife. He is a war profiteer and she used to be the head of a major cable network, though how anyone ever stood being in a room with her for more then two minutes is beyond me. They have three children whom they're raising to be just as shitty as they are.
He was hired for a specific job, with very specific duties that were expressly laid out before he agreed to take the position. They wanted to make sure he knew what he was signing on to do. Then, maybe two weeks in, the Mrs. decided she really wanted a butler and was angry that Kurt wasn't one. She was like, "Ugh, were you raised in a barn?" during his first dinner service when he served the water from the wrong pitcher. She texted him at midnight on his day off demanding that he go to their Connecticut residence in the morning (also his day off), pick something up, and deliver it to their Greenwich Village residence. And what was the item that needed to be delivered? Like, a really important flash drive, right? Or an envelope with a ton of cash. Or a fucking Faberge Egg that they were auctioning off that day. No, no. It was a white, crew neck tee-shirt. To be fair, those are a very hard item to find. Especially in New York City. So, I get it. Their oozing puss stain of a daughter, who was all of 11 years old, ordered him out of the kitchen when she went in to get a snack. Because that's how you treat people.
Anyway, he lasted two months before being summarily dismissed for not doing the job he wasn't hired to do. So, that was a two month respite from nearly two years of unemployment. You know how on the news you hear about people who have been out of work for two years and you're like, how is that possible? Or you're like, how are they feeding their children? Yeah, that.
Monty is going to be three next month. He is still an amazingly terrific kid. But, man oh man, that boy can be a dick. JEEEEEzus. I'll say, "Hey, how about we go in the backyard and ride your tricycle?" and he will scream at me like I suggested we cut his penis off. And that will go on for a half an hour until we somehow finally manage to wrangle him into clothing and then he'll go, "Can we go to the backyard and ride my tricycle?" all happy-like, like he's just coming up with the idea. OH, MY GOD, WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT? SOMEONE GET THIS KID A FULBRIGHT SCHOLARSHIP.
He's in school three days a week because that's what we can afford. Honestly, if I could have him in school seven days a week, I would. And I KNOW that he's an easy kid. I have met other three-year-olds. Generally speaking, as a group, they are fucking awful. Snot-nosed, scowly, screamy little shitheads. And most of them have the personality of a bowl of oatmeal. Their just like, "Look at my Thomas train!" and you're like, "I'm in my mid-thirties. You really think I have any interest in your stupid train?" But of course in real life you have to be like, "Wow! What a cool train! Oh my god. Amazing!" At least Monty's interests center around things most adults can get into, like David Bowie and The Hives. On the other hand, he's really into that awful Mighty Mighty Bosstones songs right now. You know, their one hit. And he's found that god awful "I would walk 500 miles song." Sometimes, if I catch it early I can convince him a song is garbage. But it really has to be the first time he's hearing it.
Honestly, I think most parents can agree that for a lot of years, their kids are really only tolerable to them. Anyway, my point is that I know Monty, compared to many kids his age, is relatively easy. He has never thrown himself on the supermarket floor because we won't buy him some crap with Elmo on the box. His tantrums are fairly mild and usually, if he does need to throw something, it's more like he's placing it firmly. Sometimes I use his tantrums as an opportunity to remind him that "no means no" and if someone asks you to stop doing something to them, you have to stop. Even though I'm fully aware that his brain is not functioning normally during a tantrum and he can't really process what I'm saying. But, you know, consistency is key. Or something.
So, Kurt is unemployed, I'm unemployed, and Monty is a toddler. I would say we have our fair share of life-stressors right now and some measure of depression is to be expected. The problem is that I suffer from chronic depression. So, when a normal person gets depressed they feel sad, tired, angry. Maybe a little hopeless. I think for most people a course of talk therapy or a low dose of anti-depressant will help them through it (Although I take issue with people taking anti-depressants for situational depression. Emotions are normal. Sometimes they suck. Work it out.). For me, because my base-line is depressed, when I am dealing with major stressors my depression becomes almost unmanageable. And that's where I've been for the past couple weeks. Constant spiraling thoughts of failure and shame. A conviction that I will never work again, everyone hates me, I am a terrible mother, etc. Panic attacks. And not your cute "Oh my god the line for Star Wars went around the block. I swear I had a panic attack" panic attack. Like, hyperventilating at the grocery store and being taken to the ER panic attack. The kind where you wait in the ER for two hours and no one helps you and you ask for an Ativan but have the wherewithal to realize that when and if they finally do bring you an Ativan they're going to charge you $500 for it, so you just leave and take the Ativan you have at home and then you get a bill for $608 for the ambulance ride from 9th street and 6th avenue to 7th street and 7th avenue. Fortunately I've been dealing with it for so long in my life that I know what the signs are for when I'm headed into hospital-level depression and I can do things to keep it at bay. For example, one sign that my depression is getting bad is when I find out a friend is in the hospital with pneumonia and I'm like, "Oh my god, they're so lucky." Because, like, mandatory vacation from life, am I right? Or near-constant fantasies of being stabbed in the kidney. A coma sounds like an awesome nap.
I worry about sharing this level of detail about my illness because I'm afraid it may hinder me from getting work. I can understand someone being hesitant about casting me because they're worried my mental health might be a liability. The truth is that my depression only affected one job in that I had to turn it down because the subject-matter was gruesome and I had just gotten out of the hospital after a major depressive episode. I'm healthy enough to know when I'm healthy enough to work. I tend to be pretty emotionally healthy when I'm employed. Because, like everyone, my self-worth is directly tied to getting a paycheck. And also, if we continue to keep the truth about mental illness to ourselves we perpetuate the myth and shame of it. So, I guess if it costs me a job, so be it. I know that when I've been honest about my situation before, people have thanked me for my honesty because it helped them feel less alone in their own illness. So, you see, I'm sacrificing my well-being for YOU. You're welcome.
This morning I managed to get up with Monty at 7, make him breakfast and lunch, and get him out the door (with Kurt's help) by 8. I realize this is, like, bare minimum parenting, but for me, it felt like a victory. Now, here it is, not even 9:30 am and I've earned myself a nap. Right?
I've been thinking a lot about wheat. (It's a fascinating party in my head all the time). Remember the food pyramid we grew up with? I would post an image of it but the new Weebly app has this neat feature where it crashes anytime you try to add a picture to a blog. Anyway, in the 90s the entire bottom level of the pyramid was wheat and grains, in other words, the bulk of our caloric intake was supposed to be that straight carbs. 6-11 servings a day. They were all, "Eat all the cereal, rice, and bread you possibly can! It's great! It turns right into sugar in your system!" And we were all, "Duuuuuuuuuuh okay!" Then, at some point recentlyish they decided fruit and vegetables should be at the bottom of the pyramid and wheat was moved up a scootch to the second tier. So now it's 4-8 servings, which is sort of less then 6-11?
So, I have this small human I'm trying to, you know, keep alive and make smart and stuff, right? At breakfast it's oatmeal or Cheerios and fruit. So, there's one serving. At lunch it's a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or pasta or whatever the hell we happened to have remembered to stock our pantry with. That's got to be at least a serving and a half. Then there's crackers or whatever for a snack. Now we're up to, what, 3 and a half at least? And then dinner? Jesus. Pasta? Rice? Some sort of grain? I already give myself and Kurt kudos for giving him homemade food three meals a day almost everyday (You should see the pile of dirty dishes.) and largely organic and blah blah blah. So, I can't really get on my own case for not being Paleo or Macro or whatever gluten-free, grain free thing the kids are into these days. But it does feel like I'm dumping a bunch of empty calories into him for a couple hours of non-hungeryness. And it is only a couple of hours. Feed the kid oatmeal and an hour later he's asking for a "Peabudder samwich!" And I know we're still within the guidelines, but in five minutes they're going to say no wheat or grains EVER AT ALL EVEN FOR YOU NORMAL-EATING PEOPLE! And then I'm the asshole feeding my kid quinoabread.
Fucking wheat, man. And don't even get me started on sugar...
I've been thinking about this kid I went to elementary school with. I don't remember his name. He was super smart. The kind of kid who knew how to spell the word "people" way before anyone else. Nerd. So, one year on our last day of after-school we were going around the circle saying what we were going to do over the summer. We were all saying reasonable things for a bunch of 8-year-olds, like, "I'm going to summer camp." or "I'm going to eat Popsicles til my insides freeze." or "I'll be spending most of my days rubbing elbows with the heroin addicts of Coney Island while my father runs a dark ride there." You know. The usual. But this kid said, "I plan on reading all of Webster's Dictionary." Seriously. That's what he said. Come on. That's not a thing ANYONE does. Let alone an 8-year-old. Just knock it off, Whatsyername.
About seven years later I ran into him at Washington Square Park during the pot parade or whatever it's called. I hated smoking pot because it made my brain end up in a foetal position inside itself. Within a few minutes of smoking pot no matter where I am or who I'm with I'm convinced that I'll end up homeless in the gutter by the end of the day. But all my friends smoked and I was so desperate for friendship that I would have jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge if they did. Or, even if they had just told me to. It wasn't a time I look back on with any fondness. So, there I was in Washington Square Park, stoned out of my mind, trying to make it look like I didn't feel like my body was covered in ants, and Mr. Dictionary points at my shoes and says, "Haha. You double-knot your laces." I said, "Yeah," because I did. It was an accurate observation. I generally find double-knotting my shoelaces preferable to having to re-tie them all the time. It was less a fashion choice and more a decision of convenience and efficiency. I had missed the memo about shoelaces. Apparently the less they are tied the cooler you are. Mr. Dictionary had deduced that I was a nerd because I didn't want to deal with the annoyance of repeatedly re-tying my shoelaces. Like I said, he was SUPER smart.
For years I was embarrassed that I had double-knotted my laces that day. I just wanted to be cool. I could never get it right. And here was this really cool guy calling me out. I mean, he didnt look cool or anything but he knew the exact definition of the word, so he must have been cool. He read the dictionary. Even if he didn't make it all the way through, it's likely he at least got to "cool".
So, that's something about me. I let a kid whose summer activity when he was eight was reading a dictionary make me feel like a nerd because of an arbitrary fashion preference. I think about it almost every time I tie my shoes.