A Letter From Your Strong Friend

A Letter From Your Strong Friend

(Trigger warning: this blog contains content about depression, mental illness, and suicide.)

I’ve been struggling lately. There, I said it. And it isn’t easy to write those words down. You don’t know it, but so many moments have passed between that last sentence and this one—so many moments during which I spent grappling with an insecurity that says I should delete what I’ve started here; an insecurity that tells me there’s no real good reason to share the things I’m about to say; an insecurity that feels like a cement brick being balanced on the top of my head; an insecurity that makes my knees want to give out.

I’ve been bouncing all of this around inside my head for a couple of weeks now. I’ve felt the itching rise of something coming from deep in the middle of me before July started, expanding in my gut, pushing my ribs out to make room, and filling up my chest, burrowing inside of my heart—I felt it coming a while ago, like it does every year around this time. I knew it was on its way, but I also promised myself that this year would be different. And it is.

I clearly remember last July. We were moving. My husband and I had a million different things to deal with at once, and the heat was draining any energy I might’ve had. The month felt long, uncomfortable. I always struggle in January and July. It’s like clockwork. My depression has always cycled that way. It traps me in my house, takes away my ability to communicate well, makes me impulsive, and fills my brain with spiraling thoughts that linger in between this life and the next one. My depression does this every once in a while, and successfully so because it’s also a really good liar. My depression tells me it loves me. That it understands me. That I am not creative without it. That we belong together, entangled inside an enchantment no one else can understand—that it makes me unique, with a keen perspective that others don't have, like it's some sort of gift; that somehow, because of it, I see the world differently—and worst of all, that I should be scared to lose that. That I’m nothing without it.

That’s where I was last July—sitting on the floor of my new office, organizing my journals, writing and feeling nostalgic, when I heard the news that Chester Bennington killed himself.

With all of the publicized celebrity suicides this past year, with everything happening in the world, with how small standing on your tiny patch of land on the planet can make you feel, it gets hard to feel like what you’re doing or saying or creating is valuable or that anything matters at all. So, I never comment on celebrity suicides. I find it really difficult for a number of reasons, but I talk about Chester Bennington here because it is the one that really stuck with me, that I think about from time to time, that I understand more so than others. I talk about it now because I’m ready to.

Hybrid Theory came out in 2000, my freshman year of high school, so the messages contained in that album spoke to a deep and struggling part of my inner psyche. My most formative years happened with Bennington’s soulful narration in the background. I walked the halls of my high school, feeling like an outcast, listening to an album that made me feel a part of something. I fought with my parents and channeled those arguments into the choruses of songs like Numb. And the first time I saw Linkin Park in concert, I was mesmerized by the intimacy of Chester’s performance—stepping into the crowd, clasping hands with all of us, bringing us into his atmosphere, performing with us, not for us. No matter your musical taste, if you’re old enough to have grown up with Linkin Park on the Billboard charts, secretly or openly, they functioned as the soundtrack for your adolescence in the least commercial way possible.

Minutes to Midnight encapsulates my time as a mental health counselor. That album speaks deeply to the internalization of illness, of self-destruction, of feeling mud-logged in limbo between reality and where we privately live in our minds. And, at the time, the girls I worked with every day were growing up with Bennington laying validation to their claims. They blasted Minutes to Midnight from their bedrooms, and as I walked down the hallways, I thought about my younger self, feeling that same angst-ridden despair, blasting an album that defined my experience nearly ten years prior. I watched those girls feel banded together by a musician that expressed a commonality between them, and it helped them to relate the adults around them, too—adults who’d done the same with the album before it. One of the most important memories I have, one that will live in the brightest space of my heart for the rest of my life, is riding one of those girls home to see her family, blasting and singing Bleed It Out together.

So, sitting on the floor of my new house, spinning in the dizzying grasp of my own demons, trying to write them down and out, hearing the news of Bennington’s suicide broke me right down the middle. My mind flashed through a million memories I’d forgotten about; a million times I had used his music as a coping mechanism or as an escape; a million times in my life when his lyrics made me feel like someone understood what was going on inside my head. And through that music, I found so many other artists whose music helped me identify and cope with parts of my identity that felt uncontrollable. But Chester’s death also made me feel hopeless, honestly. Because I’d identified so closely with his Art, his death felt like a mirror, like I knew what was in store for me one day. And that’s a hard thing to admit.

Now, a year later, I’m reflecting on that time as I grapple with my own depression quite differently than ever before. On the surface, everything seems pretty sunny in my world, and my disposition doesn’t necessarily dispute that assumption. I get that. I just successfully executed the production of Blue Rooms—the biggest creation of my career to date. My husband and I happily celebrated four years of marriage this year. I am blessed with an incredibly unique and talented pool of friends that show up for me and whom I trust and love. My career continues to grow and evolve. I could really go on and on about how fulfilling and satisfying my life is, especially in my thirties—an era in which I have truly found peace within myself like never before.

But there’s this one thing. And this one things feels like it is tethered to everything. It is irrational, and it is all encompassing. It is the reason I wrote and produced Blue Rooms, because that book was mostly a goodbye letter to my deepest struggles with mental illness. This time last year, I was trying to drink away the massive feelings of pain and frustration that burrowed inside of me. It was like a spreading infection that I couldn’t look at anymore, and living in a drunken reality that was a bit off kilter helped distract my focus. But I was imploding, self-destructing, and it would eventually destroy everything. I hit rock bottom the morning of September 1st, 2017, and this is the first time I’ve explicitly talked about it publicly.

To everyone I work with, to the people who follow me on social media, to my family who sees me in interviews or building events and conferences, to my clients, I am an efficient, strong-willed, determined powerhouse with big goals. And all of that has always been true. But I’ve had to work much harder than many of the people around me to continue on my journey. On September 1st of last year, I woke up shaking after having exploded during a blackout the night before. I’d done everything I could to push away most of the people who love me, subconsciously but purposely burning down all that was good around me. I knew it was time to get help. I knew that I’d have nothing left soon. I’d been a functioning alcoholic and battling deep and dangerous bouts of depression and anxiety since my teens. Rock bottom had been almost twenty years in the making at that point, and it was simply time to choose whether or not I wanted to live.

I found a therapist who helped me take my power back. She helped me get sober, work through the biggest healing crisis of my life, and helped me find deep intrapersonal clarity like I’ve never had before. By November, I was past the most difficult stage of separation from my addiction and thinking about how to further my healing. By December, I was writing Blue Rooms. If you’ve read the book and/or have seen the show, you know that Blue Rooms is an honest elegy to all of the darkest parts inside of me. It is a love letter to a past I can never live inside of again. It is the last goodbye to the person I used to be, and creating Blue Rooms has been the most healing and rewarding gift I’ve ever given to myself.

But now it’s done. My journey forward with Blue Rooms has everything to do with maintaining and evolving the production, and little to do with conceptualizing or creation anymore. And I scheduled Blue Rooms to happen at the end of June on purpose, hoping that it would be successful and rewarding and fulfilling, sending me into July armed with joy and an emotional satiation that could combat any oncoming cycle of depression. And that has been the case. But mental illness has no real from. It is a shapeshifter.

Coming up on a year of sobriety, decompressing from the play and trying to figure out the next turn in my path, trying to keep up with my business—all of it is happening in the wake of a wave of depression right now that makes the universe buzz inside my ears; that makes it feel like the ground is bouncing beneath me; the makes reality look wavy and pliable and surreal; that feels heavy like water sloshing in my lungs, filling up to my ears.

But it feels better this year. It feels manageable. It feels like I can be honest about it. So, all of this is to say, I am one of your strong friends, and I am okay now, but it hasn’t always been that way, and it won’t always be that way in the future. I’m not asking you to reach out now. I’m telling you this to create awareness, and to hold myself accountable—to practice what I preach, to be transparent, to create dialogue where it is needed. I am your strong friend who battles things in her mind that you would never expect me to be thinking about. I am the one with big goals and big abilities. I am that creative and determined person who you think is “fine.” I am the one you call for advice or to look over something because you trust me. I am the person who will get through it; who has patience and the foresight to strategically remove any barriers in my path. I am the one you don’t have to worry about; the one who’s been through it all and who has come out on the other end. I am your strong friend, just so you know.